Traumatic Disconnection

I recently came across a glossary of key terms related to Relational-Cultural theory put out by the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute (JBMTI). One of them, “Traumatic Disconnection”, really stood out to me. Here is their definition:

Disconnections that occur when what might be an acute disconnection triggers someone (often suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder) into a place of reactivity (the amygdala hijack) where she or he becomes unavailable to relational repair. The person cannot come back into connection because of a heightened sense of danger. Until safety can be reestablished, the therapist must honor the client’s dramatic return to strategies of disconnection. Ironically, these traumatic disconnections sometimes follow an increase in closeness, a relinquishing of strategies of disconnection. In those moments the client feels increased vulnerability and may have to resort to old ways of self-protection.

What struck me the most about this is how salient this particular experience has been for myself and other members of our system as we’ve gone through therapy. Looking back, I can very clearly see this pattern in our behaviors. In fact, when I re-examine the very last session I had with Zooey before she terminated treatment, I can see how it was essentially dominated by this feeling of traumatic disconnection. Here is how I described that experience to her in my termination letter:

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So I went to the extra session with the therapist lady. It was fine, but not good. I am not nearly as articulate as our dear “host” (hate that word, but I can’t think of anything better right now), so I am pretty sure I did more damage than good to the therapeutic relationship. I’m not sure she figured out she was talking to a different part until the end, so she probably was confused as fuck and super annoyed at my inherent resistance and basic lack of verbal communication skills.

But I did talk. Well, I tried to talk anyway. I told her that there are just always so many things I could say, so it’s hard to know where to begin. Plus there has been a whole lot of regulations put on what I’m allowed to say throughout my life and let’s just say people historically have not responded very well to the shit I have to share. Among other delightful things, I’ve been called a liar, manipulative, crazy, psychotic, delusional, attention-seeking, and a plain old “spoiled brat” by a variety of mental health professionals, family members, and other random assholes. So I tend to just freeze up. I am terrified of saying the wrong thing or of being accused of any of the aforementioned undesirable character traits.

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Phone Check-in

After feeling like total shit all damn day, I finally decided to call the therapist I’ve been seeing and leave a voicemail. I half-coherently explained that today has been difficult and very painful and asked if I could see her for an office session tomorrow. She’d mentioned in our first session that she doesn’t generally talk to clients in between sessions, so out of respect I alluded to that during my message. I wanted her to know that I heard her and understood her boundaries. 

When she called back, however, the first thing she said was that it was absolutely okay for us to do a brief phone check-in if I was having a difficult time and then she offered to talk to me for a few minutes right then. I reminded her that that’s not what she said in session. She explained that for the sake of brevity, she didn’t go into the minutiae of between-session contact. She said that if it was confusing to me, we could wait and talk about that in person, which I felt was very respectful and professional. I felt clear enough on the matter though, so I attempted to explain what was going on. 

She helped me work through some of the thoughts and emotions that have made this day so challenging. We weren’t always on the same page, but she is great about being transparent with her thought process and ensuring she’s tracking with my process. After a point, she mentioned that she was essentially just problem-solving, which I seemed very defensive of. She’s right. I was defensive, since it seems like people get incredibly frustrated if I don’t immediately take their advice and say “oh wow! You just totally changed my life!”

Then she said, “Well, it seems like you don’t need that right now then. Maybe what you need is for someone to just see you where you’re at and acknowledge it.”

Yes!! That is actually EXACTLY what I needed! 

So then I started to feel a little better and calm down some. She offered me a session tomorrow morning and asked how I felt about that. I admitted that I felt afraid. She acknowledged that it would be scary since she’s essentially asking me to trust her and trust the space we’re creating in therapy.  But then she said that since trust is a lot of what we’re working on right now, maybe we should just go for it and schedule the session. 

I took a deep breath and said, “Yeah…I think I can do that.”

Feeling like we’re making some progress. 

Monday’s Session

imagesSo the session I had on Monday was okay. I was admittedly exhausted and kind of going in and out of dissociation, which made it very hard to stay with my thoughts. But I think some important stuff happened in that space anyway.

I started out by just sitting down. I said nothing. I don’t know why – I wasn’t trying to challenge her or be weird or deliberately difficult. I just literally could not think of a single thing to say. Anything that came to mind seemed dumb or trivial or just wrong. I knew from experience that this therapist is pretty darn comfortable just sitting in silence. After a while, I started to worry that she would let me go the entire session without speaking at all.


About five minutes into my silence, she very gently said, “I wonder if how you’re feeling right now has to do with how our last session ended (with me in tears because she merely suggested we increase session frequency to twice a week). I just said “Yeah. Probably.” So we talked about that. I think. It’s all very fuzzy in my brain. I know that we definitely spent the rest of session talking.

