Ugh

I cried as soon as I got to work this morning. I got it together to do something important. Then I cried all through my occupational health appointment. And explaining to the disability advisor what I experience, all the different symptoms, because of chronic abuse and trauma as a young child really brought it home to me that I have a lifelong disability caused by my own parents. Like, what the fuck? It is just so hard to comprehend that the two people who should have loved and supported me, who in many ways tried so hard to love me, have damaged me so much that I will forever carry the scars. I then broke down into huge sobs with a colleague after seeing some negative feedback from the young people I work with, despite there being a lot of positive comments about my sessions too, as the shame is just so hard to bear. (She has since offered to look at my feedback and tell me the constructive comments, so I don’t have to look at it, which is nice but also scary because then she’ll see anything negative).

And then I had my PDR and cried and cried and told my AL (like my line manager but also a mentor, and I’m not accountable to him if that makes sense, so any reasonable adjustments couldn’t be determined by him) that I have CPTSD and a dissociative disorder and because of that experience chronic pain and a million other things (I kept it brief). He was super nice, although embarrassed by all my tears I think, and said it was clear how enormous what I was dealing with was and how well I’ve done to get where I am now (K always says I’m the only person she knows who has been through anything as extreme as I did and experiences such significant symptoms and is not on the mental health ward (no disrespect to anyone this is the case for of course, my coping mechanisms have led me to where I am and haven’t always been for the best for me)). My AL and I talked about some practical things, but ultimately really I need to reduce hours and take an extended time off sick I think. I was hoping, but knowing it wasn’t possible really, that it could be taken into account on our workload allocation that I need to take time between things to avoid getting overstimulated, but that would only be possible with a pay reduction (and then I can’t afford therapy, so…).

We also talked about the amount I have on at the moment, and how it really will be just a matter of surviving until the end of March (which at present doesn’t feel manageable because even surviving until the end of next week doesn’t feel possible) but after that I can maybe begin to streamline and focus and say no to more. The OH advisor I saw can’t do anything until I get a formal referral from HR, and then I will need to have a proper discussion with my head of department, but I want to wait until I’m off probation which I really hope will be before Christmas but may well not be now. She said also how the nature of the work I do means that the things I struggle with will always be a part of it and I know I need to consider longer term what I am going to do. I honestly look in my calendar and look at my to-do list and the number of emails flying in with new requests and I just don’t know how I’m going to make it. I just want to go off sick but no one would cover anything so it would create a stressful mess for the young people I work with and I’d come back to a worse shit storm than I’m in now.

I just want to be able to do the work I love. It is filling me with such grief and hopelessness that because of my childhood my life is so curtailed. I really didn’t sleep well at all last night, dread catching in my chest every time I was about to fall asleep and I’d be wide awake again with a sense of panic over all I have to do at work, so I hope maybe I can sleep better tonight and tomorrow and blitz through lots so I don’t have to work too much over the weekend. This morning I thought it was Wednesday and when I discovered it was Thursday I wasn’t pleased it was nearly the weekend but even more stressed because I had less time to get things done. That feels like such a ridiculous state to be in. And I’m so aware that my desire to not let down my colleagues and the young people I work with is taking priority over my own well-being (and Nina’s to some extent) but I was conditioned to do that and I don’t know how to even make my own health more important to me than it is now.

Tentative steps

I think we managed to reach K a teeny tiny bit last night, managed to take in just some of our connection and her presence again. I felt different when I woke up this morning. More settled and less overwhelmed and ready to face the day and all that I knew it would bring. Lighter. More spacious. I felt sad on the way to work, a deep sadness around my Mum and my childhood and the chronic pain and emotional distress I’ve had to learn to live with, but it was from a place of self-compassion and not an overwhelmed “I can’t keep going, this is too hard” sadness. It felt under control and also a needed sadness, if I am ever to release the shame that binds me so tightly inside my harsh internal world where on some deep and primal level I don’t feel I deserve support and understanding because it is my fault how I am. I felt less cut off from myself and K felt just a little closer in time and space. And I was curious to note how those tiny steps back towards her helped me also be in a space where my life isn’t quite so overwhelming. My life is objectively too much for a person with CPTSD and a dissociative disorder and chronic pain, but the feelings of overwhelm and not being able to continue are also attachment-based – without a sense of ground beneath me and safety inside me I lose my way and lose sight of myself in among the chaos so quickly.

