This is Anxiety

I’m on my way to session. I’ve reread my words. I’ve had a talk with a close friend. I know bringing this letter to her (and ideally reading it out loud) is right, but yet.. 

I am shaky, and deep breaths won’t stick. It feels like I’m struggling to get air. There’s a feeling of nausea but it’s higher up, like in my chest. I feel like I am going to be sick. I’m cold, and my breathing comes fast, my heart rate quickens. I start to get a headache and no amount of water I drink parches my thirst. 

This is anxiety, underlaced with fear. 

But it’s okay because I can feel it, understand it, and describe it – and eight months ago, that would have been impossible.

I make progress when I bring A uncomfortable things to talk about. I make progress when I do things I’m scared of in therapy. 

Feeling anxious, in this context, is okay. One step at a time, I’ll get there. And it will hurt when she reacts positively, because I won’t understand it and it sheds a light on all I never got. But it’s progress again, that I trust her to respond in a way that’s best. 

It’s progress. So I slow my breathing as best I can, put one foot in front of the other, and march on.

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Things I Am Afraid To Tell You

I wrote a letter to A today that goes by the name of this post. 

I need to give it to her.

It’s a list of things I’m too afraid to bring up or that I have been too afraid to bring up with her. It’s those things that in my head lead to being hospitalized or terminated. 

It’s things that despite the anonymity writing here affords me, I don’t even trust telling you. Here is some of what it says

1. My alcohol problem has gotten serious. In the last month I have had 24 bottles of wine, 12-18 cans of beer/cider, and three mickeys of crown Royal – plus some I can’t remember. Most of it hidden from my husband. It starts at lunch every day and doesn’t end until bed – EXCEPT days I see you. I’m driving myself into debt over it. It’s destroying my relationship and I can’t quit and I hate myself for it. I want to stop. (Husband) has threatened to leave me, and even that isn’t enough for me to stop. I’m more interested in avoiding my feelings than preventing my husband from leaving me. I suppose that’s the nature of addiction (note: as of our session I have gone two days without).

2. [Omitted]

3. I’ve tried to quit drinking, and each time I feel incredibly pathetic when I can’t. For example, right now. I hate myself over it. But I don’t want to hide from my emotions anymore. I don’t want to stop trying. 

4. [Omitted]

5. When I go to drink sometimes it’s for habit but mostly it’s because I’m feeling something I don’t want to or don’t understand. If I don’t drink my brain goes straight to self harm. I thought I was over that as a coping mechanism when in fact I’ve just replaced it. I don’t know what to do when I have these massive emotions other than reach for booze.

6. I am afraid you’re going to tell me I can’t be your client anymore based on the above (which I’m incredibly ashamed of) 

7. Sometimes, and they come and go, I have feelings that are really confusing regarding our relationship. They catch me off guard and sometimes in the middle of our session – and I can’t articulate them because I’m afraid to say them out loud. 

8. I have romantic feelings for someone who isn’t my husband – someone who is transgender, which confuses me even more and then that makes me ashamed that I’m extra confused because of that. 

9. I hate the way I look and that I have no willpower or follow through to change it. 

10. I am so lonely despite being surrounded by people

11. I am afraid to ask for you to hold me even though in the moments I’m feeling far away I feel like it would really help sometimes.

12. I feel like I’m just faking my way through life as a drunk empty shell, and I don’t want to do that anymore but I’m afraid of what happens when I stop. There have been four ways I’ve coped with emotions in my life – alcohol, smoking, self-harm, and spending shit loads of money to run away. What do I do without any of them? 

Emotions And Things

I’m slowly starting to figure this emotions thing out. I have started spending less time distracting myself with my phone and with games and more time trying to figure out all the different feelings that exist. 

GUYS, THERE ARE SO MANY EMOTIONS

I’ve started to make notes on my phone when I notice things: 

Centered

How I feel after yoga. I feel authentic. Everything is evenly spread across my body. I feel like I know where my centre is and I know who I am. I feel like I am capable. My body is calm, my heart rate steady. I feel like I’m glowing from my heart centre and have a peaceful glow about me. I feel smooth. There is no inner chatter. No voices.and my defenses are as close to napping as they ever get. Balanced.

