Tag Archives: psychology

Back to therapy I go

image

(Trigger warning- reference to themes of violence and sexual assault. Please take care)

I did not think I would see another therapist after DS (Deep Soul). Before he closed his practice, I even shared these sentiments with him. While the process was beneficial, and led to change in many areas, I guess I was not in the right head and heart space to do it again. The ending was painful and a tiny bit traumatic because I felt I hadn’t resolved everything I had wanted to.

Life had other plans and I found myself in the market for a therapist. My job ended up being the gateway. The past six months saw me handling an intense and increased workload of women and children who had fallen victim to some of the worst possible acts mankind could think of. I was dealing with intimate details of how vulnerable individuals were preyed upon, beaten, raped in various ways, maimed and killed. In some instances, I had to see photos of their bodies. In one instance, watch a graphic video of a teen girl. All around me were grieving relatives and perpetrators, some who had initially been regarded as protectors. Chaos once again surfaced in my inner world. It was becoming even harder to find the energy to get out of bed every day. At times, I felt numb inside. Other times floating anxiety covered me like a heavy, damp blanket. Hypervigilance. Racing thoughts. All the time, questions. “How must have they felt?” “What is wrong with this world?” “How would I feel if that happened to me? “What if that happens to me or someone I love?”. Progressing to “What will I do WHEN this happens to me or my loved ones?” When my husband said goodbye every morning, I would take note of what he was wearing so I could give police as much detail as possible to help them identify his body at a crime or accident scene. I was looking over my shoulder the whole time. I felt adrift.

Whatever safety I felt in my relationships and environment seemed to diminish in the face of an unseen, scary enemy. Different days brought up a mix of emotions. Most often, it was deep sadness, fear and a sense of loss. A supervisor at work suggested I contact our employee assistance programme to speak to someone. A kind woman set me up with a private psychologist not far from our new home, work and where DS used to practice. I will call him HH (Heart Healer).

I think it is inevitable that you will end up comparing therapists. It also becomes clear that each one offers something different. HH didn’t have a website I could browse through to learn more about his experience and approach. I was going in blind. As I parked my car outside his practice, I noticed that both therapy settings were cottage-like and had wrought iron fencing with a little garden. I punched in a code and the wooden door swung open. I was greeted by a long, narrow corridor with numerous doors. The wooden floor squeaked as I walked along the runner carpet. At the end was a waiting room. Light piano music filled the space. The comforting aroma of coffee wafted from a machine on the counter. A bookshelf offered family magazines and psychology journals. I grabbed a journal and sat on a squishy couch, feeling nervous and curious to see how this would pan out. When I used to wait for DS, I hardly ever bumped into other people visiting their therapists. Here however, new arrivals filed in every few minutes until eventually, I felt like I was in an airport departures lounge. It made me uneasy. Everyone kept to themselves. The clock struck 11am and therapists streamed in to pick up their clients until it was just me and another woman left. I counted the minutes anxiously. Was he still busy with another client? Was it really a good idea to see someone new? Five minutes later, an older man with silver hair poked his head around the corner and said his name to us. I replied with mine and followed him back down the corridor to a door on the right. His office was completely different to DS’s. Gone was the stylish but comfortable fittings with cool tones, the bookshelf with all his textbooks and the puffy couch which could comfortably sit three. Instead, HH’s space had sunny walls with generic pastel paintings you might find in a chain hotel. Half of the space was taken up by toys and items for play therapy. He walked past the room divider and offered me the double seater or a chair. I sat in the squeaky wicker double seater. It was surprisingly comfy. To the left was a big window I could look out of. Above the flowering bougainvillea, I noticed curtains rustling at the neighbour’s window. HH bumbled about, apologising for not being able to give me a declaration form because his printer was giving trouble. He sat down in front of me and we both had a chance to assess each other. He was older than DS. He used a pen and paper, not a tablet. He was both serious and awkward. But I remembered the kindness in his voice message, while we were still setting up an appointment, and figured he was a man of many layers.

We spoke about what had brought me to his office. I was surprised by how quickly I started choking up and crying. Had I really been bottling things up? I tried to be patient with myself and breathed in between so I could explain everything. “Where were his darn tissues?” I thought as I looked around. He came over and fished a box out from under a table. I explained that while every person had their ups and downs, it felt as though I had lost optimism and excitement about the future. I told him about DS and made it clear that I knew therapists were not magicians. I was realistic about having to put in the work and not having answers fall out the sky.

At first, I sensed he was bored because he crossed his arms and seemed disinterested in making eye contact. It made me wary. When he said those symptoms would fit under depression, I felt it was too quick to be diagnosing before understanding me as a person. I didn’t think I was depressed. Slowly I sensed a shift through the session and felt he had at least a basic understanding and interest in working with me to figure out what was going on. He recommended that the next session be used to get a background on my life and formative influences, my relationships with loved ones and what was happening in my life on a daily basis.

As we got up, he squeezed himself between the door and room divider so I could walk past. He seemed nervous. I walked out, hoping I would be able to move forward in the same way I was putting one foot in front of the other.

