Twenty-fourteen – A Year Of Changes & Challenges

I thought I’d make one final push to get an update out before the end of the year. I’m not in a great place, hence radio silence on most channels, but sometimes that’s when the best blog posts come out, so let’s hope for the best. Could be nothing, could be something.

It’s been a rough year. There are no two ways about it. At the beginning of the year I ended with my therapist of five years and started over with a new one. It’s a big transition, moving from A. to P., and a huge emotional undertaking. It’s a bit like being asked to switch out your parents. Sure, your parents might not always get you, might be unfair, might make mistakes, might be downright unsuitable to parent anyone, but at least you know them, right? You know their habits, their triggers, their blind spots and you know how they react to the things you say and do. And you also know how you react to the things they say and do. It’s that comfortable – if often less-than-ideal – Familiar versus the scarily unpredictable Unknown that I’ve written about so many times in the past.

That was pretty much what I was going through with A. at the beginning of the year, as we slowly neared and then reached The Ending. Things had been running along the heading-for-an-irreparable-relationship-breakdown route for some time – probably for far longer than I was ready to admit to you, or myself, at the time – but at least I knew what to expect, knew when odds were that my words would be met with silence, knew when there was potential for disappointment. I also knew what not to say and what not to do to keep the status quo, to keep us from falling off the edge. In addition, I was standing on the bedrock of our previous years together, all the times we had communicated really well, spoken a similar emotional language. I had a good sense of where we had one another, of how big or small the distance between us was at any given time, how close we could get, how much trust there was and where the boundaries of our relationship were; all those things that had made our work together so meaningful and fruitful for such a long time. So, it was with a lot of sadness that I had to accept that the time for us to part ways had come.

I had met P. only once before we actually started our joint therapeutic journey. Fifty shared minutes during an initial consultation to decide whether or not we could be A Match. I left that first meeting in December last year feeling that, yes, she could potentially be someone I could learn to trust, given enough time and space to Thoroughly Test what sort of stuff she was made of. But, apart from that gut feeling I didn’t know much about her [or attachment-based therapy] when I went for my first real session in February. I knew that there was something about the way she actively sought to make eye contact in that first meeting that both scared me beyond reason and made me feel that she genuinely wanted to get to know the real me. Actually, let me rephrase that: the way she actively sought to make eye contact with me scared me beyond reason, because she so clearly wanted to get to know the Real Me. Not just the Me she could glean or guess at from the polite introductory phrases or the bullet pointing of my fragmented, chequered and often painful past during this initial meeting, but the Real Me hiding behind all that – the Me that only comes out after the Thorough Testing has been done. The Me that even A., after nearly five years, was only just beginning to get to know.

I took the plunge, and it turned out that the water was far more calm and warm than I had expected. As K. put it only the other day: ‘When you finished with A. I didn’t think you’d ever be able to build a relationship with another therapist. I thought the trust had been shattered for good. I’m amazed at how quickly your relationship with P. has developed.’ I get exactly what K. meant, because it was what I, myself, was thinking at the time. How would I be able to trust? Why should I?

I suppose the answer to that lies in the way P. is, really. I wasn’t at all ready to trust, and P. was able to accept that completely, without any expectation that this would change. Was able to meet me where I was at. She was able to accept that I simply didn’t know if I really wanted to go on with therapy, or even with life. The exact thing that had ultimately caused the breakdown with A. The very thing A. had made clear she couldn’t accept; that I may not only feel that life wasn’t for me, but that I might actually act on it. P. made me, almost immediately – without the Thorough Testing – feel that this was a part of me she could accept. She in no way gave me license to act, but she simply accepted that this could be one of the paths our journey might take.

Then, of course, only a few months later this was put to the test. A splash of a toxic chemical on my tongue, the swallowing of some tricyclics – which I still to this day don’t remember taking – an ambulance ride from the women’s crisis centre to A&E and eleven hours in a coma.

