To Blog or Not To Blog, That Is The Question

Quick art made using absolutely nothing but a piece of paper, a few seriously old ink cartridges, and my now very ink stained fingers. No pens or brushes used.

Quick art made using absolutely nothing but a piece of paper, a few seriously old ink cartridges, and my now very ink stained fingers. No pens or brushes used.

I had an email from one of my readers recently, someone who had only just found their way to my blog and who felt that they could really connect with what I was writing. It was a really nice email to get – as are all emails I receive – because they remind me of the fact that even though we are all unique and different and separate, our human emotions can connect people from all over the world, people who have never met –  and probably never will meet – in a deep and profound way. Also, it really reminded me of the reasons for keeping this blog going. And I really needed that, because, I’ll be completely honest, in the last few months I have been very seriously considering whether or not to retire from blogging – hence the ridiculously sporadic updates. Apart from finding life such a struggle a lot of the time, I also felt that I was beginning to repeat myself in my posts, that I had nothing more to offer people coming to this site.. And what is the point in posting, if that is the case..? But, this email – along with many other emails I’ve received – told me otherwise. In fact, it made me think that perhaps, rather than retiring from the blogosphere I ought to actually invest more time in my blog. Maybe this blog is the way that I can – in some very small way – help make people feel less alone in what they are going through? Maybe this is my opportunity to contribute to making people feel a connection to the rest of the human race? I don’t know how many emails I have received over the years of blogging where people express genuine surprise at having discovered that somewhere in the world there is another person – whose name they don’t even know – who shares similar experiences, feelings and thoughts as them. And who find that comforting. So.. for now, I shall keep my blog going. Maybe repeating myself isn’t the end of the world, because even if I am expressing a similar idea to what I have shared before, I will have changed since the last time I wrote about it, and maybe my readers will get something new from it, because they, too, have changed?

I wish I could promise that that from now on I will post more frequently and regularly, but, knowing me – that may turn out to not be true. But, at least I shall do my very best to carry on with it.

Be kind to your Selfs and look out for another update very soon, because for once I already have The Next One and even The Next One After That written and ready to post. How crazy is that!?* Just spacing them out a little to not shock and/or overwhelm any of my long time readers. ;)

xx

PS. I feel I should add that – not being a great believer in altruism – I, too, get a lot from this blog, because every time someone contacts me, whether it be in a comment or an email, I am reminded that I’m not alone, either. So, a big thank you to all who have written me over the years.

* How crazy is that!?*  Not quite so crazy. Turns out being in bed with a sprained ankle, a cracked rib or two, and a banged up knee [special clumsiness birthday gift to self] is exceptionally good for your blogging

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Daring To Trust

 

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

xx

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

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

JK

 

Innocence Maintained  © 1998 Jewel Kilcher

At The End Of A Difficult Year

The new year is almost here. Time to reflect, I suppose. [As if not all posts are reflections, really..]

This has not been an easy year. In fact, it may actually have been one of the hardest thus far, so I hope the new year will bring a bit of happy change. One of the things that I have been really struggling with this year, and which very nearly pushed me over the edge, is something I haven’t really shared on here. I am hoping that as time goes on, this too, will become something I feel comfortable sharing here. I mean, considering the things I do share, there really shouldn’t be much of a problem, but for whatever reason, I’ve just not quite found it in me to write openly about it so far. Too painful, somehow, seeing it in black on white..

I remember myself at this time last year, on the verge of a minor break in therapy, which I knew would soon be followed by a seriously major break; my therapist’s maternity leave, and I can still feel that horribly cold, hard lump at the bottom of my stomach, which would turn every time I thought about it. The horrendous abandonment issues I was battling with and the separation anxiety I was trying to keep under control. I remember desperately trying to come up with ways to convince myself that I would indeed be able to survive this break, and although I can’t say I truly found any one method that worked wholeheartedly for me, I did make it through. Was brought to my knees a number of times, for sure, but somehow I managed to get back up again.

