Every Part Of You Needs Therapy : Baby S.’s Story

impossible shapes

“Looking Back At My Younger Self” – An ‘impossible’ drawing I did, inspired by Reuterswärd, Escher and Penrose

Whenever I think about who I am, I always reach the conclusion that there is more than one answer to that question. I have written about the concept of every person having different parts to them before [the baby self, the child self, the inner teenager, the adult etc], but I have been wanting to write more about each individual part for a while now, so that is what I am planning to do in the next few posts. [Emphasis on planning here – no promises, plans sometimes don’t pan out]. I have no idea how interesting this will be to anyone else, but as it is something P. and I do a lot of in our therapy [exploring, defining, trying to understand the different parts and how they work – and sometimes don’t work – together in my internal system], I know that it will be a useful exercise for me. So, I am going to be a selfish blogger for a little while. And I use the word ‘selfish’ here in the purely positive sense of allowing myself and my needs to come first. That said, I know from the emails I have been receiving from you over the years, that many of you share similar stories to mine, and I hope that you, too, will get something from this exercise – maybe even take a little time to think about your own internal system?

I am going to start with Baby S., because that is where the person I am now begun. Baby S. is simultaneously the very oldest and the very youngest part of me. She is the part of me who was there from the beginning, the tiny pre-verbal part of myself. She is the one who was around when I was living at the Indian orphanage in the first seven months of my life, she is the one who first experienced being abandoned, first experienced loss. When this happened, I don’t know, because I don’t know if I was born at the orphanage or if I was brought there. And if I wasn’t born at the orphanage, then I don’t know whether a stranger found me somewhere on the streets of Calcutta and handed me in, or if my birth parent made the decision to take me there themselves, because it was what they believed would be best for me. In fact, I don’t even know if my separation from my birth parents was forced upon them or if it was a choice they made. All I know is that at a very early age I experienced the extreme trauma of being abandoned. 

Baby S. is also the part of me who for the first seven months of my life experienced a serious lack of human-to-human [or rather adult-to-child] contact and care. This I do know for a fact. I know this, not from having a conscious memory of this lack of close contact, but because I have been back to the orphanage I came from, and I have seen the little metal cots shared between two or three babies [hence correcting myself earlier; there was most certainly human-to-human contact, but not adequate adult-to-child care]. This inadequacy was not because I came from a particularly bad orphanage, it is simply down to the fact that I come from an exceptionally busy and over-crowded one. [Actually, scratch ‘exceptionally‘ – it is probably no more busy or over-crowded than any given orphanage in India]. The nuns working at this orphanage no doubt tirelessly do so because they care very deeply about all these abandoned babies and children, and are passionately wanting to do what they can to provide for their tiny little charges, but there are simply not enough of them going around, and – sadly – their job becomes never ending rounds of nappy changes and bottle feeds – conveyor belt style – to ensure that no child is missed. So, in spite of these heroic efforts, precious little time is spent with each individual child, and the opportunity to form any kind of meaningful attachment is virtually nil. 
I was ten years old when I went back to visits the orphanage I came from, and even as a child of that age I was acutely aware of the Baby S.-part inside, and I didn’t need an adult to explain to me how lonely and frightening it must have been for me as a baby to be in that environment. It is hot, crowded and noisy, with little colour or comfort. No toys, no safety blankets, no dummies [that’s British for pacifiers], no cuddly teddy bears.. Bleak, bare and loud, with hardly any Big People to care for you; a very sad environment for anyone to be in, no matter what the age. Needless to say, visiting that orphanage had a big impact on me, and it has played a huge part in why I have always been so much more interested in understanding the effects of starting out in an environment like that – void of significant caregivers to form attachments to – than wanting to find my birth parents. 

