Returning to therapy in the autumn (I hope)

I decided I need to go back to online therapy with K in the autumn, for all sorts of reasons and also only one; it would be beyond damaging for all different parts of me to not go back and to have left things hanging on a break as we did. It will be different and weird and perhaps unsatisfactory in some ways, but it will be K and me and we will find each other again. She holds my story, she knows me better than anyone else in the world, and she is probably the only person whose perspective on attachment trauma and narcissistic parenting and chronic pain and a million over things chimes so closely with my own. I feel as though she really understands my past and my present because she has lived my experiences with me, both in real time and also the past we shared with her and built a narrative around together. I find talking to anyone else, even R, grating at times and triggering at others, because I get so easily invalidated by people seeming to imply that ‘everyone is a mess’ and ‘everyone has trauma’ (even though this is not what R means to do at all). So I just want to sink back into the ease I had with K at the end, an ease that was bloody hard won after years of triggering and crises, and that I never got to reap the benefits of before the pandemic set in.

I am not sure how it will work on screen and with 50 minute sessions but I am committed to trying and to taking what I can from it while accepting what it is not (and also what I do not need therapy to be anymore). As my post on letting go explained, I am in the process of leaving the first phase of our work in the past and moving forward without her in the place beside me that she once had. I still want her in my life in some way again though, and I know that her input and guidance and support will be very valuable for me over the autumn and winter and maybe even beyond. I miss her and the perspective she brought to things. I miss her way of always putting my wellbeing centremost and her unwavering support and belief in me. I miss sharing progress and good news with her. It is not a crazy, intense missing, but when I think of her I think of how nice it will be too see her, even on a screen. And the thought of never seeing her again is really too much for young parts to cope with when things were left with such certainty and clarity that this was just a break, not an ending.

I am also painfully aware that if I really can’t manage therapy via a screen, and all kinds of dissociated hell breaks lose, that we will need to work towards an ending, which would be heartbreaking to do online I think, but also necessary if it just wasn’t working. I am hoping I’m in enough of a different place that it won’t come to this, but with parts and attachment trauma there is never any guarantee of this!

I just hope she doesn’t say no. I have decided to send the email below later this week and not go into any detail on why I think it will work online and what I need and so on. I just hope she trusts me still and knows I’ve not made this decision lightly. I hope she trusts that I am intending to re-enter online therapy and make it work, even if it is still painful at times. I can see she might be worried that it will be a mess again, so I guess I am prepared for her saying no. At least I will know then.

Dear K,

I hope you are well. I am emailing as discussed to confirm that I definitely wish to return to psychotherapy in the autumn. I would like to start back soon after 13th September. I understand you can’t hold a space open for me if one comes available before then but I still thought it would help for you to have a date in mind from my end.

I could write an essay about all the reasons why I want and need to do this but I am trusting that you know me well enough to understand that I’ve thought this through properly and that it is the right thing for me to do. If you want me to explain in more detail I’m happy to though, just let me know.

It is likely I will be working from home every Monday and most Tuesdays next term and so could do therapy one of those days (my SL was postponed until next January, so I will be working at home every day from mid-December as well). Wednesdays would be trickier but not completely out of the question. I know you don’t work Thursday and Fridays anymore.

I look forward to hearing from you with what you think is the best way forward.

With warm wishes,

CB

And then will come the painful time when I have to give up weekly hugs with R to see K on a screen, but I am trying not to let my mind go there yet…

The light floods in

This is my first day on stimulant medication for my ADHD. I wasn’t sure if I’d notice anything today as it is a v low dose to start with. Then as I was driving back from dropping N at school I felt it kick in and just… wow! I’d been feeling stressed and agitated because school emailed late last night to say there was a positive LFT in her year group and they needed to stay off till the student had got a PCR test done. Then they emailed at 8.10 to say it was a computer error (more like a parent ticked the wrong box when logging the test result late last night!!) and they could go in after all. By this time N’s bus had left so I had to drive her to school and she took ages to get ready so I had been snapping at her and feeling flustered about the day ahead, and then…

Then the fog lifted. I could see. I could see the world, even though it was grey. Everything came to life and there was colour and it was 3D. I never have this kind of mental clarity but on grey days it is usually really, really foggy inside my head and I can’t see or think properly (because sunlight helps us produce norepinephrine, which along with dopamine is super deficient in ADHD brains, and so for me grey days have always meant fog and dysfunction and a total inability to focus or think or feel energised).

Suddenly everything inside went eerily quiet. I felt calm. I noticed I was having one thought at a time and I could finish that thought and then move to the next. In fact, I physically couldn’t start another thought until one was finished. I was calm inside, settled. In my house everything looked clear and my brain was calm and focused as I looked round and was able to take in one thing at a time. I typed a text to R to tell him and I was able to watch my fingers typing the words and finish each sentence before thinking what to write next. ‘Everything has slowed down’ I wrote to him. ‘I’ve never felt this calm and slow in my whole life’.

Midsummer’s Day. The day when light flooded my life.

I asked if I could phone R because I needed to share this moment with someone who gets it and has been beside me on this journey of waiting for meds since mid-April, but also the other huge journeys that make up my life so far. When we spoke I could listen to what R was saying. Actually listen to it. I could focus on it and take in what he was saying, picture it, pause, decide how to respond. My mind and body felt slow and calm, not restless or agitated or flooded with an urgency to do and say and think something else. I could imagine being with him next week and not having anything to say because there was nothing that needed saying (in which case we will just hug, he said). It feels impossible to dredge up concerns that don’t matter at this moment in time because they can’t be dealt with now anyway. Usually my brain floods with everything at once because ADHD brains lack a filter for incoming stimuli, including our own thoughts.

After the call I remembered I needed to phone DFS because N spilt smoothie on the sofa yesterday. Normally the thought of finding the paperwork and working out what to do would mean I avoided this for days and sometimes weeks or even forever (there is still a different stain on it I never got round to claiming for). I went straight upstairs, found the paperwork, went to the website and was able to read and follow the instructions. I could read each word at a time without jumping ahead or trying to absorb everything by osmosis. I didn’t feel overwhelmed. I worked out what to do and made a call. When the call handler put me on hold I was able to just sit there, calm and still. I didn’t feel the need to fidget or open a tab on my laptop or wander off somewhere. I felt calm and patient. I could then listen to what the man said and wait till he finished before speaking, or even thinking of what I would say.

