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.

*

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
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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

August And Everything.. erhrm .. Up Until Then

It’s August, people. Can you believe it? Whatever happened to June and July? I must have blinked and missed them.. How ’bout you?

Stuff is happening here. Good stuff, bad stuff – and stuff too complex to even contemplate categorising. You know how it goes.

Went home at the beginning of July. Lovely drive up with my sister, her dog and her partner. [My sister’s partner, that is, not her dog’s partner..] Groovy stuff. Funky times. And music to match.

Also, pre driving up north I got the chance to spend a bit of time with my friend E., who I hadn’t seen in wayyy too long. A person who understands the unique and magic healing powers of good friends and a cup of tea.

Driving up north was kind of cool, and not only owing to the A/C. As we set out pretty late in the day, it should have grown darker and darker, but since we were driving closer and closer to the arctic circle, it was actually getting lighter and lighter. One of the many fantastic things about The North. Big time funkiness.

Stayed at my mum’s place, which was what I had been wanting to do. And even though it’s always a bit of a juggle getting the balance right between spending time with her, hanging out with my sisters and seeing my friends, I think it went reasonably ok. Sadly this time my friends drew the shortest straw, but hopefully it won’t be too long before my next visit. And, thankfully, I have the most amazing friends, who stand by me despite hardly getting to see me. Ehrm.. or maybe they’re sticking with me because they don’t have to see me too often. :) Nah! Not really.

Had a blast getting to know my newest nephew better, once he, my other sister and her husband joined us in our hometown.

Other happy memories include my 4-year-old niece teaching us all how to lawn-surf, spending a night at the summer house partaking of a traditional Sister’s Day meal, cuddling up on the sofa with my oldest niece, and watching my mum’s King Charles gulfing down a pound of sweets in seconds flat, only to be projectile vomiting the rest of the evening. Ok, so the last wasn’t really all that funny, but still..

That said, the truth is that being home does take something of an emotional toll. I don’t think it will ever be entirely straightforward going home. “You can always go home, but you can never go back”. True, that.

What else? Well, I’m still doing a shift a week at work. Has been a few times when I haven’t feel able to go, but on the days when I have it’s always been a very positive experience.

Therapy has shifted up a gear. I’m seeing A. three times a week now, which makes for a much better session-to-session flow. Also, I think, I am more ready to really challenge myself to delve deeper. To not come up for air at the first sign of being under water. Wow – that’s an exceptionally poor metaphor – my apologies, but let’s surf with it just the same; hopefully you still get what I’m saying.. Basically, I’m trying to avoid a deus ex machina ending to my therapy; to stick with it, rather than to look for a desperate ‘out’. [I feel my literature professor from uni would cringe at my casual implementation of one of his favourite Latin expressions.]

Last week felt like a pivotal point in therapy. Big time. I guess I have reached the conclusion that therapy is about daring to be honest. With myself. To sit with my feelings and to accept them, even the ones that I’d rather not admit to having.

Anyhow, my dears – the hour is getting late.
[Yup – that’s a lie, but, so what? This isn’t therapy.]

All the very best and more,

xx

This blog was sponsored by the word FUNKY, the expression BIG TIME and the letter BEIT. No animals or children were intentionally harmed in the writing of this blog.

Anxiety, Emotional Availability & Nail Varnish Fumes

Thursday evening. I’m doing my nails. For the third time. In the last hour. Can only mean one thing; anxiety levels are spinning out of control.

I’m flying out to Sweden on Saturday. First I’m spending a few days with my dad and then I’m travelling on to stay with my mum for a week. And I’m nervous about it. I haven’t seen my parents for two and a half year. And I’m not sure exactly where we stands.

Also A. is going away. And that’s never good. Even at the best of times a break in therapy is a big deal. I’ve written about it in other posts; abandonment issues, worrying that the therapist will never return, the endless thoughts of How Can You Do This To Me!? It’s not a pretty sight from any angle.

But this time, returning back to the UK from what will undoubtedly have been an emotional trip (regardless of whether it’s gone well or not) knowing that A. will be away for another week.. well.. it’s pretty scary. Seven days can be a veeeery long time.