Tagged , , , , , ,

My year without therapy

image

This weekend marked a year since my therapist DS (Deep Soul) and I parted ways. These 365 days offered a chance for reflection, regression and growth. Many a client before me, and many still to come, will be confronted with this situation. Each will react differently. I cannot claim my path was special. It is also not over. I chronicle the journey because of an instinctual need to record and preserve. My wish is that you not be triggered, but rather find comfort and hope. Alternatively, I hope you can learn something. It’s pretty long so grab a cuppa before settling in…

The beginning:

It took a while to grieve his departure for another country, and the loss of our weekly sessions. Old abandonment fears sparked up in a twisted knot of rage, loneliness and despair. “Why was he leaving when he had previously acted as though there was no basis for my fears of being abandoned?” “How could my greatest support system at the time also be the cause of my greatest emotional pain?” “What did this say about my worth and closest relationships?” My husband offered much-needed support. But the despair felt strongest when we were fighting and I didn’t have another safety net. On the days I was more emotionally centered, I felt happy for DS and all the opportunities that awaited him. Hope nestled like a tiny, scruffy Phoenix in a pile of ashes in my chest. I was wary…waiting…wondering how the days, weeks and months ahead would look. As always, vivid dreams offered a colorful, if somewhat cryptic, reflection of my internal landscape. DS featured every now and then. It became a source of amusement as to what form he would take. I found that though he was physically gone, our relationship and tete-a-tete continued and actually developed in my dreams. Obviously, I refer specifically to the part of DS I had incorporated into my own personality. Most would argue that the symbols and people in our dreams reflect different aspects of ourselves. In a dream a few months after he left, I had a Karate Kid moment that left me feeling more supported:

I went to visit the doctor. I entered the office and the doctor looked more like a monk. He had glasses, a beard and kind eyes. I noticed the sign on his door said ‘THERAPIST’. I was confused. We started chatting and he asked how I was. The conversation was stiff at first and I said I was doing well. He stared at me and I felt my defenses breaking down. I laughed and said: “Well, that is what I am supposed to say”. He smiled, nodded slowly, but kept quiet. His presence was zen-like. I started opening up to him. There were suddenly other people in the office and it felt like a playroom for adults. The session became group therapy.

The middle:

Having initially entered therapy because of marital strife a few years ago, I found that my husband and I were progressively making leaps and bounds in our relationship. There was a renewed sense of playfulness, enjoyment in each other and increased ability to share our perceptions and feelings. I was overjoyed. Feeling more secure than I had ever felt in any relationship, I found myself blossoming. I took what I had learnt about intimacy and trust from DS into my marriage and friendships. Never before had I felt more loved and appreciated for who I was. If ever there was a time for an upbeat soundtrack and rolling credits, this was it. But occasionally, I felt fear rising to the surface as I lay in bed at night. “How could this joy last?” I would cling to my husband and pray that he not be taken from me suddenly, through a car accident, illness or some other drama. I had rediscovered what was important to me. And with that brought a feeling of how fragile life was and quickly it could be taken away. This nightly toiling was somewhat of a premonition. A few months down the line, my husband and I were caught up in a drama concocted by a very sick and sad person, that thrust open past fault lines in our relationship.

While it is still very difficult to talk about, and actually makes me feel out of breath and sick to the stomach, I will give an overview of what took place. A woman I had never met before phoned my husband at his office one day. She claimed she was phoning on behalf of her friend, who apparently felt very uncomfortable with an alleged chat her husband and I had on Whatsapp. The husband was a colleague of mine who I had worked with a few times before but did not really know that well. I sometimes liked his work-related photos and once or twice swapped information for assignments. He worked in a different building. The anonymous caller refused to identify herself and asked that my husband not tell me about the phone call. This raised my suspicions. Understandably, he was very distressed when he phoned and relayed to me what she had said. I tried to comfort him and assured that no such thing happened. I wanted him to know he had my absolute loyalty. Confused and shocked, I felt like the world was swirling around me. It felt as though our secure base and growth were being snatched away. There is truly nothing more devastating than being accused of something terrible when you are innocent. I sunk into a familiar pit of emotional despair. I didn’t know what to do or who to turn to. Those moments made me long for DS and his reassuring presence. He knew me. He would believe me.

Through this, I wondered why someone would blatantly lie. Why would they want to tear us apart? What person would willingly cause such chaos? My first step was to email the colleague in question, CC my husband, and tell him about the distressing phone call. I wanted him to clearly state to my husband that we were just colleagues. To be honest, I didn’t even know anything about his personal circumstances to try hatch up theories about who might be behind this. He assured that he and his wife were very much together and in love still, and that someone had been harassing him for a while. He apologised that this person had dragged us into the mess . He asked for the number this woman had phoned from.

