Tag Archives: Healing

The end of Therapy

I often contemplated the end of therapy, anticipating a time of fear and doubt. Now that I’m here, the experience isn’t the Armageddon I imagined. This might be due to exhaustion, or it could be the wobbly relationship with my Therapist, Paul.

I would say that our therapeutic relationship has been a comfortable one. His calm, laid-back character oozed an impartiality and empathy that only encouraged conversation to flow effortlessly. The initial months of therapy were testament to a life that had wadded through its fair share of trauma. I don’t know whether to cringe or laugh at some of the dysfunctional beliefs and statements from those earlier days, but it’s comforting to realise that I’ve come a long way.

It will take some time to appreciate the finer details of the therapeutic journey, but one important element missing, is my Therapist Paul. His absences have littered our therapy space since the beginning of the programme. The first few didn’t mean too much, but the strain intensified slowly, as we climbed through six, eight, and then twelve cancellations.

I wrote about most of this in my last post, so I won’t go over old ground. By the time he returned to work last week, I had managed to plough through most of the transference and the anger dissolved into a minor irritation. His absences haven’t ruin therapy, but the constant dripping of disappointment, could corrode the trust within any therapeutic alliance.

When Paul and I met two weeks ago, it was obvious that he had been talking to the Psychiatrist of the therapy team. He knew already that I had seen him on his knees. Perhaps she asked him to justify praying during work time… on my therapy time. I pretended not to notice how our accounts seem to have different timescales. I’m not stupid and know exactly what happened that day.

He would’ve looked for me in the reception area at 2pm. I’m typically a couple of minutes early, but seldom do I run late. On this particular day, I imagine how he seized the opportunity for a quickie – a prayer that is – before returning to fetch me from the waiting room five minutes later.

I wasn’t expecting him to sit in a chair and wait indefinitely, but I arrived at the therapy room approximately three to four minutes late… this is hardly enough time to apparently form a conclusion that I wasn’t coming.

We had a frank conversation two weeks ago, but it can’t be easy for a Therapist to get an earful of transference, especially if they’re not okay within themselves. It would be so easy to assume that his unreliable history demonstrates a lack of investment in my therapy. I don’t believe he’s irresponsible. Some of his clients from the distant past, are as surprised as I am.

Paul said the therapy service is offering to extend my time, but my indecisiveness changed the subject quickly. Rather than leave on the 9th December, I can stay until the end of January. I was probably being flippant and bitchy when I doubted his ability to fulfil the commitment.

Two days later, Paul phoned to change the time of our next session. He called back five minutes later to say, “Thank you.” When our appointment day arrived, I received an email from his boss.

“Dear Cat,

Apologies, but your appointment today with Paul is cancelled. Please contact re any concerns

I should’ve been annoyed, but my time with Paul is over and that feels strangely satisfying. It’s not all negative. The value of our time together far outweighs his absences.

I replied to his manager’s email. My leaving dates are Wednesday 9th Dec with Paul and Friday 11th for the group. Paul’s still off sick and won’t be available for my last session tomorrow, but it makes little difference. The end is disappointing, but it has been a wonderful experience.

 

One of the Gateways to a Suicidal State of Mind

As World Suicide Prevention Day was on the 10th, I would like to write a couple of posts this coming week about one of the gateways to that suicidal state of mind, depression.

One of the worst things about depression is the uncertainty of just how low the mood will go or the duration of each episode. That sense of losing control of our own mind can quickly become a terrifying prospect.

thVMG1QV7RWhen I first became clinically depressed in 2000, it felt as though a bus had just hit me from behind. I was completely drained of emotion, exhausted, and hung out to dry.  My entire body was suffering from chronic pain, eventually earning a Fibromyalgia misdiagnosis. Days rolled into weeks, months became years, and I steadily lost track of time.

The only routine I could muster was a simple structure based around a minimum of 16hrs sleep, an inadequate junk food diet, and lots of time caring for my two adorable cats, who sadly passed away last year. The quality of sleep was poor due to endless night terrors and I would start each day feeling as if I had just lived through every minute of those nightmares.

What I didn’t realise was that the SSRI antidepressants I had been using for a decade were renowned for vivid dreams and perhaps not the best choice for nightmares associated with PTSD. The Doctors held little interest in my recovery and seemed more concerned if I was suicidal. Their questions were more to do with covering their own ass than any genuine interest in my wellbeing.

I haven’t met one person that suffers from depression who has never experienced a certain degree of suicide ideation, but I was petrified of psychiatric wards and it was shameful to admit those morbid fantasies of killing myself. I will say a little more about this in my next post.