Is this how normal people feel?

Stressed (or anxious? Or both? I can’t tell. What’s the difference? What about agitated?)

I need everyone around me to shut up – and I feel like screaming “SHUT THE FUCK UP”. It’s like everything is stuck aching in between my stomach and solar plexus and nothing can make it stop and I feel like a coiled spring. My shoulders are tight, and I hold my breath more as my lungs shrink, my heart starts to race, and I just want everyone to be quiet. I feel prickly, like if someone were to touch me I would be sharp and needly. Things that normally don’t annoy me start too – like people talking or babies crying or being cut off. This is particularly evident when I feel blindsided or when things aren’t going to plan (aka when I lose control). I need space and quiet and if I can’t leave the situation I either have to force the slowing of my breath and force grounding or I start to count. If that doesn’t work it turns into panic as I start to hyperventilate. I will dig my nails into my arms or legs or whatever position is easiest to give me something else to focus on.

Relief comes from getting out of the situation or having it resolve, regaining control. 

I’m learning how things feel, and it’s weird, but I’m doing it. 

I also have to stop drinking (oh wait, there’s that broken record again) – but this time I’m stopping completely. I’ve decided it’s just not an option, it’s literally something that doesn’t exist. And that’s helping me. Before I’ve always tried to moderate – but it’s going to have to be all or nothing. And I’ve just decided it. 

So today is day one, all over again. There’s no good time for it, so we might as well start now. 

Stuck

I am stuck, or I feel stuck.

In session on Thursday A opened with talking about my fears around having a baby. My husband and I aren’t ready to get pregnant yet, but it’s only a couple of years down the road. And I’m afraid. For so many reasons – I don’t want to mess my kid up, and I don’t want to be my mom, and I don’t want to have my kid being in some therapy room thirty years from now saying what I’m saying. And A really heard me, I felt really heard. She identifies and we talked about how it’s not avoiding ruptures that matters but how you repair them. And she used our relationship as an example.

But recently we’ve gone to these places where I’m feeling young and vulnerable and half there and half thinking about something else, and I know the only way out is to let her see and witness the emotion and to talk about it, but I just feel… stuck.

I start to feel paralyzed, like I can’t trust myself and like it’s not safe to be witnessed, and then I feel very young and vulnerable.

My boundaries don’t have to be a fortress – they can come up when needed, but I feel like a yo-yo in session, bouncing around. 

So I decided to take some control and tonight I made feelings flashcards to help me in those moments. There are over 50 words, there has to be, and they are the things I think I feel most often. 

And on the back I’ve written a few prompts. Most of them aren’t filled out – but here’s an example from the word vulnerable.

“Vulnerable
susceptible to physical attack or harm

I feel vulnerable when…
Vulnerable feels like…
My reaction to vulnerability is… 

And then I slowly fill out the prompts as I have the self awareness to do so. 

I feel vulnerable when someone sees part of me that I have been hiding for so long.

Vulnerable feels like having my ribs cracked open without anesthetic and a flashlight shone right at the sad parts of my heart. 

My reaction to vulnerability is to completely shut down. What helps me is being reached for. 

A has no idea I’m doing this little project. But I think it will really help me identify these feelings. And it will get me from A to B quicker, because I had to reduce all our sessions to an hour today. I can’t afford it otherwise. She’s raising her rates in September.

My brother and mother come soon to my city. My safe haven. I’ve rallied the troops – N, R, Sal, A – I see them all multiple times. 

I keep dreaming of running into my brother… And I’m small in those dreams. So much of my dreams and interactions right now are young – it’s hard.

Sometimes I feel pre-verbal in therapy… And I used to think that was dumb. I used to silently judge people who shared that they felt that way and boy was I wrong. And I’m sorry.

A said one thing last session that stuck with me when I told her I was hurting and the prompting and questions and reaching was hurting and she said “I wouldn’t wish your pain away. Your suffering, yes, they are different. But not the pain. The pain means you’re letting things out you’ve held in for so long – and I can only applaud that.” 

She holds me right where I need to be – and hopefully with the help of flash cards I can push myself a bit more. 

