Here’s the first in a small series of guest posts from my lovely wife. My breakdown, my illness and my recovery are in fact not only mine. My wife has shared in the struggles, cared for me and stayed patiently alongside me throughout. So she has her own story to tell.
I started to write this at Laura’s request. I wanted it to be like a top ten how to support someone who has been through trauma. But the more I wrote the more I realised I had to say. I didn’t want it to be a list of things whereby if you do all of the things on it everything will be fine, because that’s just not realistic. But there are a few things I’d like to share from my own experience. Starting with the obvious advice everyone gives; ‘Take care of yourself’.
Self-care as a carer
My failed attempts at therapy
It’s funny, this is the something that comes up whenever I research how to support someone. ‘Look after yourself’…’are you looking after yourself?’. I know how important this is but it’s not always easy or even possible to put into practice. I would like to touch on one of my experiences of trying to do this; going to get therapy of my own.
I have kissed two toads – so to speak. I have tried seeing two different therapists and neither were for me. I always promised Laura I would try. I ended my time with the first after she kept giving me CBT worksheets and drew me a stick person with depression. It was a sad looking stick man with a cloud above its head which represented the stick man’s feelings. They were weighing him down apparently. Trauma is so complex and the therapist repeatedly demonstrated that she knew little about it. She also kept referring to Laura as ‘your husband’. So I quit after two sessions. I think the final straw was when she opened up her diary to book my next appointment and I saw reams of blank pages… red flag!
The second therapist I saw was much better. She had an understanding of trauma. She introduced me to some very interesting organisations and also recommended reading material for Laura (one of which was very outdated and incredibly triggering but there was good intention).
But after one of Laura’s suicide attempts coincided with my therapy evening I became very worried about going back. I got it into my head that if I went out in the evening and didn’t come home in time to call ambulances etc. then Laura would die. That’s my problem, not Laura’s. She’s been quite well in terms of damaging behaviour recently but I can’t seem to shake the fear.
The next session the therapist asked me if I thought the gay and lesbian community were more vulnerable to abuse, as she had a lot of gay clients. I found it really inappropriate, I may have been overreacting but it was the beginning of the end with this therapist. She also described Laura’s brother as ‘evil’. That brought up religious connotations for me that I wasn’t OK with. I think he is an awful, spineless (and a few other words I shouldn’t really use here) cruel person but I don’t think someone can be called wholly evil. What he did could be described as evil I guess. Maybe if she had called him a monster or something? I don’t know. It just didn’t feel right that she gave such a strong opinion.
The final time I went to see her she was not home at the time we had agreed, so I was left on her doorstep. She later told me she’d said she wouldn’t be able to make that appointment (she hadn’t, but mistakes happen). But by that point I’d had enough and I ended things over email (not nice for the therapist, I still feel guilty) claiming that I couldn’t afford it anymore (partly true).
So, this part of the ‘looking after myself’ strategy hasn’t gone to plan. That’s not to say it hasn’t for many others and won’t someday for me. I think at the moment, therapy I do will be doomed to failure because I am not ready to pick at those scabs just yet. Laura’s my priority right now. One day I’ll look a bit more at the impact of these recent years and focus more closely on myself, but not now. And you know what? I think that’s OK.
Photo: Bridget Leyendecker, Creative Commons.