If I had been more honest, or possessed enough strength to find new Doctors, maybe there would’ve been more opportunity to manage the depression and recovery might have transpired sooner. When our mood is this low, we’re definitely not thinking straight and paranoia over losing more control can lock us tightly within that revolving door of depression and ineffective medication.

Of course, everyone’s experience of depression is different and we need to find own slow route to recovery. If you’ve ever been depressed for years, it’s easy to forget what life feels like without a degree of despair looming overhead. A perfect example of this happened to me on Friday.

I returned home from group therapy feeling unusually hyperactive with racing thoughts, rapid speech, and a general feeling of wellbeing. At one point, I wondered if someone had spiked my water with speed and even considered taking a benzodiazepine to help bring me down. While it wasn’t a bad feeling, I didn’t know what was happening or how I should respond.

After a few hours of buzzing around, doing additional spring-cleaning and bribing the dog to go for yet another walk, I realised that for the first time in fifteen years, I was actually feeling free of depression.

I was desperate to share the experience with my neighbour and friend, Sarah, but every time I attempted to say the words, “I feel happy,” I burst into tears. Sarah must have thought I had already lost it, but the tears were an expression of my relief to have come so far. This might be difficult to understand if you’ve never lived in the dark world of depressive illness.

black dogIt doesn’t seem to matter what stage of recovery we’re at, one of the biggest fears and major obstacles to reclaiming our lives is relapse. We’ve all been there, feeling relieved at that faint glimmer of improvement, only to open our eyes the next morning to find the black dog of depression is growling at the door once more.

It doesn’t seem to matter how often I’ve experienced this, each episode is fraught with grave disappointment and that familiar fear of the unknown. According to some internet figures, in a small minority of people who suffer depression, the symptoms seldom go away entirely. Those who experience two episodes of depression are more likely to have a third.

When we’re depressed or only just recovering, the last thing we want to consider is the prospect of relapse. However, a recurring bout of depression or a temporary worsening of symptoms is a very real probability and I find this knowledge has helped me to deal with the life-sucking disappointment whenever it happens. Even though I feel relatively good today, that awareness is always on standby.

Unfortunately, I’m not a lover of self-affirmation techniques at the best of times. The trouble is, I become so consumed by the depression, I just can’t be bothered telling that sad face in the mirror how wonderful and capable he really is. It just doesn’t cut it for me.

My technique has always been to accept the mood as it is for today, although I appreciate this may sound a little too much like giving up to some people. Stressing over the process was never helpful, but by accepting those backwards steps as inevitable and even an integral part of our healing, did remove a proportion of the sting.

One of the most important tactics for my own stability is to maintain a simple routine. This may only be within four walls or a short distance from the front door, but having a basic purpose in our day is enough to plant the small seeds of recovery.

Seeing Beyond the Void

As we go through life, each of us develops defence mechanisms that help dealth1W15UEW3 with a wide spectrum of stressful situations and to protect us from painful memories. Two clever tactics that I know very well are suppression and repression.

Suppression is something everyone does. It’s when we think about something, but then consciously squeeze it to the back of our mind. This doesn’t need to be in a negative way and can act as an aid to filter out one thought while we deal with something else.

Suppression and repression are very similar, although repression is a little trickier to identify because much of the avoidance takes place on a subconscious level as we deny the memory or emotion even exists. I’ve only just become aware of my own repression, which unravelled during a poignant moment in therapy last week.

When I became a victim of an attempted murder, which I wrote about here, I was extremely lucky to survive, but what I hadn’t realise until now, was a fundamental part of me died inside. While the experience was particularly traumatic, the history of my assailants past crimes, including murder, would only add to the horror and hinder any path to recovery.

I’ve always abhorred any kind of violence because abusiveness has been a prominent pattern in my life since early childhood. Each incident of physical, verbal, emotional, and even sexual abuse would slowly hamper a willingness to recover, while placing significant strain on my ability to bounce back. My traumatised brain soon interpreted life as dangerous territory and wise to be devoid of trust.

Trust is the necessary ingredient for all human interactions, from casual acquaintances to personal relationships. Losing the ability to trust means everything about life feels unsafe. Meeting new people or visiting unfamiliar places eventually becomes something of the past.

th43ZJN5J0The more vulnerable and withdrawn I became, the more I developed an unhealthy need to protect myself from any kind of attachment. My need for love and affection or to trust and be trusted, had sunk beneath years of repression and there was no awareness of just how cold and distant I had become.

