Tag Archives: trauma

The return of the “perfect” therapy client

  

When I was in therapy with DS (Deep Soul) three years ago, one of the insights I gained about our work together was the way in which I tried to make his life easier and pleasant. This behaviour was sometimes at the expense of my own needs, desires and self-expression. I coined this persona Therapy Barbie.

She was always perfectly groomed and pleasant. Bills were always paid on time. Above all, she was considerate and wanted him as the therapist to feel her genuine care and kindness. Any powerful action or conscious thought was placed in a queue, so it could first be scrutinised for its value, effect and repercussion.

As therapy progressed, it became safe enough for the persona to relax… a little at least.

Now that I am in therapy with HH, I am aware that I am repeating this pattern. It hit me like a lightning bolt the other day. I’ll explain more in a bit, but first…

I see now that this striving for perfection originated in childhood. Taking care of others was a really good survival strategy. I perceived myself as useful and worthy if I was “doing”. How glorious to receive your parents’ love and public affection for helping them and being respectful. They glow when other parents tell them how lucky they are to have such an obedient daughter. You feel like you almost fit in. These characteristics can be positive in the right situation. 

But really, you’re just a performing seal.

Put differently, what if being the opposite is forbidden? What if voicing your opinions and trying to have your needs fulfilled is received negatively? It can easily turn toxic. What you’re left with is a little girl who has to stifle her spirit to get some needs met.  She unconsciously becomes a people-pleaser because it creates warm feelings of acceptance and competence. Maybe, just maybe, there is the belief that people will return the same selfless love one day.

Sadly, the legacy of this pattern means that I struggle to feel worthy just “being”. That is, unless I am “being a good girl”.

HH actually used this term to describe childhood me the other day. He likened little me to a “Girl Scout collecting all her badges”. I was a bit gobsmacked at the image but immediately nodded my head at his insight (yes, I know that’s what perfect clients do but this moment legit saw me bobbing my head up and down with wide eyes).

I have just been altogether well-behaved in our therapy. And it’s doing us both a disservice. My fear of bumping into his boundaries and possibly being rejected means I end up completely inhibited. There is little space left for me to do and say whatever pops up. I hold back because I don’t want to hurt him in any way (because then he might leave. Or he might see the cruel, selfish, ugly and worthless idiot that I am afraid I might truly be should everything else be stripped away). While we do good work, this pattern stops us from connecting intimately. A wall of protection will always prevent us from moving deeper. Once he truly sees me, he will better know how to assist or be present. I am aware that him seeing all my attachment behaviours won’t  lead to gratification and an ideal relationship. This is messy territory we are talking about.

If HH is the type of man I think he may be, he won’t run away. I just hope I have the braveness to keep showing up authentically once I lower the wall. 

Playful Jay

What are some of the things I have spontaneously wanted to do in this therapy relationship, but instead killed the thought before it gets me into trouble?

– Take some toys from the containers on the other side of the room so we can play a game.

– Have him listen to the pieces of orchestral/classical music that pierce my soul because I feel like they speak my inner truth.

– Email him when I need to connect or have him hold something for me until our next session (I haven’t once sent an email because of supposed therapy rules).

– Ask him personal questions if the need arises (I am so aware of not wanting to put him in an awkward position with self-disclosure. But I really think there is more space for him to be… Besides the personality traits he reveals, the only things I know are that  he sometimes struggles to be on time, he may be a smoker because there was a lighter on his desk, and he is old school because he doesn’t have a smartphone or a website).

– Challenge him if I don’t think he is “getting” me.

– Have a staring competition and see who cracks first. And then belly laugh the whole session because you’re acting silly and who says you need to be serious all the time? 

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The body remembers

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It was not long after I developed a basic level of trust with Heart Healer (HH) that I had a breakthrough in one of our sessions. The life and death moment we shared arose spontaneously and involved excruciating vulnerability. Basically all the ingredients for potential retraumatisation or a new healing experience!

But I have to go back and explain. I had gone into a previous session with the aim of being as open and raw as I could. In other words, the inner censor was left at the door. This was not fun. But I was trying to be less inhibited. I often froze up in therapy, physically and verbally. This seemed to be part of a childhood coping mechanism, I discovered with HH’s help. The strategy? Be compliant and “control” all emotions and feelings so as not to “burden” others or endanger myself. Be a blank slate and adapt ASAP.

Anyway, I shared some really shame-inducing feelings, fears and memories.  These had to do with the relationship with my mom, the possibility of enacting toxic patterns with my potential children, and a critical attitude that I was already re-enacting with my husband at times.

In that session, I think HH spoke two sentences. He was silent the rest of the time. No mmm’s, ahhhs or nods. The silence freaked me out. I experienced it as a void, a disengagement, an alienating space and a sign that what I was saying was unacceptable. Logically, I knew HH may have been creating sufficient space for me to express myself. Or provide a moment with no reaction from his side. Emotionally, it hit a trigger.

