****TW mention of suicide****
Last night I saw in the news that a 19 year old girl took her life last week due to fears over the isolation needed because of Coronavirus. She had told her family days before that we should expect the suicide rate to increase as a result of the outbreak and that more needed to be done to support those with existing mental health problems during this time. I found it heart-breaking – I’d already said to a few people that I suspected this would happen, and I highly doubt she will be the last as so many are plunged into uncertain times and losing the support they depend upon. I also read that new research indicates that if a country’s GDP falls below a certain level for a certain period of time there will be more deaths in the medium term as a result of it than there will be due to the virus itself. This poses a clear moral dilemma for any government as they will need to balance harm averted with harm inflicted by the measures and reach a decision that citizens find palatable (whilst also not wanting to risk being voted out at the next election!). People are much better at ignoring threats that are invisible and far enough ahead to not affect daily life (think climate crisis!) and so I suspect most would not agree with the decision to stop measures to prevent the virus, despite knowing this may cause more harm in the longer term… Anyway, let’s just hope testing improves so we can get back to normal sooner rather than later.
I do find it really surprising that more isn’t being done to support those who are already really struggling with mental illness. There is, rightly, a huge amount of support that will be provided by volunteers for the 1.4 million UK citizens who are ‘extremely vulnerable’ to getting hospitalised because of the virus, but it makes me fearful for all those who won’t be on this list but are extremely vulnerable to the impact of having their ordinary support and coping routines disrupted. My GP said on the phone yesterday that whilst almost everyone is struggling at the moment, they are aware that those who are already dealing with things like I am are really having a difficult time. She said they will continue to support me but I just don’t think people without mental illness understand that a 5 minute phone call every two weeks or more really isn’t much support. I am lucky to have such a good GP, who understands the complexity of what I am dealing with, but the idea that this is ‘supporting me through this crisis’ is so far-fetched. K said I needed tell her about the self-harm, suicidal thoughts and research into Cyanide availability, and that I’m not eating, so I did and I told her that my therapist has said she’ll need to speak to her if things don’t improve, but she didn’t seem hugely concerned and I ended up just reassuring her that I would be okay and would get through. I do this so often, such a well-engrained habit of protecting other people from feeling any discomfort because of me.
I also thought last night how hard this is for people with eating disorders, how easy it will be for those with anorexia who have not yet come to the attention of their GP or other services to drop to dangerous levels of food intake and weight because no one will see them for weeks on end. I have lost 9lbs in 16 days and I am aware of the risks of not eating at this time and have been trying to eat protein shakes and porridge and dahl. I was in need of losing a little weight and I also want to be strong enough to cycle, so whilst I can see that things can’t keep going and that even two a half weeks is a long time of barely eating and not good for me, I am not too worried (maybe I also want to act like I’m in control of this and it is not ‘too dangerous’, I see that. I am at least trying not to keep it hidden). There will be so many more who are triggered into old eating disordered behaviours because of this outbreak, or who were already deep in it when it started but no one knew, and it worries me how invisible it could become.
It also makes me feel lucky – some of the support I have been getting isn’t helping and it definitely isn’t enough, but I do know people are there. They may not understand attachment pain and panic and the depth of the work K and I are doing, but there are at least people who know I am struggling. After I wrote on Monday I had my phone session with K and then felt completely bereft and afraid and called the crisis line and spoke to the same person as before but this time she completely triggered me because she wasn’t listening or engaging and was leaving huge silences and was clearly texting or emailing with others whilst we were talking – surely this is something that just shouldn’t be done. It would be better if they are busy just not to answer, or to check if the person is actively suicidal or self-harming at that moment and if they are physically safe to arrange to call back later. It made me feel so pathetic and like I wasn’t in enough need, in enough of a crisis, to have called. She told us to ‘have a bath’ (FFS, this is like the worst mental health crisis advice ever!) and call later if needed but we all felt so triggered and rejected and ashamed that we won’t be calling again. We self-harmed really badly afterwards, loads of cuts that are still sore today, but it did really settle and soothe things. That is the sad reality – it does help when other ways of calming things are unattainable.
It does seem as though K is really the only person who can provide the support we all need at the moment. I do have lots of friends who are definitely helping, but because this is about my fear of K and I being separated she is the only one who can really soothe it. So maybe it is better that it is only her I go to for regular support and then just use other things to distract during this time. When I’m desperate I kind of expect that I might call a helpline who make things worse, but I don’t want to have someone who says they are there to support us all through this then being weird and triggering us all. The between (phone) session contact, especially the morning texts on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with K is really helping. Most mornings I wake early in a total panic, dread clutching at my chest and my tummy tight and tense, feeling totally unable to get through this time away from K whilst everything else is so uncertain too. Being able to text her and know a response will come straightaway is really helping to settle things. Last night I was doing better, definitely feeling calmer and more contained and adult, and then got triggered in the evening (see below) and knowing I could text first thing this morning really helped. We text at 8.30 and she replied straightway with the perfect response. It is amazing how one text from her settles everything now, how she always knows the right thing to say, and how everyone inside can take it in now. In response to our worries she said she hears and sees us all as much as ever and that she hopes things can go back to normal as soon as possible (we are worried she’ll decide to work without face-to-face forever, or will give the second half of my double session to someone else so it is not there when we can go back to meeting). She reminded me I can do this and to keep cycling and eating dahl!