Some might say this was part of my Thorough Testing. I’m not going to argue for or against. All I know is that we survived it: P. didn’t break, didn’t conclude that the reality of acting out was so different from the theory and phantasy of it that she could no longer work with me.

And our relationship grew a little stronger.

The aftermath of this overdose – along with a previous, more serious, intake of that same ototoxic chemical – was the loss of most of what remained of my already damaged hearing. Another big thing to deal with; the knowledge that my actions would have a lifelong effect – near deafness. But, also, in a backwards kind of way, the realisation that even when I mess up it is still within my power to do something about it; the decision to hop on the not-so-joyful steroid ride, the slight but miraculous recovery of some hearing, the sorting out of hearing aids [even though it at times makes me feel I’m ninety-something rather than thirty-something].

And all year long this journey has of course been fenced in and intercepted by flashbacks, by horrendous memories of a past that is never really in the past and by nightmares that don’t go away just because I wake up. Post but-never-quite-over traumatic stress disorder. The stuff that makes day to day life all but impossible to plan. The never knowing if a day will be a 40, 100 or near continuos flashback day. Making plans, cancelling plans, scheduling and rescheduling – because I simply can’t know in advance if any given day will be one where I can leave my house without putting myself at risk.

At the moment it seems worse than usual, more 100-a-day days than 40s. I went to visit my father for the first time in two and a half years at the end of November. That may have something to do with it. I don’t know. It might be related to the fact that both P. and K. have now gone on their respective Chrismukkah breaks, leaving Little S. feeling sad, scared and abandoned, and Adult Me struggling to cope in their absence. Or it might be chance. But, whatever the reason, it’s not so easy to deal with.

Anyway, I want to take the time to thank all of you who have faithfully stuck with me through the ups and downs of this year, in spite the updates being few and far between. It does make such a difference to me. It touches me deeply every single time one of you takes the time to post a comment or write me an email to share a bit of your Selfs with me. I know that is how most of my replies to your communications begin, but it is for a good reason: it’s the truth. I am very grateful for your support.

So, wherever you are in your lives, whatever is going on for you right now, good or bad, I do wish you all the very best.

xx

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Starting Over After A Break

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“Lily, oh Lily – I don’t feel safe
I feel that life has blown a great big hole through me.”
And she said,
“Child, you must protect yourself,
You can protect yourself;
I’ll show you how with fire..”

                           [from ‘Lily’ by Kate Bush ©1993]

 

 

 

I have had my first two post-summer break therapy sessions now. And it has felt, well.. strange. Both on Monday and today I found myself uncharacteristically tongue-tied at the beginning of session. [I am often silent during the first few minutes of a session, but I don’t often feel that I can’t speak]. There were plenty of thoughts and feelings buzzing around, but I just didn’t seem able to catch hold of any of them to translate into words.

In the very first session I was initially completely overwhelmed by how powerful the relief of seeing P. was. I hadn’t expected to have quite such a strong emotional response. I could almost physically feel Little S. doing backflips in sheer joy at the sight of P. in her chair. Back where she belongs.

And, at the same time, there was a real urge to withdraw and protect myself from anything and anyone who wasn’t me. To go to my island, the one that is so tiny that it only has room for me. The one where I feel safe in the knowledge that no one else can get to me.

See, that’s the funny thing about Little S.; as happy as she was to see P., – and she was very happy – she is also naturally suspicious of others. Just because P. was back and everything seemed alright, it didn’t necessarily mean that Little S. would readily take that at face value. So, she went from being absolutely delighted to have P. back to ‘You disappeared on me, so I’m not quite ready to trust you yet’ in seconds flat. You see, Little S. is – as I explained to P. in today’s session – a lot like Little My of the Moomin Valley; there is only ever enough space for one feeling at a time and she can go from one to another in no time at all. One second ‘overjoyed that P. was back’, and then – boom – ‘suspicious that she might do another disappearing act’.

