Twenty-fourteen – A Year Of Changes & Challenges

I thought I’d make one final push to get an update out before the end of the year. I’m not in a great place, hence radio silence on most channels, but sometimes that’s when the best blog posts come out, so let’s hope for the best. Could be nothing, could be something.

It’s been a rough year. There are no two ways about it. At the beginning of the year I ended with my therapist of five years and started over with a new one. It’s a big transition, moving from A. to P., and a huge emotional undertaking. It’s a bit like being asked to switch out your parents. Sure, your parents might not always get you, might be unfair, might make mistakes, might be downright unsuitable to parent anyone, but at least you know them, right? You know their habits, their triggers, their blind spots and you know how they react to the things you say and do. And you also know how you react to the things they say and do. It’s that comfortable – if often less-than-ideal – Familiar versus the scarily unpredictable Unknown that I’ve written about so many times in the past.

That was pretty much what I was going through with A. at the beginning of the year, as we slowly neared and then reached The Ending. Things had been running along the heading-for-an-irreparable-relationship-breakdown route for some time – probably for far longer than I was ready to admit to you, or myself, at the time – but at least I knew what to expect, knew when odds were that my words would be met with silence, knew when there was potential for disappointment. I also knew what not to say and what not to do to keep the status quo, to keep us from falling off the edge. In addition, I was standing on the bedrock of our previous years together, all the times we had communicated really well, spoken a similar emotional language. I had a good sense of where we had one another, of how big or small the distance between us was at any given time, how close we could get, how much trust there was and where the boundaries of our relationship were; all those things that had made our work together so meaningful and fruitful for such a long time. So, it was with a lot of sadness that I had to accept that the time for us to part ways had come.

I had met P. only once before we actually started our joint therapeutic journey. Fifty shared minutes during an initial consultation to decide whether or not we could be A Match. I left that first meeting in December last year feeling that, yes, she could potentially be someone I could learn to trust, given enough time and space to Thoroughly Test what sort of stuff she was made of. But, apart from that gut feeling I didn’t know much about her [or attachment-based therapy] when I went for my first real session in February. I knew that there was something about the way she actively sought to make eye contact in that first meeting that both scared me beyond reason and made me feel that she genuinely wanted to get to know the real me. Actually, let me rephrase that: the way she actively sought to make eye contact with me scared me beyond reason, because she so clearly wanted to get to know the Real Me. Not just the Me she could glean or guess at from the polite introductory phrases or the bullet pointing of my fragmented, chequered and often painful past during this initial meeting, but the Real Me hiding behind all that – the Me that only comes out after the Thorough Testing has been done. The Me that even A., after nearly five years, was only just beginning to get to know.

I took the plunge, and it turned out that the water was far more calm and warm than I had expected. As K. put it only the other day: ‘When you finished with A. I didn’t think you’d ever be able to build a relationship with another therapist. I thought the trust had been shattered for good. I’m amazed at how quickly your relationship with P. has developed.’ I get exactly what K. meant, because it was what I, myself, was thinking at the time. How would I be able to trust? Why should I?

I suppose the answer to that lies in the way P. is, really. I wasn’t at all ready to trust, and P. was able to accept that completely, without any expectation that this would change. Was able to meet me where I was at. She was able to accept that I simply didn’t know if I really wanted to go on with therapy, or even with life. The exact thing that had ultimately caused the breakdown with A. The very thing A. had made clear she couldn’t accept; that I may not only feel that life wasn’t for me, but that I might actually act on it. P. made me, almost immediately – without the Thorough Testing – feel that this was a part of me she could accept. She in no way gave me license to act, but she simply accepted that this could be one of the paths our journey might take.

Then, of course, only a few months later this was put to the test. A splash of a toxic chemical on my tongue, the swallowing of some tricyclics – which I still to this day don’t remember taking – an ambulance ride from the women’s crisis centre to A&E and eleven hours in a coma.

Some might say this was part of my Thorough Testing. I’m not going to argue for or against. All I know is that we survived it: P. didn’t break, didn’t conclude that the reality of acting out was so different from the theory and phantasy of it that she could no longer work with me.

And our relationship grew a little stronger.

The aftermath of this overdose – along with a previous, more serious, intake of that same ototoxic chemical – was the loss of most of what remained of my already damaged hearing. Another big thing to deal with; the knowledge that my actions would have a lifelong effect – near deafness. But, also, in a backwards kind of way, the realisation that even when I mess up it is still within my power to do something about it; the decision to hop on the not-so-joyful steroid ride, the slight but miraculous recovery of some hearing, the sorting out of hearing aids [even though it at times makes me feel I’m ninety-something rather than thirty-something].

