I think I might finally be doing more than circling around in the maze of doom.
Therapy feels different this year, I feel different inside, and change is happening in my life that can’t be blogged about; a problem that has hit crisis point that has to be blotted from my blog. I’m not sure yet how to blog around it other than to just carve it out like a cheese wedge and leave in its place a gaping hole.
On Thursday I arrived at my session fully present and with an agenda.
“I need your help with something specific but I also want to share some positive stuff because I feel it’s important I give the good stuff some attention. You said in the past I should do that.”
“Oh I’m really happy to hear you say that. Yes we talked about how this is also a place to share successes and good news.”
I tell Psychologist J about a trip to Treetops Adventure park with my son (5) and how well he did navigating an outdoor climbing course that required the use of a harness and helmet to walk across tightropes and beams of wood strung from high platforms. He also spoke politely to the instructor with no prompting on my part. I also share how well his Best Start Assessment went (an assessment all children in my state must do as they enter school so the teachers can ascertain what level they’re at). I was fairly chuffed when his teacher reported that he is academically advanced, how he was able to read some words, knew very large numbers, and managed the 40 minutes of sitting at a desk as well as any other kid and that we had definitely made the right decision sending him mainstream. Not only that, his teach was such a warm lovely woman, such a contrast to the morons we dealt with at childcare last year. I was on such a high that evening. Finally, people were seeing my son for who he is – different yes, badly parented and violent – no.
“Ok now I need you to give me some advice on how to handle (situation I can’t blog about) but I don’t want you to do what you usually do where you kind of prompt me to work it out for myself. I want you to be more like Dr K and just tell me what to do.”
He smiles as though I’ve caught him out at something and then says, “you want me to be direct.”
“Yes because (Psychologist and colleague of J) S has told me what to do but I can’t do what he has suggested.”
“If I suggest the same thing as S will you tell me?”
“Oh yes, I intend to tell you as part of the scenario.”
So I give him the scenario and tell him that what S wants me to do activates the critic.
“Yes, I can see how that would generate self anger, loathing and shame. Internal security is more important. If S asks you to do that again, you can tell him that ‘it activates a dissociative part that isn’t healthy for me.’”
“Oh thank you. I didn’t know how to sum it up and not have to explain everything to him.”
The rest of the session is taken up with him giving me his very clear and direct instructions on what to do instead of Psychologist S’s suggestions.
The weekend was kind of a cheese wedge except for my visit to the GP in which I was told I probably should get the next round of MRIs done that were recommended to confirm the Chiari malformation found in the first MRI.
The first GP told me that it was nothing to be worried about, that I was born with it, that my brain had grown into my spine, it wasn’t something that required brain surgery, and that it might just give me headaches and blurry vision and that it definitely wasn’t cancer. Because the first MRI was so triggering, I had planned to postpone indefinitely any further MRIs. But this GP, my favourite at the medical centre was not so reassuring. He is a trim middle eastern man of very few words. He has next to no “bedside manner” but he’s thorough and fast and rarely makes eye contact and that’s perfect for someone like me who, in general, hates being alone in a room with another human being.
“I just wanted to know if it was important to get the next MRI or if it was something I could put off for a while.”
“Let me read the report,” he says in his brisk accented monotone. “Yes you must definitely get it done. If the MRI confirms it, I would send you to a surgeon.”
“Oh I was hoping I could postpone the MRI because I hate getting them done.”
“An MRI is a harmless non-invasive procedure.” He says flatly.
“I know. Its just that I have PTSD.”
“I can give you medication for that to take for it.”
“Oh like Ativan? I have that.”
“Ok just take that before it.”
“And if you’re referring me to a surgeon, does that mean I might need brain surgery?”
He must have seen the fear in my face because he looks at me (eek!) and says “Chiari malformation it can cause a blockage in simplest terms. So maybe it would need surgery, maybe not. But it might not be anything. We need an MRI to confirm it.”
Somewhere removed from me I feel the sharp stab of derealisation and wonder why it isn’t hitting my brain like it usually does. It feels almost as though, I can sense someone being stabbed in the room next to me instead of me being the one stabbed like usual. I wait for myself to burst into tears at the news. Nothing happens. I look around and wait for everything to turn sinister and robot like. Again, nothing. Am I just too stressed at this point to be bothered by any more bad news?
I drive home but pull over to call my husband so I can tell him the news without our son hearing. I send Psychologist J a text message. The rest of the day I feel strangely ok but still aware of the stabbing taking place in a room next to me. I plan to take some Ativan that night just in case but forget to. Then on Monday I go to work and act normal. Still there is stabbing in the room next to me. On Monday night I find myself suddenly speaking out loud like a child and crying. It happens from time to time. I quickly recognise that I have switched into the critic and am talking out loud about how scared I am. I remind myself I have a therapy session the next day, try to say some calming words to the scared part of me and find myself switching back into regular spaced out calm me.
When the session starts, I flop into my usual spot, drape the blanket over my lap and lean on the side of the couch. I tell Psychologist J that the Chiari malformation news is just too much on top of the (situation I can’t blog about) and general trauma stuff and a parenting child with a disability and I feel like my head is spinning as though I’m on one of those super fast rides at a carnival.
“I know this feeling because I felt it during a flashback. It’s got to do with a memory I don’t want to talk about right now.”
