A place in this world

So another year draws to a close. I’ve grown past the need to make grand declarations about all the things I will do in the new year to make myself a better person, but I do think it is a good time to reflect on what has been and the lessons learnt, and to draw a line under that which no longer serves us and can be left behind as midnight passes. K and I were laughing yesterday that this time last year I decided my word for 2019 would be glow, because this year has been unexpectedly really quite bad and that word doesn’t reflect how the year ended up being at all. I was thinking a few weeks ago that when I look back on this year it seems very jagged and tangled – I was expecting it to be a much smoother year than previous years where I would be integrating the healing I had done so far because I had now done the work with K (not all the work by any means, but ‘the work’ – people in therapy for attachment trauma will know what I mean by this), but in fact it has thrown up a lot of things I wasn’t expecting about how I am and how I live my life. And so whilst I’ve learnt a huge amount about myself in recent months, I’ve not yet been able to integrate this new awareness into my life in any meaningful way or use it to make things easier for me.

Moving house took up a lot of time and energy in the first half of the year. It’s easy to lose sight of what a huge achievement it was to buy and sell at the same time whilst working full time and looking after Nina. This time last year our old house was on the market and I had no idea where we would end up or if we would even be able to move at all. The place we’ve ending up living wasn’t on my radar at all at that time and I’m so grateful for all the twists and turns that led to being where we are now. I love our new house, I love the surrounding area and how calm and peaceful it is, I love the new friend I’ve made here and through her I am excited to meet other new people this year. I love how safe it is to let Nina go out and play with her friends and that she can cycle and explore and go paddling in the streams near our house. The stressful self-inflicted summer I had and then the past 4 months of hell at work have meant I haven’t been able to take all this in as much as I would have liked to, but Nina and I walked in the meadow here and had a drink at the local pub this afternoon before she went to her friend’s for a sleepover and it was so lovely and still and there were birds singing everywhere and it really reminded me how far I’ve come to get us here. I made a good decision and I made it happen and I am incredibly proud I did that. Next year I hope to spend less time frozen in my house and more time uncurling in the sunshine and riding my bike in new places around here.

Fully waking up to the impending climate and ecological apocalypse – and just how close it is – also took up a lot of space this year. I fully immersed myself in Extinction Rebellion from April onwards and I’m really grateful I did that as I know I have made a big contribution and meeting others who are awake to the catastrophe most people are sleepwalking into was very empowering and I met some truly special souls. I over-committed myself and although I caused myself a lot of stress because of this, and it meant I headed into the busy time of the year at work without having had a proper break over the summer, I don’t regret it because it helped me uncover some long-standing patterns and, more importantly, the reasons behind so many of the habits I so easily fall into. Back in September I said to K that I didn’t see how I would move past them, and she said she thought bringing them into awareness would be most of what was needed. I was sceptical as it all came down to the fear of being invisible, and needing to be extra visible in order to exist at all, as another lovely legacy of narcissistic and abusive (traumatised) parents, and it felt impossible to move past something that has been so huge in my life, but actually I’ve taken a break from Extinction Rebellion till the Spring and I know I am still held in mind there, and I’ve realised that the most important thing is being visible to myself and this is something I’m continuing to work on. So, as usual, K was right.

Beyond this wish to make myself bigger in my own life next year, I really want to find my comfort zone in 2020. I was talking to a friend on Sunday and I said how there were so many posts on insta at this time of year about the need to push out of our comfort zones in order to experience true growth, but that I would be happy to find mine and stay there forever. I don’t think it had ever occurred to either of us that other people have a comfort zone, a place and way of being where they feel safe and at ease. I mean, I knew comfort zones were a thing, but I’d never thought about what it meant to have one or taken time to notice that I really don’t have one. We were also both confused at to why someone would want to push out of something that sounds like such a nice place to be! I do know there are times when I feel truly present and content and at peace with myself and the world, and I want more of that, but I also want to create a space inside me and a place in the world where I feel safe and at ease. K and I talked about this yesterday and she agreed it was a good goal for 2020 and that we would spend time working out what my comfort zone is, what feels okay and what doesn’t, because I am so used to pushing through everything and it has been hard to see what is genuinely okay and what is dissociation. Since the summer I am starting to really notice so many things that are not okay for me and that I need to leave behind and whilst it is hard accepting the limitations of my life because of my childhood, it is part of acceptance and for me growth seems to be very tied into finding this elusive thing known as a comfort zone.

It is only in the last few months of this year that I’ve really begun to understand how traumatised I am. I know this sounds silly because I went to K knowing I had CPTSD but it was only this year, when things were so much better from an attachment perspective and I wasn’t lurching from one crisis to the next, that I had the space to be able to see just how shredded my nervous system is because of relational trauma. And I think it is this that is making it so hard to keep going at work and in my full on home life – it’s not going to miraculously get better. More than 4 years ago, when I’d only just started therapy, I was worrying about whether I’d be able to keep working and K said that I might want to look at reducing the number of hours I worked in a year or so’s time. I remember being confused, because I had been planning to be recovered by then (ha!), but I can see now what she knew then that I am only just waking up to; healing from attachment trauma is a lifelong journey and the work is never truly complete. I need a different life than the one I envisaged for myself but I am not able to have that right now. It is hard knowing that I cannot make the big changes I truly need, that I will have to keep struggling through at work for the foreseeable future, but it is important to accept what is and not create more stress for myself by resisting it. I know that what I really need is to spend more time healing and caring for myself. Ideally I would work 3 or 4 days a week somewhere calmer that I can leave behind me when I go home so that I could spend more time doing things that help me heal and grow. This is not my reality and can’t be, but it is good to keep in mind the ideal I think, and then work at fulfilling the parts that I can for now, whilst holding in mind that I don’t want to live like this forever.

