Slow Progress and Power Ups

“Sunrise” – a drawing I made to illustrate how I felt one particular morning

It’s been a few weeks now, and I thought it was probably time to post something on here to avoid dust settling on my domain, if nothing else.

Things have been reasonably OK-ish lately. Physically I am doing a lot better, which is a real relief. Had another few rounds of tests over the last couple of weeks and in the end the good doc declared that I’d reached “not perfect, but certainly acceptable levels”, adding that I may just have to accept that it takes time for a body to recover, and that until then I may be more tired than usual. In essence, it’s one of those scenarios where “slow progress” will have to do. 

Now, I’m not the most active person at the best of times, in part owing to general depression – meaning that I can’t seem to find the motivation to drag myself out of bed unless I have an appointment that I have to get to, and in part owing to the fact that I suffer from a huge amount of flashbacks, more often than not making it far too dangerous for me to venture outside. [It has been less than a year since that particular point was quite literally rammed home; I was hit by a car, because I had a flashback and didn’t notice that I was walking into oncoming traffic]. So, being fairly used to a state of houseboundness, it really shouldn’t have made much of a difference being too physically weak to go out. But, somehow, it did. It’s one of those “I don’t want to run a marathon, I have no intention of ever doing it, but I’d like to think that I could” kind of things, I suppose. No, I wasn’t likely to go for daily walks – owing to the above stated reasons – but the fact that I physically couldn’t still somehow messed with my mind, made me feel even more a prisoner of my circumstances than usual. So, yes, I am very thankful to be officially NHS-doc-certified on the mend.

I have noticed a definite change in myself since I came out of hospital, in that I am very aware of all the things I would have missed out on, had I not survived my most recent self-poisoning. Every time I bump into a friend or get a text consisting of nothing but emoticons from one of my sisters’ too-young-to-write-actual-words children, I find myself mentally pausing to marvel at the fact that I got to have that precious moment, that I didn’t miss out on it. Because I so easily could have.

I have a friend who killed himself. It has been many years now, and while it isn’t acutely painful in the way it once was to think of him, I do often still think to myself ‘I can’t believe W. missed out this’ when something happens which I know he would have appreciated and enjoyed. And, I guess what I am experiencing at the moment is something similar to that, but in reverse.

I have been in this situation more than once [having survived a serious suicide attempt], but as I wrote in a previous post, this time I felt immediately grateful to have made it through. And as much as I am still struggling with all of the things I was struggling with before [yup, every single one of them], being able to take notice of the little things does help. It’s like one of those video games where you pick up a gem and it gives you a Power Up. Yes, it is temporary, and I may well get frustrated and bored with the game again – but while my little avatar is in Power Up mode (think Mario Kart blinking star mode), I feel GREAT.

And it’s been a looooong old time since I’ve felt that way, so, “slow progress with the occasional Power Up” – heck, yes, I’ll take it!

:)

Do be kind to your Selfs,

xx

“Moonlight” – making a small adjustment to express how I was feeling at the end of the same day

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Running Up That Hill

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And if I only could
I’d make a deal with God
And I’d get Her to swap our places
I’d be running up that road
Be running up that hill
~ With no problems..’

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I’m not sure what Kate Bush had in mind when she wrote that song, those lyrics, but they really speak to me. I feel I’ve been running up that hill forever now, getting nowhere. It isn’t getting any easier, and I really wish there was a way to swap places, to make that deal. I’ve been running up that road for so many years, but nothing has changed. Lots has happened, but nothing has changed.

Last night was the 21st anniversary of the very first time I tried to end my life. I was seventeen and I didn’t know how to make the abuse stop, didn’t dare communicate what was going on – what had been going on for as long as I could remember, because I didn’t know what would happen if I did. So, at the very end of my mother’s 50th birthday I swallowed a cocktail of random anti-depressants, mood stabilisers, sleeping tablets and painkillers. This was before the internet, before you could google your way to the perfect concoction to put an end to your misery, and as a consequence I survived.

I woke up to a whole new world. One where – in a flurry of activity – suddenly lots of people knew about the abuse. Social services got called in. I remember so well how the head of social services – who just happened to be a close friend of the family – told me that ‘No one is allowed to make you do anything that you don’t want to do. Ever.’ Except, of course, that I would have to talk to the police and I would have to go to court, whether or not I wanted to, because those were not things I had the choice to opt out of.. You see where I’m going with this? Something happened, but nothing changed.

I’ve been in therapy for years and years and years by now, and although I firmly believe that talking about what happened – in a safe environment with a therapist sensitive to my needs [as opposed to at a police station or in a court room] – is key to ultimately reducing the traumatic re-experiencing of abuse that I am faced with every time I have a flashback, it feels as if that day is very very far away. Hardly even a blip on a distant horizon.

I know that if I manage to find a way to keep running up that hill – because, trust me, therapy can be such an uphill run – my day to day life could be greatly improved, in terms of the amount of flashbacks I suffer, in terms of being able to make and keep plans, in terms of feeling more in charge of my life. And that would be great. It really would.

But then there is that other thing. The Not Having Children.
No amount of therapy can change that. I could do therapy every day for the next two thousand four hundred and sixty-eight years, and that fact would simply not change. People are forever telling me that ‘No, that wouldn’t change. But, you might change. You might feel differently about it.’

