The Beginning Of A Parallel Journey

My most beloved transitional object

My most beloved transitional object

 

You may remember that a few posts ago I wrote about deciding to go ahead and do some short term specialised trauma-focused counselling, parallel to the psychoanalytic therapy I am already doing with A.

I set out on this journey four weeks ago and it’s been quite a ride thus far, but before I begin writing about said journey, let me introduce you to a new character: Z., my counsellor. I have to admit that when I met her the first time I wasn’t entirely sure about her. My impression was mostly positive, and I absolutely felt that she was someone I could work with, but there was also a little bit of fear that she might not be quite strong enough to resist my habit of luring therapists and counsellors alike down side paths and blind alleys. What I mean by that is that, in the past, back when therapy was something I was doing because someone else wanted me to do it [parents, doctors, psychiatrists], I was very very good at finding ways of showing up for session each week, skilfully avoiding doing any actual therapy.

What I did was to go in and talk about something entirely unrelated [I spent an entire year talking about ice-hockey and the LA Lakers with my first therapist], then dazzling them by intellectually linking whatever I had decided to talk about with psychotherapeutic theory. I realise, of course, that this was something I did because I simply wasn’t ready to engage in therapy, so in one way this behaviour is hardly surprising. But, at the same time, there was always a part of me that was deeply disappointed that none of my first three therapists ever pulled me up on my fairly obvious attempts at outsmarting them, and that they were instead, session after session, drawn into complex discussions about attachment theory, projective identification etc etc. I think what I was really craving was a therapist who would step into that pseudo-parental role, different to my own parents, steering a clear path in showing me that they were more interested in me than in my ability to spin intricate and dazzling webs.

It wasn’t until many many years later in my very first session with D. that a counsellor finally told me that ‘Although your knowledge is very impressive, it’s not why we’re here.’ Felt like hitting a brick wall at a hundred miles an hour and then being told that it’s pretty silly to go running at a wall, when there was a perfectly good opportunity here to learn to use the ladder that was leaning against said wall. I’m not saying that D. was necessarily the first counsellor or therapist to see through this game I was playing, or to understand the reasons for why I was playing it, but she was the first person to properly make me feel that she understood that I was absolutely terrified and that rather than allowing me to carry on defending against this fear by using intellectualisation she cared enough about me to want to help me step onto the ladder and do something different. There was no pressure to make it to the top of the wall in the time we had, but instead there was a lot of focus on acknowledging the achievement of making it onto the first step. Any subsequent steps would be a bonus.

So, knowing that I was about to begin a completely new type of counselling with Z., one which focused solely on the sexual abuse I suffered, one where talking about my parents, or being adopted, or the million other things that are part of my life and who I am, would play very little part, I was completely and utterly petrified. Thus, meeting Z. for the first time was a big deal. Naturally, meeting a counsellor or therapist always is, but I was very aware of the need to find a counsellor who wouldn’t gobble up deliciously smoked red herrings thrown their way, and so there was a lot on the line in that first meeting.

Coming out of that meeting, my general impression of Z. was – as I said earlier – mainly positive, there was still a part of me that felt concerned that her statement that she ‘wouldn’t push me to go somewhere I didn’t want to go’, might potentially indicate that she was someone who, if I wanted to, I could easily string along in an attempt to not only avoid having to go to painful places, but to avoid challenging myself to move forward at all. Like I said to my sisters after the first session: ‘Z. is someone I would have had for lunch 10 years ago’.

But the four and a half years of doing therapy with A., along with the counselling I did with D. prior to that, has made me realise how much there is to gain from doing my utmost to stop myself from going down that route. To, in a sense, stay on that ladder and keep climbing it. So, I knew that even if I was somewhat unsure of Z., I knew that I was different, as were my reasons for going into this counselling. Of course, as much as I try to consciously stop myself from hopping off the ladder, there may still be a fair amount of unconscious [or subconscious, if you’re so inclined] motivation for leading myself astray, hence, needing to feel sure that Z. would be able to spot this when I can’t.

