When the undertow grabs hold

On Monday, the teen was feeling really embarrassed that she had told Bea how feeling cared about brings up all these icky, bad feelings, and wasn’t sure she wanted to go to therapy. Things were floaty and just off feeling, and it was really hard to stay grounded and connected.

Once I am settled in my place on the couch, and we chat for a bit, Bea asks me who is here today. I tell her that I don’t know, because I don’t. I feel odd, not here, and sort of numb, not real. I feel almost like a ghost or something, like I don’t quite exist. We continue on with the surface talk, mostly because I keep directing us back that direction. This sucks. I want to feel connected to her, and right now I don’t feel connected to anything.

Finally, Bea asks if I might want to look at my notebook. I get it out and flip through it. “There’s sort of old stuff in here. From October 22. Because we didn’t look at my book for a while.” I keep flipping pages as I am talking.

“Well, we can start at the beginning or with something more recent. Really it’s whatever you need to talk about, whatever is coming up for you,” she says softly.

I shrug. “It doesn’t matter, I don’t know.”

Bea waits, and I continue to just flip through pages. I’m wasting time, I know it, but I can’t seem to stop myself. (Thinking back, I think the teen was wasting time, not wanting to feel anymore exposed.)

The silence starts to make me feel panicked. “Just read the last thing I wrote and then go back to the beginning. Okay? Because it doesn’t really matter.”

“All right. We can do that.” Bea leans forward a bit, and I hand her my notebook. “This is a new notebook. It’s so pretty.”

I nod. “It’s the Harry Potter limited edition moleskin notebook. I love it.”

“Can I read from the beginning? Would that be all right?” Bea asks carefully.

“Sure. It’s fine,” I tell her.

It doesn’t take long for her to pause in her reading and look up at me. “The teen was really mad at me, huh? I can understand that. It’s really painful to have me sort of show her what she didn’t get from her mom growing up.” Bea sounds sad, and understanding and calm and kind and just so very much the Bea that the teen loves, it sent me spiraling. Or, rather, it sent the teen spiraling.

“No, no. I’m not mad anymore, I really wasn’t mad at you. I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry.” Panic fills my voice. I’m not floaty or spacey anymore, but I am definitely out of my window.

“You don’t have anything to be sorry about. You are allowed to be mad at me.” Bea says firmly. Her words are kind, though, and I’m able to calm down enough that I can breathe again.

“I said I hated you,” I sob. “I didn’t mean that. I didn’t.”

“If you did, that would be okay. I can handle it. I’m strong enough to handle all your feelings, even hating me.”

“I don’t hate you. I didn’t hate you. It was just….I was mad and I hated that you weren’t my mom. No….that came out wrong. Wait. I mean, I hated that….it should be my mom, not you. I was mad, I hated that it wasn’t her.”

“I know. I know that. I understand. It hurts. It hurts so much that your mom didn’t have the capacity to give you what you needed.” When I peak out from behind cloud pillow (when did I even grab him and hide my face?!?!) she’s sitting criss cross applesauce in her chair, and leaning in towards me.

All of this came about because I had been able to stand up to someone and set a healthy boundary in a kind and respectful way and feel safe and supported while I did it; something I have never experienced or done before. I had been alone when this happened, but I knew Bea would support me. Even if she disagreed with me, I knew that she would still be there for me, that she would try to understand my viewpoint. I can’t really explain it, but even though she wasn’t there, it was like she was there, helping me feel supported and contained while I spoke. I didn’t become dysregulated once. Afterward, I thought to myself, *this is what secure attachment feels like. This is what it feels like to have a secure base.* It was exhilarating and at the same time devastating. It didn’t take long for all kinds of feelings to pop up for the teen. Mostly, those feelings were anger and pain over the fact that her mom didn’t give this to her growing up.

“I want to be mad at her, you know. But she….she just couldn’t do it. She couldn’t handle anything. I can’t be mad at someone so broken. So I don’t know who I’m mad at. Not you. Not my mom.” I sigh. This is so hard.

“Maybe no one. Not being mad at me, that might be a new experience for the teen.” Bea suggests.

“That’s not fair. Yeah, she’s angry alot, but she isn’t always mad at you. And most of the time when she is mad at you it’s because she is scared.” The adult comes back just enough to defend the teen, which is unexpected.

“That’s true. I’m sorry,” Bea says.

“Okay. I’m not mad right now, okay?”

“Okay. What are you feeling?” Her voice is curious.

“I….just….I can’t be mad at her. Mostly that is what I feel.” I’m hiding behind cloud pillow still. I would really like to have a blanket to hide under, but I don’t want to ask, and Bea hasn’t offered, and it’s probably time to go anyways.

“Why not? Why can’t you be mad that your needs weren’t met? Thats a legitimate thing to be angry and rageful about.” Her tone is matter of fact now, like this is just something everyone knows.

“Because…….” The words get lost before they are even fully formed.

“Because why?” Bea asks. She is annoying me (the teen). Doesn’t she know? Can’t she put two and two together? Do I always have to spell things out for her?

“Because I don’t get to be mad. I’m not good enough! I didn’t try hard enough to do things, to be what she needed, I was always always needing more. I don’t have the right to be angry when all I ever did was screw up and make things hard for her!” I shot the words at Bea, and then hunch into myself, hugging cloud and crying.

“So only people who are good enough ―as defined by your mother― have the right to be angry?” Bea asks. Ugh. She has this innocent, playing dumb tone to her voice. I hate her again. She is asking me questions to prove a point and I don’t want her to prove a point.

“No. That is not even what I said. But all she wanted was me to be normal and I couldn’t even do that.”

“From where I am sitting, a lot of your feelings and thoughts were just like a normal teen. And you were totally normal given your history.”

“I hate it when you say that.”

“How come?”

I shrug. “Don’t know.”

“Maybe because if you are normal then you aren’t special?” Bea asks.

“No. It’s not like that. No one want to be special like this. I feel crazy. Its crazy making.”

“What is?”

“Me. My stupid feelings. I want to be cared about but then when I feel cared about I end up….well….feeling icky. That is crazy.”

“Well, it feels crazy, and it is normal for you, for what you went through.” Bea says. She sounds like Bea again and the anger towards her dissipates, but I still hate being called normal.

“It doesn’t make sense to me.” I shake my head.

“Well, I think that you had to be so defended for so long, and being cared about for so long came with strings attached, expectations, and the knowledge that you would only be cared about if you were behaving and performing well. Listen, okay? This is important. I don’t have strings or expectations. I care about you just for being you. I’m here because I care about you, about all the parts. That’s it. Okay? I know that is hard to trust, and it is difficult because as soon as you feel my caring all those defenses kick in. If you can try to just let in one little drop of caring, just allow one drop to make it past your walls, then you can feel cared about and still feel safe.”

“Maybe. Maybe I can try.” I whisper the words.

It’s not long before it’s time to go. We went over time, and I tell Bea I’m sorry.

“I’m not,” she says, “There was some stuff the teen really needed to get out.”

“Okay.” It’s all I can get out.

We say goodbye, and Bea wishes me a good day.

I really don’t know why therapy felt so off. I am pretty sure it was me, though, not Bea, considering I had been feeling off kilter for several days. It’s more than the eating thing. I still feel weird. I tried to journal and nothing really came out. I don’t know what my deal is. I probably should tell Bea that things (and me) felt weird and off on Monday and that there is so much going on with the teen, all these crazy, strong emotions and this self hatred that is so huge I (the grown up) can’t begin to fight it, and how the teen’s feelings are like an undertow, drowning me. I’m just not sure I can. I feel really apprehensive that if I try to explain, she will make a thimg out of something that is not a thing, or she will somehow inadvertently say something that feels invalidating to the teen, and then the teen will freak and we will be right back in the middle of another rupture where Bea claims its all about the past and the teen feels more and more unseen by her, and everything spirals out of control. The worst part is, I’m not sure if those are my feelings or the teen’s feelings. Because they feel like mine, and yet…….it could be the undertow taking hold.

Everything is fine and I am numb and gone, gone, gone 

I’m unsure as to what happened today. Bea said or did something and she triggered the perfect part to take over. Ms. Perfect has written an email for Bea. It’s taking everything in me not to send it and quit. I’m posting the email below, hoping that maybe someone can help me know what to do. I’m numb and experiencing some depersonalization and derealization but all the emotion of the last month finally sent me to that in a bubble place. 

