Therapy Tales No. Etc- Death and Trauma. Fun.

Therapy is ending soon.

Losses, fears, love- that’s basically it. Losses of things I loved- including animals (I know pets die, but mine in sudden, cruel ways I can’t go into here but which haunt me) and people. They all died lonely, premature, unfair, painful deaths. As soon as I really understood what death really was (which happened when I had another loss- my friend who killed herself when I was 15), I have been completely heartbroken ever since. Of what life is. Of feeling. Of finality. Of memory. I can’t bear it, any of it. That’s when the fear really started. I’d always been afraid of my parents’ death, i obsessed over it. But that was my first big loss, of someone I’d seen so recently, so young, so similar to me. We were all steeped in bullshit pop music mythology, playing with self harm. But she died. Alone. And I was unforgiven for something. I never got to explain or say sorry. And she died. Died. Death. Forever. My first cremation, too.

Memory is important to me. Memory is evasive to me. I have convoluted memories of my own childhood.  Different from my siblings’ because we’re different people. Everything is kind of mixed up, muddy. Then my own brain conspired against me, and I don’t remember a lot of my periods of illness, or the life that existed, inevitably, as life does, within them. And I had my own fractious relationship with the truth when I was young.  When I look back I realise it was because I found it so hard to be living the life I had, so created another, not even one that was easier, but one I felt could justify the pain I was in without ever being honest about what was really causing it (it still feels churlish and trivial, and now I am at the other extreme of exposing honesty).  Other people have memories I don’t, largely negative and embarrassing. My own bad behaviour haunts me not just because it hurt those it was directed to (or caught within), but because I know it has become part of the memory arsenal, that chorus always waiting to be summoned, or to butt in, uninvited, and to hurt. And I hate that. I don’t want to be someone’s bad memories. Maybe if I can be better now, I can replace it or erase it? And all I want is to give my son happy memories. Robert says I’m morbid, which is true. He keeps us in the present- he thinks, “experiences”, I think, “memories”. Already living in the past tense.

Memory is all we have, really. In the end, if we’re lucky, that’s all we have. Since my dad died I have dug deep and cling to the good memories I have of him. Further and further away. It’s hard to remember happiness. It’s not the visceral gut punch of despair, more the balloon in your hand that drifts away, bright and then small and smaller. Physical pain is hard to remember (I couldn’t describe now what my contractions felt like, even though I know they hurt), but emotional pain recalls itself constantly. So I often only remember the bad things clearly (and how bad they were), and it feels like they just happened. How jealous I am of people whose parents weren’t like mine and who they went out to lunch with and they didn’t die like my dad did. Even those who did die but in ways that people had some sympathy for (alcoholics dying, lowest of the low, fuck their children, the way we were treated by the medical staff, my baby brother and sister, fuck them forever and forever for it, for every person afterwards who turned their face away from me),  I have to unfollow people on Facebook posting happy pictures with their parents. Out at lunch! Having drinks! Doing normal things.

Memory is the twoheaded monster. My memories of my dad are awful, Sometimes they engulf me and I feel like tearing my skin off in agony that I can’t go back, can’t change something, can’t intercept this awful image and make it different. That was it. And his memories. I think that’s perhaps worst. HIs life which he didn’t deserve. That he was so desperately unhappy. That he died like he did, and that I knew he was afraid of it. And there are tears pouring down my face as I write this. To be afraid without comfort. Without hope. I wanted to be there when he died to be a hand or a face or a word, and I wasn’t.

Me being there wouldn’t have changed the outcome, he would have died anyway. But I wanted to do something, anything.

My friend Brendan died not long after my dad. He was an alcoholic too, was trying to recover. He died of an accidental overdose and my last communication with him was a voicemail he left on the Monday before he died asking me to meet up, saying he was nearby, just passing, are you in? get in touch, and I was so up my own fucking selfish arse I never did and then he died.

In therapy we talked about safety behaviours and my big one is having my phone on me and being always contactable. I have a three hour commute to and from work and most of it is underground. I went for a rare night out on Tuesday and had a panic attack on the train as I visualised (fear not feelings etc, but it felt like a promotion, it felt like destiny), Robert screaming over our baby, screaming and screaming and I wasn’t there. That if he died I wouldn’t be there. What would his last memory be? Be held, be there, be loved. Not alone.


This is hard to write. I’ll come back to it.

It’s also about fear. I used to have nightmares about my dad dying from his drink. But he did anyway. It happened even worse than I screamed about. So why should I trust my fears aren’t real? That the worst won’t happen? It did. All the worst fears I have (dying myself is a worst fear that will inevitably be true, but I fear dying young, leaving my baby, Robert dying, my baby dying, my mum being unhappy and dying) came true so why not these? It’s hard not to take my anxieties as facts. They happened.  And with Robert and my baby in particular, who are my husband and my son, I love them so fiercely, I think, my love must insulate them from suffering, from death. But it doesn’t and it won’t. How can I ever accept that? I know it’s a childish and possibly a bit narcissistic but there it is. When Robert has the slightest bit of discomfort, my refrain is, “What can I do? How can I fix it?”