Anyone who has been adopted will be more than familiar with Everyone Else’s two compulsive-intrusive questions: “Do you know who your real parents are?” and “Would you like to find your real parents?” My answer is invariably: “Of course I know who my real parents are – I grew up with them, and, no, I’m not hugely interested in finding my birth parents.” An answer, which is more often than not, met with disappointment. It is as if, being adopted, one ought to have a strong desire to trace one’s biological roots, and if you haven’t got that desire, well, you must be lying to yourself. I genuinely don’t feel I am lying to myself; I just haven’t a strong desire to trace those roots. That isn’t to say that I won’t ever feel that desire, merely that – as of now – it’s not played a big part in my life. Yes, of course I have at times wondered about them, but – somehow – I have always had a really strong sense of who my parents were and what they were like – even though I couldn’t possibly have any conscious memory of them. Maybe it is a biological imprint that we are born with..? I don’t know. All I know is that I’ve always been far more interested in understanding how my early life experiences have shaped me, than finding out who the people I came from were. So, let’s go back to exploring that: 

Apart from being abandoned, Baby S. is also the one who had to deal with the most extreme life change out of all of the parts that make up my internal system. At seven months old her whole life was turned upside down and inside out when she was brought from the orphanage in the loud and crowded city of Calcutta, to a tiny coastal town in the very north of Sweden. I don’t think the climate or cultural change could have been greater. This was a new life, in a whole new world, with strange new smells and sounds and ways of doing things. And a whole new set of people. A mother and a father and two older brothers, one of whom was also a deeply traumatised young child [2.5 years old on the papers, in reality closer to four] brought over from an entirely different part of India, at the same time. 

One of the things that is always said about me as a baby, post adoption, is that I was “such a good little baby”, meaning that I was a very quiet baby; I rarely fussed and I slept more than most. I was also out of nappies before I was a year old. Every time another story gets retold for the umpteenth time of what a good baby I were, I always have an urge to scream that “Of course I didn’t fuss! Why would I?” and I can feel that it is the Baby S. part of me having this reaction. By the time I was seven months old and came to Sweden I had already learned that there was no point in crying if I needed something, whether it be food, a new nappy or a cuddle, because no one would come, no matter how desperately I cried.. I simply had to wait my turn, whether I understood the concept of waiting or not. So, I stopped crying, stopped fussing, stopped trying to get the attention, care, and love that I so desperately needed. Because I knew that it was pointless. And the sleeping? Well, I’m no expert – but it sounds to me like either a stress relieving coping mechanism kicking in, or early depression. Or, more than likely, both.  

Because of Baby S. inside of me, I experience intense anger whenever I hear people asking new parents “Is he a good baby?”. What’s the answer to that? “No, she’s an absolutely terrible baby, she demands feeding and changing and she won’t let us sleep for more than half an hour at a time!” To me, good does not equal quiet – and I know that my sensitivity to this kind of talk is really Baby S. having an emotional respons. She can’t help but to kick off when someone starts talking in those terms. Which is great – finally she is able to express herself, be it through emotions rather than words. 

That brings us to one of the challenges of allowing Baby S. space in our therapy. Baby S. is pre-verbal, she doesn’t have language – or rather, she hasn’t got words. So, how can she be part of the therapy? I haven’t got a definitive answer to that. I mean how do you get a pre-verbal part to speak? My solution so far is to work on getting Adult Me to become more attuned to Baby S.’s emotional signals, so that she can verbalise on Baby S.’s behalf. It’s not an ideal solution, because dressing a baby’s emotional world in adult vocabulary requires translation, but it is a starting point in terms involving Baby S. in our therapy. The first step to giving Baby S. a voice in the outside world is to listen for it. So, I try to get Adult Me to actively listen to what Baby S. is communicating. It’s sometimes – often, actually – rather a difficult thing to do, especially if what Baby S. is desperately wanting to say, happens to be the exact same thing that Adult Me is wanting to hide from, and still needs to defend agains.

I believe that Baby S. only ever communicates truths – she has not learned that truth can be manipulated to suit one’s needs – and conflict can occur when Adult Me is not yet ready to face that truth. Still, it is work in progress. Through Adult Me’s active listening, and through her translation into spoken word, Baby S.’s feelings can be brought into the open in the space I share with P., and together we can work with it. 

And there is a lot of stuff to work with. Trust me. 

There is an excellent blog called Everyone Needs Therapy – a sentiment I share. Only I would take it one step further and say that Every Part Of You Needs Therapy.