Dear Bea, 
I’m fine now. Everything is okay. Nothing is wrong, and I have it all under control. I need to make a plan, set a schedule, but everything is very much okay. You don’t need to worry anymore. I won’t be so needy anymore, I don’t need you now. I realize that last week was a lot; I was really needy and it had to be very obnoxious. I’m sorry about that. I won’t bother you again. I realize it was wrong of me to put you in a position of having to be the sole support. It is not fair to put that all on you. I understand where you are coming from, wanting me to tell others and get support from them. It is out of the question to tell anyone in my family, or to tell my husband. The family won’t believe me, and the one person who might, it is not fair to put them in that position. It is not a choice I am making, it is simply a fact, the way things are. I didn’t set up the rules or how they work, but I do follow them. One of the rules is that no one talks about serious things, emotions, or deep things. I don’t need or want them to know, anyway. I’m fine on my own. I do not need a support system, because I am not a victim and there is nothing wrong. I’m done digging around the past. It’s all locked back up, and I’m okay again. 

The wedding and the aftermath 

Monday morning after the wedding, I walked into Bea’s office, and I was rather, well, closed off. I was in shutdown mode. I know I told her about the wedding, but it was done rather woodenly, and I don’t have a lot of recollection of our session. I wasn’t really there. I think the manager was running things, in this very strict, very closed down, very harsh boundaried way. My clearest memory is of Bea suggesting I may have felt some things on Saturday, and her telling me that would be okay and wouldn’t make me bad, and the little girl becoming extremely enraged at Bea not only for saying those things, but for knowing them. 

Right now, I’ve been in this very up and down place, of either needing to be completely closed off and following a scheduled written out to the minute, or I’m in this falling apart, not in control, really scared, wanting to die to make it all stop, unable to even find words or function, child part. And it’s scary. Really, really scary to be in that head space. So I am working very hard to follow my schedule. It’s literally written out on paper, with days and times and everything is scheduled from when to wake up, and doing dishes, packing Kat’s lunch, to letting the dogs out to potty, to doing laundry, dusting, sweeping, checking email, doing yoga, taking a shower, giving Kat a bath, going to the grocery. I know it’s rigid and awful. But I can’t function otherwise. Not right now. And that scares me too. So, here is Saturday’s story, as I told it to Bea:

We got to the country club early, to double check finishing touches on decorations, and get dressed and then do some photos before the wedding. When we got there, I could see the wedding planner hadn’t set up the entry way correctly, and she didn’t have the isle runner covered in rose petals either. I busied myself with those tasks, and then just continued on with decorating as it appeared the decorator and wedding planner were really behind. 

Almost an hour or so into decorating and fixing what the decorator had done, my mother stormed up the stairs and yelled at me for not being dressed, and for getting messy. No thank you for fixing the disasters the decorator keeps making, just a good old fashioned berating for not being dressed yet. Later, when the assistant director met me, we shared a laugh over the fact she had fought I was maybe 6 or 7 by the way my mother had been hollering at me to get dressed— she never would have guessed I was 32 years old. It’s not really funny, but well, you know. Family 😕

Once pictures were done and wedding o’clock rolled around, we headed outside to our seats. Hubby and I sat down, and then noticed the decorator was still putting roses in the arch, and she did not have the runner secured so it was blowing all over the place. I set hubby to work with putting roses in the arch and standing on one end of the runner to hold it in place. I sent my dad to stand on the other end, and then I spent the next 25 (good thing my brother and his bride always run late!) minutes running around looking for a staple gun or duct tape. Neither of which could be found. I ended up using saucers to hold the runner down, spacing them along the edges. By this point, the wedding still hadn’t started, and guests had been sitting in the hot sun for over 30 minutes. I went to the bar to get pesticides cups and pitchers of ice water, and set those out, having people pass them around. I didn’t want anyone getting dehydrated. 

The wedding finally started, and it was beautiful ceremony. After, was cocktail hour with champagne punch and hors d’oeuvres. My grandma’s boy friend, who I don’t even want to name for my blog right now, was in line behind hubby and I. He is a horrible man, who is always telling dirty jokes and making innuendoes. He said something about me and my dress, and my chest and my behind, and hubby laughed and agreed. I know I had strong feelings about that, and became angry with hubby because I left the cocktail hour and headed to the club’s bar. I remember telling hubby to just stay faraway from me, and I went and bought a glass of wine. It was a friend of my mom’s who came and sat with me, and let me vent a bit to her. I calmed down and went back to the cocktail hour. 

When we moved into the reception room, I discovered my table– with my mom, dad, grandma, her boy friend, HIS parents, my mom’s sister and her husband, and hubby and I– was right next to HIS table because of how the numbers worked and he was almost sitting next to hubby. I wanted to vomit. I ran to the bathroom and texted Bea in a panic. She told me to leave the table as soon as I could and talk to people far away from him, and then made suggestions for whom I might want to talk to. I don’t really remember dinner. I had a vegetarian dish, and my mother had a moment about the cheese on my noodles, and I felt horribly ashamed and guilty and like I wanted to crawl under the table and hide. 

After dinner I got up, moved around, talked to people. It was okay. I danced a lot. Hubby danced with me, but a lot of my uncles and mom’s cousins and dad’s cousins and my cousins, too, danced with me. Which was good, it kept me away from him. Until. Until he approached hubby as we were dancing and asked hubby’s permission to dance with me. And hubby said yes. 

I froze. I blanked out. I don’t know what happened. I just disappeared. And then the next thing I know, the thing in my memory, is HIM, a hand on my back, and a hand holding my hand, whirling me around the dance floor. Because if you grew up where we did, you know how to dance. And I followed. I followed because it’s the thing you do when you dance, you follow and dance and move, and it’s easy and mindless muscle memory, I followed because I was frozen, and had no idea what else to do. So, I followed and danced. And then the song was over, and he kissed my cheek and thanked me for the dance and left the dance floor. I presume I was meant to follow, but I didn’t. Instead I ended up standing there, in the middle of the dance floor, half frozen, as the next song played. 

I don’t know how long I stood there, but Hagrid’s dad saw me, and came to dance with me. He spun me around a few times, and then, before the song was even over, walked me off the dance floor, out of the reception hall, and to the club’s bar. He ordered two glasses of good white wine, and asked if I was okay. I nodded, yes, of course, I’m fine. He maybe wasn’t convinced but let it go, only saying I could talk to him if I ever needed to. And then he sat with me until I was ready to go back inside. Later, I was embarrassed because it was the little girl talking to him, and he was behaving towards me much more like a care taker or protector than just my mom’s smart cousin whom I have many intellectual discussions with. This means that he saw something was wrong, and as a shrink, he may have even realized I was not there, that something had triggered me, that I wasn’t okay. It means that the central though I didn’t tell, even though I followed the family rule as best I could of putting on the show that all is fine, I sort of told, because Hagrid’s dad realized something was wrong. So, I broke the rules after all. I don’t know. 

(Side note– Bea told me that she really liked that Hagrid’s Dad rescued me, that it sit seemed fitting and right. She also said that if I ever do get to the point of wanting to tell, then maybe he would be a good first person to tell; that he is far enough removed from immediate family, but close enough to see the dynamics, and that while he is going to be sad about what happened because he is my family, that he will understand it as a therapist, but also know the family well enough to know all those nuances and be able to help me break the story to my mother and father. I understand what she is saying, and can even agree with her. I just wasn’t hearing it the day she said it, and I have no plans to tell anyone in the family anything at all ever.)

So, after that, back at the wedding reception, I just drank a lot of wine. Like, a bottle and a half at least. Way more than I ever drink. And I was really drunk. I texted Bea, freaking out and wanting to go home. I think the little girl parts wanted her to come rescue them, I don’t know. In the end, even though she suggested I go back to my parents and go to sleep, I insisted hubby take me home. I didn’t want to sleep in my childhood home. I didn’t want to be in that house where everything about me is wrong. I didn’t want to have to fake anything anymore, for even one more day. So. I insisted on being taken home, and at some point, hubby gave up arguing and agreed to do so. 

