Tag Archives: Pain

Therapy funk

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You only know you’re in a state of “therapy funk” when you begin to emerge from it. And to claw out of it, either you or your therapist has to see that something is not quite right. It’s hard to point to individual molecules but almost impossible to miss a thick cloud. To me, the funk builds up as an emerging pattern of acting out of “character”, focusing too much on something or completely omitting certain topics, for example, as a form of resistance.

This therapy fog has built up, molecule by molecule, since sitting with DS this year. I spend most of the session on Monday continuing a discussion on the therapy relationship and the complexity of what I feel for DS. He nestles in his white and wood recliner, as always, in a state of absolute buddha calm, taking notes and chipping in where necessary.

With a thoughtful look towards the end, he says: “I have noticed that we have spoken a lot about the therapeutic alliance or relationship here recently. I am left wondering how you are doing and what is happening in your life.”

It strikes me that he trusts the alliance enough to say this without fearing I might become defensive or hurt that he has changed the topic and put the spotlight on something I am doing or not doing. I tell him as much and he says this pattern has more to do with what WE are doing, not just me. I think of a dance, where each partner makes a move in response to the other. Why have we been dancing in this direction and what are we avoiding? My head clicks into high gear, trying to formulate reasons for why I might have consciously or unconsciously chosen not to speak much about what has happened for me, focusing instead on him and my dreams.

– Maybe, with life shaken up so much by the retrenchment, I have tested the solidity of the therapy relationship because it is one of the constant things in my life and I need it more in the present moment?

– Perhaps it’s because I’ve recently been debating whether to share two painful memories in the past which I believe are my fault and say something bad about me?

I bounce these possibilities off DS and I can see his head kicking into gear too. He proposes a theory which floors me. He says that perhaps I have watched In Treatment and read about therapy as a way to learn as much as possible, and therefore avoid bumping up against his boundaries. In other words, if I know enough I will be able to avoid the pain associated with these boundaries.

His observation seems to clear the air a little and my eyes well up.

Who enjoys feeling ashamed or being rejected by another? I don’t think anyone. But perhaps bumping up against others helps define the relationship more clearly, and who we are too? It just seems very difficult to say and do stuff which might make DS uncomfortable when I know better. I know what is “right and wrong”.

I do think there may be a lot at play here. I half-joked that maybe I haven’t spoken about my day to day stuff because things seem to be going well. He said that would make sense if that were the case.

But actually, things have not been plain-sailing and I have had to deal with some difficult situations and feelings lately. Maybe I have kept silent because I managed my way through some of them and don’t want to be dramatic in front of DS, be accused of inflating something out of proportion. Or maybe it’s the familiar feeling of thinking I need to deal with everything myself. After all, you have been in therapy for almost two years and shouldn’t you know how to run your life by now without needing help?!, the critical voice yells.

It may take a while to completely figure the funk out but the therapy space has lightened somewhat.

As Dr Steven Brownlow, a clinical psychologist in Texas, said on Twitter today: “Life is the best therapy. Leverage what happens in your clients’ lives to advance their growth.”

P.S. Less than a month after finding out about the retrenchment, and after rounds of interviews, I was offered a job a few days ago. I am dumbstruck by the blessing.

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What do I do now? (and why does DS feel so far away)

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For the last few months, my colleagues and I have been dealing with a highly uncertain situation in which our company was considering closing down. There were meetings in which very little was actually said. Most of us went on holiday in December without knowing for sure whether we would have some form of job security in the New Year. The most horrible part was the rumours. People in the industry seemed to know more about what was going to happen than we did. It was humiliating.

We eventually had a staff meeting on Thursday. A few of my colleagues and I tuned in via conference call after a stressful two hour delay. Our boss confirmed that our company was being liquidated and would shut its doors at the end of next month. It was like a punch to the gut. My belly twisted and turned as I heard the fear and anger in my colleagues’ questions.

The last few days have been weird. I have only cried for a few minutes. This is highly unusual as its usually the first thing that happens to ease internal pressure. I’ve felt lost, sad, angry, confused, tired, numb and sick. I’ve had blurry nightmares where I wake up without remembering what happened but feeling horrible and tired. Last night, my eyes shot open at 3.30am and I couldn’t fall asleep again. I usually sleep pretty well. My husband has been amazing and I don’t think it would have been possible to get out of bed if it weren’t for him.