Realising how traumatised my brain is has shifted things, because I can see that whilst things will get better than this, I will always need a more gentle life than someone without CPTSD and I will always need more time for doing different things to nurture my system than someone without alters/parts. And whilst I have kept going despite work and therapy being horrifically hard the past 4 and a half years,  I am now really reluctant to continue doing this year in year out, barely hanging on at work, because of the longer term impact it will be having on my physical and emotional health. I am so aware of the statistical likelihood of me getting an auto-immune disease, something like lupus or MS or thyroid disease, and the amount of stress my body is under really isn’t good for me in terms of triggering something like that. I do lots of things to take care of myself – vegan diet, alcohol free, exercise, time in nature, yoga, meditation, therapy, avoiding over-stimulating situations, the list goes on – but the amount of toxic stress chemicals so frequently flooding through my body worries me. It is no longer sustainable. It never has been but I have been surviving and getting through every year, and as I wrote back in October, I can’t keep doing that now I know that the reality is I won’t suddenly not have PTSD anymore. I don’t want to keep surviving and pushing through exhaustion and being triggered by overwhelm and an endless list of too many things to do. Life is short and time is precious, and the climate crisis really throws this into sharp relief. We don’t know how long we have left of being able to live like we are now in this country, but this year has really taught me that I can’t just hang in there until Nina grows up and I can work less and have more time for me. I need to live now. I want to live now.

I have had horrific anxiety about returning to work ever since it became obvious last week that two weeks off wasn’t going to be enough to replenish me and reset my nervous system. I was expecting the break to help, but I’ve had a virus for two weeks now and I know that come Monday I won’t be feeling refreshed and ready to go back for another crazy three months. Yesterday morning I thought I wasn’t going to be able to do it at all but my session with K last night really helped settle things and I am planning to spend the next 5 days getting myself in as good a place as I can for going back. K suggested last night that we spoke about short, medium and long term in relation to work, and where I could see myself. We talked about why I do what I do, that I love so many aspects of my work and how I’ve said for the past 9 years that even if I won the lottery I would keep doing the same thing, but I said I couldn’t handle the way things had gone in the type of institution I work in and how corporate it now is. I cannot handle the pressure, the administrative load we now have to deal with on top of the actual work we have to do, and how many different things we are expected to hold in mind all at the same time. I could rail against that and dream of the good old days when things were different, but it doesn’t change the reality and therefore it is not somewhere I feel able to work for the rest of my life. I will find out next week (I hope) if my application to come off probation a year early has been successful. If it is I will be so relieved. At the moment I’m thinking I will need to take some time off sick then, but K and I both said this may change as I may feel very liberated knowing I’ve met my targets and had my appointment formally confirmed (after 4 years!) and this may create some space to start saying no to more and doing less that will make it feel more manageable. So we will see. I also need to be prepared that my application won’t be accepted and I’ll have to wait the full 5 years, but I will deal with that if and when it happens. And in the medium term I just need to keep going, because I need money and Nina is only 12 and there are no other jobs that I could do where I would earn enough to pay the mortgage and continue in therapy, but I hope that I will be able to end probation and that this will enable me to make some different choices with regards the shape my career takes now and find ways of being there that mean it doesn’t consume me so fully as it has the past few months. The longer term is harder because best case scenario we have another 30 years before scientists and other academics predict our civilisation will collapse due to climate breakdown but many are predicting it will be less, and so I cannot make a plan for what I will do when Nina leaves home and I have more time and need less money because I’m not sure the life I expected to have five years ago when that time came is realistic, but if I hadn’t read the science and didn’t know what was ahead then I would be looking to change direction entirely and stop doing what I do now forever. So this is the goal I will keep in mind, because I think part of staying present, for me at least, means switching off from the fear of what may one day come to pass and assuming things will continue as they are forever. And I want to make decisions based on love not fear as that is the only way I can see of getting out of this mess humanity has got into in the first place.

So in many ways next year will be the same as this one, which pleases me and horrifies me in equal measure, but it does look clearer and more stable and peaceful, with no huge changes, and I am learning every year a little more about what I want and need and opening to the possibility that I deserve these things and I deserve a place in this world where I feel comfortable and safe and at ease.

And I will finish by wishing a happy and healthy new year to all my readers! Thank you for following my journey this year and taking the time to provide support and insights into what I share here, it is so very appreciated. I wish you peace and joy and strength in the coming year.

Stars

My session today was what I needed, what I hoped it would be, as Christmas descends and I work hard not to lose myself. I’ve had a really bad sore throat since Thursday so I text K this morning to check it was still okay to go, as the last thing I would want is to pass some kind of viral yuk to her at this time of year. We had a special session planned watching the new Lion King film on DVD so I was dreading that she would say she would prefer to work by phone, but I wanted to give her the option and luckily she replied immediately and said ‘do come CB’. Young parts have been excited about this session for ages, and it’s been nice to have something safe and fun to focus on in the build up to Christmas to take the attention away from the days that will follow. As we said at the end of the session, next time we see K it will all be over for another year, and we both agreed that this is very good news.

We did an extra 30 minutes today, so a two and a half hour session, so we would have time to check in properly and read the entries in the parts’ journal from this week, and then time at the end to check out too, once we’d watched the film. Last week we had made cards for each other with A LOT of glitter glue [this is young parts’ favourite thing EVER to do with K, they get so much joy and excitement from peeking at the one she is making for us as we make ours, and it’s always so nice bringing home our card she has made us] so they were dry and ready to exchange and there was a small gift for me too which K said I could open then or take home to open on Christmas Day. I chose to take it home – it will be something nice and connecting for young parts to do in a quiet time on Christmas Day. Then K lit a fire and brought through more tea and a vegan mince pie with vegan cream for each of us and we settled to watch the film with blankets and one of her dogs.

