Don’t Call Me Lucky

The other evening my family were talking about the concept of luck. We were discussing my sister’s car accident that happened a few months ago, and my Mum was talking about how lucky my sister was to come away with only the relatively minor injuries that she sustained. 

I told them that I don’t believe it luck. Yes I am extremely grateful that my sister wasn’t more hurt in the accident. But I don’t put that down to “luck”. I believe in probability and coincidence. I believe in cause and effect. I am aware of the concept of privilege. But luck doesn’t come into any of that. 

Luck insinuates that neither we nor others can alter our circumstances for the better (or worse). It suggests that certain people get dealt bad cards by the universe for no reason other than because they are “unlucky”, even if a change in circumstances could have led to a very different outcome. 

It puts the responsibility onto the person who is either “lucky” or “unlucky”, when actually sometimes things happen because that is what all the events leading up to it determined would. Everything has a cause, nothing happens in a vacuum. People who have suffered multiple traumas haven’t suffered because they are “unlucky” as though it is some innate trait they possess, but because the world can be a very adverse place full of harmful people and circumstances.

Similarly, I don’t believe that my sister survived the car crash because she was lucky; she survived the car crash because a number of events came together that resulted in her surviving. Regardless of whether it could have been worse or better or different in any way, the distress and trauma she experienced as a result had a profound effect on her. Thats her reality, her truth, and what she has been left to deal with as a result.

One family member particularly disagreed and didn’t like what I was saying. Fair enough, we all have a right to our own opinion – and I can respect that. But then, unfortunately, the conversation took a horrible turn. They started arguing that if someone is sexually assaulted, but not raped, for example, then they should consider themselves “lucky”. Similarly, if someone is expecting twins, and one of the babies dies during childbirth, the mother is still “lucky” that at least one survived. 

This infuriated me!! Someone who experiences such a traumatising event should never be considered lucky nor forced to consider themselves as such! Calling a victim or a survivor lucky because it wasn’t “objectively worse” is exactly why I cannot stand the concept and use of the word “luck”. Neither of these situations should be associated with the word luck, ever!

Doing so completely invalidates the person’s experiences. It dismisses their distress and their pain and all the very real negative consequences of what they have been through. It puts the blame and responsibility onto the victim and what their response *should* be, instead of on the perpetrator or other external causes. 

“You’re lucky it wasn’t worse” is one of the most damaging things a survivor can be told. 

Guess what? There will always be someone who has it worse. Does that make everyone lucky it wasn’t worse for them, apart from the single person who’s at the top of the leaderboard? Fuck no! 

In my opinion, attributing an outcome to luck doesn’t add anything to the world. The concept of luck doesn’t need to exist for the world to keep spinning and people to keep smiling, crying, breathing and dying. We can be grateful and appreciative for what we have and we can be aware of our relevant privileges. That doesn’t mean we have to attribute all of that to luck. At the same time, we are allowed to feel pain as a consequence of the things we have been through. And we are allowed to do so without having to deny those experiences because we are “lucky they were not any worse”.

Good things happen to people. Bad things happen to people. Such is life. But please don’t tell people they’re lucky because you can’t accept their reality for what it is. 

When Your Trauma Makes You Deny Your Trauma

Dealing with trauma, whether formally or informally, is layered with challenge upon challenge. One of the biggest challenges I have been facing in the early days of trauma therapy is captured in this relatable quote I recently came across online:

“The first rule of the trauma club: we dismiss our traumas because someone else has it worse.”

Without fail, a large bulk of my recent trauma therapy sessions have become wrapped up in the above. We then end up spending so long challenging my self-judgments, the minimising, the comparing and the dismissing, that a lot of the deeper work gets sidelined. In fact, my therapist and I have realised that by me getting caught up in these cognitive distortions about the validity of what I have or have not been through, it is just another way of my brain deflecting from feelings and pain.

Every time my thoughts go down the avenue of “it wasn’t that bad”, “it doesn’t really count”, “so-and-so had it worse”, “it isn’t real trauma”, I end up moving further away from the true impact of what I’ve been through. As long as I’m stuck in a cycle of invalidating what’s happened to me, I can’t fully experience the pain that is associated with it.

I think, for a lot of us, a vital part of trauma work has to be around tackling this obstacle. Whether that’s by blocking the cognitive distortions when they come up, or challenging the self-judgments and invalidation directly, there is something important about noticing what function the thoughts serve in order to move forward in spite of them. 

I am supposed to try and remind myself when I notice the invalidating thoughts come up that “this is where my brain goes” to try and create a little distance. Thoughts are not facts, as they say in DBT. Pausing and saying to myself, “Wait, this is one of my brain’s clever ways of deflecting from what’s really going on” allows me to make a choice about whether I continue to go with that trail or not. I can either choose to perpetuate the self-berating, self-judging and self-invalidating. Or, I can try something else. I can encourage myself to notice the actual feelings that are there, the ones I try so hard to avoid, and let myself fully experience them. I can try and penetrate the smokescreen.

My brain has learnt 101 ways to disconnect from my experiences, because it’s so much easier to avoid them. But when avoidance seeps into every aspect of my life – including in trauma therapy where the whole point is to work towards reassociating and processing all the cut-off past experiences that I have avoided for so many years – it clearly isn’t serving me any more. 

So the challenge these days is to really notice where my brain is going, watching my thoughts from a distance and deciding what train I’m going to go with. The “my trauma isn’t really trauma” train might be an easier ride, but it isn’t going to get me very far. The alternative train, on the other hand, whilst terrifying and jerky and unfamiliar, might actually get me places.

I guess it all goes back to what an old therapist onces told me. As painful as it might be, in order to heal, we have to feel.

Scars, Stigma and Sadness

Today was sad. I had a beautician appointment with a new clinician. I hate those sorts of appointments, they bring up their own triggers and vulnerabilities every time. But this beautician in particular made things even trickier to manage.

I have scars over various areas of my body, and they were exposed. She made a handful of inappropriate (and highly unprofessional) comments. I will give a few examples of the things she said:

“Why do you do this to yourself? You are so beautiful and young”

“Aren’t you upset with yourself? Look at what you’ve done”

“You should really consider getting them covered with tattoos, then people won’t ask questions”

“But what will your boyfriends/ future husband think!?”  [This assumption is honestly the worst, I can’t stand such heteronormativity – UGH!]

“If you do it again, I’ll tell your Mum and she can sort you out”

“Oh babe, you’re crazy”

She kept on making comments, and we kept on going around in circles. I envisioned having a conversation with my therapist and her coaching me through the interaction. But even though I knew the interpersonal skills I needed to use, I was far from being able to implement them.

I left the appointment feeling a ton of mixed messy feelings. Her comments and attitude made me feel even more uncomfortable (quite literally) in my own skin than I already was. Everything she said highlighted and reiterated to me all the fears and self-judgments I have about myself. There I was, being told in so many words, just how unacceptable I am. It hurt.

The worst thing is, the woman was trying to be nice. She genuinely thought that she was being considerate and helping me with her oh so fucking fabulous words of wisdom. She had no idea about the impact of what she was saying. She had no idea how unaware and insensitive she was being. And I remained stuck, frozen, unable to stand up for myself. As always.

Nevertheless, ironically, all those feelings turned in on myself. Self-disgust. Self-hatred. “YOU ARE SO WEAK – why didn’t you DO something?”. Self-blame. Familiar feelings of inaction and paralysis. A spiral of shame. A desire to hide, to hurt myself, to destroy the unacceptable.

I am trying to remind myself that this is just the opinion of one woman. One woman who doesn’t know the first thing about mental illness, who lives in a world very different to my own, who is irrelevant to my life except for one hour every 6 weeks.

But I guess the truth in all of this is that I am sad. I am sad because my scars are a result of the things I have been through. It doesn’t matter what schtick I get for them, they do not exist for no reason. I am also sad because as much as they are a part of me, and as much as they interfere with my life, the only reason they do interfere is because of people like her. Inherently, I don’t hate my scars. I don’t see them as bad. They are mine and they are a part of my experience as a human being. I have come to accept them as a part of me – just one of many parts. But when others fail to see beyond that – when they judge my past, my present and my future on the physical marks etched onto my skin and fail to see beyond that – it is hard to not slip into judging myself in much the same way.

Dissociation

Dissociation is a common struggle faced by many people living with Borderline Personality Disorder and other mental illnesses. Dissociation is an umbrella term given to a wide range of symptoms that are defined by a feeling of disconnection, either from oneself or from the world. 

Feeling low levels of these symptoms from time to time may be considered “normal”. For example, the average person might experience feelings of being on autopilot whilst driving a car every so often, or they might find themselves a little spacey due to fatigue or stress once in a while.

However, if the symptoms are regular and recurring, and significantly affect someone’s functioning and wellbeing, dissociative symptoms may be indicative of an underling problem.

These symptoms manifest in a number of ways and to different degrees depending on the person and situation. Dissociative symptoms exist on a spectrum, and because of the uniqueness of each person’s experiences, and the internal nature of them, it can be hard to get across exactly what it feels like. For me, the experience is so experiential that it putting it into words does not do it justice. In order to understand what dissociation feels like, it’s something you really have to have experienced for yourself.

