This time of year is precious to me. Spring marks the end of ‘the busy time’ at work and there is usually more space and a reprieve from just ‘getting through each week’ for around 5 or 6 months. I tend to not need to work evenings and weekends and my energy picks up and my health improves when it’s lighter and sunnier. And because work is less demanding I have more capacity for seeing people and going places. It is strange this year (for everyone obviously, not just for me) because I have a combination of this familiar spaciousness alongside serious limitations and restrictions, but actually so much of what I love to do at this time of year is possible now (bike rides, walks, the sea, yoga in the garden, sitting and watching the bunnies) and I actually have even more time to do it, without driving Nina around to swimming training and competitions all the time. I am also used to working mostly at home from the end of March until mid-September anyway, so it doesn’t feel that different really although I do miss seeing my colleagues on the odd days I am in over the summer, and I miss my lovely office where I could work in peace and quiet (and wasn’t disturbed by a thirteen year old demanding help or having a meltdown about having nothing to wear, sigh, as if it even matters when we are in lockdown and she isn’t seeing anyone anyway!).
So in many ways things aren’t that different from normal for me whilst it is nice weather and we can meet people outside, other than not being able to go camping or see my friends who live further away. And in many ways life is easier and my shredded nervous system is starting to settle away from the forced social interaction and general rushing around doing too much that my life seems to have entailed since Nina was 3 and I started my PhD. So, aside from the general fear, sadness and anxiety over the future and all the suffering in the world presently, which I must and do manage to switch off from, what exactly is missing from my life right now? The obvious answer is therapy, but I am still having therapy, K is still here for me, and we still have contact every week day at the moment, and until the end of June at least. So what is the problem and how do I get past it, so that I can stop feeling like my life is on hold in some way, when in fact in many ways it is moving forward and I am growing hugely during this time?
I was saying to K in our half hour session on Wednesday how much I have missed watching the Spring with her this year, especially as her new home is in such a beautiful area. Her move back in September disturbed me a lot, I was attached to her old house and scared that she was moving so much further away, and then it was a slog driving the 70 mile round trip for therapy each week in the cold and wind and rain over the winter months. She kept saying how much I would appreciate it there when Spring came, that I would see the magic of the place and how special it is. We had plans for things we would do and places we would go when the weather improved. As well as being an easier time of year for me work wise, it’s always been a really special time of year in our work, when things are more spacious and we spend more time outdoors and I need less support with daily life so our work has a different pace and energy. And it is exciting for young parts because they get more time because there is less adult-life fire fighting, and lots of the things we do are healing for them, things that K might have done with us if she’d come and rescued us when we were little in a little body.
Losing this time with her is painful. I actually think I’d be finding it easier to do remote therapy over the winter – which may well happen if our bloody government don’t get testing and tracing sorted – because that is a time I am usually wishing away anyway so another reason to hang in there and wish the time away wouldn’t be a problem. I don’t want to be wishing this time away and then find it is autumn and then winter again and I’ve lost this time and life is hard and I haven’t settled enough over the summer to sustain me through those hard, dark months. I don’t think I am losing it entirely but without the rhythm of my weekly drive to K’s and my two hours with her I feel very untethered at the moment, suspended and floating outside time and space, with nothing to ground me into my weeks. My thoughts are too frequently on K and the future, and I am constantly having to bring myself back to my own life, my body, my experiences, the present moment, and remind myself I am here and I am okay right now.
When I was parking the car earlier after dropping Nina at a friend’s garden (lol) I realised how much I miss driving to K’s and parking outside, feeling that sense of relief to have made it there and to have an undisturbed time with her where I can unpack and unpick my week and settle into the undivided attention she gives me for two hours in my week. My time with her is sacred and of course extends beyond what we talk about in the room – so much healing takes place even when we are sitting in silence together. I also said on Wednesday when we spoke how the journey to her old house, once, twice and sometimes three times a week, for 4 years was a huge part of my week – where she lived before was also beautiful, in a different way, and the drive punctuated my week at the same time as I witnessed the seasons change month-by-month. Nature has always been such an important part of my life and sharing this with K is one of the reasons we all love her so much. It was always lovely to arrive or have her tell me via email about a new arrival or new growth or a special bird she had seen from the window. And every time I got to the lane near her old house I would feel safe, knowing that however terrible I was feeling soon I wouldn’t be on my own with it. It has been huge, the containment that my regular sessions offered me, and it is also huge to have lost that proximity and limbic resonance which is such a big part of learning to feel safe and being able to trust her. I was looking forward to being able to create memories in K’s new house and garden this Spring and Summer, different memories, of a time when therapy didn’t hurt anymore and I could take in what it gave me in a way I never could before.
For years being in the room with her physically hurt me, like salt was being poured on my attachment wounds or my skin was being burnt by her presence. Leaving her felt like I was dying and my abandonment terror set in halfway through every session as I sensed our time ticking away, knowing it would soon be time to leave her and struggle alone again. Sometimes I had to stop the car down the lane after I had left to let young parts scream and sob, before it was safe to drive. It hurt to be with her and anticipate her leaving or one day not being there, it hurt to leave her and not know if I would ever see her again, and the time between sessions was unbearable, even when it was just a few days and we had contact via text or email. It was agony. I counted down in hours some weeks because things were so difficult and time passed so slowly. I remember her saying years ago that she hoped that one day I would be able to exist in the week knowing my space with her was there waiting for me and I wondered what the hell she meant! I didn’t exist without her and she didn’t exist if she wasn’t right in front of me. It was hell and I was a wreck. I am still in awe that we made it through those days. And I am extra sad that we made it through and now the measures against the pandemic are keeping us apart, because I really did reach a place where I could feel my space with her throughout the week and use it to sustain me and comfort my system until I saw her again.
