Not an ending

Wow. The past 24 hours have been a rollercoaster. K replied this morning to my email from yesterday asking if this was now an ending even though in August we’d said it definitely wasn’t the end, just a break. I’d said in it I had thought of returning to weekly online therapy in the autumn if she wasn’t back to in-person by then, and that I thought this would be helpful for various reasons which I’m too exhausted to write about now. I was so scared she was going to come back with a firm refusal to ever work remotely with me again and would say it was time for me to move on. She didn’t.

She thinks my idea of possibly returning to online work in the autumn is a good one and she says to keep her updated on my thoughts over the coming months. (By then I will actually be debt-free at last, and I’ll be able to see her weekly for an hour (bloody fifty minute hour ffs!) as well as see R fortnightly in-person, if that is what I choose, so it feels less of an investment and means therapy could be something I can just add in to my support network rather than it consuming me emotionally and financially as it once did). I don’t know what I will do in September or how my life will be by then, but at least it is my decision now – she has handed me the power back and I know she will agree to work with me online again in the autumn based on what I’ve told her about the work I’d like (need!) to do, and why I can see it working remotely at that time of year.

This whole thing still feels pretty dire, and there is still so much loss to process because so much of the work that we did over the first 5 years is over – those close, intimate, connected years of gentle work with young parts where she held me so close and so tightly and was so invested in our work is over. That time of films and stories and making things together and spending time outside, alongside all the horrible trauma work of course, is over and I need to process that loss, that grief, that end that came last March without either of us knowing it was the end of so much that we had shared.

I think also that my suspicions all along have been right. I knew really looking at the news last week she wouldn’t be going back to in-person once she’s vaccinated. It’s not game over then. Far from it. I know she is not saying she’ll never return to in-person work, she is just saying that right now she cannot foresee a time when she will do face-to-face again, but I have to be okay with remote work indefinitely if I choose to go back. So that is the decision I have to make. But not now. For now I just need to breathe and remember who I am without her.

There is so much to say, so much pain and loss and grief to metabolise. I will write but for now I want to just settle. I am seeing R tomorrow and he will hold me and I will cry again, more tears for K. More tears for the loss of someone who has been and always will be such a huge part of me, but who was never really mine to lose.

Over

K emailed me. She has no plans to return to face-to-face work. She is working uniquely online, 50 minute sessions, daytime only, two days a week. She has no spaces. Online working was unhelpful for me she says, and she thinks I should find someone else who can work face-to-face with me.

So five years of work over and not even an ending. She says I’ve come so far and that perhaps a different way forward is now due and that I should see how things go over the coming months.

Turning comments off on this post as I don’t want to talk about this.

Still waiting

Thanks for all the support and understanding on my last post. K didn’t reply this morning so I’ve text her just now to find out if she received my email. It has been 6 days. Maybe she is unwell or the email got lost. Does this even happen? In 5 years of at least one email a week one never went missing so it’s hard to believe she’s not received it. It’s also hard to believe she’s not just angry with me for asking her about returning to in-person work given the current situation. Or ghosting me. R says it was a valid question and she won’t be angry. Who knows? At least she has an iphone too and has read receipts on so I will know when she’s actually read it this time.

I don’t really have much else to say, I just needed this in writing somewhere. I managed to ground and settle over the weekend and spent time with friends and at the beach and on my bike. It did strike me how I come back from triggers much more quickly now and also that I naturally do things that are caring and soothing a lot of the time without even noticing. Proof of new neural pathways even when things feel immensely difficult. Obviously things are escalating again today and I didn’t sleep well last night, but I am managing to work and hold on to some sense of being okay whatever happens, while also trusting that things will work out as they need to for my highest good and that K and I were certain it wasn’t the end back in August.

Waiting and wondering

I emailed K on Tuesday lunchtime asking for a sense of her current plans on returning to in-person work and whether she thinks she’ll return once her and her son are protected following their vaccinations, or if she’ll be waiting a while longer till restrictions ease more in mid-May. I said a few other things but overall it was mature and balanced and no over-sharing.

She’s not replied. Yet. I feel I need to put that in, because surely she will reply next week. She doesn’t work Thursday and Friday anymore and will want to hold that boundary (even though it seems unnecessarily firm). Maybe she needs to think it through, talk to her supervisor, discuss with her T-friends what they are planning around vaccines and in-person work. I know she will want to be REALLY CLEAR with me – this has always been her top priority with me, making sure things are clear. I know she has and will prioritise this above all else. She won’t want to offer false assurances and things she can’t follow through on. She won’t want to cause confusion. But also – surely she’s thought about this already!! She knew I was emailing at the end of February about returning. My sister (counselling psychologist with NHS) has barely left her flat this past year and yet is planning to return to in-person work in mid-April after her second vaccine dose. Surely me asking this hasn’t come as a complete surprise. She may feel it’s still too early to make a decision or indicate timescales, but surely she would then say that.