Take good care of your Selfs,

xx 

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Progress And Pain – Parenting My Inner Child

It’s been a long time. It’s been too long, really. I suppose that I just needed a proper break from things. Or, rather, I needed to use what little energy I could muster to deal with the bare essentials, hence largely withdrawing from the world, both online and in my day-to-day interactions with family and friends.

It has been, and still is, a very rough ride. Since the beginning of the year I have had three rounds of crisis team intervention and one admission to Drayton Park, all with that burning hopeless feeling that ‘It’s pointless, it won’t make a difference’. Except, from an external point of view it has; I am still here now. I might not have been.

Therapy is the one thing that I feel is actually going well. But, as is so often the case when it comes to therapy, ‘going well’ involves a decent sized chunk of dizzying pain. The therapeutic process has never been heralded as a ‘free from unwanted side effects’ type of medication..

I continue to build my relationship with P., doing this quirky little two-steps-forward-one-step-back dance, putting my most deep seated fears and trust issues through their paces. Progress is slow, but at least we are moving. Those of you who have been in therapy will know exactly what I am talking about; one session and – almost out of nowhere – you find the courage of a lioness and take a giant leap forward, right across the abyss – the next two sessions; withdrawing and giving in to age-old fears of being let down, needing to test and re-test your therapist, to check that they really are for real, that those encouraging words won’t turn out to just be empty promises.

My need for emotional hand-holding and reassurance has known no limits in these last months and weeks, and consequently P. has had to work darn hard for the pennies.. She tells me that she knew what she was signing up for when she decided to take me on, I argue that she can’t possibly have known – because she didn’t know me – she then agrees that this is true, but reassures me that she has a very strong sense of what she can cope with, and that I really really really am not too much for her. And we take another tiny step forward.

As I have said many times before, I don’t think therapy is meant to be easy, I think it’s meant to be worth it.

Right now we are standing at the door of a two week therapy break, so – predictably – all of Little S.’s abandonment fears are awakened and hyper aroused. Adult Me works hard to try to explain that it will be OK, that we have been through – and have survived – many, many breaks before, and that we will get through this one, too, but Little S. clamps her hands firmly over her little ears, certain that this is the end of the safety and pseudo-mothering we have enjoyed from P.

What it boils down to is that my inner child, just like any other child, has no real understanding of time, and so a separation from P. is not a temporary state, but is permanent and absolute. And, again like most children, when the caregiver goes away, she assumes that this must be because of something she has done. This, in turn, makes Little S., go back and forth between putting unrealistic pressure on herself to be ‘all good’ [because, if she is very very good, maybe P. won’t leave her] and needing to self-punish [because she must have been bad, to make P. go away]. Adult Me works very hard to try to help regulate the extremes, but parenting your own inner child is not an easy task, especially when so many of Little S.’s thought patterns and beliefs still live on in Adult Me.

I still have three sessions left before the commencement of this two-week-bordering-on-eternity break, so there is time to talk this through with P., time to get another shot of reassurance injected, and hopefully that will alleviate at least some of Little S.’s [and Adult Me’s] anxiety.

We’ll see..

Anyway, take good care of your Selves, and thank you all so much for sticking with me through this hiatus, of sorts.

xx

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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Self-Awareness & Self-Doubt

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PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS PARTICULAR POST DEALS WITH CHILDHOOD SEXUAL ABUSE AND MAY THEREFORE BE UPSETTING AND/OR TRIGGERING
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During the last two weeks the frequency of flashbacks I’ve been having has been steadily on the increase. This is never a nice thing and inevitably makes me very anxious that I might be heading for one of those truly horrendous periods where the flashbacks become relentless and I get no respite from them at all. Thankfully, things are not at that stage, but the fear is still there, and I am having significantly more flashbacks than I usually have in a day. So it has been hard. Especially since A. has been away, and I’ve not had my usual space to process things. [A. being off isn’t the reason for the increase in flashbacks; the escalation had started before she went away, but lacking a place to talk things through doesn’t help].