Since then, I’ve seen Bea 3 times, and aside from that first Monday where I told her the above story, I’ve more or less avoided talking about myself. I’m in the middle of dealing with a bunch of crazy business from my daughter’s school, and possibly looking for a new school. So those things have needed discussing. And the teachers/administration at Kat’s current school all behave as if I’m crazy to say she is on the spectrum, or to think she needs these extra supports, or anything else. So that dynamic is very triggering as well, to the point where I’m feeling anxiety every time I take Kat to school or pick her up. 

I finally did give me Bea my journal at yesterday’s session, and that was probably a good thing because now she is aware how screwy the inside of my head is, and how some parts of me are on a scary ledge, and how I’m holding it all together by having this very set schedule but that isn’t going to be able to last long, simply because the crud is leaking out in places and I’m struggling in ways I refuse to admit. And I’m terrified of the couple’s therapy session that is set on October. As I told Bea, I’m afraid because I’m the one saying I can’t have a superficial marriage for the rest of my life, but I am also the one who is too afraid and too damaged to go deeper. Bea says that is fine, that the therapist should start where we are at, and it’s okay. 

So, now Bea knows how screwed up my head is right now. She asked me if I could continue with my schedule for another two days until I see her again, and I said yes. She said on Wednesday, maybe we need to start unpacking all that yuck, little by little and we could do it however I wanted, talking, coloring, writing, sensorimotor, a combo of all three. So, the lan is on Wednesday to titrate the mess and just deal with tiny pieces that won’t overwhelm me to the point of the suicidal parts or the little girl running the ship. I’m sort of scared, because well, it all feels overwhelming if I let even some out– which is why I’ve kept it very locked down and separate from me. 

Last week: therapy Monday 

Therapy last week. Ugh. It was hard. Monday sucked. I didn’t want to go, I didn’t want to talk through my long letter. When I got there, I talked about Kat, and hubby, and tried to avoid talking about real things. Bea wasn’t going to let that happen, though. She looked at the clock, in an obvious way, then looking at me, said, “We really need to talk about your letter, and I want to make sure we have time for that. I should get it out now.” 

I looked at her, and it was the teen that responded, flippantly “So, we’re doing this now?” 

Bea nodded yes, and I covered my face, but found I didn’t need to hide. I’d walked in numb, and was only growing more and more numb and gone now that we were going to talk about real things. 

I honestly don’t remember much of what we talked about. I remember her telling me that the amount of food I’d written down— really, I’d been freaking out over how badly I had been binging– wasn’t surprising to her, because she was sure she has at times eaten 53 French fries, or 17 mini Reese’s eggs. I couldn’t really let that sink in, but I think some of the shame around my eating was lessened, at least in terms of Bea. 

I remember her going through where she had been, what was going on, each time she responded to my emails. She shared that she enjoys hearing from me, even while on vacation, but that she should have written a disclaimer that she wasn’t as available as usual (like emotionally available). I remember feeling sort of hurt during this conversation, and telling her that I am aware that if she is on vacation, her responses my be shorter, or not as there, or whatever. I’m aware of that, and I get it, and it’s usually– has almost always been– fine. Except this time. This time was different because of Kay, and Rory was on vacation, too, and hubby is, well, hubby. I told her this, and she said, “I know. And I remember thinking that I hoped you weren’t as alone as you sounded, but also that you really were all alone right then. That made me so sad for you. You’ve been alone long enough. But there was nothing I could really do to help right then.” 

I nodded. “So you sent me strategy, and ideas, and tried to….well…it was shrinky.” She nodded agreement, maybe said something. I’m not sure. It seemed like sometime had passed when I said, “I wish you would have just written that you could feel how alone I was right then. That would have been better, it would have felt better than what you wrote.”

“It would have validated your feelings, and the situation. It would have been honest. I didn’t write that because it didn’t seem helpful, and I did want to help.” 

“You could have reminded me that you would be back, and so would Rory, that this alone-ness wouldn’t be forever. That it’s not the same as my past.” I told her. And she agreed. She said she should have, and she was sorry, and that in the future she would just be honest. 

She talked about how everything happening made sense to her, after Kay shut me out, and my other two supports ‘left’. She said it was okay. We talked about my craziness, the way I over think and freak myself out. I remember she said that is why some therapists won’t email, because things get lost in the written word with no facial expressions or body language to cue is into the meaning behind the words. 

“No….that’s not it. I do it all the time, email, talking face to face, texting. It doesn’t matter. I overthink and freak out, but I hide it.” I remember really wanting to make it clear to her that it wasn’t just an email thing. Even though I hadn’t wanted to send an email recently, I was very afraid she was about to set a boundary telling me no more emails. 

Bea surprised me, though. “I think email can be helpful for some people between sessions. So often, with this kind of work, it’s the days after therapy that things come up, that you process what we talked about. And if you can email it, and work through it a little bit instead of having to wait, because so much is always coming up, then it’s a good thing. And it doesn’t bother me one bit. I have time to be available. My kids aren’t at home anymore, and I work for myself. So I have much more availability than a lot of therapists, and I like hearing how you are, and what is coming up. I don’t have many people who need to email, and no one takes advantage of it, so I’m fine with emailing.” I breathed a sigh of relief at her words. 

I remember she talked about control, and how I feel about not being in control. I don’t remember the specific, though. That was a tough conversation, and I was really far away. She asked a few times if I was here, and each time Miss Perfect snapped to attention, smiling and saying I was okay, I was present enough. Finally, Bea stopped asking, and simply said, “You aren’t here.” She offered up some grounding suggestions, and I rejected every last one of them. 

“What’s happening right now? Where is your focus, where are you shining the flashlight?” She asked. 

“I don’t know. I want….. I don’t really want to be more here. I just…..I want to not feel. I don’t want to focus on the present.” I finally said, completely honest. 

I think we talked a bit more. But I’m not sure. As I was leaving, Bea gave me homework: to try to pay attention to where I was shining the flashlight. And then, I left, sad and not as connected as I had wanted to feel. 

The one who disappears everything 

Thursday…….I was tired driving to Bea’s, and still feeling that strange indifference. I was numb, and my feelings were definitely shoved way down deep. I felt fairly indifferent to everything, as if I didn’t really care anymore. 

She greeted like normal when I arrived, and I said a happy hello. I settled myself and Hagrid in our normal place on the sofa, and looked at her. I don’t remember now what we started with, but the conversation quickly flowed into one about hubby and couples therapy. 

“I’m not against couples therapy, I think it can really help. But you are my client, and so I am feeling a little protective over the parts of you that may not be ready for couples therapy. It would be much more ideal to have hubby start in therapy to work through some of his stuff, and have each of you working towards seeing a third therapist together.” She explained to me where the hesitation I had been sensing was coming from. 

I nodded, seeing her point, but argued, “It feels like I can give him an ultimatum about couples therapy, not so much about going to his own therapy. And it seems as if he would be more likely to agree to something we were going to together than on his own.” 

“I can understand that,” she said slowly, “I think the only way we will know is to ask him. I know it doesn’t feel safe to bring him here, and I get that. This is your safe space. But maybe we need to bring him in for one session, to talk about how to proceed with this stuff.” 

As she spoke, suggesting bringing hubby here and telling him how I have been feeling in our marriage, I lifted my hands to my face and hid. 

“Yeah….” Bea said softly. “There’s those feelings returning again.” 

I sat there, my face buried in my hands, unable to look up at her. The idea of bringing him here and telling him all of this felt devastating to me. “I can’t…I mean…..it doesn’t feel…..okay.” 

“It’s a little bit of a reality check, isn’t it? If you could maintain that indifferent feeling, then it would be okay. You could protect yourself in couples therapy. But not all the parts of you are so indifferent. The little girl is scared, this feels too vulnerable. Other parts of you don’t feel safe with this idea, either. I think that is why this is such a hard choice to make.” 

“But it’s not, not really. I need to stop whining over it.” I said, feeling angry with myself for being afraid to bring my husband to therapy. 

“I don’t see it as whining, I don’t think you are whining at all. But a part of you clearly does.” 

