Starting Over After A Break

               *

“Lily, oh Lily – I don’t feel safe
I feel that life has blown a great big hole through me.”
And she said,
“Child, you must protect yourself,
You can protect yourself;
I’ll show you how with fire..”

                           [from ‘Lily’ by Kate Bush ©1993]

 

 

 

I have had my first two post-summer break therapy sessions now. And it has felt, well.. strange. Both on Monday and today I found myself uncharacteristically tongue-tied at the beginning of session. [I am often silent during the first few minutes of a session, but I don’t often feel that I can’t speak]. There were plenty of thoughts and feelings buzzing around, but I just didn’t seem able to catch hold of any of them to translate into words.

In the very first session I was initially completely overwhelmed by how powerful the relief of seeing P. was. I hadn’t expected to have quite such a strong emotional response. I could almost physically feel Little S. doing backflips in sheer joy at the sight of P. in her chair. Back where she belongs.

And, at the same time, there was a real urge to withdraw and protect myself from anything and anyone who wasn’t me. To go to my island, the one that is so tiny that it only has room for me. The one where I feel safe in the knowledge that no one else can get to me.

See, that’s the funny thing about Little S.; as happy as she was to see P., – and she was very happy – she is also naturally suspicious of others. Just because P. was back and everything seemed alright, it didn’t necessarily mean that Little S. would readily take that at face value. So, she went from being absolutely delighted to have P. back to ‘You disappeared on me, so I’m not quite ready to trust you yet’ in seconds flat. You see, Little S. is – as I explained to P. in today’s session – a lot like Little My of the Moomin Valley; there is only ever enough space for one feeling at a time and she can go from one to another in no time at all. One second ‘overjoyed that P. was back’, and then – boom – ‘suspicious that she might do another disappearing act’.

 

- Little My - "If you're angry you're angry." Little My reasoned, peeling her potato with her teeth. "You're supposed to be angry from time to time. Every little creature has that right."


“If you’re angry you’re angry,” reasoned Little My, peeling her potato with her teeth.
“You’re supposed to be angry from time to time. Every little creature has that right.”
[From Moominpappa At Sea by Tove Jansson ©1965]

 

P. suggested that maybe Little S. is quite angry with her – or even really angry with her– for leaving her to fend for herself while she went on a nice long break. As soon as P. said that Little S. – sensing danger at being called on her negative feelings – had to go into hiding, and Adult Me was left to explain that Little S. wasn’t quite ready to deal with those feelings yet, [“Little S. has left the building”] even if P.’s guess was probably spot on and Adult Me would have liked to have been able to talk about it, together with Little S.

At the beginning of today’s session, while still in Unable To Speak-mode, I became aware that there was a song playing in my head. It seemed unlikely to be chance that that particular song had decided to play, so I shared a few somewhat random lines from it with P.: “Child, take what I say with a pinch of salt, and protect yourself with fire”. At the time I felt very aware that I was leaving out two lines about feeling unsafe and being afraid, but as I am writing this now, I am thinking that maybe that’s not the end of the world? I have another session tomorrow, and if I want to, I can mention making that choice – so we can look at the reasons for consciously leaving those oh-so-revealing lines out, or I can leave it as it is, because even though I missed out parts of the lyrics, we kind of managed to touch on the themes of not feeling safe anyway.

We also spoke about feeling unsure if this need to protect myself through withdrawing [from P.] is something I – or at least Little S. – genuinely needs to do in order to cope, or if it is something I now do per automatik, unquestioningly and without thinking, because it is what I have ‘always’ done.

I suppose that this is a constant battle for me; striking the right balance between being mindful of Little S.’s needs, and challenging her to take tiny steps forward.. It is also, admittedly, a struggle at times to manage Adult Me’s frustration with the amount of time Little S. needs to take any little steps at all. I often find myself having to repeat the mantra that ‘baby steps are also steps’ to Adult Me, because if she had her way, she could quite easily race ahead at a pace neither Little S. nor Adult Me is ready to cope with..

