Home & Feeling Homeless

Was meant to move yesterday.
Spent all day Saturday packing and preparing, didn’t even make it to shul for service because I was a too stressed out about the whole thing. Had several moments of panic throughout the day, thinking I don’t really want to move, it’s the wrong decision, I’m not ready for this, it’s too scary, etc etc. You get the picture. But, eventually everything had been packed up and carried downstairs, ready for The Big Move and I tried to get some sleep.

Got up early the following morning as the van was due to arrive around 8.30.

Sat downstairs, surrounded by all my boxed and bagged up things, nervously waiting for the van.

Which didn’t come.

At 9.05 my phone rang, so I picked it up expecting it to be the removal guys. It wasn’t. It was their boss calling to tell me that the van had broken down en route to picking my things up and unfortunately they wouldn’t be able to do the move that day.

Felt absolutely crushed by this. I was already stressed out about the emotional impact of moving, and not feeling too great about the place I was moving to, and then this happened on top of that.

The next several hours, in fact the whole day after that was pretty horrible. I was just crying, feeling absolutely awful. And, yes, I know – of course it wasn’t just about the van; it was the whole thing – having built up towards this move and mentally preparing for how I was going to deal with it. And it just all came crashing down on me.

Called both of my sisters, texted Dev, did lots of things to try to manage the disappointment of it all, sitting in my now empty, echo-ey room with no books, no computer, not even a desk.

I had had the whole day mapped out; how I would move things into the new place in the early morning, then spend time beginning to sort the room out, then meet with a friend, before going back and forth between The House and the new place with little things that needed to be brought over. And in the evening I was to go back to The House for my goodbye dinner which my housemates were holding for me.

Of course that plan went out the window when the move didn’t happen. I was just so sad and disappointed and stressed out I couldn’t really get around to doing much at all. Managed to properly clean out my old room, but that’s about it, and that was done with tears running down my face the entire time. I think, as A. pointed out in session today having heard me talk about all of this; what happened was that I suddenly found myself feeling that I didn’t have a home. I’ve moved around a fair amount, and what’s been constant for me have been the things I take with me everywhere; my books, my journals, my writing, and I’ll create my home around them wherever I am. So, with all those things boxed up and with nowhere to put them, it left me feeling homeless and lost.

Needless to say, by the time I was due to meet my friend S. for lunch, I was pretty emotionally wrecked.

Enter the power of a good friend.

Yes, I cried and I still felt awful, but it was also nice to be able to see that I was able to allow the tears to come, even with my friend around. Or maybe because she was there to support me. We talked about all the worries and fears I have about moving out, what I’m leaving behind. Lots of things, and it helped me see that the tears were actually an absolutely appropriate response to what I was experiencing, and that it was OK. Talking to my friend also helped me to recognise that while all these feelings were valid, they were only what I was feeling that day, not what I would always be feeling.

Went back to The House after seeing my friend and unpacked my bedding to make my bed up again, and that helped a little with making the room feel less bare and naked, and slightly more like the room that had been my safe haven.

A little later M. knocked on my door and asked how I was doing, having heard from another housemate what had happened. So I had another tearful conversation, being allowed to tell someone yet again how horrible I felt. And that was really helpful, too; to both say and show how much I was struggling.

Later I had my farewell dinner with my house mates, which was nice. I was very touched that they wanted to do this for me, especially considering how I’ve often not been very involved with things in The House. Also I felt incredibly thankful that they were allowing me to stay another night at the house, making things a lot easier for me. C. said to me that I’ve been a member of the household for over two years, of course I could stay another night – and that felt really good, because I never feel I can take it for granted that I’ll be welcome in any place.

Stayed up quite late talking with M. after dinner, and again, that was really helpful and made it a lot easier to settle down for the night.

So, I have to say that although living at The House has often been difficult, with many many ups and downs, and there are lots of things to reflect on in the months to come, I was left with the feeling that my housemates have seen me as part of the house; that for a time The House really was my home. And that felt really really good.


Little S & Adult Me – An Entry About Coping With Flashbacks

Ten days now since my last session with A.
So far sticking to The Rules (as stated in my previous post).
But it’s hard. Really, really hard. Having had a break from flashbacks for a few months I seem to have entered another period where I keep having them. And I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s to do with A. being away.

It’s almost as if whenever I haven’t got somewhere safe to put my thoughts they start building up inside of me, in the shape of stress. And when it gets to a certain level, something breaks and the flashbacks come back. Like clockwork.

Of course, there are other ways of relieving pent up pressure than through talking therapy, but, sadly, for me one of the easiest ways has traditionally been to get a scalpel out and cut myself. I’m trying very hard to avoid going down that road this time around, but it is incredibly hard to resist, knowing that as little as two or three small cuts would instantly calm me down.

I think people often underestimate the addictive quality of self-harm. It isn’t just a case of choosing not to do it; it takes an enormous portion of will-power to keep to your resolve. Especially when the effect of not cutting is that you have to deal with the fact that, sooner or later, you’re going to experience a flashback.

Contrary to most peoples’ idea of flashbacks, they are not like films playing before you or in your head. At least that’s my experience. Yes, I do sometimes have flashbacks which involve all five senses, but, what makes a flashback different to any other memory is firstly that they pop up whether you want them to or not. Which means that as soon as I feel pressure building inside of me I start worrying, because there is just no way of knowing when I’ll have one, or where I’ll be when it happens. Or how I will react to it.