All kinds of explanations and possibilities are going through my mind, about the reason she’s taken so long to reply but also the wider significance of what it might mean. Is she working out how to tell me she has no idea when in-person will resume and thinks I should find a new therapist to continue this work with? Is she going to tell me her capacity has changed and she can’t hold big process like mine anymore? I’m so aware that she has the power to draw a line under our work and I would be POWERLESS to change her mind. As R reminded me yesterday – that feeling of powerlessness is echoing my experience as a baby but I am not powerless now. I have power in my own life. But I can’t make her come back to me. I have power in my own life but I can’t save myself from losing her if that’s what she decides. That really fucking hurts.

I need to try and ground and switch off from turning it over and over now and try and settle for the weekend, because I won’t hear from her till at least Monday. I need to give my system a break also, because really the triggering may not even have begun yet. I was expecting to be triggered by her response, but not for 3 days after sending it before she even replies. Who knows what delights are in store for me next week? Earlier in the week I tried to let myself hold that it could be good news, that the time apart will have been long enough and I don’t need to feel I’ve not suffered enough. Right now though I cannot see how good news could lead to a delay – surely she’d be excited to tell me when we could meet in-person if there was good news.

I also saw on her website late last night that she is now only working 10-4 on Monday and Wednesday (and offering supervision on Tuesdays). I don’t think even if she ever goes back to in-person work that I could go during those times. Not regularly every week. I work full-time and she is a 45 minute drive away. It’s about an hour and ten minutes if I were to go from work and I couldn’t guarantee I could work at home every therapy day. Even getting to hers at 4pm meant finishing work at 3pm every Monday which is so early and caused mayhem the rest of the week, but at least the home journey didn’t take time out of my work day as well. It would involve losing half a day of work every week to go between 10 and 4pm. It’s just not possible really. And she will know this. I can’t even work late the other days to make up for it because N will have swimming.

Plus I still find therapy disruptive, even though it’s easier than it was, and I’m not sure I could settle to work afterwards. Not consistently. It also doesn’t feel best use of an expensive and emotionally-invested time in therapy to come back and be straight into the demands of work, rather than letting it land and doing any writing I need to do to process. Sometimes this was a necessity when I went two or three times a week and things were triggered nearly all the time, but now therapy stirs things up but life is more stable, and so I really valued the space at home after therapy, especially if I felt held and connected. I don’t want to have to work afterwards and yet there would be no choice. Even if I could fit it in at the same time each week, which I don’t see how I could.

And with only space for 8 clients she’s unlikely to let me do a double session fortnightly, because that would mean two hours every other week she would struggle to fill. And I doubt she would be able to honour the increased-but-still-reduced fee she’d given me from September and so I don’t think I’d even be able to afford a 90 minute session every week, let alone the double we used to do.

This is all feels so hideously complicated. Is it a sign from the universe that it is time to let her go?

I would really appreciate people not commenting that she is unreasonable to keep me waiting. It has been 6 months, I asked for a sense of where she’s at, mentioned I might extend the break – none of this is time pressured and my email certainly didn’t give a sense of urgency. She is entitled to take time to think through her response. It would have been nice if she’d acknowledged my message and said she’d get back to me when she’d checked some things, but she knows I know she doesn’t work Thursday and Friday now. And I’ve been fine without her for 6 months really, so she doesn’t owe me a speedy response. It is my response and the huge fear and uncertainty and loss it brings up that I am struggling to hold. I want to believe we will find each other again but it becomes harder and harder to find any certainty around that. It is agonising waiting and also to think of what it would be like to never see her again, or to meet only to say goodbye.

All the things I’ll never tell you

Dear K,

I can’t believe 6 months have passed. It feels as though everything and nothing are the same as when we said goodbye for a little while, all those weeks ago. It is 11 months since we last drove to your house. Somehow the passing of time is comforting because it doesn’t feel as though we’ve lost you, despite this time apart, and one day the end will come, even if it turns out to be many more months till we can see your face again. Our brain erasing you for the whole break was our greatest fear but we feel so connected to you still. We are scared you will have forgotten us or let us go but when we look through old messages and think back on our time together we can feel how connected we are and we don’t think that would disappear for you if it hasn’t for us. Whenever we couldn’t remember you before you could always remember us, so if we haven’t forgotten then we are pretty sure you won’t have either.

We wondered if you thought of us when Joe Biden was elected or when Taylor Swift released another surprise lockdown album or when it was the first Monday of the year and you weren’t seeing us for the first time since the start of 2015. We have thought of you every day but it hasn’t always hurt. Some days it has but a lot of the time we have felt patient and calm and just so grateful for you and all the work we’ve done because it has become obvious this past year just how much we’ve healed and internalised your safety now. And we have mostly enjoyed this time of integration and settling, waiting to return, knowing both of us hold the intention that we will continue our work when we can.

There is so much I want to tell you. It’s also been nice to keep so much to myself for so long, almost as if there is a clearer line around myself now. I don’t think about how I will explain things to you or hold out for a time to share them. I don’t do things to tell you anymore, I just do things. There is a peace and a spaciousness in that – it’s such a different way of being. It is also sad. It marks a loss. When I return things will not be how they once were. There will be joy but also grief when we are reunited. I am learning that life is endless cycles of coterminous grief and joy, balance and instability, hope and despair. And I am learning to be okay with that.