For me, dissociation manifests in a number of ways. Here are a few of the dissociative symptoms I struggle with:

  • Depersonalisation – I don’t feel real, my limbs don’t feel part of my body, I feel like a zombie, like I’m not really alive, like my brain and body aren’t in sync.
  • Derealisation – the world doesn’t feel real, I can’t connect to it, there is a glass wall or fog stopping me from accessing life, the world looks trippy.
  • Sensory distortions – mostly visual, auditory or tactile. I can feel like I am tripping when it is especially intense. Time also distorts.
  • Memory loss/ blanks – impaired concentration, losing track of my day, common places feel unfamiliar, it’s hard to recognise my surroundings, being unable to recall an event or journey.
  • Physical impairment – e.g. slow motion, slurred speech, impaired movements, blurry vision.
  • Panic – when triggered by trauma based cues, I might go into a panic attack, unable to control my body, uncontrollable shaking, hyperventilating and a feeling of being possessed, like my body is no longer my own.

People often learn to dissociate as children when the world is too much to handle. If a kid is being abused (emotionally or otherwise), or dealing with other trauma, disconnecting often works as a way to cope. However, in the present, the function no longer serves. Symptoms of dissociation linger because it is a learnt response, but they often interfere with the person’s life. Something that was once protective is now also life-impairing. Unfortunately, dissociation isn’t something that simply goes away. It is unlikely to lift fully until the underlying reasons for it (usually trauma) are addressed.

I continue to live my life in a fog and it makes me feel less than human most of the time. I hope that embarking on trauma work in therapy will help me with my dissociation. I hope it will enable me to live my life more fully, more safely, and more grounded in the present. 

For more about my experiences with dissociation, depersonalisation and derealisation, click this link here. 

Childhood Feelings Triggered Hard

Today was a painful day. Recently in therapy we have been talking about my attachment pain and how it relates to my childhood. We have talked to an extent about my Mum and how she related to me when I was little – how little, vulnerable, alone, misunderstood and invalidated she made me feel. In therapy, I hadn’t been able to fully access those feelings from childhood; it’s felt very much like I was telling a story – with little to no emotion. Today, however, those emotions were triggered and finally able to come out in the real world.

I apologise in advance for the incoherence of this post. I just needed to rant, and to get it all out.


There were two issues. The first one was as follows:

My T gave me her teddy bear to look after and use for comfort, as a transitional object, whilst we work on my early relational trauma. I have been feeling young inside, needy and pained, and carrying around the teddy like a child with a comfort toy has felt incredibly supportive. The problem, however, is that I live with my Mum. I didn’t want to tell her about the teddy because I knew she would react judgmentally. However, I spoke to Sister no. 1 yesterday in the car about it, so she was aware. I had asked her to please not tell Mum and she had said that she would not. Nevertheless, this is what happened.

Today we were in the kitchen and I was studying whilst cuddling the teddy. Sis no. 1 came downstairs and saw me with the teddy and starting questioning why I was still holding him, despite the fact that she was aware of why. I tried to avoid her question but she kept probing me, and Mum was getting involved.
“Why ARE you still holding that teddy?” Mum started to question. “How old are you, seriously?”.
Sis continued, provoking me, joining Mum, asking me where I had actually gotten the teddy from.
“Is he even yours? Where DID you get him from?” and not letting up when I tried to avoid all the questions she was throwing at me. I glanced at Sis with telling eyes; it was obvious that I was uncomfortable and wanting her to stop, especially because she had promised me that she wouldn’t tell Mum just yesterday. Instead she just kept pressing me and wouldn’t let go.

Eventually, she turned to Mum and said in a really judgmental voice,
“It’s her THERAPIST’S teddy!” and then to me “Isn’t ittttt?!”, in a sarcastic and mocking tone.

Mum asked me why my T had given me her teddy and I told her that it was as a transitional object, for when I am struggling with my emotions. I was as vague as possible; I didn’t tell her about the work we are doing in therapy, for obvious reasons of course. However, she proceeded to go on a full rant about expressing her opinion of me. She was very happy to let me know how weird she thought the situation was, how it doesn’t sound like ‘good therapeutic practice’, and how it makes her feel genuinely concerned because I am an adult now and still act like such a child. She did her usual “It’s just not normal, it’s really not, not normal at all” and continued with the old “Come on, how old are you, I mean seriously” spiel. My sister happily joined in, clearly getting off on the tease. It felt hurtful and incredibly cruel, especially after I had asked her not to mention the teddy situation to our Mum.

I was getting increasingly upset and tried to defend myself and my T as I felt really defensive and attacked by everything my Mum was saying. But she just continued on and on, slamming into me about how abnormal it is to behave in the way that I behave, and how she can’t help but judge and worry about it, because it “doesn’t sit comfortably” with her at all to see me walking about the house with a teddy like a lost little child. (The irony is that she never stopped to question why I feel like this ‘lost little child’ in the first place. HINT: Something to do with the way she treated me when I was ‘that child’.)

As the shame grew I started to feel myself shrinking inwards; all the beliefs about what a freak I am reiterated x10000 by the person who’s meant to love me the most but instead makes me feel more bad about myself than anyone else ever could. After trying so fucking hard in therapy for so long to try and reverse these judgements I have about myself and validate them instead, the way that my Mum was speaking to me unraveled any progress I had made in that area. She continued to back up how the shame I feel is very much valid, that I should be embarrassed for feeling so young and needy inside and for expressing it in the way that I do. She was supporting all the core beliefs I have about myself being a shamefully abnormal freak who doesn’t fit in with the rest of the world and who is faulty and broken instead.

Essentially, she was telling me that there is something wrong with me. There is something wrong with me and I am not acceptable to her because of that. I am bad, I need to be different, and it is wrong to feel the way that I feel. I am fundamentally flawed.

By the time I managed to calm down a few hours later, situation 2 was evolving. This is what happened:

Sister no. 2 (who is my half-sister, we share the same Dad) was having her own crisis at school. The story wasn’t important; what was important was how distressed she was off the back of it. She was panicking and crying down the phone to me, her anxiety was sky-rocketing, and she was beating herself up with guilt and sounding really self-punitive and judgmental. She felt so guilty about the situation and a mistake she had made, and although she knew on one hand what she needed to do to fix it, the anxiety over every single option felt excruciating – and she found herself totally trapped. On top of this, the frustration at her ADHD, and the consequences of her ADHD, were too overwhelming to be able to regulate on her own.

I was proud of her for calling me, and as her sister, I was there to help. I stayed on the phone to her whilst she cried and explained the situation, and validated how she was feeling as much as I could. I reminded her gently to breathe because she was struggling with the tears, and made my voice sound soothing to try and calm her down. I did everything I would want someone to do for me if I was in a crisis. I spoke to her like how my T speaks to me when I am in that state. I stayed calm and collected, I validated her and was compassionate and caring, and I also tried to help her get through the situation by proposing solutions that I could help her achieve. I reiterated that no one was angry with her, that her guilt made sense to me because I know how much it means to her to not upset or displease people, but that I absolutely was not angry in the slightest, and that the only thing that was important to me is that we work out how to help her navigate the situation and feel calm again.

I told her that no matter what the outcome of the situation, no one was going to be mad with her, and how I could hear how distressed she was and that despite that I knew she was trying her best to get through. With regards to the mistake she had made, I highlighted that the most important thing was the thought (“it’s the thought that counts”), and that she is one of the most thoughtful people I know. She might have made a mistake, but she is only human. Plus, she was having a bad ADHD day, and that was not her fault. I validated how frustrating it must be to struggle with ADHD in the way that she does, and for people not to understand that she doesn’t behave in the ways that she does on purpose.

I was very mindful of the fact that yes, the situation and the mistake was slightly frustrating in terms of practicalities, but when I imagined how much more upsetting it must be for her – being the one who can’t control her ADHD and anxiety and having to live with it every day and the guilt and shame she has on top of it – the mistake itself felt unimportant. I felt really upset for her because of how her distressed she was and how much she was struggling with her emotions, and so even though the situation was not ideal, that was absolutely not the priority. The priority was being there for my 13 year old sister who struggles immensely with emotions and who beats herself up chronically for feeling and being the way that she is. I wanted to be someone who could show her unconditional love, assure her that she was safe to feel the way she was feeling with me, and that I was not going to react.

I wanted to show her that no matter what was going on for her, I was going to be able to hold that space with her, and to support her through the distress and be alongside her in the process of calming down. She tried to regulate herself for a bit and deal with the situation in the ways we had discussed, then called me back to update me on the situation and how she was doing. Eventually, she managed to get to a place where she was calmer and had stopped crying, stopped panicking, and felt more in control of herself. As it turned out, once she had calmed down, she managed to state her needs and actually resolve the situation without my presence. I was really proud of her, especially as I know how much anxiety she was feeling. So, the last time she called, I told her how proud of her I was, validated her again and told her I loved her and would always love her, no matter what mistakes she made. The most important thing was showing her that unconditional care, which is something we have both needed and gone without at pivotal points in our lives. She really appreciated it, and the situation was pretty much resolved.

However, whilst I was having this conversation over the phone with Sis no. 2, Mum and Sis no. 1 were chattering behind me in the background with disdain. I was struggling to multitask but could make out what they were saying, because my Mum continued to hiss at me to get off the phone and to stop pandering to Sis no. 2 and ‘enabling her dependence’. It is not exactly the easiest thing trying to help my little sister through a crisis, let alone doing so when behind me I can hear my Mum and Sis no. 1 going on about how ridiculous and dramatic the whole situation is – and how ‘badly’ I am dealing with it.

