What if I never find peace?

Something massive has been happening and I have had no idea how to articulate it. It felt as though everything was falling apart and now I’m wondering if that’s actually not as bad as it feels. Maybe actually it’s cracking open and therefore becoming more clear. Maybe this is where I get to really learn about myself. I have been journaling every day but every time I tried to write a blog worthy post it felt like an impossible task to put into word what was largely wordless. I have written four blog posts since the last one I posted on October 30th. My sessions have been intense and enlightening. We have talked about and moved through emotional states that delve into my relationship with work, my previous therapists and their boundaries and how they impacted me, my early adulthood and the loose bones of what led me to where I am today. The session I had on Monday this week was the deepest work I’ve ever done. And I honestly can’t quite believe it’s happening. It is absolutely agony and it is also absolutely necessary. Like resetting bones, I am in the process of breaking, in order to heal.

When I first listened back to the session there was a lot of shame around hearing the things I was saying, hearing the despondent sighs and hopeless breaths I was taking and the constant, unreassurable depression and despair that was pouring out of me. It felt toxic and embarrassing and the sort of thing a person would want to turn away from to protect themselves from being infected by it… maybe that’s why I asked Mark to look away… to have some sort of control over the leaving that he would inevitably feel compelled to do. I actually found myself laughing at how miserable I sounded. I found it hard to tolerate and so stopped listening. The critical voice was loud and unrelenting.

The following day I listened again and I heard myself panicking about wasting the session. Twenty minutes had passed, and I felt like time was slipping away. A common fear that every one of my therapists has picked up on and to be honest this anxious obsession with these precious minutes I’m wasting in therapy has only ever increased and intensified through time. It’s this powerful panicked feeling that the minutes of the session are ticking by and I am wasting them and then suddenly, somehow too quickly, they will be gone. I have a feeling it’s linked to something big like an existential awareness of my mortality. I’ve always thought that I don’t fear death, but I think in a way I do. I don’t think I fear actually dying but maybe I fear the end of life. More specifically I think what I fear is that I may die having never found peace. And the fear of wasting the session is a fear of running out of time before I’ve healed myself, whatever that would look like. Each session is like a micro version of my life… this stretch of time within which I have very little control over what comes up and a huge anxiety about it being over before I find relief. Before I’ve managed to fix everything. And this is also linked to the hopelessness and the recurring fantasies of ending my life. Perhaps to have some control. Maybe linked to the perfectionism… if I can’t fix everyone and everything and make myself a whole and perfect human being I might as well just end it all now.

Listening again I can hear myself lamenting, ‘I hate this version of me because it’s really difficult to get anywhere,’ Mark suggested, ‘how would it be not to try to get anywhere at the moment and just let this be what’s arising. And maybe we can learn a little bit from it. In a sense you’re feeling a whole way of being that you don’t want to be and it also carries shame in it so that me knowing how you are – you’re hit by being ashamed of not being able to move things on to get somewhere else, for feeling stuck, for wasting time.’ This really resonated deeply and I repeated some of it back to him that it really was how I felt. That I did feel stuck, that it was a familiar feeling, that I hate being back here again and again. I started feeling quite upset and said, ‘I don’t want to feel like this anymore,’ I tried to explain how even if the feeling goes away it always comes back, it follows me around. Then I felt flooded, told him it was excruciating and asked him to look away. Which he did.

I then quietly say, ‘I feel like I can’t be a decent person, a grown up, when I’m feeling like this, I can’t be a mum…’ and I start to cry. Mark asked if I felt a certain age, if it goes back to somewhere but I couldn’t talk. I did feel younger but I couldn’t express it. I just kept crying which is actually really hard to listen to. Mark encouraged me to let the tears come and eventually the crying passed and I said, ‘part of me wants you to look and part of me wants you to not look, I don’t know what the right thing to do is.’ Mark suggested we could do both and see how both feel. He said, ‘at the moment I’m not looking at you and notice how that is, I can’t see your expression or pick up visually how you’re feeling and in a sense you’re not being seen, literally, maybe metaphorically as well. Notice how that is for you and take some time with that. Maybe then feel into the part of you that wants me to look and you’re in control of this so kind of say when you want things to change.’ I told him that the part of me that doesn’t want him to look finds it easier to tell him how I feel when he’s not looking and he said, ‘okay, so is there anything that part wants to say now? Because I’m not looking.’ I then started to stress about what I could say and had all these busy thoughts of wanting to say something but struggling to figure out what it was. I told him there was a lot but I couldn’t get any of it out and he said it was an open invitation that I didn’t have to pick up, that it may feel complete just letting him know that some things are there but they can’t be spoken yet. He said, ‘make a note in yourself that for the moment there are things you can’t say. Just know that it’s okay to hold things back , they’re not ready just yet, you can’t get it out.’

