Early on in the session my attention was diverted to a small blue ball that was sitting next to T. I asked T if the ball belonged to T, and if so, could I have it? T confirmed that the ball did belong to T and asked me if it was OK to throw it to me? My face lit up, and I just hoped I would catch it. I did. The ball was not exactly what I was expecting. I thought it might be a soft foam ball, but it was actually a solid rubber ball with a suede like texture. I felt a real childish pleasure in palpating and exploring the ball. T said that my pleasure was evident. I had asked for something in a simple and direct way. I had got what I wanted, which T suspected was not the case when I was a child, and now I could enjoy something, just as a young child would. I also loved the blue of the ball, which has become my imagery colour for the bottom of my bucket, when I get there, and the safety that represents for me.
T and I talked about whether I often got my needs met as a child. I explained that when I was unwell I often did not and was sent to school (ill) and that if I was actually allowed to be off sick felt compelled to stay in bed for the whole day because I otherwise felt guilty I wasn't at school. I recalled a memory of my father giving me sugar water in my favourite mug when I suffered from vomiting bugs, and the comfort that represented. T then asked me about other times when I was not unwell if that was not getting me the caring attention I deserved then what happened? I said that because my face was fairly expressionless it was hard to tell what I wanted. I said that had probably happened from the age of about 5 or 6, but T suspected it went back to when I was a young baby. What I realised I felt now was that I love to care for others, but am still extremely poor about getting my own needs met, even if it is something as simple as asking people not to bombard me with questions at work, or whether I would prefer the lighting in a therapy session high or low. It is here where my work needs to begin. It will be a change, and will take some time, but it has to start sooner rather than later so that I can begin to get my own needs met before I start to experience signs of distress, which I described as a deep pain in my diaphragm and like "static" down my arms. T asked me to move my arms which I did, and then to explore the possibility of just walking around the room. T asked me how I felt. I said that it had helped to calm me down a little.
We begun to talk about breathing. It turns out that actually inhalation is about the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight system) whilst the exhalation is about the parasympathetic nervous system or (rest and digest system). When I (or anyone else suffering from trauma) goes into a "freeze" or playing dead, it is actually strangely enough the parasympathetic nervous system that has stopped the breath whilst there is an undercurrent of huge charge from the sympathetic nervous system (as if preparing to run from a tiger, Levine, 1997). We talked some more about how panic attacks occur when the breathing becomes both shallow and rapid and that there is too much carbon monoxide in the body. We discussed a breathing technique that I was already employing of inhaling for four counts and exhaling for six to re-balance and calm the body and discharge the held energy. I also explained how dance and walking helped me to discharge feelings of anger and we talked about 'Five Energies' (a form of dance) and stomping in the ground being a positive thing to do. I said that when I was angry my choreography became very "strong", dynamic and certainly grounding.
As the session came to a close, I asked T what T's needs were and T said that T was hungry. I explained how I couldn't tell that, but it was a simple enough question to see what T's needs were. I threw T back the blue ball and my homework for this week in addition to continuing with the bath and skin-lotion work is to practice asking for what I want, particularly in avoiding being overloaded at work and avoiding my red state:
Signs of me being in the red:
· Severe pain (major negative distraction
· Being bombarded by questions
· Being asked to explain a lot of things, one after the other
· Suddenly feeling very fatigued/tired
· Mood suddenly plummeting
· Feeling fidgety and uncomfortable
· Feeling as if drowning/submerging
· Sudden need to be alone
· Not being able to listen/concentrate to what I am being told
· Failure to follow instructions and/or forgetting something
· Feeling weepy
· Feeling dissociated and uncomfortable in my body
· Wanting to throw a tantrum and shout
· Feeling angry because my needs are not being met (because people cannot ‘see’ what is happening or for me to be able to explain ‘what’ I need in order to feel better.