The retrenchment has brought up all sorts of issues and questions. I am extremely sensitive to changes in my life and threats to security (You may say: well that’s life…full of surprises! While I realise that, I can’t change my fundamental sensitivity. I can only hope to work with it rather than against it). I don’t want to be a burden to my husband by relying on him if I can’t find a job. I loved my job and it was a big part of my identity and sense of accomplishment in life. How do I find a job that offers the same challenge and is also in line with my ideals and ethics? I guess I will have to find out.

The timing of the retrenchment coincides with confusing feelings about the therapeutic relationship. DS and I had a really weird session a week ago. I drew quite a few parallels between the transference and not feeling I was “good enough” for my dad. There were moments of insight and clarity as we chatted but the session was also painful. I can’t really remember the whole hour. It feels as though someone took an eraser and haphazardly worked on parts of my memory. What I can recall is sitting at the end of our session, feeling very out of sorts. Things felt fuzzy and I sunk into his couch, staring up at the ceiling. My whole body felt tingly and I floated about. I think I remember DS asking me a few times about what I was feeling in my body. It took a lot of effort to answer him. I just wanted to escape into the fuzziness. It felt so relaxing and inviting. Not sure what it was. And then I snapped back into my body when I realised I was running past our time. I am always very conscientious about keeping to time. I felt disorientated but told DS I was “fine” and got up. He said he would see me next week and I walked slowly out of there, putting my hand on the door frame to steady myself.

That bodily experience has never happened to me in therapy and I felt vulnerable and confused afterwards. I desperately hoped DS would e-mail or text to check in and see whether I was okay. He didn’t. That, and the fact that he let me walk out of his office in that state, makes me feel like he doesn’t really care. Like it’s just an illusion. I know therapists sometimes don’t make contact in these types of instances because they want the client to know they have faith in their self-soothing and coping capabilities. But I feel more alienated now. I don’t feel stronger.

As if that weren’t confusing enough, he said he would not be able to meet with me for our session next week because he is away. It was me who noted it was after the Valentines weekend. I immediately assumed that he must be in a relationship and going away with the one he loves. Not good for the transference feelings, especially abandonment, pining, anger and loss.

I guess it just feels like I have to do this alone because he won’t really be here for me during this very stressful time. Yes, he may meet with me an hour a week but whose to know if it really means anything.

Everything must eventually pass and on some level, I know this will be an opportunity for growth. It just feels so overwhelming.

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Ending each therapy session

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I had an interesting experience in therapy with DS (Deep Soul) on Monday. Our time was drawing to a close and I had discussed for the first time how anxious I feel around other people and how fearful I am of the anxiety’s effect on my relationships. As usual, he asked how I was feeling as we were wrapping up.

Most often, there’s just a deep sadness that time has gone by so quickly and that I will have to wait another week to feel his presence. I feel ashamed for feeling sad when he has been so kind. It’s like I am ungrateful and greedy. As a result, I find myself withdrawing the closer it comes to saying goodbye. It’s not entirely of my will. I just feel myself distancing, becoming really formal and speaking monotonously and without affect. This is most likely something I use to protect myself from feeling the pain at departing. DS raised his observations about my departures a while back and I have been trying to remain more present as a result.

So when he asked how I was feeling last time, I opened up about my sadness and tried to remain with him emotionally in the room. It was hard fighting against habit. I told him it was difficult. As I type this now, I think the difficulty is that I have to feel whatever is real for me in that moment instead of being numb. Feeling touched that he was being empathetic as we sat there, I said:

“It’s difficult but I am willing to do this [try be more present] for those I care about.”

Scared at the silence and that he might interpret the words as me coming on too strong, I added: “like you, my husband and perhaps a few of my closest friends”.

My intention with those words was to show him that I appreciate him sticking around and that I am ready to do the work I need to in order to strengthen my emotional regulation and intimacy skills.

Instead, he said it felt like I needed to reassure him or give up my own feelings and needs to maintain the relationship. I said he was reading too much into it. Oh boy, did I feel a need to distance myself from the rising rejection in my body then! “It feels like I am rejecting you?” he enquired gently. I said it sure did but that I understood what he was trying to say. He added that there was obviously a lot going on with me trying to stay present and he was curious to know what that experience was like for me. He didn’t want me to cut off certain feelings or leave things unsaid.