I was able to make a plan for the day without getting overwhelmed or flooded by what needs doing and when I should do it. I think of something I need to do and then I just do it. For example, getting a glass of water (which I usually procrastinate for hours, even when I’m so thirsty I can’t think of anything else), using the toilet, writing something down. I saw something on the floor that shouldn’t be there and instead of walking past it I picked it up and put it where it needed to go.

I meditated and I was able to sit perfectly still easily. No restlessness in mind or body. No fidgeting. I could focus on each breath one at a time and it wasn’t like someone was scribbling snatches of words and images and urges to do things inside my head. I didn’t get bored or restless or need to keep checking how much longer was left. I’ve meditated practically every day for nearly 9 years and it has never felt like that. I’ve had calm and peace and even euphoria, but never stillness in my mind and body like that. I’ve never had just one thing in my mind at once and no restless energy in my body.

I am about to start work now as I’ve given myself some time to let this sink in and I need to shift my focus (I can tell it is going to require work to ensure I focus on the right things each day!). Already there is no frantic switching between tabs on the laptop and apps on my phone, seeking out stimulation to provide the dopamine my brain needs to function. Having one thought at a time means I can focus on what needs doing before moving to the next thing. I don’t feel agitated typing like I normally do because my fingers can’t keep up with the thoughts in my brain and I can’t finish a thought before moving to the next. I can type each word at a time and just let my brain provide one word at a time. My brain isn’t flooded or overwhelmed.

It’s no wonder I have felt overwhelmed all the time when my brain was flooded like that, with every thought, every possibility, every memory and every plan jostling for attention and with my brain constantly seeking stimulation because it couldn’t function without dopamine and so I was stimulation-seeking and ending up more overwhelmed. I wonder how it will affect my sensory overload and auditory processing issues…

I know this feeling of brightness and newness won’t last. I know the effects will die down or not feel as pronounced after a week or two. I don’t feel euphoric though, which often happens in the first couple of weeks of ADHD meds and leads to people feeling let down when their brain adjusts and feeling ‘normal’ becomes normal, I just feel blown away by how different this is. Clarity and calm and stillness. Is this really how so many non-ADHD people feel? No wonder they get so much done and function so well. And for me the main thing is that it means methylphenidates will work for me and I just have to hope I don’t get intolerable side effects. I know they might not last forever for me, but I can see how much healing this state of being, for N and I, is going to bring to our relationship and how much better able we will be to do all the other things we both need to manage our ADHD (and for me, I know I will be able to do the things to heal from attachment trauma more easily now). So even if they work for a few years then that is fine by me, although there are people who’ve been on extended release methylphenidate for nearly 2 decades and it still works fine so there is no guarantee it will stop working.

It won’t cure my ADHD. I will still be forgetful and have a lack of working memory and issues with distractability and getting started on what I actually need to do. I will still have executive dysfunction and will need to work hard at other strategies to make sure I prioritise and get started on things I need to do (instead of hyperfocusing on this blog post haha – it has been so easy to write this and really focus on it and not get distracted and go and do other stuff, but it is not what I should be doing right now!) but it feels as though these other strategies will actually be able to take effect now I’m on meds. I can imagine responding better to yoga and meditation and yoga nidra and other healing things now because I will be able to actually focus on them! And of course now my nervous system will be calmer I will have less stress chemicals constantly flooding my body, meaning my health will improve in this way too.

Wisdom is that meds for ADHD are the bottom line and enable all the other positive lifestyle changes and therapy and coaching and so on to really take effect. So I guess I’ve kind of done things the other way around and it will be interesting to see if these things begin to actually work more now I’m being treated. It also explains why after decades of healing in different ways I still felt the same a lot of the time – overwhelmed basically, and unable to do things or listen or focus and just feeling agitated and chronically irritable, and foggy and slow and lacking in energy (not attachment pain and emotional flashbacks as they are a lot better, but all the other things that make my life so hard).

I can’t wait to do yoga at lunchtime and see how it feels, or to read a book or watch TV and see if there is a difference. I can’t wait to be with my friends and to be able to listen to what they are saying without having to try really hard to pay attention, or constantly interrupting them or zoning out and having to ask them to repeat themselves multiple times. I can’t wait to see how it affects me over the next couple of weeks and then longer term. There are so many changes I’ve wanted to implement but the ADHD got in my way!

Edit: to add – I ate my lunch just eating. Still. Not looking at my phone or feeling bored or restless. Just eating. And then I did yoga. OMFG!! No wonder non-ADHD people find yoga so beneficial. I could stay still in each pose. It’s like when you throw a block of wood down and it beds in where it lands. My body was like that. I set the pose and it felt solid and then I could stay in it. Perfectly still. There was a constant crawling restlessness inside me before that I never knew was there till today. Even when my body was externally still (rare) there has been a restless energy rushing through me. I thought it was my mind that was agitated but it was my body too. Nothing inside me has ever been still and my body has never, ever felt like this before. And during yoga my mind was also still and empty. If a thought came, a single thought now, not hundreds at once, I gently nudged it away. I wasn’t bored or restless or anxious to move to the next pose. I didn’t have to try really hard to be in my body. I was in it the whole time, effortlessly. It’s not hard to see that yoga will have a more beneficial impact when it is done in this way!

I can’t wait to live and not feel overwhelmed emotionally and cognitively nearly all the time – for me this was the symptom I heard about that made me sit up and notice what ADHD is, and how it is not what we think it is (it is not an ‘attention-deficit’ at all) back at Christmas – ‘a constant state of overwhelm’ yep, that sounds like me! And then when I read about executive dysfunction that stops ADHD brains actually doing the things they not only need but want to do it all fell into place. I’ve lost so much of my life unable to do things even though I want to, feeling overwhelmed but also totally unable to do anything. Not being able to do things I want to do, even when I have the time and space, has been such a loss and I hope I might be about to be able to change this.

So anyway, here we are. I hope the positive effects last, even if they fade into the background a little over the next few weeks, and that this is the beginning of something huge and wonderful coming my way! I’ve read so many positive stories of ADHD meds being absolutely life-changing for so many people the last few months, enabling them to take charge of their life and stick to habits and meet goals, helping them be less impulsive and agitated and to feel more emotionally regulated and less foggy and lethargic. These stories have kept me going while I waited to start meds, and I can’t believe this day is finally here for me!