 

- Little My - "If you're angry you're angry." Little My reasoned, peeling her potato with her teeth. "You're supposed to be angry from time to time. Every little creature has that right."


“If you’re angry you’re angry,” reasoned Little My, peeling her potato with her teeth.
“You’re supposed to be angry from time to time. Every little creature has that right.”
[From Moominpappa At Sea by Tove Jansson ©1965]

 

P. suggested that maybe Little S. is quite angry with her – or even really angry with her– for leaving her to fend for herself while she went on a nice long break. As soon as P. said that Little S. – sensing danger at being called on her negative feelings – had to go into hiding, and Adult Me was left to explain that Little S. wasn’t quite ready to deal with those feelings yet, [“Little S. has left the building”] even if P.’s guess was probably spot on and Adult Me would have liked to have been able to talk about it, together with Little S.

At the beginning of today’s session, while still in Unable To Speak-mode, I became aware that there was a song playing in my head. It seemed unlikely to be chance that that particular song had decided to play, so I shared a few somewhat random lines from it with P.: “Child, take what I say with a pinch of salt, and protect yourself with fire”. At the time I felt very aware that I was leaving out two lines about feeling unsafe and being afraid, but as I am writing this now, I am thinking that maybe that’s not the end of the world? I have another session tomorrow, and if I want to, I can mention making that choice – so we can look at the reasons for consciously leaving those oh-so-revealing lines out, or I can leave it as it is, because even though I missed out parts of the lyrics, we kind of managed to touch on the themes of not feeling safe anyway.

We also spoke about feeling unsure if this need to protect myself through withdrawing [from P.] is something I – or at least Little S. – genuinely needs to do in order to cope, or if it is something I now do per automatik, unquestioningly and without thinking, because it is what I have ‘always’ done.

I suppose that this is a constant battle for me; striking the right balance between being mindful of Little S.’s needs, and challenging her to take tiny steps forward.. It is also, admittedly, a struggle at times to manage Adult Me’s frustration with the amount of time Little S. needs to take any little steps at all. I often find myself having to repeat the mantra that ‘baby steps are also steps’ to Adult Me, because if she had her way, she could quite easily race ahead at a pace neither Little S. nor Adult Me is ready to cope with..

 

All the very best,

xx

 

Lily from the album The Red Shoes. This video features in Bush's short film The Line, The cross and The Curve.
Kate Bush © 1993

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

 

 

 

Life’s A Dance You Learn As You Go

To me, writing is like breathing; a necessity for life. So, the fact that it has taken me this long to feel able to update my blog may be an indication of the degree of difficulty I have had in holding on to life itself. For the past several months the wish to just let go, to allow myself the luxury of that Final Rest, has been a minute-to-minute struggle. It hasn’t been a crisis as such – at least not in my eyes – and there has been a very definitive lack of urgency about it all. No mad dash towards the Ultimate Finish Line, just a steady step by step journey towards a glittering End ahead of me. It stems from walking around with a soul that is simply so tired, so emotionally exhausted that it naturally gravitates away from life. The strings I have used so many times in the past to pull myself away from the edge are either broken or have disappeared altogether.

I wrote in my last post about having a flat battery and a faulty charger, and that, to a large degree, is still how I feel. Like I am running on empty.

But I am still here, and not only that, I am here through my own very conscious decision to be so. It isn’t a case of Death all of a sudden having lost its vice like grip on me; I can still feel those cold skeletal fingers around my ankle.. but, I can also feel my other foot – the one Death has yet to reach, planted firmly, barefoot, on the soft grass. It is a defiant “I decide when I step across that line, not you.”

I have always felt that ending one’s life ought to be a decision, not impulsive acting out because things are so unbearably difficult in that one particular moment. I wouldn’t ever want my loved ones to be left wondering What if she had only just got through this crisis? Would she still have made the same choice?

