Hearing the Littles – A Therapy Break Update

Våga Lita - Dare Trust A reminder written on my arm before going into a therapy session shortly before The Break

Våga Lita – Dare Trust
A reminder written on my arm before going into a therapy session shortly before The Break

It is far too early on a Sunday morning for me, or indeed anyone, to be awake. But, I am. Anxiety is stretching my nerves to the point of breaking, and I have been unable to sleep for about forty hours. Insomnia isn’t out of the norm for me; it is part of my pattern. But the anxiety is. Or, at least, the level of anxiety. I can feel the extreme imbalance of the chemicals surging through my system, splashing around, crashing into each other and the rocky shores of my insides that have until now been unknown to me. The inner landscape of my body is soaked, drenched, in acidic anxiety, and I can’t think of how to rid myself of it, how to alkalise.

I know that I can and will get through this. I have survived it before, and I will again. It is just that the strength of emotions have taken me by surprise. Yes, I was nervous about this upcoming break in therapy for weeks before it started, but I thought that perhaps this time might be different, because, in contrast to many other breaks, I – we – P. and I, had spent so much time talking about it, preparing for it, putting in place things to make it more manageable. And I, foolishly it seems now, thought that that in itself might dull the sharpness of my feelings. But it doesn’t.

I miss P. terribly, and even though I have talked to my friends about it, and many of them have responded with empathy – more so than in the past, it seems – I am still left feeling that no one really understands the depth of my emotions. Or maybe it is a sense that others expect Adult Me – the intellectualising, reasoning, part of me – to handle this, to take charge and make it all OK, for all of the different parts inside of me. Truth be told, I think that even I expect her to.

But, what happens during a therapy break – a break from my pseudo parent – is that Little S. – not Adult Me – is the one who is reacting to this separation. Adult Me can watch, but can do nothing about that, because Adult Me wasn’t there when the fear of separation and abandonment, was born. Adult Me hadn’t yet been formed when Little S. – or even before then – tiny Baby S. were dealing with life in a world where there simply was no stability, where her parents gave her up and left her to fend for herself, completely void of tools with which to do so. Because of this, the reassurance Adult Me is continually trying to offer rings hollow to Baby S., in exactly the same way reassurance from anybody else does. Adult Me may be one of many parts that forms the whole of me, but she wasn’t there when it happened, and as far as the Littles are concerned, she doesn’t get it any more than my incredibly kind and well-meaning friends do. Not emotionally. And Little and Baby feel just as nakedly defenceless as they did back then.

Of course Adult Me has acquired lots of tools over the years to deal with situations like these. And during normal, daytime, hours, she makes the most of those tools and is often successful in temporarily alleviating much of the fear and anxiety. But when the rest of the world goes to sleep, and Adult Me is exhausted from a day of constantly trying to soothe those Little parts, when she needs a break to stock up on supplies, that’s when the primal scream of Baby S. sounds the loudest, deafening all intellectualisation and reasoning.

Baby S. was about six months old when she was adopted, when she came to live with her new parents in Sweden. No one knows, and Baby S. can’t remember, what happened in the six months before then. But the emotional echoes of the feelings born in those months still bounce between the walls of her outer shell, and when something like this – a separation, a perceived abandonment from a care giver – happens, those echoes amplify and drown out everything else. The echoes are always there, even in peacetime, noticeable in the fear of forming attachments with others and the difficulty in trusting, but when an actual separation happens something explodes in her, because just as Baby S. couldn’t know at the time that that abandonment would be temporary, she is now – still – blind to this fact. Baby S. only knows the here and now, isn’t able to look to the future, so when Adult Me, in sheer exhaustion, takes a break from reassuring Baby S., Baby S. thinks that this will last forever.

I wrote an email to P. a few weeks prior to her going on her summer break, about the whole How to cope with your therapist abandoning you for a minor eternity-issue, and as I am writing this now, it strikes me that that is exactly what I am dealing with: a minor eternity. It is minor in the eyes of the world, even in Adult Me’s eyes, but to Baby S. and Little S. – both of them too young to understand the concept of weeks or days or even minutes – it is an Eternity. And eternities have no foreseeable end.

