As my blog has alluded to, I’ve been feeling incredibly overwhelmed lately, by all I am doing and all I am holding. On top of the attachment crisis following K’s move, which doesn’t feel fully over but has definitely settled, I’ve been bombarded on all sides by work and Extinction Rebellion (XR) demands, not to mention parenting and running the house and looking after the pets. Plus I also saw my Mum in town when I was marching through the High Street for Earth Strike on Friday, from a distance and she didn’t see me, but it caused another near-death experience and has brought up a lot around the guilt I feel for wishing I had a different Mum. I don’t want to go into too much detail about what I’ve been doing, because that’s not the point of this post, but I think it is finally beginning to become apparent to me in a very real, practical way that my life is and always will be limited by complex-PTSD and I know I have some difficult decisions about how I spend my time, and what I will and won’t be able to tolerate, to implement over the coming days and weeks.
Going to K’s new house still feels very, very weird and not right at all. It still feels like her and I are not real there, or that the space isn’t real, like we are suspended somewhere we are not supposed to be. It’s getting gradually more familiar though, and the sitting room does look very warm and cosy so we are looking forward to our next film therapy night in a month or two. We are going to start a craft project next week too, probably using glitter glue, because K thinks it would be a good idea to do this and to feel into it being safe enough there to make something together. And we are doing double sessions now and that feels so much safer and makes it so much easier to settle into the space and into K’s presence. The difference it makes is beyond merely an extra 30 minutes of therapy, the longer session has a profound impact on me and the young parts and I feel so grateful that K is offering me a hugely discounted session to enable this, and that – for now at least – I have the means to pay for this.
There is no doubt that the prospect of societal collapse due to climate breakdown is looming large in the space between us. I can’t shake the fear, or help young parts with it, because we know what is ahead and it will mean losing K, or ending our work at least, only we don’t know when or how many years are left, or what it will look like, and it could be that my life is very different by then and it feels more okay than the thought of it does now. These fears and the whole theme of ‘too much’ were both really reflected in the sand tray we made this evening in our session. K said she’d never seen such a full sand tray!
It was basically a tired and sleepy 14 year old me, desperate for rest, buried underneath all the people and demands being thrown at us as people desperately try to stave off climate breakdown. And little me feeling sad trying to get people to stop eating animals, and other people with their heads buried in the sand as species go extinct and ecosystems collapse, and we couldn’t reach K, partly because of the imminent collapse, but also because of all the demands, because they stop us reaching her because our head gets too full, and because they keep us in a future where her and I don’t exist. And because the scary part is that if we achieve the systemic changes needed in the face of what is coming, then it will also mean losing her, because we won’t have privately owned vehicles and life will be more local and there won’t be money for therapy. And if we fail to act and adapt and mitigate, then food and fuel shortages and war and collapse are what we have in store. How things will unfold environmentally and societally are big unknowns in many ways, but climate breakdown is accelerating and the latest temperature prediction models to be released this week show that under the business as usual scenario – which shows no signs of changing at the moment – we are on track for a 6.5 – 7 degree average temperature rise by 2100, so much worse than what was predicted by the IPCC in 2018. 2 degrees is locked in already, and that will lead to catastrophic and irreversible consequences for life on earth, so all this stuff is very real, but I don’t want to live in this terrifying world before I have to.
After K had taken a picture of the busy sand tray (which she won’t put on the internet, we checked!!) she asked what needed to be changed to represent me having a rest. And we scooped all the things off that were covering us and weighing us down, and shoved everything else away to the other end of the sand tray – all the people eating animals, and all those demanding too much from me as they frantically engage in activism to stave off climate breakdown (and probably to distract themselves from the horrifying reality in many ways), and the barriers that collapse will put up between me and those I love. And then we put very little me with teen me under a tree, because young parts need more time at home doing nice things, and a hedgehog to represent Nina, and K, her donkeys and Mr Raposa, in a circle with us, really far from the pile of other stuff. And someone said ‘really those are the only things that matter – trees, young parts, you, and Nina’ and we put a row of hearts between these things and all the pile of stuff; ‘we can love those things but still look after ourselves’. And K said this is so important, and reminded me that I already do more than most people with being vegan and not flying and cycling to work and not buying unnecessary things.
And she asked how I felt about the transformation and I said ‘better, because those are all the things I will never regret doing with my time’. And she said how powerful the wave of stuff coming down the other end was, and that the barrier in the middle was now filled with hearts instead of rocks, and the whole room feels softer and at ease, and she said ‘I hope you feel also that you’ve got a place to rest, you have to have rest in your life’.
‘Those are all the things I will never regret doing with my time‘ – this is so true and is what I am taking with me on the Autumn Equinox, on the day when there is light and dark in equal measure and we are invited to seek balance in our lives. K always tells me I am enough, but I want to feel that, and I don’t want to lose myself in activism to the point where I lose myself, in part because I think it’s most likely too late to avert catastrophe and collapse now and so the focus needs to be on adaptation, including community building and self-healing, and in part because Mother Earth cannot heal while we continue to live such toxic and demanding lives. And I may look back and wish many things, but I will never regret the time I spend with K, with Nina, in nature, and replenishing and healing myself, whatever happens, whatever comes.