Time to let go…

So much change is taking place inside me and in my external world at the moment. Shifts that would be imperceptible to observers but for me, from my vantage point, are profound and life-changing and very, very welcome. I wonder about the future of this blog and whether I will keep it going, because even if I go back to therapy with K I won’t be doing attachment work with her anymore and that is the journey I set out to record here. I will see how it goes over the coming months. I just feel a strong pull to be living again, moving into the future, instead of picking over the past and my relationship with K, as I needed to do for so long. I am not sure where blogging fits into that or whether I even have things to say that people want to read anymore. Do people in depth psychotherapy even want to read about life after that intense work is done? I think for me it was triggering to think that there would come a time when I didn’t need K because of course I couldn’t imagine feeling differently than I did back then. There are still threads to draw together, and I like the cohesive narrative blogging enables me to weave, and so I feel that blogging is still an important part of my life. I guess I’ll just see what happens…

Being diagnosed with ADHD and learning about it has been utterly transformational for me. I’m finding so many missing puzzle pieces that are enabling me to make sense of my brain and life in a way I’ve never been able to before. It’s like all the pieces of me are inside a kaleidoscope and the patterns being made are now entirely different than they used to be – clearer and more vibrant – because every aspect of me is in there now. I can see myself in a way I’ve not been able to before. I am beginning to accept that my brain has deficits because of ADHD and to live my life in recognition of this. I am learning how to make life easier for myself as someone with an ADHD brain and it feels SO GOOD. I’ve also only just started on this path and so I am really excited by what is possible in the months and years to come, especially when I start medication in 6 weeks’ time, but also through coaching and learning and trying new things. (To clarify, ADHD is hell to live with most of the time, I totally reject the ‘neurodiversity’ movement and I don’t ascribe to the view that ADHD is a gift or a ‘difference’ – it is a disorder, a deficit, and it causes pain and suffering and addiction and leaves those with it dealing with some truly difficult, and usually misunderstood stuff, but I do know that for me there is freedom and growth in embracing it and using my knowledge and self-awareness to make real change in my life.

The other huge change is that I am starting to integrate the reality of experiencing chronic pain into my life and to actually tell people close to me about it. This is huge after years of basically not telling anyone I am in pain. My first dose of the Covid vaccine triggered an absolutely huge flare of pain and other physical symptoms. It has lasted 2 and a half weeks now and is only just beginning to ease (though I had two better days on holiday last week) and at times it was completely debilitating and left me nauseous and vomiting and unable to even lie still it hurt so much. If I was ever in any doubt about the state of my nervous system, and the chronic inflammation present in my system still, I am not now.

There is a lot I want to write about pain and ADHD so I’ve decided to split this post into three and write about these latter two aspects separately, because they are deserving of their own posts I think.

And so to K. What does all this change mean for the future of my work with her? Is she in my future? Right now life is expanding and I am enjoying that and I know whatever happens in September I don’t want to go back to how things were. Even if we could work in-person again, for 2 hours each week, I wouldn’t want to go back to how we were working in March last year. I am not the same person and I want to keep moving forward because I am enjoying this part of my journey so much.

Generally I rarely think of K these days, but she was in my mind last week as we were on holiday in the same place as we were when I first spoke to her on the phone about starting therapy. It is such a special place for me, a place where Nina and I have returned many times, a place I spent lots of time with my dad as a child and teen and young adult. It is the place where I have found so many pieces of myself over the last 9 years and where I learnt so much about the simplicity and beauty of life that brings me joy and peace. And it is a place I later found out K used to live and that is special to her too. It is a place that had so much meaning in our work. And while I was there I felt sad because that work is in the past now. I had a really strong sense of wanting to go back in time to August nearly 6 years ago when I was just about to meet her and to be able to start working with her again, knowing I had 5 years and 550 hours in the room with her ahead of me. It is over though. That part of our work is in the past. Whatever comes next it will be different and not how it was at all.

During my treatment today R said he could sense I was ready for something. I knew what it was as soon as he said that because it was on my mind and it came up last week in kinesiology too. It is time to let K go. It is time to move forward in my life without her. What the shape of this will be I don’t yet know, and whether it will mean the end of my time with her or the start of something else remains to be seen, but I know that it is time and I am ready. Last week when we were away, and when we returned home to our lovely, calm house that I have worked so hard in so many ways to bring into reality for us, I had such a deep sense of being an adult now, living an adult life, and finding joy in ways that are authentic for me. There are struggles and Nina is incredibly difficult to parent at times as a teenage girl who also has ADHD, but there is so much growth and change and moving forward for both of us at the moment. I am giving her tools and a language to understand herself as I learn more about myself and my ADHD brain, and, as they are for me, I imagine her ‘limitations’ will become less limiting as she embraces them and integrates them into who she is. It was a wonderful feeling, to be so fully grounded in my own life, and even as the intense pain has flared again this week, I’ve been able to hold on to this feeling.

K and I won’t work how we used to ever again. We won’t do parts work again. We won’t delve into my past together. We won’t do craft or read stories or watch films. I don’t need to do these things anymore. If we work again it will be to help me manage my life as it is now, and any obstacles that come up over the months and years ahead. My path for the next couple of months is to let go of what we once had together. First I need to hold it gently. Bundle it up and keep it close to me. Take in how special and all-consuming it once was. And then I need to let it go.

And from there my path is open. My kinesiology session last week brought up things around K and how I must do what I need instead of what I want when it comes to making a decision over whether to return. I want her but I don’t need her and I don’t know if I can get what I need in my life now from her come autumn anyway. Psychotherapy is so disruptive. It’s hard work. It stirs things up and brings them to the surface. It churns things up and then we work through them and eventually things get better, but it rarely makes things better in the moment. I don’t know if I want to go back to that or if I need to. It put my life on hold. I am ready to live now. I think the test if I go back will be if I can take anything from it without losing my ability to live. I don’t want it to consume me. I want it to support me in being me and moving forward and learning to live with ADHD and the remnants of my childhood. I wonder if another medium is the best way to make the changes I need now, as they feel so practical and ‘of the world’ and different from the work I used to do with K.

I’m scared in going back I’ll either lose me or I’ll lose what K and I had. And while I know I need to let go of what we had for all those years, perhaps to then be confronted each week with how different things are will be too much and will bring a pain that is unnecessary. I don’t want everything to turn to shit again when therapy’s place in my life has shifted. I want – need – any healing work I do now to enhance my life because the time when I needed it just to make it possible to live at all is past.