I wanted to scream at them to shut the fuck up as I was trying to be there for Sis no. 2 and all I could focus on was their stupid judgments and over involvement about a situation they knew very little about in my ear. (I mean seriously why the fuck was my Mum involving herself with this anyway, Sis no. 2 is not even her daughter!). As soon as Sis no 2 got off the phone to me, I turned around to Mum and Sis no. 1 and asked them what on earth they were thinking. I told them that they had no idea what was going on on the other side of the phone (i.e. for Sis no. 2) and tried to explain how difficult it is for her having to live with ADHD and anxiety and feeling so misunderstood by everyone around her who responds with such little compassion. I told them that comments like theirs (e.g. “She needs to be more self reliant and stop making everything into such drama”) are exactly what fuel the shame, guilt and self judgments she then puts onto herself.

Sis no. 1 said that Sis no. 2 was being ridiculous and needs to grow up. My Mum agreed, saying that I make the situation worse by pandering to her and being ‘too nice’ when really what she needs is some harsh love. I tried to back myself up, describing the level of distress Sis no. 2 was experiencing, and letting them know that I was trying to balance being there for her with finding a solution – and that actually, ultimately, she was the one who had fought through her anxiety on this occasion to try and problem solve, despite the distress she was in.

They were not hearing anything I had to say, and continued to go on about how I was putting my own problems onto my little sister, how it’s not actually helpful for me to speak to her on the phone and ‘make her’ more dependent on me, and how I was being more dramatic than was needed and that we just need to chill the fuck out and stop being so dramatic over the smallest situation. They didn’t understand that it wasn’t about the situation; it was about the emotions and distress Sis no. 2 was feeling. I was trying so hard to explain that when someone is in that level of distress, especially a CHILD, and a CHILD with anxiety AND ADHD at that, expecting them to be able to get themselves out of a crisis is really flawed logic. It is the kind of expectation that makes children believe that there is something wrong with them for struggling with their emotions, and makes them internalise how they are feeling, stop asking for help and instead try and shove down or deal with their emotions in ways that are not healthy. Ever since Sis no 2. has been encouraged to communicate with us when she’s struggling, the self-destructive tendencies and crises have gone down, and she’s been much better at getting through these sorts of situations with support. Withdrawing that would be a disaster and set her back months or years.

In these sorts of situations, the professionals have always encouraged the type of communication that I use with Sis no. 2 – compassionate, solution-focused but validating and soothing communication. Listening, attending, and trying to work together to navigate distressing situations. Being there for her, supporting her so that she is better equipped to support herself. When she is in that state, there is no way she is able to calm herself down, and showing ‘tough love’, hanging up the phone, or trying to force her to be more self reliant when her distress is that high, only ever makes things worse. This includes making her feel like she is bad and should be told off or shamed for feeling the way that she does, which is essentially what they were convinced of.

When my Mum and Sis no. 1 were still not getting anything I was saying, they started saying to one another, in front of me,
“Oh my god, she’s not listening, she just doesn’t get it, there is no point in even trying to convince her, she’s putting her own stuff onto the situation” acting like I was pretty much delusional and making me question my sanity simply because they were the majority and shared the same opinion! When I tried to explain how their way of relating to a child is how I was related to as child (i.e. “stop being ridiculous, buck up, get your act together, stop being such a baby, stop being so over sensitive” etc) and how badly that served me, and how what I’ve learnt in therapy and treatment is that the more effective way of relating to a child is by using the type of approach I always try and use in communication nowadays (i.e. DBT, validation, acceptance, change, etc), they just started accusing me again on putting my own shit onto Sis no. 2 yet again.

Instead of wondering if maybe, actually, my experiences of emotional distress have helped facilitate an increased understanding of what is and is not helpful in emotionally weighted situations, they stayed put in their conviction that their way (i.e. the invalidating, cold-hearted, non-compassionate way) is the right way. And that my sensitivity was making me respond in the wrong way, instead of in a way that is actually more effective for Sis no. 2 who is very much like me and does need to be listened to and validated in order to then be able to problem solve. #acceptanceTHENchange

By this point I was in complete tears, in my room, in such a state, screaming at my Mum who refused to drop her line of argument, really digging into me and actually making me question my sanity AS USUAL. She kept saying that because both Sis no. 1 and her agreed, it was 2 against 1 and that shows that I don’t know what I am talking about and should really take on board what they were saying. I find it so fucking triggering when people manipulate me into questioning my own sanity and will not see anything I say simply because I have a history of emotional sensitivity (or mental illness). As though that makes me less aware as opposed to more?! It is so fucked up.

Also, the fact that my Mum’s line of argument was centred around her belief that I was pandering to and enabling my sister, as though it is MY job to think about that stuff, was really upsetting. My whole life I have been put in a caring position towards my half sisters, often being given far too much responsibility that hasn’t been mine to take. Words like ‘enabling’ might be applicable to parenting tactics or therapeutic approaches, but being a sister is not the same as being a figure in authority or formal care. It is not my job to parent or condition her, nor to think out the best way of approaching her crises in the same a parent might. It is my role to be there for her in whatever way I can be – not as her mentor or therapist or Mum – but as her sister, pure and simple.

Eventually I totally lost it with my Mum, screaming at her that, “THE ONLY REASON I AM THE WAY I AM IS BECAUSE YOU TREATED ME EXACTLY HOW YOU WANT ME TO TREAT SIS NO. 2 NOW. DO YOU NOT SEE THAT IF I TREAT HER IN THE WAY YOU WANT ME TO – INVALIDATE, SHAME, MINIMISE, JUDGE ETC – I AM JUST SETTING HER UP TO FEEL AS TERRIBLY ABOUT HERSELF AND HER EMOTIONS AS YOU HAVE MADE ME FEEL ABOUT MINE ALL MY LIFE?”

I was on a rampage now. I continued,
“I AM NOT LIKE THIS FOR NOTHING. I AM LIKE THIS – AND IT IS IMPORTANT FOR ME TO VALIDATE AND BE ATTENTIVE TO SIS NO. 2 IN THE WAY THAT I AM – BECAUSE OF HOW THAT WAS ABSOLUTELY NOT SOMETHING I HAD FROM YOU WHEN I NEEDED IT WHEN I WAS LITTLE, AND BECAUSE I KNOW HOW DAMAGING THAT IS. AS SOMEONE WHO HAS BEEN THROUGH THAT APPRAOCH, AND WHO HAS BEEN FUCKED UP BECAUSE OF IT, I WILL NEVER PUT ANY OF THAT ONTO ANYONE EVER, ESPECIALLY NOT MY LITTLE SISTER.

I screamed at my Mum to get out, and wailed and wailed, before calling my Dad and my Step-mum and trying to speak down the phone to them for reassurance. I was crying so hard down the phone that they could barely make out what I was saying. But they told me that everything I did was right and that out of everyone in the whole family, I relate to Sis no. 2 the most, I communicate with her the most effectively, and she responds the best with me. So fuck you, Mum and sis no. 1, fuck you.

Attachment Pain is Back

Things have been up and down over the last few weeks, but one thing is for sure. Over the past few days, attachment pain related to my therapist has sprung back in an overwhelming way and I find myself stuck in that place of rejection and hopelessness once again.

I thought that maybe I was starting to get somewhere with this attachment stuff. But unfortunately my attachment pain hasn’t really got much better. I think it possibly comes and goes in waves more than it used to, and the periods of it taking over my life are probably less frequent than they were; my therapist and I certainly have less numerous and catastrophic ruptures. However, I’m currently in a period of high attachment pain and I cannot say that the distress of it is any less than it has been before.

Sometimes when I’m not in as much pain I forget just how unbearable it feels. But now that I am IN it, it feels like this pain is all that has ever existed and all that ever will.

I love DBT. It has saved my life in many ways. But regardless, when it comes to these attachment difficulties, DBT skills never seem to be enough. I hate it when they tell me that this pain will eventually extinguish because I see no evidence of that. Instead it just seems to peak and peak and peak….. then keeps me stranded, alone, in the most excruciating emotional pain anyone could experience.

Sometimes DBT can feel a bit “surface” and like a mostly “top down” approach. But my belief is that I need to target this attachment stuff from the “bottom up”. My belief is that without the right sort of trauma work I won’t ever be able to fully heal from my attachment difficulties because they are a result of relational/ complex trauma that is pretty much ingrained within my cells. I am in a more trauma focused therapy at the moment although we still use DBT as an underlying framework. I am advised and encouraged to practice the skills as an addition to the trauma work, and my T constantly reiterates the importance of skills such as self-soothing and self-validating whilst we are doing this work.

However it still feels impossible and almost counter intuitive to soothe myself when the only one I want that from right now is my therapist. I am the last person I want any care from (I despise myself, I disgust myself, I want to punish myself, so why would care from myself feel nurturing or even possible!?). I understand that this is where I need to be (and is where the healthy part of me wants to be!) but how to get there is another story.

My therapist tells me the actions have to come first (“act as if”) and the feelings will follow eventually (albeit from the outside in). Like I said, I have little evidence of that as yet, but maybe as I continue with the trauma therapy things will start to shift from the inside out.