It was so cosy and warm. It used to hurt so much to have times like that and to feel all I never had growing up, and it used to feel as though it would never be enough, but it doesn’t feel like that now because I can take it in and hold it in my heart when I am not there. Young parts asked questions during the film and laughed out loud and hid under the blanket at scary parts, and it is so nice that all that can be expressed without huge swirls of shame engulfing more grown up parts now. It is our fifth Christmas working together and it is incredible to look back on the changes that have happened during that time. I wouldn’t say I find Christmas any easier now, but it has a very different quality – I don’t get swept up in other people’s stories of how things should be, I hold true to how I want it to be, the expectations and pressure I put on myself have drastically reduced, and I am okay (mostly) with it not being an enjoyable time of year for me. I don’t beat myself up for this and I take in small joys where I can – nice food, a break from work, some good books, cosy times with Nina, time for peaceful walks and being by the sea. It is tough still, but it is not how it used to be. I am not how I used to be.

And it hurts less to be leaving K’s warm home the day before Christmas Eve now because I know that her life is not the perfect fantasy I used to imagine, and I know she finds Christmas a tough time of year too.  It’s partly why I am so grateful to have a therapist who brings so much of herself to the therapy space, whilst at the same time being so clear and careful around boundaries and expectations, because I know enough to know her life is shaped by pain and loss too, and I know all the consumerism and consumption and societal expectations make her sad like they do me, but I also know she takes care to make it what she needs it to be and doesn’t pretend it is something that it isn’t for her. In the run up to the awful, suicidal Christmas I had shortly after we started work in 2015, she asked me how I would want Christmas to be. I replied by talking about my need for space and that I just wanted to spend the day by the sea. At that time it felt so unattainable and yet shortly after Christmas that year I booked a cottage in Cornwall for Nina and I to go to for a week for Christmas 2016, and that year was the beginning of doing things differently. We walked by the sea every single day and I realised Nina’s Christmas expectations were so low, so easy to meet – a big telly, nice food, new books, playing games, and walks on the beach left her so content. It was so peaceful and calm and I realised all the BS my mum had fed me about what a child needed was all for her, not Nina. I’d always feared that without my family of origin, however positive that loss of toxicity was in the bigger picture of our lives, I would never be enough for Nina at this time of year, but it turns out what she needs to make her happy is so simple. Who knew?!

Anyway, back to today… After the film K talked about some of the lessons we could take from it (not in a cringey way – she said she was genuinely surprised by how good it was and I have to admit the Lion King genuinely is excellent and has lots of lessons for how we need to tend to our dying planet too) and someone small said how much they liked the film. K encouraged us all to hold on to the film and the special time we had shared together and make it part of our internal safe space this Christmas. She said how special it was to have that time sitting together being still, and how even though it is something so simple not many people achieve that at this time of year, and she is so right – there is no one else I will feel that connected to whilst watching a film this festive season; ‘repatriating young children, young parts’ she said this evening, and that it so true. She also started talking about how we will both need to look out for a super amazing film for next year ‘without making a fuss, obviously, about Christmas early on, sorry, re-enacting something there right at the last minute…’ which made us both laugh a lot because my mum’s Christmas demands always started in September and made it not just a stressful time, but a really, long, drawn out stressful time. It was nice to know we have another year working together though, that whatever happens that is our intention. And I never could have dared to believe she would still be here now, yet she is.

I would say that overall the past few months have been AWFUL, but somehow I’ve found my way back to K over the past few weeks and it helps so much being able to reach her and know she is there when I am here. I have a GP appointment in the morning to check my throat as it is so painful, and then Nina and I have our traditional Christmas Eve walk in our favourite forest (which is now only a 10 minute drive from the house since our house move, which is part of the reason we wanted to move to where we are) and trip to the cinema (Frozen II, which neither of us are hugely excited to see, but going to the cinema is something really nice to do on Christmas Eve and we are both keen to stick to the traditions we’ve begun since becoming estranged from my mum who had a lot of traditions she used to manipulate and control us). And we will go to the beach and walk by the sea on Christmas Day, which is all I’ve ever wanted to do at Christmas really and is something we’ve been able to do for 4 years’ running now. So it will be a quiet few days, and it is undeniably painful when I think of how many people will be spending time in big groups of close family and friends, but it will be authentic, and that feels a lot more important after years of pretending to be someone I am not.

For those who’ve not seen The Lion King, there’s a beautiful line about the stars that Simba’s dad says to him early on in the film: ‘look at the stars. The great kings of the past look down on us from those stars… So whenever you feel alone, just remember that those kings will always be there to guide you’. And K said at the end of our session to remember the stars are always there – always, even when we can’t see them. And of course she is the brightest star in the sky for me so much of the time, but there are so many other stars too. I’ve had to cancel some plans with friends the past few days because of my throat, but I am seeing my two best friends from my PhD and raving days at the weekend, and I have made such a good friend who lives a 3 minute walk from the new house who is also a vegan and a mother and who brings such joy and solace to my life during these troubled times, and I have my beautiful daughter and other friends to see next week also. I imagine the next few days will feel lonely at times, but that is okay. I have some books to read and films to watch and the days will pass. And K says we can work by phone on Friday afternoon if I need to and then we are meeting on Monday as normal, so I feel as safe as it is probably possible for me to feel ahead of Christmas.

Making sense of what was lost

Five years ago today was the day I identified Jess’ body in the morgue. It was the worst day of my life without a doubt, though there are many others around that time that compete for the same award, but I’m not going there now. Instead I am going to balance today with some light and write a little more about our friendship, but also about the things I am beginning to piece together in therapy about why our friendship was so special to me and why it caused me to lose my mind quite so spectacularly when she died. I’ve questioned for so long whether my attachment disorder meant I over-reacted to a loss that shouldn’t even have impacted me, especially as quite often after it happened and in the years since I’ve been so dissociated at times that it hasn’t meant a thing to me, and then the self-criticism has really set in. Jess’ Mum has said to me she knows the two of us had a very special connection, and I’ve felt it sometimes I really have, but at the same time it’s so hard to hold onto something after a lifetime of doubting my feelings and intuition.

