Friday. I wake up, tired.I check email. There is feedback from one of the readers of our draft. She says the weakest part is one of the sections I wrote, the one I worked on late on Wednesday night. Well of course! I think, indignantly. It wasn’t even fully finished. And the content came changing. But it aggravates me anyway.
I think about how much work remains to get the proposal done on time. How will this be possible? Anxiety sweeps over me. I can’t give into it though. I get up, get dressed, eat a little breakfast, go in to the office.
I text E. After all, she had said to me yesterday, “More tomorrow.” So I write I’m feeling stressed at work and nervous about surgery and uncertain generally. It’s an understatement, but I don’t want to write about everything.
I meet with the other two women writing the proposal with me and confide that I’m feeling a little defensive about the feedback, that I know it’s not all pulled together yet, but it’s been so much work that it’s hard to hear what’s wrong. Janette tells me we’ll meet a bit later with the two reviewers, and it will be better to talk things over in person. She’s right, as it turns out. They are constructive and encouraging.
But it’s like I’m looking for things to be wrong. I’m projecting my negative feelings, my fears, my growing self-loathing, on everyone I interact with. I’m off balance, and I know it, but I have no idea what to do about it.
It’s after 3:00, and there’s no answer for E. My adult self knows she’s seeing clients. My irrational younger self just wants her to be there. I text her a frowning face.
Janette and Angie suggest we go out for drinks at 4:00, and I agree. It’s early but we’ve put in tons of overtime this week, so whatever. I gulp down two drinks much too quickly. But those drinks do not make me feel better either. So I leave our group early and head home. I rest a while. Then I see there is a text from E.
Hard day? Would a phone call help? I’ve got some time.
It’s so tempting. But hopeless. There’s nothing she is going to be able to say. And then I’ll feel dissatisfied and more disconnected. And that will be too painful. Part of me (the teen, I imagine) wants to say something snotty to push her away. But I don’t want to be rude to her. She’s been patient with me, even as I’ve become increasingly demanding lately.
Thanks but I’m worried it wouldn’t help right now and would leave us far apart.
Well, it makes sense you’re worried about the surgery. Don’t know how to make that different. If I can support you I would.
The surgery is not at the center of my internal storm. It probably helped build it, but there’s something much deeper, something that connects to the teen’s insistence that I shut up and go away. And now I’m on the edge of replicating that with my therapist. But that’s not really what I want. I won’t allow myself to do that. Instead I decide to tell her about the urge.
I’m just off balance today, and tired I suppose. I think I want some kind of reassurance but can’t exactly identify for what (and am finding it painful to ask).
I can feel myself wanting to be needlessly obnoxious but still have you be nice back to me. But most of me doesn’t want to act like that to you. That leaves me stuck with not knowing what to say. Not even sure this will make any sense to you.
She reassures me that this process is really hard and can be lonely and scary. She says she sees changes in me already and has faith in me and in the process. I tell her the desire to burn myself is really strong. It’s been strong for days and just keeps building. I say I wonder if I will ever find strategies that will work as well as harming myself.
She suggests holding an ice cube instead. I want to laugh. I heard that suggestion from another therapist 20 years ago. Also to put rubber bands on my wrist and snap my wrist.
I don’t see how those strategies could work, because they are not going to flood your brain with endorphins the way burning does. It surprises me that those strategies work for anyone.
So she reminds me to respect the pain and not run away from it. Right, we talked about this in a therapy session not that long ago. Why do I always forget?
Talk to the emotional pain. Scream. Cry. Be big about it. It’s real. A build up from years of holding it back. Rip stuff (nothing valuable). Tell it you’d like to see it represented. Like an invitation. Give sounds and words to the ripping you do that. Like I’m so mad, I hurt so deeply. My pain is stuck down deep, etc.
Why, hello Pain. Would you like to come in and talk about things?
Fuck, NO, words are too gentle. I want to hurt you because I hate you!
Oh, thanks Pain. Why don’t you go back in your box?
That’s kind of how these conversations go.
How about: I think you hate this feeling. Makes sense. You are mad. That’s okay. I’m willing to hear your mad. It’s big, huh. I don’t hate you and I get that you just want someone to kick…
Ask Pain to stay with you. Tell it you won’t distract with burning because you want to stay present with Pain like no one every has.
Set a time. Honor it, sit with it, hold space for it for 10 minutes.
So Pain says Fuck, NO.
Then I say, you can be mad, that’s okay, you can rage and rip or write but you can’t burn me. And I’ll just pay attention to whatever you want to communicate.
Something like that?