Abandoned In A Parking Lot

I’m sitting in A’s office before work, about half way through session. She’s leaning forward in her chair, asking about my feelings. I am mentioning a phone call with my Mom on Sunday, that upset me, and getting myself worked up about the fact that I keep reaching and how frustrating it is. 

What do you want, when you call her. What do you want, when you reach for her.” 

I almost chuckle. Fat chance of me answering that. But I try to talk my inner defence down. I’ve named my defence Sasha, it makes it easier for me to have a mental conversation with myself I’d the defense has a name. And mentally I’m like – hey, sash, back off. This is where were supposed to be open. 

So I go “I don’t know.Well, it’s better than not talking. 

I think you do. Come on, stay with me here. What do you want when you reach for her. There’s no wrong answer – nothing to be worried or ashamed of .” 

I tell her how I wish she would be there, and start to cry. I mention at some point I am reaching and how I hate crying – A briefly talks about the importance of reframing that – but we move on. I say how scared I am of my brother being in town and how I didn’t realize how afraid I was until he wasn’t around anymore. 

“Can you be with me, in that fear? Can I be here?”

“No, I don’t like being observed or witnessed.” 

You need someone to tell you that it’s ok to be scared. There’s nothing to be  ashamed of, it’s okay.

I am getting annoyed at her insistence that there is nothing to be ashamed of. But I can’t blame her, I’m not exactly handing out nuggets of info on why I’m silent. 

“Yesterday my friend’s son was left in a parking lot after summer camp. They were late to pick him up and he was so scared and alone. My friend called me hysterical and angry, after she put him to bed (she had held in her feelings to support him, and even though they were divorced his Dad and Mom tucked him in together after a traumatizing day), and all I could think is thats been my whole life. My whole life I’ve been left alone in a parking lot, except nobody picked me up. I’m afraid of almost everything to do with genuine relationships.”

That’s what this about – reparenting you through that terror. You were alone, and things were traumatizing. When you’re not alone, the terror becomes much less terrifying. You needed someone to say ‘sweetie, I see you. It’s not okay that you were alone. It’s not okay that you were put into those situations, situations far worse than being left in a parking lot.'”

“I want to laugh when you say that. It sounds so ridiculous to me. My life wasn’t bad. That sentence makes no sense.

Can you look at me? I’m going to say it again. Sweetheart, you did not deserve to be left alone, and you are not alone now.”

I sit there and try to take it in. Her love. Her care. It’s so foreign and weird and disconcerting and uncomfortable. It still makes no sense. She’s reaching for me and I’m just watching her. 

It’s when I realize my inner child is basically feral. She lives in that parking lot, alone. Abandoned a long time ago. She has learned to survive and to defend herself. And although it would be better for her to be held, and cared for, she shrinks away from it. She shrinks away from being seen (she’s survived by being invisible). 

There’s a stark difference between how I feel in A’s office (once I get my defences to back down, I become positively childlike and vulnerable) and how I am at work. A strong manager with 5 employees managing millions of dollars in advertising spend. 

I could take the train from A’s office and be there in five minutes. But I choose to walk. The fifteen minutes of my feet hitting the pavement, my “You Can F*cking Do This” playlist playing in my ears, the sounds and atmosphere of the city – the bustle, it knocks me back into my adult self enough to continue my day. 

Therapy right now is basically A inching closer to that scared child who doesn’t trust and the wild animal that is the defenses I’ve built up jumping in the way, snarling, jaws snapping, trying to get A to back off. And depending on the day, that could be all it is. We may never get past that. Or, the child climbs on the animals back, wide eyed and curious about the person who isn’t afraid of her wolf. And they could get a good look at each other.

It’s slow. It’s painful. I still can’t believe she’s willing to do it. I also can’t believe I’m willing to pay for it to happen. But I need it… I just hope she doesn’t give up on me and eventually I let her freely wander my parking lot, take my hand, and one day lead me out. 

I need to stop reaching 

Last week, I told A about something my Mom said when I was struggling, really struggling, over her vacation. When I reached out and mentioned the struggle and my Mom went off about how we all struggle and then shared her experiences and made it about her. 

And A said, that it may be time to consider how to stop myself from reaching in those vulnerable moments. How the expectation and the desire to have needs met, and sitting with not reaching, is painful – but how consistently reaching and not being met is more so. 