Now, having flashbacks is something which I live with all the time [to a greater or lesser degree], but there is one thing which has been very different about this particular increase of flashbacks: normally, my flashbacks tend to be very random in terms of which abuse situation they are about. There might be one from when I was four and a half, then one from when I was seventeen, then one from when I was twelve. Some will be of things my brother did to me, others of things that the foster child who lived with us made me do. In short, it tends to be a completely random mix, with no specific order to them.

But this time, nearly all of them have been about a very specific situation, something which happened over the space of about twenty hours when I was nine. The flashbacks haven’t been sequential, it has been bits here and there, and it has all been absolutely sickening. What happened over that period of time are some of the most traumatic things I have ever experienced, and so it follows that the flashbacks are equally horrendous.

A few days ago I tried to desensitise myself a little by saying out loud [to myself] what happened, but I simply couldn’t do it. It felt too frightening and the words were too charged. Instead I turned to another form of expressing myself: drawing. I drew the whole situation, and I drew it in a very specific way, I drew it from his point of view. In other words, I drew what he would have seen: me, tiny, naked, frightened, tied to the radiator [which he had cranked, just because he thought it was funny when I was in pain], the various objects he was using [when he wasn’t using “his body”] – the whole situation. I won’t go into any more detail than that, because, writing about it – like talking about it – is a bit too much for me [and may also be a bit too much for you, the reader]. I did think about posting the picture I drew, but in the end decided that it is simply too graphic for general view. [Also – although the intention with the drawing is very different – legally, in some places, it would be considered child pornography, as it clearly depicts a young child being sexually abused.]

I really don’t know why so many flashbacks have been centring around this particular situation. I mean, yes, the things that happened were incredibly traumatic and cruel, but that has always been the case and it doesn’t explain why this kind of ‘zooming in’ of flashbacks is happening, or why this change is taking place now. I am still trying to work that out.

The idea to draw it, to really focus on it – allowing the emotions – was something I did in the hope that it would decrease the frequency of flashbacks, but that’s not really worked; it hasn’t at all influenced the number of flashbacks I’ve been having. [For the better or for the worse].

What it has done, is allow me to see that I really was a very young child. I don’t remember ever feeling that I was a child, I always felt like an adult, but I think it is important to recognise that although I didn’t feel like a child, that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t a child. The other thing that it has done, is that it has made it possible for me to see the whole situation, meaning that I could see for myself how truly awful it was. And that helps, because it makes me feel that maybe it isn’t so strange that I am still struggling with what happened; it tells me that I am not over-reacting.

Sadly, in contrast to all of this positive recognition, all this self-awareness, there has been another change inside of me. A very different one. One which isn’t nice at all, and is almost the polar opposite of what I just described..

Up until now, if anyone has ever suggested to me that maybe I carry some sort of guilt feelings about what happened inside of me, I have always vehemently denied this. I’ve always maintained that this is not the case; that I am not a typical abuse victim who blames herself for what happened. I am perfectly able to see the abuse for what it was.

But in the last two days, I’ve been completely overwhelmed with self-doubt. Doubt about whether or not maybe, just maybe, there was something I did to make this happen. A sense that, because there were two different people who abused me – separate from one another – there might be something wrong with me, that maybe I was sending out some sort of unconscious signal. That I didn’t do enough to make the abuse stop. Etc etc etc.

I can honestly say, that I have never felt this way before – certainly not on a conscious level; when I have protested to any suggestions like those mentioned above, it has never been in order to purposely mask my true feelings, or to make myself clever or anything like that. I have simply never felt this way before.

This isn’t a case of suddenly feeling 100% sure that I must somehow be to blame for what happened, rather it is an ambivalence about it, an uncertainty about who is to blame, which is now coming into the open. It is more than likely a fear that has always resided deep down inside of me, but it isn’t until these last two days that it has been allowed to enter the realm of the conscious. What I am trying to illustrate here is that all of a sudden there is a very tangible discrepancy between what I can intellectually understand [that being a child I couldn’t possibly be to blame for the abuse, that I was powerless to stop it etc], and what my inner child emotions are telling me. And it makes me feel awful. It makes me feel like I am not as far along the road to recovery as I had thought.

