Putting Feelings Into Words

I am not someone who commonly contacts my therapist between sessions; the resentment I always felt towards those of my father’s clients who did so has heavily enhanced my desire to not be That Client. In fact, I have only done so twice before. Once after a friend of mine killed herself right before a final session before a break, and once, earlier this year, after a session where I was simply overcome with anxiety about having broken A. and feeling sure that I had finally become too much for her, because something in session had made it seem she wasn’t really coping. But, following the session I described in my previous post, in which A. had told me that she couldn’t work with me under the threat of suicide I made a very conscious decision to write her. Below is that email.

 

*

Dear A.,

It’s late Saturday evening and I find myself feeling like my head is still spinning from trying to make sense of what happened in our last session. I decided already yesterday that I would sit down and try to write down my thoughts over the next few days and send them to you on Sunday; I felt it wouldn’t be a very wise thing to do, sending off a rash email before I have had time to sit with all of this for a little bit. Also, I figure sending it on Sunday gives you two days to think about what I’m saying, should you want me to come for session on Wednesday, so it’s fair on you too.

This is what you said on Friday: ‘I can’t work with you under the threat of suicide’. This is what I heard you saying: ‘I won’t work with you if your level of distress passes a certain point. It’s now got to that stage, and I can’t handle it.’ If I allow my mind to wander a step further it would go something like this: ‘This is too much, too scary, and I don’t want the responsibility. She has become too much for me. I’m out of my depth and I don’t know what to do. I want out, but I don’t want to be the one to end therapy, so I’ll give her a ‘choice’ which is almost impossible to go along with. ‘

I know you said in session that you didn’t know how I might react to what you had to say, but you’re an intelligent person, and it seems reasonable to assume that you must have realised both that this would have a really big impact on me, and have thought of at least one or two scenarios of how I might interpret it. Considering how fear of being ‘too much’ for people and the constant worry about breaking people have been major themes running through the last four years of therapy, it doesn’t take a particularly big leap of the imagination to see that this statement of yours would be experienced as direct proof that I have once again managed to become too much for someone..

Like I said to you in session, this does feel incredibly unfair. In the last four years I have been trying to open up, to stop holding back and to overcome this fear of breaking people – to trust that you can cope, even – and now that I have taken this step, you tell me you can’t work with me. When I have asked you ‘Are you OK? Can you cope [with what I bring to session]?’ you’ve consistently opted to not answer, and then suddenly you give me what you present as a choice, but which to me feels increasingly more and more like a black or white ultimatum. ‘Either you stop being suicidal, or therapy stops’.

I do understand that you are in a very difficult situation and I can easily imagine how very stressful it must be to work with me, especially when I’m dipping like this, I really can. However, I’m not sure exactly what prompted you to make the decision to give me this ultimatum now, because I honestly can’t recall having said anything in the previous session that I haven’t said before. I remember saying that ‘it feels like everyone knows how this is going to end’, but that is something I have said many times in the past.

Were I to venture a guess I would say that it may have been my arriving late for the first session after the break that was the trigger. The fact that you commented on it, makes me think that this was possibly (and, if so, understandably) quite frightening for you, seeing as I had previously made it clear that if I ever don’t show up for a session you’d have good reason to think I’ve taken drastic action. I’m not sure if you believed me when I said that the reason for my lateness was that I used a different route (since I was staying at Drayton Park), and I simply miscalculated how long it would take to get to your place, but that really is the truth. I wouldn’t be so cruel as to be late on purpose solely to test how you’d react, and I would never play games like that with you; I have too much respect both for you as a person and for the work that we do, to do that.

I have to admit that I feel upset about your decision to tell me this on a Friday, knowing that it’s the longest possible time before the next session. I also cannot for the life of me understand why you would wait until after I had been discharged from Drayton Park to have this discussion with me, rather than doing it while I was still there, taking advantage of the fact that I wouldn’t be going home to try to deal with this on my own, but would have people around me who could offer support. This seems especially strange, seeing as I told you that my stay at Drayton Park had been extended until Monday because I knew that the first session back might leave me feeling vulnerable and unstable, since things between you and I had seemed rocky before you went on leave.

