Bad blood (2)

***TW mention of suicide***

Being raised by a narcissist is the absolute worst. It is crazy-making, stretching the fucking tentacles of self-doubt around everything, for years and years and years, even when they are not in our lives any longer, they are still there, ruining everything. I cannot work out what is real about me and how I’ve lived and parented. The shame and despair and panic in me over what I am, how bad I am, what I’ve done and how much I’ve broken Nina is just never ending sometimes.

This lockdown is breaking me. It is still 10 weeks till Nina goes back to school. I am working all but 3 of those weeks so she will be home, pranging out about things and provoking me. She is ‘off school’ for 7 of those weeks, officially on holiday, and I don’t know how to cope. I’m so scared I’m going to break her this summer and that all my hard work not to be an out of control, dysregulated, abusive parent will be obliterated.

Being in lockdown with a teenager on my own is fucking hell. Honestly. I cannot do this anymore. I wish she was still little and I was enough for her, so that even if I was tired out, at least I could make her happy. Nina’s teen brain, that reads everything as threat even where none is meant or intended, means she is constantly freaking out that I am angry with her, that I don’t like her, that I wish she wasn’t here. Apparently this is ‘normal’ for teens, they read every facial expression as anger, but it still triggers me into spirals of self-loathing – what have I done to her? I cannot bear that she would think I am angry with her all the time, that I hate her, because I love her so much and she is growing up to be someone so amazing. And then I lose my temper so badly that it must completely confirm to her that I really am angry with her all the time.

Every time I ask her – nicely – to do something she flips out in defensive anger at me. And I expend so much energy on not reacting, staying calm, but then I flip out back at her and all the hard work is wasted. In those moments I’m just like my mum, for minutes not hours like she was maybe, but it is enough. The damage is done. I don’t know how much damage and it drives me mad not knowing how badly I’ve fucked her up – ‘when will we know?’ I ask K. And her words reassure me for a few minutes and then the self-loathing and shame engulf me again, and voices whisper that she’d be better off without me. Maybe she would.

K reassures me she’s fine, a normal teen, not damaged and traumatised but how does she know? She doesn’t see me yelling. She doesn’t see me swearing. She didn’t see me in the middle of the night last night when Nina had woken me up AGAIN going to the loo at some stupid time (because as far as she’s concerned this is a 6 month holiday and she is totally self-absorbed at her age and has no concerns about me beyond whether I will shout at her), when I was trying to sleep ahead of another full week of work, when I yelled and slammed my door and left her crying in her bed because I couldn’t deal with the fall out of my anger, didn’t have time for the repair because I needed to sleep. She didn’t see Nina in tears this morning because she couldn’t sleep after that. And yes I repaired it, apologised without making excuses for myself, explained the pressure of the pandemic, the stress and worry over money and job safety, and everything falling apart, how hard it is to work in a demanding job like mine when I am tired, distracted, stressed. But the repair wasn’t enough. She is still mad with me. We couldn’t make it right today. It needs to be left and not forced.

I have spent hours and hours and hours trying to be a good parent, and I know in some ways I have been attuned and empathic and fun, but I don’t know if it’s been enough to save my daughter from going through what I have been through and I am scared. I try so hard but all it takes is a few fucking angry words, a few sighs and eye rolls, and I’m in the territory of my own mum and it honestly makes me wish we were both dead. And she will never see or know or understand all the good I’ve done, all the ways I’ve not been like my mum, all the ways I’ve not fucked her up and broken her. All she will see is the damage, the shouting, the tears.

I’m scared I’ve given her too much information about her grandma, that she has that to use against me, that she can tell me I’m the same because she doesn’t know how bad her grandma really was. But maybe I’m just trying to reassure myself when really I am just as bad. I can see that she thinks it is never okay for people to yell, and really it isn’t but we are human and living through a global crisis, and she conflates this sense that people shouldn’t yell with the idea that I am mean and shout about nothing and that she is always in the right. It is like her normal teenage feelings about me, about being unwanted and misunderstood, get all tangled up with the narcissistic/borderline legacy and she gets it all out of proportion too, thinking I am always in the wrong, thinking I should never raise my voice when she has been reminded for the tenth time to do something. I feel like I’ve over-reacted so many times during this lockdown, when she’s been having a meltdown over clothes or her hair or her eyebrows when I’m trying to work, or yelled in the car when we’ve tried to go out somewhere because my window of tolerance has shrunk even smaller than a letterbox lately, and that has just confirmed for her that I’m an utter fuck up and that every time I shout I’m like her grandma, rather than a normal parent doing their best through a fucking pandemic.

Earlier I found something she wrote last night, after I shouted, saying how scared she is of me and that she never knows when I’m going to shout and it is not okay how I treat her. And I know the teen brain splits people, wipes out all the good and can only see the bad when it is under threat, but what if she really is nervous of me all the time?  I want to say it’s not all the time, it can’t be, that there are times, lots of them, when we are relaxed and happy and laughing, but maybe it is that bad for her. I know that parents can do a lot of damage without meaning to. I don’t know how bad my mum was because I can’t remember, but I know it was bad enough that I fragmented into 23 different parts (at least) and that 5 years of therapy hasn’t been enough to untangle what she did to me, let alone heal it. I can’t believe Nina, who says until lockdown she felt happy nearly all the time, is broken like me, but no one knows. K says she would know by now, but what if she only wants to see the good in me? What if she can’t imagine what I’m really like?