Of course, I can see that having my true feelings surface is probably a good thing, that this could be viewed as “a step back in order to ultimately move forward” [you can only work through things that are in the open]. In the short term, however.. well.. it has me on my knees. Completely. And, as much as I hate to admit it, on three occasions, I have resorted to escaping these very painful feelings through self-harm. This worries me, since my favoured form of self-harm is coiling a cord round my neck and pulling until I pass out, a variant which is undeniably dangerous, as there is no way of knowing that the cord will release once I have lost consciousness.

I am trying to not be too hard on myself about the self-harm. Firstly, being disappointed and angry with myself doesn’t help the situation, it only serves to make me feel even worse. And secondly, in some ways it makes perfect sense to act out like this; for as long you are unconscious you can’t feel anything. You could even go so far as to say that this particular form of self-harm is a desperate attempt at putting these now conscious feelings back into the unconscious.

But, of course, it would be much better if I didn’t feel a need to do this to myself, and I am hoping that when A. is back, being able to talk all of these different things through will be enough to help me cope with these new emotions without putting myself at risk.

I just need to somehow hold on until then.

xx

Thinking Of Children

 

Little S - Pretty In Pink

Little S – Pretty In Pink

So much of this year has been spent thinking about children, about having children of my own, about my therapist having a child, about myself as a child. It seems only appropriate that my final post – my final drawing – of this year be one of Little S.

To help me not forget that that small and innocent child still lives inside of Adult Me, and hurting Adult Me, also means hurting that very precious little child. So that I can remember to be kind to myself.

I wish you all the very best for the new year.

xx

Maternity Leave, Eternity Leave & Lessons From A Goldfish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All the very best and more,

xx

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

Boxes, Bin Liners & A Pregnant Therapist – An Entry About Preparing For A Major Therapy Break

Last week was a big week, therapywise.

Started a bit shakey on Tuesday, feeling very anxious, and stepping into a mode of not wanting to engage, not wanting to connect and deliberately steering clear of potentially explosive material. There was a definite wish to keep it simple, to not touch on anything that could be even remotely emotionally triggering.

Then, on Wednesday, my second session of the week, the second I sat down I was overcome by this very intense need to retreat into myself, to shut everyone and everything out, to protect myself from making myself vulnerable. To, in essence, stop all processes and just deep-freeze everything. A. responded to this information by stating that that’s quite alarming, and I went on to spend the rest of the session trying to explain this reaction, to dress in words what this fear looks like. Did a bit of waltzing around, but eventually, in my own unique roundabout way, I arrived at the fairly obvious conclusion that a lot of this wish to cut and run comes from the worry about what will happen once A. goes on maternity leave.

I used the analogy of unpacking my moving boxes to try to illustrate what the worry is; how, as long as all my things are still in the boxes there is a certain order to things. I know exactly what’s in each of the boxes, and although the contents may not be immediately accessible, I can get to them, with a little work. On the other hand, were I to empty all the boxes, even if I arranged the contents neatly on my bookshelves and in my wardrobe, well – the contents wouldn’t change, but in an emergency situation, it’d be that much harder to grab everything and run for cover. That, yes, in day-to-day life it’s easier to have things within reach and in the line of vision, but, having spent so much of my life in survival mode, it’s really hard to trust that a fight or flight inducing situation isn’t forever lurking just around the nearest corner. I keep hearing the voice of Little S desperately urging me to not lower my guard, to make sure that I have a clear escape route at all times. And although Adult Me is trying hard to keep hold of Little S’s hand, to steady her and to show her that things are different now, it’s hard. It’s a fine balance to allow Little S’s voice to be heard, to exist, without giving into it – because, after all, she speaks from years of experience and from a place of almost unimaginable pain, and her voice is in no way trying to halter progress, but simply wanting to make sure that I don’t get hurt again. It’s a kind of poorly calibrated and somewhat mis-directed self-protective impulse.