I shook my head. “It’s whining because there is a clear solution to the problem, but instead of acting, I just keep talking about it over and over.” I sighed, and explained how growing up, and even now in my marriage, once something has been discussed, it is over and done with, and if I bring it up again, it is being a drama queen, whining, nagging, talking something to death. It’s not okay. I explained that this is why I always ask permission to bring something up again and again. I have this fear that eventually she will think I am whining or being a drama queen, too. 

“And I just expect that things will come up again and again. And when all the parts of you have different ideas on things, well, that makes it hard to figure out a plan. Talking something through, more than once, is well, I just see it as part of your process.” She said gently. 

I looked at the clock, something I rarely do, and saw that there was still over a half hour left. “I don’t want to talk about this anymore,” I whispered. 

“Okay,” Bea said simply. She always just accepts my desire to stop discussions when I get too uncomfortable.  

We sat quietly for a few moments. I pulled out my iPad, opened the writing I had done much earlier that morning, and handed it to her. “I wrote this….I don’t know. I was going to email it but it got really long. So….I just…well, here….” 

“I was writing before thanksgiving, and then didn’t write again until this morning. But I combined them. Because…..I had wanted to give you the stuff from last week,” I explained as Bea took the iPad from me and started reading. 


I’ve been thinking about two things. Well, I’ve been thinking about a million more than that, really, because my mind never shuts off, but just two– or three or four at the most– things I wanted to write about: imposter syndrome and where this belief or message about my parenting abilities came from. 

First, I’m not sure that this feeling of being a bad mom, or of having everyone fooled into thinking I am a good mom came from anywhere specific. I can not think of a belief or message, besides the things I tell myself, that match it. I think it’s bigger, or deeper, or more than that. 

I think it’s not even imposter syndrome, not exactly. Because it’s….sort of this all encompassing thing. And it’s hard to even think about, or pick apart, because….well, I don’t know why, it just is. Maybe it’s sort of this childhood message of having to be perfect to be good enough, but never feeling like I was actually perfect and instead was just playing this part of this perfect girl who my parents loved but if they knew the truth they would hate me forever. I don’t know. I think that’s the beginning, maybe? 

But it’s more than that. (These are all general you’s or someone’s). If someone says I’m a good mom, either I have fooled them, or they don’t really mean it and are just being nice. If I act like I am okay and in control of my life, I’m a liar because I feel so far out of control that what people see is an illusion. If I tell you I’m not okay and falling apart, I’m a liar and a drama queen and I need to shut up right now. If I say I am a good cook, then I am bragging and making things up, because all I do is follow or tweak a recipe and it’s not a hard thing. If I am told I am good at something, then people just don’t know me, or they are being nice. If I make a mistake and am upset, I’m stupid and over reacting and ruining everything. If you tell me I am resourceful and have good ideas, then you are being nice because you can not believe how dumb I am, or I somehow got lucky with the idea I had. It doesn’t matter which direction a situation goes in, I can find a way to make it about being not good enough, fooling people, being dramatic, being lucky, I don’t know. It’s not even like I try to think like this. I just do. It just happens, instantly, quickly. You say good job, and I instantly think of everything I did wrong, all the should haves, and how I could have done better, and, at the same time, think that you are just being nice. 

“These are some really strong negative messages you’ve given yourself,” Bea commented. I think she said more, but unfortunately I don’t remember now. I think she said something about how a part of me needs to see another part of me as “bad.” I don’t know.

It’s like walking on eggshells everyday, certain I will be found out. I don’t know. Maybe it comes from being that perfect part of me for so long, because she never felt real, more flat and not really there. But that is who most of the world saw, even though I knew she wasn’t really me. 

“This walking on eggshells feeling….it has to be from childhood. Because you had such a big secret, so no matter what people thought or said or saw, there was always this secret, this hidden thing that you felt so bad about. It’s very much a split identity. The good you and the bad you with all the secrets. So, yeah, this feeling is so ingrained, it’s still present.” 

“But….even if I didn’t realize it? I mean…it would have been a subconscious thing, maybe?” I asked. Because I don’t remember feeling split or thinking about hiding this big secret. It was, unbelievably, mostly hidden from me.

“Yes, it would have been a subconscious thing. You wouldn’t have been aware of it. But being split like that, I imagine it would has felt like walking on eggshells.” She said softly, going back to reading.

I don’t know. I was also thinking that I should have just given you my notebook today. But it wasn’t pretty. I don’t usually, okay, I don’t ever write all of that stuff out, and never to share. But I did write it. And it was pretty choppy and sort of bouncing between the little girl’s voice and mine, and there was way more detail about a Kenny thing but also a present day life thing that caused the flashbacks and I just couldn’t have anyone know all of that. 

I sort of think this weekend is something to keep talking about. But maybe not. Maybe it’s over and done and I over reacted and it’s all nothing at all. I don’t know. But I don’t want to keep being “hijacked” and feeling like a crazy person. 

And I can’t leave hubby, move out. It’s crossed my mind. But I think it’s more of a running away idea, not having to deal with any of the mess or feel hurt or vulnerable or be open and honest and deal with what happens when I do that. That’s what I do, you know. I run away. But I don’t want to do that anymore. At the same time, I can not keep going through this being hurt by hubby because I keep trying and he doesn’t get it. So I need to just be in a little bit of a bubble when it comes to my marriage, and pretend it’s okay. But I want to be able to cry and be upset and sad or angry or whatever in therapy without the worry that you are wanting me to talk to him. We both know that might be the best thing to do, but I can’t do it. Not anymore, not right now. I just need a break from that.     

 “I don’t see you as a person who runs away. I’m not sure…well, I think you are a person who faces things. Look at all you have stayed and faced here, this year.” Bea said. And she is right, I have been facing things rather than running, but that is new for me. There have been numerous times I thought about running away from Bea, and therapy, but instead I stayed and worked through it. I’m learning to work through things. 

I shook my head and let out an exasperated sigh. I did not want to explain this. “I do….I um…well…..when things are hard…it’s why….I lose friends…..only Kay has stayed and that’s because she just…..think of all the times I leave her….and she….I don’t know. She just….and I run. I don’t know.” I shrug. “I could give examples, explain, but….I don’t…I don’t want to share them….ugh.” I stumbled over my words, wanting her to understand but not wanting to explain. 

“Kay knows it’s not about her. That’s why she stays,” Bea commented before going back to reading. I breathed a sigh of relief that she wasn’t going to ask me to explain more. 


Bad dreams tonight. I don’t want to remember them. I woke up confused and afraid, I felt like a little kid for a few minutes. I do hate that feeling. I barely remember the dream. Pieces, choppy like my memories. Ugh. I feel sad again, like I did at my parents. 

It’s like I felt safe and calm, peaceful and real while I was there. Even when I was upset, that was okay. I felt like they wanted me; just me. I didn’t have to do or be anything to be wanted, to feel loved. I don’t think I really ever felt like that with them before. And I should have, as a child, as a teen. I should have. I think, when I would go to bed while I was there, it was like I lost that feeling, and felt like I usually do there. I could remember feeling like that with my Grandpa, and Grandma and then when I would get home, it would be gone. Lost. Disappeared. Like I couldn’t hold onto it, remember it, if they weren’t right there. And so I was sad, it was like I missed something or someone, because I couldn’t hold onto that feeling, or trust that it would be there the next day. I don’t know. And I was sad that I never felt like that before with my parents, in my own home. Because I should have. And I wondered why now, why not then? What did I do wrong to not have this, then? And I worried; do I make Kat feel safe like that, or am I just like my parents when I was growing up? 

And then I would try to sleep and toss and turn. Maybe in that hyper aware state, where every noise had me jumping. But I’d fall asleep eventually, and then have this bad dream, the one that woke me tonight. On Friday night, when I woke up from a bad dream, I got up for some water, and my dad was up. He asked if I was okay, did I need anything? I shook my head, went back to bed. I remember sometimes, laying in my bed, too scared to get up, to even call for anyone, but just wishing so hard that someone would come and ask if I was okay, if I needed anything. But no one ever did. Sad. It made me sad. If only. But I don’t want to live in the “if only.” Ugh. So, sad. I felt sad. And then I would feel empty, hollow. With that falling down an elevator, empty feeling in my stomach. And I’d feel too anxious about the sad, and would put it all away. 

“This is what we were talking about, what we were saying about getting old needs met at your parents. And having those needs met, feeling like that, it raised your expectations for your own home. That’s a good thing.” Bea said.

