august

Today is 5 years since K and I first met. I remember that day like it was yesterday but at the same time it feels as though a hundred years have passed since then. I am a totally different person than I was when K and I started working and yet more myself than ever.

I wanted to reflect a little on where I was at in therapy at this time in each of the years we have worked, so I looked in my old journals to see what I’d written and what I was working through at this point in August each year. I don’t want to trigger myself though, so this will be a light post that doesn’t delve too deeply into what was coming up. It felt important to mark this date in some way though, and it is also a good reminder that time passes and things change even when it feels like we will be stuck in the same painful situation forever.

In August 2015 I really was a total mess and had been since Jess died in December 2014 really. I was also functioning really well when I wasn’t in emotional flashbacks (hello dissociation I was yet to discover I even had) and I was putting all my energies into healing and making change in my life. I was working regularly with my acupuncturist who is trained in working with trauma, and also with a shamanic journey therapist. Both of these people were important to me, but they weren’t able to contain the level of distress and the memories that were coming up and I was suicidal and regularly planning to kill myself and Nina because it seemed as though the damage from transgenerational trauma was too great for either of us to ever recover from. I contacted K when it became apparent I needed ‘proper therapy’ to guide me through the healing process (which I thought would take a year or two!) and we first met on this day 5 years ago. This is what I wrote in my journal that evening:

This evening I went to meet K, psychotherapist. She seemed good. (Lol, this makes me laugh so much – ‘good’). Lots of experience with complex trauma. She said my flashbacks are pretty severe and that we’re going to need to go very slowly and build up the trust and the relationship before we move into looking at the trauma. I feel less hopeless than I have. I’m prepared for things to get worse before they get better… I feel a structured path and contained space is going to really help me, along with someone strong and able to challenge me.

Honestly, I had no real idea what I was getting into or how much worse it was going to get… I didn’t even realise I was dissociated, let alone someone who was extremely fragmented with almost autonomous alters or parts. And I had no idea how important the relationship would be, how it would become something that felt like it was killing me and keeping me alive nearly all the time for more than 3 and a half years. I thought therapy would be all about me, but in fact it was all about K and us – her and I together – and that has been so unexpected and beautiful and painful all at the same time. Bittersweet.

A year later our work had really got going and I was deep in the attachment work, but I’d say I still hadn’t reached the most intense and agonising work we had to do. We didn’t mark a year but I wrote briefly in my journal:

A whole year of working with K. I had no idea she’d come to be so important to me, no idea I was dissociated or had parts or was as broken as I am.

She went away for the first time since we’d been working together a few days later and I remember I had intense pain in my toes and was convinced I was getting rheumatoid arthritis. I really lost it and was in a state of heightened anxiety and catastrophising about everything. Luckily I bumped into my acupuncturist and he said often toe pain is where we are – literally – gripping the ground in fear! This explanation and validation was enough to settle things but for quite a few years after that I experienced toe pain when I was apart from K. She had wanted us to do some work by email during the 10 day break but I was too cut off to contact her – I sent a short email telling her I couldn’t send a proper email because it felt weird since I didn’t really know who she was. She replied and said she understood and was holding hope for me. Then a young part (Miffy) quickly sent an email while I was distracted in town, saying she missed K and hated the break and she remembered her even though no one else did. K sent a lovely message for her and young parts and a video of some goats running around the garden wall of her house in Portugal and just before she came home Miffy text her because she was so worried she wouldn’t come back and K replied saying ‘I am coming home. In Lisbon tonight and going on an aeroplane in the morning.’ We cried and cried in relief after getting that message, letting out all the anguish of the 10 day break. We literally counted down the hours till she was back and had the hugest meltdown ever after we finally got to see her the next day.

August 2017: K and I did a long bike ride to celebrate and then had tea and some of the cake I had made her sitting in the garden. It was perfect. She said it was her favourite therapy session ever, with any client, and that stands – for both of us – to this day I think. It was perfect. I was choosing a secondary school for Nina at that time and as we cycled and I talked it through K helped me get past all the background noise and unwanted input from others to work out what was right for both Nina and I for the next stage of our lives. It was magical and it is wonderful now that she is at the perfect school for her and we are living out of town and it was all due to seeds sown by K that day. And also such a positive experience of being supported to tune into my own sense of what is needed after a lifetime of being unable to hear my own voice due to trying to keep everyone else happy.