I felt rejected. After the session, I was sitting with a very yucky feeling. I was bad. Broken. I didn’t know how to process it. Parallel to that, was a feeling of being violated.

The next few days saw me battling to connect with my coping adult self. I was a weepy mess. I felt the silence was meant as punishment. At the same time, I was also ashamed at feeling so overwhelmed by the silence. My biggest fear was that I would be perceived as too intense, too much for HH. Gathering all my strength, I tried to pen down my experience so I could make sense of it and see it in black and white. Looking at it on paper made it more real. It wasn’t just a figment of my imagination, as my inner critic was trying to shout at me.

After tossing and turning for a week, I walked into the next session in a hypervigilant state. I knew that we had to discuss what had happened. But I was also being held back by the fear of his reaction to my experience. I was between a rock and a hard place. He asked how I was and as I started to raise the last session, I froze. Shame hit me like a tsunami. Yes, this was why I had typed it out. My throat constricted and I croaked out that I had a letter. He asked if I could read it out loud. I crunched my shoulders and looked down. “NO!!” my body screamed. “If you don’t say the words out loud, then you can’t be punished,” a part of me warned internally. I shook my head furiously and indicated he must read it. He gently took it from me and asked if he could read it out loud. “NOOOOO!” the child screamed inside. It was physically impossible to speak or look at him. Very calmly, he started reading the letter. But it was in a scary stage whisper. Hearing my words out loud made me cringe and feel my life was in danger. My hands shot to my ears and I tried to block them out. I recall shaking my head furiously and waiting for the retribution. My world was spinning. I eventually also closed my eyes.

He stopped reading. This was it. This was the moment he was going to attack me. Either verbally or physically. HH calmly spoke through my perceptions of the silence. He wondered whether there were other times in life that I had felt silence was punishing. He also wondered if there was a part of me that thought it was unacceptable to have and voice certain thoughts or feelings. His questions felt overwhelming and I was stuck in shame. I remained braced for retaliation. My body took over and my arms and hands reflexively flew in front of me to shield my head from the blows. I trembled and kept shaking my head, my arms poised in front like rigid tree branches. While I was kind of aware that HH was there, my system had been hijacked and reason flew out the window. I couldn’t talk myself out. “You’re scared. You have expressed how you felt and now you’re waiting for me to retaliate,” HH said softly. “It seems inevitable.” The tears kept coming and still, I kept waiting. As I looked up to see where he was, I noticed his eyes had welled up with tears. It didn’t immediately register. Although it’s difficult to remember his exact words, he said something like: “You believe I am going to hurt you. Either reprimand you verbally. Or physically. That I will beat you.” It took a while but the fear slowly loosened its grip. My eyes darted to the door and I was able to verbalise that I was looking for the closest exit. My body wanted to get me out of there. He nodded. This body memory had never popped up for me before. I felt extremely vulnerable and embarrassed, not knowing quite what had happened.

When I was calmer, HH did not point out my bodily terror. He said the feelings I had about the silence seemed very powerful, very strong, perhaps like an experience in the past with a significant other. It was something I had thought about for a while… Transference. Looking at it through adult eyes, I could see it was potentially an overreaction. I shared as much with him. “But there is still a very young part of me who feels that your silence is a very scary and real threat.” He said he understood.

“You expect retaliation for expressing yourself,” he said. I added that sometimes punishment was very subtle. People would promise that there were no consequences. I was thinking of my parents. “But they end up punishing you in very subtle ways. So subtle that an outsider would never suspect.”

HH seemed a bit sad. It took me a few days to escape that terror but I came out feeling calmer because he had not punished me in any way. At least yet.

A few days later, I had the happiest dream I have had in a few years. After sharing it with HH, I realised our experience above may have created psychic, mental space for a new, healing way of being.

“I am in a modern, airy home with lots of glass in the middle of the forest. It doesn’t feel too open. It feels safe and calm. I feel inspired to finally try head stands (something I am too scared to do in real life). I do one against the wall and it feels good. My arms hold balance and feel strong. Defying gravity, I climb the wall upside down and find myself nestled in a sky light. It is mostly glass and I admire the forest outside. The realisation hits me that this is my new home and I have free roam. I run to the nearest waterfall and soak up the cool ionized air as my feet hit the leafy ground. The water hits the rocks and it is soothing. I quench my thirst by kneeling down near the mouth of the waterfall. I am a bit cautious and make sure the water will not engulf me, but I trust that it will be okay.”

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Finding my voice

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Time flew by and the sessions between my new therapist Heart Healer (HH) and I quickly racked up. We spent the first six catching up on my childhood, major relationships and challenges, as well as figuring each other out.