“I understand,” I said in a soft, somewhat monotous voice. “You’re trying to look out for my needs as a client.”

“As a person,” he replied.

——–

** “Friendship” by Pablo Picasso. 1908.

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Life support

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My therapist DS (Deep Soul) did not buy into the idea of accepting handwritten notes about my weekly thoughts, feelings and experiences. When we met last night, he was curious to know why I had wanted to give him stuff to hold onto between sessions. He guessed it might have been a way for me to sustain our connection, something I’ve really been struggling with lately. I said that was definitely part of it and told him my other reasons.

As he was asking questions, I sensed he was not keen about the idea and immediately felt like I had to defend my intentions. I should not have expected him to share in my excitement. Silly me. My heart started racing, I had a lump in my throat and I sat on the edge of my seat. I doubted myself and felt ashamed for even asking. He said I was welcome to write notes but that I would need to choose the most important ones and bring them into my session, not leave them with him.

He said it seemed as though I was finding it difficult to deal with these boundaries. It also seemed like I was not finding the support that I needed from therapy.

I nodded my head.

The last few months have been an extremely difficult time for me emotionally. My weeks have been punctuated with bouts of sadness, despair and lethargy. I wasn’t sure whether these feelings were more frequent or whether I was simply more aware of my underlying emotional state because of the therapeutic work we had been doing. Not having a clear cause or reason to feel this way left me in a state of flat denial.

You want me to work on my work?

But during the session, I realised I may be feeling this way because of what I have experienced at work. I’d prefer not to disclose what I do for a living but I can share that many of my days are filled with tales of death, violence and loss. Believing I was coping through professional detachment, I never raised my experiences with DS because I didn’t want it to hijack our work in areas I felt were important.

However, last night was different and I told DS about two of the notes I had written about these on-the-job experiences. The floodgates opened and I realised how much I had kept inside. DS asked what methods I was using to cope and I knew he was going to ask whether I was relying on my husband for support.

“I tell him what’s going on and yes, I do tell him how it makes me feel. But I usually summarise everything because I don’t want to be a burden to him,” I told DS. “I am painfully aware that the first 13 years of his life were spent dealing with a very sick and increasingly unavailable mom. I am scared my feelings will overwhelm him. I don’t want to trigger him.”

DS scribbled furiously and gave barely perceptible all-knowing head nods.

“And I know this is probably just all in my head. But it feels real to me, that my fears are real.”

Lean on me but be careful with that shaky boundary fence…

It was starting to make sense. Going through these experiences at work without adequate support had left me feeling quite unsafe and unsettled. It explained why I had been needing DS more and more recently and why I had a nagging need to be hugged or curl up into a ball. He was the only one I felt safe enough with to PRACTICE reaching out to, something I habitually avoid because I feel I need to be strong.

And so, the last three months have been filled with:

– An intense need for him to reassure me that he will be there therapeutically
– An unending yearning for him to tell me I am okay, no matter what I bring to the session
– Dreams of him abandoning me in some way or another
– A desire for him to be okay with me contacting him via email or phone if I really needed it.

And while he has listened to these needs, he has never encouraged or fulfilled them in any way. This has left me deeply bereft and increasingly isolated because I am worrying about the therapy relationship in addition to the job trauma and not feeling able and safe enough to turn to others for full support.

It’s not you, it’s me…

The weight of this now unburied hopelessness, grief and fear hit me at the end of the session. I tried to pull myself together and grab my bag and book off the couch before standing up. It was impossible. I couldn’t see much through the tears and I was ZAPPED of all energy. I must have tried this three or four times. DS could see I was a mess and sat down again.

He then asked me a series of questions about whether I had been keeping up my various commitments the last few months, if I had been struggling to sleep, whether I wanted to sleep more or less and how my appetite had been. I answered as best as I could through the sobs and basically said life was “running” thanks to an ingrained sense of responsibility (and not because of meaning, drive and passion). I appreciate that he took 10 non-paid minutes to check in with me.

It’s hard not to just give up and throw the towel in. But I’ll continue to try, battling my inadequacies, demons and critical thoughts the next few days as I always do… by myself.

 

 

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Therapy clients often feel sheepish

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My therapist DS (Deep Soul) definitely cares about me. I have come to this realisation after blogging about our last session and how devastated I was that he had kept me at a distance. It was one of those moments when things are so emotional that you are blind to your own issues and first need to vent before being able to think straight.