I feel like I’m going fucking mad. For years when I felt suicidal I knew I’d have to take Nina with me because I couldn’t leave her alone with our fucked up family. For the first time tonight I really am wondering if she would be better off without me. I’m not going to act on this so please don’t worry, but it crosses my mind more than it should that I should leave her now when there is a chance of her being okay still.

K and I talked earlier about me at 13 – already smoking, anorexic, beginning to purge, self-harming, getting really very drunk and kissing older men. I told her about New Year’s Eve when I was 13 when I threw myself down a really steep flight of stairs because I knew it wouldn’t hurt because I was so drunk. I could have broken my neck. K said it is no wonder Nina is triggering my system all the time at the moment, when the parts have no space and were so broken and reckless at that age. I said I feel invisible when Nina wakes me in the night or refuses to help at home or argues with every single thing I say, and K says I was invisible to my parents at that age so it’s no wonder I am finding this so hard.

Nina is not invisible to me. But she will never see all the good. Only the bad. And I can’t fucking tell what is real. I don’t know what is normal. I don’t know what ‘good enough’ parenting is since I clearly never had it. And I don’t know how bad I am. I don’t know if I’m splitting myself, if Nina is splitting me. I don’t know if her love for me is trauma bonding. I know my mum wasn’t crazy and abusive all the time, if she had been it would be easier, because it is that which makes me utterly crazy as I cannot work out what is real about me and others and the past. I constantly doubt myself even when I’m good enough so I have no idea now if I’m doing an okay job with this, and there is no way of finding out, no way of reassuring myself, since my mum reassured herself by denying all the fucking awful abusive shit she did and so maybe I am just like her and doing that too. I don’t know if I feel like I’ve really fucked up badly as a parent because I’m finally facing the truth about myself, that I’m a really shit, selfish, angry, abusive person, or if it’s because my parents fucked me up so much that I still split myself and end up unable to see anything good about myself. And if Nina is splitting me is it normal for a teen to do this, to speak in all-or-nothing always/never statements, or is it because her brain is fucked up too?

I honestly feel like I’m losing my fucking mind. I never, ever want Nina to feel this way, ever in her life. Not now and not in 24 years time when she is my age. I want her to know what is real and what isn’t, but how can I teach her that when I don’t even know myself.

Out of the woods

Therapy is working again! Something shifted last week after my session and on Tuesday I felt like I’d actually had therapy the previous day, for the first time in three months really. It was as though it had landed somewhere inside me, instead of falling right through me and leaving no trace. I didn’t feel great afterwards. Things had been stirred up, there was some teen anger over some things K said, we felt a bit lost and tearful after the session and the next day, but it was all things that I knew what to do with – writing, self-care, cuddly toys, letting things metabolise and not forcing them – and the main thing was that it reached me, touched me, left an impression on me. As I think I wrote before, I don’t mind feeling sad or difficult feelings after therapy, as long as it feels like I’ve had therapy and can allow the feelings to be there and practice doing the right things when I feel that way.

We did our half hour short session on Wednesday – I sat in the country park near my house and we spoke about some of the things that came up on Monday and then about some of the struggles I’m having parenting a teenage girl at the moment – I mean, it would be tough anyway, but our proximity has increased exponentially at the same time as my window of tolerance seems to have shrunk dramatically, and so it is really bloody tough right now. Talking to her I could really feel how well she knows me, all my stuff, all that gets triggered by Nina’s (normal) behaviour, and that she is going to be here to help me over the coming years – she says these are the hardest days of parenting (she’s not wrong!) and going through them is what led her to train so she could help other parents in that situation. That session was the closest I’ve felt to K since right near the beginning of lockdown – at the end my heart was so full of gratitude and some other feeling I cannot name – a warm glow filling my chest. It was amazing to have reached that place again and to be able to hold onto her too. She said it was lovely to talk to me, and I could tell she really meant it, felt it, that we had found each other again and that I was going to be able to do this work.

I don’t know what led to this shift – having some space around my session without Nina here, doing things differently at the start of the session (we did drawing together instead of a mindful breathing check-in so me and young parts could ground into the connection between us rather than get lost inside ourselves), knowing and accepting it’s not going to be anytime soon that we see her so we are relaxing into what we’ve got for now instead of always pushing to find out when we’ll be meeting, allowing in what she is able to give me instead of being scared if I let it in she will want to work like this forever, discussing why I’ve been far too ashamed to share anything good in my session since we haven’t been meeting – and it doesn’t really matter. The main thing is it feels manageable to work like this.