Like a good detective, HH was curious and tried to figure out basic connections between things before jumping right in and confronting the ‘baddies’. He felt there was a link between the vulnerability and safety of young women and children in my job to an afraid or lonely child inside me.

There was an adult part and a child part. The child felt scared vocalising things because of not wanting to hurt others and see them in pain. The child also did not want to be so vulnerable that others would take advantage or hurt her. I felt a sense of relief at him acknowledging these fears and vulnerabilities.

There is a child part that doesn’t have a voice,” HH said one session, his finger pressed to his cheek while deep in thought. “There is feeling and emotion but little voice… It feels like it may have been suppressed“.

Over the next few sessions, it would become clearer why this was so.

Despite our productive moments, I have to admit that I was stumped by his behaviour and body language at times. He always seemed quite nervous when greeting and saying goodbye. Was I really projecting or was this about him?, I wondered. I mean, I was obviously anxious going into every session because he was new and I was apprehensive about some things that had come up in previous sessions. But surely he’d be a little more chilled for someone who had been doing this for 17 years? Every now and then, I would notice him yawning. Or sitting back quietly in his seat with his arms folded and closed off. Maybe he had just had a long day or some challenging sessions? I had to constantly challenge my anxious thoughts and give him benefit of the doubt.

But there was one major developing theme I could not shake. I would get to the waiting room a few minutes before our session and sit patiently. Other clients would come and go with their therapists. The big arm of the clock on the wall would strike 12 and still I would sit. He would only come fetch me about 5-7min after our session time had started. This may not seem like much. But in a 50-minute “therapy hour”, it was a lot. The time we were missing out on was not what affected me most. It was the visceral feeling of abandonment. I felt isolated and confused as I waited. I started to doubt myself and our therapeutic relationship. It brought up old themes of not being good enough or worthy of someone’s time. His other tasks were more important and I was ‘a task’ that would have to wait. I didn’t mention any of this to him for over a month. But I had learnt enough from my therapy with DS to raise my therapeutic experience because it was grist for the mill. It was also an extremely difficult but necessary goal of my own to be more assertive.

My heart was pounding and I was trembling as I walked into his room. Could I trust him? HH acknowledged my fear of being retraumatised. There was always a duality. Hope and dread. “I wonder if your need to be seen, heard and validated comes from failed experiences in the past?” he mused.

Taking a deep breath in, I raised my feelings around him being consistently late in starting our sessions. With not a shred of defensiveness, he said he was in the wrong and it was his responsibility to start on time, not mine. He referred to it as an “infraction” and said he had every intention of doing better next time. I felt brave for telling him that waiting longer for him made me question things. He was so understanding and I felt myself relaxing a little. Feeling buoyed, I asked if it would be possible to let me know when we had 10 minutes left in a session because it took a while for me to gather myself before leaving. He said that was not normally something he did but that he was happy for me to pick up a clock he had and move it to a table we could both see. I felt a lot calmer.

He has been on time for every one of our sessions since. And the clock is always on the table as I get in. These were positive steps in building an alliance.

 

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Back to therapy I go

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(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.

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Cold comfort

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In the weeks since DS announced he is closing his therapy practice and moving to another country, I’ve been trying my best to keep things together. Like a mantra, I tell myself it will be okay after August and that this is for the best. My husband, family and friends have been very supportive and collectively tell me everything happens for a reason and I will get over it. It feels like there is this expectation that I should be over it now because they have said their kind words and allowed me to vent. The publicly acceptable gap for mourning is closing.

And yet the pain is so fresh. I don’t WANT to lose DS. I don’t WANT him to be so far away and very possibly never see him again.

When the lights are out and the night silence opens the space for terror and isolation, I cling to my cow Daisy for dear life and wish all the pain inside away. I try to find sleep in the fetal position and wedge Daisy’s head between my chin and shoulder. Sometimes, the softness against my bare skin seems to work and I find myself calming down. Other times, I lay curled in the dark with my racing thoughts and sleeping husband, at times wiggling closer to his warm skin for comfort and desperately wishing I could share in his utter surrender to the world around our bed.

If DS knew how much this was affecting me, I wonder whether he would think it’s all because of the transference and therefore not as valid or real? It’s real to me but I still question my own experiences and perception. It feels like his departure is more than just a re-activation of abandonment and safety fears from my childhood. I’ve connected with him on a very mature level. I will miss the relationship we built together, his listening and empathy skills, and especially the small bits of “non-therapist him” that shone through.

Our session on Wednesday was so disjointed and I feel like such a loser. I so desperately want to connect with him and enjoy our sessions while we still have them. But instead I just felt so sad. Having him in front of me was the most painful reminder of everything that I am going to be missing.