As I wrote at the beginning, I will get through this separation, just as I have got through separations in the past. But in order to help Baby S. and Little S. I need to remind Adult Me to deal with them gently and patiently in the understanding that they have not yet got as far in the healing process as she has. They will get there eventually, but it will take more than the survival of a few therapy breaks for them to feel safe enough to integrate fully, to get to a place where The Whole can begin to work as a single entity, rather than as a multitude of frightened independent parts.

So, I say to myself, as much as I do to you:
be kind to your Selves.

 

Much love,

xx

 

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Pain, Fear & Courage – Daring To Say How You Feel

A couple of very raw nerves were touched in my last session with A. Early in the session I made a statement to the effect that I feel un-anchored, adrift, floating with no direction. Later on A. commented on this, saying – and I’m paraphrasing here, I don’t remember the exact words – that even though I say that I feel un-anchored, it seems to her that I am perhaps a little too anchored. To the past, to old thoughts, old feelings, old memories. She then went on to saying that she can understand why that is.

I felt instantly hurt by this, because, what I heard was perhaps less of what she was actually saying and more an echo of what others around me have either said or through actions have made me feel: that I’m holding on too hard to the past, to the abuse I experienced. That I am overreacting and should just let it go. In my immediate feeling-reaction I discarded without thought the part about A. understanding why this is, and allowed the first part of the comment to hit me at full force; that I’m stubbornly refusing to let go of what happened to me as a child.

I was able to articulate this to A., to explain that what she had said left me hurting, but that I also recognised, even in the moment, that my reaction was not necessarily to what she had said, but to what other people have said, and that while I did in a physical sense hear her say that she has some understanding of why this holding on happens, the first part, the direct echo of other peoples’ views, was the part that was ringing in my ears.

Objectively I can see that she wasn’t actually repeating what others have said or made me feel, but emotionally, that is what I heard and what I responded to. In the moment, the “can understand why” didn’t feel very convincing, felt like it might have been something she just added to soften the blow while letting me know how she really feels about me and the way I live my life-.

I fell silent after my initial explanation, feeling unable to say more. Hurting too much, and trying to self-soothe, to reassure myself that A. doesn’t really think I’m overreacting or refusing to let go, that that wasn’t at all what she was saying. But it didn’t work particularly well.

During my silence A. took the opportunity to remind me that it’s OK for me to feel things about her, that she already knows I do. It was probably needed, her saying that; I am notoriously bad at expressing my feelings about A. openly and directly to her, and it was all said in the gentlest of ways; an offer for me to express freely how I felt about both what she had said and how I feel about her, but I just wasn’t ready for it right then, had too much fear inside. She went on to very honestly say that of course she couldn’t promise she wouldn’t be affected by what I might say, but that she can deal with it.

Only this shifted my focus to another sore, another deep-rooted fear; that I actually don’t feel at all certain that she can deal with it, that she can cope with me. I said as much to her, but, I feel I failed to really convey that in an odd way this isn’t something personal to her, that it’s not a case of me thinking she’s not a strong enough person, but that it stems from the simple fact that, as much as I intellectually know that this – coping with me, with what I bring to session – is her job, that it’s what all that training was there for, that she is (that dreaded word) a professional, to me, she is first and foremost a human being and no amount of training can change that fact. And my experience of human beings is that they can’t cope with me, can’t deal with me. That sooner or later I become too much, sooner or later I break people.

And that’s a hard one. Because, if this is how I feel deep down, then has my therapy got any chance of bringing about change? If I am so terrified of breaking A., then will I ever be able to truly open up? Will I ever find the courage to risk it, or will that fear forever stand in my way of letting my emotions out?

There is a part of me that wants to close the door and run as far as I can, and another that wants to be brave and carry on, beginning with exploring this immense fear. Together with A.

I still don’t know what I will do, but I know this:

My three and a half year honeymoon with A. is over.
And maybe, just maybe, this is where real therapy begins.

xx

Powerlessness, Asthma & Echoes From The Past

Feel like I ought to be given some sort of medal or badge today. It’s been one week since my last therapy session, and so far it’s been manageable. Moments of feeling somewhat lower than usual, but absolutely within the range of what I can cope with without freaking out.