I wanted to transition into something softer with K, when the time to end our depth work came, but that softness may not ever be possible when we cannot be in the room or in nature together again. And I’m just not sure I want to go digging again. I’m not sure what psychotherapy even is without that though. What is psychotherapy if not digging and uncovering and making meaning? Part of me wants the K who knows me back, the K who empathises with my struggles and takes pride in my progress and career and all the changes I am making. Part of me can’t wait to share all I’ve done and learnt and the ways I’ve changed in the past year with her, but part of me knows that is old me needing her to know everything. New me likes to keep things a little closer and to have aspects of herself that are not shared with others and dissected and made to make sense.

My favourite part of the week always used to be telling K about it.

I am not that person anymore. I want to be living my life instead of simply observing it.

What K and I had was incredibly strong and special. It won’t be like that again. Part of me thinks it is better to leave it as it was when we started the break in August – intact, bundled up, a discrete and special period of my life. Going back and it being lacking in some way could hurt so much more than letting it peacefully recede into the past. I’m scared going back and not having the depth we once had will take away the past, stop it feeling real. I don’t want that. I want to keep our past intact somehow.

I am sad we missed out the final stages of our depth work. I am sad that I couldn’t spend more time enjoying being close to her before the pandemic hit. I am sad we couldn’t integrate our work together, but as my kinesiologist said last week – the pandemic is your path, not being able to see K is your path, it is all your path. And it is. I trust my path. I trust the universe to bring me the healing I need and want, even if that means not working with K again. I suspect those of us in long-term therapy doing depth attachment work will never feel it is done or that we are ready to end, because our attachment wounding doesn’t just disappear even when the depth work of psychotherapy is done. We have a lifetime of healing ahead, but not all of it needs to be done, even can be done, in the context of that unique and strange relationship. I know I will always struggle with attachment and I am under no illusion that the difficult excruciating disorganised attachment feelings will rear their ugly heads from time-to-time in my relationships and that I will experience abandonment flashbacks and confusion and untameable feelings.

I have come so far though and I don’t want to go backwards. So instead I sit and wait and watch to see which path emerges over the next few months and if there is a way of working with K that carries me forward without breaking my heart at the same time. Either way, it is time to let go and I am ready for that.

Remembering

Edit: I opened it because Tuesday was too long to wait! It was actually a really warm and K-like message inside, with love and kisses and a sense of actually knowing who I am! She also said she hopes I am okay – it must be so weird for her not knowing. I would find it weird to be her.

A birthday card from K arrived this morning. “What happens if K doesn’t send a card?” I asked R on Wednesday. He said she wouldn’t send one, because she wouldn’t want to muddy the boundaries. I thought she would though, because to not would be really weird after all the years of cards and gifts for my birthday. And I sent her a card back in March even after the weird/unsettling/cold/abrupt email thing. We have a whole shoe box full of cards she’s given us and that we have made together for spring and winter solstice and things. Last year she posted a book she had got for us. It was a copy of her favourite ever book that we had read together lots of times, about a kitten who is abandoned and then taken in by a new family. It would have been very sad if she had forgotten or decided not to send a card this year. As it is, it feels like the light is still on for us.

Likely it won’t be the warmest of messages (I’ll find out on Tuesday!) but it is comforting that she remembered and that she didn’t decide not to send a card because I’m not in therapy right now. And in some ways it is easier this year that I am not in therapy with her but unable to get to her because of the pandemic. My birthday last year was awful for numerous reasons. I was meant to have a double therapy session on the day, which we were all really looking forward to because therapy was nice then and nice times didn’t trigger us anymore (therapy on my birthday the first year I worked with K was so painfully triggering and awful and I ended up self-harming in the bath in the evening). We were looking forward to two hours in nature together. As it was, it was therapy on a screen and she brought the dogs to see us and tried so hard to be there, but we just couldn’t feel any of it. So I guess this year will be better?

There is something huge I need to write about – I saw a psychiatrist and was diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder (ADHD) a couple of weeks ago. It is huge and things have been quite a rollercoaster since then, learning more about the condition and seeing how pervasively it affects my life (and interestingly has got worse since healing more complex trauma and dissocation). I have started writing about it, but haven’t had chance to finish. It doesn’t feel urgent and I am just settling into it and getting my head round it.

Anyway, I do miss K a lot this past few days. I felt like I was drifting further and further away from her earlier this week but then after acupuncture on Wednesday I got hit by huge waves of grief again, just needing her to help me work out what to do about Nina’s ADHD assessment and treatment (the NHS waiting times are frankly ridiculous, but taking her privately is stupidly expensive) and to help me hold all I am discovering about myself. R said the treatment likely unblocked all the grief I was holding. I felt loads better yesterday though, so I’m glad it came. Maybe I just need a mum right now, with all that is going on!

Overwhelm

I feel like I am about to totally lose my mind. I don’t want to live like this anymore, constantly trying to find and keep my balance while lurching dangerously close to the precipice. I crave structure and routine and stability and yet I can’t seem to find any even when I have the opportunity to give it to myself.

Inside me is such emptiness, such darkness. I long for K to steady me again, help me get back on my feet. There is an ache in me that only she can soothe, a chaos in me that only she can settle. I am longing for something I cannot name and I don’t feel as though I will ever be full. I am empty.

I am also trying desperately to stave off overwhelm. Life feels so crowded. There is no space for me inside my head. Time off work so often feels more overwhelming than being at work, because there are a million things I put off doing while the weeks disappear in a blur and then here is the time to do them and it is all too much. We need to sort out adopting a bunny for Rainbow, Nina needs new clothes as nothing fits which requires hours of trawling through Depop with her, jobs need doing at home, stuff needs sorting out, a broken trampoline needs dismantling, the washer dryer isn’t working, there are people I need to see. I cannot get on top of things. Everything feels chaotic. There is always too much to do. Just daily life takes everything out of me. I need so much time between things so as not to become overwhelmed and overstimulated and that really reduces the time available to get things done and do nice things I enjoy. There is no time for anything extra.