No More Hugs

My therapist told me she’d been thinking about me a lot this week and that she had come to a realisation after our last 2 sessions (1 & 2). She told me it had become clear to her that when she hugs me it actually gets in the way of our therapeutic work. As I sat there in tears, feeling about 4 years old, she proceeded to explain why. 

She said that every time she hugs me she is placating my need to be soothed, reassured and comforted by a mother figure. But that every time she does that, it blocks the reality of my situation that I try so hard to avoid. That reality is the strength and pain of my need as it manifests in the first place. That reality is the reality than needs to be faced.

Essentially what she was saying is that every time she hugs me, it is like she is putting a plaster over the core issue, making it better temporarily but actually hindering me in the long run. What she is referring to is the way I feel when I do not have access to the comfort I crave from her so deeply. It is those intense feelings of loneliness, neediness, sadness and pain, and the experience of not having that distress soothed as a young child, that are the core issues. Those feelings and experiences are ones that need to be sat with, processed and worked with. In her view, every time she hugs me, she is inadvertently getting me further from doing just that.

She thinks that if we stop hugging, it will expose me to all the painful feelings of emptiness and yearning that we need me to experience as a part of my process. I can then bring those experiences to therapy and that is what we can work with. Ultimately this might help me understand where these feelings stem from, develop more self-compassion and better equip me to heal certain parts of myself from the inside out. My stability won’t have to be so dependent on the way she interacts with me. And in time, she hopes, as I heal, my desperate need for her hugs and holding will lose their ‘life or death’ power. 

I understand what she is saying completely. I appreciate her acknowledging and apologising for how hard this must be for me. But, I am devastated nonetheless. I don’t know how to make peace with this change and the possibility that she may never hug me again. 

Pregnancy, Babies and Breastfeeding Fantasies

This posts feels like a risk to publish but….

It is 3:20am and I cannot sleep because I am obsessing about pregnancy and babies. This has been going on for a couple of days now and I am unsure what it is about. My thoughts have been taken over by fantasies about being pregnant, giving birth, being a new mother, breastfeeding, and variations on the theme. 

This obsession has infiltrated into my dreams as well. I have been having nightmares about being a new mother desperate but unable to connect with my infant in some way. Last night I woke up 5 times from the same dream in which I was unable to get my dream baby to suckle despite my best efforts. Every time I fell back to sleep I failed her yet again. We just could not attune in the way I was desperate to.

There are a million reasons why it is not an option right now for me to have a baby and it is not something I am considering even slightly. But for some reason I am experiencing a fair amount of pain in relation to these fantasies. I have been watching related videos, reading forums and thinking about newborn babies non-stop. I feel empty and like something mighty is missing inside of me. The desire to have a baby I can hold and feed and soothe, someone who is mine and who is my entire world, is overwhelming.

This new feeling inside of me is screaming and it’s scary. I have always known I want to be a mother (way in the future!), but I have never been so consumed by these urges as I am right now. The thought of carrying a living being inside of me, or being able to breastfeed a newborn baby, fills me with a craving I cannot describe. 

I am remembering when I was a child and I used to pretend to breastfeed my teddies; soothe them and tell them it was all going to be okay. It’s almost as though I am entering that fantasy world again.

The desire to have that sort of connection is taking me over entirely. Perhaps it is something about yearning for that level of intimacy and unconditional love with another being. Or maybe there’s genuinely just something wrong with my hormones! I’ve never quite felt like this before and it’s confusingly shameful and scary. 

And it’s not just emotional and mental but a real visceral experience as well, especially the dreams. I’m scared to go to sleep. I wonder what it all means.

The Battle of Insatiable Neediness Vs. the Shame of Having That Need

My therapist and I managed to patch things up in my last session, after a pretty serious rupture a couple of days before. Towards the end of the session, I sought some final reassurance from her. I needed to make doubly sure before I left that things were going to work out okay in our relationship and in continuing my treatment.

“So you’re not leaving me then?” I asked, eyes wide and doe-eyed, voice high-pitched and timid like a child, “and things are going to go back to normal between us?”
“Lovey, what have I told you?”
“I know, but…” I pleaded, “…I need you to say it again.”
She breathed out, loud and slowly. Lovingly. “So long as our work together is effective, I am not planning on going anywhere.” She smiled, a gentle smile.

She had that look on her face. The look of compassion and love and curiosity and sadness. The look that says “I am here. I care about you. I see your pain.”

I could breathe a little more freely again.

Usually after these ruptures I need a hug. On one hand I think it’s to confirm that things are okay between us. I need the reassurance. On the only hand, it’s for the comfort. When I’m in that pit of sadness, a hug from my therapist feels like a little spark of hope and light within the dark. When she hugs me it breathes life into me. It makes me feel whole for a moment. She is also the only person I feel safe hugging me like that; the only person I really have to hug me at all. It means the world to feel safe and held for five seconds every week.

An inner tug of war was bubbling inside of me.
“I need a cuddle. It hurts so bad. I can’t leave without a hug. It’s only all better if she gives you a hug. Tell her you need a hug. Quick, you can’t leave without a hug!”
And the other half of me, screaming the opposite. “Don’t do it, don’t you dare. You don’t deserve a hug. What if she says no? It’s not worth the risk. Stop being such a fucking child! She doesn’t want to hug you, anyway. LEAVE”

The urge was too strong to resist. The power of the need to be held was greater than the power of the shame that was holding me back from asking. Two impossibly infinite forces. And yet, only one possible outcome.

I took the plunge. “Please can I have a cuddle?”
I think I said it in my Little’s voice again. And I could not for the life of me look her in the eye.
She touched my arm, affectionately. “What would the function of that be right now, lovey?”
“I just… I just need a hug”.
“You know I’m happy to give you hugs. But I think you are seeking reassurance. And I think we need to come back to this next session. What is the function of getting a hug from me, right now, do you think?”

My cheeks were flushing and I could feel the shame erupting from within me. The shame. The cataclysmic shame. And so I started getting angry, although I doubt she knew it. It was my usual HOW DARE YOU MAKE ME FEEL SHAME response, typical of this dynamic.

“What’s going on for you right now?” she asked, “what feelings are you noticing.”
“I just NEED you to HUG ME.” I was getting antsy, and my Little was silently raging.
“What feeling are you noticing, lovey?”
“I’m just so fucking embarrassed”, I said, trying to hold back the tears. I cry when I’m angry. I cry when I feel ashamed.

And oh, the SHAME. The shame for asking. The shame for needing. The shame for admitting that need. The shame the shame the shame. The shame for being. There are no words to describe that shame. I wished the ground could swallow me up and make me disappear off the face of the Earth.

She stroked me arm; a gesture of compromise, I suppose. I shrugged her off of me.
“Don’t”, I hissed, “I don’t feel in control when it’s like that.”
It wasn’t fair that she could touch me on HER terms, yet wouldn’t hug me on MINE. I felt more uncomfortable and confused that way than if she hadn’t touched me at all.
“Okay honey. I won’t touch you. We’ll talk about this next week. This is all giving us information; this is valuable stuff. Look after yourself, and I’ll see you in a few days.”

I couldn’t look at her. I left in a sulk. I love her so much. But I hated her in that moment too. I had exposed myself, raw and vulnerable, in asking for that hug. Just a hug. And I even begged. Just for a fucking hug. And she still declined.

My Little doesn’t know the difference between whether a hug is for reassurance or comfort or what, and neither does it care. But my Little knows that feeling of rejection well. That feeling doesn’t need discerning. It is the one feeling I have tried to avoid all my life. That hurt. That shame. That sting.

So I left, defeated and helpless, regressed and broken once again. And as I left, I collapsed onto the stairs in tears trying desperately not to let the progress we had made in that session unravel before me in an instant. And whilst I could rationalise what was happening within me, and whilst I knew on one hand why my therapist did what she did, I couldn’t stop the punitive voices that pelted my brain like a rifle opening fire. All that anger, that rejection, every morsel of negative affect of the last 3 minutes was redirected straight onto myself.
“Well what did you expect? You got what you deserved. You shouldn’t have bloody asked and I told you not to but you didn’t listen. You are weak, so needy, so fucking greedy it disgusts me. You are an embarrassment. You are flawed. And you are entirely unworthy of love.”

Another Rupture with My Therapist

I went in and she immediately asked for my Diary Card, which is what she does only when she is annoyed with me, instead of asking outright how I am. I gave it to her; she looked over it, and asked how I wanted to spend the session. I told her I wanted to apologise for breaking my commitment to her on Friday (a behaviour that I had promised I would stop doing) and texting on Saturday about it (even though I had good intentions in simply recommitting to her as I was struggling to not continue giving in). 

I over-apologised and took the blame and full responsibility for the situation. I showed that I felt regretful and understanding and grateful to her. I didn’t let any of my anger or hurt or confusion spill out about the situation that led up to this, which is too long and complex to go into now. I put my own hurt aside because I was desperate to resolve the conflict and knew that getting emotional about it would only perpetuate the rupture. 

But it didn’t work. She told me that, quite frankly, she was annoyed with me. She said that I continuously push her boundaries and that something within our dynamic isn’t helpful. And that there is a clear pattern of me setting up interactions in which I end up being or feeling “punished” by her as a consequence – as though that’s a position I subconsciously recreate for myself. 

