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!