Thoughts From Therapy #78 – Craving Attention

I have found from today’s session with S that when I’m sleep drunk, I’m actually very effective and productive in therapy because it lets the child take over and talk more freely than when I’m fully awake.

I had woken up this morning in the middle of REM sleep which caused me to experience a moderately severe disorientation that lasted hours. I was so disoriented, I almost walked into walls and things like that. It was a wonder that I was able to drive. I thought for sure that I would’ve ruined today’s therapy session because of it. In fact, I had woken up 10 minutes to 10am and freaked out because despite now living closer to school, I would never have been able to make it to CAPS on time. Thankfully, S had an opening at 11am so I was able to push my appointment back.

The dream that I had just before I woke up was an interesting one. I dreamt that I was at CAPS on Friday and I thought that it was Wednesday so I thought that I had had a session with S. He came out of his office with his bag at 2pm and asked D, the receptionist, if there were any on-call appointments for him. D said that there were none and so he proceeds to leave for the day. D stopped him and told him that I’d wanted to talk to him, but I had realized that I’d gotten the day wrong. So I’d said, ‘No it’s fine. I don’t have to talk to him’. S took that as a cue that he could leave. So he left. I was annoyed that he did leave because I had really wanted to talk to him but didn’t want to appear needy so I had told him it was fine. As soon as he left, I told myself in the dream that it is Wednesday and that I have an appointment with S at 10am. I sharply told myself that I need to wake up. And wake up I did. I shot out of bed, grabbed my phone and checked the time. it was 9.46am!

I don’t know how I managed to wake myself up like that though. It was the strangest thing. When I told S about the dream, he was intrigued. He asked me how I felt in it. I told him I was confused as to why he left despite knowing that I wanted to talk to him and that I felt annoyed. We then talked about how last week, I had felt a little annoyed that he had suggested that we go back down to just once a week – the child was annoyed because the child really wants to talk to S often.

“Last week, you asked me, with the concern that I have with me wanting attention and things like that, why don’t we try going for another week?” I said.

“Uhuh” S said, remembering what we were talking about.

“See how it goes, and that way the child can learn that it’s ok, that she would be taken cared of, things like that. And I agree with you. I agree with that because I feel like, yeah, you know, she needs to figure out, or she needs to believe or trust that things will be ok, and that I don’t always have to reach out or whatever… Um, but I think at the same time, the desire I had was that I wanted to talk to you again. And I think I remember you saying, ‘Are you okay with that? I don’t want to push you to do something you’re not comfortable with’ and at that moment, I thought to myself, ‘Well, you know, I feel kind of anxious. I feel anxious because it’s one entire week’ but on the other hand, I’m like, ‘You need to stop being a child. You need to stop acting like you can’t get things together because you can. And we can do this, we can get through this week’” I explained.

“I wonder if you’re feeling annoyed with me because of that. That dream was kind of a reflection of that conversation” S said. He always seems very amused whenever we discuss our therapeutic relationship and how I feel about him. I think it’s because I don’t talk about it as often as I should.

“I don’t know. Could be… Maybe… But it’s interesting because I think I felt distressed afterwards. Um, and I often do like, just kind of hang around downstairs, and just kind of gather my thoughts and try to decide what to do next. And it’s almost like a ritual now. After every single session, I’ll be trying to gather my thoughts and depending on how distressed I feel, it’ll determine how long I stand downstairs. And last week, I didn’t know what to do. And that’s the thing, ever since I moved out, I really don’t know what to do half the time – so I end up like wasting a lot of time, you know? Or I go to the restaurant and I just drink, because I don’t know what to do”

“Okay. Sounds like it plays back in to just having trouble making decisions…” S noted.

“Yeah, you know, making decisions, trying to depend on myself, because I’ve always just depended on others to make decisions for me, even if I hate it, I still go with it because I didn’t have to make a decision. I wrote a letter to you in my distress. I said that, ‘That feeling of separation anxiety is so overwhelming. Every time I leave CAPS, I feel overwhelmed, confused, unfocused, and lost.’”

“Has it always been that way, or is it more recently?” S asked.

“It’s always been that way,” I said sheepishly. This was another one of the things that I have never brought up.