I think K saying ‘we will ritual around this every year’ a week or so ago really helped, gave me permission to *still* be finding her suicide so hard. And a very helpful and wise comment on my blog last week helped a huge amount too, about how with a suicide the shock prevents the grieving process from being completed, so in many ways it may never feel real for me and young parts. Another thing that helped in a weird way was a text from a friend, Cath, who knew Jess but wasn’t close to her like me, about something random on the day of the anniversary last week – when I replied with a lovely photo of her and Jess on a night out and said ‘thinking of all those who loved Jess today’ she replied saying she had forgotten it was the anniversary. She ran a half marathon in Jess’ memory the year after she died, and I’ve often felt triggered by her talking of Jess as if she knew her really well when they only met a few times, so I have to be honest I found this exchange quite validating; that date is etched on my memory forever now, there is no way it could ever pass without me noticing it, and even when I don’t consciously think about it my body always tells a different story, reminding me it is there.

I told K it felt validating in some ways that Cath had forgotten because it confirmed my connection to Jess was real and that my irritation in the weeks after Jess died when she tried to compare our grief was kind of justified. K said how my experience of friendship with Jess was hugely different from Cath’s because it was such an important attachment and profound friendship for me that really stood out compared to other friendships that I’ve had. “It has really different qualities, the meeting of two beings, where you truly met each other and you saw the best sides of each other, but at the same time you weren’t afraid to share the edges, and although she subsequently didn’t share the final shadow and difficult part of her mind, she did share some of it with you, didn’t she?”

As my posts from last week revealed, I was in such a shame-filled place around the anniversary of Jess’ suicide. In my Thursday session I said to K how I wished this time could just be about being sad for Jess, instead of it all getting tangled with shame and leaving me in this horrible place where I feel like I am the worst person in the world. K says for her it makes sense that my big attachment feelings and shame over who I am are triggered by this grief and I end up in a place where I cannot see anything good about myself; they are linked and we can’t separate them, not yet at least. And she explained the ways this loss is linked to my attachment difficulties in a way that enabled her words to land in a different place in me than they have before. She spoke about how important attachment is for me because of my traumatic attachment, and how my relationship with Jess has proved to be one of the most important relationships in my life because I truly felt met and seen and heard and able to give back in a way that is very rare for me. It’s true – we shared so much of what we loved and it was a light and fun friendship where I felt able to be truly myself. And then this very profound attachment ended because, as Miffy says, ‘she died on purpose’ and on a very young, unconscious level it triggers me into feeling bad and feeling shame because she chose to go away.

So you have this amazing meeting place. Jess comes into your life and she is like a shining star. She brings out the best in you and you bring out the best in her. And you finally realise what it’s like to really, truly love someone and want to spend time with them. And then you lose her. And so of course your grief is compounded by attachment issues because for you it can’t not be, because for you attachment in many ways is a bigger deal than a death. So she dies, you’re triggered into attachment loss, you feel like you’re dying and that it is all your fault.

I am working on the post about my process and disintegration in the days and weeks after Jess died which I hope will help me heal some of the shame I feel about what it did to me. I will post it when it is done and I’ve shared it with K. I read what I had written so far to her on Thursday, after she had told me about women in my home city in the day facility for EUPD who repeatedly break their own bones and throw themselves down stairs and bang their heads against walls and drink far too much and get hospitalised to express in some way that they are full up with very, very toxic and complex emotions. She talked about me having the same process as those women and it really, truly helped to hear that, not because I am better than them because I am more functional, but because she sees how huge my feelings are, and because she reminded me that those women and me all feel like this and are totally emotionally dysregulated because of childhood abuse and neglect. And we spoke about how in some ways it would be easier to be like that because it is such hard work holding it all together. I know I am grateful for my work and daughter and ability to contain myself, but it is exhausting. Knowing K sees that huge level of pain in me even when I don’t externalise it through self-harm or crazy ranting emails or desperate texts, and knowing she must truly know what hard work it is to contain all those feelings and all that process, was so healing.

She said how we would never think those women are bad, so it is funny that I think I am bad, especially because something really, truly bad happened when Jess killed herself and so it is no wonder that it spilled out a little and made some mess. I told her about the annihilation hole that opened up whenever I was alone after Jess died, every time I tried to sleep even when someone was next to me, and how I must have been repeatedly re-experiencing being left alone to die as a baby and young child. And I remember saying over and over again how I was losing my mind and “this isn’t me” because I was so dissociated and had no idea what was happening or what my feelings were. I didn’t have any idea I had complex trauma and alters back then, I had very few memories of my childhood at all and no real sense of the abuse I had experienced. So now I would know why I was feeling what I was feeling and might be able to explain to people I had complex trauma and what I needed (no alcohol or weed would have been a good start) and things would be different. I know they would be different now but the shame I feel is still so intense even though I know I cannot help that I didn’t understand back then.

I’m not sure I’ll ever truly forgive myself or be able to let go of the fears over what people must think of me for how my emotions spilled all over the place in the first two months after Jess died. I was an absolute wreck. My biggest memory from the time is being utterly baffled by how everyone else was able to carry on as normal at least some of the time – even Jess’ Mum and sisters were eating and sleeping and going for walks – rather than being totally immersed and consumed by the pain. I can see how it must have looked like I thought my pain was bigger than other people’s but I didn’t – I thought everyone must be feeling how I was and I couldn’t understand how they were able to contain it and function and not just totally lose their minds too. On the day of the funeral everyone was leaving the wake to go and get ready for Christmas in two days’ time and I was so confused that they could carry on with normal life when this had happened. I understand so much of this now, but it still fills me with shame that I will never get to explain to other people why I was how I was. K said it doesn’t matter because we know. And I can see this is the end goal – self-forgiveness and letting go of the shame because I did not react how I did because I am bad, only because I was in so much pain. And I also know that after 5 years this loss is finally starting to fit with all I know about myself around attachment trauma now, and maybe in understanding I can start to forgive myself a little too, but it is a long and hard road facing all of it instead of burying it for another year.