I spent yesterday stripping wallpaper with a friend because I am paying someone next week to do some tiling in my kitchen/living area where there was revolting wallpaper since we moved in. Tomorrow I have to go to two different hardware stores as well as get passport photos to renew my driving licence and then drive 35 minutes to a colleague’s house because he is kindly replacing the smashed screen on Nina’s iPhone for the cost of the screen (£45) instead of the £150 apple would charge. That’s another day of my leave gone. It feels like I never get enough time to do nice things but when I do have time I don’t do the nice things anyway because my brain is full and I just need to lie in a dark and quiet room.

I am trying so hard to focus on one day at a time but I just don’t want to live like this anymore. I am so tired of holding so much. I feel overwhelmed nearly all the time. I’ve been so excited Nina will be restarting swimming next week as she has missed it so much and it is so good for her body and mind and self-esteem. But when her swimming club confirmed times for training I could feel myself spiralling. It will be till 9.30pm Wed, Thurs and Fri from next week, and then Sundays till 6pm. Before this lockdown it was only Wed, Fri and Sun and that extra night has sent me over the edge. Of course she could not do the Thursday, but also I want her to go because teens need exercise and ADHD-teens more than most.

The situation with my dad feels stressful and never-ending. I am tired of trying to navigate around toxic people. I wrote last autumn about my brother being in a really bad place and my sister asking me if I could see him (see here and here). Nina and him have been in touch on Whatsapp for a few months now but he is talking about meeting up now lockdown has lifted and I just don’t know what to do. It brings my mum so dangerously close again. Without K I don’t know if I have the strength to navigate that as well as my dad and parenting and every other fucking thing.

I just want K. I cannot see how I will find my way through all this without the structure and stability she provides. Talking to R is not the same. It doesn’t feel contained in the same way. And also – how long till he goes away too? Lockdown will ease and he will be able to see more clients again and he will be able to go away and he won’t have time for me. He will leave me like K has but even when he is here it is not enough. Nothing is or ever will be.

I feel as though the ground is swallowing me. It doesn’t seem to matter how hard I try, I cannot feel on top of life. Inside and outside feel totally chaotic and I don’t want to do this anymore. I am tired of having to make such big decisions and having so much in my head all the time.

I am scared I will never stop self-harming. It’s getting worse and my legs hurt all the time and I don’t understand why this behaviour is worse than it’s ever been after I’ve healed so much. I don’t want to stop but I want to want to stop. I am nearly 38.

Losing K this year is enough. I just want everything else to go away.

What now?

I sent the email to my dad at 18.18 this evening. He replied at 19.20. The amount of time that elapsed between me hitting send and him replying says it all really. He just doesn’t get it at all. Not even a little bit.

He was pretty affable in the email. He thanked me, said he’s taken it on board although doesn’t agree with some of what I said and maintains he is not critical of Nina (wtf!). He said he’s been worried about their relationship for a while, but he attributes that to her having ‘outgrown him’ as she is 14 and he is 60 and ‘what teenage girl really wants to spend time with a 60 year old granddad?’ He cannot see how problematic how he is with her is, how every word he says to her is critical and judgemental and belittling and mean. He says he will ‘back off’ about his worries about her but thinks he has been supportive and encouraging of her. Again, wtf! It is scary that he can’t see it at all and so he will not change. I thought he would at least try to be different and then be better for a while, but ultimately be unable to change (like when I vow never to lose my temper again – realistically this is just not possible right now with the place I am in with my healing – and because I am human – but at least I can see it is a problem and it is not okay when I behave like that).

Maybe this is the beginning of a shift. Maybe I have sown some seeds. Maybe he will reflect. I honestly really doubt it though. I think this is the beginning of the end. The beginning of me accepting that he will never be able to look inside himself and see how he is and he will die with this gulf between us because he cannot let down his defences. I don’t mean that he is choosing not to, but that I don’t think he can. I don’t think he is able to. I think they are him. This is the thing with OCPD and NPD (I hate labels, but these two help me understand him, just as NPD/BPD have helped me make sense of my mum), typically the person themselves cannot see they have a problem, it is always everyone else who is problematic. So they don’t want or feel the need to change or heal or grow, because they honestly can’t see there is an issue.

There was me worrying I would trigger him into a place of shame and self-loathing, or make him angry or sad. I was scared of what it might force him to confront inside himself. Turns out it didn’t even really land for him. I don’t know what I’d expected given that I know he cannot see his own behaviour; he is so out of touch with himself and his feelings and how he is. The way he speaks to Nina is the way he must speak to himself. The way he was spoken to as a child of course, which he cannot see anything wrong with because he cannot bear to look inside and see how damaging his childhood was. It is also the way he spoke to me, all my life, and still does of course. And so beyond all this and deep inside is a real sense from teen and slightly older parts that he really will never be able to take in what he did to us even if we are ever brave enough to confront him. It is very hard to accept that there will not be a reconciliation or a time when he opens up and says he is sorry for how he’s been. I’ve known he won’t but I don’t think I’ve really taken in that actually it will be like this between us forever. Even if I am totally estranged from him one day, it will still be like this. I will be free perhaps, but it will never be different. We have nothing but lies and falseness between us. What a tragic waste.

I don’t know how to reply to his email. What is there to say? How do you make someone see that their whole way of being in the world, everything about them, their personality and the essence of who they are is problematic and shaming and abusive when they cannot see it at all? It is not my job to make him look at himself and change, even if I could. He has chosen not to take this opportunity to look inside himself and left me feeling so confused and bereft and small and invalidated. So hopeless. And deflated. I don’t think he can change and I don’t know how many times I will have to tell him that his behaviour is a problem before I give up. I cannot keep doing this, living this lie, trying to heal myself while allowing in the same treatment of Nina and I that smashed me into pieces in the first place.

There is a storm inside me. I can feel parts on the brink of total meltdown and collapse. It doesn’t have words yet, just a fucking painful mess taking shape and coalescing inside me. Scribbling inside my head and a mash of emotions I cannot access or name. I just want him to disappear so I don’t have to deal with this. I can’t believe both of my parents are so completely impossible that my life is better without them. It feels so unnatural and such a mess.

Dear Dad

****although this is about my dad, I am trigger warning it for rape and victim-blaming, since this is what my dad chose to engage in during his conversation with Nina while they were cycling on Tuesday***

Trying to find my inner warrior so that I can send this to my dad after Nina had a really horrible time with him on Tuesday. She’d not been on her own with him for 3.5 months and was decimated by 45 minutes cycling with him. R thinks I need to give him the chance to change, for Nina as much as anything, and at this point to warn him that if he doesn’t change he will lose her because in a few years she will be grown up and she will have no reason to see him if he treats her how he does.