Yes, exactly. Try that to see. You are brave and strong enough. I know you! It may hurt but so does burning. I’ll wait to hear. I lit a candle for you. I’ll keep it burning while you don’t. Go sit with your pain. Bring magazines, a time, and Kleenex.
Talk again in 10.
I feel hesitant to rage and make noise, but I kind of want to. I go upstairs and pull a few magazines from the bottom of a pile I keep for when I want to use photos in a collage. I carry them downstairs and start to rip them up. In between, I write a little bit, in big angry letters. Then I tear some more.
My husband comes in the bedroom. “What are you doing?”
I’m embarrassed and shrug.
“Are you okay?” He comes over to sit on the bed.
I shrug again. I try to explain that I have a lot of strong emotions inside and I’m trying to release them. I rip some more paper. He picks some up and rips it too. I know he wants to be by my side in this, even though he doesn’t understand what’s going on.
I rip some more and start making noise, like a growling noise. It’s kind of good. There’s a lot of paper on the bed now. I pick some of it up and then start pounding on the bed. My husband may be a little alarmed, but he doesn’t leave my side. He rips more paper. So do I, making wordless, grunting, angry noises. In the kitchen, my dogs hear the noise and start barking.
It’s crazy. It’s ridiculous. It’s perfect. I have turned my household upside down. It’s well past the 10 minutes, and I see my phone light up with a text, but it’s not the right time to answer yet. First I have to calm myself down, myself and my husband and my dogs. I clean up the ripped paper.
That was good. It didn’t take care of things. I barely touched the edge of what is there, but I did touch it. There is a wordless rage there, wanting to be expressed, wanting to smash and destruct things.
How’s the urge to burn?
I imagine you’re doing this but would be good to write about this experiment and results. I’d love to hear, now or later.
Capture what you can. I think this may lead to something good/helpful. Let’s see.
Yes, I will. I need more time and more destruction but not tonight.
I’ll blow out my candle.
Yes, thank you.
I don’t even know where to go from here. So I go to bed, curled up against my husband. He says,”I love you so much. If you want to talk to me, I’m here.” But I have no words for him, because this is beyond words.
What a long week Q. I would have a similar defensive reaction to the feedback – one of those moments I would want to do something dramatic or just say “fuck off.” It makes so much sense to me the you would be feeling so destructive and shut down and dysregulated after this kind of week. Really, you coped remarkably well. Hoping the weekend brought some relaxation for you, though I know that is hard to do after such a stimulating week. Hard to just relax because it is the weekend and you know you have to go back. Sending support and love.
Thanks for getting it, Rachel. I know it was a bit of a mess, 5 posts that mixed up the proposal writing, my upcoming surgery, and all the internal stuff. But it felt very full like that, all three of those things pressing and urgent in their own way.
I did get some rest on Saturday, took the dogs out to run. Today (Sunday) I spent working on the proposal again. There’s too much to do to leave it until Monday. But at least I made good progress, which helps to bring down my anxiety and agitation.
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We can’t always sort our needs and worries into neat and coherent categories! It is all usually related in some way, some emotion elicits vulnerability which directly leads into another vulnerability and potential source of fear or unpleasant emotion-state. Really glad you got out with the dogs on Saturday, and that the work yesterday brought down the agitation.
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“Hold an ice cube”… Wow that stayed in my head through the entire post… I think that would be a huge distraction. I’ll try to remember that. . .
Sorry, not sure what you mean. Do you think it would help you when you are very overwhelmed?
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Well let’s say it’s one thing I’ve never tried to distract myself when having anxiety, panic attacks. I think the cold might be a bit of a shock to the system. Maybe shut down the feelings of being out of control. I don’t know if I’d remember at the time though…
Right, or whether you’d have any ice cubes handy. But if you did, you could try it and see what you think. Certainly a healthier method than burning yourself!
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Oh my gosh, I love this post. I love the thought of E burning her candle as you rage thru magazines and make noise with your hubby. Connecting with two people you really care about and letting them connect with you. Trust. You let yourself trust and risk. I love this!! 💖💖
I know, me too! It was strange but also great. I love that my husband came in, sat down, and started ripping with me. It was the perfect reaction. And to know that E. was also holding that space by burning her candle, that made me feel very supported. I’m very lucky.
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Yes! It feels so good to be supported. I got my book today, Growing Up Again. It’s really sad because I can so relate to conditional love. I think that’s what we like about therapy and at times just don’t get that someone is there to hold space, support and no strings attached.
I’m glad that eased the urges some. I’m glad you reached out to her and let your husband support you too.