I Survived A Therapy Break

We’ve been on a break, my therapist and I. A Pesach / Easter / training combo break. Leading up to the break I was very aware of Little S. inside having a lot of feelings about P. going away. This, even though, I – or should I write we..? – were also going to be away for almost the entire break. There was an increased and very distinct need for emailing and texting P. to make sure that she was Real.

I think that what Little S. means by someone being Real is a combination of them not forgetting her when she’s not with them and for them to not abandon her when things get rough. But, at times it is also a way to express genuine fear that maybe the relationship with the other person is too good to be true, it is asking for reassurance; are you Real, or just a figment of my imagination, because it seems so unbelievable to me to have someone who is really there for me when I need them.

A break always brings out a lot of abandonment issues, especially for the Little S. part in me. From Adult Me’s vantage point this makes perfect sense, I understand why this happens; so many people in my life haven’t been there when I’ve needed them the most, so, naturally, when someone as important to me as P. declares that she’s going to be away, it is bound to trigger all manner of emotional echoes inside me. But, as much as Adult Me can see this, it doesn’t actually make it any easier for Little S. to deal with the anxiety and sadness that these separations inevitably bring to surface. To Little S. the worry that P. might be going on a break because she has been too much for her is very real, as is the fear that P. might – during the break – realise that she prefers not to have to deal with her ups and downs, her neediness, her constant need for reassurance.. Before a break the tension inside Little S. will keep building, until she is convinced that a) there is no way she can survive this break and b) that, should she through some form of miracle survive, there is no way that P. will ever choose to return.

A few years ago, back when I was still seeing A., I would never ever talk about any of this directly with her before a break. I would suffer in silence, and maybe – very maybe – mention it after the break was over, although generally in a very brief glossing over kind of fashion. Before a break, I would just feel the anxiety mounting, bring me closer and closer to breaking point, but I would not really acknowledge just how difficult breaks are for me. This, of course, lead to breaks being absolutely catastrophic in my mind, and it was extremely rare that I would not need to be working with the crisis resolution team during them.

In the first year or so of seeing P. I slowly and very gradually became better at talking around the subject of breaks, slightly dipping my toes in it, so to speak. I would talk about it in the way Adult Me sees it, intellectualising it, rather than actually feeling it. In part this was because I didn’t really know how else to approach it; intellectualising difficult feelings, analysing why they are triggered, rather than actually feeling the feelings, is how I have got through an awful lot of difficult times; it is a well beaten path. But, as I have been working more and more closely with P. to try to notice that there are feelings stirring inside, and to identify what those feelings are, I can now fairly often allow myself to stay with them.

The other part of why – back in the early days – I didn’t really talk about the feelings was that many of those feelings [particularly the ones to do with abandonment and separation, and the shame of needing someone else] belonged more to Little S. than to Adult Me, and Little S. hadn’t yet found her voice. Or rather, I hadn’t yet found a way to allow Little S. to express herself directly in our therapy. But, eventually we cracked it; first by letting Little S. email and text P. between sessions and then by Little S. speaking directly to P. in sessions [as opposed to through Adult Me]. It’s been a long journey, but I do feel that Little S. is now reasonably able to take part in therapy when she wants or needs to.

So, this time around, on top of the many emails and texts asking P. if she is Real, she was also able to not only talk about her feelings prior to the break, but she was able to experience them while she was talking about them. And that felt like a very big step forward.

The break in itself actually went quite well this time. Of course we all missed seeing P., and there were a few times when either Little S., bob, or Adult Me needed to email P., but there wasn’t quite as much anxiety to deal with as there might have been, had we not been able to experience and explore some of the feelings before the break, had P. not helped me make space for these feelings to be not only shared, but also heard. P. doesn’t ever make me talk about difficult feelings, but she does actively encourage me to try – and we set the pace together. She makes it very clear to me that it is safe to allow feelings out, that she wants to hear about them, whether it be in session or in an email, a text or in a drawing. And, possibly most importantly – especially to Little S. – she reassures her that she will be able to bear those feelings, that they won’t be too much, and they won’t result in P. no longer wanting to see her. That feeling and talking and talking about feelings is very much welcomed and valued in our relationship. Even when it’s scary. Especially when it’s scary.