I have never stood up to my dad about anything. Ever. It terrifies me. Nina really doesn’t want me to say anything and I can sense her terror of displeasing or upsetting him. Yet I also know this is the next stage of my healing journey and that I cannot let things continue as they are, for Nina’s sake. What messages does it send her that I can see how bad it is and yet I chose not to act and to protect her?

I don’t think he will change. I don’t think he can. I think this is only headed in one direction really, and that is no contact. But at least I will have tried. And if I cut contact in future, it will be Nina’s choice if she sees him or not and I will have done my best to facilitate a continuing relationship between them.

Six years ago I was in this position with my mum and it was R who was supporting me to protect Nina from her abuse and manipulation back then too. I stopped Nina from spending time alone with my mum then, and told her we could only see her once a month together as I needed space to heal too. It was another 2 years until I cut contact completely. I can see things heading a similar way here too, but I am stronger now. I would rather have no family than be living alongside such toxicity, but I will try a while longer to bring things to a more tolerable place for Nina and I. R reminds me of my strength and he reminds me I have no choice but to stand up for Nina and protect her. He tells me to make this all about her for now, and that later on I can address what I need him to know about how he is to me, and whether I want a relationship with him. He is holding my hand as I do this. He text with Phoebe last night when she was harming and there was blood everywhere and she was all alone. For all these things I love him. Somehow he makes me feel stronger than anyone else ever has. Even K.

However he responds cannot be worse than what I’ve already been through. I keep telling myself that.

Hello Dad,

Not an easy email for me to write, but I am very concerned about the way you are to Nina and I don’t think things can be left unspoken any longer if you want to maintain a relationship with her as she grows up. She is obviously scared of me saying anything to you, but I can see you losing her if things continue as they are and that would be a great shame for both of you.

She is often upset after seeing you because you are very critical of her and judgmental and lecture her and put her down and dismiss her ideas and experiences. On Tuesday she had a horrible time. You were critical and judgmental about her fitness and effort, her responses to your lectures about safety, implied she was stupid because she couldn’t follow what you were explaining to her, and then had a go at her for not talking to you – of course she wasn’t talking after that. She couldn’t. She feels ashamed when you are like this to her and that is sad because we know you love and care for both of us, but it so often doesn’t come across in how you interact with us. It is confusing for her to be told that you are a nice kind granddad when her experience of you is so often not like that at all.

These are not new concerns, but for me they have intensified since seeing you with her more during the lockdown last year (and also through my own healing showing me that the way I was parented by both you and mum was deeply inadequate and has caused long-term damage, meaning I am much more aware of what children need now). Last summer I was very concerned by how you were speaking to her when I collected her from your house. Belittling her intelligence over Maths and mocking the effort she is putting into school, and also threatening her she’ll end up homeless and jobless if she doesn’t change, are all things that are having an extremely negative impact on her self-esteem. The teenage years are particularly fragile years of self-discovery and your job as a granddad is only to love and support her as she grows up, not threaten her about her future or shame her or make her feel inadequate.

I am also really very concerned by the victim-blaming you engaged in. It is very hard for me to hear that you told her if she gets raped or attacked it will be her fault because of her behaviour and that she is ‘asking for it’. Women and girls are never to blame for what happens to them, it is always the fault of rapists. I would be devastated if something ever did happen to her and she didn’t reach out for support or tell anyone because she had internalised this message that I’ve tried so hard to counter as it is all around in society and the media and stops women coming forward. Pointing at overweight women and saying they won’t get raped is really concerning and just not true – rape isn’t about sexual desirability, it is about power and control. Women who aren’t conventionally attractive or slim get raped all the time, pensioners get raped, disabled women get raped. Women who do all the right things with regards their own safety get raped. Most of the time women are raped and assaulted within an intimate relationship or by someone they know.

Besides all this, Nina’s safety is my responsibility, not yours. I am the parent. You raised your concerns with me, Nina now doesn’t walk on the main road and stays in [our small town]. However the perception that ‘rapes are committed by strangers in a dark alley’ is a myth. She is far more likely to get raped or assaulted in a group of friends where alcohol and drugs are involved. It is this I will be doing everything to protect her from, by checking on her whereabouts and boosting her self-esteem as much as possible so she doesn’t feel the need to engage in risky behaviours in the way I did. So far this is going well and her friends are a safe group who haven’t grown up too fast.

These are separate issues though. You could have spoken of your concerns in a loving, warm, non-blaming way. And so it is the way you speak to her and how critical and judgmental and dismissive you are of her that needs to change. I don’t know if you are able to do this, I suspect it is deeply ingrained, but you do need to try because otherwise she just won’t want to see you anymore. That would be very sad for both of you and so that is why I am being brave and writing this even though I find confronting you on anything very difficult.

It is very important you don’t talk to Nina about this. She will be frightened that I’ve said anything and she doesn’t need a heart to heart talk, she need things to change in how you are when you’re with her. It is not a communication issue and she is not responsible for things changing, only you. You’ll find if you show an interest in her life and build her up instead of making her feel small by belittling and lecturing and shaming her, that she won’t respond in monosyllabic ‘yeahs’ with you. At the moment she doesn’t see the point of talking to you because you don’t seem to care or be interested in what she says a lot of the time.

We often make excuses for your behaviour, but honestly it is every time, even when I’m there. You barely see her as it is and I know that she will want to see you less and less as she grows older if things don’t change. I don’t want that to happen and I’m sure you don’t either. I would think there are people you can talk to about finding different ways of communicating with the people you care about.

I hope you understand why I’m writing and that it reflects my commitment to sustaining a relationship between us both and between you and Nina in future. Please don’t feel pressured to respond – I understand that this email will likely bring up difficult things for you and will, hopefully, lead to a period of self-reflection. There is no rush, but I do need a commitment from you that you will try and change how you speak to and behave towards Nina from now on.

Love CB

Loss upon loss

***trigger warning: talk of suicide***

I heard this morning that Ana, Jess’ mum, passed away peacefully last week. She had bowel cancer which had metastasised into her liver and lungs last year. When I saw her in August I knew she didn’t have long to live, but she didn’t know at that point and was still making plans for after her recovery. She told me in November she’d been given less than a year and Jess’ sisters were in touch 9 weeks ago to say their mum had deteriorated rapidly and had days or weeks to live. I was able to send a message that they read to her while she was still lucid and she told them how special I was to her, and to Jess.

