Play therapy 

I have therapy in the morning. I’m not sure if I’m ready to pop this fragile bubble I’m in. It’s not the tough bubble of denial and self harm and eating disorder. It’s a bubble of…well….I guess of doing what I have to so that I can function. But it’s fragile. And I’m unsure of I pop it what will happen. Maybe nothing. I think part of me is scared that even if I pop the bubble, I’ll still be numb, detached. That I’m back to my “old normal” in some ways. I don’t know.
On Thursday, we talked about random things. I honestly don’t remember the conversation, but just being there, knowing Bea is there was enough. Before we finished our session, she did say she knew there had to be a lot going on under the surface for me, even if I wasn’t showing it. She said she could almost feel it. I thought about that, later. I feel numb, mostly. Numb and detached. I don’t want to think about how I feel. I don’t want to think about Fall, and October, and all the mess and ugly that come with it. I don’t want to think about my daughter starting school, and all the triggers that sets off in me. 
I say I am not feeling anything about any of these changes, that I am fine. But, I notice I’m not sleeping, and when I do, I’m back to waking up hourly, and nightmares chase me as I drift off to sleep. I find myself so full of unexpressed, unacknowledged anxieties that I wake up realizing I have been grinding my teeth, or holding my mouth closed so tightly that I bit my tongue and drew blood. I notice that my daily headaches are back, despite the medications, and that migraines are more frequent. My body pains are back– worse than they have been in months. Maybe it’s a fibro flare, or maybe it is me being detached from my emotions and feelings. I notice my tolerance for noise, for change in plans, for anything really, is very low. I notice that I mostly just want to be left alone to get the through this— whatever this is.  
I didn’t write about Thursday’s session, because it was just more of me avoiding. Perhaps the most significant thing that happened in therapy last week happened in Kat’s session. I had stayed for all of Kat’s session, which is unusual these days, but she asked me to, so Hagrid and I snuggled on Bea’s couch and read a book on my kindle app……..
Towards the end of the session, Bea smiles at Kat, and gives her the 5 minute warning. “We have a few minutes left of our game, and then you can choose which animals are going home with you today.” Every week, Kat borrows 2 small stuffed or 2 small plastic animals from Bea; it’s a way to stay connected throughout the week, and to reassure kids that they are coming back. “How would you like to end our game today?” Bea asks Kat. 


Kat has an elaborate plan for ending the game, so I offer to clean up while they finish their game. I pick up figures, furniture, monsters, dried beans, blankets, wooden blocks and puzzle pieces. We finish our separate tasks at the same time. 


“I’m taking the kitty home, and one of the little hard ones.” Kat bounces over to the container of animals. She looks through all of them, and in the end she can’t choose between 2 kittens. “Please can I take 3?” 
You can take 2,” I remind her. 


“We can save one for next time,” Bea offers. 

 

Kat finally chooses the one she will take home and hands me the one she is leaving behind. “Speak him, mom,” she demands. Kat likes grown-ups to speak for her toys. It is her favorite thing. 


I look at the little kitten in my hand, and walk him over to Bea. “Hi,” I make him say. 


“Hello there,” Bea says. 


“I’m going to stay here a while. I need someone to take care of me and help me when I get scared,” I make the kitten say. 
Bea looks at me, then at the kitten, and says, “I can help if you would like me to.”


“Will you take care of me?” The kitten asks.


“Yes. I will take care of you,” Bea says. 
Will you keep me safe from the scary things?” The kitten asks. 


“I will do my very best to keep you safe. I want you to feel safe,” Bea tells the kitten. 


“Okay,” the kitten says, and he jumps into her out stretched hand so she can save him for Kat, for next week. 
And those 3 minutes were about as close as I got this week to talking about how scared and lost and overwhelmed I am. How much emotion is just rushing at me, and how much anxiety and tension I feel from my life right now. How much I just need someone to be there, to help me when I am scared, and of course to keep me safe.

  

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“Everything but the kitchen sink” random talk therapy

I’m curled up on the couch, and Bea and I are talking about boots– snow boots. I’d recommended Bogs to her, as waterproof and warm, as well as having a grippy sole for walking in the winter. Plus they come in cute colors and patterns, if you like that sort of thing.

“I saw a store over by the artsy area of downtown that sells Bogs, but they were closed when I walked by. They didn’t look very warm, though,” Bea tells me.