Sadly, about 3 hours after we spoke last Wednesday I got triggered into horrific emotional flashbacks after the new-ish (9 months in) Head of Department who is a total narcissist (I think I’ve written about him before) humiliated and threatened me in a Teams meeting in front of the whole department for no reason at all. It was really horrible and of course triggered all my childhood stuff. I barely slept that night and on Friday night had panic attacks all night about him and the threat he poses to my career progression and job security. I’m fucking terrified of him, as are a number of other colleagues even without a childhood of narcissistic abuse, and his behaviour is creating a real climate of fear and intimidation where we are all scared to speak in meetings and don’t know who we can trust. It’s disrupted everything. I’ve been to a Speak Out Guardian at work for the second time about him now, but I really don’t think he’s going anywhere at the moment. And of course he’s a true narcissist, so his inner circle are intoxicated by his attention and cannot see his abusive behaviour at all. It really feels a very unsafe place to work, but I am pretty trapped there as moving jobs would require a move to another city and nowhere is hiring for the next year at least in the sector I’m in.

So the weekend was difficult. After Friday and the night of panic attacks I was tired (obviously) on Saturday morning. I had arranged a beach walk with a friend which I was really looking forward to. It was lovely to see her and have a rainy walk, but I kind of collapsed when I get home and was sad to be missing solstice because of the impact the dickhead manager had on me. But I could feel my session with K was there, waiting for me, which just has not been the case for the past few months, and I knew she would help me hold it all and work out if I can manage to stay working there without being in flashbacks for days after every interaction with him.

My session today has also reached me and I just had a beautiful bike ride and feel like I can do this, however long ‘this’ has to go on for. We did drawing again at the start and this really helps little people to settle. It was really helpful to have her support about the work situation, her reminders that I don’t deserve this, and need to not let him push me out of where I work because my career is important. She was pretty angry on my behalf too, and that was so comforting because I know my mum would have told me to watch my step and would have asked if I was sure I wasn’t causing the problem. And K helped me around Nina again as well, because she really gets how hard it is having her here all the time and that lately it is like I’ve lost all the positives of lockdown and got all the worst parts of ‘normal life’ back, with very few of the good bits. I can tell she is more relaxed in our sessions as well now, which I guess is because my sessions are easier to hold again and we are reaching each other. So if this continues I won’t need to take a break, though I have bravely told her my annual leave dates so will have two weeks off therapy at the end of July. and I think I will drop the Wednesday session soon as it is right in the middle of my work day and not very spacious.

I still can’t say I love therapy this way. Far from it. I am still desperate to see her and be back in the therapy space. I’m still not getting the mirroring and holding in the same way. But it is enough to sustain me, and all the parts of me, for now, and seeing her face on the screen and not being physically with her is not breaking my heart the way it was before. And that is a wonderful thing. Life is quite tough at the moment of course (though also beautiful in many ways, and I am grateful to be living where I live, where I can cycle and see the sea and we are relatively untouched by the horrors unfolding across the globe, and I am driving 90 minutes to see my best friend on Saturday – I cannot wait to see her!) and the thought of losing K’s support at this time has really been causing a lot of distress. Now it doesn’t seem as though I will have to, which is a huge relief. Cases are dropping fast in the UK now and those who are shielding can stop doing this from August (provided things keep moving in the right direction) so I am hopeful we will be able to work in-person sooner than January. K is very hopeful that we will get our Christmas film session, and even though that is a while away it feels survivable if remote therapy continues like this. I do hope we can do some in-person therapy before the winter in case there is a second wave, but I am relinquishing control over that and right now just feel grateful I am able to take in therapy enough this way to make it possible to continue and to get K’s support with the things I need support with, and that I have space after my session to let it sink in and stay with me.

Both of us

My session was quite difficult again, though not as bad as it has been at other times during this fucking pandemic. We had issues with connectivity – on Zoom the sound was bad and buzzing so we tried Skype, which was a bit bette for a while but then after 20 minutes K couldn’t really hear me so she decided to go downstairs to see if the sound was better and she rang me back after that. It was better for her I think but then it started distorting so I couldn’t make out what she was saying. So after 45 minutes I phoned her. We did some work in the meantime but it was a bit disjointed. We connected better than we have for a while I think. Maybe. And I’ve had a really difficult time with Nina the past few days so it helped to talk through some of that with her. It was dissatisfying and she feels very far away, but it wasn’t pointless or hugely triggering. Just not enough and very scattered.

We felt really bereft at the end, I think because we were just starting to connect and then it was the end, but so far Nina not being here has been helpful – I’ve had a long bike ride and a shower and done some drawing and things definitely feel more settled. I’ll see how it goes. It is very hard to think of a break but also very painful to keep going. At the end of the session young parts started asking lots of questions about if we had a break, if we would definitely see her again and if things would be the same afterwards and K said it’s really important if there is a break that there’s a plan for the end of it and that it is a definite break so everyone knows what is happening. She agreed that we would never end like this, out of the blue and during a pandemic (unless it was unavoidable, obviously). She said I should write to all the parts in our book and reassure them as there has been a lot of worrying, so I will do that before I go to bed.