 

All the very best,

xx

 

Lily from the album The Red Shoes. This video features in Bush's short film The Line, The cross and The Curve.
Kate Bush © 1993
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Where Do We Go From Here?

I have been meaning to upload this post for a few days now, have kept telling people that I was going to post an update in the next few days, but, for whatever reason, I just needed a little more time to think before writing it. As I wrote in a previous post, it hasn’t been my intention to turn this little therapy drama into any sort of cliff-hanger, I just simply wasn’t quite ready to write the update until just now, hence the delay. Nothing more to it.

*

A. replied very briefly to my email, acknowledging that she had received it and confirming that she was expecting me to come for session the following Wednesday. This was good; I wouldn’t have wanted her to respond to my email at length, I just wanted her to have read it and to have had some time to think about the things I was saying, so that we could talk about it in the next session.

I began that next session with a simple ‘So where do we go from here?’ thinking that that was open enough to invite some sort of mutual discussion. Instead my question was met with silence, and I felt instantly annoyed, because I had really hoped that A. would recognise the need to respond to me openly and directly, to engage in a dialogue with me, rather than to hang back and wait for me to say something for her to analyse. So, naturally, the next thing that came out of my mouth was dripping with frustration: ‘You know, it would be quite helpful if we could have an actual two-way conversation about this.’

We did have something of a conversation, eventually. Thankfully. Because, I think I would have walked out once and for all, had that not happened. My anxiety was sky high coming into that session, not knowing whether or not this would be the session where A. would tell me that she definitely couldn’t carry on working with me, regardless of whether or not I promised to not get suicidal again, because I was simply too much for her. And, also, there was tremendous fear that what I had written in the email would have a negative effect, or would be misunderstood, would have tipped things in the opposite direction of what I had hoped for. So, I really needed to be able to have a conversation with her about where we stood, what was going to happen, what the deal was going to be. I couldn’t have handled the not-knowing, the guessing, the excruciating uncertainty regarding the future of our therapeutic relationship.

A. brought something up which I had mentioned in the previous session, namely the idea that if I did go along with her request that would almost certainly mean that talking about suicidal feelings would become taboo. She told me that there were no taboos, that I was free to explore absolutely anything I wanted to in session – but – that I was not free to act.

I sat with this for a moment, because to me, this seemed quite different to what I felt she had said in the previous session. There is no way for me to know if this was what she had meant to convey in the previous session but had just expressed it in a somewhat clumsy way, resulting in me hearing something quite different, or if she had taken in what I had written in my email, and realised that what she had demanded initially was an impossible ask. All I know is that this felt different to the ultimatum-like choice she had presented me with the last time we met. So, that’s what I told her. A., of course, wanted to know in what way it felt different, and I said that this felt more doable, that while there is no way I – or anyone for that matter – can promise never to become suicidal, I can choose not to act.

I can’t say that I feel that we managed to talk it all out in that session, or even that we have in subsequent sessions. I couldn’t honestly say that this issue has been resolved. It still feels like it’s sitting there, an invisible but definite stumbling block between us. Whilst I acknowledged that I can make a choice not to act, I never made any sort of promise to A. that I won’t, nor has she pressed me for one. In some ways you could say that we have both just let it drop, allowed it to fall into that silent space between us, lost in the red pile of the Persian rug at our feet. I can’t help but feel that we are both working very hard at pretending that everything is back to normal, even though we both know that that isn’t the case at all.

As far as taboos go, do I believe what A. says, that there are no taboos? I suppose you could say that I do, or – perhaps more accurately – I believe that A. genuinely wants me to feel free to talk about absolutely anything, no matter how hard, no matter how sensitive. Have I talked about how I really feel since this happened? Have I been able to talk about suicidal feelings? About urges to act out? No. I am far too scared that I will say one thing too many and that consequently therapy will stop. In some ways I feel that all of a sudden I am doing therapy under the threat of termination.

Sharp-eared readers will have noticed that none of the discussions between A. and I have addressed the issue which felt most pressing as this whole drama unravelled; my deep-seated fear that I always end up being too much for people, and that I had pushed A. to the point where she couldn’t cope anymore. There is good reason for why I’ve not written about this; we haven’t addressed this at all. Neither my fear, nor any possible validity in my feeling that A. can’t quite cope has been talked about.