As I said before, I can absolutely understand that it must be really hard to deal with me, and it may well have left you feeling you couldn’t cope working under those circumstances, but surely there must have been other ways of doing this? Rather than, for example, making it clear that ‘If you tell me that you are intending to kill yourself, I will have to contact your GP/crisis team/have you sectioned etc..’ (thereby taking some steam off of you), you went straight to ‘If you’re suicidal, I can’t work with you’.

I have no problem with you looking after yourself; if you feel you can’t work with me when things are like this, then – absolutely – you should raise that point. Of course a therapist both needs to and should look after herself, I take no issue with that at all. But, what I do feel has been done quite poorly is the fact that you drop this bomb in my lap without doing anything at all to ensure that I am as safe as possible with it. You could have said ‘If you don’t feel you can make a promise to not kill yourself, I’m really sorry, but I won’t be able to work with you. It would be impossible to do this work. I know this will probably feel like a rejection and I am sorry about that. It’s not my intention to leave you feeling that you have become too much for me, but I do realise that it may have this effect. I may be able to refer you to a colleague, if that is something you would want.’ Or even something so simple as to pick up the phone, call the crisis team, who you knew I was still under, to let them know that you have just had a really difficult conversation with me and you want them to be aware of this as I may need extra support over the weekend.

I really don’t want our work together to end like this, and I certainly don’t want the take away message after four years to be that I’m too much even for the professionals, and that is what it would be, should we terminate therapy at this point. I know you would soon find someone else to take my slot, you’d move on and I would eventually fade and end up being a learning experience for you. I, on the other hand, would be left with the incredibly painful knowledge that I am too much even for professionals, and, really, if even my therapist can’t cope with me, what hope is there..?

I know that some of the things I am writing in this email will inevitably come across as wholly unfair, and I recognise that my assumptions of what is going on for you may well be entirely wrong, but at the end of the day, this is how I have experienced all of this.

You mentioned that I may need some time to think about what you have said and what choice I want to make, and I feel unsure of what the timescale for this is, and whether or not you are expecting me to come to session while I work it out for myself.. I don’t even know if I’m meant to show up on Wednesday or not.

I really do hope that we can talk about this soon and find a way forward, whichever direction that path takes.

xx

Advertisements

Bin Laden, Reflections & The Value of Human Life

This morning I woke up to the news that Osama Bin Laden had been killed. My initial reaction was that of disbelief, but as the same piece of news seemed to be reported on all fronts reality began to sink in.

As I switched on my computer to watch some live news I was struck by the scenes of celebrations being broadcast, and I have to admit that I found it rather shocking. Whilst I have little sympathy for what Bin Laden chose to do with his life and what his network of terrorists stand for, it seemed to me somewhat obscene to be rejoicing at the news of his death.

In my mind, celebrating the death of another person, even if it is your enemy, is NOT cool. It’s taking it that one step too far.

This is a time for reflection, not a time for celebration.

Someone I follow on Twitter offered an update along these lines: “Spurred on by the successful termination of Bin Laden, the U.S. announce plans to kill another million people, one of which may be Gaddafi.” The words, of course, drip with sarcasm, and urges us to ponder how many lives are worth sacrificing in the pursuit of the death of a single person.

I am not a forgive and forget kind of person; some wounds cut too deep for me to be able to afford the inflictor this generosity, some actions too painful for me to grant this ultimate charity. That said, I do still believe that despite those actions, at the basic level of being human, all of our lives have the same God given value, and therefore celebrating the loss of a human life is wrong. So, whilst I may not necessarily mourn Bin Laden’s death, I will not stoop so low as to celebrate the loss of his life.

* * *

In other news: A. is back tomorrow.
Well, in fairness, she was probably back today, but tomorrow is the first time I will see her after the break.

I’m not sure really what to say about this break.

In some ways it’s been OK. To a large degree it’s been a lot less difficult than some other breaks. At the same time, some days – or nights, rather – have been very very hard. I had a few flashbacks last week, and as always it sent me into this blind panic that I’m going to spiral out of control, that I won’t be able to cope.