In my second meeting with Z., many of my initial fears were laid to rest. She came to the second session with a very clear view of what she would like us to work on and helped guide me through it. This is very new to me; I’m used to doing psychoanalytic therapy, where I’m pretty much always in the driver’s seat, and it’s a real challenge to now, suddenly, let someone else co-pilot. There were some things Z. had wanted to do in the second session, which she soon realised weren’t quite right for me, as they were things I had already worked out and implemented for myself, and she swiftly adapted to this, changing course to suit my trajectory. This lead to something I would never in a million years have thought possible: already in session three I took a plunge and showed her a drawing of one of the abuse situations and talked about it. It was scary as anything, but was much helped by discussing – prior to me handing the drawing over to Z. – what I wanted her to do with it so as to not have a repeat of that session with A. where I interpreted her immediate return of a drawing as a sign that she couldn’t quite bear looking at the reality of the abuse. Instead, this time, we made the agreement that Z. would hold on to my drawing until I indicated that I would like to have it back. Z. also showed some initiative when she felt I was getting into my normal way of racing ahead through a story, as though I’m talking about someone else, with complete emotional disconnect, by stopping me for a while and asking me to reconnect and to tell her what talking about this made me feel. This is very new to me. Naturally, A. is also very interested in what I’m feeling, and often tags a ‘Can you say more?’ [one of my absolute favourite questions] or ‘Can you unpack that?’ onto something I have said, in order to coax more out of me. But, I’m not used to being actually stopped in order to reconnect several times during a session.

I had brought my beloved Doth with me to session. Doth, for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting her, is a porcelain doll I’ve had since I was a child. She was made by my best friend’s mother and she was the only person who knew about the abuse while it was going on; I used to sit with Doth, whisper in her ear the things my brother and M. made me do. So, needless to say, she is very very precious to me, and as childish as it may seem, I thought having Doth with me in session might make it easier for me to talk about the abuse, because, in a way, she has already heard it all. I felt regressing to that childhood ritual of talking to Doth about the awful things that were happening might help me overcome my fear of talking about the abuse for fear of breaking the listener.

I think this parallel work with A. and Z. has the potential to be a very good thing. I had worried that I might be spreading myself too thin, or that it would become too confusing working with two people at the same time, but for now it seems to work quite well. Also, the work I am doing with Z. is very short term, only sixteen sessions in all, and is by its very nature a lot more intense than the therapy I’m doing with A., and I am hoping to use my sessions with A. to ensure that I remain safe while I’m doing this very painful work. I have already noticed that I am again having more flashbacks than the norm, but this is something I had expected. As I told a friend of mine: ‘Doing this was always going to be a totally rubbish time’, but I am hopeful that it will ultimately help reduce the amount of flashbacks I have, and also, that it will help me go further with A.

Sixteen sessions, even if structured, is not a lot of time, especially given that I suffered abuse from more than one person, and that the abuse went on for as long as it did, so I am hoping that doing this with Z. will open the door to carrying on talking about the abuse with A. once counselling comes to an end, much in the same way that the counselling with D. set me up for actively trying to avoid throwing red herrings at A., and subsequently, Z.

 

In other words: onwards and upwards, one rung at the time.

 

Be kind to your Selves,

xx

 

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Remember September & Stepping Into The New Year

It’s been a while since I posted a proper update, I know. Things have been very difficult and it’s all felt too raw to put it down in black and white. To pick up where I left off: I went to the assessment at Drayton Park Women’s Crisis Centre and was offered a place the same day. It was very hard going back there, having not needed that kind of help in quite a few years. So much of my time at the therapeutic community I was staying in was designed to keep you away from the NHS mental health system, to find other ways of getting the support you need, preferably away from medication and hospital. So it was a big decision going back to Drayton Park. But needs must sometimes, and sometimes you have to swallow your pride and just accept any kind of help you can get.

The whole first week and a half at Drayton I spent virtually all of my time in my room, feeling unable to be around people other than my named support workers. I simply felt to embarrassed to be around people while I was fighting the near constant stream of flashbacks, as the things I do to ground myself can look quite odd if you don’t know what I’m doing or why I’m doing it. I did have quite a few people come visit me, which felt more OK, because they were all people who know what I’m usually like, and who I knew could handle seeing me in that very very difficult emotional place. I know it’s hard to see someone you love struggle in the way I was – constantly having to fight this torrent of intrusive flashbacks.

Flashbacks aren’t a new phenomenon to me; regular readers will know that I suffer from single flashbacks frequently, and experience periods of sequential flashbacks every so often, but this was on a scale I’ve never known before. I’ve always understood the single flashbacks as an indicator of sorts that I am ready to perhaps deal with that specific incident in my therapy, and the periods of flashbacks tend to begin either when A. is away or when I am very stressed out about other things. But this, it was just something entirely different. A whole different ball game. As I said earlier, initially I was experiencing an incessant flow of flashbacks, most of them reasonably short and all of things I already knew had happened. Though never a pleasant experience, I was able to come out of them fairly quickly. What was really wearing me down – apart from the re-experience of the abuse situations – was the fact that they were so frequent. It felt very much as if as soon as I had worked my way out of one flashback another started, like one flashback triggered the next, and it took essentially all of my energy to remain fully in the present.