I painfully recall the pleas of significant people to consider their feelings and wishes, even if I had none of my own. It felt like they were on the attack, rather than trying to save me from an emotional black hole. As time progressed, the empty space became so vast, it was impossible to see beyond the void.

The dissociation from reality eventually made me inaccessible to those who had spent years trying to hold on to the person they once knew. The consistent pleas meant nothing and I slowly cut everyone meaningful from my life. The diagnosis of Depression, PTSD and Agoraphobia were my new companions in life, but the Disorders also became my shield against any expectations to change.

In the last fifteen years, venturing beyond a two-mile radius of home hasn’t been on the agenda and there are only six places I can visit, anxiety free. While I do believe in my ability to overcome these phobias, I’ve made little effort to push the boundaries. In all this time, I cannot recall boredom or loneliness ever featuring within my comfortable agoraphobic cocoon.

For reasons that may always remain a complete mystery, I once believed this dysfunction lifestyle was not only justified, but also acceptable. I had repressed my emotions to such a depth that I forgot they even existed.

When I learned of my friend, Anne’s, death recently, via the extraordinary coincidental telephone call, my mind became flooded with memories of a time when I viewed life very differently. Over the course of the last couple of weeks, these new realisations are like awakening from a fifteen-year coma to find that I’m living an unacceptable reclusive lifestyle.

There were a number of stark moments in therapy last week, as I recalled the pain caused to othersthAQ8EK2XX and the injustice I dealt to my own potential. Repressing the fundamental emotions necessary to human existence only blocked the flow of healing and tainted my perception of trust.

Fifteen years of extreme isolation is a very long time and I’m careful not to get ahead of myself. I’m excited, fearful, and fragile, all at the same time. It’s impossible to find a way back to something familiar, any previous point of existence no longer exists. The unknown feels a scary place to be and the challenges ahead won’t be easy, but somehow I need to find the courage to move forward.

Therapy and Healing

I’ve not been writing a lot about therapy lately. My last post about Paul’s absence was actually twoWP_20131116_001 weeks old. I’m not sure what’s going on for me right now. In the days leading up to this therapy programme, I often wondered what healing from trauma might actually feel like and what shape the process might take.

Each one of us have our own route to healing, but my own journey  feels as though I’ve been on a rollercoaster ride of reflection and rumination, writing and talking… anger… regret, and many stages of grief.

We learned early in our group how important it is to observe the feelings. There were months when I seemed to exist in a weird trance like state with a whirlwind of emotions circling inside my head. I thought acceptance, healing, and change might never come into focus, but this is beginning to feel much more likely.

The last group I attended was two-weeks ago. I had only just received the bizarre telephone call, which brought news about the death of my long lost friend, Anne.

I’m still trying to grasp how extraordinary that coincidence actually was and the news has been difficult to come to terms with. However, the experience came to mean so much more than synchronicity or grief.

In the days that followed the news, my mind was awash with long forgotten memories of the past. It took a few days to realise that beyond the nostalgia, was a clear view of how I once viewed my existence.

I recalled the enthusiasm and heaps of confidence that would eventually become lost beneath years of mental health problems. I have able to taste what life once meant to me and what I meant to life.

When I first approached a Psychiatrist five years ago, almost begging for help, the distress came from a realisation that I didn’t want to get any better, “not if it means interacting and trusting other people again…” My perception of life had been utterly dismal for so many years, it was easy to lose track of what existed before the days of mental illness.

th0UQOMD3LIt feels as though these long forgotten memories form part of the missing jigsaw and now I can see a lifestyle that is worthwhile aiming for. Of course, everyone changes with time and there is no return to a former self, but I finally envisage what life could look like.

We return to usual sessions next week, but already my time is running out in therapy. We finish group in December and from January until June, I will be on a rapid sliding scale with my Therapist, Paul.

It might sound strange, but my least problematic condition in recent years has been Agoraphobia because it kept me safe and comfortable within an isolated cocoon. At the heart of the debilitating phobia is a fear of venturing into strange places with the prospect of meeting unfamiliar people. This brings me full circle to the very place I started with my Psychiatrist five years ago, only this time, I do want to face those fears and I will ultimately find a new life, but the prospect of change is scary and therein is the next stage of my therapy.

Dr Gerald Stein writes a nice post on avoiding our fears, taking control, and making the best of life here

The Fear Depresses me the Most

It has been a long time since I experienced significant bouts of depression. I’m quiteblack dog sure many readers will relate to that jittery feeling we get in the pit of our stomach, never really knowing how low the depression will go, or if it’s merely just a passing blip.