So far that hasn’t happened. As I said, it’s been very very hard at times, but I think I did manage to not get entirely swept away by my own fears. Instead I texted the Samaritans. Just so I wouldn’t get to that stage where things get so bad that I turn to self-harm. I talked to them about this fear, about not entirely trusting myself to not fall back to my old ways, and that in itself seems to have been enough to keep me from acting out.

I think this has been a good and very valuable experience. To realise that having a few flashbacks doesn’t automatically mean I’ll resort to destructive behaviour or that I won’t be able to cope. It just means that I’m having a few flashbacks.

Of course, in the moment, while having those flashbacks, any thoughts of coping strategies are blown completely out of mind, but – and this is important – coming out of them, feeling as sick and frightened as I was, I was still able to quite quickly recognise that I had come through it, and that there were more than one way for me to deal with the fear of further flashbacks. Ways that didn’t involve scalpels or choke-chords.

Clearly, something has changed.
Something which makes it possible for me to make good choices, even during therapy breaks.

So.. here’s to change!

All the very best,

xx

TAUK6H2RJ2R8

Self-Harm & Managing Difficult Feelings: Making Good Choices During Therapy Breaks

Therapy break, once again. This time for two weeks. And I’m feeling somewhat apprehensive about it. The funny thing is that up until the night before the final pre-break session I had hardly even reflected on the fact that there was going to be a break. I mean, on the whole I’m doing good. No major hitches the last few months. Nothing much to worry about, apart from the pending move, which is still a fair while away, and is also a different kind of worry. It’s more of a stress factor than something that expresses itself in an anxiety ridden can’t cope sort of way.

So, as I said before, I’d felt absolutely fine about this upcoming break. Fairly confident that it wouldn’t pose a problem. And then, suddenly, I had this huge slap of panic hit me right between my eyes.

Talked about this in my session the following day, and naturally A. wanted to know what I had been doing when this happened. So I gave it a second and then began trying to explain. It ended up being a bit complicated, but in essence it went something like this: I was thinking about something someone at work had told me. It was to do with a child acting out in a way that both my [equally upset] co-worker and I felt was an obvious cause for concern. The incident had happened at another establishment, and so I was hearing about this as a third party, but even so, this retelling really got to me. Not so much what the child in question had done, but rather that no alarm bells had gone off for the staff on duty. From what I was told the staff had been much more concerned about the nuisance the child had caused, rather than triggering any questions of why the child had a need to act out in this rather extreme way.

And it was in the middle of thinking about this that I suddenly felt panicked by the thought of not having any therapy for two weeks.

It may seem that there’s very little to connect what had happened earlier in the day at work and the sudden onset of separation-anxiety later that evening, but if you look it from another angle it may become a little more clear.

To me, the incident with the child and the staff’s reaction was about people whose job it is to look out for kids failing to do so. This got to me because it echoes off other incidents also missed by the adults who ought to have been in charge; in short all the adults who in my childhood failed to notice that something was wrong.

My party line regarding this has always been that they didn’t see anything because there was nothing to see. I was simply such a good little actress that I managed to steer peoples’ attention elsewhere.

But – and this is where it gets hot – is that really true..? Is it even possible for abuse of the kind I was subjected to truly go unnoticed by every single adult in a child’s life..? Parents, teachers, aunts, uncles, family friends..? Really? Twelve years is a very long time, and whilst I may have become a very skilled life-actress as I grew older, certainly at the very beginning, back when I was barely five, I simply can’t have had the tools or the know-how to cover up that something had happened. How would I even have known that I needed to assume the role of model child. At that age..?

So, now we’re entering dangerous territory, because that all-important party line – that no one could have seen anything because I was so darn good at concealing the truth – well, it’s a party line in the flavour of a defence mechanism. Not only has this mantra served to allow me to dissolve all the adults around me of any responsibility, but it’s also been a perfect reason for putting the blame solely on myself.