I think the thing that helped me the most was doing what I have always done when things get tough: writing. Writing this blog, or even just thinking about what I might want to write on it, should I find the words and the energy, helped a lot. And more than that, your lovely emails and comments.. well, I couldn’t even begin to explain how much they have meant to me. To have someone who has never even met me, reach out and show that they care. That’s really something.

Then there’s that other kind of writing. The writing I do when I need to completely escape; working on my book. That’s been useful, too. To allow myself to go to another place, to think about someone else’s problems, to focus on someone else’s daily comings and goings, trying to paint it in words. Still, as I said to A. in my most recent therapy session, although in the moment it feels very much like escapism, when I read back later on – even years later – I can often see that I was working something of myself out through the characters I create, only it happens in a way that is somehow more free, less constrained by the emotional red tape I may put on myself.

And, in the midst of really struggling with near constant flashbacks, I finally found something that helps me with them; my beloved Rubik’s cube. Yes, I’ve turned into even more of a geek than I was at the beginning of the year, but, hey – if it works, it works. I’d much rather look like an absolute 80s retro nerd on the tube, than not being able to go out at all. Now, of course, solving a puzzle like this, no matter how many times you do it, it doesn’t solve the puzzle of your Self, but – honestly – it really has made a difference to my life this year. It may not get to the root of the flashbacks, but it does help me get through them, and sometimes that’s all you can ask of yourself; to get through.

And, of course, faith has got me through, too. Even when it’s felt impossible to look ahead, there is this space inside where I can go to, where I can be still, and just breathe, and know that whatever happens, there is someone who is looking out for me.. And it helps. I can’t explain it, it just does.

Sitting here, thinking back, I am – as always – struck by how lucky I am to have the friends that I have. Not to mention my absolutely amazing sisters, who I could not manage without even for a single day. To be surrounded by people who are there for me, to whatever extent I feel able to let them be. People who won’t give up on me, even when I myself have. That is a true blessing.

So, as hard as this year has been, there are also many, many things for which I am grateful.

Thanks for staying with me this year.
Hope to see you in 2013.

xx

Once again, a favourite quote at the end of the year..

“..and it’s been a long December
And there’s reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last
I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell myself
To hold on to these moments as they pass..”

A Long December lyrics © EMI Music Publishing

PS. If the world does indeed come to an end tomorrow, could someone please let me know, as we’re an hour behind most of Europe here..

An Uneasy Dwelling – Delayed Reflections On Living In A Therapeutic Community

It’s been a year now since I moved out of the therapeutic community I used to live in. And I’m still processing it. The ups and the downs, pondering what I took from my time there, what more I could have got from it, what I’m glad to have left behind.

I can say without hesitation that I don’t regret moving in there. I can also say that it is the most stressful living situation I’ve every voluntarily put myself in. With three group meetings a week [on top of my individual therapy sessions outside of the house] it’s a pretty full on experience. Even though I often made the decision to stand on the sidelines, to keep myself at a distance, it was a pretty intense way of living.

Would I have got more out of living there, had I been more invested in it? I don’t know. Maybe. I don’t rule it out. Certainly it made a difference to the sense of community within the house that I chose to not engage as much as I could have, to not push for communal meals, to not easily join in with the household. Yet, at the same time, it just never made sense to me to bring my worries and desperation to the house meetings, to be looked at by people, who – although I liked many of them – didn’t feel particularly safe with. [This, incidentally, is solely a reflection on me, – not on them.] To me, it always seemed like the natural thing to do, to turn to my sisters and the friends I have always been fortunate to have when things got tough, to turn to them for extra support. And for the things I felt I couldn’t necessarily share with them [for whatever reason], well, I had my individual therapy with A. for that. Bringing it to the group sessions, it just seemed a bit odd.

That is not to say that I never shared anything in the meetings. I did. But not on a regular basis. It tended to be only when things were really really bad and I just couldn’t hold my tears back.