Now, Adult Me knows that in order to move forward I have to somehow find the courage to keep at it, to keep sharing, to keep expressing, keep unpacking those boxes – even now when things feel so very fragile – knowing that, should things come crashing down around me, I can always grab a couple of bin liners and chuck my stuff into them to make possible my escape. It won’t be as neat, precise or efficient as if all of my things were still boxed up, but it would still work as a temporary measure. The only problem is that, as I explained to A., unlike with my actual, material possessions, when it comes to my emotional property, I don’t feel that I have that bin liner to hand; the fear is that I lack that quick-fix temporary container to make things manageable. I can have things out, look at my emotions, experience them, especially in the safe environment that therapy offers, or I can keep them in the box for now, until I feel ready to un-box, but, once they’re out – it’s not very easy to re-package. That, although I do have some practical outside tools, should things get really bad in A.’s absence; Drayton Park, the crisis team, shul, Samaritans, my friends and family, I just don’t trust it that I have the inner means to keep myself safe without shutting down. And that leaves me feeling very frightened and vulnerable.

With this in mind, it makes perfect sense that Little S pipes up, reacting strongly to thinly veiled abandonment issues popping up in the face of A.’s impending leave, pushing for me to keep on the well-beaten path of trusting no-one but me, to rely on myself and myself alone, to let no-one in and let nothing out.

History shows that I often find myself struggling to keep things together during therapy breaks, that flashbacks and nightmares tend to increase at a maddening rate when I haven’t got that safe space to unload my emotions in, that the risk of self-harming behaviour sky-rockets, and so, with a break of this proportion on the horizon, well, it’s bound to drive my fears to boiling point. In some ways it would be more worrying if they didn’t.

A. reassured me that she has no interest in making this break any harder than it needs to be, and although it felt really good to hear her say that and I genuinely appreciate her wanting me to know this, it’s still incredibly daunting to know that I have such a big break ahead of me. And finding that courage, well, it’s something only I can do.

This week’s final session – Friday – was spent doing some further exploration into the constant internal struggle between Little S and Adult Me. We looked at how Adult Me very much wants to do everything in her power to ensure that I don’t start going back on the progress I’ve made thus far in my therapy, while – at the same time – Little S is deeply invested in that tried and tested path, pulling in the opposite direction, wanting to go for what is known and what feels safe.

The conclusion is, of course, that what we need to focus on in the next few months, is to find not only a bin liner, but preferably a nice sturdy IKEA bag, to ensure I have what I need get me through once A. does go on her leave. To find that something which will allow me to resist listening too much to Little S – without completely ignoring or silencing her – and to not give in to the temptation of going down that comfortably familiar path of keeping myself safe through shutting down.

So, I’ve definitely got my work cut out for me. But – hopefully – I’ll find that I have what it takes.

To carry on.
Being me.

All the very best and more,

xx

IN OTHER NEWS

I was utterly surprised to find out, earlier in the week, that my blog has been nominated in two categories of the TWIM Awards this year. The TWIM Awards is an annual award given to blogs focusing on mental health issues. My blog is nominated in the categories “Best PTSD/Extreme Emotional Stress Disorder Blog”, and “Best Therapy Blog”. Feel honoured to have been nominated (especially considering how incredible some of the other nominees are) and would like to send out an absolutely massive thank you to those of you who have voted for me. I’m chuffed beyond words! Truly.

If you would like to support me, or any other blog, you can do so by casting your vote here.

Winners will be announced on January 1st, 2012.

Sad And Lonely

Little S At Nine

Little S At Nine

It’s been a long weekend, full of relentless flashbacks of things I would much rather forget. No psychotherapy over the weekend, and even if there was I find myself lacking in words, so I turn to expressing myself through art instead.

xx

Termination, Alarms & Gut Instinct – Coping With Disappointment In Therapy

A friend of mine emailed me the other day following a discussion we had had on trusting your gut instinct and what to do when, in therapy, things seem to have reached an impasse, how to know when it is time to call it quits. In the interest of anonymity, I won’t go into detail, but below I’ve reworked some of the thoughts that popped into my head when responding to that email.

Firstly, as always, only the person who is actually in therapy can really make the decision as to when the time is right to move on from therapy (or a specific therapist). To throw a Rogerian thought into the works; each person is the expert on themselves.

