Therapy Friday

Therapy is strange. And therapy for dissociative disorders is stranger still IMO. Because it is hard to know what to do for the best.

My sessions have been following a pattern. I go in, and I’m ‘normal’. I try to talk about my life concerns – this time it was a new class I’m taking, and possibly communicating more with my family. Really valid therapy concerns – we never chit chat. Then, with about twenty minutes left, parts become more and more frantic that they won’t be heard. So some part speaks to Ron. Often, this leads straight to trauma, or at least, trauma feelings. So then I am completely swamped by that child part’s emotions. I stagger home, and cannot function for a day, and need to recover for several days.

When I think back, or feel back, the meaningful part of the session is always when parts emerge. That part of it seems to have depth, while the first part, the adult part, seems thin, like a cover up almost. Like a surface painting. The second part is more like sculpture, or maybe a diorama. Even though I appreciate hearing Ron’s views on life and I do get things out of the adult part of it all.

If I stick with the adult part, I can end up feeling lonely and disconnected. Whereas with the child parts, I feel nurtured and held.

But, with the parts comes a swamp of such bad feelings, suicide seems like a very valid option. Which otherwise, it isn’t, for me. I’m not that depressed. Life is hard, but not meaningless.

So I’m thinking – do I really need to jump off a cliff each and every Friday, which takes me half a week to recover from? How do I know that this is helping?

I expressed some of this to Ron last session. He replied that in his experience, expressing deep feelings changes them. Which I agree with. The part I’m not sure about is if this is still the case for trauma. Trauma hasn’t been processed by the brain in the usual way, so it tends to keep getting ‘triggered’, but this doesn’t necessarily change it. It then subsides, and emerges again in just the same way the next time it is triggered out. That’s what I’m worried may be happening with my therapy. I didn’t say this at the time, but I think I will next week.

It’s great that Ron isn’t afraid of big emotions. A lot of therapists are, most especially, in my experience, the medical ones. The whole idea for them is to get rid of these feelings as quickly and efficiently as possible. A nice side benefit for therapists with this view is that they don’t have to deal with these emotions for the most part.

Ron is completely the opposite. He encourages emotions to emerge, and I agree with that approach. Just, sometimes it is too much.

This time, we did something a little differently. When parts became louder, I said what was happening, but I didn’t switch into the part. Ron actually suggested this. Could they relay what they wanted to say through me? So I listened, and relayed what V had to say. After a bit, I did get very emotional, and parts kind of came rushing forwards, and things got confusing. But. I never completely switched into a particular part – I stayed as the main person.

Ron offered me a quick check-in call the next day, so I could feel more supported.

So I feel better than last week, and I think it’s both of those things. First, that I didn’t completely become any part. Because if I become a young child, who is left to take care of that child? I have to do that, and I can’t if I’m actually the child. Second, the call helped. Probably more the thought of the call than what was said. I felt a lot less alone.

I still felt sad, and spent a lot of the rest of the day in bed. And Saturday was mostly spent gloomily. But today I seem OK again.

I do feel less connected to Ron. But, I like feeling adult. Adults can cook, can go places, can figure out things that parts might like. There are a lot of advantages to being adult.

Ron said something about trying another venue, where he does more body based therapy with mats and props and things. I was crying so I couldn’t discuss it, but maybe we’ll try it. Now would be the time to try things, while I’m off work.

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19 comments
  1. I can relate to this so much. I struggle constantly with trying to balance the need to deal with the everyday stuff of living life (especially with this diagnosis) and meeting the needs of the traumatized parts. I want to help them and allow them to feel seen and heard, but I can’t spend half my week recovering from therapy. It’s literally just not practical for my life as a student and part-time worker, etc. My parts have a very similar tendency to wait until the end of session to “creep” forward. That’s when I start to get tingly and dissociative. I never really thought of it as the parts sorta being ready to be heard until reading your post. So maybe I need to work on cooperating more so that if there IS a need to be addressed, I can speak as myself to help communicate that need. Thanks for sharing!

    • Ellen said:

      We do seem to have a lot of similarities then. I have learned that with parts, co-operation and awareness are key. Thanks Fumbling

  2. To me this is a huge jump in progress, you being able to voice what the parts are feeling. I asked my counselor the same questions about going over stuff and seeming having to go over again. He explained that I was hurt from so many different places and I was in enough pieces that each part wanted their story heard. It might be a similar story but from another angle. Sounds like you are trying to make a balance between the day-to-day routine needs and the healing trauma needs. Tough balance to pull off. Glad to hear that the phone call helped.