I cried early in our session yesterday about the fear of not being able to reach her again, and what it would be like to leave her if that happened , how awful it would be and how it would feel like I was dying again – “you are right there and we can’t reach you” someone whispered. And sometimes it still really helps to hear K explain why this happens; her explanations are so soothing and it releases some of the fear that I am broken for not being able to reach her and for feeling like I don’t know her at all. She said how attachment doesn’t happen overnight, that it comes through trust and deep attunement and empathy and all sorts of modelling of ways that didn’t happen very much for me when I was very little. And she said how at various times in our therapy journey it was very hard for me to be around her, because it was so painful to be around some aspects of the things I missed out on. “And very frightening to be in contact, but it’s also very frightening for you not to be in contact. So we’re holding an incredibly fine line between what it’s like to feel abandoned and really empty and the fear of feeling very close”. And she talked about how for a long time it was like that, but then it settled and we weren’t in that territory so much, but her house move has been a big psychological breakdown in terms of connection so we need to build up trust again, and we can’t rush it and so need to try and be okay with it taking a while longer.

She talked about how her move had brought up profound fear for me, so deep that we didn’t even know it was there, so deep that it was hard to put into words and stirred up things for me on a very different level than the things we talked about in terms of her moving further away and it being a pain to get there. “I’m talking about what it is like for a baby, or a toddler, or a pre-school person to have grossly missed trust and no holding that makes sense. So I think it has stirred up something really deep in your psyche that is hard to even name”. And she said then we throw in the autumn term and the fact I’m a parent at the same time and it’s clear why this is a really difficult time, and ideally we’d be meeting more right now to feel into that trust again but “you’ve got a heinous week full of grim things to do” [LOL so true] so that is not possible. It helped though, just her saying that we need to be meeting more often at the moment, but can’t, because I wish we could and it is just not physically possible but it helps to know my wish is reasonable given the circumstances. And as we approach the worst month of the year for me with my Mum’s birthday and the anniversary of Jess’ suicide on the same day [December 10th] and just as Christmas, season of perpetual triggers and emotional flashbacks, is pulling me into its claustrophobic cage, I wish so much that I could go twice a week to try and further settle things before we reach December. We’ve always met extra in the early part of December but I looked at my work calendar today and it is scary how hard it is going to be to fit it in this year.

It was a really full session. We talked about so much, about the time after my overdose when I was 22 and what was needed back then, about the physical pain that has dominated so much of my life, since I was really very small (and continues to, though never as bad as it was for the decade from when I was 20), about the lengths I go to keep it hidden (consciously and subconsciously), about how on some level it’s because I feel responsible for what happened to me as a young child and, particularly, for the way my body and nervous system responded. There is so much I want to write about because I have gained so many insights and so much self-knowledge in the past few weeks, but I am tired and tonight I really just wanted to write about how by the end of the session, after we’d had a Mog story and made plans for a film night next week to try and feel cosy in the new house, things felt a little more settled. It felt as though a little bit of whatever has been keeping us away from K had dissolved inside me so there was space for a little of what she gives me to reach me too. When she feels near, even when she is far away, everything feels just that little bit more stable, and I really hope we can reach her properly and feel filled up of nice things again soon.

The Divide

A stranger who I’ve seen every week for 4 years sits across from me.

Are you a metre away or a million miles?

Lucie (22)

K read this in our parts book today and she said ‘I’m here. I am here all the time. I am the same as ever. So the distance is not with me. The distance is with Lucie and adult CB and everyone feeling separate. So it feels like for you maybe there is a glass wall here, but actually for me there isn’t, there’s no divide. For me it’s the same as always.’

And it hurts so much. It has been 5 weeks since we could reach K. It is making everything else feel so unmanageable. The pain of not being able to connect and then being shoved back outside into the cold and wet and left with this gnawing aching pain getting bigger and bigger as it sinks in that  it is a whole week till we get the chance to try and connect again is so completely awful. It is so hard to sit with this pain and not do desperate things to squash it. And K replied to a text this evening but I don’t want to be like this again. For so long texting her didn’t occur to me. I want to be back there again. I felt so secure in our relationship. I am scared she will get tired of being back where we were. Are we back where we were? Does she notice we are not in combat this time?

For so long therapy was ‘something I did’ – important, but not all-consuming. So beautiful after all those months of years and turmoil. I was more stable then I ever had been. K was in the background and I rarely thought of her because I knew she was there and I knew my space was there waiting for me every week. I want that back. It was so safe and lovely and I was soaking her in and enjoying the healing and now I can’t feel it. I feel so lost and untethered. Keeping going is so hard. I’m starting to doubt whether all those months of feeling so held and safe and self-contained every really happened.

Why did she have to move house? And how can that have disrupted everything so much? Has it? Or am I making this up? I feel so lost and alone.

Hiding the damage

On Saturday I was exhausted and binge-watching the new Netflix drama Unbelievable when I was hit by an enormous wave of another level of painful realisation about how and who I am, and the accompanying grief left me sobbing and fragile. It came to me so strongly that not only was I abused and neglected and abandoned, but that I have spent my whole life so far trying to cover up that fact and live the life I could easily have had if this had not been my childhood. It takes all my energy trying to hide my pain and pretend I am not traumatised and dissociated and a person who is enormously triggered by other people.