Attachment pain is killing me. It’s not felt like this for months and months, since December last year in fact so nearly 9 months. I can’t even remember what to do with this pain and the gnawing, aching sensations in my chest and tummy. I feel so empty inside, so desperate for something I cannot even articulate. I want to curl up and die, preferably with K right next to me. It hurts so much. When it was time to end our phone call earlier I just wanted to scream and cry. It wasn’t enough time, it feels like it will never be enough time again, even though for all those months therapy hasn’t felt like this at all. It is like K and I are the same but the new house feels so strange and all wrong and we are both floating untethered in the new space. I need longer there, to learn what it is like there, to know I can trust it, to know K and I are the same and everything is still there. It still feels so far away and I can’t work out how our skies match up or where the moon should be.
K continues to be amazing and kind and validating. Monday’s session was not enough to settle this wave, I could feel the abandonment tidal wave threatening to erupt even before I left, as the time trickled away and the week apart stretched ahead. She took me outside before we left, to the special spot in her new garden, a shady space where you can sit under the trees and look across to the rolling hills and the edge of the moors and watch the sun go down. And as we sat there I wanted to beg her not to send me home yet, to let me stay until I’d soaked in enough of her to sustain me again and could feel deep inside that everything is the same and will be okay. I know she can feel my internal disturbances even when I don’t speak them out loud, and she said for now it is like it was when we met and to contact her when I needed to, to not hold back if I need her, to let her know how I am doing. She didn’t used to say those things, although we text most days at the start and often worked by phone, but I think before texting never used to help, and waiting for a reply was agonising, and we just couldn’t take in what she was saying and would end up more triggered, whereas now she knows this is temporary and that her presence helps me. She knows I can support and care for myself in the ordinary course of life now, that I have come so far, and that is why she is offering more, knowing she won’t have to pour this much into me again forever. It is good to remember things are different now, even though the storm feels the same.
Walking to the car I could hear the screaming inside, the pain was so intense, like part of me had been ripped away, like I was being left alone to die. The week ahead, even with phone contact, felt completely impossible to survive on my own. I nearly threw up before I got in the car. I wanted to scream and sob and wail, but feeling those feelings alone is intolerable so I swallowed the screams and I drove home, the pain in my head intensifying as I got nearer home and I pushed the feelings down more and more so I wouldn’t be a mess when I got back to Nina. We text K an hour after getting home. She said it is a big storm that will settle, to resource and rest, that we could work the next day (yesterday) by phone if it would be helpful. I tried to rest but young parts were so disturbed and the head pain was so intense and debilitating. Yesterday I had to work in my office and had meetings and a training and coffee with a friend and mostly I was adult but there was an undercurrent of disturbance all day and at Nina’s bedtime I yelled at her because she had the guinea pigs on her bed and one of them did a wee and so her sheets needed changing at 9.45pm. This was an annoyance, but the rage it triggered in me was clearly disproportionate. I did myself a reiki treatment and that soothed things a bit and I apologised for yelling before she fell asleep. K and I spoke this morning and it helped and hurt at the same time. I can’t even remember really what she said, but it was about attachment and trauma and not feeling safe in relationship, about how we are still working through the imprint of what happened to me as an infant and my attachment system, and that we were both working really hard to contain this wave and would continue to do so. I wish I could remember her words, but they’ve mostly dissolved already and I want to reach out by text but there is nothing she can do and ultimately this pain is not about her. It was so soothing to hear her voice and know how solid she is but it also hurt so much to have her there and to know I would then have to survive until Monday again without her. This feels so ridiculous to be writing, I’ve not struggled between sessions like this for so long.