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Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 7.32.16 PMI kept a running list of all the sessions I had with Zooey. I recorded the dates of each session, whether they happened in her office or on the phone, and whether or not an office session was extended due to some sort of “crisis” or if a phone session was due to an urgent or emergency issue. Today, I went over that list and did a little math to determine the ratio of each type. Here are my results:

82 sessions total (100%)
69 regular office sessions (84.1%)
2 sessions with Wife included (2.4%)
13 extended office sessions (15.8%)
13 phone sessions total (15.8%)
1 phone session with Wife only (1.2%)
9 planned phone sessions (10.9%)
4 “emergency” phone sessions (4.8%)
17 “irregular sessions” (20.7%)

That means we literally spent 1/5th of our time on unscheduled crisis management. Maybe 1 out of 5 interactions seems like a lot, but it’s also important to note that not every unplanned session had the same duration as a full 45 minute session. There were also a few shorter phone calls (5-15 minutes, some planned, some not), both scheduled and unplanned text interactions, and several e-mails that we sent her (non-emergent and always with her explicit permission).

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Too Tired

I am too tired to write a post today. But I promised myself I would get something written down every day for the sake of helping to contain the tremendous emotion I attempt to carry around all day every day.

Finals are done. Thankfully. I felt good about both tests, but my professors are sneaky tricksters. So…we shall see. Really hoping to maintain my 4.0.

Session was okay today. Emotional. I feel profoundly sad for a myriad of reasons, not excluding severely missing Zooey. I don’t miss her as my therapist. But I do still miss her. A lot. I’ll write more about how session went when I have more energy.

For now, I shall attempt sleep.


Luckily, today went much better than yesterday. I think just writing about how awful and worthless I felt was enough to propel me out of that funk and into some semblance of productivity. I managed to eat three (somewhat) decent meals today, study for several hours, and do an impressive amount of live-tweeting during the Oscars.

I have another therapy session tomorrow. Since I only got through the death of a family friend and contacting my brother on Friday, I am probably going to try to talk about my Wife not getting the job and one other thing (that I haven’t yet talked about on this blog). I don’t know if I’ll get through it all, but it’s a good starting point.

I should also probably talk about last session, yeah? I mean, I totally just started crying when she merely mentioned increasing the frequency of sessions to twice-weekly. She’s probably wondering what the hell was going on – what was I thinking/feeling in that moment? I was thinking a lot of things.

Mostly, however, I was thinking,

“No…please don’t do this. Please don’t get invested. Please don’t start caring about me. Please don’t get me to trust you.”

The fear of connection was incredibly overwhelming. She did, of course, mention Zooey in that moment and said something about how I was probably reacting to the experience of losing her and the awful termination we had. Yes. Of course. I think I cried for that, too – for the fact that this beautiful relationship that I valued so much somehow turned into a source of such tremendous pain and self-doubt. I ended up reaching an unprecedented level of trust with Zooey that I didn’t believe was possible with a clinician. In one fell swoop, it all came tumbling down on me and now I’m just buried in the remnants of that disastrous ending.

Anyway, I’m sure I’ll figure out what I want to say at some point between now and tomorrow afternoon. It’s not like I am EVER at a shortage of conversation topics. I guess I’m just nervous to follow-up what ended up being such a weirdly emotional session.

But today was better. Maybe tomorrow will be better, too. Wish me luck on my finals!

One of Those Days

7d44bc8ecf9194d90149393672ed0c1aToday was one of those days where I consistently wanted to either scream, cry, or jump off my roof. Or maybe some combination of the three. I hate days like this.

I am not even sure what my issue is. Possibly the culmination of lack of sleep combined with hormones, malnutrition, stress, and constant switching. When my dissociative symptoms are worse, everything else just goes to shit. I get these persistent headaches that tip in and out of migraine territory as they please.

Plus I’m admittedly still reeling from yesterday’s weird and unexpectedly emotional session.

I was planning on going to a coffee shop to get some studying done. That did not happen. Wife and I were going to go after lunch. Then after dinner. Then I just laid down and took another nap. Eventually, I got up again, showered, pulled out some flashcards, and actually studied for one of the two final exams I have on Monday. But suffice it say this was not a very productive use of an entire free day. Nor did it help to soothe the anxiety I have about said final exams.

I wish so much that I knew how to break out of this. I sorta wonder if it isn’t just winter. Winter is all kinds of terrible for me. The lack of sunlight, the cold, the constant heated indoor air, the miserable experiencing of trekking through various winter precipitations and the accumulation of such. It’s just gross and awful. I’m generally okay from like October through mid-January. But then I completely deteriorate. I am beyond ready to “Spring forward” and bid adieu to this damn winter.

Regardless, I’m not proud of myself today. I feel like such a total waste of human life. Sometimes I question why I was even brought into existence and/or continue to do so. But that’s an existential crisis for another day…

Anyway. It’s almost over. And as my wife says: tomorrow, I will fail better.

Change of Plans

Despite all of my insistence that I not go to my scheduled therapy session today, I ended up going after all. I was late, since I forgot to set an alarm, but I was there.

Ultimately, I realized that even though my sessions will end up close together, it’s still only one per week. So, financially, it’s not any extra expense. Additionally, the more I pondered it, the more I realized that considering the recent drama that has unfolded, now is probably a good a time as any to have sessions relatively close together. I certainly have a lot to talk about.

And talk I did.

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