“Oh wow” It was obvious that I don’t really talk about this because S was surprised at my answer.

“I’ve just never really talked about it… Um, because on one hand you know, I don’t want to… Like I said, I want to be able to depend on myself. Um, but at the same time,it causes a lot of distress. And I realize it’s that separation anxiety that I feel. I think like in the past, it might have been easier to deal with just because when I go home, there’s the Ex”

“Yeah, or he was waiting at the parking lot to pick you up”

“Right… Whereas now, I’m done. And I have all the time in the world to decide what to do. And I think in some ways, it’s gotten worse in that sense”

“Sure, you’ve always felt it”

“Yeah, which I guess would make sense…”

“Yeah…”

“And I think eventually, I’ll be able to work past it and get to a place where I can be okay”

“But you kinda just need that person there. Whether it’s me or whether it’s the Ex who can help make decisions…”

“Yeah I think that’s why when I’m in school, it’s easier…”

“Yeah”

“Because I have a schedule. I know that, even if I don’t want to, I have class after. Um, and I guess, in some ways, I guess this is a good thing because it’s forcing me to learn how to be independent and I know that with time, I’m usually able to cope with stuff. But it’s just in the midst of it, that’s always just been the issue with me. I know down the line that I’ll be alright, but in the midst of it, it’s really hard to separate myself from what I’m feeling and feeling overwhelmed and feeling really upset and not knowing how to focus that, and just going with the thing that works, or the thing that helps somehow”

“Even if it’s not what you want to do?”

“Yeah, even if it’s destructive”

“It sounds like maybe that’s where some of the self harm, thoughts of suicide come in too, you don’t know what else to do”

So we uncovered more motivations behind my self-harm. Initially, when I first cut, I thought that it was merely because I wanted people to see my invisible mental illness as a visible physical one. But as S and I have been working, we have discovered more and more that there are multiple reasons why I cut.

After that initial focus that I had during the first 10 minutes of session, I suddenly was hit with an anxiety attack. I started to think of a dozen things and started to feel all kinds of emotions all at once.

“Yeah… Yeah… I just… I don’t know… Like right now, I think I just feel a lot of anxiety…” I said, feeling really overwhelmed. All kinds of thoughts were in my head. I was unfocused. “Just trying to deal with that. I guess in the midst of all the depression I’ve been feeling, the anxiety hasn’t been feeling as bad. But lately… And they always like to take turns… Anxiety is becoming stronger because I know school is starting and things like that. I think I can’t stop thinking about how I feel like I’ve wasted my summer, I didn’t do anything school related you know? Even though I told myself I would… I don’t know, I just have a lot on my mind right now and it’s just really hard to focus… So it’s just…  I don’t know… I come in today and I’m like, ‘I don’t know what we’re gonna talk about because I don’t have a game plan’. Um, I’m just rambling. Um…” Words just tumbled out of my mouth and I was barely even able to slow down to take a breath.

“It’s funny, I mean, you seemed more focused at first…” S noted.

“Yeah, it’s weird because it comes and goes so quickly, it’s almost like, I’ll be in control and then I won’t. And then I’ll be back in control and then I won’t be again”

“What happens when you’re not in control?”

“Thoughts just flood my mind, then I start feeling overwhelmed and I don’t know what to do… Um, don’t know where I want to go, what I want to do next…”

“What kind of thoughts?”

“Just stuff like, school’s starting in a few days, I haven’t looked into like what I’m supposed to bring, things like that, thinking about Sunday, I have a MAC meeting, we’re being trained on the new programs, I’m going to be a tutor in the fall, and then, um, thinking about this weekend retreat that I have to go to next week for the Peer Educators group, thinking about ANTS, thinking about like how to deal with finances, um, feeling lost, feeling alone, feeling unsafe, um… Feeling like I can’t wake up in the morning because I sleep in the basement so it’s super dark, I don’t know… I’m trying to think of ways to fix and cope with things while also feeling and thinking about all these different things all at once”

“So it just kinda floods you and it’s either you just shut it out or do something else, or it all hits you” S said.