It is hard to believe that this link to Jess is gone. I struggled in the relationship due to resonances with my own mum (of course, this is what drew Jess and I together even though we didn’t know back then) but being able to visit and share that connection with Jess was so helpful and healing. I can’t believe I’ve lost that and that Jess’ sisters have lost their dad and sister to suicide and their mum to cancer and neither of them are yet 30. It’s such a heartbreaking situation.

I thought it hadn’t affected me today, hearing the news, since it was not sudden and I have had chance to prepare. I’ve also spent the day mostly in bed, so lethargic I could barely move. And then the waves of grief over Jess hit again and I realised why I’ve felt so heavy and flat and lifeless today, my body struggling under the weight of this unexpressed grief. It is like losing a little more of Jess. And there is no one to tell about this sudden grief I’ve experienced this evening. Suicide is strange like that.

I miss Jess so much. It has been a little over 6 years since she took her life and when the grief hits it still feels so raw like it has only just happened. I remember writing on my blog at the end of 2019 about her, about how there is still so much shock and how, because of the way she died, my psyche remains unable to complete the process of grieving , especially because of how dissociated I am. I don’t think the grief process will ever be complete – it just gets re-activated and then fades away, split off in my psyche like so much trauma is. It just makes no sense that we will never see her again because she was so alive. And having young parts makes it so complicated too, because they really can’t understand where she went or what forever means.

And as I’ve written before, losing Jess is all tied up with shame and disorganised attachment and other losses for me. So hard to hold and untangle and understand. So I am left wishing more than anything I was driving to K’s to see her at 4pm tomorrow, like we did for all those years. We have done so much work around Jess and suicide and Ana and the shame I experience over how I reacted and behaved in the days and weeks and months after she died, in the time before I knew I had dissociation and complex trauma and alters. K would help me hold all this, help me untangle the complicated knot of thoughts and feelings inside me, let me talk and cry and write and whatever was needed. I would leave feeling understood and held and supported. A little more contained. A little more sane.

Instead she is not here either. She is another loss to add to the collection. And I am left with no one who really understands all this complexity or who knows my story with it. And yes – I have myself now, but without a mirror it is hard to make sense of this. The waves will recede again, I know, but now grief over Jess will forever trigger grief over K and that feels desperately sad tonight.

Losing her and finding myself

I never knew what a miracle it was, K and I being able to meet at the same time every week for all those years. For the first 2 and a half years of our work we met at least twice a week. I never thought to really stop and appreciate that or realised how remarkable it was that in this crazy helter skelter world we were able to have those times that were always ours, every Monday and Wednesday. And then every Monday. For 5 whole years. I didn’t know it could be taken away so suddenly. I mean – I did. I was always worried. But I didn’t really take it in as a possibility that could actually happen, beyond attachment anxiety, in the real world. I wish I had soaked her in more. I wish I had been able to. I took being there, being able to do therapy with her, for granted really. And I don’t know if it would make a difference now anyway, but I wish I hadn’t. I wish I had appreciated how lucky I was to be able to do that. Because I will never get it back. It’s over. Even if all the ifs work out and she goes back to in-person work, that time is gone. There is no going back. It has been over for a year, but it is also ending right now, in this present moment, as realisations flood me about how things are and how far away they are from how they should be.

I feel very weird this evening. A huge mixture of thoughts and feelings and a lot of passive influence from parts that I can’t fully access. Stuff around my mum and memories from childhood are very prevalent in a way they haven’t been for a long time. I feel like I could just dissolve into sobs for hours, but also that I’m fine and strong and have come so far. Both are true. There is so much pain about what I’ve been through but I also know I am in a good place. I don’t really know where this stuff has come from. Last week R did a clearing treatment (acupuncture) and he says it probably unfroze me and let this stuff surface. (It certainly brought me back to myself over the weekend which was wonderful – I felt like me again (last year’s me!) and it was so nice to remember that I am that person now, clear to myself in a way I never was before last year).

I mean – of course what K has done has brought up so much about how my mum was. She used to disappear and I would come home as a young child and there would be a note saying she was never coming back and then she would call crying and we would spend hours driving around trying to find her. She did that so many times. She left me over and over again. And she ranted and raged at me for hours and then my dad would have to rescue me and take me to his house. Or she would throw me out and send me away and tell me she never wanted to see me again. I’d be scrambling around my room trying to gather as much as I could to take with me, not knowing if and when I’d be back. She’d refuse to see me for weeks. When I was 14 she left me to go and see a man 300 miles away even as I begged her to stay because I needed her, because I was struggling with such intense self-loathing that I couldn’t go to school for 3 months. She drove away and left me in tears, all alone in a house with no thought for how I would cope without her. Cutting and blood were my only comfort then too, because my mum just wasn’t there. Of course there are resonances with what K has done. And K has shown herself not to be all good, just as my mum wasn’t all bad. And that is so fucking confusing to untangle. I can’t figure K out and I know I don’t need to, but of course my mind is trying to so that I can make it okay. Just like my sister and I used to spend hours and hours going round and round in circles talking about mum, trying to make sense of her mind games and manipulations so that it would be okay. It never worked. Obviously.

I have had lots of nightmares and trauma dreams the past few nights. Endless tangles that wake me distressed and drenched in cold sweat. In one I was begging K to meet me in-person outside just to say goodbye and she refused. The pain of that was excruciating. And then the other horrible one was my mum was dying over a six month period and I had to decide at what point to become involved again. A decision I guess I will have to make at some point. R says on some level this is my psyche processing K (my good enough mother obviously) is dying, or rather that she is dying to me – my attachment to her, my trust in her, my reliance on her are all dying. Over.

And this loss is something that should have happened as a really gradual process, as I continued to grow and integrate in the way I already was, like a child and then teen and then older adult does with a healthy parent. I remember last year at regular intervals I could feel that I wouldn’t need therapy forever, wouldn’t need or even want K like that forever. There were times when I resented spending money on therapy and was ready to forge a path alone. But still, the loss of her and our time together was so sudden and none of us were ready. It also feels so fucking protracted and drawn out. It has been a year now of not knowing what is going on or what will happen. A year of losing her a little more each day. “What is going to happen?” I asked R today. “At what point do I go back and do the ending work with her?” And he said ‘or maybe you are doing the ending work now?’ and yeah – I think I am. I don’t want to be, but I think bit-by-bit I am letting her go and finding myself again, like I did last year. I thought I could only integrate our work by reconnecting with her (my internal sense of her) but I don’t think that is true. I am losing her and finding myself and realising I don’t have to reconnect with her to find the self I built with her, which is bittersweet and intensely, gut-wrenchingly painful. Celebration and grief all in one murky muddle inside me tonight.

