I’m in this familiar fuzzy head space that often happens the day after a hard therapy session. It’s like driving at night through the countryside with no street lamps, only the occasional headlights moving towards you, blinding you as the cars zoom past. There’s that split second where it feels like the car is going to drive head first into you. My mind is blurred and black – an endless abyss of thoughts and images that I can’t see but I know are there, with the occasional blinding moment of complete overwhelm. Emotional flooding in a split second. Then back to nothing. It’s so fleeting that I can’t hold on to what it is or why it’s happening.
I know my brain is trying to process what we talked about and what happened. But life doesn’t just stop so I can deal with the aftermath. I have my adult hat on. I’m at work attempting to be responsible and get things done while just beneath the surface I feel like the ground is crumbling beneath me. What I want to do is go home, put my pyjamas back on and crawl under my duvet and stay there until this passes.
Last night was one of the hardest sessions I’ve ever had. I was nudged out of my very narrow window of tolerance many times and at one point thrown head first into complete dissociation. I remember sitting on the floor. I remember Anna asking me how old I felt and telling her ‘3’. I remember wanting to hide. I remember her gently enveloping me in her soft reassuring words, ‘this is so overwhelming for you… of course the feelings feel bigger than you, you’re very little… I’m here and I’m not going to leave you… it wasn’t your fault…’ but I really struggled to speak. She asked for a colour and I told her ‘sticky black, yucky, all over and inside me’ – I struggled to reach over and meet her attempts at connection. Couldn’t allow her gaze to touch me although it felt like it was penetrating me and at one point I asked for her to look away. And so I was hiding again. Curled on an armchair with another human being sitting a meter away from me. Doing everything in my power to not feel the force of her seeing me.
Anna asked me what I needed and I told her for the first time, ‘to cry’. But then another more powerful force stepped in ‘damned if I’m gonna let that happen!’ Anna asked who’s voice that was and as we explored all the ways my mother pushed me away and silenced me the more I felt like I was drowning in the inability to cry. A part of me was crying but not outwardly.
Normally my sessions are slow to start. As with each new session I need to be reminded I can trust Anna. However this session opened the wound immediately. We’d had a phone check in mid week that hadn’t reassured me like I’d hoped it would and so I started to try to explain how I’d been feeling. It turned out she had also been reflecting. Anna said she felt like she’d been taking the lead too much. Too much of her analysing/talking. She was going to change the way we use my drawings. She said she had been reflecting and had decided she was going to stop analysing my pictures completely and leave it to me to explain what I’d drawn. I could feel myself tightening. Legs curled under me. Arms folded around me. She said she felt that by her analysing the drawings it was keeping me in my head and that it was time to push further and delve into the feelings more. She asked how I felt about that and I said I didn’t like it. That it felt bad. That it felt like a rejection. She nodded. She said, ‘it’s not that I don’t want to see your drawings, you can still show me…’ I said, ‘well I don’t think I want to now!’ she smiled and nodded and I said, ‘what’s that smile? Is that a knowing smile? Did you know I would feel like that?’ she said, ‘yes’ and I asked why I felt like that. She said, ‘it’s like when you would open up or share something with your mum and she would turn you away or criticise you or not believe you so you’d think, ‘well I’m never showing you that again!’ I nodded. There was a bit of back and forth as we talked about how painful it felt to have Anna change our routine and how much harder she was making it for me. Anna talked about how every so often the work we do will begin to feel comfortable as I get stronger and that’s when we need to push a little harder into the painful areas. So that’s what she was doing. Challenging. Demanding that I grow to deal with the new limits.
Anna wouldn’t let me show her this weeks drawing. She wanted me to explain what had been going on for me this week rather than using the picture as a crutch. After a huge amount of delaying and discomfort I said, ‘when we spoke on the phone I said that I felt like we were talking too much but actually it’s that I felt you talked too much and when you talk a lot I want to listen and learn and take it all in so I stay in my head and it makes it easy to numb the feelings. But then I leave the session and the feelings come rushing back in and I’m drowned by them again so when we talked on the phone I didn’t want to say ‘you talked too much in the session’ coz I didn’t want to criticise you over the phone so I said ‘we talked too much and I need you to keep an eye out for that’ and then you said ‘you need to take ownership over that’ and… well I guess I am pissed off… coz I was protecting you by not criticising you and instead taking the blame…. then you said it was my fault basically and that I need to take ownership when really it was you that was talking too much and I don’t think I did make it that way but it’s all always my fault!’ I took a breath… it was a rambling, messy, frantic searching for words. Anna was smiling and nodding. She said she was glad I was pissed off. She said this was really important because it tells her what I need and how she can best work with me. She said she was proud of me. She said that we were on the same page. That I hadn’t told her in words how I was feeling last week (and the past few weeks) but that I’d told her transferencially. The times I’d said I felt like I was wasting my sessions. When I would be overwhelmed immediately after the session. These were all signs for her.
I then went on to explain how sometimes when she tries to normalise something for me, it feels invalidating. This was not easy to get out. The room was spinning and I felt sick. She asked for an example. I said that the picture I’d shown her last week (which was a drawing of my childhood bedroom with a thought bubble filling most of the space with my inner world inside it) I said that it was a really fucking big deal to show her that because it meant a lot to me and I’ve never ever shared it with anyone before. It was completely private and secret and mine. I explained that when she said along the lines of ‘everyone day dreams, escapism is normal, it’s understandable that you would want to do that considering what your life was like…’ I knew she was normalising my experience but it felt so invalidating to me because I wanted her to be saying, ‘oh my god that sounds massive’ not, ‘yeah that’s normal, everyone does it…’ I felt like I was sharing a deep precious secret with her and she was just saying ‘stop making a big deal out of nothing!’
There was a long quiet moment where that just hung in the air. ‘Stop making a big deal out of nothing!’ Eventually. Quietly. Anna spoke, ‘…and that feels familiar… doesn’t it…’ I suddenly felt like I’d been kicked in the chest. I nodded.
Anna said, ‘Tell me about that…’
And from there on the conversation felt very different. I was swimming in grief and shame. Feeling very little and very frightened.
We grounded at the end of the session and attempted to talk about what I’m going to do next week during the dreaded therapy break. We hugged and Anna told me again that she was proud of me and I’d done well. I thanked her. Got to my car and burst into tears. The tears that won’t come when I’m with her but so desperately need to be seen and shared.