I’m crawling back out of the hole I tripped and fell into last weekend. It was a surprisingly deep hole, with a lot of sharp, pointy rocks in it. I’m still feeling tender and bruised from the fall.
For several days earlier in the week, I was unfocused, unmotivated and exhausted. This posed an extra challenge, since naturally it was exactly this week that I had a lot of phone interviews and teacher focus groups scheduled (I conduct research on educational systems, sometimes running statistical analyses of student test data or of survey data, but other times out in schools and district offices, talking to people about their perceptions of what is happening). I know you all understand how difficult it can be to present yourself as a competent professional on the outside when on the inside your brain is telling you that you’re a pathetic mess. You pull yourself through it, and then you come home and fall straight into bed.
My husband’s been such a rock through this latest episode. He’s coming to understand it better, and I appreciate that even though he cares, he doesn’t freak out.
(Side note: I have also experienced what it is to have a partner freak out. Husband #1, Miguel the Narcissist, used to scream and threaten me. He told me I’d better pull myself together or he’d have me locked in an institution and make sure I never saw my kids again. Ugh.)
Luckily the second time I married someone who is the exact opposite of Miguel. Sometimes he just gives me a kiss and makes dinner, never complaining that he’s been working all day already. Sometimes he crawls into bed next to me and just holds me for a while; on Tuesday we both fell asleep for half an hour, which was so soothing.
Still, as great as he’s been, he doesn’t have the power to quiet the confused and raging emotions. I was having such a hard time that I even considered burning myself, just a little bit, to see if that would help. It seemed sadly ironic, given that I had written in my post just a few days before that I no longer needed to self-harm, but I told myself, well, if that’s what you need, it won’t kill you. However, I managed to keep putting it off, reassuring myself, “just read this, or make this phone call or listen to these songs, and then if you STILL need to, you can.” Then usually something would distract me, or someone would come over.
Wednesday afternoon I finally got to see E. She knew I was having a hard time; we’d texted a bit back and forth. It was a relief to go into her office, where I knew I didn’t have to pretend to hold myself together.
Without going into the entire back story, I’ll just say for now that this was all connected to sort of half recalling an injury to my four-year-old (?) self. It came on suddenly and unexpectedly and literally sucked the air out of me. I felt I needed to do something for that distressed four-year-old girl, but at the same time, I could hardly stand up myself.
E told me that my job was to stabilize my adult self. My child self could wait.
“It doesn’t feel like she can wait, though,” I said. “It’s so overwhelming.”
“The unconscious self doesn’t have a sense of time,” she told me, not for the first time. “She doesn’t need to receive your healing attention right now, as long as she knows it’s coming, that you aren’t ignoring her. You can tell her, ‘Help is on the way. I want to attend to your wounds, but I have to be strong enough to do that. I’m going to get myself back in balance so I can give you what you deserve.’ She’ll be okay with that.”
I was uncertain, but E kept insisting this would satisfy the girl for now. “Maybe I’m just confused because the intensity of the emotion makes me think it’s urgent,” I said.
“Right,” she agreed. “It’s intense. But she’s been waiting a long time already. She won’t know if it’s two more hours or two more days or weeks, as long as she knows you haven’t forgotten her.”
I had brought a photo of her with me to our session, and we decided I’d put it up in my room, with a piece of rose quartz, so I’d see her every day and could tell her, “I’m coming; I want to be there for you.”
Once that was agreed upon, there was still the question of how to get myself out of that dark, rocky hole I’d landed in. My nerves were absolutely frayed.
“Could we do some kind of meditation?” I asked her. “I need some grounding. My head is spinning out all the time.”
This isn’t something I’ve done often with her, maybe only two or three times before, but it’s increasingly part of my own personal self-care, and I know E thinks it’s important. So she agreed, and she guided me in a meditation, starting with attention to my breath.
I thought she would focus on the feeling of sitting on the floor, or the air on my skin, something like that. But after a few minutes she shifted to bring my attention to all the resources I have now to care for myself. She called to mind my yoga studies and all they have brought me and the joy I get from sharing them with others. She then talked about my blog, how healing it’s been for me and how meaningful the connections to others have been. She brought to mind the continued deepening of my intimacy with my husband, the way I’m learning to share more with him. Then she reminded me that I’m learning to identify my needs and ask for support, for example from her. She did this for quite a while. She’d tell me I was well-resourced now. I could breathe in a sense of all the resources and skills I’ve developed. I could breathe out with the knowledge that I am not in the same place I used to be. This went on for at least 20 minutes. When we finished, I felt calmer.
E put no pressure on me to rush to be fine again. “We can work on this for the next few days or the next few weeks. There’s no hurry. Whatever you need to feel the stability again that you have been experiencing lately. You can get back to that place, and it’s from that place that you can work on healing.”
“You know you have to fix it yourself,” she said, not unsympathetically. “I know you know that. If I had a way I could fix it for you, I’d do it, but that’s not in my power. It’s in your power though. I can be a guide and a support to you, and I’m honored to do that. I won’t leave you alone with it.”
“I need that reassurance,” I said, “because I’m very susceptible–that little one is very susceptible–to abandonment anxiety.”
I’m relieved she gets it and isn’t repelled or overwhelmed by it.
So it’s now Thursday evening, and I’m very tired, but I’m not as lost as I was earlier in the week, not by a long shot. I’m dragging myself up out of the hole, and I can start to feel the sunshine on my back again.
CREDIT: Photo by Joshua Newton on Unsplash