I want you to know Christmas was incredibly hard, that my dad is intolerable, that I have been so lonely during this latest lockdown that sometimes I cannot breathe. I want you to know that attachment panic and shame has been killing me this past week and I’ve run out of space on my thighs to cut and it is taking all my willpower to not take the razor to my arms, that I only hold off from that because I am desperate to feel the warmth on my skin when I’m out on my bike in a few weeks’ time. I am disappointed in myself and also I don’t care. There are worse things and nothing else soothes and settles things like that, not yet.

I want you to know that despite self-harm since mid-December I have continued to grow and learn about myself during this time apart. I want to tell you that this respite and solitude has led to the biggest transformation in my life imaginable but that I am done now and desperate to rejoin the world. I want to transition into being more sure of who I am among other people now, instead of only being able to keep sight of myself when I’m alone. I want to practice what I’ve learnt and prove that I can be more balanced and see myself clearly even when life isn’t stripped back to the bare minimum. I needed this time so much, but now I am in need of human contact more than I ever have been before. Or it feels that way at least.

I’ve wanted to tell you that giving up sugar and gluten completely was the best thing I could have done for my health. I want to tell you I have no cravings and I never eat more than I want to and I haven’t deliberately starved myself since May last year. For the first time since I was 8 years old I don’t feel as though I am living under the weight of an eating disorder. Maybe there is just the right amount of control in this diet to please everyone, without needing to restrict. It works so well and I know you will be so happy. I don’t know if it will last, attachment might shake us back into anorexia again, but things feel so different around food now. It doesn’t dominate. It just is. And it has definitely helped my gut and brain health, reduced the grey day fogginess a little, given me a steady flow of energy throughout the day. I will forever be grateful that in the stillness of the pandemic I had the space to make this choice and integrate it into my daily life with such ease.

I want you to know that we are waiting for Ana to die and this in between place is deeply painful, as she hovers between life and death and I imagine a world without her or Jess now. She was sick last time we spoke to you and I knew how sick she was but she didn’t, not yet. In November she told me she had a year left to live but then Jess’s sisters emailed 4 weeks ago to say she’d deteriorated rapidly and had only a few days to a couple of weeks left. She is holding on still, waiting for a sunny day so she can feel the warmth on her face in the garden before she goes. More than anything we hope she gets that chance. I was able to say my goodbyes and it helps that there is not unspoken love. I want you to know that there is gut wrenching sadness that this connection to Jess will be gone, but there is also guilt-inducing relief because being with her triggered all my feelings and all my shame around being unseen and disconnected and invisible because of how she is, and now I don’t have to decide whether to continue to atone by seeing her.

I wonder how you would feel and what you would think about the fact that I reconnected with R in December and have been seeing him every week since the start of this third lockdown. I needed him when I lost my mind when I first realised Nina likely has ADHD, and over Christmas when spending 5 hours with Dad destroyed us both, and when Nina was hating me and raging at me constantly for weeks on end at the start of the year and I lost myself in doubt, not knowing if she was right that I am the worst parent in the world and have ruined her life and caused all her problems. I felt out of my mind with shame and panic and despair and his endless reality checks brought me back. He said some things you would have said, about normal teenage behaviour and how hard it is for me to hold steady as I have no idea what is real after growing up under the shadow of such extreme narcissism. And he reassured me that her story is so different from mine, that she is damaged but not like I was. He helped me carry on loving her and myself when killing us both, once again, felt like the only way through.

Nina turned 14 in January and you weren’t here and that broke my heart. It is the hardest age for me – the contrasts are so stark. The year I turned 14 I was off school for 3 months because of anorexia and self-harm. It is the age I started drinking really heavily and lost my virginity and we did “family therapy” which led to Mum becoming more abusive and out of control. Leia and T’s worst memories are when we were 14. We needed you and you weren’t here and we understand why but it still hurts. The weeks around her birthday were the hardest I’ve experienced as a parent – we were both so dysregulated, I was barely sleeping, we were rowing all the time. We came through and have only had one small argument in the past month now, but I hope you are there next time we hit a rocky patch because your presence and voice soothe me and I’ve never felt closer to you than when you and I talked about how parenting a teen was affecting me last summer. I can still remember the warmth in my heart as I sat on the grass in a field near our home and it felt as though you were right beside me even though we were miles apart.

Connecting with R again has been steadying and destabilising, beautiful and agonising, healing and damaging, all at the same time. It has shown me things I’d rather have kept hidden, about myself and what happens to me when I move closer to someone and the terror and craziness it still triggers. His presence is a gift and curse. He loves me and holds me and tells me all the things I need to hear and I can feel pieces of me falling into place as he holds me at the same time as different parts of me unravel and I lose myself again. And I’m forced to confront the fact that disorganised attachment means this is what relationships are for me. He said this week he wants to be a stabilising force for me and not make things worse. I put my head in my hands and groaned that this just is not possible, not all the time at least. It is not a viable goal because connection and attachment activate my nervous system and throw me into that terrifying push/pull where I need to move closer and run away at the same time because I feel so unsafe.

Inside me is still a big melting point of disorganised attachment pain and shame and distrust and terror of intimacy and fear of abandonment and the pain of feeling invisible unless I am the only one. I can observe it all happening now but I am not past this. I thought I was, and it is not at the intensity it was with you for years for sure, but it has left me wondering how I will ever be free of what my parents did to me. How will I ever manage a relationship with someone I don’t pay, where it is not all about me, where they are allowed needs too? I want to talk to you about this and hear you make reassuring sounds about how far I’ve come and how much is possible.