Then, one day – and I still don’t quite know why – the flashbacks changed. They became less frequent and were about things I had no conscious memory of. Although the reclining frequency was a welcome break, making it possible to at least go out of my room and spend time in the art room, it was absolutely terrifying. I always knew that there were gaps in my memory, pertaining to one specific person, but some of the things that came out were things I had absolutely no recollection of at all. I know that what emerged in those flashbacks did happen, that they weren’t figments of my imagination [although at times I tried very hard to convince myself that maybe they were].. The best way I can describe it is that it felt like I was remembering things I had forgotten I knew. These flashbacks tended to be more like long sequences, and were a lot harder to come out of, I think, in part because they caught me so unawares, memorywise, but also because the content of them were cruelty on a whole new level, and I felt paralysed by fear, unable to do the things I usually do to come out of the flashbacks. And I have to say, I’m still dealing with those memories now, feeling utterly traumatised by what those flashbacks unveiled.

I ended up spending a full three weeks at Drayton Park, and throughout those weeks, being stripped of the release and relief my various means of self-harm offered, they were probably the worst three weeks in my entire life. Every day I would ask the staff – pleading with them – to please, please let me have my scalpels, just for a little while, just to get a small break from the flashbacks. And each day my support workers told me no, because although their policy is that they recognise self-harm as a genuine coping-strategy for some people, they felt that my cutting would not be safe and could end in me, accidentally or intentionally, cutting to kill myself rather than to just relieve pain. Also, owing to my previous track record at Drayton Park, downing a pint of anti-freeze in a bid to end my life, my trust/credit rating with the staff isn’t the greatest, so their decision to not allow me to use any form of self-harm to cope, is entirely understandable.

I am now back home. Things are still difficult. The flashbacks aren’t as frequent, but I still have them fairly regularly, and it seems that an underlying depression is rearing its ugly head, and I am often struggling to get out of bed at all, unless I have to. I push myself to get to therapy and to not completely disappear in my own misery, but it’s hard work.

One thing that is good is that we’re now in the middle of a period called Yamim Noraim, [lit. Days Of Awe, commonly referred to as the High Holy Days, is the period between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur] – so there are a lot of things going on at shul, and so I have more things than usual that I need to get to. Also, on the days I simply haven’t been able to go to service I’ve been able to follow it online, and I’ve made a point of always making sure I am up and appropriately dressed, even if I’m only attending service via the internet.

All in all, it’s still a bit of a roller coaster; one good day, one bad and so on, but I suppose that it’s better to have some better days than none at all.

So, for a better and sweeter new year,

שנה טובה ומתוקה

~ Shanah Tova Umetukah ~

xx

OK – so this isn’t for this new year, but this Rosh HaShanah video from Michelle Citrin still makes me smile. I mean, c’mon – I named my blog after one of her songs, after all.

I Stumble, I Tumble, I Spin, I Fall – An Entry About Losing Control

Remember that little voice I was talking about in my last entry? The one that tells me that I’m just gonna have to get through this? That there’s no other option? It’s gone AWOL. Completely muted. It’s been nowhere to be heard this week. Not good. At all.

I am really struggling at the moment. Not just a little, but to the point of wondering if it’s really worth it. All that darn talk about light at the end of the tunnel. Yeah yeah. Sure. Whatever. What I want to know is when?? How long am I supposed to hang on to the ridiculously vague hope of things getting better? Seriously?

I feel like I have really given it my best shot. No two ways about it. I couldn’t do it any better than I am. I really couldn’t. I haven’t self-harmed for a very long time, I stopped researching suicide methods entirely, I got myself back to work and I even managed to be good to myself by deciding that working full-time is not the best thing for me right now.

I’ve ticked every single box on the “Rid yourself of depression” step-by-step list. I genuinely feel I have. And yet this depression keeps rearing its ugly head, reminding me of all the things that I am up against. No, I’m not after a free ride. Not at all. I know that there is no such thing as a free ride when it comes to depression and over-coming emotional trauma. But couldn’t I at least be allowed to have a good streak that lasted long enough for me to actually catch my breath before being pushed head first below the surface again?

I am so incredibly sick of this illness. And this whole thing with diagnosis. Recurrent Major Depressive Disorder. Big words, but what the bleeding heck is that supposed to mean? That I have been experiencing more than one depressive episode? Well, duh? Really? I’m glad you told me, ’cause I sure hadn’t noticed.. Or even worse, does it mean that I am doomed to have recurring depressive episodes forever? Honestly? Because if that’s the case, why even try to get out of the one I’m in. For the sheer joy of getting knocked down again?

