It’s grey and rainy yet warm and breezy outside, and that grayness, the nothingness of the weather perfectly reflects how I feel. I feel gone and grey, this numbness has descended upon me.
The ENT who is taking care of my ear was surprised last week when I told her that my ear felt all better. She said it was still swollen and infected, and while better, she was surprised I wasn’t in pain anymore. “You must have a high pain tolerance,” she said.
I wanted to say, “No, not really, I’m just very numb and don’t really notice or feel my body much at all unless I really focus on it, or I am in a lot of pain. Instead, I just shrugged.
But I am numb. I’m in this sort of bubble, with rules and plans and things that must be followed and done. It’s then that I feel safe. Everything has felt so out of control for so long, I need this. I really, really need this. Unfortunately, this bubble isn’t very strong, and crap keeps leaking in, so I’m relying on some of those ‘big gun’ negative coping mechanisms to shove it back out of my bubble. This thinner bubble means that part of me is very aware of it when I’m being a control freak, when I am being unreasonable. This means that I’ve been up and down, emotionally, and my behavior has been vacillating from being over the top in control, to having moments of feeling so out of control, I freak out.
Walking into Bea’s office after a long weekend, and not having seen her (or emailed her) for a week, I feel very disconnected. The bubble is firmly in place, and we talk about nothing important. I ask how herThanksgiving was right away, needing to control the conversation. Bea brings it back to me, and I answer, but direct things back to her rather quickly. When I get the feeling she is about to shift the focus to me, and how I really am, I quickly bring up Kat.
I’m telling Bea how I can’t stand Kat’s whininess around clothing anymore, and I have the BCBA, and the OT on it, because I just need it to stop.
“I think that’s okay,” she says to me. “I think it’s like with therapy, they say when I therapist starts to feel impatience or annoyed with a person, that it’s a sign the person is ready for more, or maybe ready for some changes. I think it’s the same, it’s moms. It’s a sign that Kat is ready for more. Unless there is something going on with you, and it’s more about you than Kat.”
I drift away. I actually feel myself drifting away. Part of it is that I don’t want to think about my internal response to Kat and her clothing struggle, and part of it is that I’m freaking out that Bea is annoyed with me. All I can think is that I knew it, I knew she was annoyed, I have been doing nothing and wasting time and getting mad at her for trying to change things and be a better therapist and refusing to do any SP stuff. Of course she is annoyed. She is going to tell me no more two days, or no more long sessions, or no more email, or no more Bea at all. I won’t admit this though,(later, after I leave, I email her the shortest email I’ve ever sent: are you annoyed with me?) so instead, I say, “Well, I….I’m not……….I guess…….it’s…….I’ve been a control freak again, and I think that, well, I think I’ve…….Kat whining and being like that, she’s not following the rules or the plan in my head. And so I get very annoyed and frustrated with her. Either way, I need the clothes thing to get under control because I don’t want to end up screaming at Kat in the mornings.”
“That makes sense. I didn’t know you were back in this control mode. When did that happen?”
I shrug. “I don’t know. A few weeks, I think.”
Bea is quiet while she thinks, and then she says, “It didn’t feel like you had a bubble last week, or the week before. Everything seemed very raw and painful, lots of fear and grief and very very raw and unprotected.”
I want to tell her no, that’s wrong, but as she talks, I can feel the echoes of those awful, overwhelming feelings, and I float farther away. “It’s like I’ve been in control freak mode, except I’m more…….aware of it. So I see it. So I don’t always act on it and that feels really bad. Really not okay. And before I got sick, it was…….one or the other. I don’t know. I just……I didn’t…..I couldn’t…….I DON’T want to feel like that anymore.” I blurt out words, jumbled and messy, unsure how to explain.
“Okay. You said something important. That you are more aware of that controlling part. What we want is for all the parts to work together, to be more integrated so that we aren’t feeling these extremes. So that both parts can exist together. That’s important. It seemed to me like you were raw and having these painful feelings, and then you got sick and that have you a bit of a break. So I didn’t see the bubble being back until today.”
I’m struggling to keep all those feelings out of my bubble. I’m blinking back tears, biting my lip, digging my nails into my palms, anything I can do to make the feelings stop. But these are big feelings, and my little tricks aren’t working. I cover my face and begin to cry. “It sometimes works. And then I don’t have to feel.”
“Yes. The bubble keeps all those feelings out.”
“But not all the time,” I whisper through tears.
“No, not all the time.” Bea agrees.
“I don’t want to feel this anymore. I just tried to pretend it away.” I’ve given up all semblance of sitting up, or covering my face with just my hands, and am curled up, my head buried in a pillow resting on the arm of Bea’s sofa.
“It’s a lot to feel. It’s a lot of grief and fear and maybe other feelings, too.”
I drift between really far away where I’m very frozen, and not so far away, where I’m aware of what’s happening around me. “I…..it’s awful. There’s no words.” I shake my head.
“It is awful. It’s so horrible, it’s indescribable, there aren’t words for these feelings. You are safe now, it’s over now, it’s not happening now, no matter how much it feels like it is. You survived, the little girl survived, and she did what she had to to survive, she’s not bad, or wrong, but she is safe now. And she’s not alone this time. You aren’t alone now.”
I know, in this cognitive way, intellectually that Bea is here and I’m not alone. But I can’t feel it. I’m so overwhelmed by all these old, out of control, awful feelings, I’ve had to numb things away as much as I can, so there is no space for me to feel some one there. This is when I need words, it’s how I connect and know, feel, someone is there for me. But I have no words. So, I’m alone. “Not having words…….it’s lonely. It makes it…….all alone, if I can’t talk, can’t tell someone…..no words means all alone.”