I told her the huge and really intense dream I had last night about her and my Mum and all the pain I keep hidden. I was shouting a lot in the dream and just so completely broken. The content of the dream is pretty textbook, but as those of us who experience trauma dreams and nightmares will testify, their power and their residue is immense. I had intense knee pain, and other body pains, in the dream (which I have had a lot of lately, and could feel in the night every time I was semi-conscious) and had been carrying on for weeks as though my knee wasn’t hurting, but finally went to have X-Rays. My body was broken in multiple places and when the radiographer showed me my knee images my knee caps were cracked in two. I was told I would need to wear a cast for 3 months and my first thought was practicalities around getting Nina to and from swimming training and getting to work, shortly followed by ‘how will I get to K’s?’. Somehow I managed to get dropped off at the junction of the A-road I come off at to get to her new house, thinking that however much it hurt my knees I would walk the rest of the way, but then every time I went round a corner I was somewhere different than I expected to be and there were still miles to go. I was in so much pain and made it to a telephone box thinking if I called K she would come and get me (which she has said she will do in the landrover if there is ever flooding or snow I can’t get through to get to hers), but she wasn’t bothered and said she’d see me when I was healed and the cast was off. So I called my Mum to come and drive me to K’s and she did. I don’t remember seeing her in the dream though, and the next thing I was at her house, where I grew up, with my sister sitting across from me and when she found out how I’d got to K’s she went crazy at me about what I had done to my Mum and did I not realise the state she’d been in since I cut contact two years ago, and how this would destroy her (i.e. me reaching out to her when nothing has changed). I said it was fine, she knew nothing had changed and this was a one-off, but my sister continued to say angry things to me until I exploded and screamed at her ‘what about what Mum has done to ME?’ and how she broke me, how it is taking years and loads of money in therapy to recover, how for the first 18 months of therapy my plan was to kill Nina and I, so ‘what about ME?’ and if it wasn’t for what she had done I wouldn’t have needed to get to K’s in the first place.
This dream is so obviously about all my system is struggling to process at the moment, about climate breakdown and not being able to get to K’s, about attachment and damage and my dysfunctional family and the impact what I’ve had to do will have had on family members, and about the lengths I go to to conceal my pain, physical and emotional, consciously and unconsciously. And K says it shows us what big things have been coming up around her move and not being able to get to her, and things changing, and then not being able to see my sister at the weekend, for various reasons but in part because of the family mess and the emotions it would bring up. It has stayed with me all day.
I still feel as though I am dying, but I realise what is worse is knowing I won’t actually die between now and Monday, instead I will just have to live with these intolerable feelings and with no one to soothe it for all that time (obviously logically I can see actual death would be worse, but it doesn’t feel that way). I cannot escape this pain. I can’t remember what I did to soothe it, did anything work? I’ve been trying to think about ways this pain is different from before. I don’t feel K and I’s relationship is under threat, only our ability to see each other and work together. I don’t feel caught in the disorganised attachment dance, desperate to reach out to her yet terrified of pushing her away, I am just aware, from an adult space, that I can’t keep texting as there is not really anything she can do other than wait out the storm with me. And I also know now this pain is not about her, and this does leave me feeling like at least we are in this together; it is not about me needing more and her holding back from me, it is not making her angry that I feel this way, it is not making her want to give up on me, she is on my side and doing all she can to help make things better right now. If I text she would reply. She’s said we can work by phone again on Friday (except how much is all this phone time costing me, argh) and that she is solid in us and it doesn’t feel different for her.
I really, really hate feeling this way. I hate having young parts freaking out whilst at the same time I am trying to work. I want someone to hold me but I know if there was someone here it wouldn’t help. I asked K if she would go away if the baby part (Hope, she is called) really screamed with her and she said she thinks that baby did scream with her on Friday and I said “not as loudly as she screams when you’re not there” (because I was aware, even in that state, of holding back and not making too much noise) and she said if you become aware of that baby part coming out tell me and we will find ways to soothe her because it’s not good for babies to be allowed to just scream. And I said ‘but she doesn’t know what it’s like to scream and not be on her own’ and I think K understood this. I know she knows the level of distress, but to have it witnessed in all its intensity before it is soothed feels like something older parts need to witness happening if that makes sense.
This past week or two has been so hard. It is crazy thinking I felt so much worse than this for weeks and weeks on end for such a sustained period of my life. I don’t know how I coped, especially when it truly felt all about K and she couldn’t reach me in it. She thinks this will take a while to settle again, that it is a good reminder for us of how even though things are so much better now that it doesn’t take much to tip the balance again, that it shows why my body is so broken, but it is also really hard knowing these feelings still lurk and are still so life or death in their intensity.
What a day! I spiralled into a hysterical crisis after I wrote this morning and ended up going to K’s an hour earlier than planned. I messaged her when I came off the main road so she could wait outside and show me where to park, telling her I was 9 minutes away and was having a meltdown that was ‘unrelated to her move’ (ahem…). I was crying when I arrived, pretty much yelled at her that I couldn’t possibly do that journey every week (I will be), and then sat on the floor of the new therapy space crying as she made tea, not even able to sit on my normal cushion. She offered me a hug when she brought the tea in and sat on the floor with me where she held me as I sobbed and howled. I’ve never lost it like that with her before and let the feelings out so loudly, and she stayed holding me until I was done and then helped me sit on the cushion with the blanket and drink some tea.
She has been amazing today. We unpicked the time I’ve had since we last met. We talked about all that came up over not being able to see my sister this weekend, and how I just want a family. We talked about how sad and frustrated I feel that PTSD and dissociation limits my life so much. And she showed us the stables and paddock where her rescue donkeys will live and we sat looking at the beautiful view and Miffy asked if other people who are little in a little body would go there and she said no, not at the moment – there are no children and we are the first people to go to the new house which she said was nice (it is, of course). For the first time in a very long time I was freaking out from about 10 minutes into the session that it would soon be time to leave and I would be back on my own with the intolerable feelings I was experiencing for another 3 days until we meet again. (Maybe that should have alerted me to the fact this was crisis was attachment-based…). She said she was available over the weekend so we could work by phone if needed, and to let her know how I was doing later.