And all year long this journey has of course been fenced in and intercepted by flashbacks, by horrendous memories of a past that is never really in the past and by nightmares that don’t go away just because I wake up. Post but-never-quite-over traumatic stress disorder. The stuff that makes day to day life all but impossible to plan. The never knowing if a day will be a 40, 100 or near continuos flashback day. Making plans, cancelling plans, scheduling and rescheduling – because I simply can’t know in advance if any given day will be one where I can leave my house without putting myself at risk.

At the moment it seems worse than usual, more 100-a-day days than 40s. I went to visit my father for the first time in two and a half years at the end of November. That may have something to do with it. I don’t know. It might be related to the fact that both P. and K. have now gone on their respective Chrismukkah breaks, leaving Little S. feeling sad, scared and abandoned, and Adult Me struggling to cope in their absence. Or it might be chance. But, whatever the reason, it’s not so easy to deal with.

Anyway, I want to take the time to thank all of you who have faithfully stuck with me through the ups and downs of this year, in spite the updates being few and far between. It does make such a difference to me. It touches me deeply every single time one of you takes the time to post a comment or write me an email to share a bit of your Selfs with me. I know that is how most of my replies to your communications begin, but it is for a good reason: it’s the truth. I am very grateful for your support.

So, wherever you are in your lives, whatever is going on for you right now, good or bad, I do wish you all the very best.

xx

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Surviving An Ending: Starting Over

Finishing with A. was always going to be immensely painful and would inevitably leave me with a whole host of scary feelings, and nowhere to put them. So, in a bid to keep myself from harm’s way I decided to give myself a time-out immediately after The Ending.

Chickening out of allowing any kind of time or space for those Scary Feelings to rear their ugly heads, I made sure to book a seat on the first morning flight available after The Ending – and – looking back, I think that was a wise choice, indeed; getting through even just an afternoon and evening after my final session with A. was a momentous task, and didn’t feel like something I could have coped with safely for any length of time at all, to be perfectly honest. Far safer to spend time with sisters and nephews and brothers-in-law, all of whom provide sufficient distraction, and help me find some balance between being hit at full force by the painful loss of my relationship with A. and shutting down altogether. In short, I made a conscious choice to be around people who I knew I would feel OK to not be OK around, if that makes sense.

But, now I’m back. And – fearing that reality is about to strike – I have purposely thrown myself into all things Olympic in order to buy myself some more time and shelter myself from the whirlwind of emotion which is sure to soon come sweeping across my soul.

*

I had my first two sessions with The New Therapist this week, and that was both absolutely emotionally draining and a huge relief. The New Therapist – who I have decided to call P. [as that was the letter that immediately came to me the very first time I met her, at the initial consultation], is very different to A. Although she is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist, just as A. is, she is also attachment-based. And that is a whole new ballgame for me. It’s all very relational, very direct and very open. Even at our first meeting I noticed that she actively wants to make eye-contact with me, and seeks to engage in a completely different way. And that will take some getting used to. As much as I have often found myself frustrated with what I have experienced as a certain lack of closeness or intimacy with A., now that it is being served to me in this way, it is quite a scary thing, because in that slight distance between A. and I, there was also safety: for better or for worse I could opt to hide in that space if I needed to, and I have a feeling that is something that will be a whole lot harder to do with P. There is something about this open invitation to attach that leaves me feeling vulnerable and somewhat exposed. And allowing myself to enter into a relationship in that way feels strange and more than just a little scary.

I will say that, instinctively, I rather like P., and I think that – once I get more used to this new way of relating to The Therapist, this could be quite fruitful. But, at the same time, I do have a lot of ambivalence: I find myself going back and forth between ‘Go on, dare to trust. Everything you have seen of P. so far points towards you being in safe hands. Try to not hold back so much’ and ‘Don’t do it. Don’t let her in. You’ve been wrong about people in the past, and ultimately you’ll be let down, and you’ll end up being hurt’.

*

As I am writing this post, I suddenly feel very aware that with every difference I note between A. and P., the realisation that I won’t be seeing A. anymore knocks on the door – makes my eyes tear up – and I am also struck by the feeling that I am somehow being disloyal to A. in writing about anything even remotely hopeful about P.  Almost as if I am cheating on her with another therapist. I remember feeling something very similar when I started seeing A., having learnt so much from my work with D., and worrying that in one way or another moving on to a new therapist meant that I didn’t value what D. had offered or the hard work she had done with me. I know that these feelings will eventually subside, and I also know that in some ways I had outgrown A. – or perhaps we had both outgrown our relationship – and the time to part ways had come. But for now, each reminder that things have come to an end in my relationship with A. hurts. Because I really miss her.