When I started therapy I thought it would be all about me. It was such a surprise to discover it was all about K, all about the relationship we were building. And now… Now it becomes all about me again. It was all about me all along actually and this is painful but also so real, so true, such an important realisation. And so I know this is a good thing. I know this is how it should be, I know this is the reality, but it is painful because this means the relationship was a vehicle and that is really, really devastating. R said today that it was a vehicle back to me, not just to the pain in me, but to the relationship I have with me. He is absolutely right, of course, and this is really the journey I have been on over the past year that took me to knowing myself and seeing myself and then being brave enough to take a break from something that wasn’t helping me and was instead hurting me. The thing is though, I just wasn’t ready. I feel like the foundations I’ve had to do all this growth on the past 6 months or so just weren’t as strong as they should have been, had K and I been able to continue working as planned.

I wasn’t done with therapy with K. I really wasn’t done. R said how clear that is, that our work really was not done. It is a huge loss, to have to say goodbye to all those possibilities. It used to be so exciting to look at how far I had come and think about where I could get to if things continued as they were. I have lost that process, all those beautiful possibilities, as well as losing what K was to me, as a therapist and as a person. I know I have the choice to return to remote therapy this autumn, but I don’t think I can be me – all of me – on the screen. I’ve noticed with R how easy it is to share my growth and healing and strength and insights when he is next to me. This was what made remote work so difficult for me – the shame that comes up for me around sharing progress and good things (thanks parents!) was intolerable via Zoom. And the work I need to do in future I cannot do online. I can’t do parts work anymore with her. I can’t do the gentle, relational healing I need. I don’t know what is left after that apart from sustaining something that brought me so much support for so long because the absence of it is too much to bear. Is that in my best interests? Who knows?

I don’t know what I will do come September and I think this is something that I will just wax and wane over for the next 5 or 6 months and in many ways that is okay, as long as I can sit with it comfortably and still live my life and heal. In many ways whether I go back or not is not really the point right now. Our work is taking root inside me still, I can feel it, but whereas before I felt I was drawing on our work internally so much of the time to enable this, and so I was sustaining our connection, now it feels like I am healing by growing away from her. And that is painfully real and necessary and sad and beautiful and tragic and hopeful all in one strange place inside me.

Broken

The amount of support I’ve had from people I’ve met through WP in the past few weeks has been something else. Thank to you everyone who’s reached out or written such lovely, wise, thoughtful comments on my posts. It honestly means so much and really helps to be able to process and think this situation through, so I can work out is the right thing for me to do going forwards. I really, really appreciate this place.

I am also editing to add this in: I’ve not emailed K again and probably won’t, for reasons I will explain in another post, but in large part because I have a full on 3 weeks at work coming up and I can’t risk this dragging on and getting further destabilised again. I’ll see how things go…

K said what we have cannot be broken. No matter what. So many times she said we would be doing this work ‘no matter what’ and that when the world turned to shit because of climate and ecological breakdown (which, ultimately, is what has happened) she would be here because we would need her even more than ever. She said if we couldn’t get to each other we would meet halfway and I would come by bike and she would come by pony. She told me that the house she now lives in, that she moved to in September 2019, would be the house she died in. She never put an end date on our work, knowing how important it was for me to have someone who knows ‘all my stuff’ across the years. I thought our work would soften into something else and that one day we would go from meeting every week to meeting every other week and then once a month and then to not really ever at all, but that I could go back if needed.

She told us she was fostering us, giving us some of what our parents couldn’t. She poured so much of herself into all of us. She went above and beyond and helped me reclaim parts of myself that were buried and split off long ago. Scattered shards. She loved all those parts, I’m sure she did. But she has left them behind and I don’t know how to reach them now.

It is a year tomorrow since I last saw her in-person. I got home and late that night the news said people with asthma would soon be asked to stay home for at least 12 weeks. I lay awake all night having panic attacks, knowing in my heart it would be 3 months till we could see K again. We spoke by phone the next day and K told me how committed she was to our work, to me, to us, and making sure we could continue working during this time. We arranged to split my double session across Monday and Friday, move my Friday email to Wednesday, and have text contact on Tuesday and Thursday. She understood that we needed her all the time when everything hit and she did her absolute best to be there and support us. She never shamed us for how much we needed her. Not then or ever. She found out about a local crisis service. She sent photos and videos of lambs playing in the field behind her garden and the dogs and our Miffy in her garden. She posted us a homemade Easter card and a birthday present.

I don’t know when things changed.

I don’t know when she started to want me to take a break because it was too hard to hold my process remotely.

I don’t know when we broke and if we were broken before I knew that’s what had happened.

It feels broken now though, and that is probably the hardest part of all. Perhaps I could have got ready to leave her if we were still intact. But we are broken and I don’t know how to rebuild my life away from her without the foundations we spent 5 years laying.

I am shattered. Scattered. Fragmented. Disintegrated. Dissolved.

She was my internal sense of safety and now there is just an empty space.

At night my only comfort, the only way I can get into bed, is knowing that I can cut to soothe myself and bring sleep. It feels almost cosy to be able to do that and know I will fall asleep comforted by endorphin release and the stinging that distracts from the aching pain inside me. I feel so ashamed that this is how I’m looking after myself, but it is the only thing that helps me stay okay and functioning enough to work.

While I know I will rebuild myself, and probably in days rather than weeks now, I’m not sure what foundations to use because her emails have pulled the floor from under me and left me wondering what was ever real.

It doesn’t even feel sad that she is gone. It only feels unreal that she was ever here at all. I wonder if I made it up. I wonder if she was playing pretend. I look at all the things we made together and that she gave us all, scattered around my home, and I wonder why they are here. I don’t feel as though I ever knew her and she can’t have known me or she wouldn’t have done this. She would have broken the news gently and offered to speak with me to make a plan if she knew who I was. So we never knew each other really and that feels like the saddest thing of all.