My sister, who is a counselling psychologist in the NHS, thinks I should try remote sessions for longer because K knows me so well and we have such a good relationship. It’s strange because I often get the sense she thinks I’m taking too long in therapy (the longest she sees DID clients is 2 and a half years, but with other complex trauma clients they are through much more quickly) and so it was nice that she wasn’t telling me that I should be done in therapy by now anyway and should build some resilience through a break. And she is right. K and I’s relationship is so strong. I do feel sure it will be there at the end of all this, definitely – I don’t think that has ever been in doubt which is a definite change from how things were at in the beginning, when I could never trust if K would be there and the same between sessions, let alone for all this time! Maybe I’m wrong and it hasn’t been like this all along this time, but it feels that way. I am scared about how long it could be or what might transpire to keep us apart, but not that we won’t find each other in the therapy space again because I know we will and we will resume where we left off in March.

A cuddly crocheted bunny that matches some toys K has in her therapy room arrived in the post last week – a gift from her to support us through these challenging times. And we found out today she didn’t just order it online for us, which is nice enough, she actually sent a photo of our bunnies to the woman who crochets them because the one on her Etsy page wasn’t quite right, and the woman made a bunny to look like my bunnies, with the right colour fur and white feet and nose. I can’t even get over how adorable that is that K would do that for us. And we will take the bunny to meet her when all this remote working shit is over, and she will meet the similar toys in the therapy room and our Little Miffy who is staying with K during the pandemic. And when that happens it will mean this really very bad time is over.

I am trying so hard to hold on to the sense that this will pass, and whether K and I take a break or not, this time next year we will be back to our weekly in-person sessions and reflecting on the time that this fucking pandemic kept us apart and how hard both of us worked to try and keep the connection alive.

 

September

The attachment stuff has settled, and in my adult I am leaning towards taking a break from therapy at the end of June. Nina is going to her granddad’s on Monday afternoons and staying overnight from next week, so I’ll see if that makes a difference, but I think from a logical, untriggered perspective, this is what I need to do. Even if remote therapy doesn’t continue to send me into attachment crisis the way it has been, I don’t think I can do the work I need to do via a screen or on the phone. For me, therapy was an embodied experience, it spoke to all of my senses and affected how I felt inside myself. I could feel K all around me and it filled me up and left me feeling connected and seen and more solid (in the latter years, at the beginning it was not like this very often!). Now it just feels flat and leaves me feeling flat too. It is not how I want my therapy to be, and I think trying to keep going is part of me not facing up to how much things have changed. I thought remote therapy would be for a few months and would hold things enough for us to be able to pick up where we left off, but now it is so much longer and it doesn’t seem to be keeping things any more alive than they would be during a break. And perhaps it is damaging our relationship too.

I’m not working through trauma memories anymore, I’m not trying to form a narrative, I’ve not got stuff bursting to be shared and spoken aloud so it is not all hidden away inside me. I’ve not got new parts/alters appearing any more, wanting to tell their story. That work is done, for the most part, and what is not done cannot be done while I feel so cut off from K. It cannot be done sitting in my bedroom. For me therapy is now about taking in what it is like to be in relationship, now it is not so painful and difficult. It is about relational healing, after years of working with the edges I come up against in relationship and why I find it so hard to tolerate both closeness and space around other people. It is about healing instead of understanding, moving forward instead of examining the past. And this year it was going to be about me finding a more gentle way of being in the world, but that is put on hold for now as my world, and everyone else’s, has painfully contracted. It is wasting my money to be in therapy at the moment, struggling to connect and make it work through a screen when I need physical proximity to feel safe and heard and when what I need from therapy is so different from what I am able to get working this way.

I think I will take a break until mid-September, which isn’t that far away really. And I will ask if we can do a (paid) fortnightly email during that time. I think this will give me chance to settle things internally, and maybe even to grow and realise I need K less than I think I do. Things at home with Nina are tough some of the time and other times fine. She had a huge meltdown yesterday. Ostensibly over having nothing to wear, but really I think she was just channelling a lot of anger and frustration over the situation we are in into that. I’m pretty sure if something happened and I needed to talk it through K would still be there for a one-off session during any break we decided upon.

Things might change again, therapy might suddenly feel therapeutic again without Nina here, even if it doesn’t feel any ‘easier’. Somehow I suspect not though. I don’t need therapy the way I used to. It’s purpose in my life had changed (though I’m definitely very adult the past few days, and young parts and teens do need K in a different way I know that, so they may struggle) and that purpose cannot be fulfilled through remote work, especially at times when the separation feels so painful and re-traumatising.

I do have worries about taking a break – K won’t be there when I want to go back, she will put her fees up again, I will lose my slot and not be able to go as I can’t really do any other times due to work, she won’t let me do an email check-in between sessions because I managed so long without her, she won’t let me do a longer session anymore. I am sad that we will likely be on a break when it is 5 years since we’ve been working together (end of August) but the thought of ‘celebrating’ that through a screen is shit also.