I suppose that in a way, ending with A. – and the fact that I really won’t be seeing her again – is a bit like dealing with a death, and I suspect that over the next several months I will be going through all the different stages of grief.

But, hopefully, I won’t be doing it on my own.

xx

Ps. To those of you who know about my trip to Sweden: I know that I am missing out two absolutely massive things about my time there, both of which deserve some proper analysing; I will return to those things in a later post, but for now, I am choosing to leave it out. *hangs the STILL PROCESSING sign on the door*

The End Of A Relationship

Sometimes A Rubber Duck Really IS Just A Rubber Duck ..these ones, of course, aren't..

Sometimes A Rubber Duck Really IS Just A Rubber Duck
..these ones, of course, aren’t..

 

I feel so desperately sad.

Had my final session with A. earlier today. And I just want to cry. In fact I have been crying. A lot. It just feels awful. I hate the way things have ended, it doesn’t feel good at all; there are so many loose ends that we were just never able to tie up and we will now never get the opportunity to do so. I feel we came to an impasse at some point last year, and no matter how hard I’ve tried, it’s just not been possible to break it. And that is what is making me feel so terribly sad, what I mourn. I knew that I would have to end therapy with A., that there really was no other path left to take, but, I would have liked to have been able to rebuild at least some of the things I felt got broken in the midst of this therapeutic breakdown of sorts.

I knowingly opted not to write about the last four sessions as they happened, because I wanted to use these few weeks to deal with therapy coming to an end on my own and in my sessions with A., without discussing and analysing it to bits elsewhere beforehand. I just felt that if I spend a lot of time between sessions writing about them, especially about all the things I didn’t say in session, it would somehow dilute something, would make it easier to remain emotionally remote in session, because I would have already felt the initial force of impact when dissecting it in black-on-white writing. And with this very important final phase of my work with A. I wanted to try to avoid that. Especially knowing how good I can be at switching off emotions, even when I’m actively trying not to.

But, now that it is over, I would like to share some of the things that have been going on. I’m not sure that I will be able to write about it all tonight, it all feels so terribly raw still, so there may have to be a few posts on the subject over the next few weeks, but I’ll make a start today, to the best of my ability.

There is this broken record that’s been playing in my head on repeat this whole time: How am I supposed to say goodbye at the end of the final session, walk through the door and never come back..? It’s a thought I have been wanting to share with A. throughout, but I wasn’t able to give voice to it until today, in the very last session.

The idea of never feels so terribly painful and inescapable that I’ve not quite known what to do with it. In the last few weeks, I’ve often found myself suddenly struck with sheer panic about the fact that I would soon not be seeing A. anymore. That she will no longer be my therapist. And – even more painfully – the realisation that, not only will A. not be my therapist anymore, but I won’t be her client. The link will be completely severed. Forever.

And it hurts like hell.

So, I had to come up with a solution to help me deal with that. Something. Anything. And in the end it happened in the shape of two rubber ducks.. I spent some time thinking about whether or not I wanted to make a card for A. for the final session, or even give her a little something. It’s something I’ve never done in all of our years together. You see, my father – The World’s Greatest Psychotherapist – used to get Christmas cards and Easter cards and Happy Midsummer cards and other bits and pieces from his clients, and I always deeply resented this intrusion of his work in our family home. Feeling that he was already so much more involved with his clients than he was with his family, I really didn’t want reminders of his clients dotted around the house.. As a consequence of this, I’ve always felt I can’t quite cope with being That Client, and as a consequence A. has never been sent a card or left a gift or anything like that.

In the end I decided that actually, doing a little project of some sort, while dealing with the ever nearing ending, might be useful. In essence, to put my own needs before any thoughts about what impact this may have on anything or anyone. So, I came up with the rubber duck idea. It seemed fitting, because I have told A. many times that “sometimes a rubber duck really IS just a rubber duck”, meaning that not everything said in session is an echo of the world outside, and even if there is a bigger duck in the outside world, sometimes dealing with the smaller duck inside the therapy room, will be just as effective at resolving something..