I am not so naïve as to think that a ‘painless suicide’ exists – suicide always comes with pain in its wake – and I accept that whatever the intention, there will always, inevitably, be question marks forming for those left behind, but I would like to have done my best to minimise the suffering. I would like them to know that this was what I really wanted. And this is one of the reasons why I am still here today. Because I will not let go while I am in the middle of what is a very difficult period. You simply cannot make a rational, reasoned decision in the midst of chaos.

In the last week I have yet again entered one of those nightmarish periods where one flashback follows the next – ceaselessly, relentlessly. It is an incredibly painful place to exist within, a place where it feels as if nothing is my own, where I keep being pulled under the surface again and again and again, with hardly any time above water to catch my breath. And even though I know that this won’t last forever, it certainly feels endless.

In session today, P. revived the metaphor I used before of jumping into the pool, not knowing whether or not I would be able to swim, and she reiterated how it is her job to be the life guard. She said that we need to work together to create metaphorical armbands, to help me stay above water. My immediate response to that was that I taught myself to swim, without water wings, thank-you-very-much, that, in fact, I actually learned to swim under water, before I figured out how to do it with my head held above the surface.

I have often said that even though I generally learn new things quickly, I am an emotionally slow learner – but now I am sitting here, thinking that maybe it is really that I am a slow unlearner. In the months since I started seeing P. I have struggled with echoes of past relationships, with trusting P. to know her own limitations and have automatically and without thinking taken on sole responsibility for managing our relationship. I can see where this need to be in charge comes from, and I know what the original sources of those echoes are.. What I find difficult to do, however, is to make a different choice this time around. While I have needed to be solitarily strong and in control in the past, this may not still be necessary. It makes me think of a ’90s country song that goes “life’s a dance you learn as you go, sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow”..

You need to have that balance in a relationship; to sometimes lead and sometimes follow. I am pretty good at the first, but markedly less so when it comes to the latter. And maybe, just maybe, it isn’t such a bad thing to allow someone else to lead every once in a while..?

 

xx

 

Life’s a dance you learn as you go

Sometimes you lead

Sometimes you follow

Don’t worry about what you don’t know

Life’s a dance you learn as you go

 

Life’s A Dance © 1992 Shamblin & Seskin

A Flat Battery, A Broken Charger

You know that mode where you get so overwhelmed by things that your whole system simply shuts down? That state where everything tangles and intertwines into an almighty tied up, knotty, gnarly mess and you can’t find an end to start, even though you are staring at a million and one loose ends [either one of which would do], but you just can’t seem to be able to pick one up? That is the mode I have been in lately.

Today I finally managed to pick one of those loose ends up: writing something about what has been going on. It’s not the one that should be at the top of my list, or even in the top ten, but it is the first one I have felt able to pick up in a long time, and starting somewhere, I suppose, is better than not starting at all. Perhaps.

My sessions with P. have been progressing in a squiggly upward curve. I have challenged myself to share things that I would never have thought possible, and I have very very cautiously began to accept – maybe even trust – our emerging relationship and the terrifying intimacy that comes with it. There is something very gentle about the way P. works with me. I don’t mean that she takes things unduly slowly or that she doesn’t challenge me, because she does, but there is a lot of focus on doing things in such a way that there is always time to experience the emotional impact of what we are talking about. There is space to explore both how it is for me and also, crucially, how it is for her to enter these dangerous minefields, where each tiny step can so easily explode into painful memories or full-blown flashbacks. I think [even though something inside of me feels afraid to put it in writing, lest I jinx something] that I am in fact beginning to feel safe with P., and it is such a deliciously unusual feeling, so delicate and precious, that I find myself softening my grip on Control to ensure that I don’t accidentally break it.