Also it doesn’t help that I am incredibly bad at actually talking about all of these fears I have surrounding A. going away in session. I’m not sure what it is, but something always stops me. The last few sessions I’ve really wanted to talk about this – to not just mention it and then quickly move on to something else, but to actually explore it. But I haven’t.

And it isn’t just fear of admitting to being attached to A. And itisn’t the worry about being too dependent. It’s to do with something else. Something I can’t quite put into word, but something I feel both A. and I play a part in.

I feel sometimes that we get into this pattern of holding back. And in doing that, it causes the other to do the same. What I’m talking about here is not about some sort of power struggle (which, admittedly, we also get into now and then) or a wish on my part for more equality or more self-disclosure. No, this holding back I’m talking about is to do with emotional availability and honesty. I know for a fact that I hold back, because I’m scared, or because I feel embarrassed. And I feel that A., too, holds back. Quite possible for very different reasons, but the result is that there is this gap between us where things very much remain unexpressed. And I’m sure A. knows this as well.

Hm.. How did I get on to this..? This wasn’t at all what I had been planning on writing about. Must be the fumes from the nail varnish.. I’d best stop before I confuse both myself and you further.

Be well.

xx

Pain – An Entry About Truth

So this blog is honesty-based. That’s what it says on the tin. That’s the whole point of it. To tell it like it is, or at least what it feels like. For me. It’s the only story I can tell. My story. My version of the truth. And today.. well.. it feels like shit being me. Nails done and re-done five times still counting, new hairdo, new hopes, but still the same messed up me. Some things never change..

My little brother is getting married on Saturday. My little brother who I always thought I was really close to. Or at least closer to than anyone else in my family. The one I loved better than anyone else. But on his big day I’m not invited. Persona non grata. I’m sure there are a million ways to justify not wanting me there. In fact I’ve been given quite a few reasons. And maybe we’ll never agree on whether or not those are real, valid, reasons. It doesn’t matter. It still breaks my fucking heart to know that the rest of my family will be there. Celebrating. Having a good time. Together.
And I’ll be here. Alone.
Uninvited.

I made a choice last year. To do something for myself. To change a pattern that up until then had been repeated over and over again, always with the same result: me trying to kill myself. I made a decision that it was time for a real change, because it was the only way I could think to break the vicious circle I found myself in. That break included taking a step away from my family. Not forever. But until I felt strong enough to face them as honestly as I can muster. I needed time to learn to do things that are helpful to me rather than destructive.

I got back in touch with my little brother on his birthday in October. I texted him beforehand to ask if it’d be ok to give him a ring. I didn’t want to take it for granted that he wanted me to. Things could have changed at his end, too. But he said he did. So I rang. We talked. I asked him if he wanted to stay in touch. He said yes. I warned him that I have changed a lot in the time we’d been out of touch, that I won’t be playing games anymore, I won’t pretend that things are ok when they’re not. I won’t pretend that what my oldest brother did to me didn’t affect me. And I asked him again if he wanted to stay in touch. He said that he did, that there was no need for pretence, not with him. He could handle it.

And I believed him.

But I was wrong.
And it hurts like hell to realise that.

A part of me wants to go on and on and repeat all the reasons my brother gave me as to why I’m not welcome at his wedding. I want to poke holes in his reasons, because none of them make any sense to me. They are so wafer-thin they’d come apart at the lightest hint of a breeze. I want to rage and scream and kick and bite until someone, anyone, will listen. Will hear the truth. My truth.

But I won’t.
I think deep down my brother knows all of this. He must.
Or he is not the person I thought he was.

I have no idea how I’m going to get through the next few days. I have moments when I think I’ll be ok. And then something happens, something reminds me.
That I’m not wanted.

And my heart breaks all over again.

xx

Shoes, Skulls & Honesty – An Entry About Therapeutic Experience

I had an extremely delayed bing-bing experience yesterday. I was in the lounge with my housemate, talking about what it’s like to be in therapy/counselling and comparing what we each found most and least helpful.

