Patchwork Family

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Years ago now, when I was in the vice-like grip of an eating disorder, self-harm and mental illness, the idea that people would leave me when I became ‘well’ again was always in the forefront of my thoughts. I wouldn’t say I used it as an excuse, but it definitely was a contributing factor in my lack of motivation or will to ‘get better’. During that time I was in and out of services with constraints and requirements to be a client within them – and I was always hyper-aware that when I ‘got better’, I would be back outside the services, without the people who I had grown to trust and love within them.

Somewhere along the way, this thought stopped being quite so prevalent – mostly because both T and I, and R and I, worked from moving within a service to privately, outside of the constraints. T, in particular, had mostly sheltered me during my time in her service, from the constant reviews and justifications for continuing work, but even so, on the ‘outside’, therapy became much more simple – if I want to be in therapy, I can be. If I don’t, I won’t. So that is how things have been ticking along.

I won’t ever say that I’m ‘better’, I don’t think. Much like an addiction, I think it will always lurk. Depression and anxiety leave their fingerprints long after they seemingly leave. Ignoring that ‘small print’, though, I’m mostly better. Purging almost never happens, self harm almost never happens, attachment anxieties are much less frequent, and many of the ways I used to know I was not very well (hearing screaming, seeing flashes and demon people, suicidal thoughts etc.) are really infrequent and I manage them so much better now. So, whilst I think of my mental health in quite a fluid sense, with ups and downs always possible, I am much ‘better’ than I ever expected I could be, two years ago.

This reared up in my session with R yesterday. In my last session with R, we had been talking about easy things for half an hour, just life and work and stuff, when R asked, “where do we fit, now?”. I had immediately got defensive, thrown up barriers to protect myself from my absolute certain fear that this was the beginning of her telling me I was well enough now, and she was going to leave. I left the session without us really having cleared it up, but had to email her later. This is most of the email:

Do you still want to work with me? I am stewing over the half-conversation we had yesterday, where you asked where we fit now. I’m worrying that you feel that I’m not working hard enough in therapy at the moment, or that maybe you don’t want to be working with me anymore because life is just sort of dull. I’m not manically processing crises in sessions, nor am I trying to get through the hours in between without harming myself… life is just calm, and it feels like the most beautiful place to be ever. So I guess this is me partially trying to justify where I am in therapy, partially trying to make you stay, and partially trying to shove down those feelings that I need to stay sick because otherwise people leave me.
Therapy has been unbelievably hard work for the last four years. For literally months of that time, my life consisted of ricocheting from session to session, hoping to god that I didn’t kill myself before I at least wrote T a note. There have been months of my life lost to crises and drama, weeks when T and I were speaking almost every day because that was the only way to keep me out of significant harm. Months when the only hobby I had was therapy – I go to uni or work, I take my medication, I go to therapy and I try to survive. That was it.
Then suddenly everything came together. In the last year, suddenly this network of people around me all linked serendipitously and created a security and a safety that I never got as a child, and between you guys as professionals, and family and friends, I felt held enough and everything fell into place. Right now my job is good, my friendships are good, my relationship is good… it’s all good. That unique relationship children should be unconditionally given is finally holding me, now.
I’m really valuing chatty, no drama therapy sessions where life just feels normal. These sessions hold an immense therapeautic value for me. I’m valuing the safety of the repetitiveness of being with the people in my safety net, the familiarity of the same rooms and the same voices and the same routines – they stay the same which allows me to be brave enough for other things in life to become different. I’m valuing the security of checking those relationships every time, that they’re still there even when I’m not a crisis to fix. That I matter even when I don’t need a new prescription, or stitches, or I can’t stop crying on your sofa. I’m hugely valuing being a person and not a topic for supervision. I’m hugely valuing feeling like a person and not a crisis, and like I’m wanted for my human-being-ness and not just because I’m a hot mess.
The last six months have been the first time in forever that I have felt secure enough to take risks and push hard at life because people around me are there to pick up the pieces if I fall. Security feels amazing. I know there is more therapy work to do but right now I’m quite happy to sit with my safe people and have silly, light conversations that happen whilst I’m button pushing and testing, constantly. This person is still here. This person still cares about me. This hasn’t changed, even though lots of other things have changed this week. T called it consolidation, earlier, and she is very right (as always…). It feels like all the work we’ve all put in over the last few years is bedding in now, and I’m just happy to be in chilled out, easy therapy sessions whilst Little tests that this time, people won’t leave and she won’t be hurt again.
I know I don’t have much to process right now and I’m not that interesting. Maybe I’m going too slowly or I’m not making therapy progress, but my god, calm safety feels amazing. Please don’t leave. Just please don’t leave me.
R started our session by trying to reassure me that she didn’t mean she wanted to stop working with me. She tried to reassure me that all she meant was our focus had got a bit lost recently, and she just wanted to ensure I was getting value out of our time together. She continued to reassure me that she “loves” working with me, that she (and all therapists) have a choice not to work with a client but she doesn’t want to stop working with me. R is very authentic – she speaks with great integrity, so this was soothing to hear.

As well as being very soothing, she has an uncanny way of dragging what I’m thinking/worrying about out of me – I was in tears almost instantly, proper hot, head in hands sobs. We talked about how difficult this week has been. How attachment anxiety has been driving everything, how I’ve spent all week button pushing, how I feel like this week has been a reminder of all the ‘unwell’ sides to my personality that I haven’t seen in a while. After a week of a lot of tears, I cried even more with R. And eventually, we circled round to the key issue: I don’t know what I want to do in therapy. I don’t know what I want my next steps to be. I’m not even really sure I have any next steps, or if I do, they’re not steps I want to make imminently. For the first time in the longest time, we came back to that very old fear – people will leave me now because I’m better.

