I don’t want to think, I don’t want to feel. The past is too close right now, and if I stop and think, I’m likely to end up sucked into memories and feelings that I really don’t want to deal with. I spent the whole weekend avoiding and distracting myself from all the yuck. And now it’s Monday morning, and I’m in Bea’s office.
“Let’s see if we can switch gears and talk about you,” she says, changing topics. We had been talking about Kat, and some of the struggles she has been having since going to back to school. It is something that we need to talk about, both because I need support in how to deal with Kat, and help separating what is really going on now from the past feelings that tend to show up when Kat is involved, and because, as Kat’s therapist, she needs to know what is going on with Kat in day to day life. “I didn’t hear anything from you this weekend, how were things after Thursday?”
I don’t know. Her asking a direct question like that makes it harder to avoid thinking and feeling. I feel a little floaty, and a lot frozen. I’m still sitting with my knees tucked to my chest, but my head is up. I’m not really seeing anything, though, even as I look around the room.
“Maybe, let’s try something a little more concrete. How did you sleep this week?” Bea sort of sounds far away.
“I…..I don’t wanna talk about sleep.” I mumble the words. Sleep has been rough, more so lately, and I don’t want to face the nightmares. I’m unsure if I’m even allowed to talk about them, or if I’ll be told I’m too far away to talk, and the little girl is too afraid to open up only to find that Bea isn’t as there as she believed. It’s not a risk she is willing to take. Things might be feeling a lot better between Bea and I, but it’s still as if we are on uneven ground and working to find our footing again.
“That makes me think it’s not so good.” Her voice is soft, and understanding. “We don’t have to talk about that. We can talk about whatever you like.”
I shake my head. The little girl wants to tell Bea that she is afraid, and confused. She wants to scream and cry and ask Bea to make everything how it was, to not change anymore. She wants someone to hear how much she is hurting. She wants Bea to know she is afraid to fall asleep, and that the nightmares are almost as bad as living through it the first time. But I don’t say anything at all.
We sit in the quiet for a minute or two, and then she breaks the silence. “What do you think about getting out our pictures and the markers, and working to orient back to the external, in the moment? Now you are focused more inside, and farther away, this would be a chance to be in control of being far away or more present.”
Slowly, I nod. I don’t want to do this exercise again, but I make myself say, “Okay.” In the long run, it is meant to help, no matter how uncomfortable it feels in this moment. The idea is if I can be present with what is happening in the room, in the relationship, in the moment, for even a few seconds, I can start to retrain my brain to see that it is safe to be present now. And the more I can do that, and feel safer in the present, the easier it will be to control how dissociated I am, and the safer it will be to work through the memories, feelings, thoughts and physical memories left behind from trauma. I have a feeling this is going to be a long process.
Bea gets out the markers and our pictures, and she starts to color. It takes me longer, but eventually I pick up a marker and color, too. I don’t mean to, but I end up talking about hubby. It’s in that sort of disjointed, hard to focus on what I’m saying, pausing frequently, sort of far away but trying not to fall down the cliff into the past, dissociated way I have sometimes. I desperately want to stay distracted, and I don’t want to think or feel. It’s all too much.
We talk about how supportive he was over the dentist stuff, and how I had my hopes up that things were changing between us, and then nothing really changes and my feelings are hurt. I explain how it seems like hubby blames everything on my PTSD. It’s so frustrating to have every reaction that isn’t “happy and nice” be blamed on PTSD. Sometimes, I’m upset simply because I’m upset, and would have been upset even if there was no PTSD in my life. Bea is listening and validating my life experience. She tells me that more education about trauma would be helpful for hubby, because unless you have experienced it, the symptoms can be very confusing and hard to understand.
Eventually, when the conversation pauses, Bea says, “Let’s see if we can focus on this moment, on coloring…..”
I shake my head. “I can’t. Not….just…”
“Okay. That’s okay. Can I maybe talk about my picture?”
I nod my head; yes, okay, she can talk. She talks about colors, and how she chose the colors she did, what she was thinking, her reactions to certain colors. Then she tilts her head towards my page. “Which color is your favorite that you’ve used?”
It’s a struggle to even focus on what I’ve used, to even label the colors in my head. “Orange. Orange is my favorite color.”
“I did know that.” She smiles at me. “I really like that blue you are using now. That is my favorite blue, I think. What do you think about it?”
I shrug my shoulders. “I don’t know. I guess…..I was thinking it was the same blue as these sweatpants my mom used to love.”
“It’s funny how we can’t really look at, or experience a color without relating it something else, isn’t it?” Bea asks.
“I don’t know. Can we be done?” I ask softly. The little girl is afraid of making Bea mad, but I can’t do this being present thing anymore right now.
She nods her head, and starts picking up markers and putting the pictures away. I gather my things quickly, wanting to get out of there, to run home, to hide. “How do you feel about this, how do you think this is going?” Bea asks, as I am heading towards the door.
“I don’t know,” I mumble. I feel very put on the spot. I’m so sure that for her, this is a simple question, but I feel like it is complicated and twisty.
I think she takes my uncertainty to mean i don’t think it is working well, or I’m not finding it helpful, because she begins to make other suggestions of things we can, other senses we can use besides seeing. I’m overwhelmed, and it all seems like too much.
“Okay. Okay, sure,” I say, and then I tell her goodbye and rush out of the office.