R is amazed by how solid and stable I now am – relatively speaking! – and says such beautiful things about the work you and I have done and how much you both love me. It feels like more of our work is integrating with him to bear witness, because he has walked this path beside me since I was 21 and he knows more than even you about the level of physical pain I used to experience. He reminds me you are not here because you are afraid for your son and not because you don’t want me. He tells me ‘never’ is a long time when I panic that we won’t ever meet again.

And he is learning about disorganised attachment and he is beginning to understand how incredibly traumatised I am. It’s like he knew before how broken I was but has now seen my level of pain and dysfunction and fragmentation is at a different intensity than his. I needed this from him. He wants to learn about me so he can help me better which both warms and terrifies me – what if he goes away when he realises how intense my process is? He is not you though, and sometimes when he holds me it makes me miss you more than at any other time this past year. Despite this I’m so glad he is here. He gives me some of what I need, some of what I lost when we suddenly couldn’t meet. He tells me he is here because he wants to be and that I am so easy to love and when he holds me it begins to thaw some of the ice that is inside me and helps me feel less repulsive and toxic and untouchable. Being with him is another step towards learning it is safe to feel safe in relationship.

I want to tell you how much we miss Ollie, that his absence hangs heavy every single day. Rainbow is doing well but she needs a new friend. She is sad. Do you remember they were together all the time? We used to tell you how much they helped us because they always snuggled up together and knew where each other was – they felt no shame for loving and needing contact and company and it started to loosen some of the shame that kept us separate from others too. I hope next time we see you we will have adopted a new bunny and will be able to show you pictures. Your new house is too far to bring them in the car but we will always remember Rainbow and Ollie at your old house.

And the time we have missed you the most was when Rainbow started a small fire!!! She jumped on the coffee table and knocked a candle on the floor and it set fire to the rug!! This is the naughtiest-silliest thing she has ever done and not being able to draw a picture to show you was probably the worst part of this break, for Lotta and Miffy and Cody at least! It will likely be the first thing they tell you when we see you. We know how shocked you will be and can hear you saying ‘oh my goodness!’ and laughing a lot.

I want to tell you I miss you but if I could do that then I wouldn’t need to because you would be here. I hope it is not too much longer till we are together again and that we find each other – changed but the same.

Please don’t forget us.

Love CB and everyone xx

K-shaped hole

I miss K so much. I cannot bear this. The pain of missing her and not being able to reach her is killing me the last 2 days. Why am I like this? The hole in me is excruciating. This pain isn’t all about K, I know this, it is about me. But it’s also about K and what she is, what she has had to be, to all of us.

I can’t believe next week I will email and likely find out if I’ll see her this year. The dread and anxiety is building but so is the need to see her, re-connect, be with her. I’m torturing myself listening back to our penultimate session. It is soothing and painful all in one. It is so familiar and so out of reach, how she is with us all. She knows all of us and everything about us. She knows our whole story. She was so clear this was just a break, not an ending. Will she be expecting me to return next month? Is that what I should do? Sometimes I still can’t believe this is real. It is 6 months today since our last session.

I miss her voice. I miss her presence. I miss her words and wisdom. I miss how she listened to us. I miss her way of being with us. I miss how predictable and steady and solid she is. I miss having someone who worked so hard to make us all feel safe.

I am so scared she’ll say she can’t work with us again. And if we extend the break then it feels like this is more likely to happen. Maybe I should go back so I know she is there. It has been so long of this now. I can’t do this anymore. I miss her and just want to see her and to know if things are going to be okay.

With or without you

I’ve made a decision over what to do at the end of the month. The limbo is difficult and I’ll be glad when the decision is reached and communicated and agreed upon between the two of us. I am going to email in a couple of weeks and ask for a sense of K’s thoughts around returning to in-person work and whether she’s waiting till after she’s had both vaccine doses or will be opening up to some clients after the first one has taken effect. I’m going to assume she is planning to return to in-person work once she’s vaccinated and leave it to her to tell me if she is planning to keep working remotely until distancing is no longer needed or we know if people can still get serious illness from the SA variant or some other known uncertainty. I will also ask if she’s planning to offer outdoor work once the weather is better, or whether she’d consider that for me as we’ve worked outdoors before. I expect her answer to that will be no, for various reasons I’ve written about before, but who knows? I’ve learnt that anything is possible and nothing can be counted on this year!

Once I have some more information from her I will make a decision, but I expect I’ll be extending the break until at least the end of May (when she’ll be protected after vaccine dose 1) or September (if she’s waiting till she’s had the second or to see what happens longer term around serious illness and transmission and the vaccines). I suspect she will say it is still too early for her to know how much longer remote work will be for, or that she thinks it might be next year. In which case I will ask to extend the break either until autumn or until she starts in-person work if it ends up being sooner. I *think* I want to return to therapy, even if it is online, in autumn. Summer does not feel like the right time to re-commence therapy unless it is in-person. By July I also will have paid back the huge debt I’ve owed my dad for a long time, and so I’d be able to “see” K without completely giving up in-person work with R. I don’t really want to do next winter without her and regular therapy. And a break of more than a year feels way too long.