To the bloggers who are either in therapy, therapists or just emotionally intelligent: Your insightful and objective comments as outsiders gave me a lot to think about. Thank you for being there, not judging and also giving me the space to come to what now seems obvious.

My more rational and gathered thoughts about Monday’s session are as follows:

– I went into the session with two opposing expectations. On the one hand, I expected him to be there for me and comfort me, when my dad had not. On the other, I was expecting him to be exactly like my dad and disappoint me.

– I think DS kept a clinical distance with his neutral tone of voice and unaffected demeanor because he did not want to enter a dynamic playing out in the moment.

– He was being a good therapist by giving me the space to fully feel the overwhelming fear, panic, sadness and anger that seemed to emerge out of nowhere. He was allowing these feelings to discharge their energy.

– Not rushing to alleviate my abandonment fears allowed him to observe me and listen to what I had to say, in order to get a better understanding of why I was feeling this way.

– As far as I understand, he was basically allowing the negative transference to strengthen. He then timed his interventions to make me aware of the similarities between how I was feeling about him and how I had felt with my mom and dad, two major attachment figures.

– He did not rush in to offer comfort because that is not his job. By standing back, he was trying to allow me to sit with the discomfort and build the capacity to do that by myself in future.

– When he did not answer my question about whether he had thought of me during our break, he might have been extra icy and seemingly detached to tease out the anger and rage that I’ve been too scared to unleash.

– He put the transference needs above the needs of our therapeutic relationship. While research shows the relationship as being the most reliable marker of therapy success, I think he took the risk because he knew it would pay off.

– The risk was that I might think he was such an absolute asshole that our relationship would be irrevocably damaged and I would cancel all sessions. (But I think that would more likely have happened with an avoidantly attached client and not an anxiously attached one)

– I don’t think it was easy for him to see me in such pain and to indirectly cause me more pain in the moment by not responding as I had wanted.

Sheep have feelings too…

I am satisfied with these findings and they resonate on a cognitive level. They are starting to sink in on an emotional level. If he had responded as a friend or family member, we would have lost a good opportunity to advance my therapeutic goals. Could I go so far to say that he was giving me tough love? (And I hate to use the L word here because I cannot even comprehend that would be his feelings for a mere client)

Yes, I am only human and I am still feeling very raw. And it does hurt to expose a wounded heart. There is also an emotional pain volcano inside my torso that I have to deal with. After erupting on Monday, it’s now at the point where it’s bubbling and simmering slowly.

DS said that even though he was going away this weekend and would be taking Monday and Tuesday off, he would let me know if an evening session opened up on Wednesday. Failing that, I would see him in two weeks time.

While I was wiping my snot and streaked mascara from my face, he also said he thinks I am being too hard on myself by expecting progress all the time. When I think of how he dealt with me, it actually just strengthens the warm feelings I have for him as a therapist. Which creates a dilemma in the sense that my attachment to him has now only strengthened. It’s going to be a bitch to eventually say goodbye.

 

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The spoken pain of therapy

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I felt so disconnected from DS (my therapist Deep Soul) tonight and I’m in shock at what happened in our session.

This was the first time I had seen him in two weeks. Two weeks felt like two months with everything that’s happened. I told him how much I had missed him and how disappointed and abandoned I had felt by both my dad and him. Because he had been off twice on sick leave, I had also worried so much about his health and whether he was okay. As I sat there, there was a visceral feeling of panic and I shared that there was a part of me that was just waiting for him to announce that he was leaving me, whether by choice, sickness or something else. I was shaking and felt really alone in that room while he watched me trying to pull myself together. Eventually, I managed to stop shaking after I did a few breathing exercises and visualisation (which I initiated, not him). Nothing was spared in sharing my feelings with him as I know by now they can be vehicles for growth. I said my husband and the blogging community were a help during the time we had been apart. He acknowledged that it must have been difficult for me to feel both worry and abandonment and then he kept quiet.

The hills are alive with the sound of crickets…

For some reason, I just wasn’t feeling his attentiveness and care. He was reflecting back what I had said but there was an emptiness to it. It felt like this was his job. I was not a real person before him with real concerns. It was unsettling.