So, what was it that I found stressful? Well, in part what I have just written about; the expectation to involve myself, to engage and to share, and the feelings brought up by the fact that it was an expectation which I always felt I would never be able to live up to. Part of that was, as I said before, down to the fact that it didn’t quite make sense to me to share difficult things in a group of people I didn’t really know that well. But, of course, there were more deep rooted trust issues at work, holding me back. Other people, who may also have had friends and family they were close to, didn’t feel the same level of reluctance to take the plunge in the group meetings, and were much better able to let others see their vulnerability.

Another thing that was probably more stressful than I even realised at the time, was the constant stream of visitors to the house. Visitors who came to our meetings with a view to possibly join our household. This was a part of life in the house that I never got used to and always felt distinctly uncomfortable with. It was one of those things that made the place feel a lot less like it was my home as opposed to only being the place where I happened to be living.

People would come, share their story, share of themselves, [or in some cases not share] and we were, I suppose, meant to get a feel for whether or not this was a person who could fit into our house, who might benefit from moving in. It probably doesn’t sound particularly stressful, but it really was. Especially the decision making process, where – in theory – residents were said to have a big say in whether or not someone was invited to join, but which in reality often felt like a humongous and never-ending pressure to get new people in. Often at a time when all you really wanted was to find some headspace for yourself, to settle in the group you were already living with. I remember more than one meeting where one of the house therapists would say something along the lines of the process being about all of us reaching some sort of consensus about whether or not a person was suitable for our house, and in the next breath would not-so-casually mention how we needed to be X number of people living in the house for it to be financially viable. No pressure, right. :þ Also, I always took issue with the fact that the question “Is this someone I can live with?” seemed to be second priority to “Could this person gain something from moving in?”, which, it could be argued, sent the message that the gain of a person joining far outweighed the potential rise in stress level of those already in the house.

Clearly, there were times when the reluctance to accept new housemates were motivated less by worries about how a new person might impact the household negatively, and more about a strong wish to hold on to what was familiar. But, then, is that so strange? For a person to build a home, there arguably needs to be a level of familiarity and stability. A stream of new introductions allows little space for that.

Stressful was also the particular mix of people in the house at any given time. Without going into detail about any one individual, the people staying in the house – at least for most of my stay there – could be broadly grouped into either dealing with depressive and/or anxiety related issues, or difficulties which fell somewhere along the more psychotic end of the mental health spectrum. And, as housemates were supposed to support one another [rather than relying on the house therapists – who only come to the house for the meetings – to sort things out] it at points felt very much like the first group was responsible for the latter group.

It isn’t easy walking through the door, never knowing what you might be walking in to. I’m not going to say that I was in any way the person who most often ended up keeping track of others – I wasn’t – but, there were absolutely times when I had to drop what I was doing in order to help settle a very agitated housemate or, once or twice, call the police because someone had taken off, stating they were going to kill themselves. And I think this way of always being on the ready to put fires out, to some degree stopped me from being able to explore my own issues more. [Not the only reason for this, of course, but one of them.]

One of the really invaluable, yet hard bought, lessons from my time in the house, was having to seriously think and feel through what boundaries meant to me. Which ones were important to me, which ones did I feel able to be more flexible about? I had to work at asserting myself, when I felt the boundaries were being stretched beyond what was OK for me. Regular readers will remember that my decisions to ultimately leave the community came down to – in part – feeling that I needed to make a stand for myself, to not just go along with boundaries being pushed, but to recognise that what I feel OK with, or not, is important and worth holding on to. But of course, this was an ongoing battle, this getting a feel for when it was important to hold on to my way of living my life, yet at the same time question my reasons and motivations for doing so. When was there a valid reason, and when was I simply being stubborn and resisting change? When was it a case of me being the rebellious teenager I never got to be in my own family, when was it the adult me refusing to see things from another person’s perspective?

While I was staying at the house, one of the house therapists published a book about the community houses run by the Philadelphia Association. I made the conscious decision at the time not to read it while I was still living there.

Having now lived away from the house for nearly a year, I have read it, and I have to say that it’s a book well worth reading. I found it very interesting to read about the history of the houses [which I had some idea of, even before moving in, but, again had chosen to not explore too extensively], and how the philosophy behind the houses has altered and varied at different points.