It feels really tough to think about extending the break beyond 6 months but I also know it is the right thing to do. This year has gone so slowly so far it is unreal – I cannot believe it is only 12th February – but the first 4 or 5 months of the break went fast and 6 months away from K doesn’t actually feel that long, and so extending for another 6 months if needed feels okay. Sometimes. We will soon have longer and lighter days and life will be fuller again and I hope that means time generally will not drag so much.

Spending time with R has really confirmed, once again, that I cannot go back to remote therapy, particularly not over the summer. The summer is my time for expansion and integration and growth and remote therapy cannot support that. I cannot get what I need without being in the same room as someone. And I can’t give up weekly cuddles with R to see K on a screen. Reconnecting with R has also renewed my faith that K and I’s relationship will endure, however long this time apart ends up being. I didn’t see him for 18 months, had no contact at all for almost a year, and yet he was there and we were there, solid as ever. Stronger even. More open and loving with each other. K and I have something rare and sacred and it will be there even if the break ends up being many, many more months. I am sure of that. We have spent so much time together and she knows me better than anyone apart from myself. If R hadn’t forgotten me and my journey, there is no way she will have done either.

I do miss her. A lot. The missing has really set in this past few weeks. R holds me and cuddles me and it heals at the same time as it sets off an ache for K that nothing can settle. I hope that in getting some clarity from her and agreeing to extend the break for another set amount of time my system will settle again, as it did for the first months of the break. I hope it will enable me to lean into the work I am doing with R and the love and safety and stability he gives me. I hope it will allow me to uncurl into the sun and longer days and light that is approaching and feel less like I am in some strange limbo land. Half alive.

And I hope we find her on the other side of this. I hope I am right that our bond is unbreakable. I hope she feels it too. I hope she notices my absence sometimes and wonders how I am doing. I hope she is looking forward to connecting again. I cannot wait to share my growth with her, but I think it is going to be a while till I can do that, especially as sharing ‘good’ things last year via video call was so deeply triggering and shame-provoking. I hope we will be back in the room this summer, I really do, but I am prepared that this won’t be the case and I will be okay once I know what is happening over the coming months.

Five weeks

In 5 weeks I have to decide what I will say in an email to K at the end of our planned ‘break’. I wax and wane on this all the time as I just don’t know what is best or right or even possible. 10 days ago talking to R I said I can’t go back to online work, I really can’t, I’m not prepared to pay for that as it just doesn’t work for me. He said how clear I sounded, how obvious it was how much I’ve changed from how I stated what I wasn’t prepared to do with such clarity. It never used to be that way. And honestly being in the room with him, having him right next to me, being in a sacred and held space, having him hold both my hands with his as we talk and he helps me let go of enough shame to look at him, being able to snuggle into him for endless hugs – it only makes it clearer that I need to be in the same space to really feel K is with me. Even without touch I could feel her holding me. The screen is re-traumatising, takes me back to being an infant and seeing my mum but not being able to feel her because she’s not emotionally present. I can’t pay to put myself through that again.

Anyway, sometimes it really does feel that simple and clear – email K and say I’ll come back when she returns to face-to-face. The thing is it’s not that simple, in part because I’m not sure this will ever happen and the longer we leave it the harder it would be to go back to remote work just for an ending, if it became apparent that was needed. And leaving things hanging and unfinished is hard.

The break has been ‘fine’ and I’ve definitely thrived in some ways, though I feel I’ve taken steps backwards recently and am becoming increasingly dependent on R this past month. This troubles me only because I don’t want to lose sight of myself or prioritise connection to someone else over connection to myself. I don’t want to lose myself in him. It is clear my attachment needs are still trying to take control when there is someone around in that role and that I find it very hard to stay focused on my own life and not become consumed by them. I also know that I do need to learn to be in intimate relationships with people (not sexual, emotionally intimate) and stay with myself, and also that it is okay to have needs and need people without giving up all autonomy and power to them so that I feel I cannot survive without them or when they are not available. So feeling these flutterings of attachment needs and noticing them and coming back to my own life is important work. But it’s hard. I’ve told myself I won’t contact R until I go on Wednesday, only because I want to come back to myself and the knowing I have that I can stabilise and thrive by myself now. I mean I managed without R for over a year until I reached out in December due to something trapped in my back that meant I couldn’t move. So I don’t need him, but sometimes I feel like I do. I don’t like that because I’ve felt much more grounded in my own life since last summer. On the other hand what is going on in my life and the world right now is objectively fucking horrifying and I can’t do it alone. I do need him.

Back to K… The plan has been to see how things are nearer the time and what I need and think I can tolerate then. I am aware of a desire to ‘make it over’ just to have some control and certainty, so I am trying to sit with ambivalence and the unknown on this one because it feels like such an important lesson in living more openly. I can’t see things shifting drastically over the next 5 weeks though or there being any clearer idea of where the UK is headed over the next year or so. Things are very, very difficult at the moment and I am teetering on the edge of full blown crisis most of the time. Pandemic. Parenting. Dad. Nina’s ADHD. Work. Isolation. Grief. Sleepless nights. Dread and fear.