I do feel sad that the depth and nature of my attachment wound means I can’t take in remote therapy and need to take a break to keep myself safe. But I think the reasons for a break are bigger than this, and show how far I’ve come also in the work and that my needs have changed. I feel angry that I am not a priority for anyone and that I am being left alone to cope during such a difficult time. I still think that the UKCP guidance that therapists should work remotely with clients ‘wherever possible’ means that I should be having face-to-face therapy because I can’t actually ‘do’ remote therapy, but I do understand K not wanting to work in-person, even with one client, due to her health concerns and of course her son being so unwell. It feels very unfair that I am having to take a break when I don’t want one, when I need support, but I also know I have internalised her a lot and I think maybe it will be good for me to draw on that for a while. I’ve never had a break in almost 5 years, and we always worked even when I was on holiday until last summer, so I am curious to see what it will be like. And if it is a disaster I’m sure I can change my mind and go back.

I will decide next week, but this is where I am with it all today.

 

Jump then fall

I’ve just had my session. I am leaning towards a break. I don’t know how long I would take a break for. K said a month last week, but I don’t see the point of that. Either I can do this work remotely or I can’t, and if I can’t that won’t change. So I would need to take a break until K resumes in-person work. That is a daunting prospect. It could be January, it could be a little sooner, it could be a lot longer, it could be never.

She says the other option is for us to do less work during this time, so that we keep the connection and I still get support with what I need in terms of parenting and the pandemic, but don’t lean in to the work. I don’t think I can do that. It feels like the worst of both worlds. I can’t just switch off the attachment stuff and work on more practical things, so the attachment stuff would still be activated but with longer to manage between sessions and less chance of re-connecting in them.

We talked about my mum and the original wounding. I cried at how unfair it is that I have to face losing K because of the damage my mum did to me, because it makes me not able to tolerate being in relationship with her without being in physical proximity. I have lost so many people because of the way my mum totally fucked me up. K would be just another in a long line.

Maybe I don’t need therapy anymore. Maybe I don’t need it right now. Maybe it is making things worse. Maybe the time would pass quicker. Maybe January would be here before I knew it, if I had less investment in the passing of the time. Maybe it is time to let K go. I never would have imagined it would be like this, our ending, sudden and unexpected, but maybe it is the way it is meant to be. Maybe trying to do the work is part of me not accepting how much everything has changed.

K said today she wants me to reach a place where I deeply know that this work isn’t right for me at the moment, that I can’t take it in, that it is not good for me. She said it’s been nearly three months of me not being able to take in therapy, not getting anything from it. Maybe she is right but it feels like I am being pushed away, punished for not being able to take in that she is still here, rejected because of the depth of my fucking attachment wound.

I know this work is hard for her right now. She said today my sessions have been very hard to hold since we’ve not been meeting. I don’t want to put her through that, drive her away, make her feel tired and disenchanted at a time when she has so much to deal with in her own life. I wish I could take it in and not push her away. Before my session I want to connect and I can think of a million things I want to tell her, but as soon as we are working all my defences rise and I feel lost in my room and ashamed to tell her how I am. I hate knowing that part of her wants me to take a break because this is too hard for her to hold. It brings up so much.

Next week I am going to see if Nina can go to my dad’s on Monday afternoon until Tuesday evening (she’s been going on Fridays) so that I am home alone for my session and have some space afterwards. I will try two sessions to see if that changes anything and if it doesn’t I will take a break after the 29th June. I cannot fucking bear the thought of taking a break, but even without one it is fucking unbearable because I cannot feel that she is here. She may as well not be.

Taking a break doesn’t feel right either. Of course it doesn’t. So many of us have been flung into a life we never could have imagined even 3 months ago. Nothing about any of this feels right. It could feel really painful to not have K in my life for more than six months, with the world falling apart and no guarantee that we will be able to work together again in future. It will still be really painful though, to be working but not be with her. This is not the way my therapy is supposed to be.

It is just two utterly shit options and I have to choose the least shit, the one that will hurt less. I guess the benefit of taking a break is that I am not paying to feel like this.

If we could guarantee we could start weekly sessions again in January I think I would take a break. As it stands I’m scared that won’t be the case, that it will be longer or worse she will decide not to work in-person again whilst we are in pandemic or will stop being a therapist completely. I don’t know how likely that is. But then if you’d told me at the start of the year I wouldn’t be able to get to K’s for at least 10 months because of the Coronavirus I wouldn’t have believed you, so who knows what is likely anymore.

Change

The thing about change is that by the time you know it, it’s already happened. It’s behind you. You never know change is happening until suddenly you realise everything’s different. And when it’s the end of a cycle, there’s nothing you can do about it. Once the thread starts unravelling you don’t know where it’s going to end up.

Thank you so much to everyone who offered support and reached out last week. It really was the worst week I’ve had in a long time, worse even than the start of lockdown because I was at least signed off work then, and I really appreciated all the care and kindness I got from this community. It is so hard when so few people in ‘real life’ understand the agony that is attachment pain – I realised last week it is a form of self-harm to reach out to people who don’t get it, because it seems to be something that will help in the moment, when being alone is intolerable and even lying down in bed feels so unsafe, but just leads to feelings of shame and invalidation afterwards. And so whilst I wish none of us knew this pain, it is reassuring to know there are people out there who understand and don’t make it feel worse.