I tried to explain to her that it isn’t personal – it isn’t about HER specifically – and that my attachment issues follow me with every single therapist I see. “I warned you about this”, I reminded her. It is how I am in relation to all therapists I have, no matter what they do or don’t do, no matter what their approach or ways of interacting with me are. She said that she believes she has not been boundaried enough with me and that she keeps giving in to this complex dynamic between us in a way that isn’t helpful to either of us; that I suck her in and she keeps extending herself; but that ultimately it sets her up to fail and only adds to the pain that I already experience and recreates past relational difficulties.

Out of nowhere, she told me that one solution available to us is that I see another therapist. I froze in absolute shock. After building up my trust with her over two years and starting to finally believe that maybe she could be the first therapist to not leave me, give up on me and hand me on to someone else, here she was announcing the prospect of me seeing someone other than her. 

How could she claim that this was one of her solutions? Me transferring to another therapist would be the total opposite of a solution. It would be her admitting that there is no solution – I am beyond help – and passing me over to yet another clinician to try and have a go at dealing with such an impossible and hopeless case. Me.

I erupted. I broke. I totally lost it. The tears, the anger, the hurt. I could not speak for the shock. 

And then, the shame. The shame because how dare I be shocked that my therapist is considering leaving me. Of course she is considering leaving me; that’s what everyone does. Everyone leaves me. I am flawed. I am irreparable. I am supposed to be left. Why would anyone ever not leave me? How dare I let myself think for even one moment that maybe someone was here to stay.

As time went on and I continued to express my feelings in response to her “solution”, she said she wanted to clarify – that I was catastophising. It felt like she was trying to cover her tracks, to be honest, but I just don’t know anymore. She said that no, she wasn’t giving up on me, and that transferring therapists was just one possible solution to me being ineffective and these issues between us. I reminded her that yes I was ineffective this week; but look at where I’ve come from, look at how I have managed myself and our relationship in recent months. I asked her to focus on that instead of the one week I fucked up, especially as I was recognising and taking full responsibility for my actions and doing everything in my power to get back on track.

She couldn’t understand that the fact she even so much as THOUGHT about me seeing another therapist could be what was causing me such distress, regardless of whether that might happen or not. Even if that is only one of 100 solutions, if she could think of that as being a possible answer, then she has totally betrayed me. Just the knowledge that she had considered me seeing a different therapist to her in itself was enough to bring my whole world crashing down.

The session was a mess. I couldn’t look at her. I could not stop my tears. My head felt like it was about to explode.

About half way through, she started to really bother me. She started yawning and shuffling and shifting, and even went to the toilet during our session for the first time ever. She also got up and stood by the heater, started stretching her legs, moved the table and her chair into different positions – all things she has never done before. I was feeling really uncomfortable with all of the above and trying to understand why she was acting so differently to usual. I was completely honest with her, brutally honest. It was clear I was pissed. I needed her to know it. I told her how uncomfortable I felt with all the above and how angry and confused it left me. I told her that how she was interacting with me was making me question reality and what was going on for her and between us, making me hypervigilant and scared, making me feel unsafe. 

She started describing her symptoms to me, expressed a pain in her legs, a sleepiness, a disconnection, and agreed that she was in fact restless and discombobulated like I had noticed. She told me that there was no personal reason why she should be feeling that way, and that usually when she has this experience within a session (for no tangible reason related to herself) it’s because her client is dissociating. Making it all about me.

I told her I was no more dissociated than usual. I mean fuck I was dissociated, but I’m always dissociated – and she’s never been like that with me. She yawned again, in fact it happened 4-5 times overall. By the last one, I flipped out and forcefully requested for her to PLEASE STOP YAWNING. I reiterated how distressed I was feeling off the back of how she was interacting with me, told her I felt like she was annoyed, bored, waiting for the session to end, wanting to get rid of me, unable to focus on me and not understanding my distress. I explained how her behaviour was making me feel the need to assess her with more scrutiny and attend to the situation taking the focus off of myself; that it was making me want to look after or fix her, which I didn’t feel was appropriate.

When I told her these things she told me that I was judging and mind-reading, and that I needed to pull back and watch where my brain was taking me. She said I was trying to find any evidence I could to fit my emotions. WHAT. I was actually trying to use evidence from observable behaviours and reality (i.e her yawning and restlessness for example) in order to try and develop an informed understanding of what the fuck was going on between us. 

She said I needed to check the facts of the situation, but that was exactly what I was doing, and the facts were that she WAS behaving very weirdly with me. She again told me that “weird” was a judgment. And when I said “you know what I mean”, she responded that “actually no, I can’t mind read, can I?”. I felt like she was pressing my buttons on purpose, being so obstructive, passive aggressive and insensitive. It felt traumatising.

When I accused her of acting bored or angry with me, she started arguing that how she felt in terms of the sleepiness and restlessness was no reflection of how she was consciously feeling in relation to me (i.e. She wasn’t angry or bored) – bringing it back to the “this is what happens when my client dissociates” excuse. Once again, I felt like I was being blamed for her odd behaviour, and being punished for feeling distressed about it. 

Her justification also pissed me off more, because as humans we exist in relation to other people, and if we notice something different in one person in a dyadic relationship, it’s probably telling of something that is going on within that relationship. It’s not just about one person – it’s not just about “the client dissociating”. The therapist brings their own shit too. Her shit was definitely coming out in the session. Plus, I have often been more dissociated than today and yet she has never acted how she did earlier during any of those instances. 

As I started getting more angry and expressing everything I was experiencing to her, she told me that this wasn’t about me and her but that it was about me and my past relationships – specifically, my mum. I had been talking about how I feel like everything I was saying was wrong, despite my best efforts to just do right, be a good person and not cause others to suffer, all I do is end up fucking everything up for others – and in turn for myself. Instead of seeing how this actually was true within the current situation with her, she kept bringing it back to my past, asking if this was a familiar feeling to me and where it came from. 

I told her that yes it is a familiar feeling but that I don’t have many memories of my childhood and so I’m not sure where it first came from, I find it hard to access specific examples, but I am open to exploring this when we have resolved the situation between us. She told me that my inability to access my past is just another way of me dissociating and that it acts to create a smoke screen to what the actual issues are. I expressed to her I was willing to address the core issues but asked how the fuck I am supposed to do so if a) I don’t know what I’m looking for and b) I don’t have a clear idea of my childhood. I find it hard to remember how I was or how I felt and that’s not on purpose. 

She said we would have to work on ways to access that stuff together. So I asked how I could access it, and I was surprised when she told me that she didn’t know. I got even more angry. “How can you tell me that what I experience is a smoke screen to what is really there, but when I ask you as my therapist how to access what is beyond the smoke screen you get mad at me for having, you tell me you don’t even know!?” Once again, I felt I was in a lose-lose situation. 

At the end of the 90 minutes she told me that she wanted me to decide how we are going to use my Thursday session. She said that if we do EMDR, it has to come from me, as she’s not going to be another person who forces me into doing something. I get it. But I don’t feel SAFE doing trauma work with her right now, because we are in the middle of this huge rupture. I told her this, explaining that I would need to feel very comfortable with her, and like this situation is resolved, before delving into EMDR again. 

She started telling me not to use the judgment “safe” and asking me if my emotion of fear was justified? “You know where the door is, you’re not trapped in here, are you?”, instead of acknowledging why maybe EMDR right now would be fucking scary. Especially considering we are in the middle of the worst rupture we’ve ever had together and it is incredibly distressing and inducing emotions beyond explanation in me. Who gives a fuck if fear is DBT-defined “justified” in terms of my “life being in danger”; the important thing is that how I was feeling today was fucking VALID. Even I could validate myself for once in my life.

I felt completely unseen. She seemed totally unable to validate how or why I was in such a distressed state, and couldn’t see my feelings as justified, sticking rigidly to those DBT definitions. I thought, “After you trying to assure me for almost 2 years that you feel a certain way about me and are never going to give up on or leave me, for me to then hear that you have considered the possibility of me transferring to another therapist, HOW AM I NOT SUPPOSED TO NOT HAVE EMOTIONS (and valid judgments) IN RESPONSE TO THAT?!!?”

I walked out of the session without eye contact or a thank you, because I hate her guts right now and am beyond hurt that I cannot even describe this pain. All I want to do is hurt myself. But I’m not, because some part of me still wants to fix our relationship and the likelihood of that happening if I am “ineffective” is slim to none. The fact that I am not giving in to urges, merely because of how doing so would worsen the situation in terms of our relationship, is making me hate myself even more. Because why am I so invested in saving (what feels like on my own) a relationship with someone who has hurt me so unbelievably much. 

Why do I love and hate her in the way that I do? Even though she has hurt me in a way I never thought she would, and betrayed all the trust that has taken me so long to build with her, why do I still feel like she’s the most significant person in my world? 

A Profound Dream about Me and My Therapist

My therapist was at my Mum’s house in the morning, helping Mum clear some toys in my sister’s room. I heard them talking and tried to overhear, but they realised I was awake. My therapist challenged my “morning ritual” but I wasn’t comfortable confronting it yet. So I snuck out of my room when she wasn’t looking and into the bathroom to quickly shower. 

I was rushing as I wanted to see why she was at our house and not miss any time with her! I was really anxious and worried that she would leave before I saw her properly. Damn my morning ritual! But I had to shower first. However, the shower (the one in the bath) got stuck after I had finished, and water was going everywhere. For some reason she was right outside the bathroom, so I called to her to help me fix it. 