“Oh, they really are insulated well. Hubby and I went for a hike last winter and my feet never got cold. And I never wear socks, so a normal person should be fine.” I smile, thinking of how I am always barefoot and that just astounds people. My daughter is the same way though. She can’t stand anything on her feet.

“I’m really going to have to go try a pair on, then. All the winter boots and stuff is going on sale this time of year, too.”

“Yeah, Hubby wanted to take Kat shopping for a pair of bogs– he said he would take her to Cabelas and get her boots. I was like, um, no. Kat doesn’t need expensive boots, she keeps outgrowing shoes the moment I buy them. So he said he would just take her to Cabelas.”

Bea chuckles. “I think he just wanted an excuse to go to Cabelas.”

“Pretty much. Any excuse. Luckily, Kat likes it there,” I say, shrugging.

“Well, they have fish and the animals, the way everything is set up is pretty cool,” Bea says.

“Well, yeah, there’s that. But she also just really likes the hot dogs there. She says they are better than the ones I buy. I buy her the ones that are unprocessed, organic, not full of junk,” I grin sheepishly. I’m a little weird about food and hot dogs are one of those weird things I have.

“Ah-hah! Actually, I remember when I was pregnant wanting nothing more than a chili dog and searching everywhere to buy the nitrate free hot dogs, and then getting sick later that night,” Bea tells me.

“Were they bad? Or was it just the whole hot dog thing?” I ask her.

“No, I think it was the fact I ate 3 of them.” Bea laughs, and I laugh with her.

“When I was pregnant, hubby and I were out to dinner. He had ordered a hamburger and I had never smelled anything so wonderful. I ate his entire hamburger. And we ate hamburgers constantly the rest of my pregnancy. He was thrilled. He vegetarian wife was eating meat. Once Kat was born, though, we packed her up and went out to dinner. I ordered a hamburger, took one bite and ran for the bathroom to throw up. It was gross. Hubby was so sad, he kept trying to get me to try a different place to eat, or hamburgers at home. But it was like, nope, my meat eating days are over,” I say.

Bea laughs. “I think a lot of woman end up craving protein in pregnancy. It’s what your body needs. Milk, eggs. Those were two other things I really craved. That and greasy frozen pizza. I don’t think there was much nutrient content there.”

“Maybe carbs? Milk grosses me out, but milk was something I drank constantly when I was pregnant,” I tell her.

“We haven’t really talked about your pregnancy or your labor with Kat. But you did say that eating wasn’t really an issue when you were pregnant.” Bea takes a drink of her tea, looks at me curiously.

I look down, the subject of food and eating, even if we aren’t talking about the here and now is uncomfortable. “No, it wasn’t an issue.”

“What about being disconnected? Do you remember feeling more connected, more grounded in your body? Was pregnancy a reprieve from everything?” She asks.

I wonder if it should be, but I don’t remember that. In day to day life, I “live” in my head, it’s almost like I’m just a head with no body, as far as being connected to anything goes. I want to tell her when I was pregnant, I felt like a head and a belly, nothing else. But I don’t because that just sounds insane. “No…I was really just in my head.”

Bea asks a few more questions, but I’m not sure what she is looking for, wanting. She asks about my body changing, if that was upsetting. I shrug. The truth is, I was really unaware of any and all changes, except for my belly growing. She asks about gaining weight, if that was triggering or okay. I don’t know, I gained more weight when we were going through fertility treatments than with pregnancy, so I’d already been through the upset and surpassed my “I will kill myself if I ever reach that number on the scale” weight. But I don’t say any of that, either. We talk about all the exams being triggering, but really, after fertility, the pregnancy exams were nothing. The fertility treatment exams were triggering, and I had anxiety attacks. By the time I got pregnant, though, I was so thrilled to be carrying a baby, and so numb to the exams, it didn’t really bother me at all.

I think about the freak out I had over weight in my OB’s office. I was maybe 6 months pregnant. The nurse had weighed me, and told me the weight. And I panicked. Full on panic, like this can’t be okay, nope, not ever. I think I cried. I’m pretty sure I told the nurse I was not allowed to weigh more than xxx. My OB came in and talked to me. She wanted me to see a therapist. I said no. It was the longest OB appointment I ever had, she spent quite a while trying to convince me. I spent the time trying to convince her I was okay. In the end it was a draw, and I agreed to call and check in with the one nurse I liked every few days until my next appointment. By the next appointment, I had convinced the nurse I was okay, and nothing ever came of it. I don’t tell Bea this, either. I don’t want to talk about food and weight and freakouts. Maybe I should. But I’m scared to even start talking. I’m scared to face exactly how bad my eating has been. I’m scared to deal with it.