Yesterday’s therapy session, for all it’s painful feelings of disconnection, did involve some very open discussion around this, and interestingly ended right where it began. Near the start I told K what happened whilst watching Unbelievable, about how some victims are believed and some aren’t, and about how not being believed has been such a constant theme for me, in part because my Mum seems so normal and generous to the untrained eye, and in part because my life looks so ‘successful’ in many ways. And I talked about how no one at work or in the real world would believe me if I disclosed complex-PTSD and a dissociative disorder and chronic pain because I function SO WELL (ironically because of the dissociation and my ability to push huge levels of pain to one side to get done what needs doing, and to almost dissociate from the heavy fog of dissociation in my head so I can carry on working). No one would believe how intense my symptoms are, how I am on sensory overload nearly all the time due to hypervigilance, or how I am half a world away most of the time. And at the end I was talking about work and the possibility of getting a referral to occupational health so adjustments can be made and the reason I am SO RELUCTANT to do this is because I DON’T WANT ANYONE TO KNOW WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME. And there I was, back where I started – spending my life desperately trying to hide the impact attachment trauma has on me, to the point I won’t tell anyone even if it might make my life easier.

And that is the crux of the issue. I have never allowed myself ANY dispensation for the legacy of my childhood or the fact I am a single parent. I submitted my PhD in 3 years and completed within 4, just as everyone is expected to do (and many don’t), despite having a young child and, at that time, a diagnosis of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue.  At work I have not taken a single day sick ever because of pain or emotional flashbacks and attachment trauma (though I have many days where I am not as productive as I would like to be). Within Extinction Rebellion only one person knows I have complex-PTSD (I told her last week) and the thought of other people there knowing, seeing me as vulnerable and broken, horrifies me. I so desperately want to be ‘normal’, or some version of it at least. I am so incredibly ashamed of the physical pain I experience. And I also get triggered when I do disclose and people don’t understand just how much pain I experience (because how could they, when I function so well in spite of it?).

I don’t know what I’m afraid of happening. I can see that a referral to OH is needed now. For a long time there was always a reason I was struggling. I was taking too many drugs. My friend had killed herself. I was having memories resurface of abuse when I was a child and teen. I was realising my Mum is seriously mentally ill and abusive to Nina and I needed to reduce contact with her. I was deep in attachment trauma therapy and constantly in crisis. I had recently become estranged from my Mum. It was Christmas. It was winter. I was struggling with climate breakdown. I was doing too much. I was moving house. I didn’t give myself a break over summer. But last week at work was just a normal, very full, week, nothing extreme happened, just the usual frustrations on top of my anticipated workload, and yet the state I was in by Friday – dissociated and over-stimulated and utterly overwhelmed – was extreme. It’s not even the busy time of the term yet. K said yesterday how she knows other people who do what I do who struggle at this time of year, working evenings and weekends and finding it really tough. ‘Your job is hard’ she said. And at the time I took it to mean ‘everyone struggles, it’s not just you’ but I see now that’s not what she meant. What she meant was it’s a full on job, even without solo parenting and complex-PTSD. I pointed out to her that I’ve now reached a point in my career where it is manageable for most people, after the intense first few years of targets and other things I can’t go into without giving away what I do. For the first few years I was working late and most weekends, but that is not how it is now for the most part (although looking ahead I can see it will be the case this term as I have so much to do). I have significantly cut back on what I do now also, saying no to more, expecting less of myself. And yet it is still not sustainable for me.

I’m not cut out for it. I see that now. As I pointed out to K yesterday, other people struggle but can still have a life outside of it because being with people soothes and resets them, they can socialise in the evenings and unwind, they don’t have to strip back their lives to the bare minimum to make the job even partway manageable. And I could list all of the things I did last week, and how full each day was, but the truth is this is part and parcel of being in the job I am in, and those that cope with it most likely don’t have the struggles I have. K said on the phone this evening [yes, another last minute crisis call] that she is amazed by how much I do at the weekends, after a full week of work, but it makes me sad and resentful that I have to give up those things in order to feel well enough to work.

For a long time I’ve held in mind that as Nina gets older my life will get easier and more spacious. However, we now know the speed at which climate and ecological breakdown is happening – in 6 years time when she is 18 and old enough to leave home I highly doubt we will be living the way we are now. K told me last night how much easier things are when children are grown up, but I had to cut her off – I became a mother at 23, knowing my daughter would be grown up by the time I was 41 and I would have some time and freedom then, but this is not the world we will soon be inhabiting. Things are going to get fucked up beyond all recognition and I cannot spend the next few years comforting myself that things will get easier as Nina grows up because it just is not true. And I cannot sustain another 6 years of this. I did email Occupational Health today and I said that I’d hidden my struggles (my disability, really, isn’t it? This counts as a disability under the Equality Act) for 9 years and that I just couldn’t do it anymore. My workload is increasing, as is everyone’s, but also so is my knowledge and expertise, so I am in demand and invited to be on committees and other things. I cannot keep going like this. And it is clear that even without regular attachment crises my work is making me ill.