Christmas cage

Have I ever said how much I HATE Christmas? I fucking hate it so much. It feels like I am in a cage with bars made of tinsel and baubles and meaningless obligations. I am having an actual suicidal meltdown over my inability to put the Christmas tree up because the trunk won’t go in the base we have and it keeps falling over. I’ve had to leave it for now, till someone can help me on Wednesday, but what a fucking joke that I’m reduced to such a state by something so utterly pointless. I just wanted to get something done. I’ve made it to the end of the really busy and hectic time at work so as my immune system turns down the hyperdrive I know I will get a cold, and it is so hard being the sole adult responsible for creating Christmas for a child – I don’t have any family to step in and help if I get sick or ease the load a little. I do hardly anything for Christmas, but short of not celebrating it at all I think this state I get in is kind of unavoidable because Christmas is just one big trauma trigger for me. Feeling completely overwhelmed is not caused by how much I have to do, it is caused by being invaded by the presence of a time that as a child was deeply stressful and traumatic. I know that, but why can I not set all that aside now I know what these feelings are caused by and just get on with it?

I so wanted things to be different this year. I wanted putting up the tree to be a pleasant experience for Nina. I deliberately waited till last week was out the way. I spent yesterday tidying and cleaning and grounding myself after Friday’s horror show and actually felt really quite peaceful by the evening, although still incredibly disturbed that so many people are cheering the fast rise in fascism in my country. The house felt ready to bring in extra things and we had the whole day to get the Christmas tree and decorate it and get everything looking pretty and hoover up the mess of needles and tinsel so I thought there would be no stress at all today. Wrong. My heart was racing really early on, even just thinking about going to the garden centre. When we got there, 45 minutes after opening time, it was already complete carnage there and hard to park and move around and find anything. I get triggered by the mindless consumption of pointless stuff at this time of year for obvious reasons (i.e. our consumption habits are driving the planet into a death spiral), but 2 days after the UK voted for a far-right government whose election campaign was sponsored by fossil fuel companies and who will do absolutely zero to mitigate and adapt to ecological breakdown, it was just too much to take.

We eventually got home with a tree and I made lunch (because even at Christmas when there is extra stuff that needs doing the relentless need to feed us both and clear up our dishes continues) and then tried to put the tree up but couldn’t because the trunk was too narrow for the stand. It was honestly so fucking frustrating. The sun was shining and instead of being outside somewhere peaceful and pretty I was stuck inside wrestling with a tree, needing help, but only having a 12 year old who was obviously nervous that I was about to lose my shit. I genuinely fucking hate myself for not being able to deal with stuff like that and do practical things like make wedges to make it fit. I really wanted to get it all done today. I wanted to make it nice for Nina – most of her friends have had decorations up for weeks. We haven’t got anything fun planned for Christmas. I hate all of it.

The only thing I’ve achieved today is putting up some fairy lights and cleaning out the rabbit hutch. Even though I am barely buying presents this year and am giving a big donation to the Trussell Trust instead, it still feels as though there is masses to do to get ready for Christmas. I have to go into town tomorrow before therapy to get some bits for Nina and I would honestly rather saw my own arm off. I can see how this time of year triggers so much in me for so many reasons. I already have too much to do and then have to add even more in when I am exhausted and overwhelmed. We have barely any family and so I feel so much pressure to make this time nice for Nina all by myself. And I hate that I shouted today and said f*** a lot about the lights and the tree. I want to be so much nicer and so much calmer than I am. I sometimes wonder if it would be nicer for Nina if I just said that we are not doing it at all anymore?

And I am shocked this year that it still reduces me to this when I have scaled back so much in recent years, after cutting contact with my mum and feeling more able to live in line with my values about not engaging in pointless consumption and consumerism. I am sending about 5 cards, I am posting presents only to my sister and her partner, I’m not cooking a meal for anyone important. In the grand scheme of things there is so little to do but it still feels like I am suffocating. I can feel this huge scream inside me and I just want to be living a different life where I can totally disengage with most of what this time of year brings and celebrate winter solstice on a beach with a small tribe of like-minded people. That life feels utterly out of reach though and the one I am living I hate. I don’t want a family because I cannot imagine a family that doesn’t cause stress and upset, but I wish I had an experience of having a family where that wasn’t the case and where having a family made life better (most of the time) instead of worse.

Horror show

I am triggered beyond belief this morning by the political landscape unfolding in our country. Dark times. I barely slept last night and needed to leave for work half an hour ago. I have to go in today but all I want to do is hide in bed and pretend I am surrounded by people who actually give a shit about their fellow human beings and the other species we share our home planet with. I need to get it together and brush my teeth and get on my bike but I don’t want to. And teen parts are having the hugest meltdown imaginable this morning.

I am so angry that the corporate mainstream media have brought us to this place. Their war against Jeremy Corbyn is so fucking obvious – how are people taken in by it? I still cannot understand how a referendum proven to be won on lies and propaganda is valid. I am fucking horrified that people vote for the party that will best serve them, with no concern for the poor, vulnerable, sick and disabled, because they believe the capitalist neo-liberal rhetoric that anyone who is not rich like them just hasn’t worked hard enough. I am even more horrified by all the people who vote against their own interests because they don’t understand that our system is set up to keep the ruling elite firmly in power and their interests protected above everything else, that the policies they are sold aren’t designed to benefit them, that the system works exactly as it was intended to.