Another thing that P. and I do to help Little S. manage during breaks and particularly difficult times, is to let one of P.’s ‘little friends’ – a soap stone hippo called Ringo [*not his real name, gotta protect his privacy!] – stay with me. I will also leave something of mine with P. to further strengthen the sense of connection between us during the break. As Little S. would say: “Something to help you ‘merember’ me, in case you start to forget.” It may sound like a childish thing to do, this exchanging of personal artefacts, but, Little S. inside is just that – she’s little – she may live inside the body of an adult, but she still finds comfort in having something physical to hold on to help her connect with P. So, no matter how silly it may seem to outsiders, taking Ringo with me everywhere I go, it makes all the difference in the world to Little S. And that’s worth a lot!

So, when you’re facing a break in your therapy, here is my advice to you: listen to what all of you need to make that break as bearable as possible. Don’t allow your Adult Self to stop your Little from getting what they need to manage it. To the best of your ability, talk about the fears and worries that all of the different parts of you carry about this break. Write it in a letter if it is too hard to say it out loud, if the fear of rejection gets too much. And if needed: ask if Ringo can come stay with you. And, if asking for a Ringo to stay with you feels too much; start small. I was given this tip by one of my readers many years ago, and at first, having something personal of P.’s felt way too overwhelming for me, so we started by my borrowing a random pen of hers that I could use to write in my journal with. And a little note from P. to help reassure me that she wouldn’t forget me and that she would be back.

But now that I have worked my way up to having Ringo stay with me, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
And neither would my sisters’ kids!

Be good to your Selfs.

xx

IMG_3885

A drawing Little S. made last night to show how happy bob, she and Adult Me feels that P. is finally back

 

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Found Some Words..

OK, so I’ll admit it; I wrote that heading in the hope that I will find some words now that I start writing.. There are no guarantees at this stage, especially regarding the quality of said words..but, I’ll give it a whirl just the same.. [Bear with, bear with..]

So, I made it though The Break. It was a lot tougher than I thought it would be. In the past I have generally found that the beginning of a break is harder, because it is as if my body clock is telling me “today is a therapy day” and my whole being is expecting a solid fifty-minute-hour to release tension. The longer the break goes on, the less loudly my internal therapy clock ticks, because it is getting used to not having that thrice weekly outlet and is slowly finding alternative ways of managing in its absence. This time, however, was different – and I can’t really say why, because I don’t know why. If I were to venture a guess, I would say that it is to do with the fact that I am far more attached to P. than I ever was to A. [or even D.], and the longer we were apart, the more panicked I became that the connection P. and I have formed was beginning to disintegrate. I did find alternative ways of managing this time too, but it didn’t really alleviate the panic. In simple terms: I missed P. terribly – not just the service she provides, but I missed her, I missed us. And, again quite differently to past breaks, I allowed myself to admit that I was missing her. I made no attempts to try to convince myself that she’s not that important, or that it’s really just the structure of my week that I miss. And, as much as that made the break more difficult, I also know that this is real progress. This is me genuinely allowing someone in, allowing myself to become attached, taking a risk I usually wouldn’t take. So, definitely progress.

So, what did I do during my break? Well, in part I did what you could see in my previous post: tons of art. I also did some tie dying and some bleach printing and some shoe painting – all of which was very enjoyable and helped the hours and days pass in a positive way. Some samples below – feel free to scroll past, to read the rest of this post..

 

Tie-dye project
No children were harmed in the making of this collage!

 
 

Bleach print project
Again – No children were harmed. However, one tee was a complete fail and consequently got randomly squirted with fabric paint!