Using all my investigative skills, I eventually uncovered what I believed to be the truth. I linked the mobile number to a woman through a Google search and cross-referencing. This woman, who turned out to be a freelancer for our mother company, had friended me on Facebook a few weeks earlier. Seeing her work details, I figured we had had obviously met before or had seen each other in a professional setting. I accepted and thought no more of it. She then was able to see my husband, where he worked and his department. It would not take much to phone his company and ask to be out through to his landline. While I don’t know for sure, I guess she must have had feelings for my colleague. She may have seen that I asked about his work trip to Dubai. I found that she used to like every post of his. This stopped just before the phone call and I guess he may have spurned her attempts to be closer or have a relationship. They unfriended each other and I later found she unfriended me before all this unfolded. Why she chose us as a target of her fury I will never know. After speaking to colleagues who knew her, I established she was not mentally well and prone to strange behaviour. Her actions angered me but I had better insight and understanding. I blocked her on all social media channels and increased my privacy settings. I then shared these findings with my husband, hoping he would feel more at ease. The attack had brought up old issues. Every day was an ongoing struggle over trust. A budding self-confidence regressed to insecurity. Fear, and not faith, was my foundation. Pretty shaky. Around this time, I had a jarring dream:

I drove to a house and it belonged to an distant school friend. Photos lined her walls. A baby was in some of them and I found out it had died. The house was quite dark and gloomy. I went outside and her husband drove in. He was absolutely devastated, hunching over and crying as he got out the car. Their house was suddenly replaced by a warehouse. I walked over to him because I realised I was there as a therapist. Putting my arm around his shoulder, I held him up and slowly led him to the warehouse. DS stopped in the parking lot and got out. He saw me supporting this guy. I was pleased because I hoped he would see me more as an equal and fellow professional. It felt like he was there to give me a therapy session. We all walked inside and my office was two sets of chairs and a table with a book labelled ‘counsellling psychologist’. The set-up was in the middle of the big warehouse and DS felt close but out of sight. Her husband confided in me that he wanted to commit suicide. It felt very urgent and I tried to comfort, placate and reason with him but he got increasingly violent. He jumped up from his chair and stormed toward me. DS appeared, whipped out a gun and shot him to protect me. The man collapsed to the floor. I was shocked and woke up highly unsettled.

The end and beginning:

As the dust settled, it was possible to reflect on where I stood and what therapy had cracked open. I had been here before. There was only so much I could say and do. Others were responsible for their actions and reactions. Trying to convince someone and, in a sense control the outcome, was futile. Relationships, life and people were messy, unpredictable and not always fair. As an idealist, I saw the potential of “what could be” instead of what was staring at me. Relentlessly pursuing the unattainable had caused me a lot of unnecessary grief. While there was some merit in believing in others, nobody could live up to these expectations, least of all me. I could not hope to heal old wounds by transforming a so-called bad object into a good object. Martha Stark described this phenomenon clearly and sensitively in her book, Psychotherapeutic Moments: Putting the Words to Music (available from freepsychotherapybooks.org). She explained how relentless hope was a defence to which people clung to in order to avoid grieving and feeling the pain of disappointment in the ‘object’. For me, this was the pain of parents who were not always responsive or available to the infant me. Fairbairn said: “A bad object is infinitely better than no object at all.” Cue a repetitive compulsion and a cycle of disappointing and infuriating intense attachments. If I think about it, I had transferred early and unresolved attachment onto DS. I so desperately clung to the hope that he would return to the country or somehow complete the incomplete. All of this sounds rather intellectual. But it sunk in on an emotional level as I read Stark’s book on a bus. Tears freely rolled down my cheeks with every bump in the road and every paragraph I read. I allowed myself to start feeling the “unbearable” pain buried deep inside. A therapist’s role here was to alternatively challenge and support. Without DS, but with some of his internalised good, I try to do the same. This is a long journey, maybe a lifelong one to make peace with reality. Or, as Stark says, “transformation of the need to hold on into the capacity to let go”. I dreamt this on the anniversary of his departure:

I drove to DS for therapy. It was in a different house and there were quite s few cars parked in the front yard. It took some maneuvering to find a spot. Once parked, I sat still for a bit. Excitement rose at seeing him again. In my rear view mirror, I saw a family leaving his office and wondered what their situation was. It struck me that I hadn’t been in therapy for a year. Maybe it was not necessary for me to go back.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

The spoken pain of therapy

image

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!

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Peeking through the cracks

image

I did something this week that I haven’t done in over twenty years. It was both intimate and disturbing.

I was nestled on a comfy spot at my regular coffee shop while the rain belted down outside. With the gentle hubbub of voices and steam drifting off a mug of green tea, I felt brave and strong enough. I decided to have a conversation with my inner child (which I’ve included below).

Why does that seem like a big deal? Well, I didn’t exactly know she existed. I realised I had deep pain and wounds from my childhood but I hadn’t really embodied it as part of an inner child. Instead, I had just assumed that this was who I was… cracked and disfigured like an old mug that had been sloppily glued back together to hide the imperfections.