“Yeah… And I know that… And I think the worst part is, I know that… That I can’t look too far ahead. That’s what triggers the anxiety half the time” I said, feeling really agitated. I was feeling very anxious. “It’s just looking too far ahead, or having thoughts of ‘Two weeks from now I’m going on a retreat and I don’t know what that’s going to be like’ or ‘A month from now, I have to be a tutor, and study for my classes, and you know be a Peer Educator, and go to work’ and I know I can’t look too far ahead but at the same time, I can’t stop myself from doing that you know? I also can’t stop myself from looking back in the past. So it’s always like I’m not present. Um… I look back in the past, I think to myself, ‘what could’ve changed the relationship I had?'”

I started tearing up when I said the last thing.

“What could I have done differently?” S uttered the words that were in my mind.

“Yeah… And every time I think that I feel better, every time that I think that I’m getting better, I realize that I really am not. Um… Just thinking… Just saying that, ‘What could I have done different?’ is bringing tears to my eyes”

“So that’s what… That’s what happens to you,” S said, looking very interested at my reaction. He was seeing live for the first time, how I am when I get an anxiety attack or close to it.

“Yeah, and uh, it’s frustrating. It’s so frustrating. Because I know… I know that I’ll be fine, you know?”

“So right now, you had that thought, ‘What could I have done differently?’”

“Yeah”

“Had a strong reaction to it”

“Yeah”

“What would it be like just to, not follow it any farther, but just sit with it? To say, ‘I had the thought, I’m feeling sad’ or whatever you’re feeling, ‘OK that’s what’s happening right now’” S suggested.

“Yeah…” I said, as I told myself ‘Okay, that’s what happening right now. I’m just sad’ “Um… I think um… Just telling myself that just now kind of took some… Some anxiety away…”

I was very amazed at how immediate the fix was. I was able to calm down.

“So you had the thought, you got a little tearful and it helped just to say that’s what’s happening right now?”

“Yeah”

“And then what happened after that?”

“And then uh… I think the adult chimed in and said, ‘It’s going to be ok. You’ll get through this’ um… ‘It’s going to be ok. It’s going to be fine’. Uh… And as I said that, you know, I got hit with this feeling of, ‘I’m going to do this alone’ and that’s making me cry again (I started to cry again). I think that’s the child responding…”

“And uh, and the adult chimes in and says, ‘But you’re not alone. We can figure this out’ (I cried more). Um… We can figure this out. And um, I’m hit with this heart ache, like this pain in my chest almost. Like ‘Yeah, that’s the reality of it. I’m all alone. And that’s fine’ (It was hard to say this. My voice cracked and broke in places). Because I’m helping myself, you know? I’m trying at least…”

“Is that the adult or the child?”

“The adult is telling the child, we’ll figure this out, we’ll deal with this. Um, the child responds by crying. Having this feeling like, this pain in my chest, and I think right now, I think, feeling a little calmer. Because I had this instant moment where I felt kinda touched. And I realize that I think the child felt that. When the adult said that ‘You’re not alone’”

“Okay, good!”

“Um… And as I said, ‘You’re not alone’, interestingly both the adult and the child are present at the same time. And the adult spoke, but the child cried. So…”

“There’s some harmony…” S pointed out.

“Yeah at that moment. That instant. I think that’s why I’m feeling calmer. All the other thoughts are in the back of my mind but they’re not flooding. So that was interesting…”

“So, the ‘You’re not alone’ piece has resonated with both of them”

“Yeah… Because I think, I think they’ve been disconnected for so long. Um… It’s almost like when the teen and the adult had a conversation. It was all just the teen being angry and vicious and violent. And then they had a truce. It didn’t last long but I think the week after, when I told you that the truce didn’t last long, I think they were able to talk again. And I think, the adult decided that it was time to listen to the teen. Um… And… I started experimenting with wearing different clothes, doing different things, I haven’t heard from the teen in a very long time since then”

Through this little step-by-step walk-through of how I was feeling during my rising anxiety levels, S and I were able to figure out that the child has been wanting attention so desperately from the adult all along. I’d admitted to S last week that I enjoy getting his attention and that I’m always seeking for attention because not getting attention in my mind is equated to being dumped or being abandoned.