Thinking that we might get back on track again. I shared with him how I had recently discovered the concept of the inner child through blogging. I asked if it was okay to read the eye-opening conversation I had with this inner child by calling up my blog on my iPad. He said it was okay and I managed to read everything (after a lot of stopping, choking up and being asked what I was feeling).

Then he kept quiet. I asked what DS thought about the whole thing. He asked for clarity and I said I wanted to know what he made of the concept of the inner child. He seemed a bit confused and was frowning. My body language gear was in overdrive so his gestures felt really pronounced. My brain was telling me that he didn’t get it or he thought it was silly. He didn’t understand me. I battled through an explanation of my understanding of the inner child and what I felt it meant.

I told him I was struggling to feel connected to him like I had at our last session. The therapeutic connection had felt strong and trustworthy. Now it felt like I had imagined it. “I guess I am putting a lot of pressure on myself to feel that way about you now”. He didn’t say much at all. “When you don’t share your thoughts, I have to work out what’s going on in your mind. Your silence is provoking my anxiety, DS.” He nodded.

It just feels like you are not here for me when I need you now. This is how I have felt recently. It’s been so hard trying to deal with my feelings and emotions without you these last two weeks. I was doing my best to be my own therapist and it’s just so ironic that I finally have you in front of me and it feels like you are not here. It feels like I still have to battle it on my own.” Things were starting to feel like the time I had entered therapy last year… at that stage, I was wrapped up in a tightly-bound cocoon, a cage made up of strings I had cast to protect myself. This cocoon was built up because I had been cast out. Nobody had understood me. I felt like an alien, a weirdo, a reject.

When in doubt, pout, scream or shout…

“In my head, I have been thinking about what this time apart has meant for you. Have you thought about me at all? Did you think at any stage about what I was getting up to or how I was dealing with things coming my way? Or did it never even cross your mind?” Silence. “It scares me to think that I didn’t exist in your mental world even once. How can I sustain our therapeutic connection between sessions when I can so easily be replaced by other clients? It petrifies me to think you don’t care. Especially because you are going away next week and I will not have another session again for two weeks.”

When I was finished, DS said a few things slowly with an objective tone in his voice. I can’t remember it all but he was trying to connect the abandonment I had felt with my dad, with how I was feeling about him now. This was NOT the right time to bring that up. Doing so completely invalidated my feelings by reducing it to transference. I felt like he had minimised my concerns about the therapeutic relationship, and in so doing, had also minimised how he was contributing to what was happening.

He was not getting that this conversation was SPECIFICALLY about needing him to be a good therapeutic person I could trust and knew had some inkling of care for me. I needed him to show me what it was like to be comfortable with emotions in a way that still respected boundaries. This was the only way I would be able to heal through therapy.

“I’m disappointed that you are using your therapeutic voice on me. This is not the time for that. I feel like you are hiding behind it. I can’t detect any emotion or care in your voice. I need to feel that you actually give a crap” (Okay, I wish I had thought of the last line at the time but was a bit too overwhelmed by my emotions).

All he said was: “I understand this one-sided therapy relationship must be painful for you.”

Replace any witty heading here with: what the actual FUCK…

Well, what a way to make me feel safe and secure. Not. That line only served to fuel my paranoid thoughts that he really doesn’t seem to care. I had opened my heart to truly express just how much pain I was in and that this was THE time, if any, to be authentic and show up too.

“Okay, so I’m hearing that you don’t really care? I’m disappointed. To be honest, I’m actually really hurt.” At that point, I gave up the brave front I had been putting on to try get somewhere and broke down into a heaving pile of a mess on his couch. With every bawl it felt like a piece of my heart was clunking onto the floor.

To add to it all, I was completely ashamed to be so emotional in front of him without a safety net of trust and concern. I hid my face and probably would have felt more at home in a dung beetle’s hole.

After what seemed like an eternity, he again reflected stuff in his objective voice because our time was up. I honestly couldn’t stomach any of it given that this was precisely what I felt I didn’t need in that moment.

With that we said our goodbyes for the evening and I exited his office with more sniffs and tears. I don’t know what the hell happened tonight but I feel numb. It’s so hard for me to find self-compassion at a time when this man who has become an attachment figure is not attuned. My inner child has also gone into hiding.

I just feel so much pain now.

EDIT: In hindsight I can see that he is offering me a form of care but it doesn’t make the pain feel less and I still completely confused!

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