Bea moves on, asking about my labor. I shrug, then tell her the funny story of how my labor started. “My water broke, but I didn’t realize it was my water. It was the middle of the night, and I woke up to a wet bed. I thought I had peed the bed. I was pissed– I mean, I didn’t want to be dealing with this for the rest of my pregnancy! I didn’t want to wake up Hubby, so I just moved my part of the sheet, put a blanket down, changed my clothes, and laid back down. Maybe 15 minutes later, and it happens again. I’m soaked, the blanket is soaked, and I’m just so frustrated that I’m going to be peeing myself the rest of my pregnancy.” Bea is giggling at this image; I like to think I’m a good story teller when I have a funny or cute story to tell. “It takes me close to 45 minutes, maybe an hour to realize my water had broken and I was in labor. So I wake up hubby and tell him I’m in labor. He looks at me and says ‘it’s not the 31st yet’ and then went back to sleep!”

“Oh no! He didn’t! Really?”

“Yeah, he really did. I mean, it was two weeks early, but still….so it took me a few more tries to convince him that this was really it, but once he was up and had called the doctor, he was a man a mission and trying to get me out the door. The doctor had told him I needed to come in right away because my water had broken and I think she scared him. I just wanted to eat some cereal and take a bath. So I’m trying to eat cereal, Hubby’s telling me I shouldn’t be eating, I shouting I am hungry and that I’m gonna take a bath, he’s pulling me towards the door. We were a mess. We should have had our own comedy show.” I laugh. It’s funny now. But darn it, I really did want to take a bath!

“So what happened after that?” Bea asks me.

“Not much, I was in labor and then had a c-section.” I shrug, trying to be casual about it.

“That’s a lot. And a lot to recover from, too. C-sections can be painful to recover from, I’ve heard.”

“I don’t know. Really, the worst of it was that they try to keep you on painkillers that made my head fuzzy. I kept telling the nurse to remove the IV with the painkillers, and she kept insisting on waiting for the doctor, and I kept telling her I just wanted children’s Motrin. I finally got mad and ripped out my IV.”

Bea cringes. “Ooooh. Ouch. That had to hurt.”

I’m surprised, because I don’t remember pain. “If it did, I didn’t feel it. And everyone left me alone about pain meds after that. Hubby just went to the pharmacy and bought me my children’s Motrin.”

We go around in circles, between the labor story and the after days. (The whole story is really a post for another day) Bea is surprised when I mention my mom saying something to me while I was in labor.

“Your mom was there?” She asks.

“Well, yeah. I mean, where else would she be?”

Bea is silent for a minute. Finally, she looks at me and says, “This is the complicated nature of your relationship with your mom. You wanted her with you during an intensely private time. You felt safe with her there. Yet, there is all the anger and challenges there, too.”

“I just…I mean, when I thought about it, I couldn’t imagine going through labor without my mom there to help me. I don’t know.” I grab my tea back from the small side table and take a drink.

We talk about how things with my mom are complicated (Bea’s word) and weird (my word). My mom has been my best friend for most of my adult life; ages 22-29. Things got distanced between us last year, as my nightmares and flashbacks got harder for me to deal with. Prior to that I had really been able to box it all away and pretend that none of the bad stuff had happened; I completely bought into the nice story my parents tell about our life. Emotionally, and in times of mental or emotional pain, my mom hasn’t been able to be there. But for the day to day stuff (the my boss sucks, or school is hard, or I can’t get pregnant, or my husband ticked me off) my mom has been there. But she also needs me to fulfill some unmet needs within her; needs and wants that a child, even an adult child, really shouldn’t be responsible for. Add to that the realization that my mom maybe didn’t protect me, maybe was blind to the abuse because she couldn’t deal with it, and things get even more complicated. There wasn’t really a resolution to anything, except that the relationship I have with her is very complicated.

“How old was your mom when she had you?” Bea asks.

I try to do the math in my head. “22? Yeah, I think 22.”

Bea is a little surprised. “That makes me see her in a different perspective. So she would have been, what, 25 or 26 when you first started following her around the house, talking her ear off?”