I then cried all the way home and for most of the afternoon, stopping only when my Dad arrived to help Nina with her Maths homework before taking her to swimming training. (He pretended not to notice I’d been crying, which a few years ago would have sent me nuts, but I accept that it brings up too much in him now and can forgive his limitations). I text K and she was so kind, said this was deep pain (I think she knew before I did that something bigger was at play today) and used her lovely phrase ‘soup and blankets’ which she said to me the first time she saw me in crisis (our second session), and told me this wave would pass. And she repeated her offer of phone work over the weekend. Then the pain in my head became unbearable and I thought I was going to need to ask my Dad to drive me to hospital for IV painkillers. So I asked if we could speak this evening (oh so wonderful that this is a simple request now and I no longer get stuck in that hellish place of disorganised attachment where I am desperate to reach out and terrified in case I am ‘too much’ and make her go away all at the same time and dither in a shame spiral until it is too late) and we spoke straightaway. Her landline was being connected as I arrived today – perfect timing!
It’s probably the most beautiful phone call we’ve ever had, apart from maybe the one after she told me she wasn’t going away after all and we had a meltdown because even that was too destabilising…. We did a check in and told her how bad the head pain was and that there were a lot of worries that she would go away and that a part kept saying just to not go anymore because if we stopped going it would hurt less than K going away. And K said as soon as we left today she’d been thinking ‘attachment, attachment, attachment’ which was funny because I’d said to my friend that K probably thought it was funny that I’d said in my text that the meltdown wasn’t related to her move… And she said how even though all the things I shared about life being too much were valid, underneath it all was something much bigger and that it felt to lots of young (and not-so-young) parts as though we had ended because there was so much worry that she wouldn’t be there when we got to the new house and that we would have to stop working. She said it was like we had gone back to the old days where there was a constant fear that she wouldn’t be there, wouldn’t open the door, would disappear, would say we were too much. And she reminded me of how deep and extensive my attachment wounding is (which helped, because sometimes I forget and just feel nuts!). We shared a lot, about what we thought of the new house (that it *might* be okay but is much too far away, that it is pretty, that some things were the same, that she was the same in the new house, that we liked it that she met us at the door with Digby on his lead even though we were too upset to notice him). We asked if we could do cutting and gluing soon and talked about the picture we are planning to make, and about donkeys and film nights. She told me how much progress I’ve made, how very hard I’ve worked in therapy, how the damage I endured as an infant and young child is so huge that it has taken us years – 4 years so far – to start to process and unpick what happened to me, and that we still have so much work to do and she is so glad we are continuing to work. And she said how even though today was like before it also wasn’t, because we know this territory now and we know what we are doing. She said how nice it is that we are in a different phase of the work where – apart from today – I can enjoy our time together now with less of an edge for me around being in relationship. We talked about how it was before, when therapy was so painful and speaking to her on the phone when I was in crisis made everything hurt even more but not speaking was awful also, and how now it helps to speak, it really helps – I felt soothed straight away this evening and the pain in my head subsided massively.
And somehow we managed to share how much it hurts when we’re not there knowing that she will soon be starting with new clients now she has moved, because it’s always nice with new people where nothing bad has happened yet, and how this is so linked to feeling invisible and non-existent unless we are extra prominent, and all the painful realisations around this I had whilst we were on holiday recently, that I’ve not fully worked through yet but am still reeling from as it is so huge and sad and limits my life in such extensive ways. I said when we were with her none of those things matter because we can feel how real our relationship is, but that when we’re not there all those other people become huge and we are completely eclipsed. I used to text K constantly asking ‘are you still here?’ but partly I was actually telling her I was still here, because I couldn’t believe I still existed for her when I wasn’t there, and I didn’t exist if she couldn’t see me. Learning I am here is such a huge part of my journey and the work I need to do still. I told her today on the phone that these realisations about why I feel so invisible and am so terrified of being replaced are the most painful realisations I’ve had for nearly 18 months, and I asked if it would stop hurting one day to know why I’m like this, and she said she thinks it will soften and become easier to live with.
I said how hard it was to realise that I still need therapy every week and that even though I cope I struggle without my Monday session. And then I realised that I used to be unable to cope for a whole week without her and now I usually manage that time completely fine, it’s just hard without her for longer. And of course there is shame in that still, but our time together is the glue that holds me together and enables me to do so much other stuff in my life too. We also spoke about my fears that she will say I shouldn’t come anymore and why therapy is taking so long, and she was so validating about why I need it, why I need her still. I said I couldn’t understand before what people did in therapy for DID for so many years (7-10 on average) but I do now, and that I wish I’d known it wouldn’t hurt so much all that time (although I wouldn’t have believed it anyway). And someone little asked if it was okay to always need therapy when things had been really bad for a long time and she said yes, and she has no plans to go anywhere ever now, she is where she wants to be. And if it wasn’t for imminent climate-induced societal collapse I would be so happy to hear this!