I have had a lot of comments and particularly emails about the last two posts, all of which I am grateful for, as they have offered many different angles from which to view what has been going on between A. and I. A number of readers have expressed a fair amount of anger at A.’s way of handling the situation, and as anger sadly isn’t a talent I have mastered, it has in many ways felt good to see others reacting in this way. And, at the same time, because I am a Worrier, it’s made me scrutinise what I have written, to try to ascertain if I may have unfairly painted A. in a darker shade of gray than was necessary. I would like to think that I have been reasonably fair in what I have written, yet at the same time I think it is important to remember that this blog is a stage which I share with no one, and as such only my voice gets heard, only my version of events gets told. A. has had no opportunity to put her understanding of what has been going on between us forward. Also, as I highlighted in my email to A., it is entirely possible that my assumptions about what has been going on for her are altogether incorrect.

One reader very helpfully pointed out that it may well have been that what A. was saying about not being able to work under the threat of suicide was less to do with not being able to cope with me, and more to do with the fact that a client’s suicidality can make therapeutic progress very difficult. This is something I agree with; a client’s suicidality, especially if acute, can doubtlessly make the therapeutic process suffer, may even make it impossible. I also agree that it is fair for a therapist to be clear about not finding a client’s acting out acceptable. However, I also feel that the way A. initially presented the issue to me, ie “I can’t work under the threat of suicide” suggested that it wasn’t so much that she felt that my suicidal impulses or acting out was a hindrance to the therapeutic process, as much as it was a case of her not being able to work under these circumstances, and this is what lead me to interpret her statement as indicative of her not being able to cope. She wasn’t saying that ‘The constant threat of you acting out makes it impossible for this therapy to happen, because it means your energy is focused more on the idea of being dead, than on being here with me and genuinely engaging with this process’, she was saying that she couldn’t work when things were this way.

But, of course it is very possible that I was taking her words a little too literally, maybe expecting too much of her in terms of expressing exactly what she meant in a “perfect” way, and – as I wrote in the email – there is a difference between her actual words and what I heard, and of course the things I read into those words come largely from my imagination, rather than from actual, factual knowledge or confirmation from A.

There is so much more to say about this, and I think this whole thing will take a long time to be fully resolved. But for now, this is where I will leave it.

For the time being I am still seeing A. Although, as I said earlier, there is still much left for A. and I to talk about, we have had some very good sessions lately. No, it hasn’t been addressing the stuff that is going on between the two of us, but they have still been very useful sessions.

I want to once again say thank you to everyone who has taken the time to email or comment on the last two posts. I am sorry that I haven’t been able to respond to all of you, but rest assured that I have read what you’ve written, and I very much appreciate getting your points of view. Whatever they may be.

Be kind to your Selves.

xx

In the next episode of What It Takes To Be Me: I embark on a new journey as I dive head first into the world of intensive, short term trauma-focused counselling. Stay tuned!

By the way, we’ve just passed the 55,000 hits milestone since this blog was relaunched!
So THANKS to all!

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

I Solemnly Swear Never To Be Suicidal Again? – An Entry About Fears, Promises & Honesty

When I uploaded the previous post twenty days ago, I was fully intent on posting the next one the following day. As you can see, this didn’t happen. Instead I have been telling myself every day since then that ‘You really must get around to writing That Post today’, each day finding conscious and unconscious reasons not to do so.

I’m not always good with feelings, with dealing with them, I mean. Especially pain. I have a tendency to shut down, to frantically try and get away from anything that may make me experience emotional pain. And I do this even more so if I perceive that the pain is being inflicted by someone I respect and care about. In some ways I suppose this behaviour makes perfect sense. Who wants to feel pain? Who wants to feel hurt by someone they hold important in their lives? And, yet, looking at it from another angle, it is sort of strange, particularly from someone who has spent so much time doing therapy, where much of the work centres around exploring and examining pain, past and present, often inflicted by those we find hardest to blame.