Glumpty-Dumpty had a big fall…

My view changed this month. In the last session with DS (my therapist Deep Soul), I acknowledged to him that I was made up of false selves. I wept because I had read about the concept of the authentic self and didn’t know what was real for me and what I’d put on for the sake of others. I really wanted to know who I was before I had to hide.

Since I started seeing him a year ago, DS has been able to extract bits and pieces of “real” me. He has had conversations with the wounded parts and enabled me to grieve. This is part of why I deeply appreciate his presence in my life. Anyway, I left the session with a mission and feeling connected to DS. Then it came about that we wouldn’t be meeting for two weeks. This was bearable until my dad couldn’t make a planned lunch on Father’s Day. The mixture unleashed devastating disappointment, abandonment issues and sadness.

A blogger (SpaceFreedomLove) kindly suggested in a comment that I nurture my wounded child in this time and listen to what she needs to feel better. I think she called it re-parenting! I really had to grapple with this concept. Firstly, it felt unnatural to think about my own needs without thinking of others’. I either felt guilty or like I would be punished for being so selfish. That’s some messed up thinking but I accept that it’s a conditioned part of me that I can work on. Secondly, there was a constant battle with the critical inner voice that had the ability to annihilate self-compassion and nurturing.

This voice said it was “stupid and New-Age” to speak to something which I was making up and which didn’t have a physical presence. But my curiosity and aching need to resolve the pain drowned out the voice. I took a lot of deep breaths and gently looked inwards to ask this child what it was feeling and needing in the moment.

Mini-Jay is in the house…

I wrote down the questions and waited for the answers. Here is the conversation that followed:

– Are you there?

Yes

– What do you need?

Accept me. Enjoy me. Give me the chance to breath. Don’t fight me. Protect me. Shield me from pain and hurt.

– I sense a lot of sadness inside?

Why are you only acknowledging me now? After all these years of shaming, pushing my needs down and ignoring me. How would you feel if someone locked you up for more than 20 years and chose not to look at you?

I’ve sat here in the dark, crying out for help. When my cries went unanswered, I sobbed and screamed. Still, no one came. So I stopped. I retreated to one corner of this cage and crumpled. Every now and then I would stand back up and try to call out again for food, nourishment, company, acknowledgement. Anything. That was not good enough. You came inside and kicked me back into the corner. Imagine how that feels. Sadness does not describe it. I am not sure I exist. I am talking to you but I don’t know if I am real. I need time to process this.

——-

I was taken aback by how devastated I was inside. Disbelief and shock vibrated through every cell. Instead of retreating from these feelings, I tried to ride through the discomfort. What followed was bliss. The scary wave dissipated and was replaced with calm. Just acknowledging and listening to this inner truth has shifted something.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

A letter to my therapist from the top of disappointment mountain.

image

I was disappointed that you couldn’t make our regular session tonight. And then my heart dropped when you said you couldn’t see me tomorrow morning instead, especially because I was so excited to have some time off from work, which never happens. I had felt quite enterprising to come up with that solution. I needed to see you because of what I was feeling on Father’s Day.

I’ve reached the point in disappointment mountain…

My aunt and I had planned this whole lunch in honour of my dad, my grandad and her boyfriend, who is a dad. The day before the lunch, my dad’s wife (my step-mom) got awful news that her elderly dad had finally passed away. My dad apologised and said he would not be able to make lunch because he had to be there for her. I was trying to deal with the mixed feelings of not seeing my dad and also feeling my step-mom’s pain at losing her father. I completely understood that my dad needed to be there for her and I said as much to him. I guess I felt though that this was not the first time he had been there for other people and not me. Obviously, it was not just about my dad not making this one thing. It brought up a lot of times in the past when he had not shown up when he needed to. When I was left disappointed by his actions. The times I felt achingly alone and like he didn’t care that he was leaving me in that state. I realise I am sitting on a mountain of disappointment that’s collected over the years and I don’t quite know how to get off it. This mountain is high and its magnitude is dizzying. Disappointment sits thick in the base of my throat and stomach. It threatens to choke and engulf me from the inside. I remain vigilant, waiting for other people to do the same. I even half expected you not to answer my e-mail before tomorrow, but you did.

Where’s the pause button in my brain?…

It was when I was sitting with these emotions, trying my best to deal with them, that I got your message. I was happy that you had taken the time to respond to me. But then I found out that you wouldn’t be able to meet me at an alternative time because you were sick. So much ran through my mind and I tried to slow it down. I tried to think about things logically. But I couldn’t deny what I was feeling. The disappointment was rising through my torso, slowly. My body felt tight, clenching. Scared to relax in case I drowned. My chest also felt tight. Was that my heart closing off? No.

It felt like a scratch on an open wound I guess. And you didn’t cause the wound. It felt like a scratch because I had expected so much from you. I shouldn’t have done that. I should have just waited for your response before imagining our session and the relief at being able to let go of what I was feeling. The relief of being in your consistent, accepting and calming presence. There is no relief now.

Let’s all just acknowledge that sick has ick in it…

Within this maelstrom is sickening worry. This is the second time you have taken sick leave in a few weeks. I am so concerned for you. Are you sick with a heavy cold because of the weather and long working hours? Did you come down with flu because you are burnt out from us and your body needs rest? Or is it something far more serious?