Naturally, the flashbacks that are audio-visual are the most difficult to cope with, but, I have to say, only by a very small margin. For me, flashbacks are more about emotions, regardless of which specific traumatic experience they are linked to. And even the ones that are essentially just a pure raw re-experiencing of feelings (without the actual image, sound or smell of the abuse) are completely disorientating. Not in the sense that I don’t know where I am, but in the sense that I feel as if I’m existing in two places at the same time. I’m both Adult Me and Little S at the same time. And what’s more, they are all at once both separate and the same.

Also, although it may take a moment to realise that I am in fact having a flashback, as soon as I do, Adult Me gets enormously angry and frustrated with myself for not being able to stop this from happening, while, at the same time, Little S is busy trying to deal with the fear/shame/sadness that the flashback has brought out. In a way it’s like dealing with a past and a present trauma at the same time. And it’s very difficult to know which is which.

I remember having a particularly bad flashback in the middle of a one-to-one session at the women’s crisis centre last year. The person who was with me kept talking to me, and I could absolutely hear her; in many ways I knew exactly where I was. Yet, when the person who was with me asked where I was, it was Little S who answered by describing a room in my childhood home.

Needless to say this is not a pleasant experience, nor an easy one to cope with. Even though I have by now become reasonably apt at finding my way out of a flashback, they do still shake me. Quite badly.

Even when I am able to bring myself back into the present reasonably quickly, it is still a very disturbing and frightening experience. Also, I have a tendency to not realise I’m having a flashback, until I have already started acting it out in the present, by scratching my forehead until I bleed or digging my nails hard into my palms. In fact, it’s often the physical pain of those very actions that somehow kicks Adult Me into action.

So, as I said earlier – it is a struggle to not allow myself to, in the absence of A., go for the easier option and just get a scalpel out.

But, I keep trying.


PS. Just wanted to say a big thank you to those of you who commented on my last post. I really appreciate it.

Stress, Random Thoughts & Specific Theories

Tomorrow is Friday. The first one back in the country since counselling finished at the end of December. And it does make a difference..

In the midst of dealing with the hang-over from spending Christmas in Sweden, packing up my stuff at the flat, trying to take it in that I won’t be living with Dev come next week, well, I reckon a session with D. would have been pretty perfect.
Someone who knows and understands the context of the thoughts flying around in my head, and who genuinely cares about what I do with them.

Don’t get me wrong, I am doing reasonably well. It’s just that I’m not entirely sure if that is because I’m holding back on more than I should, or because I simply haven’t begun processing all these things yet. Or maybe, just maybe, because I have actually become better at coping with things. Either way, a session with D. would quite possibly help me to at least understand which of the above guesses is more likely to be accurate. I’m not saying that it would necessarily change anything, but I do think that the clearer I am on what I’m actually dealing with, the better I can find the right balance, emotionally.

Apart from the above worries, I am also quite nervous about this new place I’m moving to. I mean, although I have lived in shared accommodation before this will be a completely new experience. Not only will I be living with people who I actually don’t know at all, but the whole set up is very different from what I have experienced before. I think it’s reasonable to assume that it will be quite a big change to deal with; house meetings with my house mates and two therapists three times a week – well, it’s not exactly the norm, is it? I expect I will struggle quite a lot to find my place in this new situation. Still, having said that, I do believe that it is the right place for me to be. I think that staying in a place where the focus is personal change/insight, and all the challenges that will present me with, I’m certain that I will gain a lot from it.

On to something different..
A book arrived in the post while a was away – Karen J. Maroda’s The Power of Countertransference – and now that I’ve finally been able to start reading it I’m finding it difficult to put it down for long enough to get any packing done.

Maroda’s take on analytic technique is one that I personally find very appealing. To a lay-person such as myself her ideas seem to make perfect sense.

I am, of course, well aware of the traditional stance in psychoanalytic thinking; that the therapist will hold back on his or her immediate thoughts and feelings, in order to allow the patient to use the therapist as a blank canvass and to not burden the patient with the feelings the he or she may have evoked in the therapist etc. This is, in essence, to avoid allowing the patient to repeat past habits and thereby reinforcing his or her set pathology. Maroda’s theory, on the other hand, is – and this is a very general and broad summary – that for real change to take place in a therapy situation the therapist must join the patient in the experience of regression, rather than merely observing it from a safe distance. In other words, the therapist needs to both be able and willing to give more of herself to the patient, so that not only the transference factor is being looked at in the sessions, but also the countertransference factor. This, naturally, means breaking off from the often authoritarian therapist-patient relationship that psychoanalytic thinking typically entails. Maroda highlights the fact that even Freud was not unknown to alter his theories when he found that his experiments didn’t pan out the way he had expected, and that as society has undergone such tremendous change in the past several decades since Freud first introduced his theories to the world, so too psychoanalytic technique needs to change. Needless to say, when Maroda’s book was first published back in 1990 it caused something of a stir amongst the practitioners in this particular field. She was not at all the first to point to what to me seem like obvious flaws in the ‘blank canvas’-approach, however, up until then any attempt to bring about change had been fairly limited and there was no structured concept, such as the one Maroda presents in her book.

Anyway, if you happen to have a bit of spare time, I’d recommend this book. It’s probably one of the most accessible and readable texts around on practical implementation of counter-transference as an active part in the therapist-patient relationship, and a very interesting one at that!