Tracking the Red Panda

The changing shape of Psychologist J.

Thursday’s session started ok. After I hung up from speaking to Excellent Long Term Friend I felt present and grounded. Psychologist J poked his head around the corner and said how about I come into the room sssssllllllloooooowwwwwwllllly and I could chose anywhere to sit. So of course I sat in my usual place. I told him I felt fine anyway because now that the meeting with Childcare was over, I had released the inner critic from solitary confinement and thus I had 20% more brain.

Image by Neil Farber

I told him it was ok for him to sit in his armchair so long as he sat a little off to the right. He briefly mentioned the NDIS report and we decide not to discuss it until he has finished it. He asked me how the meeting with Childcare went. Blah blah I talked about it. He said how does it feel to have a person like Psychologist S to back us up. I have no clue what I said, because the session was on Thursday and it’s Saturday now. I might go upstairs and get some birthday cake because I’m feeling a bit…(see below)

Image by Neil Farber

Ok I’m back with a slice of gluten free, dairy free, refined sugar free chocolate cake with peanut butter cream filling decorated by my son (4) that actually tastes pretty darn good.

You’re never too old for rainbows.

The recipe says it takes 1 hour to make this cake. It took us about 6. That’s because it’s actually the second cake we made. My husband cooked the first but forgot to add the sugar. By the time we scavenged the shops and located more almond flour the afternoon was fast approaching. But I digress. Whose crazy idea was it to blog every single therapy session?!?! Yes yes, mine I know. I just really want to watch the Handmaid’s Tale right now but I promised myself I would finish this post first. (Whatever will happen to Offred now that she’s given birth?)

So I told Psychologist J I didn’t want to discuss Childcare in too much depth because I had a 3pm appointment with Psychologist S and Husband to discuss it. So he changed the subject by telling me how much he is learning about the inner critic from my emails and from a poem I sent him. (Why on earth did I send a poem to my therapist? Who does that?!?) He told me that he’s learning that the inner critic is really frozen in the midst of really awful bodily experiences.

So everything is going smoothly and of course I have to fuck that up. Here we are analysing one of my traumatised parts and I hear this nagging presence in my head wanting him to move to the left so it can see him properly. He notices me distracted.

“Is something happening?”

“Yes I’m just not totally happy with where you are sitting,” I say on behalf of the inner critic.

“Where would you like me to move? I want you to know you can move me around anywhere you like.”

I think he moved to a few places but eventually I said I wanted him on my left but in his armchair. So the poor bugger lifts up this gigantic armchair and heaves it off to the left and sits down. Bad idea. I immediately start to feel my head going fuzzy. He notices pretty quickly that it’s had a negative effect but for some reason he doesn’t immediately say “Should I move back?” and the longer he says nothing, the faster I fall into the past. My eyes start to feel kind of like they have pins and needles. My breathing slows, my body goes still, I start to feel confused. I need him to move NOW before I start having some bad memories. He’s talking but it isn’t useful. All I can manage is to scream in my head MOVE! MOVE! MOVE!

Image by Neil Farber

Eventually he says “You’re having a flashback” and a brief wave of relief flows over me. He must have noticed a change in me so he keeps saying it.

“This is just a flashback. You’re safe. Nothing is happening now. This is a flashback. It’s over. You’re safe now.” It’s kind of helping except its not because he’s still sitting with his body in a way that keeps the flashback looping. He says “Is there someone in there that can help?” I realise he isn’t going to move. FUCK I’m going to have to find a way to move. One day I should write about fight/flight/freeze and how there is actually one more – collapse. Collapse is the body’s last resort when you can’t escape. I usually go into freeze or collapse when I have flashbacks because I was a young child at the time things happened. So my mind behaves exactly as it did then, it is so terrified that it activates the central nervous systems and the amygdala’s automatic response so I literally can’t move. So starts the fun part…trying to shut down my amygdala and restart the other parts of my brain mid-flashback. I spend some time trying to locate my voicebox. After what seems like an eternity I manage to move my lips the smallest amount while I scream MOVE in my head. He keeps talking but it isn’t helping.

Move. Move. Move. Move. Now my lips are actually parting. He keeps talking. I think he is asking me to look at things in an attempt to ground me.

Move. Move. Move. Move. Now the smallest amount of breath is coming out of my mouth.

Move. Move. Move. Move. Now I’m saying the word but it’s barely audible. At some point he realises I’m trying to say something. I focus all my attention on getting some volume into the words. My chest muscles feel so numb.


“You want me to move?” I nod. “Where to? Can you indicate with your eyes?” I look to my right. “Ok sure I’ll move over there.”

As per usual, as soon as he moves the spell is broken and the flashback stops looping. But this time, as what sometimes occurs when the flashback is winding down, I start having a panic attack. My heart is racing and I am taking fast inbreaths. He guides me through some slower breaths. He asks me if I was having a memory. I say yes and that I was having flashes of images of my father. Though the panic attack has passed, every time I look at him it feels like a porn scene is flashing before my eyes. I complain to him that he doesn’t look normal.