“Yes it could be a memory,” he says “but it’s also the feeling of being out of control.”
“I have to keep busy or else I panic. As well as feeling like my head is spinning I also feel like I’m passing out. Like I’m about to go into freeze or shutdown or like I just want to lie down and let something mow over me, let the pain go through me.”
“I don’t even know how I’m coping,” I continue. “When (husband) got his MRI results he was a mess and spent the rest of the day in bed and I looked after (son) but when I got mine, I just went home and got on with the day. I keep thinking there’s no point worrying about it. Thinking won’t change it. It’s either there or not and the next MRI will confirm it. I just have to get on with eating right and exercising.”
“Yes that’s right,” he says. “When you sent me the text message about the MRI,” he says “I know you said you didn’t need me to reply but I torn about whether I should reply or not. I googled Chiari malformation and it can cause things like sleep apnoea.” (Which he knows I have). I feel an unfamiliar feeling in my chest that I don’t recognise. I feel special, touched that he thought to reply to me, that he had felt some kind of concern. I tell him I’m dreading the next MRI that would be longer than the first.
“Last time I had to think ridiculous things to feel safe. I imagined crazy things. Embarrassing things about you and Dr K to help me feel safe. I also had to dissociate a bit.” I don’t tell him that I imagined I was a tiny baby and that the MRI machine that I was enclosed in was either J’s arms or Dr K’s womb and that I repeated to myself over and over “You’re safe, you’re a baby and you’re being held by someone safe.”
“Yes you might have to let yourself dissociate a bit. An MRI is noisy and very cramped but you’re safe. You have to try to remember that nothing is happening to your body. Nothing is happening to you. The sounds are outside your body. How does it feel to hear something like that?”
“It doesn’t feel very validating to hear that.” He looks slightly taken aback by my bluntness.
“I’ve been reading stuff about autism (to better understand my son), well just stuff on social media, and I’ve seen all these posts about how sensory processing disorders feel, and how for autistic people, some sounds actually register in their body as pain. Like it actually hurts them. And even before I had a child I used to read stuff about adhd and thought I could relate. And now that I have a child with these things I find myself wondering how much he got from me. Like I can relate to it. I just never knew how much of it was how I was born and how much was a result of trauma. But my central nervous system goes OFF sometimes. When (husband) revs the car I feel like I’m going to have a panic attack. My whole body feels it. I can tolerate it but only if he warns me how long it’s going to go on for.” I see Psychologist J nodding.
I explain how having to keep completely still for an MRI while being crammed in a tiny long tunnel with the magnets banging around is too much like the positions I was in during abuse.
“Because I have to keep dead still, it’s hard for it not to turn into flashback. I find myself wanting to get up and run away but I can’t, you have to put your body into freeze in an MRI so it feels like having to submit to abuse.”
“Oh yes of course.” J looks equally concerned and thoughtful. “I wonder if you’re allowed to wriggle your toes. I wonder if there is something you can do to help you feel ok.”
“I just can’t believe this is happening to me. Like my whole life is fucked now. I can’t deal with all this. ” Here I elaborated on some problems that can’t be blogged about including the pressure to be a perfect mother.
“I just want to be normal like you or Dr K. (son) deserves a parent as good as you. He deserves two parents that good.” He says reassuring things about my parenting and how my son is lucky to have me as his mother.
“I want to remind you that this will pass. It’s tough now but it will pass.”
“J that’s not good enough! I’ve heard that my whole life. That’s what I used to say to myself to cope. When things were bad I would say ‘in 10 years none of this will matter’. I think I’ve had maybe 1 year in my life when things felt ok, when it felt ok to be present. It feels too much like how I coped in the middle of abuse too. It will pass soon, it will pass soon, just tolerate it.”
“Yes, its a bit too silver linings isn’t it. You want to feel good now.” I’m not really listening to J and am too busy working myself up to a dramatic monologue.
“I’m sick of waiting for things to pass. My whole life is passing me by! There’s a part of me that keeps waking up going oh my god how did I get this old? I’m what …42, 43? and I’m still waiting for things to pass. I want my life to begin. I feel like I’m always having to distract from bad stuff. I want to live!” My speech ends but due to exhaustion, only a tear or two trickles down my cheek. I find myself feeling the inner critic’s overwhelm. I go silent.
“Is something feeling young now?” he asks gently. I don’t respond.
“Is it the little critic?” he asks referring to an email I sent him about how I call that part of me the little critic because I feel deep down inside the critic is a very hurt child. I nod.
“I hate feeling this way. I have to keep busy or angry because if I don’t then I feel like this – overwhelmed.”
“I think the little critic needs some comforting. In a perfect world, what would it want to hear?”
“In a perfect world it wouldn’t exist.” I snap. After all, that part of me split off as a survival mechanism.
“Yes I know but let’s use our imagination, what would it want?”
“Gosh you answered that so fast! I think important we think about what that little one needs. Would you like me to sit closer?”
He gives me some homework, to work out what the needs of the critic are and what it would like to hear in an ideal world and who would meet those needs.
“I want us to use our imagination to create a safe space for it in your mind.”
I leave the session with a strange sense of calm; a kind of warmth that is new to me, that I sense is the inner critic feeling a smidge of comfort for the first time ever. It takes me several days to work out why it feels comfort without any comforting words being uttered. But that’s for another blog post. On the drive home I relish feeling safe and comforted.