 

Still with me? Ok. Back to the tale of “How I Survived My Therapy Break”..

So, the arty-crafty stuff definitely helped a lot, but no matter how busy I tried to keep myself there was always going to be times when I really really really missed therapy – and P. I knew this was going to happen before the break, and – again unlike other times – it was something P. and I had talked about beforehand. In the year we have been working together, forging this relationship, therapy breaks have always been very tough. They just bring out so much Stuff [paradoxically, this is also one of the reasons why breaks are useful]. At times, even weekends have been torturous, so we’ve had to come up with things to help me feel close to P. even between single sessions. 

One of the things we do is that P. will lend me her pen – the one she always has in her ridiculously big handbag. This idea with the pen was actually a suggestion from one of you readers a while back, in a comment after another post about therapy breaks. This – having P.’s pen – has really been great for me; I use her pen to write in my journal, and it makes me feel a little like we are having a session. [By now I know P. well enough to be able to predict what her response might be to the things I say/write]. So, for me, a pen is great. P. did once offer to lend me one of her scarves [we are both Scarf Wearing People – it’s a thing!], but at the time that felt way too much for me, far too overwhelming, and I declined her offer. A pen, on the other hand, was just right. Small and emotionally manageable. 

Apart from the pen P. has also sent me photos of herself. This has been especially useful if we have had a particularly rough session and I’ve been worried that I’ve become too much for her – because that way I can look at the photo she’s just taken and I can see for myself that she is still OK, that, in spite of the things I have told her, she hasn’t broken down or disappeared. I have also sent her a picture of me, so she can carry me with her when she is on leave. P. often uses the phrase “I carry you in my heart” and, for me, her having a photo of me, is an extension of that. 

Prior to both this break and the previous one, apart from P. lending me her pen, I lent her a bottle of nail varnish. I’m very into nail art [the only sort-of girly thing about me], so her wearing/having my nail polish makes me feel more connected to her. I don’t really think that P. would forget me without these physical reminders – after all she ‘carries me in her heart‘ –  but the Little S. part of me finds this very reassuring, and since that is the part of me that generally struggles the most in P.’s absence [because she is the one who has experienced the most abandonment] it makes sense to pay extra attention to her needs. Especially when Adult Me finds it difficult to fully own those feelings herself..

Finally, the thing that probably helps me the most during breaks:  writing letters. Real, physical, handwritten, old skool letters. I let any part of me [Little S., Adult Me, bob..] write P. whenever they want, and they can decorate the letters and envelopes in any way they want, so P. can see who it is from. I will then hand deliver the letters, because that means I get to go to the place where I see P., and it’s another step towards reassuring the different parts of me that even though P. is away, our therapy space still exists. So, that is something I would really recommend.

Wow! Looks like I found rather a lot of words in the end! Hope that’s OK.

Be kind to your Selves.

xx

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

Hearing the Littles – A Therapy Break Update

Våga Lita - Dare Trust A reminder written on my arm before going into a therapy session shortly before The Break

Våga Lita – Dare Trust
A reminder written on my arm before going into a therapy session shortly before The Break

It is far too early on a Sunday morning for me, or indeed anyone, to be awake. But, I am. Anxiety is stretching my nerves to the point of breaking, and I have been unable to sleep for about forty hours. Insomnia isn’t out of the norm for me; it is part of my pattern. But the anxiety is. Or, at least, the level of anxiety. I can feel the extreme imbalance of the chemicals surging through my system, splashing around, crashing into each other and the rocky shores of my insides that have until now been unknown to me. The inner landscape of my body is soaked, drenched, in acidic anxiety, and I can’t think of how to rid myself of it, how to alkalise.

