Starting Over After A Break

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“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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The Beginning Of A Break

Had my final pre-therapy break session yesterday, and it was hard. Or, maybe hard isn’t the right word? It was emotional. Not emotional as in floods-of-tears-streaming-down-my-face-fifty-minutes-straight, but it certainly stirred things up inside of me in a big way.

So, P. and I spent most of the session talking about all the different feelings this break is bringing up for me. How it makes me feel like the abandoned, forgotten baby I once was, the distant echoes from when I was tiny and was given up by my birthmother, and how – even though I have no conscious memory of it – that must have had a profound effect on me. I also retold the story that my mother [technically adoptive mother, but it’s not a term I ever use; she’s just my mother] has told me so many times: that about two or three weeks after I was adopted my mother was downstairs doing something with my brothers, and she completely forgot about me. Not as in ‘she forgot that I was upstairs in the baby swing’, but as in ‘she utterly and completely forgot that I even existed’. My mother tells this story as a bit of an amusing anecdote, but of course, there isn’t really anything very much fun about it at all: I had already been given up once and then only a few weeks later my new mother also forgot that she had a baby to care for..

We also talked about how I simultaneously fear it will be an incredibly difficult break and that it won’t be difficult at all. That it, paradoxically, is easier to deal with the idea of finding this break an immense struggle, than to cope with the idea that it mightn’t affect me much at all. Because, if it isn’t difficult, if it doesn’t affect me, what does that say about P.’s and my relationship? Of course, it could just mean that I have simply developed better ways of self-soothing than during previous therapy breaks, but, knowing myself, I am far more likely to jump with instant certainty to the conclusion that it must be because P.’s and my relationship isn’t really all that special after all etc etc etc.

Last week P. gave me a few suggestions of things we could do to make me feel less abandoned during this break, to allow me to hold on to her even when I’m not actually seeing her. One of her suggestions was to give me a recording of her voice for me to listen to, if she started feeling too distant in my mind. I rejected that idea right away, stating that it wouldn’t be all that useful, considering how poor my hearing is, all the while knowing that that wasn’t the reason at all, but rather that something about having a voice recording felt too close and too scary for me to cope with. Another suggestion, in a similar vein, was that perhaps it would be helpful if she were to give me a photograph of herself to look at. This led to me coming clean and admitting that I already have a picture of her, and that – yes – I do find it very helpful to look at it. P. said that this photo would be different, though, because this would be a photo she had given me, which I agreed it would be, but that I needed to think about it.

What I failed to explain to her at the time, and which later came back to haunt me in the form of a number of sleepless nights, was that I said nothing about why [how?] I had a picture of her. Eventually, it got to me so much that I had to write her an email to explain that it wasn’t quite as creepy-stalkerlike as it may seem: because of the prosopagnosia I have taken to doing a quick search engine/social media scan for a pic to add to any new contact I put in my address book, including the guy who comes to fix the boiler. Just for clarity: I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong in having your therapist’s photo; most clients have a very natural, healthy curiosity about their therapist, and googling someone is hardly the crime of the century – it was more the fact that I hadn’t said anything about it to P. that was bothering me, because it filled me with anxiety that she might think I was exhibiting creepy stalkerlike behaviour. Unfortunately, the very sweet email she wrote back to reassure me that this wasn’t the case, that she didn’t feel it was either creepy or stalkerlike, for some reason didn’t make it through to my inbox, and consequently my anxiety was quadrupled over the next two days. But, we managed to talk all of that through later.

In the end I did accept P.’s offer of giving me a photograph. The actual photo is one that my prosopagnostic brain has trouble deciphering as being of her – there is something about the fact that she isn’t smiling with her eyes – as she so often does in session – that makes it hard for me to understand that it is really her in the photo, but it still means a lot to me having it. I treasure it in the same way that I might treasure a handwritten note from her, precisely because it is from her. I also showed P. the picture I already had of her, and I think she understood why that is a picture I find much easier to connect emotionally with – because in that photo she seems very relaxed and is indeed ‘smiling with her eyes.’

The final idea of how to cope with this separation was one I came up with. I had been thinking about what exactly all of those fears inside of me really are, and what different ways we had worked out to deal with each one of them, and I realised that one of my biggest fears – the one about being forgotten and left behind – could also be dealt with, with a photo. This time, I suggested to P. that maybe I could send her a photo, of me, because even though Adult Me intellectually knows that I won’t disappear from P.’s memory the second I am out of sight, her having something of me with her would make Little S. feel a lot better. [For long term followers, this idea was a modified version of the rubber duck I gave A. in our very last session together.]

So, all in all, that last pre-break session was a good one. I felt quite overwhelmed by P. saying so many kind things to me, particularly when she said that her having my photo meant that she could take me with her on her leave.. But, as I also explained to her, it was good overwhelming, not bad..

Right at the very end of the session P. asked one last time if there was anything else she could do for me, to which I said: “Just make sure that you DO come back”.

To which she replied that she wanted the exact same thing from me.

 

xx

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