I try to take a deep breath and think of the safe place in my head I shared with you recently. In the field you stand in your sturdy green tweed jacket among the verdant winter bushes. The misty mountains act as a backdrop and a light drizzle leaves a film of crystals on your clothes. You smile gently and I pray this reassurance washes away the disappointment.

I can’t afford to lose another person who means so much. You are like family to me. Please don’t leave me.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Underground dreams are deep

image

Have you also dreamed about tunnels or exploring caves or crevices beneath the earth? What makes these dreams so fascinating is that, unless a miner, hermit or hobbit (!), humans spend all their time in the light and on the surface. Underground represents something quite mystical or foreign. A place of darkness, cold and fear. A home for hard minerals, dust and things that hide.

“I don’t dig that”…

This is a good analogy for how most people seemingly experience life. They take whatever comes at surface-value and desperately seek to stay in the light, where it is warm, safe and familiar. Many seem unwilling or uninterested in digging deeper. To dig deeper would mean having to confront pieces of themselves that they fear they, or others, would not be able to handle.

Typically, dreams of tunnels and being underground represent the exploration of the unconscious… the soup bubbling just beneath the surface. We are being told that something is afoot. All is not as it seems.

With that, I’ve chosen to share my second dream involving a tunnel. What follows after that is the subsequent insight gleaned by chatting to my therapist DS (Deep Soul).

I find myself in a garden. I realise I am at my last family home I stayed in before becoming independent. I am struck with a feeling that I have to leave the house as soon as I can. There are two holes at the bottom of my garden that lead underground. I enter the first hole and crawl through to my neighbour’s garden. I can’t get any further because there is a big locked gate in front of me, so I turn back to the other hole.

My name is Alice…

Here, I climb in head-first and crawl through on my belly. I find a subterranean tunnel which looks much like a mole’s home. Ahead of me, an open hole in the earth wall filters gentle, late afternoon sun through. The tunnel is dry and not too cold. As I crawl along the ground, I see little niches on the floor and in the walls. At the first shadowy niche on my left, a tortoise pops its head out. I say hello and crawl past. With my feet near its head, I take one last glance back and am surprised to see the “tortoise neck” is actually a big snake rearing its head. It is like a cobra waiting to strike but it doesn’t bite me. I am not scared to death but I am a bit freaked out. I quicken my pace.

Another hole beneath my belly has a yellow stringy, spongy insect or starfish hiding there. I am scared and fill up the hole with my teddy bear before crawling over it.

I come to the place in the tunnel where the sun is gently filtering in and casting a circle of light on the floor. Bathed in light are an assortment of blue china plates, bowls and tea cups. They are arranged in a haphazard fashion, almost like they have been left as an offering to some higher power. Some are filled with dry food, like flour. “It’s amazing that insects haven’t touched this stuff,” I think to myself. I wake up without knowing whether I get out of the tunnel or not.

(If you didn’t get a chance to read my about my first tunnel dream, here it is, along with some dream symbolism to help with your own dream interpretation: http://bit.ly/1n8OsE9).

Therapy is like archeology…

I shared both tunnel dreams with DS a few weeks ago. I told him that I was almost positive they were indicative of transformation.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t see a light at the end of either tunnel,” I remarked to him. Seeing the light in a dream would be a reassuring sign to anyone undergoing therapy or a shaky process of change and self-discovery.

In his typically insightful and gobsmackingly sensitive fashion, he replied: “Maybe you didn’t need to because the light is already inside the tunnel”. BAM. Why hadn’t I thought of that? Clearly, this is one of the many good reasons I am paying him the big bucks. It was so obvious once he had said it. Here I was thinking that hope and “enlightenment” lay at the end of the journey. But my dream was trying to shine a light on the nourishment and precious, delicate gifts I already have inside, just waiting to be used.

And what about the tortoise and snake? Both are ancient creatures with symbolic connotations. The tortoise is slow, cautious and protected by thick skin and a shell. It sounds a lot like how I’ve operated on an emotional level in the past. There is also a tinge of feeling slow and stupid because of people’s criticisms as a child. This tortoise magically transforms into a snake in the blink of an eye. In fact, it doesn’t transform. I just hadn’t looked at properly. I am not frightfully scared of snakes but have a fearful respect for them. My dream snake was poised to strike but didn’t. Instead, it was suspended in a position so graceful but worthy of respect. I truly believe this snake represents untapped strength. And that I can use this strength without having to strike out at others. Snakes shed their skin without fear because they know there will be renewal. I wish it was as easy for us to shed things which aren’t working anymore!

Tagged , , , , , , ,

When the therapy couch is on fire

image

Even though it was the coldest night of the year, the therapy room was on fire last night. I left the session feeling like every inch of my body, soul and heart had been exposed and then gently draped in golden silk.