The last thing we talked about was her offer to do a double session for only a little more money than I’m currently paying for 90 minutes, to make the journey worthwhile. At first when she offered I was unsure because it will mean I am later home for Nina and will still be an extra £50 a month. But there is something so nice about double sessions, I find them so safe and containing, and I think it will be less tiring to have more of a break between the two 50 minute drives. It also better reflects the stage of therapy I’m in, where it is so much about spending time together and doing ‘nice’ things. I said my friend said I should go for it and that this was my thoughts also – I said how on the way home I’d felt very sharply again how important it is to still prioritise my therapy or I would compromise my ability to work and be involved in Extinction Rebellion. And in the back of my mind – always – is the knowledge that climate breakdown is happening so much faster than we ever expected and it is important to make the most of being able to get to K for as long as possible. I cannot imagine ever looking back and wishing I hadn’t spent money on something so vital for my well-being. I have such gratitude for the journey K and I are on together and all the ways in which it enables me to function and grow.
As we were finishing the phone call she said again how big this transition is for my system and how she will be flexible for me and available by phone over the coming weeks so we can work if things are difficult, until all this is settled. I felt all snuggled and wrapped in a blanket when the call ended and that was nice, but it has dissipated quite a lot now and I am feeling lost and unsettled again. I am so incredibly tired and feel as though I’ve been through a near-death experience today so hopefully I will sleep and can spend tomorrow putting the house and my selves back together again.
The last ten days have been busy and tough. We said goodbye to K’s house on Monday 2nd September and to be honest I’ve not even had chance to process it or write about it. K said we weren’t making a hullabaloo because we are not ending, just saying goodbye to the room (though of course some parts internally were definitely having a hullabaloo!). We both know it’s bigger than that though. She is so far away now. Without a car there is no way of getting to hers that doesn’t take 4 or 5 hours each way and involve bikes on trains or long bus rides and taxis. When I put each of our postcodes into google maps and select the public transport option it says ‘Can’t find a way to get there’. This basically sums it all up. So it will be a 70 mile round trip by car for therapy each week and part of me can’t help but think this is nuts and it is time to stop.
The past week in particular has been too busy and my traumatised brain has not coped well at all. Lack of sleep, lack of focus on work, feelings of overwhelm and over-stimulation. I’ve learnt some lessons which I must be sure to integrate, but overall I am left with a feeling of sadness and frustration that I have PTSD and a dissociative disorder and can do so much less of the things I enjoy than I would like to be able to do. I have to leave so much time between things, not spend too much time socialising, not do things after work if I want to sleep, spend hours soothing my brain and body-mind. It’s just unfair. I know everyone has their limits, I know self-care is important, but it turns out my window of tolerance (now I can actually see it because I’m not out of my zone of tolerance nearly all the time) is so much smaller than I ever could have imagined.
I’ve had to cancel going to see my half sister in London this weekend. I know London would finish me this week, especially the 5 and a half hour train/tube/bus journey either way (what was I thinking, seriously?) and that there is too much to do at home and I am already overwhelmed. I’ve not seen her since November last year and we’ve only spoken once on the phone in that time, which was July when we arranged the visit for this weekend (me being over-accommodating again, I know I can’t go away in term-time and particularly not to London!). It was a weird phone call – we didn’t talk about our Mum and brother at all but it was nice to talk to her. When I told K it was ‘fine’ and we didn’t mention Mum and that I had chest pains that evening she laughed, kindly, and pointed out how messed up it is that we both avoid something so huge and I think this is normal and okay! I just want to have my sister still, and it is such a relief that she doesn’t hate me for what I’ve done to our mum and brother, but of course there is so much that continues to be unspoken between us and seeing her this weekend would inevitably bring up a lot.
She is being really understanding about us not going. And it makes me so sad. I would love to have a close and nurturing relationship with my sister, but it is just not like that at all. She would never come and help me out when things got too much, and she doesn’t call on me when times are hard really. It would take a huge emotional toll on me to see her – K and I are meeting today in part because I needed support to prepare for this weekend – and that makes me so sad. My family is so dysfunctional. My sister is the only person I still see on my Mum’s side. There is no one else. Without her I would feel completely cast adrift and yet what we have is so inauthentic and the only bond we really have is that we each have had a very complex, and extremely different, experience of being ‘mothered’ by the same person.