Only I know that I won’t.

This is a wound that cannot heal. There are constant reminders to keep that wound open and bleeding. Three people in my life are currently pregnant, due at various points next year – so I already know that 2015 will be another year of Everyone Else having children. Another year of tears burning my skin as they roll down my face. Of a pain so sharp it shreds my soul from the inside..

And the problem is that every year is going to be A Year Like That. Until it turns into endless years of Everyone Else Having Grandchildren. And I can’t face a life like that. I just can’t.

Even if I managed to somehow accept that I won’t have children, I just can’t accept a life without them.

I will try, as I have been trying. But, I know that one day, soon, I’ll run out of steam. And I’ll stop running.

It is sad.
But it is what it is.

xx

Running Up That Hill [A Deal With God] Copyright © 1985 Kate Bush

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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Reconnecting

I’ve been writing this update in my head for about a month, only I’ve not got down to typing it up. I am struggling to remember where I was at, emotionally, when I posted my last update, but I know that it wasn’t a very nice place.

Things sort of spun out of control for a bit. I went into the worst period of constant flashbacks I have ever experienced and ended up, once again, at Drayton Park. The whole first two weeks of staying there I more or less only ventured outside of my room to see P. for therapy. I didn’t eat, didn’t sleep and didn’t socialise with any of the other women who were staying there, so this stay was very different to many of my previous stays at Drayton Park. I simply found it too much to be around others when I was being thrust back into the past again and again and again, in an endless waking nightmare of relentless flashbacks.

Something very serious happened while I was at the crisis house, something I still don’t feel I have properly processed or understood, and I may come back to that another time, but for the time being I won’t go into it. I need more time to think about it.

In my third and final week at Drayton Park the frequency of flashbacks began to decrease and I was able to be my usual self a bit more. I had a few really good conversations with some of the other women staying at the project, feeling privileged to be allowed hear their stories and to get to know them a little. It is always a very special thing when someone decides to trust you enough to share of themselves.

I saw D., my ex-counsellor, in passing a few times during my stay [since she is based at Drayton Park one day a week] and we had some good, honest banter over lunch one day. In fact, it must have been really good, even to others listening in, because after D. left one of the residents asked me if D. was my mother, because we had such a ‘natural and easy way with one another’. How anyone could associate ‘natural and easy’ with a mother-daughter relationship is beyond me, it certainly doesn’t fit with any experience of a mother-daughter relationship I’ve ever had, but it was a very nice thing to hear, nonetheless.

Good banter aside, as D. and I were ending one of our little mini-conversations she told me to take good care of myself. Force of habit I shot a semi-automatic “I always do” coupled with a bright smile in her direction. Only, this being D. on the receiving end, she didn’t just let that statement slide, but immediately lobbed a “No, you don’t” back at me. She then paused, looked me right in the eye and slowly repeated “No. You don’t.” And there was so much feeling in those words. There was an unspoken – but clearly received – message of ‘I so wish that you did take good care of yourself. Because you really, really matter.’  And that meant a lot to me.

 

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It has now been four weeks since I left Drayton Park, and there have been both ups and downs. The frequency of flashbacks seems to be back to normal, more or less. It is in no way easy to deal with the flashbacks, regardless of the less intense frequency, but it is a lot better than what it was. As I explained to a friend of mine; it’s a bit like my breathing. While my breathing is never really all that good, immediately after a bad asthma attack the ‘not so good’ still feels like a relief, by comparison.

Therapy with P. is going well and we are continuing to build our relationship, making sure to take plenty of time to do so, so that all of the different parts of me – especially Little S., who is so terribly afraid of anything that resembles trust and care and attachment – feels both seen and heard. Little S. gets scared, because she learned very early on that all of those things will inevitably lead to pain and hurt, and as much as Adult Me wants to challenge that fear, wants to show her that this relationship with P. can be safe and won’t necessarily lead to pain, it takes time and patience to get there. It takes a lot of work to truly alleviate fears that are that deeply rooted.

We are coming up to our first therapy summer break by the end of this week and as a consequence anxiety has been running high both for Little S. and for Adult Me. Regular readers of this blog will know that psychotherapy breaks is a topic I have written about a lot over the years, because it brings to the fore all of my fears about being abandoned and forgotten. It is also one of those things that people who haven’t been in therapy never seem to fully understand or appreciate. And, to me, that is also part of what makes breaks in therapy difficult; the sense that others don’t understand how hard they really are. Whenever I mention to ‘non-therapy’ friends that I feel really anxious about an upcoming break, I always get the feeling that they are thinking that I am worrying over nothing. And if I, during the actual break, say something along the lines of finding it hard that my therapist is away, the immediate response is invariably ‘When will she be back?’ followed by an equally predictable ‘Well, it’s only X weeks left’. This, of course, feels terribly invalidating, since a therapy break isn’t really about length of time at all, but about strength of emotions and how to cope with them in the absence of a safe place to explore them.

P. and I have been talking about this upcoming break and how I will be able to manage while she is away. P. had a few different suggestions of things we could do and I felt incredibly touched by them. I know that it probably seems a little silly, but it had never even entered my mind that she would have spent time thinking of ways to make this easier. I am so used to doing all my thinking and coping on my own, and I feel simultaneously grateful and overwhelmed by the care she has shown me leading up to this break.