So.. this will be a hard one to write. But, I felt that I owed it to myself to be brave, to not hold back, to be honest and let it all out. After all, that is why I have this blog..

The week I had been discharged from Drayton Park I arrived for my usual Friday session with A. I had a very specific question on my mind, one which had been eating at me for a while, and I felt I really needed to pluck up the courage to ask A. about it, in light of what had been going on both with me separately and in our mutual relationship lately. I never got a chance to ask the question, because once I had sat down, A. turned to me and said ‘There is something I need to say to you.’ Alarm bells went off all around my body. Last time she started a session that way was when she told me she was pregnant, and I could tell that this time it would be something possibly even harder to deal with.

‘I can’t work with you under the threat of suicide.’

Ten words. Like bullets to my heart.

I must have sat quiet for ten minutes, my world stopping in its tracks. I felt cold, nauseous, struggling to breathe. Thoughts were spinning in my head so fast it was impossible for me to grasp any of them for what seemed like forever. For a second I contemplated just getting up and leaving, something I have never done in my life, to anyone. But, the pain was excruciating, and I felt that I couldn’t take it.

When I finally spoke, the words that came out, as I was trying to blink away tears that weren’t even there, were a mere whisper; ‘I guess that makes one more person who can’t cope with me, one more person who I’ve become too much for, who I have pushed too far’. I couldn’t look at A. as I said it, because I was too scared of the force of my own emotions.

This fear of becoming too much for people, it’s been central to my therapy from day one. It’s been a ridiculously regularly recurring theme, something many hours have been spent turning inside out. I know where it stems from: that pivotal moment when I was seven and told my mother about what my brother was making me do, when I broke her, when I discovered that there was no one who could help, no one I could tell without running the risk of breaking. And ever since then, that fear has remained, has evolved into this enormous ball of anxiety that now encompasses a million different things that I believe I do, which ultimately drive people away.

Having said that first thing, suddenly there were lots of other things I wanted to say, thoughts I wanted to share, because apart from fear and pain a plethora of other emotions were descending on me at breakneck speed. I took a minute or two to try to pick them out, to separate them. The most urgent one was the feeling that this was incredibly unfair, because in the past several months I had more than once felt unsure of whether or not A. could truly cope with what I was bringing to session, and more than once had I openly asked her if she could. And each time she had opted not to answer. So I said exactly that, adding that it felt like she was going from zero to a hundred with no steps in between. Silence, silence, silence and then ‘I can’t work with you’.

After a few more moments of silence, from both of us, I asked her how she had imagined I might respond to what she had just told me. A. said that she didn’t know how I would respond. In frustration I said that that wasn’t what I asked, I asked how she had imagined I might respond, because in my mind, she is an intelligent person, and it didn’t seem that far-fetched that she might have pictured me hearing what she said as a form of rejection and as further proof that there is no-one who can cope with me, and that it would take me down the path of ‘If even my therapist can’t cope with me, then what hope is there..?’

Later she said, in her very gentlest voice ‘I’m giving you a choice’ and because I wanted to be fair to her and to the reality of the situation, I said that I could see that, and that I can absolutely understand that it must be incredibly difficult – frightening, even – to work with me when I am suicidal. Especially in light of what had happened only a few short weeks ago. And, yet, at the same time I couldn’t help thinking How is this a choice?’ She was saying that she couldn’t work with me under the threat of suicide, but how could I possibly promise to not be suicidal? It’s not something which can be switched on and off with the push of a button. It felt more like an ultimatum; ‘Either you stop being suicidal, or therapy stops’. I was going through the options in my head, thinking that I would be willing to say almost anything – even if it was a lie – if only she would carry on working with me. But, I also knew that I really didn’t want to have to go down that road, because it’s perilous in nature; one which would inevitable and seriously impact whatever work we might do in the future.