“Yeah, that would be about right.” I don’t add that my brother would have been born by then, too.

“I don’t know very many 26 year olds who are equipped to deal with a toddler like that….and she lost her mom, she maybe was looking for a replacement, someone to love her. That’s what so many young girls look for in a baby, someone to love them and meet their need to be loved.” Bea says.

I don’t really say anything, but I can see where she is going with this, and it makes sense.

“She would have been around 30 when she went into the hospital? Around your age?”

“Yeah…just about my exact age, I think,” I say.

“Developmentally, 30 is when you really find yourself, break away from your family of orgin….but it’s almost as if she was lost.” Bea sounds sad when she says this, and thinking about it, I feel sad, too.

“Yeah…it really is.” I’ve always known my mom had struggles, been aware of a lot of her short comings. I’m maybe more aware of them now because of having my own daughter, and because therapy has made them clearer in how they relate to me, given me words to explain them. But I’ve never looked at her life as so separate from mine, and really seen this. It is sad. Bea says again how she wonders about sexual abuse in my mom’s history, and how that history can make you blind to something happening to your own children. She’s quick to reassure me that I won’t have a blind spot when it comes to Kat, because I’m doing the work, I am aware.

“Even with all of that, I think the fact that you had a lot of good with your mom is the reason you are able to do this work in therapy without falling apart. Having a secure attachment to your parents is what has allowed you to continue to function. Not everyone, a lot of people can’t. A lot of people have crisis, and struggle and decompensate. You are very strong.” Bea tells me.

I just stare at the floor, I don’t say anything. She has no idea. And I can’t tell her. I can’t tell anyone.

Bea looks at me, kind of in that careful way she has sometimes. “At least, you’ve never said anything about it to me. A lot of people having feelings and suicidal thoughts when dealing with sexual abuse.”

I close myself off, tell myself I have to be okay. I look up at her, and meet her eyes. “I’m fine. I’m okay because I’m always okay. It’s a rule that I have to be okay.” (I feel like I should add here, I’m not suicidal, not at all. I could never leave my daughter.)

I don’t know what she says to that, I think I dissociate a little bit. When I’m back in the present, Bea is asking about last week and Hubby.

“I did fill out the worksheet and give it to him to read. I told him I didn’t want to talk about it though. So he sent me an email telling me thank you for sharing that with him, or some nonsense. And then I yelled at him a lot yesterday.” I cover my face, rest my head on my curled up knees.

“To push him away?”

“Well, I..yeah. I guess so, yeah.”

“What were you yelling at him for?” There is no judgement in Bea’s voice. She sounds genuinely like she wants to know what happened.

“I don’t even remember, isn’t that awful?” I feel like an idiot. I should at least know what set me off. But I truly don’t.

“Not really. It’s a defense mechanism, the anger wasn’t really about whatever you yelled about. If you could let him know why you yelled, that would go a long way,” Bea suggests.

“I told him. Well, I wrote it down, with those questions.” I misunderstand that she means explain why I was yelling on Sunday.

“Oh, that’s good! Maybe you could just let him know you are doing the defense thing you do when you let someone too close,” Bea says. “We need to find a better way for you to talk to him, to let him know you are feeling defensive, instead of yelling.”

“Being mad is just so easy,” I say.

“Well, yeah, it is.” Bea agrees.

“Sunday was just a bad day. I was grumpy,” I try to explain. Bea laughs a little when I say grumpy. “Are grown ups not supposed to be grumpy?” I ask her.

She laughs again. “Oh no, grown ups get grumpy a lot. Just not many admit to it. And when you are a 30 year old woman with hormones, and PMS, and a million other things, oh yeah, you can be grumpy.”

Now it’s my turn to laugh, before turning more serious. “It was just one thing after another. Hubby worked overnight on Saturday night. I fell asleep early and woke up from a nightmare at 1:17am. I never did fall back to sleep.” I think about Saturday night and how absolutely awful it really was, how long the night dragged on, how nothing worked to calm me, how I finally gave up and hid in the closet, with a razor and cut myself until I was numb and not so terrified and horrible feeling. “Saturday was…..just bad. A bad night. And Sunday, Kat woke up early, so I never got the morning. And then the nanny didn’t come, so I was on my own. And I just…..I was having so much trouble staying present, and not upset, and out of my head, and I just really wanted silence and to be alone, and it was just really a crappy day. The nanny’s little sister finally came over and I got a little bit of silence. But it was like too much had piled up and I was really struggling.”