Today I am exhausted and on edge. I need to work before I leave at 12.30 to see K. I am so not up for a 50 minute drive and then being somewhere new and all the stupid stuff we will have to work through about feeling unsettled in the new space. I don’t want to have to waste my next few sessions acclimatising to K’s new home and work space, I want to focus on me and my life. I want her support with what has come up for me since we last met. And I just want to be ‘normal’ whatever that means – I want to be able to see friends and do things I enjoy in the evenings after work and still be able to sleep, I want to be able to meet new people and be in social situations with people I don’t know and not get triggered, I want to be able to spend time with people and not need so much time alone to decompress, I want other people’s energies to stop impacting me so much (I did my Reiki 1 attunment last weekend with this in mind – will blog about it another time when I am in a better headspace). I want a family and friends I can turn to for support and to be able to ask for help when I need it without feeling like a drain on people. I am so frustrated by my brain and the fact that I am left with the imprints of other people’s mistakes and inadequacies for the rest of my life.
Nina and I got back from a week’s holiday in Wales on Saturday afternoon. I arrived home feeling like a completely different person than when we arrived, and not in the way you would expect. When we left, and for the first day or two of our holiday, I felt calm, spacious, relaxed, content, capable, self-contained and grounded, and spent the time strikingly aware of how much had changed, externally and internally, since we stayed in the same cottage in April 2018, 16 months ago. I arrived home feeling agitated, isolated, sad and with the attachment ache that once was so familiar and now is often a distant memory gnawing in my tummy once again. Yesterday was more-or-less okay, but I was really aware that I have OCPD as my mind went into control mode and I felt constantly overwhelmed by all the hay and sawdust on the floor from our pets which reappeared almost as soon as I had vacuumed it up! There are multiple causes of this unravelling and I want to try and separate the knotted strands before therapy – today is my last session at K’s current home, the place I’ve driven to more than 300 times and spent more than 500 hours; when I get there it will be packed up ready for her move on Thursday, and it will be time for me and all the parts to say goodbye.
This summer has been too busy. I don’t feel I’ve had a proper break at all – nearly every hour of my fortnight off work at the start of August was accounted for as I’ve been really active with Extinction Rebellion and also trying to catch up with people I feel obligated to see. It’s a change, being so busy after years of isolating myself when therapy was so intense and I was so ill, but it’s also a familiar feeling – trying to fit too much in and ending up overwhelmed and exhausted. I wondered if it was the flight response, and maybe it is in part, but it really doesn’t seem to be that as doing too much just seemed to sneak up on me due to not allowing time between different commitments and forgetting how long things take and how much energy they require. So rather than a flight response I think it’s more that I over-accommodate people and try to fit them in when my instincts say it will be too much, and I also seem to constantly forget I have complex-PTSD and alters and need to give myself time between things to avoid feeling overwhelmed and over-stimulated. Having finally moved out of the period of my life where I was just lurching from crisis-to-crisis so that one had barely finished before the next began, I’m only now seeing how drained and exhausted I become after being triggered or over-stimulated, and that it takes two or three days to recover. So I guess now I can start to act in accordance with this awareness that I’ve only just had the space to develop. And in terms of not saying no, and agreeing to things I don’t have time or space for, whilst we were away I really worked through some things about why I do this and what fears are underneath it and it is not what I first expected it to be, it runs deeper than not being assertive or wanting to upset people. Funnily enough it’s all linked to being abused as an infant and young child, and having a mentally ill and frequently suicidal borderline-narcissist as a mother! I will write a separate blog post on my realisations once I’ve talked them through with K, but I think changing the beliefs and behaviours is going to be tougher.
Anyway, I was back at work for a busy week after my fortnight off and then we were off to Wales, so I was really holding out for some relaxing time away with Nina, with no emails or news or Extinction Rebellion, avoiding updates about the Amazon rainforest fires and the melting ice in Greenland and all the other existential horrors unfolding globally. And it started so well and ended so differently, and it is kind of confusing as to how I got from how I was on Sunday morning to how I felt when we got back on Saturday, but on the other hand it has again taught me so much about myself and what I want and need in my life and given me some insights that are painful but needed, as always.
It was wonderful to start the week in such a good place. The part of Wales we stayed in was beautiful and there were amazing views across the mountains from the cottage we stayed in. On the first morning I sat in the garden drinking coffee and journalling before Nina woke up (one of the benefits of an almost-teenage daughter!). Here is some of what I wrote:
I cannot get over how different my whole life feels, internally and externally, since we were last here just 16 months ago. I can’t put my finger on exactly what is different, but I feel like a different person living a different life in many ways. I feel spacious and more energised certainly than last time we were here. I am less dissociated, that is clear. And my levels of self-awareness have grown exponentially over the past few years. I am kinder to myself also, I think because I understand who I am and what I need more now.
Getting ready to come I felt spacious and calm and surprised by how quickly we got everything together. That has never happened getting ready for a holiday before! Usually I become overwhelmed very quickly and feel bombarded from all sides as my brain becomes too full.