Pretty soon we reached the conclusion that we both have the same general idea about what does and doesn’t help. One thing we agreed on was the fact that although interpretations can sometimes be helpful, more often than not they don’t really add much value to the experience. Also we both said that there is nothing more frustrating than to have a question answered with a question. Especially if it’s concerning something that has taken some courage to ask about in the first place.

To use a more concrete example: Let’s say that you’re in a session and you get the feeling that your therapist is in a bad mood and seems annoyed with you. This is clearly something that will bother you, but it’s not the easiest thing in the world to confront your therapist about, especially since you may not be entirely sure that your reading is correct. So, you let fifteen of your precious fifty-minute hour pass, because you’re unsure how to ask about this without making your therapist even more upset with you. You may even consider not asking at all. But, in the end you do ask the question: “Are you upset with me?” You ask because you really want to know.

There are now two main routes for the therapist to take: The first one – which has been used for years by therapist as a means of turning the focus back on the client – would be to reply with “What makes you ask that?” and although I understand the idea behind responding in this way, I don’t really see in which way this would be therapeutic for the client.

The other route – the one that would seem more obvious, and also more closely related to how things work in the world outside of the therapy setting, would be for the therapist to simply answer the question. Just a simple “Yes, actually, I am a bit upset with you because you’re doing something I have repeatedly asked you not to do. How do you feel about me being upset with you?” (Or, “No, I’m not upset with you, but I do have a cold coming on, and maybe that’s why I seem a bit off?”).

My housemate and I also talked about the fact that quite often it isn’t necessarily what is actually being said in a session that brings about a change in you, but what happens. (Not really a huge newsflash, but still.) Although it is helpful to be able to talk about things that are on your mind, the talking itself doesn’t really change anything. It’s more like a symptom relief. (Like taking a painkiller – it takes away your headache, but it isn’t likely to take away the cause for it).

On to my little bing-bing moment, which followed this part of our discussion: Last year I came to one of my sessions with D. wearing a pair of new trainers. At the beginning of the session D. commented on them, saying that she quite liked them. I have no idea what we talked about in that session, to be honest, but as I was getting ready to leave and I started putting my trainers back on again she realised that they weren’t all black as she had initially thought, but that they actually have skulls and bones printed on the side. She then made a comment about that and asked why – out of all the trainers in the world – did I have to choose the ones with skulls on them? I said something back about liking them and that that particular brand of shoes nearly always came with skulls printed on them. We went back and forth for a bit in a very parent/child sort of way, and in the end I blurted out an incredibly teenagey “Well, it’s lucky you don’t have to wear them then!” (At which I think D. may actually have smiled).

Now, I’ve re-told this little store to quite a few of my friends, but I don’t think I had realised until just yesterday why I have been doing it. I think I probably just put it down to me thinking it was a bit amusing that someone could react so strongly to a pair of trainers and that it was more about D.’s reaction than mine. But, having this discussion with my housemate and again repeating this story to her it suddenly dawned on me that the reason why I’ve held on to that tiny little detail is that it really changed something for me.

As I’ve mentioned before I grew up in a house where disagreements weren’t really accepted at all, and so as a result I was probably the most well behaved kid around throughout my teenage years. I never called my parents names or even shouted at them, in fact I hardly displayed any of the behaviour typical of a teenager. Because I was afraid what would happen if I did.
And now, years later, having had the above exchange with my counsellor, well, it was incredibly liberating. It showed me that it’s ok to get annoyed with someone, or to disagree, and even to express it in a less than thought-through way. The world didn’t stop, nothing bad happened – and it certainly didn’t ruin my relationship with D.

So there you go! A perfect example of how the smallest things can sometimes bring about the biggest changes.

All the very best and more,

xx

PS. I now have red Skullcandy earphones to go with my skull adorned trainers. :þ

BLATANT PLUG: Check out my brand new online store Earthprint Organic Clothing where I sell organic clothes with my own designs printed on them!

Fortune Favours The Brave – An Entry About Daring To Change

*

“I’m so sorry, Geri. I’m so sorry that happened to you.”
“Don’t be.” She shook her head. “Like I said – it’s in the past. It’s OK.”

She shrugged and her sudden calm frightened me. She seemed so distanced, so disconnected from it all. As if what she had gone through was the norm, nothing special – not worth thinking about.