My MH diagnosis’ includes Major Depressive Disorder so I guess it does what it says on the bottle. There was a time not so long ago when chronic depression became more than a regular occurrence, but it feels as if I’m out of practice, although this can only be a good thing.

Where did this episode begin? The largest part of it seemed to settle during my therapy with Paul yesterday. I was already exhausted and feeling pissed off on arrival, which just seemed to snowball during our session.

We briefly talked about a number of issues, without going into anything in depth, but those topics possibly held more significance than I initially realised.

I told Paul about my emails to the narcissistic mother and Sissy, the Golden-child, asking for no contact. There’s not one shadow of doubt or regret hanging over that decision, but underneath the certainty, is a weird sense of loss. I didn’t expect this to happen.

The fact is, childhood memories and dysfunctional family dynamics have dominated my life for such a long time and now that my mind isn’t so swamped, there’s this vast empty space just waiting… waiting… for… my… future. The fear depresses me the most.

Somewhere along the way, I lost faith in myself. I was always a worker and the opportunities were more than I could’ve ever wished for, I loved and breathed my vocation. But, fifteen years disappeared and there’s no way I would qualify for the same positions today.

Nevertheless, Cat does have something in mind, but the plan entails going back to college/university for four years. It’s not the time that feels daunting and I can handle the cost and even the debt, but the thought of returning to study at 52, feels humiliating. I know, I know, we’re never too old, but I just can’t snap out of feeling a complete failure for reaching this time of life without any solid roots.

The biggest hurdle of all is PTSD and ‘related’ Agoraphobia, which is something I don’t often talk about on this blog, but it’s hard to imagine being able to live my life as freely as before. The “related” part is not a medical diagnosis, but it’s entirely the aftermath of being a victim to violent crime, which I wrote about here.

There’s little point telling a victim of any kind of trauma that it might never happen. The fact is, it did happen, and sometimes the unimaginable becomes someone’s reality. .

Yes, I know how unlikely it is to become a victim of abuse or violent crime again and I’ve heard all about “statistically,” but I was once one of those statistics, so applying that kind of logic doesn’t seem to cut it for me.

When I first started therapy, many things were hard to imagine.

It would not have been possible for me to talk about childhood memories without recoiling in shame and trauma.

It was hard to imagine ever finding peace and acceptance for the childhood hurt and disappointment, and I never thought it possible to find the courage to ‘divorce’ my family.

thU6CGHWTTWhen I first asked the Mental Health Team for help three years ago, I shamefully admitted to the Psychiatrist, “I don’t want to get any better, not if it means re-joining life again or connecting with people” and here I am, anticipating and planning both.

It seems these “hard to imagine” scenarios have a habit of becoming reality and this needs to be my focus in the next phase of therapy, but that doesn’t mean every part of my senses will not still be screaming out “DANGER” whenever I try to push past those safe boundaries.

Approaching the Martyred Mother

I can’t remember ever feeling in awe of my own self before. I wonder if this is what happens when we begin to love and respect ourselves. Only a few weeks ago, my actions would’ve been unthinkable… unimaginable, but things have taken an unexpected turn.

My original intention was to wait until the narcissistic mother made contact before sending a similar email to the one I sent my sister. I realised that to delay the inevitable only deprives me of escaping those life-sucking narcissistic demands, not to mention feeling free of my soul-destroying scapegoat role.

A couple of hours slowly passed yesterday afternoon, pondering my words and debating the potential consequences. One of the worst things you can do to a narcissist is suggest they’re at the helm of a dysfunctional family, or are the perpetrators of disturbing childhood memories. With these sacrilegious thoughts in mind, the great unspoken became the basis of my very brief email. It may well spell the end, but I could no longer pretend.

I doubt if I’ve ever put trust in my own instincts and knowledge, rather than feel enslaved to guilt and self-blame. Almost every piece of information on narcissistic mothers suggests a time of no contact, maybe even a lifetime. It seemed ridiculous to send my sister an email, while procrastinating over sending one to the person who deserves to hear it the most.

If I expected to feel relieved, maybe overjoyed, I would soon be disappointed. As soon as I hit ‘send’, a deep sense of loss and guilt rippled through the rest of the day. I don’t ever expect a response and while this is a relief, it feels like the final nail in my own coffin, although that does feel strangely gratifying.