 

I think I will end this update here.
Hopefully it won’t be quite so long before I post another one.
[I always seem to be saying that, these days].

Just before I leave you for this time: Thank you all so very much for the many moving and kind words posted in the form of comments and emails during this past blog hiatus. I am sorry that I haven’t been able to respond to all of you, but please know that I do read every single email and comment, and they really do mean a huge deal to me.

Namaste.

 

xx

 

 

 

Life’s A Dance You Learn As You Go

To me, writing is like breathing; a necessity for life. So, the fact that it has taken me this long to feel able to update my blog may be an indication of the degree of difficulty I have had in holding on to life itself. For the past several months the wish to just let go, to allow myself the luxury of that Final Rest, has been a minute-to-minute struggle. It hasn’t been a crisis as such – at least not in my eyes – and there has been a very definitive lack of urgency about it all. No mad dash towards the Ultimate Finish Line, just a steady step by step journey towards a glittering End ahead of me. It stems from walking around with a soul that is simply so tired, so emotionally exhausted that it naturally gravitates away from life. The strings I have used so many times in the past to pull myself away from the edge are either broken or have disappeared altogether.

I wrote in my last post about having a flat battery and a faulty charger, and that, to a large degree, is still how I feel. Like I am running on empty.

But I am still here, and not only that, I am here through my own very conscious decision to be so. It isn’t a case of Death all of a sudden having lost its vice like grip on me; I can still feel those cold skeletal fingers around my ankle.. but, I can also feel my other foot – the one Death has yet to reach, planted firmly, barefoot, on the soft grass. It is a defiant “I decide when I step across that line, not you.”

I have always felt that ending one’s life ought to be a decision, not impulsive acting out because things are so unbearably difficult in that one particular moment. I wouldn’t ever want my loved ones to be left wondering What if she had only just got through this crisis? Would she still have made the same choice?

I am not so naïve as to think that a ‘painless suicide’ exists – suicide always comes with pain in its wake – and I accept that whatever the intention, there will always, inevitably, be question marks forming for those left behind, but I would like to have done my best to minimise the suffering. I would like them to know that this was what I really wanted. And this is one of the reasons why I am still here today. Because I will not let go while I am in the middle of what is a very difficult period. You simply cannot make a rational, reasoned decision in the midst of chaos.

In the last week I have yet again entered one of those nightmarish periods where one flashback follows the next – ceaselessly, relentlessly. It is an incredibly painful place to exist within, a place where it feels as if nothing is my own, where I keep being pulled under the surface again and again and again, with hardly any time above water to catch my breath. And even though I know that this won’t last forever, it certainly feels endless.

In session today, P. revived the metaphor I used before of jumping into the pool, not knowing whether or not I would be able to swim, and she reiterated how it is her job to be the life guard. She said that we need to work together to create metaphorical armbands, to help me stay above water. My immediate response to that was that I taught myself to swim, without water wings, thank-you-very-much, that, in fact, I actually learned to swim under water, before I figured out how to do it with my head held above the surface.

I have often said that even though I generally learn new things quickly, I am an emotionally slow learner – but now I am sitting here, thinking that maybe it is really that I am a slow unlearner. In the months since I started seeing P. I have struggled with echoes of past relationships, with trusting P. to know her own limitations and have automatically and without thinking taken on sole responsibility for managing our relationship. I can see where this need to be in charge comes from, and I know what the original sources of those echoes are.. What I find difficult to do, however, is to make a different choice this time around. While I have needed to be solitarily strong and in control in the past, this may not still be necessary. It makes me think of a ’90s country song that goes “life’s a dance you learn as you go, sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow”..

You need to have that balance in a relationship; to sometimes lead and sometimes follow. I am pretty good at the first, but markedly less so when it comes to the latter. And maybe, just maybe, it isn’t such a bad thing to allow someone else to lead every once in a while..?

 

xx

 

Life’s a dance you learn as you go

Sometimes you lead

Sometimes you follow

Don’t worry about what you don’t know

Life’s a dance you learn as you go

 

Life’s A Dance © 1992 Shamblin & Seskin

A Flat Battery, A Broken Charger

You know that mode where you get so overwhelmed by things that your whole system simply shuts down? That state where everything tangles and intertwines into an almighty tied up, knotty, gnarly mess and you can’t find an end to start, even though you are staring at a million and one loose ends [either one of which would do], but you just can’t seem to be able to pick one up? That is the mode I have been in lately.

Today I finally managed to pick one of those loose ends up: writing something about what has been going on. It’s not the one that should be at the top of my list, or even in the top ten, but it is the first one I have felt able to pick up in a long time, and starting somewhere, I suppose, is better than not starting at all. Perhaps.

My sessions with P. have been progressing in a squiggly upward curve. I have challenged myself to share things that I would never have thought possible, and I have very very cautiously began to accept – maybe even trust – our emerging relationship and the terrifying intimacy that comes with it. There is something very gentle about the way P. works with me. I don’t mean that she takes things unduly slowly or that she doesn’t challenge me, because she does, but there is a lot of focus on doing things in such a way that there is always time to experience the emotional impact of what we are talking about. There is space to explore both how it is for me and also, crucially, how it is for her to enter these dangerous minefields, where each tiny step can so easily explode into painful memories or full-blown flashbacks. I think [even though something inside of me feels afraid to put it in writing, lest I jinx something] that I am in fact beginning to feel safe with P., and it is such a deliciously unusual feeling, so delicate and precious, that I find myself softening my grip on Control to ensure that I don’t accidentally break it.