It feels incredibly unfair to have done all that work, endured so much, come so far together, and then not to be able to enjoy sitting in a room with her without it hurting, to not be able to leave her house and feel okay because I know I will be back next week and I can feel her with me even when we are far apart. I think it would almost be easier to have this separation from her before I got to that place, because before it was really tough anyway and I was just surviving in the best way I could. I stopped surviving and started living and it feels as though this is what I am desperately scrabbling to stop myself backsliding into.
When we are working by phone (which I still prefer to video calls) there is too much space around me, she is not there drawing a boundary around ‘my stuff’ so I can see it clearly. It is like my words and emotions are spilling out of me and floating into the air, rather than being processed and reflected back to me in a shape I can contain and understand. I don’t want to keep going if it will be like this indefinitely, but I don’t want to stop either. It is hard. And again and again I wish it didn’t matter. I wish I could take in that she is here, take in what she is giving me still. I think if I didn’t constantly worry that our work is finite I would have more patience to endure. I mean, of course our work is finite, but I am worried we have less time than I was expecting (her health, my finances, other factors), and that this is such a huge and horrible waste of our time working, for it to be second best and not enough and re-activating some kind of painful disorganised attachment dance.
This time of year has been special in K and I’s work, but it’s also special for me and I don’t want to lose it, wishing it away so that K and I can be together again. So much about my life in this moment is okay, despite the spectre of pandemic. I was re-listening to an Elizabeth Gilbert podcast (have I mentioned I have fallen in love with her over the last couple of months?!) from near the start of lockdown and she talks about the difference between empathy and compassion, and how, at this time of empathetic overload, it is really important to distinguish between the two – empathy being where we take on another’s suffering to the point that we are suffering too and cannot help anyone, and compassion being recognition that another is suffering but that we are okay. She talks about the tremendous courage it takes to sit alongside someone and witness their suffering and not get drawn into it, but this is the only way we can be of service. It is definitely something that got me thinking as I tend to completely unravel when I allow myself to acknowledge the scale of the human and non-human animal suffering occurring at any one time and then my grief and overwhelm is so enormous that I am just adding to the suffering and am no help to anyone. It is easy to feel guilty at the moment to have a home, food, a job for at least the next few months, and her words, and that distinction, got me thinking how it really is okay to be okay even though others are most definitely not okay, and that this is the only way we can truly help.
So I am okay a lot of the time, though not all the time of course because… teenager at home full-time, mood swings, irrational anger, constant mess and nagging, and when I am in my adult, K is less prominent in my life – she fades into the background and becomes just someone who knows me (really, really) well and who I look forward to spending time with each week. But when my attachment system is triggered, not seeing her really does feel like life or death – in those moments I would rather die than not see her again. Right now, when I am feeling relatively adult and contained, I am okay with waiting till she is ready to work in-person again. I have to be. I am trying to remind myself it is not about me, actually, but her – her vulnerability, her perspective, her priorities. It is not about her pushing me away and rejecting me and wanting to keep me at arm’s length. I know she hates working like this, so she will not extend it just to make a point or force me to cope in order to build my resilience. At the moment UKCP guidelines say therapists should continue working remotely. Much as I hate knowing other people are meeting with their therapists soon, I have to sit with my lack of control over this and what her regulatory body decides to do when. All I can hope is that K’s therapist friends will start meeting for outside sessions or move back to in-person because their practice can do this safely with distancing and she will follow suit. I can’t control it though, and I don’t want to push her. If she doesn’t feel safe it is not for me to force her or challenge her or refuse to work with her till she changes her mind. It is not for me to make her feel bad and guilty for wanting to keep herself safe or do what her regulatory body are telling her.
What I *think* is my intuition is telling me that I am not going to see K anytime soon. Maybe this isn’t my intuition and is some kind of defence mechanism preparing me for the worst, I don’t know. Maybe I will be pleasantly surprised. I remember ages ago a part telling her that they were worried we would resume face-to-face and then it would be taken away again. She said ‘what, if there’s a second peak do you mean?’ which I guess suggests she is, or was, planning to return to face-to-face when she can, before the inevitable second peak (because our government is shit), but everything is changing so fast and her thyroid wasn’t pranging out then. I think we all thought cases in the UK would be much lower before lockdown was eased and it means the level of risk isn’t really going to decrease from where it is now. It is K’s decision and not mine what she determines to be the risks for her personally and the people she knows, though of course nothing can change until the UKCP change their guidance…
Anyway, the point is all this is irrelevant; I don’t want to be second-guessing what she will do and when I will see her. It is exhausting and pointless. For now I am committed to continuing to work remotely with her, and if it becomes apparent that this is not ending any time soon then I will think again about whether this is the best use of my money right now. I don’t want to lose the next months, and possibly longer, of my life pining for her, not when I had come so far and she is not actually going away. There is a vague fear that she is going to prepare me for an ending with her soon, but she is only 51 and I’m pretty sure she can’t afford to stop working now, so I hope this is not my intuition. In my heart I can feel we will work in-person again one day, and I am really trying to be patient and hold on to that feeling, and accept things are as they are right now and that I am lucky she is still here. It doesn’t feel like a ‘real relationship’ to me without proximity (I have had two long-distance relationships since I was 19 and I can see now why I struggled so much with them!) but perhaps this is a good opportunity to show my attachment system that people can be constants in our lives even when we don’t see them.