That aside, today I feel like a prisoner in my own home.

The last few Fridays I’ve not been attending our Friday meetings, because B. – a former therapist of mine, whom I chose to terminate therapy with – is doing a student placement as part of her training at those meetings. I have been trying to explain both to others and to myself why I feel so strongly about her coming here, but it’s really hard to put it into words, aside from stating the obvious, that I chose to end therapy with her for a reason, and to not want to have to see her again, even in a group setting, seems – at least to me – a not unreasonable request. I would have thought that most people would not be particularly keen on having to see an ex-therapist once they have terminated therapy with that person. No?

But, of course, it goes deeper than that. It’s not just having to see her; at a stretch I could possibly, maaaayyyybeee, cope with that. No, I think this is tied in to the fact that I’d not just be seeing her anywhere, but actually in my home. And I have a feeling that this is a large part of what is getting to me; that living in this therapeutic community I ultimately have no choice in who to let in or not into my own home.

Now, let’s put this into context of my own background.
I grew up in a house where I was put through some pretty severe abuse by people living in my home; my oldest brother and also, for a time, by a foster child placed in my family. At the time I didn’t feel able to stop it, didn’t know how to speak up [lots of complex issues, as anyone having experienced abuse will know]. In the end, the only way out I could find – and not before having already suffered through twelve long years of abuse – was to kill myself. It was the only control I felt I had over the situation; the option to live or to not live. So, at the age of 17, I opted to take a cocktail of painkillers and my mother’s various medications.

Needless to say, I didn’t succeed, and – in fairness – looking back, I can see that this was probably a cry for help, for someone to see that something wasn’t right.

To an extent it worked; the abuse came to light and it stopped. Would I call this a happy ending? No. Absolutely not. While the abuse stopped and things came to light; even went to court, I couldn’t call it a happy ending.

You see, even after all of this came to light, after by brother was convicted for what he had done, and despite the fact that everyone believed what I said had happened, I was still expected to carry on seeing him at family dinners and holidays, essentially giving the message that what happened to me didn’t really matter, and his place in the family was still more important than mine.

Me being me, having spent my whole life acting as if everything was fine, of course reverted back to that old habit of acting as if I was OK, as if these messages did me no harm. Not good.

Going back to the present situation, with B. coming into my home [even though this time I have expressly stated that I don’t want her here] it evokes in me the same feelings of being helpless, of having no power over who is let into my life; that what I want doesn’t matter.

Realising that the situation wasn’t going to change, that whether I felt OK with it or not, D. would be doing her placement with us, I was faced with a choice. A) To go to the meetings, reverting to the old pattern of pretending that things are fine, putting a brave face on it. Or, B) Not go to the meetings, feeling somewhat driven out of my home, as I don’t want to be around when she’s there, even if I don’t actually attend the meeting.

So far I’ve chosen option B. I say so far, because, of course, there is an option C) Going to the meeting, and not pretend that things are OK, but to speak up with her in the room.

Now, I can certainly see that there would be some value in option C), but – and this is a big but – I honestly don’t feel I am at a place yet where I would be able to do that. And as long as I feel that way, as long as I feel that going to the meeting would make me go back to acting OK, I simply don’t see how that would be a healthy choice. And so, for now, I do the second best; I preserve the boundaries I have set up by choosing not to attend the meeting. I accept that I can’t change B. coming to my house, but I don’t need to be around when that happens.

Except today.

Today is a beautiful, hot, sunny day here in London. Gorgeous, really. It is also the perfect weather for death-by-asthma. The government has even gone so far as to issue a smog alert for this bank holiday weekend.

Despite this, not wanting to be in the house when B. is here, I still tried to brave it this morning and went out. Unfortunately, I had to turn around and head back to the house, because I just couldn’t get enough air in my lunges; the weather and the pollution was simply too much.

So at the moment, I’m in my room, using my inhaler, feeling more than ever as a prisoner in my own home.

Oh well, at least I have the internet here, and I can spend my time exploring where my feelings stem from, and then plague the world with my findings in the form of a blog entry!