Some weeks ago I said to P. that beginning this journey felt like standing on the very edge of a pool knowing that I need to dive in, but feeling uncertain whether or not I would be able to keep myself from drowning once I hit the water. So, P. looked right at me, in that way she does when she wants me to really listen, to truly hear her, and gently suggested that maybe I could try to remind myself that I am not alone and that she is actually quite a good life guard.
P. often talks of how desperately Little S. – my inner child, the child me – needed to be seen and heard and cared for, and how this, our relationship, is a place where that can happen, where it is safe to let Little S. out.

So, I have been pushing on, have been trying really hard. Yesterday, I even brought Doth to my session, because I knew it would be an immensely difficult one, and I thought having her in my arms might make it a little easier.

But at the same time, there is this other part of me that can’t help but to ask why I am even doing this. What the point of it is.. Because lately I am struggling to see one.

You see, all my life – even while the abuse was still going on – the one thing that always kept me going, that got me through, was the thought that one day I would have children of my own. It made it worth soldiering on, made it worth living through the abuse. Later on, it made it possible to cope with the daily onslaught of flashbacks, made it worth going through the often very painful process of being in therapy. All because one day I was going to be somebody’s parent. That thought, that one day I was going to be somebody’s parent, is what has always kept my heart beating; as noisy as the difficulties and struggles have been at times, that thought always beat louder. One day I was going to be somebody’s parent.

Only, for the last five years I have been trying for a child, have discovered that I have fertility issues, have had fertility treatment, and have had it fail. And as much as I have been trying to fight it, slowly the knowledge that this – my one dream, the one thing that has always kept me going – has dissolved, has died and no longer exists, has truly sunk in.

Please, refrain from telling me that It may still happen, you can’t know that it won’t or Have you thought about adoption? or Lots of people have no children and still have fulfilling lives. Yes, I have thought about all of those things, of course I have, I have had years to think about it, but the bottom line is that the one thing that I have ever wanted for myself is something that I will never have. And the one thing that has made it worth working so hard all these years to keep my head above water is no longer there. And rather than well-meaning, but ultimately empty, encouragement, I need space to mourn. Because, for me, this is a loss greater than any other. It is the loss of hope.

The motivation for going through therapy, for wanting to get to a place where I am as whole as I can be, has always been because one day I was going to be somebody’s parent. I wanted to get through as much of the difficulties as possible, for the sake of my future child. But, if that is never going to happen, then, what is the point?

I know I am supposed to want to do it for me, but that has just never felt important enough. I have never been important enough to me. And, yes, maybe that can change. After all, that is part of what P. is trying to do with me. It is just that all of my energy is draining from my soul and the hope that once helped recharge my battery isn’t there anymore, and soon I will be running flat.

So, do forgive me if I have been a poor and absent friend lately. I really am truly sorry that I haven’t been able to be there for you in the way that you deserve. I am so very blessed to have people who care so deeply about me and I am incredibly thankful for having you all in my life. But, right now, I suppose I need to preserve whatever energy I have left in my tank, to fuel whatever it is that it takes to be me.

xx

 

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The Greatest Joy & The Biggest Sorrow

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Daring To Trust

 

Today I did something that scared me, something that made me feel, something that needed me to be braver than I have ever been before. I shared something that I had never ever shared with anyone before.

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I have now been seeing P. for just over a month. Ten sessions to be precise. And it has been, well, quite a big change for me. It is hard to not constantly compare the work I am doing with her to the work I did with A. It isn’t so much that I keep thinking that one is decidedly better than the other, but I am struck, over and over, by how different it is to be in therapy with P. The relationship we are tentatively building has a whole different feel to it, there is an added dimension to it, a quality that is hard to paint in words, but which is so real I can almost feel it physically.

That said, I miss A. I do. I really miss her. I miss the way I would spend time in session self-analysing and contemplating different angles to things, turning things round and round and having the luxury of going through all the ins and outs of my thoughts, with A. every now and then reflecting back to me what she heard me say.

I find myself, sometimes, making statements that I feel would have fitted well in A.’s therapy room, but which don’t quite work in the space I share with P. I find that doing my ‘getting into therapy mode’ routine, which I have been doing for nearly five years with A., feels awkward and out of place with P. I still do it, because it is simply the way I kick into gear, but I always feel very aware that P. is there, waiting for me to look at her and greet her properly.

So, there’s a lot to get used to. I find it so scary, the way P. meets me at the door, always with a big, warm and welcoming smile, and the way she seeks to make eye contact with me. I find her invitation to form a real relationship with her absolutely terrifying. There are alarm bells going off all over the place, simply because they have been tuned to mistrust that kind of openness and warmth, has been trained to automatically look for the ulterior motive behind any random act of kindness.