I am terrified about the erosion of the NHS and the welfare state, about what lies ahead for people like my brother once the pittance big business is allowed to pay people isn’t boosted by welfare benefits. There is so much poverty and misery and suffering in our country already, a big Tory majority will see another 4 million children slide into abject poverty over the next 4 years with all the physical and emotional health problems that go with it. And I am terrified as now there will be zero action either to reduce our contribution to the climate crisis or to mitigate its impacts in the UK as it intensifies over the coming years. I want to fucking scream at all the selfish fucks who have done this. How can anyone think selling off the NHS and eroding what is left of the welfare state is a good thing? How can there be so many people unable to open their hearts to the people around them? How can so many people be so stupid as to think that the climate crisis will spare them, that when ecological collapse intensifies they will find food even though no one else will?

I don’t want to live on this planet anymore. What humanity has done to it is too distressing to witness.

Shame and survival

I survived yesterday. Hopefully things will start to even out now, although of course Christmas is approaching fast so maybe that is wishful thinking. It’s been very hard with young parts because I could feel them getting excited for ‘Jess Day’ when she might come back, when of course that’s not what the anniversary is at all. It was also my mum’s birthday yesterday. I didn’t think of her much, but it is all there somewhere. Yesterday was a rubbish day. I was so triggered I barely slept on Monday night so yesterday I was incredibly tired and carrying huge levels of dread and anxiety due to all the big feelings squashed up inside me that I don’t have space to feel and probably couldn’t access even if I wanted to. I had to come in for meetings in the morning but worked at home in the afternoon, though I didn’t achieve much. I struggled through parents’ evening at Nina’s school and spent some time trying to understand the new GCSE grading system as her target GCSE grades do not sound to me like they are anywhere near her capabilities, and then headed to bed as soon as Nina did at 9.30.

I am often aware of an internal pressure around difficult times to do things in a particular way – to write, ritual, find the lessons from the loss, do something special and sacred to mark the process and progress, and I know I feel like I failed somehow yesterday for not doing this. I am catching those thoughts though, and reminding myself that surviving is all that matters. I did cope better than last year – there were some tears, but it didn’t totally take me over this year. And K and I are meeting for an extra session after work tomorrow and doing some kind of ritual for Jess then so there will be some way of marking it and maybe closing down this difficult time for now. I identified her body on 17th and then the funeral was the 23rd, so there are a lot of reminders still to come, but after Friday life will be a little more spacious and I hope that will help me take better care of myself and begin to uncover and let go some of the shame that gets tangled up with the grief at this time of year. I text K yesterday morning and said something along the lines of how I wished I could just feel pure grief over Jess instead of it being so enmeshed with my childhood and trauma and this deadening shame which seems to eat me from the inside whenever I experience big feelings. And I find shame so hard in itself, but it also triggers complete and utter panic and dread in me because young parts are terrified of how bad they are. It’s a vicious cycle that it’s hard to step outside of.

K said on Monday that it seems that whenever I feel very bad, i.e. lots of negative emotions, it sends me into a very dark place where I am convinced I am bad. And I split and lose sight of everything good about me, so that all that exists about me is bad and evil and abusive. I’ve really descended into a place of horrific shame and complete panic over how bad I am the last few days. This has manifested as being convinced I am just like my Mum and have utterly destroyed Nina’s self-esteem. On Sunday evening I was in such a bad place that I had thoughts of killing both of us again, which I’ve not had for years. I can see that I do embody my mum in some ways some of the time, that I will have impacted Nina of course through my own unresolved trauma, but I can’t hold onto all the good I’ve done at the same time, all the ways I am different from my parents, all the ways I’ve healed myself and in turn healed her. My need for space is so powerful and it is so hard as she descends into teenage years and doesn’t go to bed until 9.30/10. K says it is so important that I express it as ‘needing quiet time upstairs to do X’ rather than needing time away from her. I try to do this, but there are inevitably times when I explode, when I am over-stimulated and completely at capacity with my own feelings, when I have no space for her inside my head, when I yell and say things I wish I hadn’t.

Monday’s session was consumed by my shame and fear over how bad I am, as a mother and person. I wanted to know when we would know if Nina was okay and K said we already do know. She tried to remind me of all the good I do, all the ways I’m not mum, but I’m too scared to voice most of the ways in which I feel I am the same so how could she really know? She said I’m not a narcissist, that I’m real and genuine and have an open heart, that I’ve done something my mum would never have done in going to therapy and looking at myself and changing what I could, bringing awareness and understanding myself. I said that 95% of the time I think I’m the mum I want to be,  but that 5% feels as though it totally eclipses all the good work I do, that it would be less confusing for Nina if I was just awful all the time. She disagreed. One of the struggles of course is that Nina and I have so much time together at home (this is also the lovely part of being just the two of us – we are very close) and there is so much time for her to observe me and how I am and what I do. I try incredibly hard, and always have, not to overshare my feelings and concerns. I think I’ve done a good job of that. I’ve definitely not parentified her and I’ve respected her growing autonomy and need for privacy. I’ve told her how much I value her as a person and not lived through her and her achievements. I’ve started a list of all the ways I am not my mum, but when I go to that dark place it’s like none of that stuff exists.