I know that I can and will get through this. I have survived it before, and I will again. It is just that the strength of emotions have taken me by surprise. Yes, I was nervous about this upcoming break in therapy for weeks before it started, but I thought that perhaps this time might be different, because, in contrast to many other breaks, I – we – P. and I, had spent so much time talking about it, preparing for it, putting in place things to make it more manageable. And I, foolishly it seems now, thought that that in itself might dull the sharpness of my feelings. But it doesn’t.

I miss P. terribly, and even though I have talked to my friends about it, and many of them have responded with empathy – more so than in the past, it seems – I am still left feeling that no one really understands the depth of my emotions. Or maybe it is a sense that others expect Adult Me – the intellectualising, reasoning, part of me – to handle this, to take charge and make it all OK, for all of the different parts inside of me. Truth be told, I think that even I expect her to.

But, what happens during a therapy break – a break from my pseudo parent – is that Little S. – not Adult Me – is the one who is reacting to this separation. Adult Me can watch, but can do nothing about that, because Adult Me wasn’t there when the fear of separation and abandonment, was born. Adult Me hadn’t yet been formed when Little S. – or even before then – tiny Baby S. were dealing with life in a world where there simply was no stability, where her parents gave her up and left her to fend for herself, completely void of tools with which to do so. Because of this, the reassurance Adult Me is continually trying to offer rings hollow to Baby S., in exactly the same way reassurance from anybody else does. Adult Me may be one of many parts that forms the whole of me, but she wasn’t there when it happened, and as far as the Littles are concerned, she doesn’t get it any more than my incredibly kind and well-meaning friends do. Not emotionally. And Little and Baby feel just as nakedly defenceless as they did back then.

Of course Adult Me has acquired lots of tools over the years to deal with situations like these. And during normal, daytime, hours, she makes the most of those tools and is often successful in temporarily alleviating much of the fear and anxiety. But when the rest of the world goes to sleep, and Adult Me is exhausted from a day of constantly trying to soothe those Little parts, when she needs a break to stock up on supplies, that’s when the primal scream of Baby S. sounds the loudest, deafening all intellectualisation and reasoning.

Baby S. was about six months old when she was adopted, when she came to live with her new parents in Sweden. No one knows, and Baby S. can’t remember, what happened in the six months before then. But the emotional echoes of the feelings born in those months still bounce between the walls of her outer shell, and when something like this – a separation, a perceived abandonment from a care giver – happens, those echoes amplify and drown out everything else. The echoes are always there, even in peacetime, noticeable in the fear of forming attachments with others and the difficulty in trusting, but when an actual separation happens something explodes in her, because just as Baby S. couldn’t know at the time that that abandonment would be temporary, she is now – still – blind to this fact. Baby S. only knows the here and now, isn’t able to look to the future, so when Adult Me, in sheer exhaustion, takes a break from reassuring Baby S., Baby S. thinks that this will last forever.

I wrote an email to P. a few weeks prior to her going on her summer break, about the whole How to cope with your therapist abandoning you for a minor eternity-issue, and as I am writing this now, it strikes me that that is exactly what I am dealing with: a minor eternity. It is minor in the eyes of the world, even in Adult Me’s eyes, but to Baby S. and Little S. – both of them too young to understand the concept of weeks or days or even minutes – it is an Eternity. And eternities have no foreseeable end.

As I wrote at the beginning, I will get through this separation, just as I have got through separations in the past. But in order to help Baby S. and Little S. I need to remind Adult Me to deal with them gently and patiently in the understanding that they have not yet got as far in the healing process as she has. They will get there eventually, but it will take more than the survival of a few therapy breaks for them to feel safe enough to integrate fully, to get to a place where The Whole can begin to work as a single entity, rather than as a multitude of frightened independent parts.

So, I say to myself, as much as I do to you:
be kind to your Selves.

 

Much love,

xx

 

The Beginning Of A Break

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

xx

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.

 

*

 

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

 

 

 

The End Of A Relationship

Sometimes A Rubber Duck Really IS Just A Rubber Duck ..these ones, of course, aren't..