Would online work help? Could we do 6 phone sessions in March and April and then break again until she is back to in-person? Will she ever do that? Would 6 sessions make everything worse or help to contain things? If it helped would she let me continue? Or should I ask for 6 online sessions to end our work because this limbo is awful and I am thinking it’s unlikely she’ll be back to in-person work this year now unless there is proof that those vaccinated cannot get seriously ill and there are no new variants lurking around? Would my nervous system settle again if there was an end and I could let go and move on? A big part of me says yes, but there are also parts who are struggling and need her support and guidance with parenting and my dad. I don’t want to lose what we had. I read through some old blog posts yesterday and really remembered the strength of our connection. The work we did was incredible. I am not ready to lose that forever.

I thought of asking for a phone session to talk through the options but I would likely just get triggered. I lose sight of my true needs when my attachment system is triggered. I know this.

I saw a photo of her today on her adult daughter’s instagram. (Yes, we’re in that territory again…). So we’re at the worst point in the pandemic in the UK and she’s breaking the rules now! Her son was there too. Maybe the daughter has been self-isolating before going, but still it seems kind of weird timing. I don’t really care. It didn’t sting like it could have, would have once. Mostly it was nice to see K looks the same and hasn’t died of Covid. It makes her feel further away though. I honestly cannot imagine ever going back and finding her again.

I read through some of our Friday emails from the past few years. So much knowing. So much that is sacred. I want to believe she will care if I go back but honestly – if I have this much ambivalence and I’m the one who is attached to her, I really don’t see how she would care that much. Her life remains basically unchanged whether I return or not. Accepting what she is and isn’t to me, and what a therapist is and isn’t in a person’s life, has been something very big I’ve confronted over the past 6 or 7 months. Painful but liberating. And I know this is how I’m managing to look at this situation in more of a detached way than I would have a year ago. I would be fine without her but I’d like a chance to reflect together on our work before saying goodbye, and I don’t really want to do that via video call ffs.

It is very clear that R is not K this week. I don’t mean in the sense of him being different from her because that is obvious, but that he doesn’t have the skills or knowledge to hold my depth process if it arises. He unwittingly triggered me last night. In response to the message I sent where I said he was my North Star, he said he loved it and ‘That’s me, eternal, never going away’ which is beautiful of course. But then later said in a voice note that it made him laugh when I sent a quote about the North Star (‘An eternal reassurance for travellers on their journey to ensure they can always find the way home’) because it was the story of his life as a therapist (acupuncture therapist, though he now does some identity trauma sessions with clients too). He said it resonates really strongly for him, so it means a lot to have it in his head, and that he might put it on his website in some way. He said it was lovely I’d come up with that image but ugggghhhhh. I messaged and said ‘nooooo don’t put it in your website. It’s mine!’ and that I didn’t want to think of him being this person for other people. He said he wouldn’t but it was too late. My chest was already smashed into pieces and I was flooded with shame and terror.

I told him I was triggered (it happens in an instant still!) and he said to read back on our conversation from that afternoon and that he has only a few people, as do I, who he has this level of connection with. And he said that I am special to him and that what we have is special because it is ‘years in the making, hammered out like a samurai sword. Unbreakable.’ And of course this is beautiful, it really is, and I KNOW what we have is unique because the work he does isn’t about the relationship like it is in psychotherapy so he’s not building this depth connection with many people at all. He told me last week that he has had to think about boundaries because when he holds me his heart is all there and it doesn’t feel like he is hugging a client because he loves me differently than that, but still – K would have known not to say the website thing. K would have known it needed to be a sacred image between her and I. K kept everyone else out of our work and I needed that to feel safe.

I know this is a primal fear that if I am not the most visible I don’t exist and the connection isn’t real. I’ve blogged about this before. So this is a good lesson in me learning to trust that what I have with people is special even when they have other people, just as I have lots of people I love and am connected to but it doesn’t diminish their importance to me or the strength of our connection. And it’s stupid really because I know he really struggled when I started work with K and he lost me (they had a really bad phone call right at the start of my therapy with K when she rang him, where he kind of claimed his right to keep working with me alongside her because he’d worked with me for so long, and she said she couldn’t work with me if I was working with him because of splitting, and I picked her of course) and when I dipped in and out for a treatment over the last 5 years I never really talked to him about what was going on in my life in deep sense, so we’ve commented how even though we’ve been in touch we still have 5 years to catch up on. And he told me years ago when I saw him that he didn’t feel as connected to me as he used to because he held back because of K, so I know he found it hard and ffs even yesterday I needed his support because I missed K so much, so it is obvious I have other people who I’m also connected to and that K is still centre of my system’s world, so it is silly for me to need to be ‘the only one’ and not just ‘one of a few’ when clearly he is not the only one to me!