Our third anniversary, in August 2018, was during our only month-long August therapy break, shortly after K had told me she was taking 2019 as a sabbatical for her health and we would be ending our work – or taking an extended break with no definite return at the end of it – at the end of the year. I was in bits, as those who’ve followed my blog since then will know (her circumstances changed and in October 2018 she told me she wouldn’t be able to take the year off so we could keep working if I wanted to), but I did manage to make the best of that month to stabilise myself and make plans for how I would continue my healing journey without her. I marked the date by writing a blog post about the fact that K stayed for so long through so many hard times despite it being a rocky road that she felt ill-equipped to walk beside me on sometimes. I am so bloody relieved that wasn’t the beginning of the end though – we’ve done incredible work since then and also reaped a lot of the rewards from all the hard times in the previous three years.

Last year at this time things were SO different than they had been in previous years. I’d really moved through a lot of the attachment work and was in a much more settled place where I didn’t experience anywhere near as much shame for needing K. Nina and I were away on the 26th so K and I marked 4 years since we had our first proper session which was 2nd September. K was about to move house, which some of you may remember caused a bit of a storm, despite her saying we weren’t making a hullabaloo out of it because the most important things – her and I – were going to the new house! We sat in the garden and she gave us a beautiful silver bracelet (the one Nina wrecked last week) and I gave her a huge card made by a lot of parts in my system with pictures of things we had done together and things that are meaningful for us. Then I read aloud something I had written for her (which you can read here if you are interested) and we reflected on our time together and how far I had come. It was also our last session in her home that we had been to over 300 times, so it was emotional and difficult (I’ve written before about why the therapy room in her last house, and the garden there have been such huge parts of our healing journey) but also beautiful and I wrote down some things K said in the session afterwards about how she wishes she could magic shame away for us and how lovely it would have been for Miffy ‘if she had had all that when she was very little in a little body’.

This time last year I was so aware of how far I’d come in terms of being able to tolerate closeness and connection without feeling crippling shame or wanting to die or dissociating and forgetting K entirely – it was breathtaking and it is this which has sustained me through everything the past year has thrown at me. Missing her is a deep ache inside me right now but I also feel so much gratitude for all that my work with her has enabled me to be, and perhaps also a little hope that on this day next year we will be sitting together in her garden reflecting on 2020 and looking back in amazement that we survived such a huge disruption in our work.

Seven

I need you. We saw Ana today and I need you because it has left me wanting to cut and tear out of my skin to escape the shame and longing it has left me with. I don’t know why I feel this way and if I could talk to you we would unpick it together and make sense of it and you would pass this tangle of emotions and body sensations back to me in a neat ball that I could carry around with me.

I want to tell you Ana’s colorectal cancer is stage IV and in her liver and there are 20 lesions and they can’t operate so she’s having 6 months of chemo. I want to tell you she’s planning to build a tiny house in her garden and sell the big house and she’s talking like she has the 20 years ahead of her she should have, but the 5 year survival rate is so low and it scares me because Jess’ sisters have been through too much loss and they can’t lose their mum as well.

I want to tell you how hard I try to connect with her and how it’s like she’s in a glass box and I can’t reach her and it hurts because I want a connection with Jess through her. And it hurts because she cannot hear or see me and I know how hard it was for Jess not having a mum who saw or heard her. So hard that it means she is no longer here in fact. It hurts because after I’ve seen Ana I’m hit again by the deep connection Jess and I had that we didn’t really understand but that drew us together and would have kept us close for the rest of our lives, if only she had stayed. Both parented by people who should not have had children, one of us by a man who chose to leave his children behind when his pain got too great and the other by a woman who carries suicide in her DNA and threatened to leave a hundred times. Ana doesn’t hear people, she couldn’t hear her daughter even when she was screaming out in pain. She speaks but she cannot listen and it hurts because she wants to be there for me but she can’t be. It all feels such a muddle and I need you to help me hold it and make sense of it because the confusion and shame are eating away at me and I don’t understand it. I can’t make it make sense and it leaves me shattered and ripped up inside.