    • Ellen said:

      That is a good explanation from your counselor. With me, the story isn’t clear, so I don’t know if it’s the same trauma over and over, or different ones. Yeah, balance is tough. For everyone, really. Thank you Ruth.

  3. Ashana M said:

    It’s a valid question: Is this helping? Because it doesn’t make sense to crawl into a dark, dark hole every week and spend the rest of it trying to crawl out. That’s just not a way to experiment. It seems to me it is likely to help because the parts are getting a different experience than they did when the trauma first occurred. They are emerging and getting a chance to see for themselves that the past is not like the present. You can tell them it’s different, but they are seeing it, and that is so much more compelling. What is different for them is they have someone to tell who cares, and you just never had that as a child.

    Filtering it through you might make it more intense and manageable, and that seems like it might be important. I find if I am in front, information gets lost in the translation to the outside and to myself. I don’t really know fully how I feel unless the part is out. It gets blunted and so it does not ever entirely make sense when I am doing it this way, but for a while, as you are getting a handle on some intense things, it might help. So it’s something to try.

    For me, I had to realize that getting my head together was just going to be a full-time job for a while. Everything just had to be scaled back. Daily life had to be simplified. Relationships needed to be pruned away. Entertainment needed to be lightened up. This was long before the parts emerged, and I was just trying to make sense of the way I was feeling and thinking in the present. I had to do this for years. Something good seemed to have come out of it, as I am where I am now. It was really tough for me to see for a long time that mental health is just irreplaceable, and it’s fine for it to be the #1 priority that determines every decision tree for me. I fought it. I’m sure it all would have been easier and faster if I hadn’t. The head-together-thing is still a full-time job, but I am starting to see an end in sight. I don’t have a timeline on that, but i can see it. Still, the periods when I was able to just think about nothing else but my mental health have always, always paid off. And it seems like the last 2 or 3 year of a general intense focus are really going to pay off in a big way.

    I think there were two things that were really key for me were a kind of mental control that allowed me to address the dissociation–so that I could lower the wall in a sense–and also emotion regulation. I really, really had to work at finding ways to just be with feelings without dissociating them. I’m still working at that because it’s so hard. The feelings are so intense, and either the wall goes back up again, which means no processing gets done and the trauma just goes on replaying, or suicide starts to seem like a valid option. So I would suggest, since I think you’re looking for suggestions, if you’re looking for an adjunct to therapy, just try to figure out as many things as possible that help you calm down. Not force you to calm down, but really automatically lower the barometer a little inside. My adult part needs ways to calm down because all of the stuff from the parts is totally disorienting and upsetting, and my young parts need strategies.for themselves. (I have found when parts come out, I can stay in the background, helping them learn to comfort themselves. I am not in charge of the body, but I can make suggestions that help them remember how to feel better and they usually go along with it.)

    All the best. 🙂

    • Ellen said:

      This makes so much sense and is so sensible. It is challenging to think of what will make child parts feel better, but it’s possible. There’s always chocolate. Just listening to them is sometimes very helpful, or letting them be sad and not pushing them back down. I totally get the pruning back of life – my life seems down to the bare basics, and it is enough – I do not wish for more, usually, because I don’t have the energy for it. And I don’t want to pull myself together, really, to do more. Having parts feel things is enough.

      I’m not sure about the filtering anymore. Partly it’s good, because an adult is needed to take care of parts. But parts emerge anyway. The whole thing is unclear.

      I agree too about parts really seeing that the present is here, and it’s no longer the past, and we’ve all made it and are safe. It’s a point that needs to be made over and over.

      Thanks for such a thoughtful comment!

      • Ashana M said:

        To some extent, the parts I think don’t experience the present as safe, because they have all these overwhelming feelings and no one helps them with them. As you figure out how to comfort them, this will get better. 🙂

      • Ashana M said:

        Oh, some general suggestions for comfort (in case it helps), soft things, warmth, cartoons. Things that validate them will help eventually, but that will take time to get to know them. (Then they feel welcome and wanted in the world.)

        • Ellen said:

          I watched four episodes of Say Yes to the Dress when I got back from therapy. A kid part loves this show – about women choosing their wedding dress! Whatever. I never aspired to such a dress myself, but this part think it’s wonderful.