I said to A. that if I did make a promise like that, wouldn’t that by default make the whole subject of suicide and suicidal feelings taboo? Because, how could I ever trust that I wouldn’t accidentally step over the line of what A. felt was too much, now that she had shown me that such a line did exist, not only in the realm of my fears, but tangibly right there in that room? Wasn’t it exceedingly likely to have the effect that if things got to the stage where suicide felt like an option, I might not be honest with her, might not share these feelings, for fear of what the consequences might be for my therapy? To this A. said that of course I would also need to think about whether or not I could work with her. This may have been meant to make me feel that this was a two-way street, but it only left me with the feeling that perhaps she was hoping that I would come to the conclusion that I couldn’t, thereby giving her an ‘out’. So, I said exactly what I was thinking: ‘I feel like I am being pushed towards terminating this therapy. And that is not what I want.’ To which A. said that I may need to take some time to think about all of this.

I was silent for a while, trying to come up with something – anything – that may be used to bridge the gap between what I felt A. was asking of me and where I felt I was truly at, and suddenly I remembered something D. – the counsellor I worked with before I started seeing A. – and I used to do when things were very difficult. We would make an agreement that I wouldn’t act out in any way between sessions, that I would always come to the next session to talk things through with her. And, because I had a huge amount of respect for her, I knew that if I did make that promise, there was no way I would break it. It’s just how I am. And, if I felt that I couldn’t make an honest promise, it wasn’t a case of ‘Well, then I can’t work with you’ but we would instead find some sort of middle ground, acceptable to both, and which, crucially, didn’t entail making false promises. I might admit that I felt unable to promise that I wouldn’t act out, but that I could promise that before acting out I would do X, Y and Z (ie call the Samaritans, speak to three different friends, do my nails, make a painting, write a chapter on my book, contact the crisis team etc).

Having explained this set-up to A. she initially wanted to know how that had made me feel and I told her that it made me feel contained, that it was a positive thing, this process of coming to a reasonable agreement, because it made me feel that I had some control. And also, that not only did I know that I wouldn’t break a promise I had made to D., I also felt confident that she knew I wouldn’t.

After a short pause A. said that she felt she had made her position very clear and that any promise would have to be for as long as we worked together, however long that may be.

It felt like she was pulling the rug from under my feet, like she was responding to my tentative suggestion of a possible solution, by immediately raising the bar, to make it impossible for me to make the promise she was after.

So, I left that session in a daze, feeling unsure if that was it, if that was the end of the road for our work together, not at all knowing whether her earlier ‘You may need to take some time to think about this’ extended only to this particular session, if she was expecting me to show up for session the following Wednesday, or if she wanted me to do my thinking at home, so she wouldn’t have to deal with my suicidality, which clearly could not be dissolved from one session to the next.

*

I am not meaning to make this storyline of my life into any sort of cliff-hanger, but I am exhausted and I need a break. There is a lot more to say about what has been going on in my relationship with A. and what has happened since this session, and I hope that in the next few days, I will be able to post an update of some sort.

Until then,

Be kind to your Selves,

xx

Starting Over After A Major Therapy Break

A. Is back from maternity leave now. I’ve seen her twice, and it has at the same time been both a huge relief and incredibly difficult. The first time, walking up to her door, I experienced a very strong wish to cut and run, to chicken out and not knock on the door. I was that nervous. I was so worried about how I would react to seeing A. again [or rather the emotional impact it may have] that I actually felt quite sick.

As you know, over the last several months there have been a lot of thoughts and worries swimming around in my system, regarding A.’s maternity leave and her baby and how I would cope with this new situation, but, to some degree I have been able to shelter myself from it, as I’ve not been seeing her. Two weeks ago that particular way of sheltering myself came to an end, as we resumed therapy.

During that first session, I was very shaky. Not just emotionally, but physically, too. I was fidgety and struggled to settle. I had my Rubik’s cube in my hands, as a means to keep my hands steady. Speaking was difficult, and I sat in silence for a good while, trying to figure out where to start.

I can’t even remember clearly where I did start in the end. I do recall talking about the break. How hard it’s been. Even admitting to overdosing, early on; something which I hadn’t decided whether or not I wanted to talk about in that first session. A. asked some questions about that, and I remember feeling that I wasn’t at all ready to look into it properly just then, that I was still trying to get used to being back in this shared space with her, that I needed more time to test that we were OK before launching any major investigation into anything significant. I mean, I did end up trying to explain to her about that overdose, but without really connecting to what I was talking about. In contrast to the second session, where I spent quite a lot of time trying to talk about the emotional side of what really happened that night, what I was feeling before, during and after, and how I look at it now.