But, I am determined to not allow myself to use that fear as an excuse not to dig deeper. I am determined to find a way to ‘dare to trust’, to challenge my own hardwired concept of the world, of others being out to cause me harm. So, I’ve been pushing on with P. I’ve used my sessions to talk and talk and talk and talk about this fear of attaching, this extreme inability to trust – I’ve talked very openly about it all and she, in turn, has responded to it. And I think that that is where some of the healing may lay; in having those fears heard, having that reluctance be understood and accepted. Because – paradoxically – that is what may ultimately allow me to let my guard down, to allow P. in for real.

And today I took a leap of faith. I brought my journal with me, and I shared a drawing I made this morning of something that happened to me, something I had relived in the form of a flashback earlier today, and which I have never ever shared with anyone before.

It was incredibly scary to do, and before I did it, before I even opened up my journal, we spent time talking about what I was feeling, what the fear really was. I explained that there was something about P.’s presence that made me feel more scared than I would be, if I were on my own with the drawing. That something about her being there made me feel more exposed, more vulnerable, because I didn’t know how I would react to looking at the drawing in front of her, and I also didn’t know how she would react. The metaphor I used to explain it to P. was that it’s like standing in front of the mirror, naked, and then doing the same thing, but with someone next to you. The first is hard enough to do, the second all the more frightening.

At first I just sat with the journal in my lap, looking at the drawing I had made, without sharing it with P. Just to see what that would feel like, to test the waters. I found it difficult, had to actually use my hand to cover up the parts of my drawing that felt too difficult to look at. And then, in the middle of doing this – in the middle of shielding myself from my own drawing – it occurred to me that I didn’t need to be the one who was stuck with the drawing. I didn’t need to shield myself from it. I could give it to P., and she could protect me from the full force of the raw horror that the drawing contained. So, I handed it over to her, barely daring to look at her.

But I did. Look at her. And, yes, there was a reaction to what I had drawn, an obvious emotional response to what she was seeing splashed across her face, and it made me feel very afraid, anxious that maybe I had pushed her too hard, too soon. But then P. spoke, first about how what I had shared in the drawing was something no child should have to experience, and later, about how she felt about me having shared it with her. And it made me feel better.

In the session before this one, I also shared something, in words rather than through a drawing that time, and towards the end of the session P. asked me how I felt about what I had shared. So I talked about it. And then – the thing that made me really feel that there might be a possibility that I could trust her to take good care of me – she asked if maybe I needed to also know how she was feeling, having listened to me. So, I nodded and said that I thought that would be good, feeling so immensely grateful that she had understood how enormous my fear of breaking others with my story is.

And that – her honesty in sharing exactly how listening to me affected her – is what made it possible for me to take this huge step in today’s session. Because, something about that – about P. not holding back on her own response, is what makes me feel safe, makes me feel that she knows her own limitations, and that – because of this – she wouldn’t allow either one of us to go further than we could cope with.

xx

“It’s time we made a place
Where people’s souls may be seen and made safe

Be careful with each other
These fragile flames..
For innocence can’t be lost
It just needs to be maintained..”

JK

 

Innocence Maintained  © 1998 Jewel Kilcher

Living With PTSD – Not Like The Movies

I managed to go to service this morning, for the first time in a long long while. Last week I couldn’t go because I had managed to give myself a concussion, before then it was down to running a temperature, and before then – for many many weeks – it has been due to simply not being up to it; too depressed, too submerged in my life/death battle. And then there’s the PTSD. Post-traumatic stress disorder. The bane of my life. A big reason for previously mentioned life/death battle.

I feel that a lot of people don’t really understand what post-traumatic stress disorder is. Or, more accurately, they may not be aware of how it affects people. I think that, at least in part, media is responsible for this. People have generally heard of flashbacks as being one of the symptoms of PTSD, and you often come across storylines in which characters suffer from this disorder, and the viewers are treated to an insight into the flashbacks that they experience in a variety of ways. Only, there’s an issue with this: having a flashback isn’t like watching something happening on a film screen. It’s about feelings. About re-experiencing the traumatic event, as if it is happening all over again, and having an emotional response to it. Again and again and again and again.

In the most recent episode of BBC’s Silent Witness, the storyline followed a former soldier suffering from PTSD. It was explained that certain sounds and situation could trigger flashbacks for him. So far so good; this is all true for many people suffering from PTSD. Later on in the program we got to ‘experience’ a flashback alongside the character: he saw a person on the street, it morphed into a flashback person – someone who wasn’t actually there – someone who had been part of the trauma. All of this is fairly accurate, I think, for a lot of people: flashbacks can very well be triggered by someone who looks like someone who was part of the traumatic event, and flashbacks can absolutely cause a person to see someone who isn’t really there. Happens to me all the time.

But then the character talked to someone about his experience of having flashbacks, and when the person listening to him said something along the lines of “That must be really horrible” the character’s reply was “No, it’s OK. It’s actually quite nice.”

And this, to me, is a huge departure from what PTSD sufferers truly deal with. I have yet to meet a single person suffering from PTSD who would describe having flashbacks as ‘nice’. Because the disorder is caused by traumatic experiences, often very extreme ones, you are not likely to have an emotional response which could in any way, shape or form be described as ‘nice’. Having a traumatic experience is not nice, thus, the emotional response will probably not include positive feelings.