Some weeks ago I said to P. that beginning this journey felt like standing on the very edge of a pool knowing that I need to dive in, but feeling uncertain whether or not I would be able to keep myself from drowning once I hit the water. So, P. looked right at me, in that way she does when she wants me to really listen, to truly hear her, and gently suggested that maybe I could try to remind myself that I am not alone and that she is actually quite a good life guard.
P. often talks of how desperately Little S. – my inner child, the child me – needed to be seen and heard and cared for, and how this, our relationship, is a place where that can happen, where it is safe to let Little S. out.

So, I have been pushing on, have been trying really hard. Yesterday, I even brought Doth to my session, because I knew it would be an immensely difficult one, and I thought having her in my arms might make it a little easier.

But at the same time, there is this other part of me that can’t help but to ask why I am even doing this. What the point of it is.. Because lately I am struggling to see one.

You see, all my life – even while the abuse was still going on – the one thing that always kept me going, that got me through, was the thought that one day I would have children of my own. It made it worth soldiering on, made it worth living through the abuse. Later on, it made it possible to cope with the daily onslaught of flashbacks, made it worth going through the often very painful process of being in therapy. All because one day I was going to be somebody’s parent. That thought, that one day I was going to be somebody’s parent, is what has always kept my heart beating; as noisy as the difficulties and struggles have been at times, that thought always beat louder. One day I was going to be somebody’s parent.

Only, for the last five years I have been trying for a child, have discovered that I have fertility issues, have had fertility treatment, and have had it fail. And as much as I have been trying to fight it, slowly the knowledge that this – my one dream, the one thing that has always kept me going – has dissolved, has died and no longer exists, has truly sunk in.

Please, refrain from telling me that It may still happen, you can’t know that it won’t or Have you thought about adoption? or Lots of people have no children and still have fulfilling lives. Yes, I have thought about all of those things, of course I have, I have had years to think about it, but the bottom line is that the one thing that I have ever wanted for myself is something that I will never have. And the one thing that has made it worth working so hard all these years to keep my head above water is no longer there. And rather than well-meaning, but ultimately empty, encouragement, I need space to mourn. Because, for me, this is a loss greater than any other. It is the loss of hope.

The motivation for going through therapy, for wanting to get to a place where I am as whole as I can be, has always been because one day I was going to be somebody’s parent. I wanted to get through as much of the difficulties as possible, for the sake of my future child. But, if that is never going to happen, then, what is the point?

I know I am supposed to want to do it for me, but that has just never felt important enough. I have never been important enough to me. And, yes, maybe that can change. After all, that is part of what P. is trying to do with me. It is just that all of my energy is draining from my soul and the hope that once helped recharge my battery isn’t there anymore, and soon I will be running flat.

So, do forgive me if I have been a poor and absent friend lately. I really am truly sorry that I haven’t been able to be there for you in the way that you deserve. I am so very blessed to have people who care so deeply about me and I am incredibly thankful for having you all in my life. But, right now, I suppose I need to preserve whatever energy I have left in my tank, to fuel whatever it is that it takes to be me.

xx

 

*

The Greatest Joy & The Biggest Sorrow

*

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

Opening Up – Picking Physical & Emotional Locks

It’s been quite a difficult week, with three major things happening, none of which I can share on here, as they involve other people, but they have all had a big effect on my mood. I’m trying to not dip too deep, but to allow myself to reassess my own situation rather than just blindly reacting.

I’m glad that A. is back, but at the same time find that, too, difficult. I’m struggling with only seeing her once a week, which I’m aware may seem like a luxury problem, as for many people in therapy, this would be the norm. But, as you know, I can only talk about how things are for me, and for me, this is something I find very challenging. The last two sessions I have left with a feeling not altogether different to that which I had prior to A. going on maternity leave; I can’t cope with this, having so many emotions swimming around, and not having a safe place to put them. As minor as it may seem – after all it is only a week between sessions – what I think this demonstrates quite clearly is that our psyche and our feelings don’t have a concept of time. They remain in the childlike state where, when we experience fear, anxiety or sadness, a week, a month and a year are all the same. Especially when immediate relief is not provided.