Anyway, I bought two ducks to decorate with my trademark nail varnish flowers. [Having never used nail varnish on this material before, I wanted to have a back-up duck should I need to have another go, using different paints.] As it turns out, nail varnish works really well on rubber ducks, and I didn’t need the back-up, spending an hour and a half painting the duck and thinking about my journey with A., allowing the emotions it brought out to just exist. The idea with giving A. the duck – apart from serving as a reminder of what I used to tell her – was that it might make it a little easier to walk out and never come back, if I knew that there would be something of me left behind. No, I don’t really feel that nothing of me would have been left behind, without the duck, but leaving something physically behind, made it less abstract. Then, last night, I decided to paint the second duck as well, because I thought that if I have the twin to A.’s duck still with me, there wouldn’t be such a definite severing of the link between A. and I. A very comforting thought. So, that’s what I did. When I was done, I named A.’s duck Graduation Day Duck [End of Therapy Duck, was a little too negative] and mine Separation Anxiety Duck. [I think we’ll save analysing that for another time..]

I’ve previously written about the things I’ve felt I’ve needed from A., in order to make this parting of ways more manageable. I can’t say that I’ve really had any of those things, at least not packaged the way I had imagined. But, at the same time, some things have been said – tiny little things here and there that have seeped through when A. has been talking about other things, which have made me think you’re really talking about us here, aren’t you? I think therapists sometimes underestimate the amount of time their clients spend analysing them, and the fact that interpreting what is being said is not a magic skill bestowed on their profession alone. Just as they hear echoes of other things in what we say, so do we see shadows and other dimensions in the pictures they paint for us.

In one session A. said something along the lines of how it is really important for me to hear her say that I am special. I can’t remember if I replied directly to that, at the time, but I remember thinking that, actually, it isn’t so much about being special to her, as it is about feeling validated in the fact that I am unique, that even if she sees a million other clients, every single one with a similar background, our work is unique, because our relationship is unique –  that our relationship can’t be replicated or duplicated, because of who we each are as individuals, and the unique combination that creates.

At times, the refusal to allow me to have this validation has felt very harsh and has been experienced as exceptionally rejecting, regardless of the intellectual understanding that this was not the intention. In the midst of therapy, I can to some degree see the value in not always providing automatic gratification, to instead look at what this need is really about. But, at the end of nearer to five years, when there soon would be no next session in which to analyse things, I don’t really understand this withholding of validation. In fact, even if it really was just about needing to be told that you’re special, what is the cost in doing that? When there is no further analysis to be done within that particular relationship? I have talked to A. about how the fact that both D. and Z. in their final sessions with me made sure I could really feel that the work we had been doing had meant something to them, too, has been really helpful. To be told that I – simply through being the unique person that I am – have had an impact on them, has had a definite positive effect on me. That is not to say that I am unable to feel good about myself without someone else reassuring me of my value, BUT –  a little positive reinforcement from someone you respect can go a long way and create rings on the water that reach very far, indeed. Just look at children who grow up with parents who validate them, and then at children whose parents actively invalidate them, and the benefit of the former becomes obvious. It is human nature to continue to grow in a healthier way as a person, if we feel valued for simply being ourselves.

*

Today the dreaded final session finally came. At the beginning of it I used the duck to talk about the ending, and the process the duck had been part of [and – yes – I did a little analysing of the names I’d given them], and that part of it felt good. But then I sort of side-tracked myself and talked about something entirely different – something which, had this been a normal mid-therapy session, would have been very useful – but, which in the context of this being the final session felt very much like something that wouldn’t really be nearly as helpful as talking about the fact that after 429 sessions and 21,450 minutes spent together, A.’s and my relationship was about to end. At one point I tried to get back to talking about the ending by stopping myself mid-sentence and stating that ‘No, I don’t actually want to talk about that’, but as A. encouraged me to carry on, and not feeling particularly brave, I ended up using all of the precious remaining time on this side-track.

And all of a sudden, without any warning at all, A. announced that “Our time has come to an end”. Not ten minutes before actual end of session, in order to leave time and space for a proper goodbye, but at the actual end of session, with no time to spare. It’s a bad habit of A.’s, this lack of signalling that time is nearly up, and it was particularly deeply felt today.

So, I left feeling somewhat robbed of the chance to say a proper goodbye, because, really, this session was ended much like any other session, with me putting my shoes on and quickly gathering my things, ready to vacate the room for The Next Client.

Yes, I was able to look A. in the eye and say “Thank you”, and  A., in turn, said that she wished me all the best, but, even though she more than likely genuinely does wish me all the best, it sounded awkwardly formal. She tacked a “Thank you for my duck” on after that, with a little more feeling, and that helped some, but I could without a shadow of a doubt have done with another five minutes spent truly acknowledging that what has been an incredibly important relationship for me was coming to an end.