Let me illustrate: say your previously wonderful and perfect partner rapes you. Very traumatic, very hard to deal with, extremely emotionally damaging. Let’s say the effects of the experience go so far as to cause you to develop PTSD. You now have flashbacks of the event. This is hardly going to trigger emotions related to the rosy honey-moon period of your relationship. Whilst you may still – in your conscious mind – remember that time when your partner brought home a dozen roses and your favourite chocolates, and the lovely feelings that gave you, those feelings will not be triggered by a flashback to the rape. They just won’t. Those lovely feelings weren’t associated with the rape, and so can’t be triggered by flashbacks to the trauma.

When you have PTSD [as I understand it, and put in layman’s terms] the memories of the trauma are stored in a different part of the brain to where other, ‘normal’, memories are stored, and the response flashbacks produce completely bypass the part of the brain that is responsible for rational thought. Thus, even though some part of you may be aware that the trauma isn’t really happening right now, and most of the time you are able to remember both positive and negative aspects of a relationship [assuming there have been both], because rational thought is taken out of the equation, your emotional response to a flashback will be as if it the trauma had only just happened, and will involve the feelings you either had at the time, or the feelings you may have had to repress at the time in order to survive. It won’t involve feelings related to an entirely different situation.

I mentioned earlier that flashbacks are often caused by triggers. But there is more to it. While a majority of people with PTSD have flashbacks caused by external triggers [sounds, smells etc – things that in one way or another remind them of the trauma], some people – myself included – have flashbacks that are caused primarily by internal triggers. Internal triggers are tricky, because they are difficult to identify. And if you can’t identify triggers, it is almost impossible to avoid them.

For me, personally, it is often a case of one flashback triggering the next, in a continuous chain, and I am just as likely to have flashbacks if I am out having an absolutely fantabulous time ice-skating with my friends, as I am sitting with someone talking about really deep and difficult things. In short, if I’m going to have a flashback, it will happen, regardless of what I am doing, where I am or who I am with.

One of the first things people [professionals in particular, actually] tend to ask is “What do you do to stop the flashbacks from happening?” to which I answer “Nothing”. They will then in one way or another convey to me that I have a very negative and defeatist attitude which isn’t helpful. Or they will suggest that I do something nice and relaxing – light candles, have a bath, listen to music, and so on. So, I tell them, oh, I do all of those things. Because they are very nice things to do. But I will still have the flashback, only I will have it in the bathtub, with the music playing and the candles all around me. I then say “You know when you go to sleep..?” adding a pause to allow the person I am talking to to nod, since this is something everyone has an experience of, before continuing “Well, you know once you are asleep, yeah?” Another nod. “At what point do you choose not to have a nightmare?”  You see, I can’t choose to not have a flashback any more than you can choose not to have a nightmare. No amount of positive thinking or relaxation is going to change it. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen, and it simply isn’t caused by a defeatist or negative attitude. I know a million different grounding techniques to help me come out of a flashback, all of which I employ on a daily basis, and I am working very hard at finding ways to cope with the emotions the flashbacks bring out, but there is no way I can stop the flashback from happening in the first place.

I have somewhere between 30 and 40 flashbacks on an average day. On a particularly bad day, when it seems like one flashback triggers the next, I can have over a hundred. That means re-experiencing, re-living – the abuse over a hundred times in a day. It means dealing with the emotional impact a hundred times in a day. To me, the fact that I am still here, in spite of this, is proof that I absolutely do not have a defeatist attitude.

If you would like to know what it is like [for me] to have flashbacks, there is a drawing (What Words Can’t Express – A Visual Representation Of Sexual Abuse Flashbacks) that I posted a number of years ago, trying to visually explain that sense of being in two places at once – the past and the present, simultaneously. I feel pushed to warn, though, that it is somewhat graphic, and could be potentially triggering.

I want to make it clear that I am in no way an expert on PTSD, and what I have written here is based on my own experience of living with flashbacks, and on what others with PTSD have told me. Of course, as with anything, different people react in different ways, and there may very well be PTSD sufferers out there who disagree entirely with my take on what PTSD is like. And that’s OK. I just wanted to offer my view of what it’s like.

 

All the very best,

xx

 

PS. In case you happen to know me, I’ve recently added a little section on the right, appropriately called “For People Who Know Me”. You may want to check that out. Not in any way saying that you can’t check it out even if you don’t know me, it just won’t be all that relevant to you. :)

A Fork In The Road – Choosing A Path

A. has been away since the Friday before last, and it feels like it has been our longest break ever. There is just something about this particular break that has felt sort of endless. Of course, this hasn’t really been the longest one, seeing as she was off on maternity leave last year, but it has felt incredibly long.

I think one part of it is the fact that I have been living in a heightened state of fear ever since I ran into M., and not having A. there to talk it through with has been hard. Yes, I’ve still had Z., but since that’s the place where I’ve seen M., I haven’t been able to relax at all, and that – naturally – has had a direct impact on my ability to open up and talk about things; it is very hard to allow yourself to be vulnerable in a place where you don’t feel safe. That isn’t to say that I haven’t tried to do just that. But, still, it’s in my sessions with A. I usually feel most safe, more sheltered from both external and internal storms. In fact, this is where I am least likely to experience flashbacks. Sure, I do still have the occasional flashback when I’m with A., but it happens a whole heap less there than anywhere else.