But with an attachment figure, which R is, it doesn’t work like this. And K would know that. But he doesn’t because he is not trained in attachment work. He knows a lot about trauma and has trained extensively, but he doesn’t know about parts and dissociation and attachment. And for so many years we didn’t have the depth relationship we have now and so the boundaries are completely different. He will reply to me whenever I message him and send me voice notes whenever I ask (I don’t abuse this), but I guess it’s been a long time since he was my only person, which he was for a while after Jess died, until I realised I needed ‘proper’ therapy and found K. For a long time he used to mop up the crises that couldn’t be contained by therapy and reassure me he was there so that I felt real, but I would then stabilise again with K. It worries me now that he is the only one in case all the crazy that unleashed with K comes out with him. He wouldn’t be able to contain it and it would break us both. I’ve never thought of him in the therapist role, it’s always been something else because it’s not therapy and the boundaries can be totally different. He doesn’t have to be so careful but also he doesn’t know how careful actual therapists are over this stuff. K always says how people who’ve not worked in the NHS usually cannot contain process like mine because they’ve no experience with it. R wouldn’t have coped with the ‘me in therapy’ at all.

This isn’t about comparing them. It’s about realising that R can be there but that I have to keep very much in control of my process and reactions when it comes to the attachment because he is not a trained psychotherapist and the whole thing could easily implode if things kicked off. I’m hoping I’ve come far enough that this wouldn’t happen. It feels kind of precarious though and I am scared that as we reconnect my attachment system will go wild. I really hope in noticing all this that I can remember that I can contain myself now when I really need to.

Well this was just a mind dump really. Things feel no more clear. I guess I’ll just see where I am in 5 weeks. I thought in August that by March we’d have a much clearer idea of how long the pandemic would last, even if in-person work still wasn’t possible, but that isn’t really the case at all, despite the promising vaccine rollout. It means I still have no idea if and when I’ll ever be able to work with K again and I don’t think that will change for many months. It’s a hard place to inhabit.

The moon and the north star

R is my rock at the moment. Solo parenting a teenager during a pandemic without K is harder than I ever could have imagined. Ended up crying and suicidal in the supermarket car park on Saturday afternoon (where else is there to go right now?), first to a friend and then to R. He held me for most of my acupuncture session yesterday, as I struggled to reach him because I was so shut down in shame and the only way I could believe I wasn’t bad was to nestle into him and feel him stroking my hair. He won’t go away and he loves me, but he is not K and it breaks me. I sent this to him earlier:

Every time I stupidly look at the news I just know I’ll never see K in-person again. Lockdown till summer at least, new variants and vaccine adjustments, no herd immunity unless everyone has Pfizer vaccine, it just goes on and on. I don’t know how to live with losing her so suddenly and unexpectedly long-term. It’s 10 months since I saw her and 5 months of being on a therapy break and it still feels so sudden. It still feels like there are all these open boxes left with her (metaphorically) and she has so much of my actual stuff there at her house too. Everywhere at home is things she’s given me or we’ve made together or I’ve taken to show her. Everything safe reminds me of her. It breaks my heart that I might not be able to go back ever to finish this work with her. I know I’ve come so far this past year but it still feels like part of me is missing without her. You are my North Star but K has been my moon, always there even when I can’t see her, keeping me safe and holding me even when she is far away, and now I think I have to learn to live without her forever and say my goodbyes alone, away from her, and it breaks me inside even thinking about it. I know there’s nothing you can say but this grief is so huge and untameable sometimes and most people don’t understand the depth of K and I’s relationship because they don’t understand what it is I’ve had to heal from.

It helps that he gets it and that he understands it is made all the harder by the place we had got to, her and I, in the last year of our in-person work. He said it is no wonder I’m struggling after cutting off a line of deep connection and growth at this stage. Most of the time I feel okay, but the grief still comes and engulfs me. She was meant to be here to help me with this time of parenting, when the legacy of narcissistic parenting and never knowing what is real makes me doubt myself to the point where I want to die and take Nina with me. R gives me reality check after reality check when I lose myself in Nina’s words and think I’m the worst parent ever, worse even than mine. But he is not K and I miss her more than I can bear right now, when there is no end in sight and the world is in such darkness.

She said she would be here and I wouldn’t be alone to cope with these horrible years of parenting. She said what we have cannot be broken, no matter what. But I never thought I’d have to find out so soon if that was true.

You saw me

I reconnected with R this week after more than 18 months without seeing each other. He is an acupuncturist who I have had a profoundly deep, healing, and beautiful relationship with since I was 21 when I first saw him with constant and debilitating head pain. At times our connection has been distorted through transference and projection on both our parts, and at times I have drifted from him and wondered if our work is done, but I have always returned to him. His steady and familiar presence when I message him even after months of not talking is one of the most comforting things I’ve ever experienced. It had been nearly a year of no contact up till the start of December when we have been in regular contact via texts and voice notes. Being with him again felt like coming home and we have agreed never to let it be that long again. But he also understands that I needed to be away from people who knew me last year, so that I could discover who I am . And that is what I did; in solitude, away from the world, I found myself.

He used to tell me he was always here, that we were connected, that he wouldn’t go away from me (over and over and over when I needed it…) but he also told me that he knew the person I was seeking connection with wasn’t really him – it was myself. I felt so ashamed when he said that, as if he was telling me we weren’t really connected and what we had wasn’t real. He wasn’t. I understand it now. I connected to myself last year and now I can see how much I needed that and how much more authentic and livable life is when we are the biggest and most important person in our own lives. None of this made sense to me before but now it does and I can see it takes nothing from our relationship. It adds to it in fact, because, along with K, he laid the foundations for the journey to reclaim myself that finally transformed my life last summer. What a gift he was willing to give me, and what a lifelong connection it has carved out, in my heart and his.