We talked about my intrusive thoughts which often take the form of, when I’m speaking to someone, imagining them dead. And realising they have the same expression, that I am just superimposing my dad over everyone’s faces, just reliving it constantly.

We didn’t even get on that well when he was alive. We had some beautiful moments, a lot of understanding, and he was a good person. But I often hated him for what he put us through. I used to fantasise about him falling downstairs and breaking his neck just so he’d shut up. Stop shouting. Stop drinking. Then we’d be free. (I hate this freedom. I hate myself).

So the therapist talked a bit about trauma and how events can be too big for the brain to process so they never become memories. They’re always happening instead. A sort of PTSD. And how if you break them down they can be processed and become memories and stop being so present. I’m skeptical. I have some extra sessions before we quit but feel like we’ve pulled a thread and I want the jumper back. And I don’t want to do the homework. I don’t want to write it all down. I want to keep pushing it all out. I don’t want to break it down. I don’t want to break down.

I cried a fair bit after that session and Robert gave me a lot of hugs when I came home. And then abruptly I just stopped talking about it, as I do, Silly, trivial, depressing.


(Stay with the feelings)

9 Responses

  1. Seaneen, please continue doing this hard work for your benefit as well as your family’s benefit. You deserve to live in peace and happiness and this is the only way through the anxiety and depression. I’ve taken this route myself and it works. :-)))

  2. Also, I had almost the identical fears which you describe. My father was a functioning alcoholic (held a job sometimes,) and made our lives (mine in particular) hell at times with his drunken abuse. So much so that I too thought of appropriate ways for him to die as retribution, which I now regret, of course, especially since he did succumb to cancer.

    I have learned that I have survived some of the most horrible things life could throw at me and I’m still okay. I don’t need to exist in anxiety and fear as if that will give me some kind of miraculous control over future events. Now I pretty much let go and let God handle things.

  3. Reblogged this on Living with Mental illness and commented:
    Just Read it

  4. “So I often only remember the bad things clearly”

    *psychology researcher hat on* (you probably know this but just in case) There’s a thing called mood congruent memory bias associated with depression. Give a depressed person a list of words, some negative, some positive, some neutral. They’ll remember the negative ones much better. This effect has been replicated again and again.

    It’s difficult because it creates a reinforcing spiral – you can only remember the bad stuff, so then that makes you depressed, so you can only remember the bad stuff…….

    Horrible. Horrible the things our brains do to us.

  5. Healing sometimes requires digging in where it hurts, like removing emotional tumors. I think you know that. Keep going. Go slowly. Don’t give up. ❤

  6. […] Filed beneath: Mental health The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive […]

  7. Reblogged this on Life in a Bind – BPD and me and commented:
    This wonderful post captures thoughts and feelings I have always had – am having right now – but have not yet articulated. Over the last two years I have been doing incredibly important work in therapy, but I’ve always wondered when I would be able to start talking about death, and about time, and about the fact that the latter is always running out, and running towards the former. Though I have spoken about some incredibly difficult and painful topics in therapy, I have always been conscious of those topics I have been trying to keep at bay. And yet, the amazing thing about therapy is that, eventually, you come at those topics obliquely. They may be too hard to face talking about, but eventually, the process of therapy, and the therapeutic relationship itself, bring them to the forefront of your mind – one way or another.

    So many of the sentences in this post resonate with me, and stick in my mind: “Losses, fears, love – that’s basically it”. Yes, that’s basically it for what I’m experiencing in therapy right now. And somehow the loss of a cancelled session turns into the loss of therapy (eventually), which turns into the loss of my therapist (eventually, through death), and suddenly every loss going back decades is present in the imagined but real grief of those future losses.

    “Memory is important to me. Memory is evasive to me”. I have so few concrete memories of my past; I find it so hard to remember. But because I’m petrified of death and of ‘time running out’, I am consumed by making the most of my time, and the way that I know I have done that, is by ‘making memories’. I find the first few days of any holiday incredibly stressful and put a huge amount of pressure on myself to ‘do stuff’. Once I have ‘made some memories’ I calm down a little. But it is for me, as the author of this post has written: “….he thinks ‘experiences’, I think ‘memories’. Already living in the past tense”. And when I think of the future, it’s about how the future will become the past, and must be ‘captured’ and ‘stored’ – forgetting about the fact that the most important thing is for it to be experienced.

    But when memory is so important to you, it is so painful when it is also evasive. Because it becomes another form of loss – loss of memory, of the very thing that links you to the object or person you lost in the first place. My therapist often talks about the importance of memories, particularly when I am very distressed about the fact that our therapy will end at some point, and I will lose her. She talks about how I will have internalised her, and will have our memories to hold onto. “Memory is all we have, really”. But what if I cannot remember? What if all those memories of her, become evasive too?

    I love the phrase: “…[we’ve] pulled a thread, and I want the jumper back”. I have wanted certain things to stay covered up. I have wanted not to tackle the things that may unravel me. But a few months ago I started pulling that thread, and more and more, death and loss keep staring out at me through the growing holes in the jumper. I can’t evade them anymore; but perhaps I will discover some memories that I thought I’d lost – and create some new ones in the process.

  8. […] Source: Therapy Tales No. Etc- Death and Trauma. Fun. […]

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