At the same time, in session, I am still finding my way, not feeling sure how much I am able to share with A., still dealing with those trust issues I was worried I would be faced with. I open the door a little and then hesitate. I want to take the plunge, but seem unable to do so. I do try very hard to not allow myself to hold back too much, to not allow those trust issues free reins, but I also appreciate that this is a very real reaction the feeling of having been I abandoned by someone who is supposed to be there for me, and I believe that there is some value in allowing myself to own that reaction, rather than to simply burying it.

Last night I did something that metaphorically describes quite well what is going on in my relationship with A.; I decided to see if I would be able to pick a lock using only bobby pins (like they do in films). Initially I was pleasantly surprised to find that, even with these very rudimentary tools, I was able to do it without much effort. But then the implications of this began to sink in; if I can so easily achieve this, it means that the locks which serve to protect me, may not be quite so secure as I have tricked myself into believing, and in fact, it means that it would be quite easy for someone else to gain entry to my home, should they wish to do so. I didn’t recognise the symbolism in this in the moment, didn’t immediately see the parallel between this – opening a physical lock in my home – and opening an emotional lock to A. in therapy, but later on, when my sister asked how come I had thought to try this little project, it became quite obvious to me. Sitting with this for a little longer, I eventually also came to recognise that although my initial understanding of this discovery had left me feeling quite frightened, the bare knowledge of this security risk doesn’t actually increase the odds of someone breaking in, any more than my acute awareness that opening up in therapy leaves me vulnerable increases the likelihood of A. taking advantage of this. Both remain entirely unchanged, despite my own anxieties, and if anything it gives me an excellent opportunity to look at ways to manage my fears.

And like the wannabe MacGyver / SAS that I am, I’ll keep telling myself: he who dares, wins

I will carry on trying to open up to A., because, ultimately, as vulnerable as it leaves me feeling, there is much to gain from doing so.

I leave you with a little video of me opening a padlock. It’s up to you to decide whether or not you wish to take a look at the reality of these ‘locks’.

All the very best and plenty more,

xx

———//————————————

As some of you have emailed me about my nails following the above video..

About my nails:

I don’t actually have my nails done anywhere, so can’t recommend a good nail bar, I just do them myself. It’s another one of my self-soothing techniques. The flowers are not stickers, but made using regular nail varnish. I don’t use any particularly fancy nail varnish, just whatever is cheep and cheerful. The blingy bits at the centre of the petals are Swarowsky Aurora Borealis crystals. I use a good top coat sealer to make them last, and re-use them as many times as possible. (Yes, I am desperately trying to justify this very eco-unfriendly hobby of mine..)

And, finally: YES, this is totally something you could do yourself. If you can dip the tip of a biro into a blob of nail varnish and then make a dot on your nail, you can do this. Just takes patience! :)




Gravitation, Psychotherapy & Letting Go Of Control

Those in the know claim that gravity is the weakest of the four fundamental forces [interactions], proven by the fact that even a very small magnet can pick up a paperclip, and thereby out-power gravity. I’m not sure, but maybe this is why I sometimes feel like I’m falling off the face of earth the second I let go of even a little bit of control.

In most instances I’m actually not much of a control freak. But when it comes to being in charge of feelings, boy do I keep my cards close to my chest!

This is, naturally, something I am trying to challenge in my therapy. Allowing myself to feel the full force of my emotions, and also letting A. catch a glimpse of it every once in a while.

It’s hard work, letting go of control. It’s frightening and draining and sometimes excruciatingly painful. But, you know what they say; no pain no gain!

So, lately, this has been my objective in session. To try not to fight whatever emotion is roused within, but to let it come, if not quite to the open, at least very close to the surface.