He held me in 3 of the longest hugs I’ve had in years and the first hugs I’ve had since February last year. I burrowed into him like a child, so close I could hear his heart beating, and felt my system beginning to settle as I sunk into his familiar safety and allowed myself to feel his arms tightly around me. He is the only person I allow to really hug me, who I don’t pull away from before I am ready in case I stay too long and give them chance to feel what is inside of me or think I am dirty and broken for enjoying human touch. He is the only one who I can tell how much I love their hugs without feeling ashamed and toxic. He has seen everything that is inside of me and he still loves me. He was there when none of it made any sense at all. He has seen the black, desperate, shadow side of me, and also the light. To be able to see him having changed beyond recognition this past year was indescribable. The years fell away as soon as I stepped into the room and we were connected as we always have been. He shed a few tears as he hugged me. He told me how proud he is of me. When he asked how my sleep had been I said the past few weeks had been bad but generally last year my sleep had been fine for the first time in my life and he stopped me to exclaim ‘Look at you! Look what you’ve done’ and it lit me up inside to know that someone who really knows me could see the change so clearly. I am not who I was but I am also the same. These words make no sense and yet they are the only way I can describe the transformation that has taken place inside of me. A different person and yet more more myself than ever.

I do not know who R is to me, I only know my feelings for him are true and pure and that it means the world to me that he is able to express his love for me. I think small parts of me see him as a father figure and want to clamber into his lap and curl up and listen to him breathing, some teen parts see him as a slightly annoying old person always telling us to eat and look after ourselves, and others just see him as someone wise and loving who is always on the end of the phone when we need him but who doesn’t really exist beyond that. He is part therapist, part teacher, part spiritual guide, part friend, part father figure (but far too wise and compassionate and open to comfortably fit our archetype of even ‘good enough’ fathering and so casting him in this role is odd). In the end I let him be ‘my acupuncturist’, knowing that will never do justice to the depth of attachment and connection we share, and knowing that all that matters is that we know it is real, what we have, and also full of messiness and transference and projection for both of us. And that is okay. I’ve learnt to let him be in his place in my life and not try and work out where our boundaries lie. He lets me go away and come back and every time I return I seem to be able to take in his love a little more.

As he held me I whispered how I felt as though I could see myself through my own eyes for the first time this past year, instead of needing someone else to show me I’m real and that I exist. I said how all the times I text him and K asking if they were still here I was really asking if I was here, because I didn’t feel real if they couldn’t see me. He said of course I didn’t, because my parents couldn’t see me for who I was. My mum looked to me to fill her up because she was empty. Instead of bringing who I really am into existence for both of us she emptied me to try and fill herself. But she was insatiable and there was never enough of me. ‘When I looked into my mum’s eyes I didn’t see myself, all I saw was her pain’. R saw me and K saw me and they helped me learn to see myself. I realised last night that R saw me before I saw myself. And I realised how huge this is, has been, that he really did see me, actually saw me, let himself know me. I wrote this just now that I will share with him next week:

There was a time when I didn’t exist, because the only person who needs to truly see us is ourselves, and I couldn’t. I couldn’t see myself because as an infant no one provided me with a mirror to see and know myself. I grew up feeling invisible and non-existent because I couldn’t see myself reflected back in the faces of those who loved me. They weren’t able to see me so they couldn’t love the real me and so I learnt to keep her hidden so far out of sight I couldn’t reach her either. Even as an adult I only existed when other people could see me and were reflecting me back. Alone I disappeared. And so the me I saw wasn’t really me, it was other people’s versions of me. Fragile and out of reach. An image that dissolved as soon as their light wasn’t shining upon me. You told me you saw me and I didn’t understand then what you meant and how clear I was to you. The truth is that when you can’t see yourself you can’t see others either; I needed others to show me who I was instead of who they were. I was invisible and others were an illusion, a projection. I didn’t know how clearly others could see me because to myself I was always just a grey outline round a scribbled grey mass and others were merely a way of making myself more real. Now I know what it means that you could see me and even though I don’t need you in the way I once did, it seems to matter even more than I thought it did that you are here and that you know me. You have always loved me for who I am but I didn’t know till now how clearly you could see who that person was. Now I know what it really means to see somebody. Now I know that you being able to see me was a sacred knowing of all the parts of me; I was real to you. I was whole. You saw all of me. You saw me before I saw myself. And now I can see myself too, through my own eyes for the first time, and I understand what it was you could see.

We sat in his new practice room in a wooden cabin in the countryside near my house as the light was fading and for 75 minutes we were in our own world and the pandemic and isolation and Nina and my lack of family didn’t matter anymore. I thought it would feel strange and unsettling to see him somewhere new after 15 years in the previous room but it didn’t, it was magical – a magical place and a magical feeling. A new start that felt like coming home. He asked if I would rather be in the old room next time and I said no – that room holds so much of my pain. It feels right this way. ‘Yes, you are different now’ he said. And I am.