I nodded my head, knowing where she was at in what I had written, but not having any words to say anything. 

You said you were trying to figure out which part of me was at therapy today. I don’t know. Not really. You were right, i don’t think it was the real me. It’s almost like the perfect me, but not. It’s a part who disappears everything. All the yucky feelings, memories, thoughts. This me is like very surface, functioning me. It’s indifferent and numb. This part just sort of exists. Underneath is some worry about the feelings and parts escaping. This part really just exists, and doesn’t care much. The part that was running the ship today is the part that keeps everything very boxed up. I think this part and the perfect one ran the ship a lot in the past. The problem is, this part maybe isn’t as strong as she once was, and I know all the yuck is still there. Even today, in therapy, I kept feeling like there was so much I wanted to say and talk about, but it’s all hidden and I can’t find it. So, I didn’t say anything, really. It’s like having a thought or feeling just at the edge of awareness. It’s that feeling when a word is on the tip of your tongue, but you keep searching for it. I don’t know. 

“Yes….I didn’t feel like it was the real you, either,” she agreed. 

Why is it always all or nothing with me? I hate that. It’s extremely frustrating. I know you think being able to put stuff away in a box is a skill, but it’s not. This is me. It’s just what I have always done. The thing is, I think you picture a box, like a Christmas package. There are sides and a bottom. The box in my head….if you open it, there is no bottom. It’s like a black hole, never ending. It goes on and on and on. And once stuff gets dumped down there, it is hard to find and get back. I don’t know how to open the box. I can barely find it. I don’t know how to let out anything, a little at a time. When I eventually have a breakdown then some of it will come up and out. I don’t know. I have no control over it. Maybe, maybe…….that is something, a reason to learn to control things. 

“This box…you can’t control it. It’s not….it’s another part. It’s not the same as the container I am talking about. This…it’s a different state of you,” she said. I think there was more, but she got that how I feel and put things away is different than her container. I had never thought of this as a part, once she said it, it made sense.

I nodded, thankful she got it. “I just….it’s not a good box. I don’t know. But yeah, it’s a part. It’s like the part that makes it all go away. So….I guess….it’s the one that disappears everything. But not….I don’t know. There aren’t feelings.” 

I peeked up and looked at her, and saw her nodding her head. “Yes. It’s a part that can put everything away and let you function. It’s a survival skill.” She went back to reading, not long after that, commenting that I had written a lot of good stuff.

I want to not care about the stuff with hubby. Well, I mostly don’t, right now. I feel very resigned to the fact that he is not going to change and that if I want support, I need to look elsewhere. I don’t know. He still sees everything as my problem, that I’m the one who needs to be fixed. And I used to agree; everything was my fault. Deep down, I felt like that, like I was the broken one and if I could fix myself then everything would be okay. Except, I am not going to go through therapy and end up being the perfect me that hubby met and married. That was not real. And I don’t believe I am the only one who is broken in this marriage. And I don’t even really want to be the perfect girl anymore. That’s not…..being fixed. That’s pretend. I want to be the me that says how I feel, and stands up for things I find important. The me that doesn’t yell, but speaks calmly, even if the words or the message is not kind. I don’t think hubby wants this wife. He wants the one who keeps trying to make things work with his mom. The one who blames herself, for not being good enough, kind enough, understanding enough, compassionate enough, forgiving enough. But I’m not that person anymore. 

And maybe I did get some of what I needed a long time ago from my parents this weekend. How did you put it? Old needs met? I don’t remember now. Did you mean the needs of feeling safe and accepted and wanted just as I am? I didn’t feel judged one time by them this weekend. It’s a strange feeling. And I find it hard to trust it, and it’s sort of very vulnerable making. I’m not sure why. But if I think too much about it, then I get very scared. My parents changing things still means flipping my world upside down. It still means my safety net is gone. And it means seeing everything I missed out on, then, as a child. I don’t know. 

I want to feel like that with my husband. I want to feel calm and real and like whatever I am is okay and wanted with him, in my own home. 

“You’re saying that here, that you want to feel like you did at you parents with him. Those needs being met did change expectations, and you are recognizing that.” Bea told me. And she was right.

It’s awful, but we are in a place right now where I feel much more here and like me when he is gone and it is just me and Kat. He was at work all day today, and Kat and I had such a nice day. We went to the store after I picked her up, and then we went to the vet and brought them cookies. Our vet is downtown, so we walked to the park with Hagrid, and we played there. I forgot about disappearing my feelings, about being anxious and worried. I just was there, playing with my daughter and running around, Hagrid following on his leash. And we came home, and played Legos and uno, and then had dinner and she watched a show while I read my book and we snuggled until bedtime. She fell asleep in my bed, and I felt so….right…like everything was okay and right, and I fell asleep not long after her. It wasn’t perfect. I got….I don’t know the word, I had to tell her she had to calm down at quiet time, that mommy needed quiet now. Like, all the talking and being present was a lot for me, and I needed to have some quiet and not talk, not be engaged with anyone. And I had to correct her at the store, because she was cutting in front of me and the cart, zig zagging around and I almost ran into her. But, it all felt like maybe normal stuff. No blowups or yelling at her like I am another 5 year old in the middle of a raging temper tantrum. Because that is what I feel like, when I do lose it and get mad. 

“I’m glad you were able to be present with Kat. That’s good. Really good for you.” Bea told me, her voice happy. 

I didn’t talk, but I nodded my head, remembering how good Monday with Kat had been. I had felt close to my daughter, and real for those few hours. 

My mom and I talked about that this weekend. It was strange to talk about that with her. But it helped me realize that I really do feel like a child throwing a raging tantrum when I get mad like that. It’s a different mad, it’s not the grown up mad I feel at hubby or his mother, or the mad I feel when a stranger makes a comment to Kat about her pacifier or about not smiling, or whatever. That is….maybe normal mad. I think it is the mad you talk about, that serves a purpose and makes people DO something. I didn’t understand that, before. But I think I am starting to. That I can be the “grown up” mad, and it can help me act, but I can speak calm and not yell. But the other mad, that is not….rational, or controlled. It is this angry little girl, screaming and yelling and out of control. Mom said that she didn’t get triggered or react to me when I was little, like I do with Kat, but that she did find herself feeling and behaving like a teenager with me when I was a teen. She said it was like two teen girls fighting and snipping at each other, and my Dad would intervene to stop us both. It’s funny, because I do not remember that. But I believe her, that we fought like that. I just don’t remember. 

“I want to hear more about this angry little girl part,” Bea said. She said it gently, without judgement in her voice.

I hid my face again, unable to talk, to say anything to her. After a few minutes of silence, I finally spoke. “I want….it’s not like…….it is like I’m a child. Just mad, not controlled. I don’t know. Just mad, crazy mad……..and then, later……I don’t even feel it…..I don’t know. It just…..I….it’s mad. Scary mad.” I tried my best to explain it, that crazy mad I feel, the feeling that I can’t access unless I am in that raging temper tantrum moment, but it’s hard to explain anything when you can’t feel it or really remember it. 

“It is mad,” Bea agreed, empathetically. “It does sound like a little girl. One who has a lot of anger, and I bet she has a lot of reason to be mad.”

I didn’t say anything. There wasn’t anything to say. 

It got quiet in the therapy room again, Bea maybe thinking and me feeling pretty exposed and vulnerable, but still pretty numbed. 

“I’m wondering about the part that disappears everything.” She finally said. 

I shrugged. “It just….I don’t know.” 

“This might seem a strange question,” she said slowly, “Does this part have an age?” 

I sat for what seemed a long time. I knew the answer right away, but felt silly saying it out loud. Being so unfiltered, and letting Bea more into my head felt, and still feels, very exposing. And Bea talking about parts and split identities still feels very frightening and like I am not on solid ground. Finally, I said very quietly, “16…..17. Something like that.” I felt so embarrassed, although exactly why, I didn’t know. 

“Mm….mhmm. Is that an age where maybe you needed to not feel so much?” Bea asked me. She sounded like this was a perfectly normal conversation. 

“I….I needed to be okay. To be better……I had to get better……so I…..well,” I stumbled over all my words, unsure how to say what needed to be said. I felt so guilty, “I wanted…..I…..wanted to…..get away from……all of them.” The last part of my statement was mumbled and quiet, but Bea heard it anyway. 