I am bigger. I feel bigger in my own life. It is not about K or Mum. It is about me. I can see myself now. And I know it is the work I have done with K that has enabled that – she helped me find and draw a line around myself, so I am more clearly visible to myself. Last April so much was coming up still, about Mum and therapy and single parenthood. I thought it would always be that way, but in understanding and giving space to those struggles they have largely subsided.
And Mum isn’t here with us. Her legacy is beginning to be eroded. I read a quote last night about how letting go doesn’t mean we forget, it means we stop carrying the energy of something into the present. And this is exactly what has happened with Mum. I still get pangs for her, I wanted her last night in fact, but this is different from how it used to be, because energetically she used to be with me and shaping me. I used to get so angry when K said about how one day I would be able to let Mum go. I thought she meant I wasn’t trying hard enough and that I was hanging onto the past and refusing to let it go. I thought K meant I was bitter and resentful and playing the victim and blaming Mum for things I shouldn’t be, but that wasn’t what she meant at all. I didn’t know what she meant or that one day letting go would just happen and yet now I so rarely think or talk about the past, and I actively resist conversations with people where this is happening. I don’t want to talk about abuse or attachment trauma anymore but back then, when she first said it, I wasn’t done with the anger and hurt because I had never allowed myself to feel it.
Last time we were here I still needed K so much – we worked by phone and did paid emails. It didn’t really help, but I’m not sure what would have back then. I don’t need her this week because I know she is here.
In no particular order, these are the things that seemed to contribute to me descending from that serene and self-contained space to a place where I felt like I was teetering dangerously over the edge of a full-blown self-harming crisis. Everything I felt and wrote at the start of the week is still true, and I’ve also bounced back from impending crisis pretty quickly and easily, but I think being away from home does bring up difficult things in my life and I need to think carefully about what I will commit to in terms of time away from home in the future.
I know it sounds obvious, but sometimes I forget I have C-PTSD from relational trauma, i.e from people. In amongst all the other relational craziness and life struggles I am bringing awareness to there is the fact that having people too close traumatised me and left me boundary-less. So having a pre-teen girl with me 24/7, especially one who takes delight in annoying me on purpose, jumps and dances around constantly, makes a lot of noise and has no spatial awareness or understanding of the need for head space, is a recipe for overwhelm. Her noise triggers me, her sitting too close to me on the sofa or jabbing at me or shoving her feet in my lap for a foot rub triggers me, her anger and frustration triggers me, her demanding my attention when I’m trying to focus on something else triggers me, being the only adult and having to make all the decisions about where to go and what to do and driving in circles around unfamiliar places triggers me, not having time or space to myself triggers me. So on holiday all these things collided, and even with our own bedrooms I just didn’t get enough space or peace. I ended up exploding when we were playing monopoly on Friday evening and she had shoved a load of cards in my face and yelled something – she was messing around but my brain just cannot handle this at all. Later on I explained a little about PTSD and how my brain works – or doesn’t – in an age-appropriate and careful way, telling her how my brain thinks I’m under threat when something sudden happens or gets over-stimulated when too much sensory input happens at once. I think she took it in a little…
Lack of light
This is one of the most frustrating reasons why being away caused me to spiral – the weather. It was only last summer that I did some sleuthing and discovered why I always feel groggy and lacking in energy and barely awake on overcast and rainy days. It’s like having SAD, but it happens instantly in the summer as well as the winter as soon as there is a day where the sun doesn’t come out, rather than being a gradual build-up over the winter months. It’s because of PTSD and my brain crunching through Serotonin super fast (which is what it does in fight or flight) and so I need a top up each morning, and am super-sensitive to a lack of sunlight – my brain doesn’t produce the neurotransmitters needed to wake me up without it, and I just keep getting blasted with Melatonin – the sleep hormone. Basically. And so for the first few days of our holiday it was warm and sunny and I felt awake, energised, spacious and truly alive, and then it was grey and damp and I felt completely drained of energy and life, half-asleep, and really irritable and on edge. The change is remarkable. We’ve had a number of holidays like this over the past few years and it is really crap actually, as it feels like such a waste of money. I feel so different, and it is not just a matter of forcing myself to do things despite the rain, I feel physically quite unwell on grey days.
My knee pain has been quite bad again recently (it’s caused by my lower back tightening up, and is clearly root chakra/kidney (fear) related) and before we left I was quite worried about how it would be on holiday as we wanted to do lots of hiking. We went for a beautiful waterfall walk on Sunday, our first day, and I was thinking how it was surprisingly okay… And then I slipped near a waterfall and smashed both knees on rock. It was absolute agony and they both swelled up really badly straightaway. The rest of the walk was incredibly painful and the bruises are enormous still. So this coupled with the existing knee pain made walking quite hard and as the weather was pretty crap we needed to be walking to be out and about really.