Happy Easter, Passover or Spring – whatever floats your boat!

All the very best and much much more,

xx

PS. The trick is to keep breathing.

Jarring Aspects of Reality, Emotional Conflict & Reality-Checking

I’ve not done my nails. Plain green nails for almost a week. Time to analyse..

I do my nails somewhat obsessively when I’m anxious. It’s a natural way to focus on the here-and-now, while still being able to allow your thoughts to drift a bit. To stray, but not too far. Manageable emotional excursions.

Are my plain nails a sign that life is smooth sailing at the moment? Not necessarily. I have this thing where I sometimes simply tip over into don’t care, can’t be bothered-mode. This tends to happen when there is a lot of anxiety, but I’m working hard to suppress it.

So, what is it I am suppressing this time? Well.. I’m flying home next week. [Airport snow clearing team permitting]. I’ve been home twice already this year, and – on the whole – it’s been fine. Yet, as noted in previous entries, it’s not that simple. Because although these last two times have been essentially fine, there’s a psychological and emotional history to take into account.

There have been times in the past where things have been far from fine. And, as we all know, us humans have a tendency to be ruled more easily by negative experiences than positive ones. A bad experience is by no means cancelled out by a good one. Psychologically, a good one just means that it was OK this time. It leaves no guarantee that the less pleasant events won’t be repeated later. And thus, anxiety bubbles within, contrary to recent experience.

How can we master this? Well – if I had an absolute solution to that I would be a very very rich woman. But, there are things a person can do, reality-checking coming up quite high on the list. And by reality-checking I don’t mean a straight forward last time was fine so don’t worry about this time, because, although it is factually true that last time was OK, telling yourself that there is no reason at all to worry is in fact taking a step away from the reality of the situation.

I think it is far more helpful to say that Last time was fine, but I’m still worried because X-Y-Z.. To allow yourself to look at the reasons for feeling the things you are, to feel that it’s not wrong to feel that way, but to at the same time acknowledge that there have also been some changes to the experiences that makes you feel that way.

Aspects of reality don’t necessarily have to go neatly together. It’s a hard one to get your head around, emotionally – but, it is nonetheless true.

I could write for hours about the psychological conflict the different realities creates, but – sadly – it’s time to get off to work.

And tonight I may do my nails with no element of over-analysing whatsoever.

It could happen!

All the very best to you all,

xx

Question Marks & Exclamation Points

A. is moving. And though I’ve known ever since she initially told me about the move that I’ll be moving with her, it’s still stressing me out. I know it doesn’t quite make sense, but even that tiny change is rather unsettling to me. The last few sessions the pile of moving boxes in the narrow hallway has grown, and something about it really gets to me. I guess it creates something of a dent in the constant that I want therapy to be.

Adult Me knows that going to a new place won’t really change the therapy or my relationship with A., and that in a few sessions’ time at the new place, it will be absolutely fine. And yet Little S is reacting to this change as were it the onset of the apocalypse.

And I wonder why.

I have a few layman’s theories. Or, two, at least.
The first is that this could be a perceived echo of the fear I may have experienced as a baby, being brought from India to Sweden at the age of six months. A sort of non-accessible memory or fear being triggered by A.’s move. The second theory is also childhood related. It goes as follows: Despite the fact that as a child I was fortunate enough to to grow up in a single home, for a variety of reasons I didn’t form strong enough attachments to my parents to feel that the ties to them were secure, safe and permanent. (Or, as A. typically puts it: I didn’t experience the relationship to my parents as being unconditional.) Therefore it follows that since I, even in a reasonably constant home environment, felt that important relationships could easily break down or even be destroyed, the prospect of an actual move (as is the case with A.) becomes all the more frightening. And I panic.

Of course it’s impossible to know for sure why we react in a certain way, but I do find it helpful to at least consider the different possible reasons. Trying to understand how past experiences may influence us in the here-and-now might not actually change the way we react, but if we can see some sort of underlying reason, it may make it easier to accept the way we feel as something natural. (As opposed to telling ourselves that we ought to be able to control ourselves and our emotional responses, something which tends to be neither helpful nor productive).