My therapist (I’ll call him DS for Deep Soul from now on) had truly seen me. Behind the anxious facade and insecurities. Behind the fear and self-doubt. Behind all of the walls I had built up to protect my feelings and sensitivity. He didn’t run. Instead, he metaphorically held my hand as I ended up opening to him about something I hadn’t planned to speak about or had even thought to share with someone.

Hair on the chair, again…

The wind was howling outside and he invited me to use the mohair blanket on the side of the couch to keep warm. He said this while ensconced in a fluffy blanket of his own. I was wearing dark pants and he warned me that the mohair might leave fine white hairs. It was amusing that he had even thought of that! I decided I was okay without the blanket for the moment and started speaking to him about boundaries.

I’ve recently realised that I was never taught how to set boundaries as a kid. I was expected to suck all the drama up, deal with people’s feelings and be responsible for everything. At the same time, it felt like it was a battle I could never win. I could rarely do anything right or be competent. What often ended up happening was that I would become desperately anxious to please when I felt the wrath of my parents or when they were unhappy with me. The goal was to be close to them no matter the personal cost. I told DS this. I added that I had started experimenting with setting emotional boundaries with people and it felt good.

I guess it’s really hard for me to do that because I feel other people’s emotions so keenly, as if they were my own. These feelings overwhelm me. Yet, it’s so hard for me to tap into how I am feeling (go figure). Anyway, I said one boundary I was planning to enforce was not accepting attacks on my character anymore or being made to feel unworthy. It was something I felt really strongly about and which had caused me pain recently. At this, a rush of resolve came over me and I shivered. I grabbed the mohair blanket and covered myself.

I didn’t know therapists could buy flash-back blankets…

“Wow, this blanket is so warm!” I said in surprise, drawn out of the moment. Fingertips brushed absent-mindedly over the fibres. I was back in my gran’s home in the mountains, in front of the fireplace. She had always invited me to spend the holidays with her. For a month every year I felt like I truly belonged in a family because I was accepted for who I was. Hell, she made my dad and so I think she could appreciate the quirky genes.

“She gave me a mohair blanket exactly like this, except purple and pink. And a gollywog doll which is still at the top of my cupboard. I really treasure these things.”

The memory made me feel warm and safe. DS must have been surprised to hear me speaking so candidly and spontaneously. I sat in silence processing thoughts and feelings. From nowhere, I told him I sometimes felt like he was the big brother I had always wanted. I explained that my mom had miscarried a boy before having me. I doubted whether I would have been born if he survived. But I truly believed that he still had a soul and counted.

“What do you imagine your big brother would have been like?” he asked in a soft, steady voice.

The question surprised me. I was waiting for him to tell me I was crazy for having such sentimental and deluded thoughts about something I wasn’t directly involved in. He made it okay to have this desire. I imagined my brother would have been witty, smart and perhaps a bit of a ‘smart-ass”. Despite this, he would have been fiercely protective of me. He would have loved me unconditionally and been my team mate. Mine.

Weirdly, this is how I had been feeling with DS. Except he would never be mine. I sobbed from a very deep place in my soul. The realisation hurt like hell.

Whoever invented therapy, had a Freud sense of humour…

DS said people often loved each other because of how they made each other feel. He was making me feel the way I had always wanted to feel and he accepted the power in that. I was so emotional that I kind of thought he was using that to dismiss the fact that I also saw him as a person. DS said he knew this. That there was me, him and then the therapy room. He also understood that it was frustrating for me to feel so powerfully about someone I knew so little.

I agreed and said I was convinced some therapists had a persona and fixed on their therapist face as soon as they started work in the morning. I giggled and shared a random thought with him.

“For all I know, you may go home and change into a clown outfit and huge clown shoes. That your favourite thing is to juggle balls around, jump through fiery hoops and fit into small clown cars. When you get to work, you put your clown shoes in your backpack and wipe the smile off your face.”

He laughed and I think he appreciated the hilarity of the thought. “But I don’t think you’re a clown,” I added at the end for good measure.

We stood up and there was this weird energy between us. Something new was there. Our smiles met and our eyes crinkled. He was seeing me and I was okay with that.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Curiosity killed the therapy cat

Random therapy things and thoughts:

(Please do share if you have similar or unique insights of your own)

image

A long, brown strand of hair. I spot it lying neatly on the couch as I sit down. I feel indignant. Why is this other “woman” intruding on my therapy hour? What right does she have to assert her position in a space where I am the focus, at least for a little while? I brush it onto the floor. She probably brushed her fingers through her hair in despair just 15 minutes earlier, wondering why she felt so alone, so unnoticed. My heart softens and for the few seconds before my therapist sits down, I send a mental note to this absolute stranger…

Dear fellow client. You are not invisible. You made an impact on me and I don’t even know you. You’re probably more beautiful and powerful than you think. Own that. Regards. Me.

My therapist looks at me from his seat with quiet curiosity. I open my mouth and tales of loneliness and powerlessness flow out of me.

