Three Key Rules For Surviving The Present

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“..when all I really want, I said to myself, is to survive the present..”

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Sitting here, alone. Trying to somehow keep it together. And failing miserably. I feel like I’m a prisoner in my own life, and while there may well be a key to the lock, it seems impossible to find. Or maybe I’m just looking in all the wrong places?

I haven’t been able to attend service for weeks, owing to flashbacks. Haven’t even had enough head space to follow them online. Still, as my therapy is on now on hold, I know that it will be important to find other, non-destructive, ways to cope, so this morning I decided to brave it and just push myself that little bit extra to get there. Which I did.

I now regret that bitterly. As lovely as the service was, I was struggling throughout it, trying to stave off the flashbacks that insisted on popping up, and it took all I had to somehow stay in my seat and not just rush out. I tried to focus on the music, on the words, the prayers, and to a degree I suppose you could say that I succeeded, but what is normally something that feels naturally easy and enjoyable, today took a lot of hard work. By the time service was over and it was time to exchange the customary Shabbat shaloms [“have a peaceful day of rest”] I was exhausted, and I only barely scraped by during kiddush. Feel very bad about it, because I know I probably came across as a bit off to others, but it was the best I could do. Having greeted the people I know, I made my excuses and left as quickly as possible. The second I got on the bus home I just broke down in tears.

Of course, tears are not the enemy, if anything they are an entirely appropriate response to the difficulties I’m facing, and they’ve been waiting to fall since I left my final session with A. But it’s not nice when it happens in public. It just isn’t.

It was hard saying goodbye to A. The session in itself was reasonably OK. I managed to talk about the extreme separation anxiety I was [and still am] experiencing, and I think that was important. To be able to say how hard and frightening this long break feels, to be honest about how uncertain I feel about whether or not I have what it takes to make it through to the other side of it. To talk openly about why it’s so hard, this effective re-experiencing of every other time I have felt abandoned, neglected, second-best and left behind, with no one to care for me. To feel that there is no one I can truly trust to see me through.

Of course – and I said that, too – in my final session, I know that I’m not really all alone. I know that there are lots of people in my life who care about me and who want to see me make it through, people who are more than willing to offer me support. But, at the same time, as I’ve described many times in the past, a therapist is in many ways a pseudo-parent, and so, having a break – especially a big one like this – is bound to cut pretty deep. And when you cut deep, you bleed, and it inevitably leaves a scar. It’s impossible to just pick up where we left off, as if nothing’s happened. So there is a fear of that, too. Of what it will be like once A. is back. Will I ever feel able to trust her in the way I was? Because, unlike other breaks, at the end of this one her whole world will have changed. That moment when she goes from being a pseudo-parent to her clients, to being an actual parent will be unlike anything else. And even if we manage to reach that Winnicottian good enough place together again, the fear of another abandonment will linger, as it’s likely that in due time she will want to have another child. In fact, whether or not she does, the fear will be there, regardless.

So things are distinctly uphill right now. I keep thinking Oh, I’ll talk about this in my next session, and then I crash with the realisation that that next session is so desperately far away.

I told A. that I would do my very best to stick to my usual 3-rule therapy break survival plan:

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!

That made A. smile, and I will try to keep that in my mind and in my heart, because I do want to make it through.
I just don’t entirely trust it that I will.

xx

The quote at the top is from the book Are You Somebody? © Nuala O'Faolain
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Maternity Leave, Eternity Leave & Lessons From A Goldfish

Some of you will know that I recently moved. I did a straight room swap with someone, and when this someone else moved, she – let’s call her K. – left behind a great big goldfish bowl with accompanying goldfish. Now, I told her straight off that I didn’t want it; I could never keep fish like that, in an un-oxygenated bowl with no black-out sides and nothing inside the bowl for the poor fish to hide behind. She told me she was going to get a smaller tank to fit in her room and come back for her fish. Being the friendly [if somewhat horrified] person that I am, I told her fine, just put it in the hallway for now, but make sure to come get it as soon as possible. No worries, K. replied and went on her way.

A week passed. Nothing. I started googling to find out what the heck to feed my un-invited flat mate [finely chopped spinach and orange, apparently] as I couldn’t just let it starve. I texted K. Nothing. I put a tea mug in the tank so the fish would have somewhere to hide from the world. Another week went by. Another text. Met by even more silence. And then, yesterday morning, a text from K. saying “Sorry about the late reply, I was busy with exams until Friday and now I’ve gone abroad. Won’t be back until January”. What the flying BEEEP..!?

Needless to say, I wasn’t much pleased with this development, so I texted her back saying that I understand she’s been busy, but really, sending a text takes seconds – anyone can fit that in no matter how busy – and wouldn’t it have been a good idea to check that someone was actually going to be in the flat over Chrismukah & New Year to look after her fish? Apologised in case I sounded harsh, but honestly I wasn’t very impressed.