She came in before I was ready as she misheard me saying “don’t come in!” for “come in!”, so I quickly grabbed a towel and held it over me. She was sort of trying to look at me even though I told her to look away, but for some reason I didn’t mind that much. I managed to wrap the towel around me and she started to fix the shower. She was then naked in the bath trying to fix it and turn it off, so that her clothes didn’t get wet. We were both quite chilled though, for some reason; it wasn’t too weird – there was just this feeling of safe motherly-daughterly trust in the air. 

Next thing I know, I am at a table with her and some other professionals and they are staging some sort of intervention. My therapist informs me that she has set up a mentoring service and that she is offering to take me on. How the service works is you pay £400 a week for the standard version (or £8,000 a month for the unlimited version) for her services. 

One of the male clinicians explained that it doesn’t work for a lot of people, but that they had been reviewing my case and that for people with my difficulties it might help get my life back on track. Because of “your social anxiety, depression and trauma, it could really help you”. They told me they were worried about me and this was a measure they took for extreme patients who needed such a level of support. I found that validating to hear.

I was informed of what it would entail: my therapist would stay at my Mum’s house with me, basically live with us, be there most of the time to help me with my life, come with me to social events, out and about, helping expose me to the things I find challenging and supporting me with them. She would be doing something called “adult exposure therapy” with me. 

She told me having the mentoring didn’t mean that I wouldn’t have therapy with her; it was just a supplementary tool to enable me to get my life back once and for all, as the team were feeling a bit lost and thought this could be a last shot for me. She said it would also include creative ways of expressing myself, that we would come up with together. 

She asked if my dad would be willing for me to do it, or if insurance would cover it, and I told her it would be fine. I was so excited at the prospect, even though I had to play it cool. For some reason though, I was also extremely shocked and dissociated, and tried to tell her this. I was getting quite dizzy and struggling to hold myself together as I was pretty overwhelmed by the whole situation. But she was gentle and supportive and I was really hopeful that we could make this “mentoring” service work, especially after how special it felt for me to have her at Mum’s house earlier that day.

I was then in a large old-fashioned hall, with some other girls, maybe also patients of a sort. I started dancing and singing, acting and improvising, in front of everyone. Each scene I played was a different chapter of pain from within my life. For example, a self harm scene, a sexual trauma scene, an anorexia scene, a “what neediness feels like” scene. 

It was all extremely moving and emotional, like expressive movement/ dance therapy, or contemporary dance. I didn’t have any inhibitions, even though one of my biggest fears in life is dancing. I was also singing in it despite not being able to sing! And even though it was entirely improvised, it was a pretty professional and incredible performance. At the end, everyone was so impressed with how wonderfully beautiful and expressive I had been. They couldn’t believe I had made it all up on the spot, nor how profoundly my pain had shone through. 

I found myself in a large hotel of sorts, and had been told that my therapist was the “Dean” and that her office was the Dean’s office. Well that sounded important… I was impressed. Anyway, I had to be somewhere in half an hour but I needed her company. So I headed to reception and asked for her. They mistook me for her, so I corrected them: “no, I’m looking for her”, and so they dialled her for me. 

Once I was in her office, I asked her if this was the new business she had set up, and she said that yes, indeed it was. I asked her how many other clients she had taken on, and she said it was just one other girl, and me. She said over half of the week she would be spending and living with me at Mum’s house, and just a couple of days with the other girl. She expressed a lot of love and care for me, and I was touched by how motivated and willing she was to work with me in such a dedicated and extreme way.

I told her I had to get somewhere although I can’t remember where, and we put it into google maps. It said the walk was 23 minutes to a station, under a tunnel/ walkway connected to a busy road from the hotel. She said she would come with me as she was now my mentor, which I wasn’t expecting, but was elated about. 

We started walking together and I felt really happy knowing that I would have her in my life so much from that moment. I kept giving her cuddles and she had to basically do whatever I wanted. We walked together linking arms, me beaming, my BPD in full swing. I asked her what would happen if the mentoring went wrong. She said it was definitely a risk to let me have such a free reign and potentially cross every boundary with her, but that if it worked well, it could also change my life. I told her I would make it work; that we would make it work together.

Do Not Forget this Pain: A Note to Self

Even though it’s hard to remember exactly what it feels like when you’re not in it, you know how bad it gets and how suffocating that amount of pain feels. The number of times you’ve been in that contorted mess of a state on the floor, wailing because the pain is so intense, so out of control, repeating to yourself through the tears “Make it go away, make it stop, I’ll do anything”.

But when anything doesn’t mean killing yourself, how far are you willing to go to “make it stop” in another way? A way that is by no means easy or painless, but a way that is a way nonetheless. If you give this your all, who knows, maybe it will make life feel more bearable and you won’t feel the need to die any more. If you kill yourself, you’ll never know. Remember how painful it gets and the utter desperation and willingness to do whatever it takes that comes with that.

It’s okay to be scared of the pain. But no matter how painful the next part of this process, it can’t be worse than the pain you’ve already felt so many times before.

EMDR Rant

I had EMDR yesterday and to cut a long story short, I struggled with it. I didn’t struggle in a painful way, as in I didn’t struggle with the content or emotions; I struggled with the process and my judgments about it.

In fact, I struggled to access any memories or emotions. Instead, my brain didn’t form any helpful associations. I felt nothing. I struggled with the lack of a struggle; the lack of the pain I was expecting to arise from the process. At points I found myself willing my brain to recall things – almost trying to forcefully draw memories to the surface – so that at least there would be something there. Anything. But this made me worried that I would interrupt the process by forcing things too much. So, that ended me up focusing too strongly on the starting memory, which meant I got stuck on it. As a result I had barely anything to say each time my therapist asked me what had “come up” after each round of bilateral stimulation. It was a lose lose situation.

Nothing was coming up. I couldn’t access any memories, images or emotions. Even when we chose a painful memory to start with, I couldn’t feel anything in that moment. I know I felt intensely at the time but none of those emotions came up when recalling it. I was trying to “make myself” feel what I “should be” feeling but I was totally cut off from it. To make it worse, the memory kept fading away and I couldn’t picture faces or play it like a video reel in my mind, which is what I was supposed to be doing. The more clarity I tried to visualise the scene in, the more patchy it became.

A very small number of changes happened but they all made me more frustrated. At one point, the image turned into a cartoon and the main character resembled a monster from a childhood book I used to read. At another point, I had an image of a rocket launching on a TV screen. Great. Lastly, I visualised a black screen with white words going across it saying one of the core beliefs my therapist told me to focus on. But no image, no memories, just bloody writing on a bloody screen.

Apparently these were just more clever ways that my brain has learnt to dissociate from my experiences. I told her she was reading too much into it. She pulled this funny face that she does.

I was getting frustrated with myself and convinced I was “doing EMDR wrong”. My therapist said that no one fails at EMDR, and there is no such thing as doing it wrong. But I wasn’t reassured. All I could think was “My childhood clearly isn’t traumatic enough for this to work. My brain isn’t processing because there is nothing to process. I am a fraud.”

My therapist said all the right things but the judgments came thick and fast and I was digging myself into a rut. I know that if I had memories to back up the things she is claiming and all the theory I know so well, it would make it a lot easier for me to accept the nature of my childhood “trauma”. But there is nothing. In fact, I have barely any memories with the person who hurt me the most before the age of 10 or so. I can think of 2.

My therapist says the memories are so few because I learnt to cut off at a young age. But cut off from what? I remember themes and phrases and what certain people were like generally but I don’t have the specific memories to match them. And so I convince myself that it must be because nothing happened; my childhood was fine; we are digging around in the dark for something that isn’t there.

After the session, I felt so self-hating and irritable that I wanted to hurt myself. (I didn’t). I had a ton of self-directed anger and self-disgust, for being such a failure, attention-seeker, fraud and all the other terrible things I am. Beating myself up because my life “should have been worse”. The voice in my head telling me “it’s your fault you’re like this”.

I spoke to my therapist on the phone later on because I was struggling with the above big time. Again, she said all the right things, but for every point she had, my brain had a counter-argument. We decided that in order to try and move forwards with this, I’m going to have to put my own judgments about myself to one side, and try internalise her perception of me as my own. Even if I don’t believe her (which I don’t), even if I don’t believe it (which I don’t), faking it to make it by talking to myself in the way she talks to me.

I hope EMDR is better next week. She said it’s common to feel this way at the start and that it can take a while to get used to. I’m obviously not convinced. But I hope she can prove me wrong.

A Journal Entry about Dissociation

She was angry and unpleasant with me this morning and I really noticed the effect it had on me. I felt like I needed to leave the situation but I had to stay at the same time because it wasn’t worth rocking the boat – it never is. At these times it feels impossible for me to stay present in the situation, but I have to stay there physically; hence the dissociation – the disconnect between my physical self and the rest of me. 

I felt like I had been taken back in time; I wasn’t 22 any longer. I was small, but I made myself invisible – and somewhat invincible – so that I could let her anger wash over me. I went into this muted state of ‘non-existence’. It makes me feel like I can give people the free reign to act however they please towards me, and I can then just take their shit until any irrational or extreme state has passed and I can breathe again. 