I started to cry and said, ‘it’s really scary feeling like this, I don’t like feeling like this,’ Mark suggested we could hold the fear together and later asked what ‘this’ felt like and I said, ‘it feels hopeless, everyone would be better off without me, I can’t fix any of it, I can’t make any of this better,’ Mark reflected some of this back to me with a really gentle voice and said he could hear how my feelings of hopelessness had led to despair. He whispered, ‘just to let you know that I’m here for you and with you in your despair.’ I cried more and said, ‘everyone looks to me to know what to do and I don’t know what to do, I have to be in charge of everything in the house and I’m such a let down…’ Mark asked what would happen if I wasn’t in charge and I said it is already like that and it’s total chaos, everything is falling apart. I feel like I’ve been dropped into this life and I don’t belong here and I don’t know how to do anything. A little after this Mark asked if I knew what this place in me needs but it was interrupted because he quickly glanced up at me through his eyebrow and there was this very sweet split second moment of him realising that I was looking at him and had seen him sneaking a peek at me. It was really endearing and touching. I could see that he was dutifully looking away, and it had been quite a long time of looking away. And that probably more than once he flicked his eye up to check that I was okay. And that one time I saw him do it. He apologised for looking with a little giggle and said it was hard to not look. I felt so much gratitude for him and told him that.

As I am reflecting back on this whole little fifteen minute interaction I am struck by something I didn’t realise at the time. This was a flashback… an emotional flashback. One that had lasted all of Sunday and Monday and through my session. I had hidden this part of myself from Anna for nearly two years but actually I have experienced these debilitating flashbacks all my life. And it used to take up weeks and months of my life. In fact, when I was 18, 19, 20 I felt like this most of the time. For months on end. And initially I thought, when Mark asked if there was an age I felt, I thought Fourteen. But there’s something deeper there. It’s preverbal a lot of it. And I think actually this is developmental stuff, probably from when I was under 3 years old… and it left this gaping wound in my chest that was triggered in my teen years because of the trauma I was experiencing at that time. And I would often act on those unbearable feelings of hopelessness and despair as a teenager. To try to cope. So, when I feel like this it reminds me of the time when I was 14, 15, 16 and onwards. But actually these wounds go way back.

As I was really listening to myself talk in the session, I noticed that I don’t sound like my usual self. I sound quiet and young and frightened and confused and not as articulate as I am when in my adult. It’s still quite clearly me but I sound different. And the things I’m saying, ‘I can’t fix any of this’, ‘everyone is looking to me to look after them,’ ‘I don’t know how to be the mum’, ‘everything is chaos’… these aren’t truths about my life today. My life today is calm and settled and secure and stable. But they are very true statements about my life as a teen and definitely true of my life when I was younger. I was parentified all my life. I was responsible for the emotional stability and equilibrium of the whole family. And it was chaotic and unpredictable and scary and too much for me. I didn’t want to be the mum. Listening back to this it’s so clear… it’s like I have one of those plastic cup phones with a piece of string that stretches all the way back to 1997 and that kid is saying to me, ‘I’m scared, I’m overwhelmed, I don’t know what to do, I can’t cope, I’m in pain…’ and finally, I’M LISTENING.

Mark asked me what this place in me needs… she needs to be listened to. She needs to cry her ocean of tears. She needs to share all of the stories of pain and loss and longing. She needs to feel safe and cared for. She needs to know that she is all grown up and not living in chaos anymore. She needs to know she has support and that she is safe and that she doesn’t have to hold all of this by herself any more. That there is no shame in feeling the way she feels, that no child should be expected to carry what is weighing her down and that she won’t feel like this forever.