And, I think I’m doing reasonably well. I mean, I’ve yet to cry in session – but I am getting much better at sitting with my feelings and trying to dress them in words. Also, I am trying to bring all of me to session. By that I mean that rather than sharing some things with some people, and other things with other people [thus spreading the risk of over-burdening any one person], I am trying to be as open as I possibly can with A.

That said, there is still one area which I am very much struggling to talk about in session, but I think I am nudging closer to perhaps daring to share it with her.

You see, the thing with therapy is that it’s not a 12-step program, going from A to B to C; it’s a process, and as such you’re allowed to take your time, to test the water. Dip your toe before taking the plunge.

In the last few sessions I have got really close to just go for it – to take a deep breath and let go and trust that A. will catch me. I feel like I’m at the very edge of my fear, and any session now it will happen.

Hopefully.

I leave you with this Swedish track: “Gravitation” by Kent.
(Be a bit patient with the commercial at the beginning of the clip).

Library, Community and Therapy – An Entry About Feeling Safe

I am at the library. I’m enjoying it. It’s my safe place, my home away from home – the place I go to when things get too much. I like the semi-calm, the not-quite-quietness of this place. It’s a good place to be; I can think clearly here. I can feel freely.

I’ve only just finished a mini-essay on the topic of happiness, which seems ironic, considering that I am in fact not especially happy at the moment. Oh, there is no need to panic, I’m by no means in a let’s drink a litre of anti-freeze kind of mood. But I am feeling distinctly low.

As you probably know by now I live in a therapeutic community. Only at the moment it seems it is neither particularly therapeutic, nor much of a community. The latter is, naturally, in part down to me. I’m a member of this little household, and as such it is within my power to make this place more of a real community. Only my heart’s not really in it. I’m not all that interested in communal living. I like my independence, I don’t want to go on group shopping trips, nor do I feel a need to have all my meals with my house mates. This is – I feel obliged to point out – in no way a reflection on my house mates, but merely a statement about myself and where I’m at.

The second part [or the first, depending on how you look at it] – the bit about being therapeutic – well – that’s a little more complex. Or at least it feels like it’s somewhat more out of my hands at the moment. Yes, I do have good conversations with, hm, one of my house mates every now and then, and for that I am thankful. But, what I mean when I say that there is very little in the house that is therapeutic, I mean that the thrice-weekly house meetings have become something of a silent battleground. And, it’s not about my house mates, but, rather, about the two house therapists. Perhaps not solely, but certainly to some quite significant degree. At the moment there is an atmosphere in the house meetings which makes it almost impossible to have an open and honest multi-way conversation.

There have been a few incidents lately where the response to expressed emotions have been less than helpful, and in some instances (in my view) directly damaging. The comments from one or both house therapists have sometimes been so exceptionally defensive or dismissive that it appears to have killed off any desire to risk sharing anything even remotely personal in the meetings. In short, it doesn’t feel like a safe place to share things that really matter, because there is no knowing whether or not what you say will be heard with any degree of respect, or if it will merely be shot down.

There are several things going on in my life that I really ought to share in the house meetings – and I’m guessing this may be true for my house mates, too – but I choose not to, because I feel too afraid of what the response may be.

Naturally, therapist or not, a person is a person, and no one can be expected to respond in the right way all the time, but – on the other hand – I suppose my view is that there are some things that any person, therapist or not, ought to be able to offer another person. Respect is one of them. A willingness to listen, to really hear the other person, is another.

So, these two things; that I might not really be the right type of person to live in a community, and feeling that the meetings have become pointless and infertile battleground, makes me wonder if, perhaps, it is time for me to move on. Again, something I should probably be discussing in the meetings, but feel unable to.

Thankfully individual therapy is going really well. Damn hard work at times, but there has been some progress. Like I’ve said many times: I don’t think it’s meant to be easy, I think it’s meant to be worth it. And I believe that I have now got to a point in my relationship with A. where I feel that I can begin to trust her. To let her in a little more than before, perhaps – provided I can find the courage within to do so.