          Those are great comfort things you mention. Also, they sometimes like children’s stories.

          Thanks.

  4. Cat said:

    Hi Ellen… What got me the most when reading this was the thought of you going over & over past trauma without it ever seeming to abate. That one thing is what keeps me moving forward in therapy and I just cannot imagine how it must feel not to necessarily experience this or to be able to gauge if all this therapy is helping. IME, Ron is, of course, right about change coming from expressing the feeling. I liked what Ruth said earlier about the possibility of different parts expressing the same or similar trauma (at least, that’s what I think she meant). You said, if you don’t express parts in therapy you end up feeling lonely and dissociated. Did you feel like this after Frid session?

    I haven’t ever thought about how trauma is processed in the brain, but I experience enough to know that it is not the same as “normal” painful memories. It upsets me a little when some people tell me I should be living in the moment more rather than steeped in the past. My brain isn’t able to do that, especially while I’m in the early stages of therapy, but maybe that’s because the trauma IS processed differently….mmmm… a bit of extra homework, I think.

    • Ellen said:

      No, I didn’t feel very lonely after the session, but a bit. But not the crushing loneliness that happens if I ignore the parts.

      Yeah, trauma is different. It can be triggered off by a current event, run it’s course in the form of flashbacks, and then recede, ready for the next trigger. When the brain was overwhelmed at the time of the trauma, it didn’t process it as a regular memory, which changes and maybe fades over time. Traumatic memory recurs in the same way and at the same intensity, over and over. So for me, I want to be sure that I’m not just in this ‘trauma as usual’ kind of a cycle, but that I’m starting to integrate what happened so it can be stored in regular memory.

      Thanks Cat

  5. S.G said:

    This blog post really spoke to me. You have described exactly my experience of feeling lonely and dissociated if you don’t allow your different parts to be heard. And also the rest of week just feels awful. I have no answers for it all, but it helps to know that this is something others experience too.

    • Ellen said:

      Glad you could relate to my post SG.

  6. I can so relate to this. I don’t know what is wrong with me anymore. But therapy is so confusing. I could chit chat and act as if everything is better. I only started going bc of my ED which appears mostly cured from the outside. I joked with my T that I could deal with that but never planned on the trauma stuff. I don’t know how or why I let it leak out but now that it has I can’t seem to function. Like today in therapy I couldn’t even make small talk because I wanted to hide in a small ball. Then there’s this silly part of me that wants to build a blanket fort with my T, who thinks like that?! And I can’t tell her that. And yes, I’m always a mess afterwards bc I can’t express all the things I want to say. All these internal conflicts, too many different feelings that I can’t make sense of, too many traumas that I can’t choose one, too much everything that I begin to spin and nothing comes out.

    • Ellen said:

      Glad you could relate AG. I suspect the ED is a direct result of trauma feelings, so now experiencing the feelings directly is a great step forward for you, though it feels really bad, don’t I know it.

      I think also a lot of us have younger parts that think in different ways. It doesn’t mean you have the dissociated parts problem that I have, exactly, but still similar.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  7. You know this reminds me of my last session at therapy. My psychologist and I decided when I “slip away” i have to tell her. i was embarrassed about it at first because i would just blank out into a different state, brain-dead. We were talking kinda heavy last time and i slipped and started dissociating BAD but i told her, and she had me ground myself, which i did pretty quickly to my amazement. The ticking clock brought me back down. Or home. Back to Earth. therapy wipes me out too–it’s so hard. We haven’t even touched on my past yet, just learning how to live and survive day to day. Keep posting, i admire and look forward to your honesty and similarities.
    Amy

    • Ellen said:

      Seems a great step that you are learning how to catch the dissociation and ground yourself AJ.

      Thanks for sharing that.

  8. manyofus1980 said:

    Pacing yourselves is good. Talk to ron about that. I’m sure he’ll have ideas. Sometimes we need to slow the trauma processing down a bit. its good he did a phone check in. Our therapist does those too sometimes. They really help us. I sometimes relay to our therapist what parts want to say. Its helpful to not fully switch, but rather have a more cohesive approach kinda integrated if you will. XX

    • Ellen said:

      Thanks Many. Good to know you also relay what parts have to say – it seems to slow down the emotions somewhat, for me.

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