I think it’s an honest book, even though I at times found myself smiling at the discrepancy between the idea of the community houses and the reality of them. At least from my point of view.

Anyway, if you are interested in reading the book for yourself, click the link or picture below.

If you would like to read about my time in The House: entries written between January 2009 and July 2011 were written while I was staying in The House. The first post I wrote having moved in is called “On My Own – An Entry About Finding New Ways To Cope“.

xx

An Uneasy Dwelling by Paul Gordon

An Uneasy Dwelling
by Paul Gordon

Flashbacks, Therapy & Change – An Entry About Finding My Way Back To Life

I had an email from someone who has clearly been following my blog for some time the other day. He [or she – could be a she] asked “What happened to your real blog? The one about your life? I mean it’s interesting to read about Reform Judaism and all that, but I kind of miss the real updates. Like, what happened after you left Drayton Park? How have you been doing? What’s happening with your therapy?”

Now, firstly, I would like to point out that to me the posts about Judaism, and my conversion in particular, are every bit as real as any of my other updates. Being Jewish is part of who I am, and a big part, at that. But, I do take the emailer’s point: it has been a while since I’ve written about what’s going on with me. And it’s not by chance. I’ve simply needed some time to reflect without sharing, rather than reflecting while sharing, if that makes sense.

About two months have passed since I left the Drayton Park Women’s Crisis Centre. And it’s taken me all this time to slowly, slowly get back to myself. In fact I’m still not there yet. I still have days that are very very difficult, have days when I just don’t make it out of bed at all. But I also have days when things seem a little bit better.

The flashbacks still come, but usually it’s a case of having maybe one flashback every few days, and as horrible as it is to have them, it doesn’t compare with the torrential flashbacks I was suffering from a few months back. They still disrupt my life, still make me feel like absolute crap, because being thrust back into an abuse situation without warning is just never going to be a pleasant experience, but on some level they are manageable in the sense that there is enough space between them to be able to look at them and think about why they are happening.

Mostly, they tend to be about things I remember happening, and I think the key in these flashbacks lie within the feelings they evoke, not necessarily the content. I try to allow those feelings to surface, and to – hard as it can be – accept that there is a lot of fear and shame. My conscious memory of the abuse, particularly the abuse my brother subjected me to, doesn’t really conjure up images of myself as a very small, powerless and frightened little girl, but through the flashbacks I can tell that I must have been, even if I at the time was too cut off from my own emotions to recognise this. So I guess what I am doing now is to acknowledge this side of me, this truth which I have kept under wraps for a long long time. To allow Little S space to truly exist.

Therapy is going well, feels helpful. It’s my space to just think out loud. That said, the other session I talked about how when I really get going, when I feel I’m on to something, I often drift off – almost as if I forget that I’m supposed to share my thought process along the way. I just grow silent and still and think inside my head, and I’m sure this must be frustrating for A. at times, but I guess it’s just the way I work. Also, the fact that I am aware of it, that I’ve been able to talk to A. about this tendency to just go quiet, means that I can work on it. And it’s given me the opportunity to talk about why I think I do this, what it is I find so frightening about sharing thoughts that aren’t fully formed, what it is I might be trying to protect or prevent from happening, through leaving A. [and others] out.

While I was at Drayton Park, A. told me something I already knew, but had not wanted to think about; she’s pregnant. I knew this even before going home this summer, but because A. hadn’t said anything about it, I essentially buried it, chose not to think about it. But now that it’s out in the open, well, naturally, it has an immediate effect on my therapy, both in the here and now; the themes that come up in my sessions, and the more practical side to it: that there will be a major break in my therapy in a not too distant future.

There is no getting away from it: there are absolutely days when it is really really hard to come to session and see A. sitting there looking oh-so-very-pregnant, when all I’ve ever wanted for myself is to have a child, feeling very aware that time is slipping away from me and my worst fear; that I may never get to be a mother, forms an icy shell around my heart. There are moments when I feel insanely jealous of her, her baby, her life. But there are also times when I feel genuinely through-and-through happy for her, excited about this amazing little miracle growing inside of her, and noticing subtle changes in the way she responds to the things I talk about – a soft gentleness in her tone, especially when I talk about that frightened little child I was back then.

