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The Power of Bringing Them Home

The Power of Bringing Them Home

Foundation Year Student Vicki McLellan shares the story of her journey into therapy and recovery, ultimately leading to her joining the Foundation Year with Physis Scotland.

From the outside I looked like I had this thing we call life sorted … mum of three, wife and teacher.  I was desperately hanging onto the façade covering my reality…

I built walls around myself – barriers to keep me in check and very definite strategies driving me on and just about keeping me on the right side of ‘ok’.  “BE PERFECT”, “PLEASE OTHERS”, “BE STRONG”, “TRY HARD”.

Those walls became my prison within which I was suffocating.  All my less than acceptable parts were unwelcome inside.  They were shameful and therefore banished – thrown over the wall and exiled to Siberia.  Until so many parts of me were gone that I was a shell, empty and with nothing left to give.

At the age of 33, I was suffering with anorexia, depression and anxiety.  I was plagued by suicidal ideation and I was desperately ashamed.  Something had to change and at that point my motivation was purely for my family.

When I first met my therapist I distinctly remember stating “I am such a mess and I have no idea why.  I have a nice husband, lovely kids and a good job.  I have no reason to feel this way!”

It soon became clear that I had been repressing so many difficult feelings for so long, my survival strategies, adopted early on in life were simply no longer fit for purpose.

My prison walls didn’t fall in explosive, dramatic scenes.  Rather, I chipped away brick by brick until there was space for me to peek out…then to sit on the ledge, legs dangling and wonder what lay outside the control of my confinement.  Eventually, tentatively I slid off the ledge onto the frightening unknown terrain below.

The journey has been slow.  Thousands of invisible ropes tether me to that place.  Often, those ties have been tugged forcefully, dragging me back, where I will peer inside, wondering and craving what once felt familiar and safe.  However, the temptation to climb back through has become less powerful with every visit, a tiny rope severed, the pull losing strength.

I have faced countless fears, met young parts of me long ago sent over the wall and out into the cold abyss.  The work for me has been to coax them back and gain their trust.  I must let them know that I’m not ashamed of them and to thank them for all that they have done to keep me alive.  Most of all though, I am taking responsibility for making sure they no longer have the job of keeping me safe.  I don’t need to control, be perfect or do it all.  I don’t have to be strong all the time and it is ok to rest.  With each little win, I feel the shame dissipate and my shell filling up.  I am becoming more whole.  It feels like a new safety and it feels hopeful.

The biggest impact on my recovery has been from my wonderful therapist.  She utilises modalities such as Janina Fisher’s TIST programme and Lisa Schwartz’s CRM treatment with a fluid and adaptive approach, meaning that we have gone to very difficult places in a variety of creative ways.  It is hard work and definitely not a linear path and I have tripped myself up on many occasions.  However, the relentless patience, encouragement and loving challenge from my husband, family and therapist have been invaluable.  I have learned that I make sense and contrary to my first appointment, I now want to heal for me.  Finding tolerance, acceptance and compassion for the parts of me that I had been so ashamed of has been life changing.

The cage offered survival until it didn’t … outside that cage is a chance to thrive.

Along the way I have rediscovered my love for music, books and art.  I love to walk in nature and writing has become a fantastic outlet for my thoughts.

I hope to make a positive impact from my lived experience and would love to see a trauma informed approach to treatment of both physical and mental illness in the future.  I strongly believe that relapse rates in anorexia would fall dramatically if more focus was on the pain beneath than the behaviours and symptoms evident on the surface.

I am currently in my Foundation Year with Physis Scotland and I have found a new sense of purpose with the course that wasn’t within any realm of my imagination a few years ago!  The safe and holding space facilitated by Fifi and Fi has encouraged our group to be open and vulnerable whilst learning TA theory.  There is such a fine balance between theory, self-reflection and deliberate practice and I love how we are actively invited to wonder and challenge along the way.  The thoughtful use of community at Physis to lend support for assignments and between learning weekends has been fantastic for me and I would highly recommend engaging in the Student Mentor Scheme where students from advanced training years, or who have since qualified offer support, tips and guidance from their own personal experience at Physis Scotland.

For me, learning at Physis Scotland is both an aspirational path to a career in counselling and my next step in self-discovery and Foundation Year is proving to be an invaluable catalyst in both respects.

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