———-

image

A small wooden pedestal stands next to my therapist’s chair. It holds his glass of water or cup of coffee, tissues and a small pile of books which have no doubt been extracted from the bookshelf behind us. I cannot help but look at what books he’s been reading to prepare for our session. I am such a bookworm and I love psychology books…especially if it’s linked to my life in some way. Of course, the danger of this little game is that I may think a book is for me when it was for another client and hasn’t yet been returned to its niche. After taking an interest in the books and sometimes saying their titles out loud, he’s started facing the spines of the books the other way. Are the tools in the toolkit supposed to be kept hidden? It infuriates my curiosity. But nothing is impossible and I sometimes still manage to get a peek of the top book.

———-

image

My therapist is technologically advanced (thank goodness) and uses an iPad and stylus to write notes in our session. I often wonder what his handwriting looks like. Is it messy and indecipherable like a doctor’s? Or are his letters small and neat, thoughtful, like him? Does he write things verbatim or does he use abbreviations he concocted and perfected? Does he draw?

I also wonder what electronic confidentiality system he uses to describe his clients’ files. Are we simply known by our initials? Or does he have nicknames inspired by our looks (Goldilocks?!), after characters in books (Scarlett O’Hara) or well-known public figures (Einstein or Lincoln anyone)?

———-

image

It comforts me to see my therapist take care of himself by eating healthily. I know this because I am his last session in the evening and I often see what’s been left in his dustbin when I throw my tissues away. The wicker basket bin is right next to the couch and I can normally lean over from where I am sitting to put stuff in. I didn’t really click at first that the items in the bin were left by him. But I’ve noticed a common trend. I think he likes to buy healthy filled sandwiches from a fancy chain store because the brown wrapping and labels are always the same. Sometimes he also has a pack of nuts (maybe to prepare for those of us who are nuts?).

———-

image

In one of our sessions, I noticed a big pot plant with a shiny red ribbon on a table in one corner of the room. If you’ve been seeing your therapist for a while, you’ll know that decor and items in the room rarely change- it’s supposed to be their way of creating a predictable, safe and comfortable place for you to return to. I was perplexed but immediately thought it had to have been a gift from a client. Then I wondered why he might have been given the gift… was it his birthday? Had someone been touched by his kindness and care? Or was it perhaps a parting gift for someone terminating a special and long-term therapeutic relationship? I didn’t want to ask because I felt like it might place him in a position where he would have to disclose more than he wanted to. So I sat with my curiosity instead. After two sessions, it was moved to the communal sink in the waiting room.

———-

image

The washing up liquid that the therapists in the practice use at the communal sink is hilarious. It’s called “sensitive washing liquid”. Obviously I know it’s for sensitive skin. But I told my therapist that it was quite fitting that sensitive therapists use sensitive liquid.

Tagged , , , , , ,

This too “shell” pass

image

I believe the unconscious blooms like a butterfly out a cocoon when we give in to sleep. Our dreams become a rich source of information to process, interpret and apply to move forward in life. One of the things I started doing this year was keeping a dream journal as I remember between one and three dreams almost every night. While I had always been fascinated (and sometimes freaked out) by the after-hours theatre in my head, I never really delved too deep into what things might mean or tried to connect recurrent themes. That changed when I went into therapy. It was rewarding to find that a) my dreams could be taken seriously and b) every person has inner wisdom if they just open their eyes (keep them closed when you sleep though). Symbols are the lifeblood of dreams and said to signify aspects of the self or others, such as thoughts, emotions, states of mind, fears or desires.

Two nights ago, I saw a new symbol in my dreams for the first time. I’d thought I’d share the journey of this symbol, a pure white fossilized shell that spiraled inwards, with you…

In my dream, I was searching for my therapist. In order to get to the therapy room, I had to go through a garden nursery and maze, competing against other people to find him. Only the first person at the end would get to see him. With my mom and sister beside me, I raced ahead. I tried taking shortcuts to get to the front. One of these shortcuts was a path enclosed with mesh. We had to get down on our bellies and crawl through the mesh tube like on an obstacle course. Once inside the tube, I suddenly had a different mission. I needed to find these small white shells that were buried in the sand. My sister was there to help me. My mom was on the outside of the tube watching on. At first, all I could see was dirt on the ground. But when I raked my fingers through the brown sand, I found lots of the shells just beneath the surface. I felt like I had achieved this mini-mission and could look for my therapist again. To do that, I had to crawl over hundreds of the shells to get to the exit. I freaked out because my belly felt exposed and I was afraid the shells were going to come alive and crawl over me. My dream changed before I could find out whether I got out the tunnel or not.

————————————————————

The spirals of the shell were mesmerizing. They somehow felt familiar. I was compelled to search for their meaning. Symbols around water usually represent emotions. The hard shell is a metaphor for the way we secure and protect ourself from the world. In doing, we hide who we really are or how we really feel. Protection thus becomes a double-edged sword because it means we become reclusive or emotionally closed off.

I imagine the inside of a shell is also quite cosy to the creatures who occupy it. In the same way, our shells (personas or defenses) help shelter, nourish and protect us from problems thrown at us in life. There is a purpose for everything which has been created.