That said, going through difficult phases is pretty common in any relationship, and in a therapeutic relationship it’s simply bound to happen. It’s a very special relationship in many ways, one of those ways being that it is a relationship which is constantly scrutinised in the extreme. Therefore it’s natural that difficulties arise.

Have I ever experienced this in my relationship with A.? Absolutely. I see A. twice weekly and talk about really difficult (and sometimes not so difficult) things, and there have absolutely been times when I’ve felt she’s fallen short of what I was hoping for. And it never feels good. It’s aggravating and frustrating – and hopelessly unavoidable.

What I try to keep in mind, however, is that my reaction is a combination of a real genuine disappointment in what I feel she is failing to supply me, and an echo of a deeply buried longing for something which neither she, nor any other therapist, can do; make up for the short-comings of my parents. I know this, but – of course – I still feel let down and disappointed. Sometimes to the point of just wanting to throw the towel in.

But I don’t. Instead, through carrying on talking to her, exploring these emotions, we somehow get through to the other side. No, it doesn’t change the reality of her not meeting my hopes, but it does teach me that not having that ‘want’ met does not mean we can’t work together. That in fact that frustration of ‘not having’ is something I have the strength to cope with. It doesn’t have to floor me, doesn’t have to be the end of everything.

Also, when there are deep underlying trust issues, which there certainly are in my case, it may take many many rounds of experiencing ‘therapist let-down’ for one to be able to accept that this frustration is actually manageable. I’m certainly not there yet. I’m still hitting that same wall at regular and often predictable intervals.

I guess another thing is that when things get difficult in the therapeutic relationship, the relationship feels fragile in exactly the same way it did Back Then with our parents (or carers, or ex-partners), and so it makes sense to respond by feeling “Hey, I better get away from this before it breaks, before my worst fears are realised” because we naturally do not want to re-experience what we went through as children. We don’t want to get anywhere near risking such a re-affirmation taking place. So we panic and get ready to bail.

But, the truth is that walking away before the end of the movie means we also forgo the chance of seeing that this movie may actually have a different ending.

So, while I am pretty prone to tell people to “Trust your instinct” I think it’s also important to look at where that instinct comes from.

Why?

Well, you know when you meet a person or enter into a situation and those warning lights start flashing like mad? Well, they’re called warning lights for a reason; it’s a system that’s there to warn you. And still, it’s also important to recognise that sometimes those lights go off by mistake, because they’ve been set to Super Sensitive based on previous experience. It’s a bit like your car alarm going off at 3 am, because a cat jumped on the bonnet.

The trick (and, incidentally, also the tricky bit) is learning to differentiate between the cat and the burglar; the incorrectly calibrated alarm and the real deal.

Luckily most of us have enough self-awareness to know when the danger is real and when it’s a false alarm, and so we question our reaction before we go out all guns blazing and shoot the poor cat. (Disclaimer: I am in no way advocating the shooting of burglars).

So, while listening to our inner alarm, our gut instinct, is a great tool – we need to remain aware that it has been set up by our previous experience – installed by Inner Child Mechanics – and so, valuable as this alarm is – there is also room for systems failure.

Therefore, in therapy, it is often helpful to stay on until the end of the journey. And, in my experience, the middle of a “period of disappointment” is usually not it.

Finally, if you do decide that terminating therapy IS the right way to go, (because, clearly sometimes that is the case) why not take the opportunity to make it a GOOD ending, in contrast to the bad ones you may have experienced previously in your life? Work slowly towards that ending rather than just quickly cutting off. Long goodbyes are hard, but they’re also full of potential.

I don’t know if any of this makes sense or is in any way helpful to those of you who are still reading this ridiculously drawn-out entry.

But even if I too may disappoint, in my reasoning, or in any other way – maybe it’s another step towards realising that relationships are still worthwhile.

Sometimes as human beings we let each other down. This is reality.
But reality is also that sometimes, every once in a blue moon, if we stick with it, we’ll also come through for one another.

And that has tremendous healing power.

I hope you have a lovely day.

Be good to yourselves,

xx