My email does something no other family member has ever had the courage to do; it tells the truth. The truth to a narcissistic mother is like brandishing a crucifix at Dracula, and the turning to dust scenario is rather stupid, but appealing.

The narcissistic martyr believes in her own perfection and she programed her children to think of her feelings and needs first. I spent time yesterday focussing on how it must feel to read my email, her hurt, disappointment and fury, all swirling around her head like a swarm of angry wasps.

Last night I realised that I have feelings too and I deserve to feel them. What about the treatment we endured as children, or the demands and manipulation tolerated through my adult life… what about my own sense of loss, or my own grief for never bonding with narcissistic parents? Maybe it’s time to think about my own needs without feeling haunted by the martyred mother’s warped emotions.

If I ever want to rekindle contact in the future, I would need to make the first move, which will probably never happen. In many ways, I’m glad to feel an element of sorrow, even guilt, because it demonstrates that I didn’t become one of them.

The Narcissists Golden-child & Scapegoat

Narcissistic parents hold their dysfunctional family together with fear and manipulation.thG5BL4TQA They allot specific roles to individual children that best portray their perfection to both themselves and to the outside world. A golden child will be an extension of the parent’s goodness, while the scapegoat’s role is to endure the blame whenever things go wrong.

Growing up with a narcissistic mother, which I wrote about here, put enormous pressure on everyone. When the cracks started to appear in the perfection and school suggested something was amiss, the martyr quickly focussed all the blame on me.

“It’s nothing we ever did… we’ve tried everything… his sister turned out okay…”

I was five years old when I first noticed my sister was the golden child. While it’s impossible to make sense of the dynamics at this age, the difference was evident where punishments and presents were concerned.

“We give you both the same… there’s no pleasing you…”

One Christmas when I was eight years old, I wanted a radio badly. Maybe I was a little too young, but I harped on and just before Christmas, I knew I had finally cracked it when mum responded with a cheeky smirk, “Oh well, we’ll just need to wait and see…”

thOA98NHLVIt was usually a rather dull time of year, but this particular Christmas Eve I could barely sleep for excitement. I shared a bedroom with my sister and presents were by our bedside in the morning.

I was awake first but when I rummaged through my little pile of goodies, my heart sank to the floor. The only exciting items were two Christmas comic annuals and a chocolate box.

My sister was still asleep and her pile of presents lay undisturbed, as I looked to see what the golden child got, I caught sight of a large white box, ‘Radio with disco lights’. I lay back on my pillow gutted, but this kind of scenario was nothing new.

“You’re too young for a radio… you break everything, anyway… your sister does well in school, you’re just the class dunce…”

There was a heavy price to pay for what the martyred mother perceived as “bad behaviour,” but I also carried the blame for the secretive family dysfunction and even some of the arguments that regularly erupted between my parents.

“We had a good marriage until you came along… we only ever argue about you… we’re thinking of putting you in a home for bad boys.”

While my sister secured the role of golden child by excelling in school, my overall experience was a nightmare from day one. It had something to do with the environment that subsequently influenced my behaviour and those dreaded annual report cards.

Anyone would have thought I was a lowlife criminal, “You’re the dunce of the entire school… everyone will be laughing at you… you bring shame on us… you will not amount to much in life… look how well your sister’s doing.”

I quickly assumed the role of the troubled-underachiever, while they denied I was ever the black sheep and maybe there was an unconscious effort on my part to succumb to the role.

After years of pleading, dad finally agreed I could have a new bike for my 15th birthdayth (2) and my shiny green racer became my pride and joy. Meanwhile, life at home continued on a collision course with the narcissistic mother until I finally escaped just after my 17th birthday. When I returned a few months later to collect my bike, the twisted mother had already given it away.

“Och, you weren’t using it, my friend’s son didn’t have a bike… he’ll appreciate it more than you… it wasn’t yours, anyway, we bought it with our own money.”

I never once considered changing my ways to please them, but spent a lifetime rebelling against their toxicity, and usually in a self-destructive style. It has taken me years to finally identify their behaviour as textbook narcissistic, but unfortunately, I had already internalised their disparaging messages.

I’ve learned that scapegoats typically grow up with a deep sense of guilt and shame. We will blame ourselves for things that are out of our control and feel responsible for anything that goes wrong, even when it’s clearly someone else’s baggage. We strongly believe in our own selfishness and harbour a feeling that we are never enough.  This can fuel a need to become a people-pleaser, sometimes against our better judgement and often to our own detriment.

For me, knowledge is the catalyst of healing.