I had an appointment with S., my care co-ordinator on Wednesday, and being the happy little helper that I am I agreed to allow a third year student nurse to sit in on our meeting. Big mistake I’m sorry to say. Not only did S. spend half the time explaining to him why she had wanted to meet with both me and Dev two weeks earlier etc etc etc (could she really not have gone over the background with him before actually meeting with me?) but also, – and I’m trying to put this in an as gentle way as I can – the poor fella just didn’t seem quite mentally capable of grasping the basic concept of depression and kept coming up with these annoyingly naïve positive comments to whatever I said. This, naturally, made me feel like I wasn’t being taken serious (when talking about having suffered some pretty horrendous flash-backs at work) and also I had to – yet again – practise my skill of holding my frustration back. In other words, the exact opposite of what I have been trying to do. Great! Enormously helpful.

Later in the session we ended up talking about my family and I said that I really really miss them at the moment, especially my nephews – and this guy goes “So, does that make you feel like getting back in touch with your family? Maybe they are exactly the reason you need to get back with them? Does that make you feel hopeful?” Again, surely S. could have had the foresight to have given him at least a the bare essentials on my history before inviting him to join in? Or am I being unfair?

What else? (As I’m going on a monster moan I may as well do it properly. This is meant to be honesty-focused after all). Oh yeah – as great as my boss has been in helping me out with sorting out my working hours and such, it seems my working part-time is breeding contempt in my two closest colleagues. On the one hand I can understand it – they can’t see that my day off is actually my toughest day of the entire week, but on the other hand it’s really none of their damn business what the reason for my absence is. I’ve told them that both Den and the MD of our company are aware of them, and that should be enough.

Finally.. I was meant to see D. tomorrow. But I won’t be. Unfortunately a family matter has arisen and she’s had to cancel the next two weeks of counselling. To start with. Obviously I feel for her, it’s never easy when those things happen, whatever they are, and ultimately we are all only human and sometimes we have to prioritise. But as much as I accept this, it doesn’t stop her prolonged ansence from having a pretty bad effect on me. I mean, of course that’s a mere side effect – but it’s still there. So I had a bit of a breakdown today.

I had already been struggling a good deal with thoughts of self-harm and suicidal ideation in the last few days, and in order to motivate myself to resist my urges I kept repeating to myself that I’ve made it through nearly four weeks without counselling and I just need to hang on for another few days and I’d be back on the road to normality again. That, if I think about it, it’s only hours, really, until I’d have my time back again. And that although there is no miracle cure, at least that should ease the pressure a little. The space and place that is there just for me to vent whatever is brewing in my head.

And then I was told that that’s not happening.

I was sort of ok with it for a few hours, while I was still at work. But then on the way home I just started crying. All that pent up sadness and loss and confusion just bubbled out of me. Surprisingly I actually had the mental awareness to realise that this might be rather a good thing; that allowing myself to express these feelings is precisely what I need to be doing. But, of course, me being me I quickly reverted to the safer path of checking myself out of this emotional turmoil, turning it back on myself in the way I’m most comfortable with; the self-punishing thought pattern of Blithering heck, woman, get a grip! What’s there to cry about? You have no reason to cry. Only weak people cry, and you can’t afford to be weak because people will take advantage of you. So, literally within minutes, I had switched from indulging in self-pity to absolutely bursting to find a razor and start carving up my arm.

I didn’t. God knows how, – I guess my tattoo and the lack of razors in my flat helped somewhat – and I didn’t. Instead I picked the phone up. First I called the Samaritans and found myself having another good cry over the pathetic mess that is my life, how stupid I am to even think that good things would ever happen to me and how I’m never going to get away from feeling this way. Then I called Drayton Park Women’s Crisis Centre. I’m not even really sure why. It was just something I did. One of the workers picked up – the one who’s always so cheerful I can’t help but to think of her as being chemically imbalanced no matter how sweet she is – and even though I’ve never actually had a one to one session with her I just started to cough up how badly I was wrestling with the idea of harming myself. She assumed that this was a direct result of having been told that I won’t be seeing D. earlier in the day. I didn’t even get a chance to tell her that this urge has been intensifying over the last few days, but maybe that doesn’t really matter – because I’m pretty sure that although this explosion of emotion isn’t purely down to my disappointment with this setback, it was more than likely the final trigger.

Hm.. Odd.. As I’ve been writing this seizmically proportioned rant I think that little voice has returned. Fair enough, it’s still very faint, and my demons definitely still outshout it. But at least it feels like it’s there.

And I guess that’s something.

I just hope I can hold on to it.

xx

“..when all I really want, I said to myself, is to survive the present..” [Nuala O’Faolain]