I think I’m through the worst of the attachment crisis now and hoping very much that it doesn’t get triggered again in my session tomorrow. I don’t feel okay, but I am stable and eating and sleeping and not seeing K doesn’t feel like life or death as it did last week.

My phone session on Wednesday was horrific. The attachment pain was the worst I’ve experienced in almost two years. It honestly felt like it was killing me, like there was something actively dying inside me. I told K all I could see was a baby wrapped in a blanket falling through an abyss. She wants us to get to know that place, that agony and terror, but I don’t want to, I just want to keep that pain and that baby as far away from me as possible. I could feel her working really hard to find ways to help, but we only had 30 minutes and it just wasn’t enough. She said she knows how painful my process is, and on Friday in the email said she knows it is so very hard for me right now, and it helped that she knows how bad this is, that I’m not making it up and being dramatic. Those feelings are so real, so all-consuming, so annihilating. I can’t believe after all these years they are still here, that they’ve lain dormant all this time, but are as intense as ever.

K says it is very important to remember that this is a long, long standing disruption to body and mind that happens because of the age I was when the original wounding happened and the duration of the disruption in attachment. I sobbed on the phone that I couldn’t believe that attachment, something that was supposed to make a baby feel safe and protected, could go so wrong and leave someone feeling like this for their whole life. And I know this pain is not about K, but it doesn’t make the process any easier, it doesn’t make the experience of not being able to physically get to her any easier to bear.

I couldn’t reach her on the phone, couldn’t take in she was there, it was just fucking agony and I could barely speak I was crying so much. When we ended the call I felt like I was being crucified, no exaggeration. It is the worst pain imaginable and it lives in me, always, waiting to be re-ignited when something reminds my brain of that original wound. I told K I really missed her and she said she really misses me too, but ‘missing’ doesn’t come close – her absence is obliterating and annihilating me. Not all the time, not when I am adult and grounded in my life, but I cannot predict when it will resurface over the coming months and it scares me that there could be so much instability after a year of things being so much more stable.

And the worst part was having Nina downstairs, having to hide my tears, when I just wanted – needed – to lie on the bed and howl. I needed to curl up and watch films with a blanket, but that is just not an option at the moment, and it is so hard knowing this is how therapy must be for now and for many more months. Even if I choose to lean into this work, can I, when I need to howl and Nina is here all the time and I have work to do?

K said in the email on Friday that she appreciates my wisdom in trying to see what might provide embodied relationship through this time. I have ideas for what could help me sustain a connection, but it feels like all of it just slips through me. I can’t hold on to her, can’t feel her, can’t switch off from the panic and pain of not being able to get to her, and so I’m still not sure I can do this work remotely. When I think about it, I feel very torn. All kinds of thoughts are running through my head and I am trying just to let them be there, reminding myself thoughts are not facts, and I have some time to work out what is best as I’ve committed to working till the end of June to see if I can take in therapy without being in the therapy space. I really do want to, but it doesn’t feel like something I can completely control – I can’t make my limbic system suddenly be able to take in someone’s presence remotely, however much I wish I could.

I realised yesterday – again, on a deeper level than before I think – how I really did grow up feeling as though I didn’t exist. I had no sense of myself because my mum didn’t reflect my experiences back to me. When K is in the room with me she is my mirror, helping me see myself and understand myself and my experiences. This is what I don’t think I can get via the screen. Instead of my experiences being reflected to me in a contained way, I feel like I am just dissolving into the air around me as I speak. Is there anything she can do about this? I don’t know. It’s not that I get nothing from our sessions, and her knowledge of my parenting, that I’ve not fucked Nina up, and her guidance during this time, on how I can be a parent through a fucking pandemic, is invaluable, but I am not getting the co-regulation and soothing I got in the room. Not even close.

How can I see myself if I can’t see her and she can’t see me?

And because I don’t feel seen, there are parts in me that are terrified of being forgotten by K, that we will stop existing for her, and that then we won’t exist anymore either. Or worse we will exist, but not really exist. We will survive, but never really be alive.

Over and over I am reminding myself to come back to me – my body, my experiences, my home, my life, but… sometimes it is not enough and I need a mirror.

This pandemic has just twisted everything beyond all recognition. The world is unrecognisable and it is clear there will be no going back. Even if the pandemic is over in another year or two, the world will not revert to how it was at the start of 2020. And whilst there might be positive change, and whilst I very much hope that is the case, I wasn’t ready or prepared for suddenly losing the shape that therapy had in my life.

It is nearly 3 months since it first became apparent to me that my life was about to be disrupted, but I never could have imagined it would end up like this. There is so much grief over all that we would have done this spring and summer together, that we might lose our Christmas film and card-making sessions in front of the open fire, that I won’t get in the car and drive to her house again this year, if ever. I am losing so much and I am also trying to prepare myself for the reality that she may not return to in-person work, or not in time for me to work with her again, and I may have to let her go one day soon. I am trying not to catastrophise, but I also have to be realistic – because of her son, she may choose not to work face-to-face for longer than the rest of the year. We just don’t know what is going to happen with the pandemic, but we do know we need to learn to live with this virus as it’s not going anywhere, and we need to adapt to this ‘new normal’ (ugh) and part of that may be adapting to remote therapy. And if she is right that her other clients are mostly fine with remote work and just see it as a disruption rather than a threat to their existence, then presumably she can just choose to continue working with those kinds of people, who don’t have attachment wounding from a very specific time in their infancy that has led them to be like me.