“I’m really glad you were able to tell me this, to verbalize what happens, what your experience of a bad day after a nightmare is,” she says, and she sounds truly happy I am learning to talk. “I think this is more than you could have said, well even a few months ago.”

I nod my head. “Yeah. It is. So now you know, can we fix it?”

“Yeah, we can work on this,” she tells me. “What was your nightmare about? Was it one we have discussed before?”

I don’t want to get into it, so I tell her I’m not sure. I know it’s not anything we have actually discussed, though, not really. Bea lets it go, not pushing. Maybe she could tell I didn’t really want to go there today.

“So what did you do with your silence time?” Bea asks.

“Why?” I question back. I’m not sure why, but I’m feeling like I shouldn’t have used the time to hide out, but to clean the house, do the laundry, all the things that have I have been slacking on lately. Obviously Bea doesn’t know that, or even think that, but in her question, I hear all kinds of self blame.

“I just wondered if it helped, what you did. That’s all.”

“Oh. Right.” I shake my head at myself. “I just wanted to try to get the nightmare and thoughts out of my head. I was too tired to really do anything, though. So I watched Friends.” I cringe at this. I’m not a big tv person, and to me reading or sewing or journaling would have been so much more acceptable.

“Good. Anything that can get you out of your head when you feel like that and distracted is a good thing.” Bea doesn’t seem to think watching a tv show was a bad idea.

“Did you sleep at all?” She asks me.

“No, not then.” I’m not big on naps, to begin with, but even at that point I was still feeling sufficiently haunted by the dream and unable to close my eyes.

She tells me she wishes she knew something to do about these nightmares, and that she hasn’t given up. I nod my head.

We talk for a few more minutes, and wrap things up. I tell Bea a funny story about Kat and how she decided she wanted a wedding one after she saw a wedding dress in a shop window, and how she wanted to know how she was going to marry daddy when I was married to him? We both laugh, and then the wedding dress talk leads into a whole tangent of us sharing about our wedding dresses, and Bea says how it was really so sad to her to just have her dress dry cleaned and boxed up to preserve it. (I don’t tell her mine hasn’t been preserved yet and that I wear it around the house sometimes playing with Kat) I tell her how we had my mom’s dress made into shawls for my mom and I, and how embroidered on the inside is my Mom’s name and wedding date and my name and wedding date. My shawl has lace from my grandma’s dress, too. When Kat gets married, I can have lace from my dress added and pass it on to her. Bea thinks that is just a beautiful idea, and again speaks to the closeness between the women in my family. I shrug and say, “It’s complicated.” She agrees.

We say our good-byes, have a good day, and see you Thursday. And I head out the door. It’s only later, as I drive home, that I realize how much I left unsaid today, and how random and disconnected things felt today. I wonder if it was because I was trying so hard to put on the act of being okay.

Can Pollyanna be “real”, too?

I spend a lot of time talking about my pretend self. She’s the one the world has met, the one my family of origin helped create.

Pretend self knows how to smile no matter what. She is engaging, even charming. She’s great fun to talk to. I can be on the verge of tears, having a flashback, experiencing a panic attack, but pretend self can look at another person and claim we are “doing just great! Thanks for asking! And how’re things with you? We really must catch up soon! Give me call next time you’re in town….”

Yeah. That’s my pretend self. She always shows her best face. She’s the one with the hair and makeup, always done, who always wears the “grown up” clothes. She likes the “right” things– the things moms like; baking, reading, exercising. I don’t know what else she is supposed to like. She’s always happy. The glass is half full with her. She is an eternal Pollyanna.

Except…..I don’t think that part is fake. I think that part is me.

Trauma therapy is a bit like peeling back layers. Bea assures me that I am a grown up, even though I feel like the person I show the world is a fake. She assures me that there is a grown up part of me that runs the ship— that I am more than the scared little girl I feel like I am, or the fake me I feel I show the world. I’m slowly learning Bea is right. I’m not sure who I really am, but I think I might like whoever that really is.

I don’t like fake me. But maybe I might like real me. I know I like the Pollyanna part. I like being positive, I like thinking things will be okay, that they will work out. I like seeing the world through rose colored glasses. That part, that feels real to me.