“Yeah….you felt that if you got away, then everything would be okay.” 

“Well, I….I thought….I mean, I had to be okay. Put everything away. I couldn’t worry, or care. And I thought then, if I left, everything would be okay. But……then……” The entire time we had been talking, I had been fighting tears. The feelings were definitely back, and it was at that point that I couldn’t hold them back any longer and began to sob. 

“Lots of painful feelings. This was a really sad and hard time.” When Bea spoke, I felt like she was far away, not understanding, not really feeling all the hurt and pain that was falling out of the crazy box in my head. I felt like her statement was generic or something. Maybe it was because I felt like the part holding all the pain was as present as the very indifferent numb part. I don’t know. 

I didn’t respond, and just kept crying. Bea said something else– what exactly, I can’t remember, but it helped, and I continued what I had been saying before the tears interrupted. “I thought if I left, everything would be okay…..I would be okay. But then….it wasn’t okay at all. Nothing was okay.” 

“Ahhhh. Yes. You met the boyfriend, and nothing really felt okay.” Bea said. 

I nodded, and told her, “I just….everything was bad again. I….he….I don’t know.” 

“That was a really painful time. No wonder you needed a part that could turn everything off, disappear everything.” Bea said to me. She normalized it, helped make sense of everything. 

“I….it’s…I made a choice,” I finally said. 

Bea was quiet for a moment, and when I peeked up at her, I saw her shaking her head, a look on her face that just looked so open and caring and accepting. It made my insides hurt, and I didn’t understand why. “Well, I could argue that you didn’t get a real choice but you feel like you made a choice, and I want to make sure there is room for you to have your feelings.”

I was aware that I had heard her reasons before, but they never seem to stick in my head. So, I asked her, “What were……what would you say? I mean why you think it wasn’t a choice.” 

“I’d say….well, with all the sexual abuse memories, even unconscious, you were looking for a way to be the one in control this time. Repetition compulsion is so strong. It’s not a conscious choice.” Bea said a lot, and when she was talking, explaining her beliefs, I was feeling and understanding what she was saying. In that moment, I almost believed what she was saying. 

I cried a little more, and I think we might have talked a little more about feeling like things are my fault, and the need to put everything away and not feel at all. I’m not really sure, to be honest. I do remember eventually saying to her, “Can we stop talking about this?” And she said yes, that it was time to start wrapping up and grounding now, anyways. 

I don’t remember what we talked about after that, but I know I left feeling a little bit sad, a little bit numb, and a little bit lonely. I didn’t want to leave her office, where I felt supported and not all alone. But we said goodbye, and I headed out into the real world. 

Reverse split life

I start the session off asking Bea about her weekend trip up north to see her son and then talking about the time change; how Kat is adjusting to it, and how hubby’s first day at the new job went. I don’t mention myself or what is going on with me. Because I’m fine. I’m good. I’m miss perfect.

“That’s Kat, and Hubby. What about Alice? How are you?” Bea asks.

I shrug. “I’m good, how are you?” The response is automatic, the kind I’ve been trained to give by my mother since I was a little girl. I don’t even think when I give it; it’s given with a cheerful voice and a bright smile.

Bea looks at me. “I’m good, I had a nice weekend.” I snap back to reality, and I feel like an idiot. We’ve already gone over her weekend, and how she is. Ugh. “What happened with Jaime? Last week you were struggling with that, and we discussed talking to hubby about it, talking to Jaime about it, talking to Carly about it. Did anything happen with it?”

I take a deep breath. “Well. I ended up calling Carly. So….Jaime sent over meeting notes, objectives. I couldn’t believe it. Well, you saw them. And hubby and I discussed it, and he couldn’t believe it either. I had written a letter; to vent really, not to send, that hubby decided he wanted to send to Jaime. I didn’t want to send it because I felt like it was mean. Hubby felt like it was just to the point and blunt. Trust me, it was mean. But I felt like we needed to talk to Jaime,at least, give him the benefit of doubt still. Hubby said he would talk to Jaime, but first he wanted me to call Carly and give her a heads up that he was going to talk to Jaime.”

“What was the letter? I’m curious what you thought was mean, and hubby thought was to the point,” Bea says.

“I have it, and you can read it. But it’s mean.” I pull my iPad out of my bag as I warn her that it is a mean letter. I pull up the letter, and hand it to her.

She reads, and I hide my face. I hate having people read something I’ve written in front of me. Feeling like what I’ve written is mean, well, that makes its even worse, because I never want people to see that side of me.

Dear Jaime,

We really need to talk about ABA, and maybe more importantly, our family’s philosophy in regards to ABA and autism. I’m not sure that I explained it very well in the beginning, and I want to rectify that now. I don’t want to be difficult; one of the reasons I have hesitated to bring this up is that I don’t want to be one of those parents who complains all the time, and whom you dread seeing and working with. This really needs to be addressed, though, as things can not continue on as they are.

We aren’t looking for a cure for autism. We aren’t looking to make our child indistinguishable from her peers. Her brain works differently than most of her peers; we know that, we understand that, and maybe most importantly, we accept that. We celebrate her uniqueness. Autism isn’t a dirty word in our house. What that means to us, is that when there are inappropriate behaviors being demonstrated, we don’t just want to fix or change the behavior. We want to peel back the layers of the onion, and understand why she needs the behavior; what is the function? Why does she need this behavior? What purpose is it serving her? Then we want to give her tools to help her not need that behavior. (This doesn’t mean teaching –or maybe the more appropriate word is training– her to say hi instead of blowing raspberries at people. Maybe she is blowing raspberries because people in her face gives her anxiety, and so we teach her breathing exercises, we teach her to politely request that people back up, we teach her to greet someone. We teach her to think for herself, and discover solutions for herself. There are so many options, not just one that “fixes” the behavior and makes her look like her peers. The option that makes her look like her peers may not be the option that makes K the most comfortable in her own skin.)

It seems to me, that a lot of your behavior plans and task analysis look at the behavior, and are plans to fix that behavior, but aren’t looking at the layers underneath. We care about the emotional implications. I realize that isn’t something you have worked with a lot in the past, but it is a very big part of this program, and it seems to be lacking in your objectives. We care about what our actions and expectations say to K about her. If our expectations are constantly asking her to change, to be something she isn’t, that is saying she isn’t enough. That’s not a message we want to give. And it’s not enough to say it; our actions tell K how we feel on a daily basis. Everyone involved in her life needs to convey the message: “you are worth spending time with, you are enough, you are a joy to be around.”

I realize that not all parents think like we do, or are as involved as we are, however, I am used to getting copies of the meeting notes from the BCBA, and I am used to getting feedback from the data sheets we provide. I’m used to getting any notes sent out from the BCBA; if it pertains to my child, I have a right to that information. I haven’t received much of that from you. I am not sure how you can get to know our family, or our daughter without these things. I realize you have only been with us a few weeks, but I feel like you should be asking questions, and getting to know how things work. I don’t get the feeling that things are really clicking. I get the feeling that you want to be the expert, give the advice, and have us– the parents– blindly follow it. I should have informed you of this earlier, but that’s not how it works in this family; everything is discussed, problem solved and agreed upon together, BCBA, behavior tech and parent. You may be the expert, but I am, and always will be, the expert in my child.

I did get your notes/objectives from the meeting because I asked one of the behavior techs to forward a copy to me. I have to say, I was disappointed. We discussed so much more than what you wrote up. There were, of course, emotional/social components, and the new objectives of writing a task analysis of routines that are chained directions like “go to the bathroom, brush you teeth, put on your pajamas”. The task analysis you wrote up for teaching the ABC’s was lacking; I can honestly find more information by googling “how to teach the alphabet to preschooler”. I could have written up post meeting notes that included much more information than you included in yours; the lack of detail makes me feel that you were not giving your full attention to the meeting, or challenges being discussed.