Also, I have to admit that I generally find it easier to live with exclamation points than question marks. Even if the exclamation points are somewhat crooked..

All the very best and more,

xx

PS. Winter Olympics rocks. Why can’t people in this silly country getthat? Ice-hockey, figure skating, half-pipe, ski cross, Super G. Ultra-funky stuff. Sincerely.

Separation Anxiety – An Entry About Echoes From The Past

I had my final therapy session today before A. goes away. It will be a full month before the next time I see her. And I’m reallynot liking this. Separation anxiety and abandonment issues galore.

If you’ve never been in therapy it might be difficult to understand why this whole ‘therapist going away’ is such a big deal, so I’ll try to – to the best of my rather limited ability – explain.

I guess most people think of therapy as a place to go and talk about stuff. Often childhood stuff. But, really, therapy is much more than that, it is a multi-level experience. Yes, you do talk.Lots. You talk about the here and now (that is what’s going on in your life at the moment) and you talk about stuff that has happened in the past. But, on top of that, one of the most important aspects of therapy is the relationship you form with your therapist. Not just in a she listens to me and she really gets me sort of way (although that is certainly an important part of it), but also on a completely different level.

Just like therapy is a multi-level experience, the relationship with the therapist works on many different levels, and one aspect is that the relationship with your therapist acts as something of a rear-view-mirror to the past, in that you will almost inevitably create a relationship with your therapist that either closely resembles a relationship from your past, or takes the form of a relationship you wish you could have had (or could have) with a specific person.

One of the more common re-creations of past relationships is to attribute the therapist with qualities which your childhood primary carer had (or that you wish he/she would have had). In short, many people turn their therapist into something of a mother-like figure.

Now, as babies and children we want our parents to be there for us. To be safe and secure, loving and nurturing. To make sure that our needs are being met.
Following on to the mirrored relationship with your therapist, the same is true here. We want them to be there, to understand, and to be ‘constant’.

But then the therapist goes away, be it owing to illness, annual leave or any other reason, and suddenly our needs are no longer being met. Our pseudo-parent is taken away from us. And, so it makes sense to react to this in much the same way we did as children when our parents went away; to feel anxious because we don’t quite know how to deal with this, to be frustrated because our needs are no longer being met, and to be angry, because, frankly, parents just aren’t supposed to go away.

I’m guessing that no matter how good or secure your relationship with your parents was, you will likely still have experienced these type of emotions, and so, by extension, you are likely to feel something similar when your therapist goes away.

Of course the level of distress varies from person to person, in part based on what past relationships have been like. Some people may be able to cope with separation reasonably well, while others find it very very difficult to manage.

Personally, I fall into the latter category and I very much struggle with this unwanted break in therapy.

There are, of course, many reasons for this, not all of them dating back to my early childhood, but almost certainly my experiences as a baby will have had an impact on how I now deal with separation.

I was adopted when I was six months old. Before that, I am not sure exactly what my life was like. I know that I spent at least the last three months before being adopted in an orphanage in India, being cared for by whatever staff happened to be available. I don’t know when or how I came to the orphanage, if I was given up at birth, if I spent some time with my birthmother before being given up or if I was simply a foundling.. there is no way of knowing.

Now, although I can’t consciously remember the first six months of my life, based on most commonly accepted attachment theories, I think it is safe to assume that whatever happened to me back then will have had an impact on me, and so I’m wondering if part of what I am going through now, dealing with A. being away, triggers a re-experiencing of the feelings I must have felt back then.

So.. Yes, this separation is bringing out some pretty extreme emotions in me. I’m not very good at naming exactly what they are, but I know that they really do rattle me in rather a big way.

I do feel reasonably strong in general at the moment, and I’m trying to accept that whatever feelings I have are ok. But there is always a worry that I might ‘forget myself’; even when you’re not feeling particularly depressed on the whole it can be difficult to manage negative emotions.

So, I’ve set myself three little guidelines to follow until A. gets back:

1: No matter what; keep breathing in and out
2: Try to find ways of coping other that resorting to self-harm
3: Even if I fail on number two, stick to number one!

So, watch this space: I’ll keep you posted on how I fare.

All the best and other good things,

xx