I don’t know what to do. It breaks my heart that I can’t do this work without it really impacting on my well-being because I love it. I love (most of) the young people I work with. I love my research. I love sharing my knowledge and expertise and wisdom with others. My traumatised body-mind just cannot deal with it though. My brain cannot handle the amount of information that it is required to hold onto and process each day. During the busy time of year it is just more human interaction than I can cope with. I am on sensory overload all the time, and it does not take much to send things spiralling out of control. Someone at XR said they couldn’t do two back-to-back meetings and it hit me how much I do – my days at work are back-to-back meetings for the most part, during the busy 6 months at least. And even positive and inspiring and light-hearted interaction with other humans leaves me depleted and over-stimulated. And my brain cannot cope with the sheer volume of different things I have to hold – it’s not even the amount of work I have to do, it’s that my attention is split between so many different demands and there is always some issue to firefight.

I feel utterly trapped. I have a mortgage, I still have £8500 in debt, I have no savings, I pay £300 a month for therapy, I have to run a car to get to therapy. The fear of having to stop seeing K is huge, even though she says we’d come to an arrangement like a LETS scheme and I would do her garden or other household things. And I could get 6 months paid sickness absence, so that is maybe the worse case scenario for now, 6 months to rest… But it would have implications, it would let people down. I don’t want to do that. Within the next month or two I can put in to come off probation as I’ll have met my targets a year early. I hope this will take some of the pressure off, enable me to say no to more things without the constant worry it will stand against me. But ultimately I need to start to accept that I have complex-PTSD, that I cannot do the things many others can do because of trauma. And that is really, really hard because I am still so ashamed and I still don’t want people to know. I still expend so much energy keeping my symptoms and brokenness hidden. The thought of telling people I have complex PTSD and pain and need adjustments at work and need people to support me makes me feel actually ill. I think maybe I wanted to get so well that I never had to tell anyone how damaged I am.

Reaching

I couldn’t reach K again today and now I’m home and it feels like my insides have been ripped out. How after so many months of feeling so held and safe and connected am I here again for so many weeks now?

I read K what Phoebe wrote last week. She said it’s amazing because it sums up the block between us that is happening right now and that is about something historical that has led to a special shape within me, a pattern that says that most things are not safe (what a fucking sad statement of fact).

‘I can’t reach you’ I managed to whisper.

‘Yeah, I know’ and she sounded sad, like she really knew how fucking painful it is to be a metre from her and also a million miles away. And it surprised me that she knew straightaway, she knew I couldn’t reach her, because I was behaving ‘normally’ and pretending all was fine, and she is still the only person who sees through my mask and knows I’m out of reach.

‘Well… I think it’ll come back’ and I started to sob and she said ‘don’t worry, you know what  – this went on for a long time with Mum, years and years and years. So right now there’s a patterning that’s saying don’t trust. We’ll get through it. I’m confident it’ll come back.’

She said how important it is that we don’t pretend it’s normal, like I had to as a child, and that we let it be there and let things be difficult and authentic. She thinks it will settle of it’s own accord over the next few weeks, if we sit in the storm with it and don’t force it.

‘And I’m here, no matter what. And it’ll be alright. I’m convinced it will be okay’.

‘It’s hard without you’ I said quietly. (And it is so hard, to be without her after months of feeling her with me all the time, whenever I looked for her).

‘Yeah, and I’m here, waiting in the wings.’

And we talked about Phoebe again, and how she didn’t used to have any words. About how she was mean all the time because she was scared of K and how much she hated all the other parts for attaching to K. She was the last, shame kept her far away and angry and defended for so many years. And it hurts so much that she wants to connect and can’t. But she knows K hasn’t done anything wrong now and she knows K doesn’t hurt us deliberately and just wants to help. The blocking is automatic and it comes from us, not K.

So things are different but also the same. Or maybe they are the same but also different. I’m not battling K. We’re not falling into horrible relational re-enactments and locking horns. I’m not accusing her of being different or convinced she hates me. I know she’s there and that I can’t reach her. We can talk about what’s happening now, even though we cannot make the connection come back however much we both wish we could. And inside me is a gaping pit of emptiness and I want to die/cut/take drugs to fill it, but I know this hole is not caused by K but by my parents who couldn’t love me, and so whilst I want to die I can also hold on tight to her belief that I will reach her again. I just really hope it’s not much longer because I miss her. I missed her even while I was in the room with her for 2 hours earlier. Everything internally and externally is very hard at the moment and I need her with me and it really fucking hurts when I can’t reach her.