I become the one who has to take the blame and apologise for causing the unrest, for provoking or misunderstanding, for not judging the situation or the person correctly. It is never about them – it’s all me. I sacrifice my own emotional state for the other person and it’s easy; it’s something I’ve always done. 

When I went into my room a short while later and saw myself in the mirror, I couldn’t look at myself with my pathetic doe-eyed stare. I felt a real sense of “There is something going on here, but I am also not here”. I knew there were feelings but I couldn’t feel them. My humanness had been stripped away and I was left with nothing but a troubled emptiness.

Dissociating and Regressing to a Childlike State

Something terrifying happened in therapy this week. We had been talking about difficult childhood memories, although I was dazed enough that I wasn’t finding it particularly painful. When that came to a natural end, we moved on to talk about something irrelevant. Very soon however, a wave of fatigue and heaviness started to come over me. I tried to push it away as I usually do with these things, but it was much thicker and weightier than usual and I was slowly losing control.

I didn’t tell my therapist I was dissociating because I thought I could control it. However, after a certain amount of time had gone by and it was still getting stronger, it became pretty self-evident. By the time she noticed the extent of the hold it had on me, I was too far gone to bring myself back. She tried to get me to make eye contact and move a little, but I was too taken over by this point.

My legs had started shaking and were now bouncing up and down uncontrollably, as though I was having a seizure. However, the rest of my body was paralysed. My eyes were closed and I couldn’t open them, I was unable to move my head from the position it was in, and as desperately as I was trying to shout “HELP ME”, I could not speak any words. In some ways it resembled a panic attack, but based on my previous panic attacks, this was very different. It was a severe dissociative episode in which I had lost total control over my body.

I can’t remember what order this all happenened in but there was more to it than just the dissociation. As well as dissociating, I seemed to have regressed into a childlike state at some point around that time in the session. I felt I had no control over this and that I was not me, it was not a choice thing and my consciousness was very different to usual. This baby version of me was far less restrained in her mannerisms. Apparently it became very obvious that I was not quite myself any longer. Usually I am very controlled; but in those moments I expressed myself as a baby would with no restraint or my usual infinite shame. Rationality and higher brain functions didn’t exist, I was back to an infant-like mode of being.

My therapist was talking to me in a soothing voice to match my baby state, and when all of my other senses had muted, her voice was the one thing keeping me tied to reality. When the shaking got so bad, she came over to try and help ground me by talking me through what I needed to do slowly and grounding me with her touch (with permission) on my shaking knees and feet. I was slowly able to move parts of my body although my legs were still shaking of their own accord. When my voice returned I started begging between gasps of breath for her to make the shaking stop as it was highly distressing. Eventually we managed to get me to the bathroom to use cold water for ice diving which calmed my system down massively and triggered me back into reality enough to attempt conversation as an adult again.

The highest intensity part of the whole episode probably lasted 20 minutes but the residual disconnect and fear lingered on and on and on. My therapist walked me out because I was in such a daze and stayed with me until her next client. I don’t think she had ever seen me like that. As I was walking, it was as though I was on the moon. Everything was in slow motion and I couldn’t bear to look at people because they looked so alien to me.

It took me about four times longer than usual to get to the station because I was so out of it, freaked out and lost in my own little world. My memory of the whole thing is fragmented and I don’t know what came first – the dissociation or regression or if they were one and the same. But it was fucking terrifying and confusing and I can’t find much at all online in the way of answers.


I reckon the regression was serving as a coping mechanism. Without me even realising my system had become overwhelmed with this childhood stuff and its way of dealing with that was to cut off and almost compartmentalise different parts of myself.

I also think that this regression episode was functioning as an inadvertent non-verbal method of communication. It was showing both myself and my therapist where I was at emotionally, and what I subsequently needed. The sadness was so big but because I wasn’t able to recognise it from my adult self, the baby version of me could express it instead in an expressive and unrestrained way. This included talking in a baby voice, asking incessantly for cuddles, curling up into a fetal position on the chair, and getting my therapist to swaddle me in a blanket I could hide under.

I was so ashamed after I started to come out of the state, but my therapist told me that I had nothing to apologise for, and that what happened was giving us information – information that we could use. I think she is right in that the episode provided a lens into some of the unresolved issues from my past, so that we can use what happened to inform how we move forward and help me heal from that together.

When a Minor Mistake Becomes the End of the World

I have Borderline Personality DisorderI feel emotions to a level that is off the scale, and I react intensely to those experiences. One of my biggest triggers is feeling like I have hurt someone inadvertently. When I let someone down or evoke even the tiniest amount of negative affect in someone I care about, I fall into a spiral of guilt and self-hatred that totally consumes me.

This means that I am hard on myself to the point that one mistake can lead me to feel as extreme as suicidal. If I accidentally hurt someone even just for a fleeting moment, I can become so self-hating and fearful that I truly believe the world would be better off without me.

Even though I never intend to upset anyone, and even when the person I upset forgives me or even forgets about the situation completely, I find it near impossible to forgive myself. I cannot seem to return to an emotional baseline for far longer than is reasonable. I just cannot let myself off the hook; it feels like too much of a threat to let go.

When I do anything that is the opposite of pleasing others, it feels like the end of the world. It feels like the walls around me come crashing down with such force that nothing can keep things upright. No matter how seemingly small or insignificant the incident, the only thing that helps soothe my distress is the constant reassurance of the person I have ‘wronged’. And even then, often that isn’t good enough to bring me back down.


The other day I sent a funny photo of my sister with food spilled down her top to her boyfriend. He had been staying with us during the previous days – and this was not the first time my sister had spilled food on herself, nor the first time we had laughed about it together! I was trying to be playful and develop our friendship further, by joking around and acting like I would with any other friend or family member. Because they are at a stage in their relationship where they are totally comfortable in each other’s company, and have seen one another in every state, I didn’t think it would be a problem. (It’s not like they have just starting dating or anything – I am not that clueless!) I wanted my sister to think I was putting effort in, to show her that I care about that part of her life. I thought we would all have a giggle. My intentions were only positive.

However, she responded in a way that was totally the opposite to what I had intended. She was angry with me and started speaking to me in a tone and manner pierced with disdain and disgust towards me. I felt like what I had done was the worst thing in the world for the fact I had caused a negative reaction in her, however big or small. As a result, she was acting cold and bitter towards me, and the light, jokey dynamic of the past hour had disappeared completely. Although when I apologised she said that she forgave me, I could feel that she did not.

I was officially The Worst Person In The World for causing her the negative emotions she was feeling. My own distress was heightened by the fact that my only positives intentions had entirely backfired. The “I can’t do anything right even when I try my utmost” core-belief was activated at top strength.

I went into my bedroom feeling totally and utterly defeated. I (literally) burst into the tears that I had been trying to hide from my sister, and spent a good half hour crying into my teddy bear, feeling like I deserved only to die. Every time I started calming down, the reality of just how Awful A Person I was hit me yet again, and I would collapse back into the old self-hatred and pit of desperation.

After about an hour I texted my sister (who was in her bedroom 10 metres away) telling her how sorry I was. She said it was fine and asked me not to do it again, but that she had forgiven me and that it really was not a ‘thing’ any more. I wasn’t convinced so texted her back asking for reassurance (surprise surprise!). Eventually I went into her bedroom – still sobbing, eyes bloodshot, face red and puffy – and started apologising profusely.

She started laughing at me (in an endearing way) and telling me to “stop being such a cry-baby” because she was “totally over” the situation and it was “all fine”. I climbed into bed next to her and begged her for her forgiveness, over-justifying and explaining and apologising all the more. She let me sob into her shoulder whilst she reassured me that it was okay, that I wasn’t so awful after all and that I had her permission to move on 100%. The reassurance continued for a good while until I had calmed down enough to start taking back a little control.

I felt guilty not just because I had initially upset her, but also because from that point on the entire situation became about my distress and inability to regulate my guilt. Something so ‘small’ had become such a palaver in my head, which meant it all became about me when my intentions were totally the opposite to that. It really highlighted just how extreme my relationship with making mistakes is – and how hard I am on myself.

I am understanding more and more that these reactions come from my early interactions as a child, where one step out of line really was a threat. As a kid it made sense that any mistakes I made should feel like the end of the world. That was adaptive back then and it’s what moulded me to become the perfectionistic people-pleaser I am today. But it often goes too far, and when that happens it just causes havoc to my life and is more of a nuisance than anything else.

My therapist says trauma therapy is about equipping me with a choice. I hope that one day I am able to have more of a choice around these things. I hope to have more of a choice about the extent to which my past continues to dictate my present.

I Build Homes Within People

I had therapy today. No EMDR, no DBT; we just talked for a double session. It was exactly what I needed. 

At one stage in the session we discussed my perception of “home”. I explained to her that home isn’t a physical place for me, but that I build homes for myself within people. The only times I’ve felt truly “at home” have been when in the holding of an authority figure who I am attached to. For example, when she hugs me, I feel like I have arrived home. It’s why I was so upset when she told me that she wasn’t going to hug me any more.

Towards the end of the session, my therapist said that she had been thinking about me and my experiences of our relationship. She told me that she recognises how challenging it can be for me when we have interpersonal conflicts, but that conversely she also knows that when things are going more calmly between us I find it extremely rewarding and motivating. She said she wonders if we could find ways to help us use our relationship in a way that is more sustainably healing, instead of letting it become a regular obstacle to the work we do together when interpersonal difficulties arise.