Sometimes A Rubber Duck Really IS Just A Rubber Duck
..these ones, of course, aren’t..

 

I feel so desperately sad.

Had my final session with A. earlier today. And I just want to cry. In fact I have been crying. A lot. It just feels awful. I hate the way things have ended, it doesn’t feel good at all; there are so many loose ends that we were just never able to tie up and we will now never get the opportunity to do so. I feel we came to an impasse at some point last year, and no matter how hard I’ve tried, it’s just not been possible to break it. And that is what is making me feel so terribly sad, what I mourn. I knew that I would have to end therapy with A., that there really was no other path left to take, but, I would have liked to have been able to rebuild at least some of the things I felt got broken in the midst of this therapeutic breakdown of sorts.

I knowingly opted not to write about the last four sessions as they happened, because I wanted to use these few weeks to deal with therapy coming to an end on my own and in my sessions with A., without discussing and analysing it to bits elsewhere beforehand. I just felt that if I spend a lot of time between sessions writing about them, especially about all the things I didn’t say in session, it would somehow dilute something, would make it easier to remain emotionally remote in session, because I would have already felt the initial force of impact when dissecting it in black-on-white writing. And with this very important final phase of my work with A. I wanted to try to avoid that. Especially knowing how good I can be at switching off emotions, even when I’m actively trying not to.

But, now that it is over, I would like to share some of the things that have been going on. I’m not sure that I will be able to write about it all tonight, it all feels so terribly raw still, so there may have to be a few posts on the subject over the next few weeks, but I’ll make a start today, to the best of my ability.

There is this broken record that’s been playing in my head on repeat this whole time: How am I supposed to say goodbye at the end of the final session, walk through the door and never come back..? It’s a thought I have been wanting to share with A. throughout, but I wasn’t able to give voice to it until today, in the very last session.

The idea of never feels so terribly painful and inescapable that I’ve not quite known what to do with it. In the last few weeks, I’ve often found myself suddenly struck with sheer panic about the fact that I would soon not be seeing A. anymore. That she will no longer be my therapist. And – even more painfully – the realisation that, not only will A. not be my therapist anymore, but I won’t be her client. The link will be completely severed. Forever.

And it hurts like hell.

So, I had to come up with a solution to help me deal with that. Something. Anything. And in the end it happened in the shape of two rubber ducks.. I spent some time thinking about whether or not I wanted to make a card for A. for the final session, or even give her a little something. It’s something I’ve never done in all of our years together. You see, my father – The World’s Greatest Psychotherapist – used to get Christmas cards and Easter cards and Happy Midsummer cards and other bits and pieces from his clients, and I always deeply resented this intrusion of his work in our family home. Feeling that he was already so much more involved with his clients than he was with his family, I really didn’t want reminders of his clients dotted around the house.. As a consequence of this, I’ve always felt I can’t quite cope with being That Client, and as a consequence A. has never been sent a card or left a gift or anything like that.

In the end I decided that actually, doing a little project of some sort, while dealing with the ever nearing ending, might be useful. In essence, to put my own needs before any thoughts about what impact this may have on anything or anyone. So, I came up with the rubber duck idea. It seemed fitting, because I have told A. many times that “sometimes a rubber duck really IS just a rubber duck”, meaning that not everything said in session is an echo of the world outside, and even if there is a bigger duck in the outside world, sometimes dealing with the smaller duck inside the therapy room, will be just as effective at resolving something..