It is hard to stay strong in my conviction that we will meet and work together again when the pandemic is leading many other people to lose their therapists. The losses just keep ricocheting, and they remind me frequently that I can’t keep working with K if it doesn’t work for me, doesn’t help me, through this time, because it would be naïve to assume we will be able pick up where we left off in November or January or March . I am so resistant to this idea of a ‘new normal’ and  the changes that are ahead because all of them seem to take me further away from the time when my sessions with K were a predictable and recurring feature in my life. I wasn’t ready to lose them and by the time I knew I was losing them, they had already gone.

Tell me why

How can attachment hurt so much? How can something that is meant to make a baby feel safe, secure and protected go so wrong and cause so much pain for a whole fucking lifetime? How is it possible that being away from someone can hurt this much when it was possible to live for 32 years without knowing that person? How can it have got better and then be like this again? Is it going to hurt like this until I see K next year, if that is even when it is? Is it going to cycle like this the whole time, flooding me and leaving me unable to breathe or function? How can the absence of someone feel so acute, like it is actually killing me, as if I am dying, when they are still here? How can these intolerable feelings be the result of something that happened so long ago? And how can it hurt so much to not have two hours with K that it is making the rest of my life so impossible to bear when I was always away from her basically all the time? How can those two hours each week have had such an impact? Where does pain come from? How can it all be there still, waiting to flood me, making me wish for death because the pain of being apart from someone is too much to bear?

This honestly does not feel survivable. I am speaking to K at 11.15 tomorrow as planned and it feels so far away. The thought of all the months ahead without seeing her, being with her, feeling her presence, it is torture. And alongside that the constant fear that even after all that time we won’t be able to resume in-person work, something will happen and we will have to end, after an agonising year of waiting. I wanted to write that I hate myself for feeling like this, but maybe this is where the healing lies. I don’t know how to love myself through this, it feels too unsafe, as if the feelings will get bigger if I allow them and acknowledge just how bad this feels.  I can’t believe I’m back to holding out for a crumb of contact, after 2 years of feeling so much more settled. It is so unfair.

It could be a year without seeing K, how is that even possible to survive when 11 weeks has left me here? And why can I not take in that she is still here? She sent photos this afternoon of Little Miffy in her garden, she says “Little Miffy is you really” and so a part of me is always with her, and it filled me up for half an hour and then it is gone and I feel abandoned again even though nothing has happened. Nothing has changed. Nothing is enough. It is like waves of grief again, grief that is not about her but is so bound up with her that it doesn’t even matter where it’s from anymore.

I feel so alone. It is impossible for anyone I know to understand this pain, that she is still here and yet it feels as though she isn’t and that the loss of two hours with someone each week has left me with the worst pain imaginable. The months ahead feel unbearable and I just want to be someone else. I hate being like this. I just want K, only K, nothing else comes close. I am supposed to feel this about my mum and instead I had to wait 32 years to be soothed by someone who was never even mine.

The story of us

I didn’t sleep much at all despite meds, and woke up at 5.30 with such intense emotional pain it was hard to lie still but felt equally impossible to get up and do anything. I managed to get up and meditate and shower and get dressed a couple of hours later though, and have arranged for a friend to come over after work to go for a walk. I think she’d feel safe to give me a hug and I know she’s being careful so I would feel safe to have one with her too. I really need that so much – when you have children you give a lot of hugs, but it is a million miles away from getting a hug yourself!

I spoke to my sister and another close friend last night and also to people on here and on WhatsApp. And I have thought a lot too, turning stuff over and over in my mind. I have decided I really do want to try and make therapy work this way, if I possibly can. I think I am in shock that K likely won’t be working in-person again this year as I had really assumed we would at least be in-person over the summer, even if measures had to be re-introduced in the winter. I think (hope) this shock will settle and then I need to see if I can do this work remotely, take in what she is giving me, see if I can take it in at all on a weekly basis or if it is just too hard and painful for me. I am giving myself a month to try and do this and if not I will need to take a break because how things have been are unsustainable.

K and I did a half hour phone session this morning and I managed to share what I needed to and where I’d reached for now in terms of whether to continue working or take a break. I told her I felt if I moved to work with someone else in-person I would just spend the whole time grieving her, which I don’t feel I need to do because I do strongly believe we will work in-person again one day (plus there’s no guarantee that this person would be able to continue to work face-to-face, if we go back into lockdown or there are local outbreaks, plus there wouldn’t be a huge number to choose from because not everyone will be resuming face-to-face (a psychotherapist K knows has said he won’t be working in-person until there is a vaccine, which K agrees is very extreme!)) and not many can work at this depth level and with parts and dissociation in the first place). I said that in many ways knowing a likely timescale helps, because I have been exhausted from scanning the news for information that might determine when we will meet again and waiting for her to tell me. And I said that I don’t think our in-person work is over, I really truly don’t, that I had felt we had as long as I needed to work together now (pre-pandemic) so we didn’t need to rush and I do want to get through this time so we can continue that. I said how it may not seem that way to her all the time, because I’ve still had struggles and some times when I can’t connect or remember her, but for me since around February last year therapy has felt completely different and has not been the torturous process it used to be. It is deeply sad to be back in that place, but I can see myself coming out of things quicker now and I’m able to be open with K about my feelings for her in a way I never could before, I think in large part because I know I’m like this because of attachment wounding and abuse, and not because of her.