I was quite upset the other day, when Leslie texted me, asking me what time she should arrive to overlap in session with the new tech. The last I knew, I had informed you of my concerns about bringing Leslie back out, and you had yet to acknowledge those concerns. I was not expecting Leslie to come out until those concerns were at least addressed, and I assumed I would have been informed about the addition of Leslie to the team. This put Leslie and I in an awkward position; myself, having to inform Leslie of my concerns and of the fact I wasn’t aware of her visit, and Leslie, having to handle something that should have been handled by you, when I brought up those concerns. The most astonishing thing is, my main concern was that bringing Leslie in and having her leave again after a short time could have repercussions like last time, and Leslie’s new position on our team is a long term position. This would have been a simple thing to inform me of, and it was a simple solution to my concerns. I realize that my concerns were about my daughter’s emotional responses, and those things don’t seem important to you, or very much on your radar. They are, however, quite important in this program, and in this family.

We like you and you seem to be a competent and smart BCBA. I have confidence that if our program were a standard behavioral program, you would be fantastic at running it. However, our program is very unique; our beliefs about autism are unique and our daughter is unique. Things are done very differently in this program. It can be a lot to understand and handle. We need to have people who are completely on board with our philosophies, and beliefs, or this won’t work. Not everyone is going to be the right fit for our family. If you feel like this isn’t something you can be 100% on board with and open minded to, please inform us of this immediately, so that we can meet with Carly and discuss our options.

Thank you,
Alice and Hubby

It feels like hours that Bea is reading that letter. Finally she finishes. “This isn’t mean. It’s well written, it explains what the issue is very clearly, and it states what you want for your child. I don’t see a problem with it at all. I agree with hubby. The only statement that I might change is where you say ‘blindly follow.’ I might change that to just ‘follow’; that was the only thing that seemed possibly a little harsh to me. I really do agree with hubby. This is an excellent letter. Really. This is excellent.”

I shake my head. “I feel like it’s mean. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter anyway. I talked to Carly. And ended up telling her exactly how I felt. I didn’t mean to, but as I was attempting to give one complaint, to tell it nicely and explain that hubby was planning on talking to Jaime because I wasn’t getting through to him, I felt like she was making excuses….I just got snippy. I was like, ‘you know what? I wrote this letter, it’s not something I intended to send, but it’s not nice, and it’s to Jaime, about everything that is not okay with what is going on with him and his program. And Hubby read it, and he wanted to send it, because he is fed up with it, too, and he is upset that I’m upset. But I convinced him that it’s better to talk about it than to send a mean letter.’ And then I just went down the list in my letter of what the issues are, and explained that mainly, at the meeting it just seemed so obvious that he wasn’t getting the fact that you really need to look deeper at Kat’s program, and not just on a surface behavioral level. And that I was hoping his meeting notes would reflect that he heard and understood the discussion between Carly, and myself and the ABA techs, as we were peeling back the layers, but the notes didn’t reflect that, and I just can not do this anymore, something needs to change. So she said she can talk to Jaime, and the owner of the company, and she may be able to take our case back over in two weeks when the insurance is up for reauthorization. She isn’t really taking cases, her job is different now, so she will have Leslie coming out to do supervision a lot, but I’m okay with that.”

“Whew. So you did speak up. That’s good, that’s great.”

I shake my head. “But not to the person I have the conflict with. And I felt guilty and horrible the whole time. I was trying not to cry. Carly asked me if I was okay, at one point, because even though I’m so glad that this might all work out, and Jaime has to go because it’s not a good fit, I feel so bad, and I had to tell her I feel really awful about this. She told me I should never feel bad about fighting for my kid, and that as a mom she would do the same thing.”

Bea shifts in her chair, swivels a little bit. “You shouldn’t feel bad. I’m glad she told you that. It’s your personality type to feel strongly and be passionate about your beliefs. I can hear that in your letter. You have specific beliefs about how to handle autism, and how that works in your family, and no one is going to change that or mess with that system.”

I’m not sure why, but I feel like she is questioning my belief that for my family, we aren’t looking for a cure for autism, or to make our child indistinguishable from her peers; that’s not our goal, and it’s never been our goal, and it never will be our goal. “Well, I’m not wrong. If we tried to force Kat to be just like her peers, and ignored the layers underneath, and didn’t learn the function of the behavior and deal with that, then her anxiety would be sky high. We would be back where she was when we first came to see you. This is right for my family. I’m not saying it’s right for all families, but it’s right for my family.”

Bea nods. “I agree with you. I think what you are doing is right for her. It’s funny. I have several little ones about her age, and despite the social and emotional struggles she has, I think she is the one I would say is most ready for kindergarten.”

One part of me swells with pride at this; Kat is smart, and we have worked hard to help her be ready. Another part feels rejected, like Bea isn’t seeing the struggles and wants to lash out, saying that she sees Kat an hour and a half a week, and doesn’t see her the rest of the time, there is no way she can make any kind of assessment off that. I choose the part the feels proud, because that feels more reality based, and smile. “Thank you. Kat is so smart. I think some of it is we have worked really hard to get her there, and some of it is she is smart, and some of it is we have just always expected certain things of her, even when things were hard.”

“Like what?” Bea asks.

“Well, once she was walking, and it was apparent she understood what I said, her snacks and plates and cups were all moved to shelves that she can reach. And she helps get them out and set the table. She gets her own snacks, because they are where she can reach them, and she knows if they are in the pink basket they are safe (milk free) for her to eat. We’ve always asked her to put her plate in the sink after eating. She’s always helped put her clothes alway and to pick out her clothes to wear, since she was maybe 2. Obviously putting her toys away. Oh, she is in charge of feeding and watering the dogs and cat. And she helps clean the cat’s litter box.” I’m actually surprised when I’m done listing out the everything. That’s a decent amount of chores for a 4 year old. It’s no wonder she is ready for kindergarten; she’s been working on following directions for chores since she was 2.

“That’s really good stuff. Really good. I didn’t know she did all that,” Bea tells me.

“Yeah, I forget how much we have her help with around the house. She helps sweep and mop, clean windows, and dust, too. Pretty much whatever chores are being done, she has the option to help, play with her toys by herself, or take a rest.”

We chat about homeschool stuff, and Kat a little more. Bea doesn’t bring up preschool or social groups today. I’m thankful. I get so tired of feeling like I’m screwing up by wanting to keep her home. Maybe I am screwing up, maybe I am being selfish and wrong. I’ve thought about it. I’ve tried very hard to keep my feelings of wanting and needing to protect my daughter out of it, and I still come down on the side of traditional school won’t work for her. She will fall behind, she won’t learn. She will be full of anxiety and stressed out all the time, and come home and act out accordingly.

The conversation turns to hubby. “So things are better with hubby? It seems like you were able to talk and really work together and find some support from him in the Jaime issue.” Bea asks.

I shake my head, slowly. I don’t know. Yes, and no. “Well…..they are and they aren’t. He unpacked my bag. Did I tell you that? While we were gone, at my parents, he unpacked my bag.” There’s anger under my words, even I can hear it. Crap.

“He really wants to smooth things over, forget that fight existed, have things back to normal. What did you do?”

“I repacked it,” I say matter of factly; of course, duh.

Bea chuckles. “I like it. I’m glad you repacked it. Does he know? It sends the message that things aren’t fixed, the fight is not just erased and gone.”

“Well, it’s just sitting in my closet, so he might know. I don’t know. But he thinks everything is fine. And that’s the way it needs to be. He wants things on the surface, nice and neat, clean and easy. I never should have told him anything to begin with. He can’t really handle this. So this is better. I just can be perfect wife and mommy for him. And he’s happy.”

Bea sighs, looks at me. She has to be sick of this conversation. “What about Alice? Are you happy? You deserve to be happy, too.”

I think about how to explain it. “Well….if, I just keep things on the surface we can laugh together, and joke around, and be happy. We can like each other. If I go along with things he wants, then we are both happy, because he’s having fun, then so am I. We have fun together, we always have. And when it matters, like this Jaime thing, we stick together, we always have. In public, we always have the others back, we always stick up for each other, and are on each others side. In private, at home, we may disagree about it. Is that so bad? To pretend to not be mad, to pretend to let it go? To be perfect wife, because that’s what he needs, so we can be happy together?”

“Well, noooo…” Bea answers slowly, “There are a lot of couples whom that would be enough for, who would be thrilled to have even that. And, as we’ve said before, we don’t know that hubby can go deeper to have a more authentic relationship. But you won’t know until you try. And can you be happy like this? Without authenticity? How long can you hold it together before you break?”