Anyway, I bought two ducks to decorate with my trademark nail varnish flowers. [Having never used nail varnish on this material before, I wanted to have a back-up duck should I need to have another go, using different paints.] As it turns out, nail varnish works really well on rubber ducks, and I didn’t need the back-up, spending an hour and a half painting the duck and thinking about my journey with A., allowing the emotions it brought out to just exist. The idea with giving A. the duck – apart from serving as a reminder of what I used to tell her – was that it might make it a little easier to walk out and never come back, if I knew that there would be something of me left behind. No, I don’t really feel that nothing of me would have been left behind, without the duck, but leaving something physically behind, made it less abstract. Then, last night, I decided to paint the second duck as well, because I thought that if I have the twin to A.’s duck still with me, there wouldn’t be such a definite severing of the link between A. and I. A very comforting thought. So, that’s what I did. When I was done, I named A.’s duck Graduation Day Duck [End of Therapy Duck, was a little too negative] and mine Separation Anxiety Duck. [I think we’ll save analysing that for another time..]

I’ve previously written about the things I’ve felt I’ve needed from A., in order to make this parting of ways more manageable. I can’t say that I’ve really had any of those things, at least not packaged the way I had imagined. But, at the same time, some things have been said – tiny little things here and there that have seeped through when A. has been talking about other things, which have made me think you’re really talking about us here, aren’t you? I think therapists sometimes underestimate the amount of time their clients spend analysing them, and the fact that interpreting what is being said is not a magic skill bestowed on their profession alone. Just as they hear echoes of other things in what we say, so do we see shadows and other dimensions in the pictures they paint for us.

In one session A. said something along the lines of how it is really important for me to hear her say that I am special. I can’t remember if I replied directly to that, at the time, but I remember thinking that, actually, it isn’t so much about being special to her, as it is about feeling validated in the fact that I am unique, that even if she sees a million other clients, every single one with a similar background, our work is unique, because our relationship is unique –  that our relationship can’t be replicated or duplicated, because of who we each are as individuals, and the unique combination that creates.

At times, the refusal to allow me to have this validation has felt very harsh and has been experienced as exceptionally rejecting, regardless of the intellectual understanding that this was not the intention. In the midst of therapy, I can to some degree see the value in not always providing automatic gratification, to instead look at what this need is really about. But, at the end of nearer to five years, when there soon would be no next session in which to analyse things, I don’t really understand this withholding of validation. In fact, even if it really was just about needing to be told that you’re special, what is the cost in doing that? When there is no further analysis to be done within that particular relationship? I have talked to A. about how the fact that both D. and Z. in their final sessions with me made sure I could really feel that the work we had been doing had meant something to them, too, has been really helpful. To be told that I – simply through being the unique person that I am – have had an impact on them, has had a definite positive effect on me. That is not to say that I am unable to feel good about myself without someone else reassuring me of my value, BUT –  a little positive reinforcement from someone you respect can go a long way and create rings on the water that reach very far, indeed. Just look at children who grow up with parents who validate them, and then at children whose parents actively invalidate them, and the benefit of the former becomes obvious. It is human nature to continue to grow in a healthier way as a person, if we feel valued for simply being ourselves.

*

Today the dreaded final session finally came. At the beginning of it I used the duck to talk about the ending, and the process the duck had been part of [and – yes – I did a little analysing of the names I’d given them], and that part of it felt good. But then I sort of side-tracked myself and talked about something entirely different – something which, had this been a normal mid-therapy session, would have been very useful – but, which in the context of this being the final session felt very much like something that wouldn’t really be nearly as helpful as talking about the fact that after 429 sessions and 21,450 minutes spent together, A.’s and my relationship was about to end. At one point I tried to get back to talking about the ending by stopping myself mid-sentence and stating that ‘No, I don’t actually want to talk about that’, but as A. encouraged me to carry on, and not feeling particularly brave, I ended up using all of the precious remaining time on this side-track.

And all of a sudden, without any warning at all, A. announced that “Our time has come to an end”. Not ten minutes before actual end of session, in order to leave time and space for a proper goodbye, but at the actual end of session, with no time to spare. It’s a bad habit of A.’s, this lack of signalling that time is nearly up, and it was particularly deeply felt today.

So, I left feeling somewhat robbed of the chance to say a proper goodbye, because, really, this session was ended much like any other session, with me putting my shoes on and quickly gathering my things, ready to vacate the room for The Next Client.

