I’m honoured and excited to have had a guest blog published on Rachel Kelly’s website towards the end of November, on the subject of writing, and in particular on how writing poetry has been so significant for my well-being. I’m immensely grateful to Rachel for her support and her kind words, and for her inspiration and motivation to keep going both with self-care and with writing! And I’m grateful for the opportunity she gave me to share this – I hope you enjoy it!
I wrote this poem four years ago, as I was emerging from a period of deep depression and suicidal feelings. I’m reblogging it for World Suicide Prevention Day today, as I hope it might bring some light to those who are struggling in the shadows. It was the kind words and support of other people in the blogging and Twitter community, who started to bring light into my own shadows, during that time.
We are a complex mix of forces – of strength, and air, and light. But when darkness threatens to overtake us and those internal forces don’t seem strong enough, we need to wait, just long enough for the shadows to pass us by. We need to say ‘not tonight’. Please reach out if you need help in waiting, and in saying ‘not tonight’. x
I arrived at therapy this morning all prepared to plunge straight into where we left off at the last session. But my therapist’s daughter’s car was parked outside – and so something rather different happened.
I’m used to there being other people in the house when I have my sessions – my therapist’s husband, her daughter. But on Friday mornings they’re both usually at work, and I love how it feels knowing the house is empty, and it’s just the two of us. There’s this feeling of ‘having her to myself’, of feeling somehow that we are both more free to be who we are. There’s the sense that when I leave the house we can linger at the front door a little longer than a split second, that we can exchange casual words without being ‘overheard’. For a split second, leaving, I feel less like a patient, and more like – I guess, a daughter.
There was an immediate sense of having that taken away today. Utterly unexpectedly, all those feelings I know so well, of exclusion and of loss, came flooding into the session, taking over. It was about this morning – and I was aware that the experience was bringing in aspects of my childhood, when I ‘shared’ my mother with various others in the house. But it was also about the weekends, and about holidays and therapy breaks, and about the end of therapy and after – it was about all the times, now and in the future, when others will be there, and I won’t.
In a way, I’m glad that she got to see. Since returning to therapy after Christmas, I’ve felt secure enough to share a number of feelings I was too afraid to share before. That experience has been wonderfully connecting, up-building, and sustaining, and I love where we have got to in our relationship. And so the experience today felt like being able to share a level of grief and pain with her, that so far I have only been able to experience at home, alone. It was more contained, a bit quieter, a bit less messy, shorter-lasting, than it is at home. But it was physically and emotionally painful, and strong, and present. Most of all, it was shared. And for that, I am thankful.
I’m at a coffee shop, trying to ‘recover’ before I have to go into work. I know that by the time I’ve ‘written it out’ I will be calmer, and ready to face others and be a ‘different me’. I wrote this poem in a couple of minutes, in the middle of trying to write my ‘therapy journal’, so that I don’t forget everything that’s happened in therapy this week. It’s rough around the edges, and in the middle, and it’s missing words here and there. A bit like how I feel.
I wrote this almost three weeks ago, over a weekend, and meant to take it to the first therapy session of the week with me and show it to my therapist. It was during the very early days of our ‘new approach’ of trying to restrict (or cut out) email contact outside of sessions. And so in that spirit, I wanted to show her the poem in person, rather than send it electronically.
However, my mood and attitude in session were different to how I had been feeling when I wrote the poem, even though there was no obvious reason behind the change. The change wasn’t even apparent until I was in the room – perhaps something that happened very close to the start of the session (and which I now can’t remember), triggered my defenses, or perhaps it was something else entirely.
By the end of the week, things had recovered, but there was a similar replay the following week; and by the time I hit a short therapy break (which I’m nearing the end of), I still hadn’t managed to show her the poem. I now suspect I simply won’t get the chance as there will be too much else to cover before we then hit a longer, four-week break.
The break itself has followed a similar pattern to those previous two weeks – a few ‘good days’ where I feel connected, vulnerable, open, and determined, followed by a fairly sudden change where it’s almost as if a switch is flipped. I then suddenly see everything through a lens of fear, self-hatred, and potential judgment, which closes me off and puts up my defenses. Whichever lens I’m looking through, it colours everything from my perceptions, to my thoughts, to my feelings, to my behaviour. It feels as though my worldview shifts into a different state, and that the changes in thoughts and feelings are symptoms, rather than causes of that shift. Which still leaves me searching for an explanation as to why this happens, and that in turn leaves me feeling incredibly frustrated and demoralised. It feels as though I have little control over these shifts; they are regular, and unpredictable, and I feel completely at their mercy. That is difficult at the best of times; but during a therapy break, when I need to try and maintain my equilibrium, it is even more problematic.
Thinking back, I think these shifts have always been there, but they are more noticeable in the context of no contact outside of sessions, where I cannot seek reassurance and try to reconnect ‘in absentia’. It also means that whatever is going on, the changes are much more clearly something to do with me and my own thoughts, as they are not happening in connection with anything my therapist might have said or not said, over email (or even my expectations of what she might have said, or not said). That is both a consolation (as it means I still feel secure in who she is) and a concern (as I have no easily identifiable trigger or explanation for what is going on).
As I was writing this poem, some of the language evoked images and memories of self-harm. Though initially it was unconsciously done, as I worked on the poem it became more intentional. Some of the images felt a little incongruous with the subject matter, which is essentially a positive statement about my determination, despite these mood/worldview shifts that I appear to be caught up in, to be open to everything my therapist has to give me, including the tough lessons that preparing to lose her, and then losing her (at the end of therapy), will bring. However, something about the images also felt right; if they are a little radical or a little unsettling, well, so is complete openness and vulnerability – at least for someone who is used to the very opposite of those things. They are unsettling because to someone who is not used to them, exercising them can feel like leaving one-self wide open to hurt and harm. And so it seemed fitting that the poem should somehow be a kind of re-interpretation of self-harm; that its words should give a different meaning to the images that they invoked.
Thoughts and images of self-harm have resurfaced more frequently since my therapist and I have virtually stopped email contact. However, I’m hoping that now, when that happens, the words of this poem will come to mind. And that instead of feeling desperate and afraid, I will remember that openness may hurt, but – just as oxygen binds to blood and keeps my body alive, the internal bond with my therapist and the love that I carry for her, sustains me. If she’s reading, I want her to know that I know that – even when that knowledge is a little buried or veiled from view, and even when that knowledge is difficult to feel.