A. is back tomorrow, and that’s a good thing, for sure. I feel that there is a lot that has happened in the eleven days since I last saw her, and there is a lot of catching up to do. Prior to A. going on leave I had a session where I tried to be brave and share my concerns regarding not feeling sure about where our therapeutic relationship and work is headed, or even where I would like it to go.

There is one part of me who is listening closely – perhaps even a little too closely – to other people, who all seem to be suggesting that perhaps I am overly attached to A., and that I have really come as far as I can, working with A. That I may have outgrown her, in a sense, and the time has come to start over with someone else. And at the same time there is the intense pull in the opposite direction: that while there are many things that are less than ideal in our relationship and the way we have been working together, there is a golden opportunity here to work things through, to have a different experience to what I have had in many previous therapies.

I think what troubles me most is the fact that I feel so completely in the dark about my own motives for wishing to go in either of these directions. Is thinking about terminating my work with A. really a result of outgrowing something, or is it a case of the exact polar opposite? That, actually, having spent years only dipping my toes I am now dangerously close to allowing myself to dive in head first? Perhaps terminating is a way for me to avoid having to do that? It certainly wouldn’t be the first time that happened. In at least three previous therapies I’ve managed to find an ‘out’, when things have got a little too hot. Maybe I am really just repeating a pattern here? To cut and run, rather than stay and face my fears?

And, at the same time, is my wish to stay with A. purely about this opportunity to go deeper than I have done before, or is it rooted in fear of letting go of the emotional safety blanket A. has been providing for me in the last four and a half years? Change can be a pretty scary thing, and sometimes we all need a little push in the right direction to dare take that final step off the beaten path.

I definitely feel that working with Z., alongside A., in the last few months has been a very positive experience, has made me reflect on the work I have been doing with A. It has helped clarify in my mind what I feel has sometimes been lacking. But, equally, it has highlighted the things I really appreciate in my relationship with A., the things I find a little overbearing in my work with Z.

In many ways, therapy with A. is a very independent endeavour; I am most definitely in the driver’s seat, choosing which roads to go down, which ones to avoid, and what speed we should be travelling at. Counselling with Z. is a lot more directed, something which became very clear when she expressed concern that we may be dipping too deep into things. And, at the same time, Z. is a lot more head on than A. She often asks very direct questions about what’s going on for me, what I am feeling, and, particularly – what I feel about our relationship, pushing me to go to a place where it is a little scary to be. And, this is an area where A. and I don’t really manage to communicate all that well. I am not sure if this is down to me and my fears, or if it is a situation A. and I have created jointly, but I do know that it is absolutely one of the things I would like to change.

A. made a comment when I talked about this, among many other things, in one of the last sessions before this break, which I feel is both valid and makes me worry. She said that all these questions I have about our work together, the uncertainty of where we are going, the not knowing where I would like to go, echoes very loudly in the rest of my life: there is a lack of clear direction and a strong feeling of being pulled in two opposite directions [the wish to live and work through things, and a darker pull towards giving up and ending my life].

As I wrote earlier, this comment does have some validity: I can see the echo, and I get what A. was trying to tell me. And at the same time, there is some frustration on my part about the way A. tends to see most everything I say about our relationship as a direct echo of something bigger in the world outside of her consulting room, the way she sometimes seems reluctant to allow me [us] to fully explore what’s there inside those four walls. My general view is that, yes – there are often echoes of the outside world being reenacted in A.’s and my relationship, but, that this doesn’t mean that what is going on between the two of us isn’t equally real and in need of being worked through. One doesn’t negate the other, and sometimes a rubber duck is just a rubber duck.

As you can see there are a whole lot of questions bouncing around inside of me at the moment, and very few solid answers to counter them, but I hope that in the next few weeks I will be able to use my sessions with both A. and Z. to look at them closer.

xx

Self-Harm Distraction Techniques: "Draw, Don't Cut"  [..the slightly more creative version..]

Self-Harm Distraction Techniques: “Draw, Don’t Cut”
[..the slightly more creative version..]

Encased In Ice Cold Fear, Trapped In Panic Mode – Upon Seeing A Ghost

I am feeling a little worried that this blog is becoming somewhat scattered, that there isn’t much of a red thread running through it anymore, and that it might be difficult to follow what’s actually going on with me, but sometimes, well, I sit down, fully intending to write an update on what I wrote about in the previous post, and it just feels like the moment has passed, and there are other – more pressing – things I feel a need to write about. Tonight is one of those times. There are two main things I feel I want to write about, so I think I will write two separate entries, to give you guys a chance to rest your eyes, hearts and souls a little in between sittings..

This Monday I went to my session with Z. as I usually do; a little lost in thought, trying to get into The Zone. The room I see Z. in is situated in a building which houses an entirely different kind of project, which is nothing to do with the counselling I am doing. In order to get to Z.’s room I have to walk through first a tiny reception area and then what seems to be some sort of dining hall. There are usually a fair few people in there when I arrive for my session and I generally just walk straight through it, not really paying attention to who is there. This time ended up being very different.

Sitting at one of the tables, right next to the door I needed to go through, was a person who was an absolute dead ringer for M., one of the people I was abused by. NOT the way he looked back then, but the way he would look now: older, heavier, but with those same eyes, the same way of looking at me..