I spoke on Monday about how much Nina triggers me because she is just like my mum, not because Nina is abusive but because my mum is a child still – what Nina does is normal teenager stuff, but it triggers me because it is all so familiar from when I was growing up and it hits those old and unhealed wounds. K said the past few days I’ve been re-experiencing my childhood, that’s why it all feels so bad. And she said to assume that for a teenager their parent doesn’t exist beyond just being their mum, that Nina will have no empathy or ability to see me as a person or awareness that how she is being may hurt me. She said really I, as a person, am invisible, just there to fulfill Nina’s own needs, and that we just need to assume I will get nothing back from her for a while now on an emotional level (so it’s an added bonus if I do). And I sobbed ‘just like my mum’. And that is so true, it’s why it hurts, because I was ‘mothered’ by a person who couldn’t see me, who I didn’t exist for, who had no awareness of me as a person with my own needs and feelings. It is no wonder Nina’s behaviour hurts me. I am very apprehensive about the years ahead and what they will do to me. I don’t want to have child parts having to live with someone who hurts them without meaning to. I think it is very important to understand what is happening though, and to keep taking care of myself and making myself visible to myself, so that Nina has less of an impact on me.

I am really so glad that, all being well (or as okay as possible at least), K and I will be working in the years to come, as Nina enters teenage days. I do not want to be engulfed by shame. I don’t want to be triggered by her. And I certainly don’t want to behave how my mum did when I was a teenager and I would hate for Nina to ever experience feelings like I did then and continue to now. I am so frustrated that the anniversary of Jess’ suicide has left me dealing with such big stuff and feeling so much shame, but I can kind of understand it. I want to be able to believe K that Nina is okay, that K would know if she wasn’t, that I’m not like my mum (all the time at least), that I might behave like her at times under pressure, but I don’t see Nina as an extension of myself, but I feel so bad inside that I struggle to take in her words. K said she would have contacted social services about my mum had she known what was happening and I know she’s never had concerns about my parenting so I should be able to believe her, but it is so hard because everyone thought my mum was wonderful and I struggle to work out what even it was she did that was so bad some days.

I am working on writing out what happened after Jess died and trying to understand why I experienced such a huge storm of emotions that made me do things I’m not proud of, and I’m hoping if I’m brave enough to share it with K once it’s finished it will start the process of separating my big feelings of grief over Jess from this pervasive sense that I am a bad person for feeling that way, because I can see that it must be this that has triggered all this shame and terror over my parenting. I can sense huge feelings inside over Jess, but over the top of them are layer-upon-layer of shame and panic and despair and dread and so I can’t reach them or let them just be there, pure grief for someone who brought so much light and magic to my life.

Jess-shaped hole

I am really struggling with the upcoming anniversary this year, more so than last year which has taken me by surprise in some ways. There’s something about five years, about how long that is, that I am finding really very difficult this year – it hasn’t ‘just happened’ and yet the loss is still so real and raw. There is a Jess-shaped hole in me, and there always will be – time doesn’t fill it, it just makes it harder to believe she was ever here. I sometimes doubt our connection, worry I made it up and that she didn’t even really like me that much, which I guess is the legacy of a narcissistic mother who made me doubt my own reality. I need to constantly remind myself that it was real, otherwise I feel ashamed for finding it so hard that she is gone, as if I am totally over-reacting and have no right to these feelings.

Last year wasn’t fun by any means, but it was also much more tangled with my estranged mother’s 70th birthday (which is the same day as Jess died). This year I’m barely thinking of my Mum, it’s all about Jess, and it feels very raw and quite frightening if I’m honest. I think there is still a lot of shock and disbelief around too – it is still so hard to comprehend that she really won’t be back. K said how, without that chance to say goodbye, the mind never has chance to catch up with what happened and, especially with the level of dissociation I experience, it might never feel real for me. And she said how it feels so other, that when I describe her with her arms up ready for a hug, and her liveliness (she was so alive) then it is truly shocking that her physical body is no longer here. And I know that I agreed to identify her body so that it could be released in time for the funeral in part so that it might feel more real, but I can never really match up the image of her so alive – dancing, cooking, riding her bike, laughing – with that cold, blue, bloated ghost in the morgue, so it didn’t really work in many ways.

And every year young parts have some kind of meltdown because they can’t seem to get what has happened. I can feel them getting excited as the anniversary approaches, because it is ‘Jess’s day’ and it feels like we are getting ready to see her again – they just can’t understand that we are not going to, that this is not what anniversaries are about, that we never will see her again. I hear little voices asking when she’s coming back. It seems to make it harder than ever, because of course we have to go through the whole ‘she’s dead’ ‘is dead forever?’ thing all over again. This makes me worry I sound crazy, but it is what it is. Having young parts complicates everything (a lot). It was actually the first anniversary of Jess’ suicide, 4 years ago, when we’d been seeing K for around 3 months, that I first really knew that she understood and would be able to help me. We’d only just started to figure out I had alters, and I remember her saying how hard it was for very young parts to understand something as huge as suicide – a sudden death was bad enough, but when that person chose to die it makes it so much more complicated and shocking and incomprehensible. At that point everything shifted for me I think as I began to understood my own reactions and behaviours and experiences and I realised K was capable of really understanding and helping us all.

K and I had an extra session today and we have one next Thursday as well (the actual anniversary is the 10th). I worried that me asking for these extra sessions was unnecessary this year, but I was so grateful after work to have those 90 minutes with her and to be able to put down some of the heaviness and let her hold some of what I’ve been carrying. I’ve felt so tightly coiled the last few days, aware of this pit of grief and loss and confusion inside me but having nowhere for it to go except into my physical body, which aches and hurts from being held so tightly. I’ve managed at work and it’s been kind of fine and kind of awful at the same time, but it’s hard keeping everything inside at work and at home.