Immediately after my session this younger part of me wrote a letter to Mark that I will read to him on Friday (along with explaining the above realsiations to him). This is the letter…

I was stuck and frightened, but it was easier to be here when you weren’t looking at me. You asked me if there was anything else I wanted to say, behind the safety of you looking away. But I just sat in silence. Crying. Your patience was painful. If I could have spoken, I would have said this. I find it hard to talk, it’s like I lose all my words. I know there are words there, but I just can’t remember how to arrange them so that they make sense. It’s messy and confusing inside my head and my body feels on fire when you look at me. When I can’t speak or look at you and it’s quiet and you’re looking right at me, I don’t know what you’re thinking. Maybe you’re thinking I’m disgusting and you wish you didn’t have to endure this silent torture. That’s how I feel. But then when I ask you to you look away, and you do… so respectfully… I go cold and I’m alone. Unless I’m brave enough to look at you and then I can take all of you in for a split second. And I can imagine that I’m sitting next to you. But today you peeked at me and you caught me looking at you. (What made you look at me? And what did you feel when you saw that I was looking at you?) It took me two years to come out in session with Anna. Two years. We used to talk about me hiding behind my chair and then finally one day I came out. But it was too intense to have her looking at me. I’d ask her to look away as well. Then one day I asked her to sit beside me. And from then on, when I was out, she’d sit beside me, arms touching, so that I could feel she was close without her looking right into my soul.

Sometimes when you’re not looking and you’re not talking, it feels like I was right… I am alone. And I feel like I’m in control. I made you leave me, in a way. I wonder what you’re thinking about when we’re not talking and you’re not looking. I imagine you want the other Lucy back. The one who was talking on Friday. The one who’s interesting and makes sense. You say that a part of me feels made wrong for how I am and I just think ‘I am wrong though, I AM’. I don’t want you to sit and watch me while I cry. There’s something weirdly perverse and self-indulgent about that. No one has ever watched me cry before. I want you to look away so that I don’t see the disgust in your eyes. The disapproval or disdain. I don’t remember being looked at in any way other than with disgust. Maybe disappointment. I don’t remember anyone tolerating my big feelings. I’d crawl under my bed behind all the boxes, squeezed below the slats with my back against the cold skirting board. Or I would run down to the river and sit there until my bones turned cold. And I would know, deep in those bones that I really was totally alone.

When I feel like this, I want to crawl out of my skin and you’re encouraging me to stay in it just a little longer. You said this part of me is important. ‘It’s a familiar rabbit hole that you drop down’, you said, ‘and I don’t feel the need to escape it, I want it to speak… and for us to form a relationship with it.’ That made me smile spontaneously. Did that smile flash across my face? Did you see it?

8 thoughts on “What if I never find peace?

  1. Claire Louise

    Wow. Just the title made me draw breath as I could relate to it so much. Your experience of emotional flashbacks is also something familiar. It sounds like your sessions with Mark are as powerful and as vulnerable as can be. I hope you are able to share the letter and that your little one is able to be heard. Take care x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah it’s really horrible, the emotional flashbacks. And thank you for your support and encouragement. I’m feeling completely done in at the moment and not sure what my session tomorrow will bring 💗


      1. Therapy is hard… it is very hard. Two things that have helped me with what I have been experiencing lately that might speak to you is:

        As connection to the therapist is established, the therapeutic relationship offers an opportunity for the client to experience a present attachment, but it also brings up transferential tendencies associated with past attach ment relationships (Sable, 2000). Informed by the experience of interperesonal trauma and betrayal, posttraumatic transferential relationships can be exceptionally potent and volatile. In response to the therapist, clients experience fear, anger, mistrust, and suspicion, as well as hope, vulnerability, and yearning, and they are acutely attuned to subtle signals of disinterest or interest, compassion or judgment, abandonment or consistency (Herman 1992; Pearlman & Saakvitne, 1995).”
        ― Pat Ogden, Trauma and the Body: A Sensorimotor Approach to Psychotherapy


        Trauma is personal. It does not disappear if it is not validated. When it is ignored or invalidated the silent screams continue internally heard only by the one held captive. When someone enters the pain and hears the screams healing can begin.”

        ― Danielle Bernock, Emerging With Wings: A True Story of Lies, Pain, And The LOVE that Heals

        Liked by 1 person

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