The other week I made A. laugh, and, silly as it may seem, that really was the moment when I felt that Yup, this is the right person for me to work with. I only wish there wasn’t so much time between sessions. When the meetings are good, and I can get something from them, then twice-weekly sessions with A. is just about right, but since they aren’t – well, I do feel that I need something more.

I feel that I need to just talk and talk and talk. Or, rather, I need to be heard and heard and heard. And I need a safe place where that can happen. An emotional sanctuary, a library of sorts.

xx

Decision Time – An Entry About Trusting Your Instincts

Sometimes it takes time to reach a conclusion. I know this to be true. And yet, yet I find myself struggling with that. It’s not that I don’t have patience – I do – but it seems it’s a very specific type of patience I possess. I have near endless patience with children in particular and a reasonable amount of patience for people in general. What I don’t have is patience with myself. When it comes to me I want to know now. No waiting period, no trial and error. I want the results right away with no delay. Clear-cut and ready to serve.

Unfortunately that’s not the way the world works. Or maybe it’s more of a fortunate than an unfortunate? In some ways I think it’s probably a good thing to have a little frustration in your life. It gives you the drive to focus, to set goals – to strive for things.

I am now into my eighth week of therapy with my new therapist and I’m still very much struggling to come to a decision as to whether or not she really is the right person for me to be doing this very important work with.

Two weeks ago I finally plucked up the courage to actually tell B. (my new therapist) that I feel there is no connection between us, that there is something absolutely vital missing from our relationship, and that I’m not entirely sure whether or not we should continue working together. I held my breath, counted to three in my head and waited for her reaction. Only there was none. So I carried on, trying to quantify what it is I feel is missing, hoping that at some point she’d say something back to me. Which, eventually, she did. But only after I actually asked her what she thought of what I had just said. Only then did she spring into action, so to speak.

I think one of the things I find difficult with B. is the fact that she very much seems to be putting her therapist hat on (as opposed to just being herself, doing therapy for a living). It seems to me that she is often holding her own genuine reaction back in order to give me the ‘correct response’ to whatever I have just said. Now, B. is still in training and so I can understand the wish to do things The Right Way, that she may not yet have the experience to trust her instincts. Going by the book when you’re starting out is, of course, a lot safer and I’m sure that she will, eventually, find her own style – find a way to be more congruent and personal and genuine. But, the bottom line is that until she gets there I’m not sure that I want to be her guinea pig.

As I think I’ve mentioned before I went to see a few different therapists for initial assessments before being set up with B., and that I was turned down more than once, for various reasons. Having said that, regardless of their individual reason for turning me down (risk factor, not feeling able to offer what I need, being unable to find suitable timeslots on their schedules), they all seem to be saying this same thing – that I am a fairly challenging client and that what I need is long term therapy with a very experienced therapist.

So, here I am now, trying to decide whether or not it’s time to move on – yet at the same time worrying about what will happen if I do make that decision. Will I be able to find someone else who’s willing to take me on? What if I again feel that there is something lacking? Am I setting my hopes too high?

It’s not entirely a case of try and try again.
I mean, in many ways I suppose it is – but I am also very keen to not create a pattern of starting therapy with someone only to decide that that’s not quite right, either.

Even though I know that so far my pattern has actually been more in the opposite direction (sticking with something that isn’t quite right rather than face dealing with it) I am very aware that on paper it doesn’t take very many therapeutic Start-And-Stops to make it look like I’m not really committed to do the work, that I will inevitably always find a fault in order to repeat a pattern of moving on to the next bright thing.

Oh, I hear you all muttering that the solution here is pretty obvious, that sometimes you have to take a chance and that it is very possible that the next therapeutic experience won’t at all be a mere repetition of the one before, just like this one didn’t turn out to be a repetition of the one before. I know, I know.

I’m just a bit scared.
That’s all.

xx