We talked a lot about Jess and suicide and my mum’s mother’s suicide when she was 12. And we talked about my own suicidality and what happened for me after Jess died. I have so much shame over how losing Jess affected me and how lost and dysregulated and unable to cope I was. It is a shame I cannot shake, the worst shame I experience, and nothing seems to loosen it. It feels like it is eating me from the inside and I want to cut out of my skin to be free of it, to be someone else, someone who is good and doesn’t do bad things. I managed to share a little more with K than I have before about that time, and she was very validating and compassionate about how much pain I was in and how I didn’t know back then that I was dissociated and had complex trauma and young parts, but I feel so disgusting inside about it. I feel like I really need to write about it and share it with her, to loosen its hold and begin to let some of the shame go, and I would love this year to be the year I do this, but I am so scared to face what’s inside me over that time. I know she will make me feel better about it, I know that shame is healed in relationship and that sharing it will begin to dismantle its power, but the thought of sitting down and writing about that time makes me feel so bad.

K and I talked about how far I’ve come since we first met, when killing myself and Nina seemed not only to be the only way out, but also an entirely rational option given the pain I was in, the transgenerational trauma, the horrors I must have inflicted on her and what a painful future was ahead of her. It took so much work to get to a point where I could see Nina was happy and secure and safe, that I had been ‘good enough’, and that I couldn’t take her life. It’s good to see that progress, and to see that, for the most part, I can trust that Nina is okay, but it feels incongruous at the same time for my grief over Jess to still be the same size as it was back then.I really don’t want to go to work tomorrow or next week. I really need some space and time to myself to write and think about Jess. I wish I didn’t have to work. Or parent. Not forever but for a little while. I need to see the sea and walk and feel close to Jess again.

The road you’ve taken leads to the stars and for a while you’ll dance ahead,

But I know my soul will find yours there in the place where you have led.

Together we’ll stand still in time, friends forever – come what may.

And as kindred spirits we’ll dance again; our mortal years will fade to grey.

Another year

My darling Jess,

Another year has passed almost. Another year when you are not here to make plans with, laugh with, dream with, dance with, share everything with. I want to tell you I miss you, but those words don’t even come close to the desperate longing I feel to see you one last time, to say goodbye to a person who is alive, instead of the cold, blue, lifeless body I identified as ‘you’ in the morgue. Waves of grief and shock still take me with such force that I struggle to breathe, struggle to see how the pain will subside. It does, of course – I’ve learnt that about grief now – but it has been five years since I saw you and it still feels the same when it hits. And it hurts to know that you were saying goodbye to me, that you had made your decision and knew what you were going to do, but I didn’t know and I didn’t get to say goodbye or tell you how important you were to me. When I hugged you goodbye I thought we would meet in a week or two – you were feeling better and would soon be coming home, finding a different job, getting back to normal.

Except you didn’t ever get back to normal.

Ten days later you travelled to W_____ Bay and checked into a hotel and in the morning, as the sun rose over the sea turning the sky pink and gold, you rolled forward over the cliff edge and fell. You died instantly, of course. There was no doubt in your mind over what you needed to do. No coming back. I remember looking at the pink sky that morning and thinking of you, not knowing that you had already gone. I lived a day in oblivion and then the call came and my whole world fell apart. That night I screamed and howled for hours with a pain I’ve never known before. For weeks and weeks everything was black.

grief

You remain the most beautiful, inspiring, magical person I’ve ever met. Time with you made me sparkle. I thought we had our whole lives to be friends, to grow together, to learn each other’s pasts and share our hopes and dreams. It still takes me by surprise sometimes, that you will never be here again. Today I wanted to talk to you about something I am researching for work and it felt like a blow to the chest when I realised I couldn’t. I never can. I can never talk to you or see you again. We will never dance or go camping or eat chips and drink beer in the summer rain. We will never talk about moon energy or politics or the patriarchy. We will never eat vegan food or talk about our families. We will never go to the beach or the woods again. I will never hear your laugh, your voice, your advice, your fears. I will never see your beautiful face or watch you skudding towards me with your arms over your head ready to give me a hug.

You’ve been gone so much longer than you were in my life and yet the space you have left will never be filled. I used to think this pain would lessen, but the waves still engulf me. There is still so much I want to tell you and ask you, so much I want to know and share and learn. I want to know why, Jess. I want to know what would have happened if you’d been able to tell us how bad things were, what you were planning, how you were feeling. I want to know if things would have got better and if ‘better’ would have been enough. Our connection was forged from a pain I don’t think either of us knew we carried back then, a pain I am even now struggling to understand and assimilate into my life. I felt such a deep connection to you, beyond the love so many people felt for you because of who you were. You were drawn towards the same dark, chaotic world of raves and dysfunction and illicit substances as me, and yet like me had so much more in your life so that we both teetered on the edge together, never allowing ourselves to be fully immersed in that life. I look back and I can see our souls reaching out to each other across so much common ground.

Sometimes you talked to me about the worries weighing you down – your mum’s drinking since your dad’s suicide ten years earlier, your middle sister’s fragility, everyone’s dependency on you. You asked me if I thought people who had lost a parent could ever have children of their own. You shared worries about work and relational struggles and your constant need to keep moving. You shared the darkness that engulfed you near the end. You told me when a switch came on and you could feel yourself coming back, but you didn’t tell me when you lost yourself again. It is heart breaking that no one knew how much pain you were in. You shared so much with me that no one else knew, but you didn’t share enough and I couldn’t help you. 

So many times I’ve wanted to tell you about my therapist, K, and all she has given and found in me. This evening when I was crying over you, over how there will never be anyone like you again, she told me she thinks I was visited by an angel. Spending time with you left me feeling heard and understood, inspired, calm and contained, and truly alive. You saw so much good in me. You wanted the best for me. You let me talk about my difficulties but you knew they weren’t all I was. You taught me how it is possible to feel and be in friendships and left me with a deep knowing about what I want and deserve. What you did got me in touch with the past I tried to bury, it brought me to where I am now, it brought me to a place where I could begin to heal, but I wish it hadn’t taken something so violent and tragic to get me here. You lit up my life in ways you will never know and it is forever darker now you are no longer here.