“No,” I said quietly. “It’s not OK.” I steadied my voice. “It’s not OK at all, Geri.”


*

The above is an extract from DGB, from a chapter called “Honesty”, and it rings truer than I realised when writing it. The book is not an autobiography, but I guess it’s fair to say that there is a lot of me in it and to a certain extent I suppose it can be justifiably argued that the character of Geri is largely biographic, or at the very least semi-biographic. The way she acts and reacts is sometimes much more close to the bone than I was aware when writing it.

A prime example of this is the passage above. Geri’s behaviour, her way of acting, is what is really at the very heart of what I’m currently trying to work on; the sense of complete detachment from the traumas in my life.

I guess it’s a defence mechanism that’s kicked in to shield me from the raw reality of my own story. “If I don’t feel it, maybe it didn’t happen. And if it didn’t happen, then I’d be happy.” Something like that. That’s basically how I’ve got by all my life.

Only now I’m trying to break this habit of switching off, and it’s proving much more difficult that I’d imagined. I’m so skilled at keeping my guard up that I don’t really know how to lower it anymore, and more often than not I need someone to steer me in the right direction.

I’ve spent many nights throughout this past year on the phone with a friend of mine, and I’ve talked to her about things I haven’t really been able to talk about with anyone else before. There is just something about her that makes it possible for me to do it. Not only the fact that I feel she’ll be able to handle whatever I throw at her, but also that she has this way of listening with an intensity that is almost palpable. It’s so vibrant I feel I could reach out and touch it. She’ll hold back, listen and think, sometimes letting the silence hang heavily on the line between us for minutes before she’ll relay her opinion to me. And, during these nocturnal conversations I’ve come to see that more often than not she’s right. Not in the sense of her being right and me being wrong, but in the sense that her ideas and suggestions seem to link in very closely with what I need to be doing; they tend to be both valid and valuable.

I’ve found myself dropping off the cuff remarks, and rather than just letting them slide, like most people would, this very special friend of mine will hold on to them, examine them and return them to me in a more manageable form.

Counselling works a lot like this for me also. I make a statement, not really thinking it holds much meaning, and D. will grab hold of it, turn it around a little bit and help me explore it. Sometimes I’ll argue myself silly to prove her wrong only to leave our session and slowly, over the coming days, realise that things are exactly as she had suggested.

It’s not that I’m unintelligent or particularly blind to my own situation. It’s just that emotionally I’m something of a slow learner. Or rather, I learned some lessons much to soon, at a much too early age, and I now find myself struggling to unlearn them. And, I guess, like any scholar I need a mentor to point me in the right direction.

There are many, to other people, basic skills that I find myself lacking. Take trust, for example. I learned very early in my life that if you trust someone it can leave you enormously vulnerable. The consequence of this is, of course, that I avoid doing this. I keep people at arm’s length. They can come knocking at my door, and I’ll help them as much as I possibly can, standing on the threshold, but I won’t let them into my home. And I certainly won’t let them help me.

Or at least that’s how I used to be. I am trying, as I said earlier, to unlearn some of my habits. And I feel I have made some progress, especially in the trust department. Although I am still a far cry from being trusting, I do try to let people take at least a few steps into my life. And it makes a huge difference, I’ve found.

In a counselling session some weeks ago I said that I have always had very high expectations of myself, always strived to be able to manage everything I set out to do. Following this statement D. pointed out that it is almost the polar opposite to how I treat everyone else around me. That, in fact, I seem to never expect anything from anyone. She used herself as an example, asking me what I expected from her. At first I drew a complete and utter blank, and I had to really think before I finally came up with the answer “That you’re here when you’re meant to be here.” I didn’t express any hopes or wishes that she’d be able to help me or that she should care about what I tell her, care about me – nothing like that sprung to mind at all. And I think that says a lot about me. About the way I have been relating to people all my life. And I know that it is something that I need to make a conscious effort to change.

Luckily I am blessed to have a lot of people in my life who are more than willing to let me practise on them, who will hold on tightly to my hand as I test the waters for the first time in a long long while.

xx