Therapy is helping me find my shell/s that have previously been hidden just beneath the surface. I was living life without being aware of the shell around me. Therapy is a journey that has felt like a search and rescue mission at times, but something which has also evolved into a quest involving physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual planes. That I was crawling while searching for the shells shows my nature in real life… I do things cautiously and methodically after careful preparation. Babies also crawl. It is indicative of a necessary developmental phase that eventually gives you the strength to stand on both feet and walk tall. The tube I crawled through was like a womb. While I feel like I am progressing to the end of the tunnel, a rebirth, I still feel held back somehow. It would have been interesting to see what the end of my dream was. But perhaps the point is for me to find out for myself.

Ever curious, I tried to locate the name and species of the shells that were so clearly etched in my mind. They turned out to be ammonites which lived in the sea between 65 and 240 million years ago.

AMMONITE originates from Ammon, the god that many Greeks associated with Zeus. Ammon had ram-horns that were also spiraled. Ammon was the Greek derivation of the Egyptian god Amun, who was widely praised as the Protector of the Road. After chewing on this info for a while, it resonated that many people think wearing their shell is the only way to protect themselves on the road of life. I find it interesting that my shells were pure white- it could convey a sense of innocence and purity. The fact that they were fossilized may also be a sign that I’m seeing them as relics of my past.

The term Ammon has another fascinating link that I uncovered. The hippocampus in the brain consists of two parts- Ammon’s horn and the dentate gyrus. Together, they resemble a shape of a curved tube, which has been compared to a ram’s horn or seahorse. Most psychologists and neuroscientists agree that the hippocampus plays an important role in the formation of new memories about experienced events (either episodic or autobiographical memory). Part of the process of therapy is about re-framing memories. The hippocampus is also believed to assist spacial navigation- where we are in position to the world. Without a fully-functional hippocampus, we may not remember where we have been and how to get to where we are going.

I too am finding my place in the world. It feels uncomfortable to get rid of things which have been a part of me for so long. But as layers are stripped, I find my borders becoming more defined, not less. Perhaps the lesson is that by stripping myself of outdated protective measures, I do not lose myself or forget where I’ve been or who I was. Taking a cup of water out of the ocean does not mean there is no ocean left. The gap is replenished with something fresh and flowing.

 

Tagged , , , , , , ,

“Need Jerk” reaction (It takes two to therapy: volume three)

Image

Today’s therapy session made me feel needy. It was the second session after a long break in which my therapist forgot to contact me. Being away from therapy and being forgotten by my therapist in this time re-activated some serious inner fear of abandonment.

It’s hard to describe to someone who is secure but you basically feel like you’re going crazy. On an adult cognitive level, you understand that your therapist was probably very busy and that you can easily survive two weeks without him. On a child-like level, you feel paranoid, scared, alone, sad and angry. I have had these moments before and felt reluctant to share them with my husband because I don’t expect him to understand and I don’t want to burden him.

Anyway, I opened up in the session and told my therapist that I was scared to need him in case he wasn’t there when I reached out. It was also difficult for me to accept help from other people because being needy was seen as weak while growing up.

He didn’t rush to fill the gaps or re-assure me. Instead, he just sat quietly in his chair with his leg resting on one knee and gazed gently at me on the couch. Cars whooshed past outside, a tree branch cracked and the wooden floors creaked slightly. And yet, I felt the silence in the room screaming out like a canyon between us. I wanted to shake him and ask if he had not just heard what I had said. The silence passed between us and hot tears rolled down my cheeks. I broke down and told him I really needed to know he would stick by me in the therapeutic relationship, even if I expressed uncomfortable or unacceptable thoughts or feelings. Included in this was a plea for reassurance. That I was safe with him in the therapy room and we would work as a team, especially in those moments where I was lost.

YOU ARE SUCH A “NEED JERK”, I REACTED…IN MY HEAD AT LEAST…

I looked to him and after a while, he asked if I was waiting for him to say something. I managed to force out a feeble “yes”. Cold panic crawled through my stomach and I could not believe he was being unresponsive. He said that he understood it must be difficult to be feeling this way. His tone of voice made me blurt out… “it sounds like there’s a ‘but’ in there”. He smiled and said something like: “but there is nothing else to be done except for us to continue talking and try to get somewhere”.

We moved onto other things for the remainder of the session and I was really taken aback by how I had bravely expressed powerful needs and had them ignored. To me, these needs were not unrealistic or unfair. All I wanted was him to say that he’ll stand by me, even if I fall apart. How can you fall apart mentally if there is no one there to catch you?!

At the end of the session, he asked how I was feeling and I replied that I was relatively calm because I had raised positive memories in the last seven days which made me feel good. I also said that I understood he wasn’t trying to be be cruel with his approach  but that I needed to go home and digest what had happened.

I’m starting to understand that by not reacting, he was giving me the space I needed to feel all these yucky things which had been buried inside.

Talk about a painful process.

 

 

Tagged , , , , , , ,