“No I won’t. Not until you’re more grounded.” He’s directing me to look at things. Asking me if I can see them or if I can focus on feeling my feet on the ground. He doesn’t understand this need for a safe person is part of the memory that I’m not quite yet out of. I keep saying “I want you to look normal. I can’t find you. I need to find you.”

“What tells you that you need to find me?” He’s wanting me to describe sensations in my body but I can’t because I’m having that bizarre experience where I’m feeling something in a body I no longer have, kind of like how amputees feel pain in limbs that are gone. I call it “my other body”. I don’t answer his question because another new and bizarre thing is happening. I feel both the child part and the inner critic part active but instead of hearing them as two voices interacting, I hear them both at once over the top of each other as though someone is playing two radio stations at the one time. It’s so noisy I start to wince. He notices me wincing and starts prompting me again but nothing he says is useful. I feel the two radio stations blasting with opposing commentary. I try to listen to the racket and the effort makes me unable to speak or think clearly.

Image by Neil Farber

He says something about an observer. Is there an observer part in there that can tell him what’s going on. I shake my head and keep wincing simultaneously trying to block out the noise in my head and make sense of what the two parts are trying to say. Something about wanting him to move. He keeps talking about an observer. In the midst of the chaos I locate a word: two.

Image by Neil Farber

“Two.” I say

“What’s that?”


“Two? Two observers?” Not observers but I nod anyway because it’s close enough for him to work out that there are two parts active.

“Arguing.” I say. I’ve been opening and closing my eyes in pain the whole time. It feels like someone is blasting my head with a fire alarm.

“There’s two parts arguing?” I nod. “Is it a bit noisy in there?” he adds. I nod again.

“Arguing about you. Where to sit.”

“Ah, they want different things.” I have no memory of what happened next but somehow he ended up moving to his usual spot on the left in his usual chair which I should have asked him to do right from the start of the session. Then I start to feel anxious because of how trippy the session has been (you’d think I’d be used to this crap by now but no) and I ask him to sit closer.

“Here?” He shuffles 10 cm closer.


“Here?” He shuffles another 10 cm.


“Here?” He’s about as close as social distancing will allow. Finally I feel some sense of safety.

He asks me what was happening and I tell him about the two voices arguing. As I glance at him, he still isn’t looking normal yet.

“I wish you didn’t have a body.”

“If there was a way humanly possible that I could not have a body, I would do it for you.”

“I know you can’t. I’m just saying. When I look at you, you look super sexual like I’m looking at a porn scene right now or like you’re naked. I wish you could be an animal or something. Just an animal with your head on it.”

Image by Neil Farber

“What animal would you make me?”

“I don’t know. Something with fur on it. I don’t like skin. Skin is revolting.” He nods because he gets it. He knows that a flashback leaves me with all the revolting hangover feelings that something sexually vile has taken place.

“I’d like to be a red panda,” he says smiling. “Red pandas are my favourite animals.”

“No I don’t like bears. I’d make you a sloth.” I say it because I know he’s scared of sloths. He laughs. I continue, “sloths are lazy. They’re the slowest animals in the world.”

It isn’t until after my session that I google red pandas and discover they’re actually super SUPER adorable. I mean look at this.

Not quite fox, not quite panda, not quite bear but totally gorgeous.

When a red panda wants to look threatening it stands up and holds up its arms. It is literally unable to look menacing in anyway.

I will kill you with cuteness.

We talk some more about how the inner critic came to be when bodies were engaged in “bad stuff”.

“I think that when things got really awful, the inner critic was there to put you to sleep so you didn’t have to experience it and then the inner critic had to absorb it.” I tell him that all the parts of me wanted to come to the session today, even the inner critic but the inner critic just really hates bodies.

“It wants to be with you but not with a body,” I say. He says there must be a bit of trust between him and the inner critic if it is feeling torn in this way. He says something about being brave. We discuss the frequency of sessions and how it is hard to find the right balance in order to stop the amnesia and avoidance from setting in but also having to be careful not to active trauma memories so much that things get “out of the theraputic window”. The session has run overtime again but I ask him quickly about the book he got for me and he tells me to read the introduction and the first chapter. I leave feeling mostly ok and partly disjointed.

I’m starving, I’ve parked miles from his office but I’m in the heart of hipsterville, so SURELY I can find something vegan/vegetarian/gluten free/paleo/vaguely healthy to eat. I find a coffee shop that sells a roasted cauliflower salad and order it take away. I say no when the waitress offers me a fork because I’m still not able to think clearly. I pay a ridiculous amount of money for what seams like 3 tiny pieces of cauliflower and a bunch of rocket leaves and struggle to eat them forkless while shuffling to the car carrying a textbook size book on Dissociative Disorders. I drive home.

I must remember to tell Psychologist J that it’s super helpful he mentioned red pandas. From now on that’s how I’ll picture him. Look, here he is below inviting me in to the next session.

My new therapist. MaoBear the Red Panda

Published by sarcasticfringehead

I'm an adult survivor of child abuse who documents therapy; a yellow brick road to hell.

6 thoughts on “Tracking the Red Panda

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