And I said I’d been thinking about what someone on my blog wrote last night, about how maybe K and I could really deepen into the work around why not being able to be physically close to her hurts so much, but that it was hard to do that with Nina home all the time and the whole world crashing down around us all. She agreed though, that is where the work is, and that in many ways the pandemic was forcing us to go to a place that we wouldn’t otherwise have gone. So we will do some of that work, but not every week because it would be too much. In many ways we can’t not go there, if we continue working, and I said I need to be able to tell her how much it hurts to be away from her and that there is a lot I need to grieve too, in terms of what I’ve lost from being with her every week, and the Spring and Summer with her, and the time to transition in and out of session, and the holding I got from being close to her. I need to grieve that, even if we are both holding hope that this time apart is temporary. And I need to be able to take in what we have now because if I lose my job, or our pay is cut by more than 10%, I won’t be able to see her at all, so I can’t spend the next 6-9 months (or more) paying to either be triggered or get nothing at all from my sessions.

I said how much I appreciated her telling me about her son, because I wouldn’t have been able to reach a place where I understood where she is coming from if she hadn’t. I said I still feel angry with the UKCP for not issuing proper guidance and accepting they are semi-front line at this time and it was a very privileged position to be in to say they wouldn’t return until it is ‘safe’, but that I could hold that separately from her decision now because I understood. And she did say that most private psychotherapists are just not working with this level of need and so have no sense of what they are doing as being essential at a time like this.

It honestly is absolute agony to be away from her and to know it is many, many months till that will change. I still don’t know if I can do this work remotely, if it will be possible or if I’m just going to keep cycling through endless triggers and attachment pain that make it hard to function at a time when life is throwing up so much and I am not able to be with most other people in my life either. So I guess I just have to see how it goes for the next few weeks. I just hate how fucking broken and wounded I am, because it is obvious just how deep all this goes. What the hell happened to me that I am like this? And it hurts because I thought I was past this stage and now I am finding the time between contact with her complete agony again, and I a dreading the end of June when we won’t have the Friday email to sustain me either.

She has also just given me notice of a pretty massive fee increase from 1st September. She has always given me a concessionary rate that has enabled me to do more than an hour a week, but since she moved further away last year I’ve been doing a double session for £77 when her normal hourly rate is £60. She has lost masses of work due to the pandemic and can no longer offer long term work at such a heavily discounted rate, so it will be £50 per hour for me from September, which is basically an extra £23 a week if I continue with 2 hours a week, which is £100-£125 extra month. At a time of likely pay cuts where I work, and the uncertainty of my job in the medium and longer term, this has come as quite a blow despite clearly knowing where she is coming from and appreciating that she is giving me a reduction still. So even if I do carry on, I will need to decide over the summer if I can afford £100 a week on therapy, or if I need to reduce to fortnightly sessions or 90 minutes per week. I love the safety of double sessions, but if we are not working in-person it makes less difference I guess. It is very hard to justify spending so much money on therapy sometimes, especially at the moment when we are heading into the worst recession for over 300 years, but I just have to try and remember I’ve come so far and hopefully there is still some healing ahead of me despite the horrific pain of being separated from K due to the fucking pandemic, and that it is good use of money while I have it. The thought of having less therapy at a time when I need K every minute because my attachment system is so activated feels horrific and unbearable, but hopefully if that settles I will be able to make an adult decision over what to do.

 

 

 

End game: will I ever see her again?

K won’t be going back to face-to-face therapy for at least the rest of the year. I was really upset and saying how suicidal I feel in my session and that it is so unfair that mental health isn’t being prioritised and she broke a boundary to tell me her adult son has Type 1 diabetes so is shielding, as she thought it would help me understand why she isn’t rushing back to in-person therapy. She has never told anyone before but she needed me to understand how concerning this all is for her and why she can’t take any risks. He is already very unwell and likely wouldn’t survive Covid. Of course I understand all this, but it is fucking agony.

So I have to decide what to do and whether I can make therapy work like this indefinitely. I want to because I don’t want to lose her but I just don’t know if I can. K says I am the only one of her clients who is really struggling without face-to-face, even though some others don’t really like it as much. I wish I could be someone who could take it in because I can tell she is working so hard, but it just doesn’t land and I can’t feel it. I am in constant agony being away from her.

This feels utterly impossible to survive. She is not saying she will return to work in-person January, it could be longer, but wanted me to have a timescale so I can decide what to do. She wants me to be well and wonders if I should work with someone else who can work in-person. I don’t want that. I only want her. I only want her. How is this happening?