My ‘team’ for the last year has been T, GP and R. They’re excellent professionals – genuinely, they are exceptional. But I work with them because of who they are as people. Their professional training and experience matters to me, of course, but what matters so much more to me is who they are as people. I have written separate posts on here about them individually, and I don’t think anyone who reads this blog or knows me in person can be in any doubt about how much I love them – as a team, and as individuals.

The more and more upset I got when I was with R, the more I found myself using the term ‘family’. A patchwork family. I had a family as a child, but for lots of reasons I sort of didn’t, as well. Not in the sense of unconditional support, care, love. But this group of professionals… it’s not traditional, but it’s the first sense of true family I have had. They care about me (unconditionally, no matter what), they set boundaries that they stick to (even when I’m a brat and majorly push them), they celebrate with me, they pick up the pieces when things go wrong, they cuddle, they tease me… it’s not a family, of course, but it’s my very unusual patchwork family. This patchwork family has dragged me from the absolute depths of two years ago into a perfect job, great friendships, a new relationship… the security they provide is the reason I’m where I am now. They are my home, my security, my safety.

Except, it can’t stay like this.

They have their own children. They have their own families. I am a job – they go ‘above and beyond’ in their own, different ways, but I am ultimately a job. When they change job, or have another baby, or retire… I’m just a job, and I will get left behind. Not only that but I’m one client of many – and the less ‘unwell’ I get, the further down the list I go. And they all keep saying a very similar phrase – “there will be a time you won’t need us”, “you’re doing so well you won’t see us forever”. They mean more to me than I ever will to them – which is, of course, the way it should be. But fuck, it stings.

I don’t know where I go from here. I can’t imagine this patchwork family not being there when the big stuff in life happens. I can’t imagine them not knowing what my wedding dress looks like, or what I call my kids. I can’t imagine a time when they’re not there when I need them, when I can’t have a cuddle when things are really hard… or maybe it’s not that I can’t imagine it but that I CAN. That I can imagine the impossible heartache and loneliness and terror that will come from this patchwork family breaking apart around me. From being alone… from feeling alone. I can imagine how hideous this is going to be, when it ends. And I guess this is the first time that I’ve really thought about it, because it’s the first time I’ve ever considered that I won’t be in therapy forever.

I’m so overcome with grief and attachment anxiety this weekend. The tears have stopped, just, but restart over the silliest things, like T emailing me to tell me her heart is still beating. It’s nearly sleep time but I’m not sure it’s going to come easily tonight.

Not sure if this blog post is going to make any sense… I just don’t want to lose my very unorthodox but absolutely incredible sense of a patchwork family. I love them, and I feel loved, and I don’t want that to ever end, because “I’m doing so well I won’t need to see them soon”. I love them. I can’t feel alone again.

I’m obsessed with this song at the moment. It sums up everything I feel about attachment and fear of loss… they are my home. I can’t help feeling like I’m about to lose everything.

Came to you with a broken faith
Gave me more than a hand to hold
Caught before I hit the ground
Tell me I’m safe, you’ve got me now

Would you take the wheel
If I lose control?
If I’m lying here
Will you take me home?
Could you take care
Of a broken soul?
Oh, will you hold me now?
Oh, will you take me home?
Oh, will you take me home?
Oh, will you take me home?
Oh, will you take me home?

R and I ended our conversation with her suggestion that “maybe therapy just needs to be about holding for a while”. That feels like a direction I can agree with. But I don’t need holding for a while. I need it forever. But that can’t be.

xx

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6 responses »

  1. aw man, I cried reading this. I totally get that sense of grief you’re feeling. I’m sorry you’re feeling so raw right now. x

  2. You have them as much as any of us have our parents. Your dilemma is shared by all of humanity, but more because of your history. I can only imagine the excruciating feeling of looking for something your whole life, finding it, and then grappling with losing it too soon. Given what progress you’ve made, however, I’d bet this too will be overcome.

    • I hope so. I guess it’s the age old dilemma of better to have loved and lost, or never loved at all… social expectation is that you think it’s better to love and lose, but I’m not sure I have ever agreed, and right now the concept of loss after all those years of loss when I was so very alone… If they hadn’t been here I would have been dead. But maybe that would have been the better option first up.

      • “If they hadn’t been here I would have been dead. But maybe that would have been the better option first up.”
        Solon, the ancient Greek, said that we don’t know whether we’ve had a fortunate life until the last possible moment. Perhaps that’s where we get the line we toss off so easily, “time will tell.”

  3. Oh….I am so afraid of when I am “all better” and Bea says I don’t need her anymore. I think, though, you have a lot of choice in this. Therapy being about holding for right now seems the perfect direction for you. You deserve to have this beautiful life. And yes, maybe, one day the people who are your patchwork family will shift and change, maybe T and R and G won’t hold the importance they do right now. Maybe a friend, or even a spouse will take there place in importance. Relationships, I am learning, shift and change, and grow, just as we do. Right now, your relationships need to be about holding, about having a secure base that you trust. It doesn’t have to change beyond that, for a long long time. Don’t give up, not now. I feel your hurt, and can sympathize with it. Bea tells me that she has never turned anyone away (for therapy) for being “too healthy.” She says sometimes therapy is just about understanding ourselves and how our minds work. That even “normal, regular” people can benefit from that. I don’t know why, but that comforts me…..its like even if I get better and am more “normal”, she wouldn’t turn me away. Maybe that idea will help you, too. Hugs to you and little. Xx

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