Last week I mentioned to my Mom that my husband and I were writing our will and she said she had to change theirs because “when your children are refusing to speak, there are things to consider” – essentially implying some change in conditions. Right now it’s 50/50, so I’m not sure what that change means. Funnily enough, I doubt I’m the beneficiary of anything extra. Not sure why it needs to change at all, in fact. 

And then yesterday I called her, because I try to call on the weekend, after a long two days with friends and being up until 2am working. Which, like, when will I fucking learn? I call her, she’s asleep on the back deck, talking about how she hasn’t been able to sleep due to the stress of my brother and I not talking and so she’s finally figured out the fountain helps her sleep. And then she starts eating chips into the phone, chewing loudly, going “this is for all the times you call me in traffic. Can you hear me? Can you hear me? That’s what it feels like”

And I was like “Cool, I go out of my way to call you during the week because you have always said you wanted me to. I can stop, since the only time I can do it that fits into your schedule is when I am walking to work.”

And she goes “calm down, I’m just joking.”

I have to learn that when I’m upset or tired or in need, that I can’t reach for my Mom.

I have to unlearn my natural instinct, and figure out how to not reach for her. Cause right now she sucks. 

I’m sure the instinct to write comments about her is super strong. I’m sure the instinct to defend me is strong too. Just be aware that she is still my mother, that I am full of grief, and I will feel the need to jump to her defence. Be mindful with your responses, please.  

Exhaustion 

I slept from 8pm to 7am last night. I finally feel a bit more human. 

Saw A, too. There were hugs and tears and the session was such a rollercoaster. I see her twice more before next Friday, so I am feeling more secure in having a supported ground to stand on.

I was both angry and happy to see her when I got there but quickly settled into defensive after she reassured me that she knew I was happy and grateful for the time she gave me while she was on vacation, but that that wasn’t what she was feeling from me in that moment. 

“It’s annoying when I’m mad and you refuse to fight back. I just want you to get defensive.”

I know you do. But I totally understand how you feel having dealt with things alone – that being said, I also am secure enough to know I do not have a reason to be sorry. I also know you know that.” 

“I just want to fight.” 

I know. I can tell. That’s how you always got heard. But I am here, and listening, without a fight. I am going to sit here and love you through this, as always. How corrective would it be if I fought back or got defensive?” 

“Sometimes it makes me mad you’re so good at your job.” 

Then we went on to talk about what lives under the anger – the loneliness and sadness and grief. I can finally describe grief to her, and we talked about that. I kept telling her how much everything hurts. And she asked me to sit with it, in it, with her, to let her see it. 

I kept resisting her and saying all it does is remind me that nobody loved me for a very long time. 

“I don’t ask you to share with me and sit with me in this because I am trying to be mean or manipulative. I know it hurts. But the repair work is done by me being attuned to you in these moments and I need you to know I’m here. It hurts less and less over time. Each time we talk and I’m really here for you, it heals a bit more and become less painful next time.” 

I nodded. I know she’s right. I started to cry again (that’s something like 6 sessions in a row). And she asked me to look at her, and be present, and I did and I am crying, which I never used to let her see.

“You are so strong, PD.” 

“I dont feel strong.” 

“Carrying around all this pain requires strength. Staring it in the face is a superpower.” 

We were talking about it and I was crying and started to look away and she was like:

Nope, come back okay? I want to hold us here a bit longer. I know, I know. Its so important. This connection, this work we are doing around feelings and trust, it’s so important.” 

So that was basically session. It reminded me of what I wrote a few posts ago: 

Showing up is painful. Going to session right now hurts – because the healing lives where the hurt is. And there is only so much A can do about that, and she already does what she can. She already keeps me as balanced as possible while moving me through this as quickly as possible. She already knows a lot of what she does or says – loving me, being empathetic, asking me to stay with feelings and describe emotion – she knows that hurts. She knows what she is asking. She knows when to pull back and let me resource, help me resource. And she knows when to push.

I have friends from home coming this weekend and they want to see me every spare moment I have available, which is not something I want. They don’t know whats been going on for me despite having been my maid of honor, and I don’t want to share. So I am just going to be completely depleted this weekend. Sigh. 

I can’t wait until Tuesday.