Yesterday ended up being a mildly better day. On Monday evening Nina thought she had started her periods but it turned out to be blood from a kidney infection – we ended up at A&E to see the out of hours doctor on Tuesday night as she was feeling very unwell with bad pain above her right kidney. She is doing much better now with antibiotics and having to switch into my adult and be very present on Tuesday evening really helped to ground me, so that was an unexpected benefit of her getting ill. The reason I then got triggered again last night was because I saw on K’s website she is offering reduced online sessions of half an hour for people who are overwhelmed by the Covid crisis and it makes me worried she will take on too much and make herself ill, but I tried to remind myself she has worked in maximum security psychiatric wards and state hospitals before she went into private practice and that she is good at dealing with other people’s crises. She also doesn’t have anyone else at home (her partner returned from Portugal last week with their other 3 dogs but she has sent them to live in the stables building down the lane with a camping stove which makes us all laugh a lot – she’s definitely settled into living alone since he moved abroad and doesn’t want him full time in the house again!) and looks after herself well. I think everyone is worried at the moment about their Ts burning out or getting ill, but I have to trust that she will be careful and would prioritise existing clients if things got too much.
Nina is doing better emotionally since Sunday. It’s possible she was getting ill then which is why everything felt so hard (she had a huge strop when we were out cycling, amongst other times), but also I’m sure she needed space to experience and process her big feelings around her life changing so dramatically. She was in a much better place on Monday and is her usual self again now – at the moment she is in the study (thank goodness we moved house before this outbreak!) doing her school work. Her teachers are emailing work according to the students’ normal timetable and then are available to answer questions about it during the normal lesson time. She took yesterday off due to the kidney infection so she will have lots to do today and that is keeping her busy. Yesterday we read in the garden and watched the bunnies and guinea pigs most of the day. Things felt more spacious and I could tell that Nina will be OK during this time, even if she has understandable dips in mood and frustrations. I am really lucky she doesn’t really have struggles in life as this is making parenting through this crisis easier. The biggest challenge will be not having any space for myself at home, but when she is feeling okay the house feels more spacious and she is respectful of my needs. And luckily her and I really do like each other and laugh a lot, I know this is not the case for all families at this time! My friend who also has CPTSD has a 12 year old daughter who experiences depression and anxiety and is really struggling without her routine and with all the fear and anxiety around generally at the moment. This is making it really hard for my friend who has to support her daughter through multiple meltdowns and provide lots of emotional support and mental stimulation each day despite finding things hard herself, and I really feel for her. Nina is very good at entertaining herself and seems to automatically know to do things that are good for her in a way that has taken me years to develop – eating well, staying active, varying her activities, doing creative projects. Nina’s ability to express her worries and feel her feelings – even if they are a little out of control at times – and then return to baseline during this uncertain and strange time is providing me with more reassurance that she is securely attached and a generally happy and content person.
On Monday I return to work (from home, obviously) after my sick leave. K is not sure I should, she is worried the stress will be too much for me, especially as Nina is on Easter holidays next week so won’t have school work to keep her busy, but I am going to try. I only have a week and then I have a week and a half annual leave, and then when I go back Nina will be ‘back to school’ and being emailed work so we will be able to settle into a routine. I am hoping having work to focus on next week will help me, plus also I don’t want an extended time off because if the institution I work for cannot sustain at its current level without international travel next year and less attending due to a global recession then I don’t want to be one of those who is made redundant. Plus it is about to be the ‘quieter’ six months at work and there will be many days when no one will really notice what I am doing – or not doing – because we have to set our own work and goals around research. I’ll see how it goes anyway, but sometimes my work does help to steady me and provides a clear sense of purpose and fulfilment.
So today I am feeling OK. Not my usual self by any means, but OK. I am going to spend some time outside reading and go on a bike ride again. The house is it’s normal tidy and organised state again which always makes me feel better, and I am going to do a thorough clean of each room when I’m on annual leave after next week. I said to K in our check-in email yesterday (even that moving from Friday to Wednesday feels incredibly unsettling!) that I know I have all the resources and spiritual practices needed to get through this period, I know there is a peaceful place that lives inside of me and enables me to do the right things to care for myself, but it is very hard to do these things and access this place when my attachment system is haywire. It gets to the point where nothing else matters but her but yesterday gave me a small glimpse of that stable and calm space I was so often in before this crisis, where there are other things in my life aside from K. I also feel incredibly lucky that so far I feel connected to her still and able to tell her exactly what I’m experiencing attachment-wise, without shame or fear, and receive what I need in response. Every so often I worry that what I need will be too much for her (which is partly why I asked for daily contact of some sort each week day, because I know this is easier for her than regular crisis support and extra sessions) but I think it is important to remember that now she knows how to support me and what I need and so we are not both activating each other. I don’t feel suspicious or mistrustful of her and I know she misses seeing us all, and that we will see each other as soon as we are able. She said on Monday that we are both in agreement that how we are working is not as good as face-to-face work and this is reassuring. I think it is really important for every single person who is living under lockdown that we don’t get used to not seeing each other and being outside because this is what makes us human and part of this incredible universe. People getting used to this feels like a death sentence and I hold hope that we all survive it and come out the other side remembering how important it is to hug and share food and be together, even when we are not saying anything at all.