Now, I’m not someone who habitually sends out even remotely angry sounding texts, so having sent off the text I sat down to reflect, realising that this was probably about something bigger than just the poor goldfish. I mean, I’m not actually going away, and feeding a fish isn’t exactly hard labour. So what was it about all of this that was really upsetting me?

Seems pretty obvious from a distance, right? What was really bugging me was – of course – the fact that she could so easily leave this living being behind without a thought, without making sure someone was going to be there to make sure that it was OK.

Fast forward to later in the day, still thinking about the fish, feeling genuinely upset by it being abandoned like that, I realised that I was very much identifying with this poor fish, and that my anger with K. was probably more accurately a misplaced expression of anger with A. leaving me behind, with no one to look after me.

So that’s what yesterday’s session – the final one before a two week Chrismukah break – was spent on. Trying to explore the feelings I have, not only around this break, but also about A.’s maternity leave – which I feel, ought really be re-named eternity leave. How I feel, much like this little fish, left to my own device in this not-great-but-won’t-kill-me place, where all I can do is to swim round and round in circles.

I feel that being in therapy gives me a sense of direction, like – although progress is often excruciatingly slow – I’m going somewhere, I’m moving. But with this massive break coming up, well, I’m not sure what to do with it, what to do in that huge expanse of time. Do I retreat into the tea cup of my mind? Do I try to move forward on my own, risking getting myself into territory I’m not at all ready to cope with outside of the safety of the therapeutic setting? Or do I just stand still? I genuinely don’t know, and that makes me feel lost and frightened.

A. gave me the breakdown of her plan for her maternity leave on Tuesday. She’s planning to keep working until the fourth week of February [but, naturally, there is no guarantee that that will happen] and then she’ll be off until some time in July when she will go back on a part time basis, meaning I will have only one session a week, in contrast to the three I’m currently having. And, of course that makes perfect sense, from her point of view, to start over slowly. But for me, I’m not really so sure. Going from thrice weekly therapy to weekly sessions, it’s one heck of a drop, even if it is temporary.

I’ve been in weekly therapy before [albeit not with A.], and it is incredibly different to having more sessions in a week. My experience of weekly therapy is that, although it is helpful – and certainly better than nothing – it’s very.. hm.. choppy. Because so much can happen in the week between sessions, there is both a sense of wanting to cram as much as possible into that one session, and also there is very little flow between sessions. What you started talking about last week can easily be pushed to the side, in favour of new exciting events and thoughts, and deeper exploration often suffer as a consequence. And if you are, as I am, prone towards avoiding digging too deep, this can be used as a way to get away with not looking below the surface of things. So, that worries me.

Towards the end of last session I was really finding it difficult to speak, feeling very emotional and tearful. I just felt utterly overwhelmed by this feeling of being left completely on my own, and feeling that I really haven’t got the tools to stay above water. Like I said to A.: Forget about that nice sturdy IKEA bag I was hoping to find, right now I’d settle for the flimsiest of Morrisons carrier bags to help somehow contain my emotions. I feel really worried that, lacking a time and place to express what’s going on inside of me, those horrendous flashbacks will start coming back again, in the way they did earlier this year. I just don’t feel I’d be able to cope with that. Not without resorting to self-harm again.

A. pointed out that despite things being difficult, I was still managing to look after that goldfish and taking steps to make things as comfortable as I can for it, given the situation, to which I had to admit that I had, in all honesty, thought that I really ought to put that poor fish out of its misery, as I can’t bear watching it live out its life in this depressing little tank. I realised then that this could easily be interpreted as my expressing thoughts of wanting to end my own life, because it just feels too miserable and closed in, and so I felt I had to reassure A. that this wasn’t my plan, that I simply wouldn’t have been able to kill the fish, or myself. I’m not entirely sure if this is true, but metaphoric suicide didn’t feel like a very good note to end the session on, and after all, the woman is pregnant, so I felt I needed to smooth things over.

Don’t worry, I’m not saying I’m suicidal, only that it’s kind of hard to know with me. Even for me.

At points in this final session I felt very strongly that I needed A. to reassure me, to play the good, nurturing therapy mother, and tell me that things would be OK, but, for whatever reason A. didn’t seem to pick up on that, and said very little when I felt I needed it most. [Yes, I do recognise that this is the child in me being angry at not getting instant gratification]. But then, at the very end of session, as we said our goodbyes, she gave me this very warm smile [which, for all I know she may have been giving me all through session, but since I rarely look at A. during session I wouldn’t know] which made me feel so much better, and I wished her a good break. And I meant it.

All the very best and more,

xx

PS. Once again, thanks to all of you who have voted for my blog in the TWIM Awards. The polling station is still open, so if you haven’t but would like to register your vote there’s still a little bit of time left.  Just click here. :) Voting closes at mid-day on December 31st.