I’m not really sure how to explain what happened, but it was as if my body reacted instantly to this person, before my brain had even had time to work out the reason for the reaction. I have prosopagnosia, a condition that is a little bit like being dyslexic, but with faces instead of letters; my brain simply doesn’t store the memory of peoples’ faces, and it is very, very rare for me to recognise people. Even people I know well, like my sisters, I’m unable to picture, when I’m not with them. But, somehow, with this person, my body reacted instantaneously, before I had even clocked what [who] my eyes were seeing.

All heat seemed to drain from my body at once, I felt ice cold, my heart was beating so hard it was painful, my legs went spaghettiose. I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and that I actually didn’t want to breathe. But somehow I managed to keep walking.

I made it to the stairs leading to the waiting room, and bumped into Z. who was coming down them. I could hear her greet me, and I know I said something back, ‘though I have no idea at all what I said. All I remember was that I thought my knees were going to buckle under me, and focusing ALL my energy on this tea cup Z. happened to be holding, because that was the only thing that seemed to not be spinning, that seemed real, safe. [Could write a whole essay on why it was the tea cup, rather than Z. herself, that seemed real and safe, but it seems of secondary importance right now.]

I got to the top of the stairs and into the waiting room and collapsed on one of the chairs, shaking from head to toe. My hands were trembling completely out of control. It is something that happens to me in moments of extreme anxiety or fear, and I tend to hide my hands so that no one will see it.

By the time I got into Z.’s consulting room I was in what I could only describe as a state of shock, unable to speak. I’m not sure how long for, it might not have been very long in real time, but it felt like an eternity. I felt like all my words were stuck in my throat, blocked by this horrible, unmeltable, icy lump of fear.

Z. at first assumed that it was an air freshener that had triggered this reaction in me, as in a previous session I had reacted to it, as it somehow reminded me of another, similar, smell that almost inevitably sets off a chain of flashbacks, so she went to open the window a little wider. I managed to let her know that that wasn’t it. I’m not sure if I actually told her, or if she asked and I just shook my head.

Eventually I was able to explain to Z. what had happened, who I thought I had seen. Who I felt sure I had seen.

It was such a strange sensation, all these extremely intense feelings, very similar to when I am having flashbacks, only I wasn’t in a flashback. I was reacting to something real. To someone real.

I tried to calm myself down, tried to tell myself that no matter how much this person looked like M., the odds that it was really him was very, very small, infinitesimal, really. But, somehow that just didn’t matter. I experienced a complete split between intellect and emotion, an absolute refusal to believe that it was just someone who looked like him: every cell in my body was telling me that it was him, and no amount of rationalisation or probability calculation could change that.

It was as if every single incident of abuse that he had ever subjected me to in the year or so he was living with us were washing over me all at once, like an enormous tidal wave, sweeping all rational thought from my mind, leaving me completely and utterly encased in ice cold fear, trapped in panic mode. I managed to tell Z. this; that I felt terrified, like the abuse could start over at any second, because in my mind M. was sitting downstairs, and he was always able to find a way to play his cruel games. It didn’t matter that there were lots of people in the building, or that Z. was in the room with me. He could do whatever he wanted, absolutely whenever he wanted to back then, and to me this was still true now. Z. tried to reassure me that no one could hurt me, that I was safe, and I could hear 8-year-old Little S ask “Am I?” in a tone drenched in doubt, so certain in the knowledge that there is nowhere in the entire world I am safe from him, as long as he is still alive.

I genuinely cannot remember feeling so scared or so panicked ever in my life, not since the abuse was actually happening. And that feeling hasn’t subsided. I feel like I am stuck in this horrendous place where my usual, reasoned, realistic way of dealing with things is completely helpless to shield me from my own feelings. I am trying my best to tell myself that it can’t have been him. And at the same time, in my head, it was. There was something about the way my body just reacted to seeing this person, that just makes it impossible for me to accept that it wasn’t.

I told Z. that I was scared of when I would have to leave that room and go downstairs again, even though on the way out I don’t have to go through the dining hall. Z. very gently offered to come with me, so I wouldn’t have to go on my own, in fact she offered more than once, but I had already switched into my ‘Let No One In, Trust No One’-mode, telling her “I’ll be OK. I’m always OK”. To which Z. answered that I certainly had come through a hell of a lot, but she also reminded me that there was no need for me to ‘Be OK’ in session or with her.

I did leave on my own. I’m not sure how. All I know is that as soon as I was out of the building and across the street, tears were streaming down my face and I had to stop twice to be sick before I even got to the bus stop.

I feel so frightened now. And I am scared about going to my next session. I want to go to it, but what if he is there again? I don’t know if I can cope with it. In many ways it doesn’t even really matter whether or not it really is him: the fear he instilled in me back then has returned with a vengeance, regardless of which it is.

I wrote Z. an email earlier this evening, asking could she meet me downstairs in the reception area next session, because it might help me feel a little less frightened if I know I won’t have to walk through the dining hall on my own. It is very unusual for me to ask for help. I am so used to always relying on myself to find ways of dealing with everything on my own, no matter how hard. But I was thinking about what Z. said in session, that there was no need for me to ‘Be OK’, and decided that it was better to ask than to push myself through more fear and anxiety than what is actually necessary.

 

I am sorry that this ended up being such a long post. I suppose there was a lot I needed to get out of my head.

 

Be kind to your Selves.

xx