Being a single parent
It goes without saying really, but being a single parent is hard, and it doesn’t suddenly stop being hard when we are on holiday, quite the opposite in fact. There is still shopping to do, meals to plan and prepare, tidying up to do, clothes to organise, and entertaining to do. Nina is really helpful, or tries to be, but at 12 there is only so much she can do and being solely responsible for the happiness and joy of a small person is hard work, tiring and all-encompassing. It is also really lonely. And without my everyday life to ground me and root me into my own world I easily become lost. We had some cosy times and some giggles, we talked a lot, we went to some pretty places, and I know I am really lucky to have her as my daughter, but it doesn’t stop the negative parts of parenthood, and the fact that being with her can be triggering in the extreme.
K moving and fear of being forgotten
K’s house move is affecting us all more than I thought it would. I guess that kind of makes sense given how important the space we’ve shared there has been in our healing journey, and how much pain and damage has been uncovered within those 4 walls, how much growth and healing has taken place as we have sat opposite each other in the therapy room there. As I said at our last session, the house holds secrets, and there is an irrational but huge fear that when she moves those secrets will be forgotten. Leia (14) emailed K whilst we were away about it:
I can’t really explain it but I think you might understand anyway. It’s just that I am worried all the things we’ve told you in that room will disappear and not go with us. You keep saying it’s a new phase but I don’t want you to forget all the things we’ve told you in our room and all the things we’ve done. You are the only person we’ve told about all the things that happened. I don’t talk anywhere else. No one else knows I’m here. I don’t want you to forget everything. Will you remember everything even if we don’t talk about it in the new house? Please don’t forget. It was so bad for so long and I don’t want you to forget and not remember. Our room is where we shared everything and I don’t want those things to stop being real because we don’t take them with us. I don’t want us to forget and see our mum again. I don’t want to pretend again that everything was okay all my life when it wasn’t. It’s really important we remember. I’ve been having bad dreams and I don’t want to say goodbye to the place where you saw me and no one else had, and I am really worried it will be too different in the new house and we won’t be able to find you there.
K replied and said she heard this worry and understood, and that we would be held in mind, but this fear of being forgotten, becoming invisible, ceasing to exist, is huge, and links a lot to the over-committing thing that happens in my life more generally. And it is why knowing K has had and will have so many other clients hurts so much and makes me feel like I will be annihilated if I’m not the only one. I want to write more on this once I’ve talked to K about it, but it is basically an inbuilt fear that if I’m not extra visible and more prominent than everyone else than I will be obliterated and replaced, because if others exist they must be better than me, because I am worthless. It’s as if I have to do even more and be more visible than everyone else to exist and be considered anywhere near as good, meaning I feel solely judged on what I do rather than who I am. At a very basic level I cannot see that I have anything to offer people and groups and so on based on who I am as a person, it’s only what I do for them. There’s much more I could say about this, but it’s clear that K’s move is bringing up a lot around this, and it is time it was paid some attention in therapy. Cognitively I can see how limiting and damaging these beliefs are and how much they are affecting my life still, and I can see it – of course – links to having a narcissist as a mother, but shifting these core beliefs is hard because it hurts so much to even see that they are there.
K and the website
This really was the final straw on Friday evening! We looked at K’s website a few times last week for the first time in a really long time as we needed to check everything was the same even though she’s moving, and on Friday a photo was added on the complex trauma and dissociation page of a sand tray we made with her when she sent her dog, Mr Raposa who I’ve written about before, to rescue little me on a plane called sky shark and bring me to her. In the background is an ambulance we sent for my Mum. I was so shocked to see this picture on her website as it was such a powerful and emotionally charged piece of work, and so personal – I definitely didn’t want it to be looked at by others and I felt really hurt that she would either think it was okay to do this, or had completely forgotten what the sand tray was of or that it was mine. Admittedly we’ve done loads of sand trays and that is the only one I remember – I looked at photos of some others on Saturday and had no clue what was happening in any of them so I can kind of forgive her for not remembering, but still, surely she knew it was mine… So how can she have thought it would be okay to use it on her website without asking? Anyway, I emailed her and asked her to change it for a different picture and she replied and said ‘Apologies that’s obviously a mistake and I will take it down today!’ And she has since swapped it for a different one (looks like she did her own sand tray lol). But the whole thing just feels shit still, and it’s annoying that we will have to spend some of my session today discussing it. Does she mean she made a mistake and thought it would be okay when it clearly wasn’t? Or does she mean she didn’t realise what the picture was of? I’m not sure which is worse! And during a short break and when I know she is going to be getting lots of new clients due to the move and most clients not being willing to drive 70 miles for therapy, it just serves to emphasise that our work is so central to my life and yet I am just one of many to her.
It has been helpful to separate out what has been going on. I feel much better today (wrote most of this yesterday) and am back at work and glad that we are getting back into a routine now after this weird summer! I see K at 4pm and we have a double session and I am going to take some cuttings from her garden to plant in the garden of our new house. I will try and write later this week about saying goodbye to her house and garden. There is so much to talk about today and I am really hoping I won’t be too triggered or sad when I leave!