I put my head down. “I held it together a long time before.”

“Yes. Yes you did. But you know what authentic feels like now. I’m not sure you will settle for less.”

I look up. “Well, I’ll have hubby in a box. The perfect box. I’m very good at splitting things.” I take my hands, and move them apart. I gesture with my right hand, “I’ll keep hubby over here, with perfect wife and he will be happy.” And then I gesture with my left, “Everything else is over here, and I’ll just keep them separate.”

The way I see it, I’m living a reverse life. At home, I have on my mask of Perfect wife. I’m in the box with hubby, and the Facade is firmly in place. Outside of my home, I can be more of the real me. Splitting things like this, living a reverse life is hard to do, but I’m capable. I’ve had lots of practice.

Bea shakes her head. “Speaking as Bea, and not as your therapist, my husband has such a similar personality, I know how hard it is to get through to them. They want everything perfect and nice, and they ignore anything that is not good, unless it’s a huge fire in front of their face. You just have to poke them a little bit from time to time. Ruffle their feathers. Remind them that life isn’t perfect, and that it’s okay. Like you could tell hubby, I repacked my bag. Just to give him a nudge that you are still upset.”

I shake my head. “No way. It’s been too long, and I really should just forget about it.”

“Think about this. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to talk to Hubby about your brother’s wedding, the same way you talked to him about Jaime? To have the support and caring he gave you for the Jaime problem?” Bea asks me.

I shake me head. The only person I can even imagine talking to about it is Kay, and we aren’t exactly speaking right now. But I know she would react in exactly the right way, and say the right thing. She wouldn’t make me feel guilty, or like I need to protect her, or take care of her feelings, or like I need to protect other people from her. She is safe. I trust her. Hubby….well, I don’t trust him like that anymore. “I….no. I don’t want to talk to hubby about the wedding.”

“Well, there would obviously need to be some other talks first, like telling hubby the who. But then imagine the safety and support you could have.”

She doesn’t know. I’m going to have to tell her. “I don’t…..I can’t…” I put my head back down, and tears falls. “I don’t trust him. I won’t talk to him about this stuff again, not ever, I don’t trust him like that.”

“Ahh.” Bea seems to get it now. “He really hurt you. He took your keys, and unpacked your bag. He was controlling. That was scary.”

“He….everything he knows I’m afraid I am he threw back at me, he said. And now he says he didn’t mean it, but well…how do I know that? How do I know what he means? He said the worst things he could. It doesn’t matter how many times he says he didn’t mean it, I still worry and wonder if he did. He sounded like he did.”

“He said some things that hurt you really bad. Do you want to tell me what he said? What hurt the most? I know the comment about his mom taking better care of Kat was really painful, but I really believe that has more to do with him and how he needs to view his mom, then you. You are a good mom, he knows that,”. Bea says gently.

“He said he doesn’t even know what I do all day, that his mom would be better for Kat than me, that I’m crazy, that I’m mean, and selfish, that he only puts up with all of this because he knows one day I’ll be normal again, that I’ve been a terrible wife, he’s been having to do everything around here…….” I trail off, crying.

Bea talks about everything he has said, how it’s a guy way to attack, how saying that I’m not doing my “job” as a wife and mother is very much something men seem to do to stay at home moms when they get angry. She tells me that calling people crazy is an overused word.

I sniffle. “He didn’t really say crazy. He said I belonged in the loony bin.” At the time I was hiding between the wall and our bed, partway under my nightstand. But I felt safe like that. He had taken my keys, I was extremely triggered, and I needed to hide.

“Okay. So that means you were doing something he didn’t understand and he reacted very poorly.” Bea can reframe it all she wants. My husband thinks I’m crazy. And that’s the thing. Anything that doesn’t have to do with this perfect part of our life, he doesn’t understand, he reacts badly to unless we are in Bea’s office and he is being coached on how to react, and behaves like I’m crazy. It’s not worth it. He doesn’t understand me, and he just never will.

“I can’t do it. I can’t. I have friends to talk to. I can keep hubby in a nice little box, and everything else outside the box. It will be fine. It’s good.” I sniffle again, wipe my face with my hands, and look up.

“It doesn’t work like that. Life eventually collides. Things come out of the box. You can’t stuff it all down. It eventually blows up. The box opens.” Bea pushes a little.

“Well, that’s why I have lots of duct tape. And it comes in pretty colors now, for my pretty box.” I turn to acting like this is all a big joke, because I can’t handle it any longer. My marriage is falling apart, I might lose my husband. I HAVE to be perfect wife.

“Yes, duct tape does come in pretty colors now days,” Bea agrees with me. She’s going to let me get away with it, and change the subject, I hope.

We circle back around to the Jaime problem. I still am having a lot of guilt over complaining about him. “I really hope I didn’t screw up.”

“I don’t think you did. I think you needed to talk to Carly or Jaime and it’s good you did, you need to do what’s best for Kat.” Bea takes a sip of tea.

“I hope so. I tried really hard to make it work. Maybe harder than I would have normally.”

“How come?”

“Well…the whole crush thing. I really needed to know that the crush thing and my feelings about Jamie because of the crush weren’t affecting my decision to complain and ask for a new BCBA. If it weren’t for being afraid I was being affected by that, I would have asked for a change earlier.”

Bea smiles at me. “I’m very sure that the crush part didn’t play into this at all. You really were able to separate that out. Jaime wasn’t a good fit for your family. He maybe has some growing to do in the emotional development area, or maybe he just doesn’t have the capacity to work in that area.”

“Hmmm. Yeah. Maybe not. I don’t know. I just know Carly has an LMSW, so she has a therapeutic background. Leslie has a degree child psychology, but I don’t think she practiced. She got her bachelor’s in child psych, and then switched to a BCBA program. There are two other BCBA’s that have degrees with a therapy background– they just aren’t taking new cases right now. But I think that’s what we need, Jaime doesn’t have a degree in any of that.” I explain.

“That makes a difference. A huge difference.” Bea agrees.

We talk a little more, and then I pack up, and get ready to leave. I have yoga to get to today.

“I’ll see you Thursday. I’ll be interested to find out what happens,” Bea says.

I smile. “Yeah, me too. Carly is supposed to let me know today what they decide.”

We say our goodbyes, and wish each other a good day. I head out the door, and off to yoga. Its another place I don’t need my mask. How did it become that I need my facade of Miss Perfect at home, and can be more of my authentic self in public? I’m living a strange reverse life split off kind of life.

Detached again

I haven’t been around much.

Sleep has been hard, which means I haven’t been awake at the time I usually blog. I could blog after Kat is in bed, but my brain is so fried by that time, I can hardly think straight, so I’m afraid my writing wouldn’t make much sense.

Things were hard, after the dinner debacle where I cried over wine and behaved like a 15 year old. But that was the beginning of something. I was feeling my feelings, even if I didn’t know exactly what they were. And it wasn’t all bad; I felt like I was more connected to Hubby and Kat. It was an odd feeling, one I don’t have the words to explain completely. It was like realizing that things my favorite authors have described in their novels are real— that thread that connects us to other people, that allows us to feel with them, and not just to intellectually understand what or why they are feeling the way they do actually existed.

That very feeling though, the closeness with others, the emotions, all of it was overwhelming at times, like being smashed into. I’m not equipped to deal with those things. For all the good, there were negatives, too. It was too much.

I started pulling back, trying to be back in my head, trying not to feel so much, trying not to care. I can’t be sure of an exact time, because time just smooshes together for me, maybe two weeks ago, Kat told me something that happened with the little girl who assaulted my friend’s daughter. For my daughter’s privacy, I’m not going to share the details, but it’s not a situation that is being hidden. It’s being dealt with, Kat is processing it in therapy, and Hubby and I allow her to talk or play it through she whenever she needs.

That admission was my breaking point, though. I needed to be “perfect me”. And so, the cutting and the restricting began again.

This week, I’ve talked to Bea about it. Which is different. I would never before admit that I am cutting, or restricting in order to maintain some control, to shut off the feelings, to be back in my head. I would never before admit that I’m pretending to be okay on the outside, but inside I’m falling apart and panicking.

So that’s where I’ve been. Stuck somewhere between feeling and not feeling, self harming, and trying to stop.