Yes, I was able to look A. in the eye and say “Thank you”, and  A., in turn, said that she wished me all the best, but, even though she more than likely genuinely does wish me all the best, it sounded awkwardly formal. She tacked a “Thank you for my duck” on after that, with a little more feeling, and that helped some, but I could without a shadow of a doubt have done with another five minutes spent truly acknowledging that what has been an incredibly important relationship for me was coming to an end.

Instead, I said goodbye and walked through the door.
Knowing that I would never be coming back.

And that’s when the tears began falling.

xx

Three Key Rules For Surviving The Present

*

“..when all I really want, I said to myself, is to survive the present..”

*

Sitting here, alone. Trying to somehow keep it together. And failing miserably. I feel like I’m a prisoner in my own life, and while there may well be a key to the lock, it seems impossible to find. Or maybe I’m just looking in all the wrong places?

I haven’t been able to attend service for weeks, owing to flashbacks. Haven’t even had enough head space to follow them online. Still, as my therapy is on now on hold, I know that it will be important to find other, non-destructive, ways to cope, so this morning I decided to brave it and just push myself that little bit extra to get there. Which I did.

I now regret that bitterly. As lovely as the service was, I was struggling throughout it, trying to stave off the flashbacks that insisted on popping up, and it took all I had to somehow stay in my seat and not just rush out. I tried to focus on the music, on the words, the prayers, and to a degree I suppose you could say that I succeeded, but what is normally something that feels naturally easy and enjoyable, today took a lot of hard work. By the time service was over and it was time to exchange the customary Shabbat shaloms [“have a peaceful day of rest”] I was exhausted, and I only barely scraped by during kiddush. Feel very bad about it, because I know I probably came across as a bit off to others, but it was the best I could do. Having greeted the people I know, I made my excuses and left as quickly as possible. The second I got on the bus home I just broke down in tears.

Of course, tears are not the enemy, if anything they are an entirely appropriate response to the difficulties I’m facing, and they’ve been waiting to fall since I left my final session with A. But it’s not nice when it happens in public. It just isn’t.

It was hard saying goodbye to A. The session in itself was reasonably OK. I managed to talk about the extreme separation anxiety I was [and still am] experiencing, and I think that was important. To be able to say how hard and frightening this long break feels, to be honest about how uncertain I feel about whether or not I have what it takes to make it through to the other side of it. To talk openly about why it’s so hard, this effective re-experiencing of every other time I have felt abandoned, neglected, second-best and left behind, with no one to care for me. To feel that there is no one I can truly trust to see me through.

Of course – and I said that, too – in my final session, I know that I’m not really all alone. I know that there are lots of people in my life who care about me and who want to see me make it through, people who are more than willing to offer me support. But, at the same time, as I’ve described many times in the past, a therapist is in many ways a pseudo-parent, and so, having a break – especially a big one like this – is bound to cut pretty deep. And when you cut deep, you bleed, and it inevitably leaves a scar. It’s impossible to just pick up where we left off, as if nothing’s happened. So there is a fear of that, too. Of what it will be like once A. is back. Will I ever feel able to trust her in the way I was? Because, unlike other breaks, at the end of this one her whole world will have changed. That moment when she goes from being a pseudo-parent to her clients, to being an actual parent will be unlike anything else. And even if we manage to reach that Winnicottian good enough place together again, the fear of another abandonment will linger, as it’s likely that in due time she will want to have another child. In fact, whether or not she does, the fear will be there, regardless.

So things are distinctly uphill right now. I keep thinking Oh, I’ll talk about this in my next session, and then I crash with the realisation that that next session is so desperately far away.

I told A. that I would do my very best to stick to my usual 3-rule therapy break survival plan:

1: No matter what; keep breathing in and out
2: Try to find ways of coping other that resorting to self-harm
3: Even if I fail on number two, stick to number one!