And I am still trying to atone, K, for what I did and how I reacted in the weeks after Jess died. I want someone to forgive me but I don’t know who. I want to explain what I know now and didn’t then, but to who? I am scared I’ll spend my whole life trying to atone and it makes missing Jess so complex. I told you last year I wanted the grief of losing her to be pure and you tried to explain that my attachment to her means it can’t be, because for me attachment and loss and shame go hand-in-hand, but I still didn’t understand what you meant and now you are not here to explain. I’m scared of what will happen in December without you, because the anniversary of losing Jess is stained by my badness and I don’t know how to make myself clean. You used to tell me what was inside of me wasn’t black but golden, but I can’t see anything shiny in me when you’re not here.

I need to tell you how much I miss Jess. I want to talk about her but without you there is no one who knows me with her, no one who knows what we were together and what she took away. There is no one I can talk to about her. She was the most beautiful, sparkling, jewel of a person I’ve ever known – it will be 6 years in December and still I’ve not made a friend who I have anything close to what I had with her. I don’t know if I ever will. I don’t want to, I just want her to come back. Ana has painted a rainbow on the garden wall for Jess but when she builds the new house it will disappear and it feels as though a little more of Jess will be wiped away too. Jess’ garden will be sold – the place you told me last week you can picture because I spoke of it so vividly – and all the sacred memories of Jess in there will belong to someone else. I can feel young parts howling and screaming inside. It’s been 5 years since we’ve felt this agony and not had a meeting with you in a  few days to soothe us and help us understand. We’ve not had to face this pain alone for 5 years because we found you and now we have to hold it alone. The grief still rips through, K, as big and untamed as it ever was, but now it shrieks of your absence too and I wasn’t expecting that.

It has only been a week – 7 short days – and already it is as though we’ve survived a lifetime without you. There have been dozens of things that we’ve all wanted to share with you and ask you – funny things, healing things, scary things, hopeful things, shameful things, sad things, frustrating things. Tonight is the worst though. We are broken up and confused and filled with an anguish we cannot name. You know everything K, we’ve worked on Jess’ suicide together since we first walked into your house all those years ago and you would understand exactly what is going on for us all now. I need you to help us all and I can’t have you. It makes this confusing mess so much harder when I know I have to carry it alone until it recedes and lies dormant again, waiting for the next time to remind me that I cannot atone however much I wish I could, because some mistakes can never be fixed or mended or absolved – not by time or regret or tears.

 

Come back… be here

Thank you to everyone who’s given me so much support this week, and all the other times, it is so appreciated and helps so much to know there are people who understand how hard this whole situation is.

Day 3 isn’t even over. Oh my god this is honestly the most stupid decision I’ve ever made. What was I thinking? It feels utterly impossible to survive this break. And it was my decision. Except it doesn’t feel like my choice – I would never have made this decision if 2020 wasn’t shaping up to be the worst year in human history.

I am okay but also really not okay. It is taking all my strength to be okay but I can’t sustain this till the spring. Not possible. I miss K so much and there have been about 30 things already that I’ve gone to write down to tell her next week and then caught myself. Yuck. It hurts so much. I keep getting hit by waves of grief and when I think of her I’m aware of an internal sense of free-falling through an abyss. All around is empty space. There’s just too much of it and not enough of me and she gets further and further away as the hours go by. I keep coming back to me, my body, home, life, plans, but it is hard work and I can feel myself getting lost. I just want to email K and say I made a big mistake and can I come back. But then back to what… Remote work. That was so painful and pointless.

Yesterday started off kind of okay, I felt crap but accepting. And then it was dark and grey and wet here, and I felt groggy and tired and foggy and so flat and empty. Just a taste of the months to come over winter. Work is going to be absolutely crazy full on for the next 7 months and I can’t believe I’m heading into this time without K ,and planning to try and endure nearly all of this time without her support and co-regulation. Already there are workplace dilemmas and boundary issues I’m struggling with and would value her input to help me unpick. It struck me how this whole ‘taking a break’ was much easier to contemplate in summer, when life is more spacious for me and I’m able to spend huge amounts of time alone and connecting with myself and doing things I need and love, but all this is going to be much harder in the coming months. Now work is getting busier again, and I have more meetings and huge amounts of social interaction each day, there is less time for me and I can feel myself dissolving, as if my sense of self gets absorbed into others and I’m too thinly spread. Scattered energetically. It’s making the lack of mirroring from K very daunting as I’ve had a difficult reminder of what happens for me and why the past few exceptional months have been easier for me in many ways, with the isolation and solitude and lack of decision-making and so on.