So, there is progress in my therapy and in my life in general. Tiny tiny steps forward, towards a better understanding of myself, of who I am, of how I relate to others, and how others relate to me. And I feel I’m on the right track. Feel I’m getting somewhere.

But it’s not easy.

And it isn’t over.

There is much to be done.

Be kind to yourselves,

xx

A tiny musical gem; Janet Devlin singing Adele’s Someone Like You

Psychotherapy – Love, Hate & Hope

Sometimes I really hate therapy. Or, maybe it’s fairer to say that it’s a sort of love/hate relationship.

I feel I need it, that I would struggle to manage without this space to work things through, yet at the same time, by its very nature, it brings out memories, feelings and memories of feelings that can be very hard to cope with.

Often when I go to session I will have some idea of what I might want to talk about, an awareness of what’s been on my mind since the last session, or a general feeling of something bubbling under the surface, and that will be my starting point.

I have this habit – a very set pattern to how I enter into the session; I’ll greet A. at the door, walk ahead of her into the room, sit down, wait for her to sit, shuffle a bit, and then I’ll sit silently for a bit staring into space, making no eye-contact, often absentmindedly playing with my ring, water bottle or earphones, allowing myself to centre a bit; to go from the outside world, the stress of getting to session on time, of having just got off the phone with someone, of letting go of minor things – and only then will I be ready to begin my session.

I’ve noticed that the first thing I say is often not the genuine point of urgency which many therapists seem to hold in high esteem; this idea that whatever words the client comes out with first is of definitive importance and urgency, whether it be a joke, an awkward question or whatever. That may be true for some people, but for me I don’t really think it is as I have a tendency to purposely say something quite vague, sometimes something near to but not actually what I want to talk about, and sometimes I’ll even open with something I know to be completely irrelevant to what’s on my mind. It’s just part of the dance I do. A bit like dipping your toe to test the water before deciding whether or not I really do want to go for a swim just then.

Sometimes I decide that Yes, I do want to go for a swim and I’ll dive right in. Other times I’ll decide that I’m not quite brave enough and I’ll hold back, either to return to it later in the session or save it for another session. A bit like playing poker, really: I know what cards I’ve got, and then I decide whether to check, fold or bet.

I’m sure this behaviour must be utterly frustrating for A., because I think it’s often quite obvious when I’m purposely going off target, when I’m choosing to not allow myself to be fully present in the session; I think it’s fairly clear when I’m choosing to go with the B storyline, rather than the A one.

Then again there are times when I’ll decide to take the plunge, to try to be as open as possible, to do what I very rarely do anywhere else; to think out loud, to share my thought process. And that’s pretty scary stuff. Especially if you’re someone who in every other situation veers towards making sure you’ve completed your thinking, your reasoning, your feelings, your going back and forths before you share any tiny part of the conclusion with anyone.

Then, of course, there are those sessions when things just flow. You let go and just say what’s on your mind. One thing leads to another, and in the moment it feels great, feels like you’ve hit the jackpot. This, being able to share fears and worries, is such a relief, and you allow the avalanche to keep on sliding.

Until you get to the end of session. And you have to go back to the world outside of therapy. Deal with all those feelings that have surfaced in session, those thoughts you’ve up until then kept safely under lock and key. And this is where the hate-part in the love/hate relationship comes in.

Dealing with the reality of being in therapy is a lot of work. Hard and sometimes painful work.

So why do people put themselves through that?

I guess because there is something stronger than the pain, bigger than the challenge, and that is hope. Hope that one day you’ll find a way to balance those difficult days, those awful feelings that you’d rather just forget about, those horrendous memories, with the good days, the things you want to remember forever, the really lovely memories.

To get to a place where you can stop running. Where you can build a home within yourself. A home for all that is you. Both the good and the bad.

Have a lovely day.

xx