That made A. smile, and I will try to keep that in my mind and in my heart, because I do want to make it through.
I just don’t entirely trust it that I will.

xx

The quote at the top is from the book Are You Somebody? © Nuala O'Faolain

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.

Help! My Therapist Is Pregnant

Ever since I began seeing A. about two and a half years ago the fact that she is very obviously of child bearing age and would thus in all likelihood at some point want to have children has been brewing at the back of my mind. It’s one of those worries that has been there from the get go, and on more than one occasion I have actually talked myself into believing A. was pregnant when she wasn’t. Rather unsurprisingly, this has usually been at times when I myself have been particularly worried about the possibility that I may never get to experience motherhood.

The one thing I’ve always said is that when it does happens, well, I won’t deal well with it. I will hate it.

Now that it has happened, it feels very different to how I imagined it would. I can’t really say whether I’m dealing with it in a good or a bad way, I’m simply dealing with it on a day-to-day, session-to-session basis. Some days it all feels very OK, and on other days not at all. Sometimes the way I feel about A.’s pregnancy will even shift within a single session! And whether my feelings are positive or negative is definitely more random than cyclic.

As I mentioned in my previous post, prior to A. actually telling me she’s pregnant, I had already somehow worked it out, but decided to push it aside. Even though I on almost all levels knew this wasn’t the case, I tried very hard to convince myself that it was just another one of those false alarms, that it was all in my head, all to do with me, nothing to do with reality. I was working very hard at pushing myself into denial, until A. burst the bubble.

The way she broke it to me was something along the lines of “There’s something I need to talk to you about. I think you may already know..” at the very beginning of a session. She then told me she wasn’t exactly sure how it was going to work, in terms of her having time off, but that she thought she’d have three months off. My instant reaction to that was “That’s not very long” failing to explain that by that I meant that it wasn’t very long for the baby. For me, any break longer than a week is an absolute eternity, and fills me with out-of this-world anxiety.

Child-related themes have always been fairly frequent in my therapy, as having children has been my number one dream since I was a kid myself, so it’s hard to say if A. being pregnant has pushed those issues more to the forefront or not – it’s never particularly far off my mind – but I can say one thing for sure: having someone sitting across from you looking very pregnant will inevitably be a bit in your face; it’s not exactly something which can be readily ignored. [Although I have read case studies of clients apparently doing just that right up until the baby was born].

There are so many different aspects to all of this. There’s the outrageously jealous she’s having what I want most of all aspect, there’s the classic but I want to be your baby aspect, the I don’t want to share you with anyone sibling-rivalry perspective and – of course – the I really don’t want to think about it but you’ve been having sex borderline Oedipal side to it. There is also feelings of wow I’m so unbelievably happy for you and the somewhat odd I feel really sad that I won’t get to know this child I see growing before me.

There are moments when I really wish A. wasn’t pregnant, and other times I’m genuinely panicking at the thought of anything going wrong with the pregnancy.

I guess in a way you could say that A.’s being pregnant is one of those boundary blurrings that can’t really be avoided, and as I have said to A. more than once, I have a feeling that the next few months will be a bit of a roller coaster in terms of how I’ll respond to it all. Some days I feel completely freaked out by the huge unknowable factor which comes naturally with something like this: there is no way of knowing exactly from when A. will need to be off, there is no way of knowing when she’ll be back [in my mind I am mentally preparing for a much longer break than three months], there is also no knowing where I’ll be at when the break does happen, and there is no knowing where I’ll be at the end of it. What if things just plummet? What do I do? And, oddly just as frightening; what if I deal really well with the break, cope in a way I hadn’t expected? What would that say about the work we have been doing? About our relationship?

Scary stuff, all of it, let me tell you.

So.. watch this space and brace yourself for more than one serious freak-out.

All the very best and more,

xx

Massive Attack – Teardrop