I managed to talk a little about my combined fears and hopes regarding resuming therapy; the hope that I will find the courage to talk openly about my feelings surrounding A.’s leave, the experience of once again being abandoned by someone who isn’t supposed to abandon you, and the anger that it triggers deep inside of me, as well as the worry that I may find that I haven’t got what it takes to face it head on. That I will yet again find a way to not have to express these feelings of anger, in order to avoid the risk of that much-feared rejection, which I have come to expect whenever I express negative emotions towards those close to me. I spoke about the knowledge that there is some potentially substantial gain in it, if I do find a way to talk about all of this, as I recognise that whatever anger I have towards A. is also an echo of what has gone unexpressed previously, in similar situation, in other relationships.

So, yes, A. is back and in theory therapy has resumed. But, although it may seem, from my summary here, that I’m well underway and going places, it still very much feels like I am only just testing the waters with A. and our relationship.

Maybe I’m not exactly back to square one, but, I also feel very aware, that I am nowhere near where I was when we left off, and that it will take time to truly open up again, to truly trust in our relationship.

But it’s a start.

xx

Abandonment, Anger & Expressing Negative Emotions

As if by magic, following my previous post about wanting my therapist back, I received a two-line email from A. on Wednesday “to confirm that we are meeting on July Xth” and asking could I come at a slightly different time to my usual slot? Very formal and to the point, complete with a “Dear..” at the beginning and ending with “Best wishes,” in typical A. style. She does the same thing in texts, which I always find both amusing and somewhat incongruous to the kind of relationship we have and the way we communicate. It’s the text message equivalent of suddenly calling me Ms Y in session. :)

Anyway, having received said email I instantaneously found myself regressing into some sort of teenage state where my immediate reaction was I’ve spent months not knowing when my therapy will resume, weeks and weeks in limbo. If you think I’m going to reply to your stupid little email straight away, you’re wrong! You can sit there and wonder whether or not I can do the time you asked about. So THERE!

Not many points for maturity, as you can see, and of course entirely irrational; it’s not as if A. will have been anxiously awaiting our work to resume or has struggled to make it through this break. Nor is it likely that she will be particularly concerned about my holding back on replying to her email, but it still felt kind of good to allow myself to act out in this obviously infantile fashion.

Thus, it wasn’t until Friday I emailed her back. And when I did, I made sure to be decidedly less formal than she had been, writing in a way similar to how we speak, starting with a simple Hi A., and ending with a casual Shabbat Shalom for later. [Although, in hindsight, I realise that I actually don’t usually wish her Shabbat Shalom at the end of our Friday afternoon session, but more generally a good weekend. Stuff to ponder in another post, methinks.]

Clearly this need to act out stems from a place of anger at having been abandoned, and not wanting to make things easy for her. There is a part of me who wants to punish her for having put me through this separation, for having put me on hold while she carried on with her real life, and I have a feeling that it may well be a bumpy and challenging time to come once therapy starts over, while we work through this anger, which I genuinely hope I will allow myself to express.

This anger is, of course, not only about A.’s maternity leave, but also a deeply buried echo of all other times when I have felt left behind and uncared for, beginning with my birth mother giving me up for adoption and followed on by similar feelings towards my parents and other adults in my life, growing up. A person doesn’t need to be physically abandoned in order to experience the very powerful feelings associated with it..

And this – rather than just wanting to put A. through a bit of a rough time upon her return – is the reason why I say I hope I’ll be able to give myself licence to let this anger out. It has been trapped for a long time. Maybe the time has come to let it surface? Perhaps a chance for a much needed corrective emotional experience; being accepted even when expressing negative emotions?

xx

PS. Ever wondered how your therapist really feels about you blogging about your therapy? I think my lovely fellow blogging tweetist Therapy Tales has it right. Click the link for a spot on cartoon strip!

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.