As we hashed this out more, we also realized that the child never seems satiated with all the attention and care she’s been getting because it’s not anyone’s attention that she craves and desperately wants. She actually wants the adult’s attention – she wants the adult to listen to her and to take note of her. She wants the adult to care. And because I haven’t been caring for the child and I haven’t been mindful of what she has suffered through for a long time, she throws tantrums (destructive tantrums that leave scars on my arm).

“Yeah… I think there are a lot of things that the adult doesn’t want to face. Truths that are just so difficult and painful that she doesn’t want to hear it. Um, it’s… I think my way of just protecting myself and coping. Because it’s too painful,” I explained as it became clearer and clearer to me that the child holds the key to my recovery. After all, she is the most wronged and upset out of all 3 of us.

“The child has to hold those truths all on her own” S noted.

“Yeah. And feeling alone, feeling uncared for. Feeling like nobody cares, even when there are plenty of people who care,” I said, feeling sad for the child.

As we talked more about that, I also made a huge confession – this was probably something I would never have been able to say out loud a year and a  half ago.

“Yeah… I think I always find hope in others. I always find focus direction and an aim in life in other people. I’m going to live for this person, or that person… It’s hard to admit that. Because it makes me feel weak. For the past 8 or 9 years, I’ve been living for the Ex.”

“That’s why you feel like things are meaningless because you got your meaning from him,” S said, sounding like it was an epiphany for him.

“Yeah, I didn’t believe in myself. There’s that frustration that the child feels. Um, that she knows that there is some kind of hope. Because I grew up past all the trauma. I went to college the first time and I got a First Class degree, a good job, you know? When I was single, by myself, once I got used to being single, I was fine. But now you know… I need to undo 8 years of habit”

“You need to find that meaning in yourself ultimately. That purpose,” S said.

“Yeah…”

“It’s amazing to me because I think if most people put you and someone else side-by-side, you would be the one that they would have hope for,” S said.

He made me cry when he said that. I couldn’t control it. I had such a strong reaction to what he said. I sobbed. I felt touched, and so cared for.

“I think that’s why it’s so hard to hear good things about myself… It feels good but it also hurts,” I said.

“Why does it hurt?”

“Because other people see it… When I’m more stable you know, I see it myself. And I realize that people were right…”

“Yeah, that… This thing that you brought up, that the issue of like where do you get your meaning from, I mean that’s really profound…”

I sobbed more.

“Yeah… I think um… The child had wanted me to know that all along. And the reaction I’m getting right now is coming from the adult. She’s right. I just didn’t want to listen because listening means I have to accept it. That I have to rely on myself, that I have to find that meaning in myself,” I said, voicing an issue that I had held on for a while now but was never really brave enough to address.

“Okay… So what I’m hearing now is that, seems like for so long, you’ve seen the child as something that’s the destructive part of you. That’s dragging you down, that needs to be managed. And now you’re kinda seeing that the child actually holds the key to all this, connecting with the child kinda give you that strength, so to speak…” S pointed out.

“Yeah, I think she has her own strength. I think, I’ve always thought the resilience comes from the adult. I think that that’s not true. I’m starting to realize now that really the resilience is coming from the child and the adult just borrows it ‘cuz the child has gone through so much, so much pain that she’s holding by herself because nobody else wants to listen or care. I think the child just wants the adult to care and she knows that the adult is capable of that.”

We ended the session with me relinquishing the final hunting knife that I had in my possession. I didn’t want to lose my final means of suicide or self-harm  but I knew that it had to be done.

At the end of the session, I was also able to let the child speak to the adult more and the child was able to convince me that I am worthy of pride – that I should be proud of myself for taking steps to recovery and that I am indeed resilient and strong. The adult and child definitely needs to have more heart-to-heart conversations and I realize after today’s session that when they both are in sync, things go much better for me.

Experiencing the anxiety attack while being with S was an interesting part of the session as well because he helped me figure out a very simple way to overcome the severe anxiety. Walking through each step had been very useful and I promised S that I would try to do the same thing again the next time I’m triggered.

When I walked out of S’ office today, I felt good and I felt empowered. Just knowing some of the things I knew in today’s session was very helpful in making me believe that I am a strong person who’s recovering. A year and a half ago, I wouldn’t have even been able to type that sentence up without feeling really unworthy of the title. I’m making progress!

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