She asked me if I had any suggestions of ideas that could be helpful for us to put in place, in line with this. I joked that we could go to a fun fair together, because we both love fun fairs, just to test the waters. I asked her what she was thinking though, realistically. She suggested that I could meet her for lunch or coffee during her breaks every so often on days I don’t have therapy, for example. I felt so touched and happy that she was offering me such a reward, as I really wasn’t expecting it. 

For a while I started getting paranoid, confused and scared because I didn’t understand why she was being so nice to me or what was going on. I didn’t understand why it was impacting me so much either, because surely I should only be feeling positive emotions in response to her offer? I told her about my confusion and anxiety and we processed it a little. I’m so scared of losing something so hopeful that I feel paralysed to move from the spot I’m in right now, just in case anything goes wrong. It’s also more familiar and natural for me to be in a place of fear or uncertainty with authority figures as that is what I’m used to.

I asked her why she was bringing this up to try and get some clarity. She told me that she wanted to reinforce how effective I was being in session. She said she had never experienced me as being as open and ‘congruent’ as I was today, ever before. I joked that it must have been my pain meds making me high and disinhibited. She told me that actually my vulnerability was making her want to get closer to me. She said she noticed her own urges to scoop me up and hold me and make everything better. I told her “you can if you’d like”. She smiled at me with compassion. I wish.

Then she told me that she just wanted to make it clear to me that her care and love for me are unconditional and that they don’t cease to exist outside of the therapy room. She used the word love. I almost melted. 

She asked me what I wanted to do; if I had any ideas for motivators or positive reinforcers. I had many ideas. I thought, “I want to come over to your house in my pyjamas and watch documentaries about nature, whilst you cuddle me and stroke my hair and tell me how much you love me”. I wasn’t brave enough to verbalise that fantasy but coffee or lunch sounds like a start so I will settle for that for now. 

I am so grateful and in love with her (in a non romantic way) that it aches my insides. I want to spend all my time with her. I feel like a baby or toddler with severe separation anxiety…

At the end I asked her shyly if I could have a hug. She hasn’t given me a hug since the hugging ban was put in place after our last interpersonal conflict. Despite this, she gave me the hugest and most comforting hug. It wasn’t a cold hard hug, it was a proper emotional cuddly hug – I felt the affection and care and was able to internalise the moment for real. She wished me a safe journey for trip next week and said “take care lovey”

The feeling we had talked about above was back. I felt that rare feeling of such safety and holding. I felt like I had arrived home.

Physical and Emotional Car Crash of a Day

Today my sister was in a car crash. She was taken in an ambulance to hospital in what could have been a critical condition. The ambulance crew said it is a miracle that she has come away with only the injuries she has (fractured lower back, messed up ankle, seatbelt burns, bruising all over) given the state of the car, and that if anyone had been in the passenger seat they probably would have died. She was on the motorway traveling in the fast lane (70mph), 5 cars were involved (my sister was the 3rd car) and over 10 people, and the entire section of the motorway had to be closed off. 

She was coming down from uni to see our Mum as a surprise for her birthday. She was 5 minutes away from turning off the motorway when the crash happened.

I am not making this into a long post. I am just so grateful that she is alive and physically going to be okay at least for the most part. Who knows how this will affect her psychologically; an event like this is surely traumatising and a shock to the system. 

But today got me thinking. It’s been a real roller coaster of an afternoon and I’m only just calming down from the shock myself. Life is so precious and can be taken from you in an instant. I never usually think that way, especially having wanted to die so many times before. I take life for granted because it’s not something I often value, because of my mental health difficulties and everything that entails. But today has changed my perspective – at least in this moment – and I am so fucking grateful to be alive.

My sister is lucky to have survived what she’s been through and she is going to get through this. I am lucky to have survived what I have been through and I am going to keep getting through this (the whole life thing) too.

My First EMDR Session

Yesterday was my first official EMDR session. My T forgot the buzzers so we had to try it with tapping instead (her tapping my hands which were placed palms-down on my lap). It was uncomfortable being so close to each other and having physical contact whilst I was feeling pretty anxious, but I was able to just about manage it at that point.

She wanted to start working with the core belief “I am bad”. The memory we had agreed to start with was an incident that happened when I was about 6 years old with my mother. She had gotten incredibly angry with me in public off the back of a menial mistake I had made completely by accident. She reacted with such disgust and lividity and I have never forgotten the shame I felt because of how she responded.

So working with the core belief “I am bad“,  the phrase we were going to replace it with was “I made an innocent mistake, and Mum was unable to manage her own emotions in that moment” or something of the like. I had to visualise the memory whilst she did the tapping for about 10-15 seconds at a time.

For a while, nothing came to mind and I was convinced it ‘wasn’t working’. After a few rounds however, I started getting very very hot and flushed with a lot of physical anxiety – verging perhaps on panic. I still hain’t had any tangible thoughts or memories come to mind, but my body was responding of its own accord. Apparently I store a lot of memories in my body. My T reminded me to breath in between sets, as apparently I was holding my breath without realising it – as I tend to do.

After a couple more tapping sequences with the same memory, I suddenly had a visualisation of a water sprinkler in the garden of my Dad’s old house. I had also become less anxious and less heated, but didn’t think the memory meant anything as it seemed so insignificant. I told my T about the water sprinkler when she asked what was going on for me, and she asked what I thought it represented. I told her I didn’t know, that we used to play in the sprinkler as kids, but I wasn’t picturing a specific time or incident. When she asked how I felt within that memory, I told her I assumed I would have been happy. She explained that my brain was probably trying to block the distressing memory I had previously been panicking over by instead lingering on a happier and easier subject matter.

She then suggested that we think instead of a recent time that I have felt the “I am bad” core belief, as the earlier memory seemed to be too blocked off. I told her about a situation this weekend. I had been feeling paranoid with a friend, convinced they were angry with me or that I had done something wrong – essentially that “I am bad“. I visualised this recent memory and the ‘felt sense’ accompanying it, and she recommenced the tapping.

The next memories that flowed were all times related to when I was bullied in primary school. I remembered being called names, being run away from and being left out of my ‘friendship group’ for various petty reasons. I fed these back to her and we continued. The next memory was of the first time I ever self-harmed aged 11. I was in the shower at my swimming club when one girl asked what happened. I had wanted people to see my injury but without them knowing I had done it to myself, but felt shame for this thought process. I was terrified to be vulnerable but also desperate to be seen at the same time.

My T encouraged me to focus on this, but then my brain skipped to thoughts about how “I am so dramatic, I don’t have any ‘proper’ trauma, it doesn’t make sense I am this messed up, I shouldn’t be like this, it’s my fault” and similar things to this. She asked me to try and focus on the feelings, and less so on the thoughts. The feelings were shame and fear. The shame was the strongest. She continued another round of tapping.

As I was focusing on the shame, my body started getting unbearably hot and I was becoming increasingly flushed and anxious with it. I had a memory of one of the times I was sexually assaulted, and tried to block it out. I was unable to and must have squirmed or flinched a little as my T asked me what was going on. I muttered “I don’t know” because I couldn’t say the related words, as usual. She encouraged me to help her out by communicating what was going on. I tried my best and said “A memory I can’t say“. I’m sure she could have guessed the theme I was referring to though.

She told me to keep going with it. So I did. I let myself focus on the memory a bit harder but soon my whole body was having a horrible reaction and I couldn’t contain it any longer. A wave of panic took over me, my heart felt like it was pulsating through my chest, and my breathing was becoming very rapid and irregular. This was all very fast and she was actually still in the middle of tapping when the surge of panic peaked. I had a reflex reaction to shrink away from her and ended up automatically pushing her hands off of my lap, perhaps more violently that I had intended to. I curled over towards one side of the chair and crossed one leg over the other to try and gain control over my body and block all the internal sensations out.

I was panicking and dissociated at the same time, as often happens when things overwhelm me in therapy or elsewhere. My T asked me to get up and do star jumps, then label things around the room and sip some water, before going to quickly “ice dive” in the bathroom. That was the end of the EMDR part of the session, because I had gone outside of my window of tolerance and she suggested we call it a day and spend the remainder of the time talking instead. Next week we are going to try again but using the buzzers instead of tapping. Hopefully that will help me be more able to stick with the processing for longer.

Hello Again, Darkness

It’s back. 

The possessiveness of depression; the thick veil of darkness that seeps into every pore; the nothingness that seems to weigh on me like the world despite the paradox.

Therapy is hard at the moment. We are delving into unexplored corners, and I know the heaviness of these feelings is expected to a degree. 

But I have uni and work to attend, deadlines and reports to write, and people around me who I need to maintain a façade of functionality towards. 

My brain is taking me to dangerous places and my body is keeping me trapped inside of myself. My solution is to sleep to block out the noise, but these days even my dreams haunt me.  

Right now, in this moment, the passive suicidality is strong. I am not actively planning and I am not unsafe, but I feel as though if I fell asleep and never woke up, that wouldn’t be so bad.

I can’t really tell anyone how I feel because there is no one to tell (my therapist is trying to get me to be more self-sufficient between sessions) – and I have a pretence I need to keep up too.

Let’s hope the fog lifts when the morning comes. I’m never sure how long I can last in these states for.