Instead, I said goodbye and walked through the door.
Knowing that I would never be coming back.

And that’s when the tears began falling.

xx

Endings: Standing On The Brink Of The Unknown

Being in therapy is being in a relationship. Therefore it follows that ending therapy is an as complex and complicated – and sometimes painful – process as ending any other relationship. There are loose ends and jagged edges to deal with, memories – good and bad – to look back at, and a struggle to not panic and in desperation seek to go back to something that just isn’t there anymore.

I have always said that things that are familiar are often also comforting to us, even when The Familiar isn’t necessarily a good thing in itself. The Familiar is comforting because it keeps The Unknown at bay. And nothing is more frightening than The Unknown.

I have four more sessions left with A.
Four more sessions, after more than four and a half years of working together. In short: it is nothing. I am standing only millimetres away from The Unknown, and I have to find the courage to not turn and run, but rather to allow myself step in to and somehow tolerate existing within it.

I have been spending a lot of time over the Chrismukkah therapy break thinking about what exactly it is that makes this ending feel so difficult, because, intellectually I can see that ending work with A. has more or less become a necessity, both because I am unable to give her the reassurance that she needs that I won’t end my life, and – perhaps more importantly – because we have simply come as far as we can, working together. The conclusions I have reached, as to why the ending is difficult is summed up in the first paragraph of this post; this is the end of a very special relationship, so how could it not be difficult? But, on top of that ‘normal’ difficulty, apart from the anxiety and sadness and sense of loss that any ending brings with it, I think that there is something I need to take from this relationship, which I fear A. might deny me, and this is what makes it so much more painful.

In November, when I finished counselling with Z. – that, too, was a difficult ending. But, I do feel that in the last few sessions – and especially in the very last one – Z. managed to provide me with that one thing I needed: the reassurance that it mattered to her too, that we would not be working together anymore. That I had made an impact on her. That she would actually miss seeing me. What I am talking about here is not a need to be told that I am her favourite person ever to work with, but something far more simple; an open acknowledgement of the fact that working with me is special, because I am special: there is only one of me. So even though my slot would soon be filled by someone else, someone just as engaging, it is still different, because the relationship between Z. and I could only happen because of who we are as individuals, and what we accomplished in those sessions was specific to our relationship, to what we jointly brought to the table.

I talked with A. about this ending at the time, explaining that those things Z. said to me meant a lot, and significantly helped make that ending, if not less difficult, at least not painful, and left me with something positive to carry forward. The fact that Z. actually told me these things, actually said them out loud, rather than simply assume that the way we had been working together and the way we relate would automatically lead me to know it, I think is important. People who have been abused tend not to take things like that for granted, because actions and the meanings of those actions have been so terribly mixed up and confused in the past.

So, I suppose, what I would like from A. is something similar. I’m not talking about any earth shatteringly emotional revelations or dramatic proclamations, but just something said, in clear plain direct speech, about the work we have been doing and about what this ending means.

I asked A. earlier in the year if I matter to her, and she decided to not answer my question, and I am sure she has her reasons for that, but, I think what I need – especially now – is for her to step away from those reasons, whatever they are, and just meet me openly and honestly. The lack of this direct communication in the last few months, is part of why therapy is now coming to an end, and seeing as there will be no Next Session in which to analyse why I asked the question, an answer would be good, would provide me with that Something that I need.

But, as I wrote earlier, my fear is that A. will not opt to go down this route of openness and honesty, and this is where I feel the pain is created. To need to hear that working with me has mattered to her, that getting to know me, hearing my thoughts, means something, is important, and to leave, having been denied it, would be excruciatingly painful.

Of course, I don’t know that this will be how things end, and I really hope that A. will have taken onboard the things I said about ending with Z., and what made that a more positive ending. But, the fear is still there, looming like a dark cloud over my head.. I am seeing A. for the first time after the break tomorrow, and I will carry on talking about all of these things with her, as I had been before the break. I just hope that her response will be different.

*

Before concluding this post, I just wanted to say thank you to all who have emailed me following my last post. I am sorry that I haven’t been able to reply to all of you, but, hopefully, in time, I will. I know that this post hasn’t really been a direct follow-up on the previous one, and it isn’t because I am trying to shy away from the seriousness of the situation, which remains sadly unchanged, but because I feel that – for now – I need to try to deal with things in slightly smaller chunks, and if that means navigating by auto-pilot for a little while, well, so be it. As my sister said We much prefer Auto-Pilot to No Pilot..

But, once again, thank you all for your very kind emails and comments. They have been read, heard and appreciated.

Much love,

xx