No one could help me, because I didn’t signal that I needed any help. Through acting so convincingly I am the one who made sure the boat wasn’t rocked. In short, I am to blame for not making the abuse stop. I get to take full responsibility while, at the same time, avoiding having to think of the possibility that perhaps there were some signs somewhere that the adults around me where either blind to or did not have the courage to tap into.

I’ve always been very good at blaming myself for letting the abuse go on for as long as it did. Expressing, or even experiencing, any anger directed at the adults in my life (whether founded or unfounded) has simply been too frightening to cope with. And to a large degree it still is.

So, whenever feelings along those lines surface I am astonishingly apt at turning that anger back on myself. Half a heartbeat and out come the scalpels and matches and choke-cords; I turn to self-harm in the most creative ways imaginable. I suppose it would be fair to say that I act out the way I never did as a child. Anything to avoid having to think about the possibility that, maybe – just maybe – there was something to see. That maybe all those adults did miss something, maybe they did fail to act, maybe they did lack in courage.

And this is where my anxiety about the break in therapy comes in. I have enough self-awareness to recognise this pattern of mine; to take things out on myself. And to have thoughts of this nature surfacing at a time when A. is going to be away, it’s not ideal. It is cause for concern. Because, as aware as I am of this pattern, I am equally aware of how incredibly hard it is to break it.

I battle with thoughts of self-harm on a regular basis, but having the safe haven that therapy offers I can usually make a different choice. I can choose to explore the underlying emotions, I can decide to gently prod whatever it is that has triggered the urge to self-harm in a safer way.

Therapy gives me the option to work through rather than act out.

But with thoughts like these in my head, and no therapy.. Well, it makes me worried. I hope that enough will have changed inside of me to make it possible to resist falling back into familiar patterns. In many ways I feel that enough has changed. I just don’t want to be over confident. Because, ignoring the danger signs can have very serious consequences.

Anyway, time for bed.

All the very best and more,

xx

PS. I feel obliged to point out that it hasn’t gone unnoticed that whatever anger I have about what happened is hardly ever directed at the source of it, at the abusers.. but hey.. that may be the next step.. Who knows?

Sadness, Loss & Choices

I’m feeling very lost at the moment. Lost and sad and full of grief.

A friend of mine died recently. She killed herself. She made the same decision I made, the only difference being that she succeeded. Only that doesn’t feel like the right word. She failed to survive. And now she is in a place where I can’t reach her.

Those of you who know me, also know that I don’t cry easily. Almost as if I don’t know how to. But in the past week I have cried more tears than I can ever remember. Not just for my friend, but for all the ones I have lost, who I miss, who I wish I could have just one more minute with.

I’ve not really felt able to do much since I found out about my friend. It feels too hard. And yet I keep thinking that I should. I should be doing all the things she will never get to do. Write the poems she will never write, have the children she’ll never have, talk to the people she will never get to know..

Do I feel guilty? The honest answer is that I don’t know. All I know is that she used to call me when things were rough, and this time she didn’t. And that I wish things were different, but they’re not.

I know that when a person makes that decision, when they make it for real, nothing anyone says or does can change it. I know, because I’ve been there.

And yet, I am here, and she is not. The difference is enormous, and at the same time only seconds apart. Half a breath, a heart beat missed. All that stands between her and I.

I’ve been saying lately to my sisters and my friends, that it feels as if something inside of me has changed. Something big. Important. I’m not sure I can put into words, but it’s the difference between seeing death as an option, and knowing that it’s not. I still believe in a person’s right to choose for themselves. But believing that a person has the power to choose, doesn’t mean that the decision they make is the right one.

There are no guarantees, no way of knowing that I won’t ever dip as low as I have before, that I won’t lose hope. But I hope that even if I do, I’ll remember my friend. Remember my feelings in this moment. That life is a precious gift, something to protect. To make the most of.

xx


“How many days are left
And what to spend them on?
Should I keep working
Or sit and marvel at the sun?”

HN

PS. I found this blog some time ago. An entry about one of my favourite songs, and about death: How To Save A Life

Lyrics from Drink It In © Heather Nova