I saw blue wrapping paper, or what looked like it, in his bin as I was throwing my tissues away. For all I know, it could have been an envelope but I imagined another client giving DS a parting gift and I felt so excluded. Other clients are merrily sharing happy, intimate, nostalgic or healing moments with him, processing things, and here I am, weak and unable to connect.

It feels impossible to show myself compassion right now. Instead, all I hear is: you are pathetic.

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Being held (and the promise of a transitional object)

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I sit wide-eyed and stiff on the therapy couch, anxious at our imminent separation over the holidays. My body plays “statue statue” and attempts to remain as inconspicuous as possible. I feel very young in this session. While I am sure I’ve shown my young side to DS before, this is the first time I am aware of it. It is the strangest sensation. My mind peeks at my arms and legs and they seem fully-grown. My feet can easily reach the floor if they want to. And yet, I feel small. My lips pout like a toddler. My throat emits a slow, somewhat babyish and unsure voice. Me, but not me.

DS, on the other hand, is exactly the same. He wears one of his checked shirts, unbuttoned over a soft cotton top, jeans, and sandals. His feet are nice. Soft and squishy toes like mine. Re-assuring.

When we started the session, I’d shared another dream I had about him. I was with my mom and sister in his waiting room, and my mom was asking about him. I looked through all his client folders and pulled out one with his information. It was in my handwriting and we looked through it. Out of all the text there, all I could recall seeing was his name and surname. The next folder I pulled out contained a drawing of a bunny rabbit. We found this peculiar and laughed. The scene changed and we sat under a tree in a lane. DS walked past with a bottle of red wine or champagne in his hand. He was on his way to a party and he stopped to greet. I was dressed in a lilac and silver dress with revealing cleavage. He seemed taken aback by my appearance in a good way. I introduced him to my mom and then we chatted while my mom and sister chatted. DS was so relaxed. He seemed spontaneous and uninhibited. I was in awe that he could speak so much! The scene changed again and I was walking into a cottage, with DS leading the way. I was telling him how much I needed him and how scared I was. I sensed he was trying to let me down gently without upsetting me. Not wanting to be confronted for my neediness or held accountable for my behaviour, I pretended to sleepwalk while talking to him. My eyes were closed at times and I held out my hands to guide the way. He stopped in the bathroom with his back to me and said “We  have reached a really important stage in your therapy”. DS seemed to be very conflicted and weighing up the best course of action. Eventually, he invited me to wrap his arms around him from behind. It felt surreal and warm. Then he turned around to face me and brought me closer to his chest, like a parent would with their child. We gazed into each other’s eyes. I felt truly held and safe in that moment.

Tears fall down my cheek and he asks what I am feeling. I am sad and he wants to know why. I figure out that it’s because I know he can never hold me like that. From the dream, the session unfolds into memories of pretending to sleepwalk as a small child so I can spend time with my parents instead of being alone and scared in a dark bedroom. I have a bedtime and am supposed to leave my parents alone after that. I make myself as inconspicuous as possible in front of the television and hope they notice but don’t notice me. Sometimes it works.

“So you were supposed to disappear after 7pm? You were not supposed to exist after that,” DS says gently, more as a statement than a question. I nod and feel the pain of these weighty words. He draws a parallel between me then and the me sitting before him now, present but not able to be fully present.

He doesn’t know that for the last month or so, I’ve been sleeping with a soft toy cow my mom gave me a few years ago. I want to ask him about transitional objects but also fear that if he knows about the cow, he will deem that sufficient. Then I think that obviously it’s not the same because it’s not his. With my mind made up, I shyly ask him if he ever gives his clients something to hold onto during breaks.

“Yes I do. Actually I had been thinking about that for you,” he responds. My eyes widen even further and my heart skips a few beats. He understands. The mood changes in the room and although I am still reserved, excitement pops its head out.

I ask if he has chosen an object and he says yes, a book. The corners of my mouth shoot outwards. Books are special. We often talk about them and I sometimes share with him what I am reading. Has he chosen a specific book yet?

“I have a few in mind,” he says, adding that he is still deciding between fiction or non-fiction and what do I think?

I want to bounce around in my seat in anticipation. “Fiction”. Fiction is personal. I imagine reading the words that his eyes have already sealed onto the page and imbued with meaning just waiting for me to discover. While a book is not soft, it can still be held and even better, loved in words and thought.

It becomes clear he has spotted the ‘Haruki Murakami’ book lying next to me, which I’d bought along to read beforehand. He asks whether I’ve read Murakami’s “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” and I reply that it’s my favourite book.

“I would like to read something I haven’t read before. Surprise me.” The kid is feeling cheeky and brave. He takes it well and we agree that he will think about it.

The session comes to a close quietly. I feel shy again but content. My eyes slowly gaze upwards at DS and he smiles. I smile and quickly look down again. A few seconds pass and I look at him again. His eyes radiate and he smiles again. A fun game. For a moment, I am held in mind.

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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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