“Ahhhh,” Bea murmurs, and it’s as if something has clicked in her head. “That’s an old belief you hold, but I don’t think it’s true. Nonverbal communication can tell just as much of a story as words can. I can still be here, with you, even with no words. I can feel, and see that you are overwhelmed, and wanting to shut out the world, that you are struggling to feel safe right now, I’m still here.”
I shake my head a little. I’m not disagreeing, exactly, but to me, I need words. “I need words. It’s like nothing….no one can get it, no one can be on my side, of I have no words to tell them.”
“Well…….this is a very strong belief for you. I think you have experienced understanding and connection with no words. What about when Kat’s classmates see you in the hall and give you a hug? And sometimes you know, just from that interaction with no words, if they are happy or sad, or maybe needing a little extra attention or maybe they are having a good day, so it’s a hug that says hi, and has a joyful feeling? I know you have experienced this, we’ve talked about it. It’s the same thing, for me, right here with you.” Bea speaks softly, carefully. She must know she is on the edge of a topic I’m not going to like.
Far away again, and things are foggy. “I don’t know. It’s not…I just…..it’s not the same!” I don’t know why, what is going on in my crazy mind, but I’m sure that she is right about me feeling and knowing what the kids are feeling through nonverbal communication alone, but I just don’t believe it works the same with me. Maybe it’s that I feel safer writing, so words hold more meaning, more connection in my mind. Words are how I connect with people. Even if she is feeling connected on her end, and is getting it, I’m not feeling it. I NEED words.
“I’m not saying we need to do anything at all with this, I’m just noticing that your hands are curled into fists, and I’m wondering if they are wanting to do anything.”
We circle around, Bea talking about other things, and me crying about having no words, and things being too much, so when she brings up my fisted hands again, I sigh. “I don’t know how to answer your question! I don’t….I mean……there’s nothing, okay? There is no feeling, there is nothing there. So I can’t answer your question, and I’m doing everything wrong, and I just….I’m screwing it all up and I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”
“No, no, you are doing nothing wrong. You are noticing so much. Noticing that not having words is hard and feels alone, noticing when you are being a control freak, or when you are pretending things away, noticing that you aren’t feeling anything, that there isn’t an awareness of feeling in your hands or body, that is a lot. You are doing exactly what you should be doing. I know it doesn’t feel like it, but this growth, and healing. It’s slow, but it is happening. It’s hard, but trust the process, if you can. You’re okay. You haven’t messed anything up.” Bea is adamant that I’m not wrong, or failing.
I’m unsure, but I don’t argue with her.
It’s not much after that that we wrap things up. I joke, “I would say I’d email you, but I won’t because I have no words.”
Bea smiles. “You could email me that. ‘Hey, it’s me. Just letting you know I have no words yet.’ That would be okay.”
I shrug. “Maybe.” It’s hard to leave today. Things feel up in the air, as if there is a lot that has been unsaid. We say goodbye, and I walk to my car, feeling floaty and unsteady, numb and raw at the same time.
It’s not very long before I begin to have some very big anxiety about Bea, and what she said about therapists feeling impatient with their people. I don’t ever want her to be annoyed or impatient with me. I can’t take it, and eventually I type out a simple email:
Are you feeling annoyed or impatient with me?
Before I type in Bea’s name to send, and before I hit send, I pay attention to how I feel. Bea had told me last week, or maybe the week before, about this simple experiment. You set an object–any object– in front of you. You then slow everything way down, and focus on how you feel, what you notice emotionally, what you notice in the body, and what your thoughts. You want to notice how it is to reach for something, how it is to hold onto something and how it is to let go. The idea is that this simple exercise can tell you a lot about your attachment patterns.
The thing is, I didn’t want it do it then, and Bea suggested I try it at home. So, I did. I think I must be broken or something because the only thing I notice is that there is nothing to notice. I continually focus on the fact that it’s no big deal, it’s just a phone, or a hairbrush or a coffee cup. I can’t get beyond that. This exercise does make me any more attention to my relationships. I notice that I don’t do the reaching, and that often, even when hubby grabs my hand, I just let my hand be limp in his. I don’t grab back. Or, when a friend calls and I miss the phone call, unless they leave a message that they really need to talk to me, simply don’t call back— and times I do, I feel anxious and tense. Often, hubby will rest his hand on my shoulder, or my lower back, and I notice I freeze, I don’t respond, and all I can’t think about is getting him to move his hand without making him angry. And then try very hard not to think about his hand being on me. I think, on his end, I must seem cold and, I’m not sure, certainly not huggy feely. When I do accept his hand, I feel uneasy, and whatever feelings going on outside of him/me, have to be worse/bigger/more scary than having hands on me. So, basically, I’ve noticed that I’m not warm or physical or cuddly or any of those things. It can’t be easy to be married to me. I suck. I think that this is why words are so important to me, why I can talk way too much, because this is the communication that feels safe. It’s the only way I have to connect without feeling frozen.
When I go to send the email to Bea, I notice I can’t really bring myself to press send. I have that sick nervous feeling in my stomach. I notice that as I’m thinking about pressing send, I’m physically pulling my body away from my iPad.
Where I was sort of present as I typed the email, sending it requires that I go away. And when I do press send, I do it very quickly, almost pretending I’m not sending it, and then I continue on with my day as if I hadn’t just reached out via email and asked a scary question.
Bea wrote back fairly quickly:
No, Alice! Not annoyed or impatient in anyway! I thought today’s session was good, from my perspective.
I wonder if I should email her back and explain, but I’m not in the mood to write words onto the page. Instead, I numb out, and do my best not to think or feel.