Heartbreaking also yesterday was finding the special bracelet K gave us last summer to celebrate 4 years of working together out in the garden in the mud and all tarnished from the rain. Nina had taken it from my room without asking and lost it out there earlier this week. It was devastating. And I know I did thoughtless crap like that when I was 13 (and older) but honestly, of all the things for her to ruin this week, it just led to a massive wave of pain because we can’t even tell K what has happened to it. And my dad was being horrible yesterday and I can’t tell her that either. And a reminder of why stupid online therapy doesn’t work, because there is trauma work to do around him still, lots has come up during lockdown, but I can’t go there on a screen so it’s all on hold whatever. And I can’t get the gentle warmth and holding through a screen. So none of the work I need to do is possible right now, but then it means I can’t have K either.

It was sunny today and things have felt better and I worked productively, but the days are not going to be like this for very much longer. Maybe remote therapy would have been easier once my life became fuller again because I’d have had more things I needed to share and get input on so there would have been a point to therapy even without doing more trauma work or getting more of whatever magical things she poured into us all. Maybe I should have waited. But it was so hard and often re-traumatising to work like that… What an impossible situation. Last night it just really hit me what this decision involves – not speaking to K for 6 months… It feels like it all happened so suddenly and here I am on the other side of this decision, even though I know I’d thought it through. And then the alternative – keeping going with stupid remote therapy. Which is worse? I don’t even know. Maybe there is just a lot of shock going on in my system and it will settle, but right now it just feels impossible to survive 6 months without K whilst we’re in a pandemic and adapting to that at work and there is still so much change and uncertainty ahead.

We miss her so much. We’ve missed her for 5 months now but this feels worse, more of an empty space. It’s so hard imagining her living her life with me not being a part of her week anymore. Will she even notice on Monday that we are not there? And if she does, for how long till she gets used to not knowing what we are all doing? I want her to at least know how hard this is for us all this week, in case she thinks we are fine and having a nice time, but likely she isn’t thinking about me and how I am at all so why does it even matter that she knows how I actually am.

I really hope the next 5 months goes at warp speed like the last 5 have, ,or that the government get their shit together with tests we can do at home and get results within half an hour and then we can go back to therapy and normal life!

This was a pretty pointless post but it helps to get it down and I sometimes get tangled when I journal – writing here helps me make the internal mess a little more coherent.

This is me trying

I didn’t know if you’d care if I came back

I have a lot of regrets about that

It is the start of day two. Day one was very long. It already feels like I’ve survived a lifetime without K. There have been so many things that have come to mind that we all want to tell and ask her. It’s hard to believe it could be so many months until we get to share them, and that likely they won’t even matter by then. It is 27 weeks until we will email with a view to starting weekly sessions again. If things become too difficult we will start work again sooner, but honestly remote work is so hard and it will be at least mid-November before I reach that place.

Things feel flat and I feel kind of empty but I’m trying to just give the feelings space, let things settle, let the heaviness lighten. I am trying to hold onto hope whilst at the same time opening to the uncertainty of what is ahead, for all of us and for the whole world. Sometimes it’s easy for me to forget the tragedy unfolding on a global scale – Yemen, Syria, India, the US, Brazil, the list goes on. Systems are collapsing under the strain of what this virus is doing and I am safe and protected in my home. I am trying to find space for that and remind myself of the enormity of what is happening, not to minimise my feelings or invalidate myself, but to provide the context for what is happening in my life and why things have been so different, to help it all make sense. We’ve been so protected where I live and I don’t know anyone in real life who’s had the virus, so it helps me to integrate the past 5 months if I bring to mind the scale of what’s happening.

Our session on Monday was everything it needed to be. I cried a lot. K cried and said beautiful things about me, us, our work, which of course my brain erased immediately. She read us our two favourite stories. We put some things on the shelf in the therapy space to come back to next year. We talked about how I will manage a visit to my friend Jess’s mum next week (Jess is my very close friend who killed herself in December 2014) having just heard she has metastatic colorectal cancer which has spread to her liver.  We talked a little about what I will do with the money and the time. K reminded me that she knows me and sees me and knows all my stuff and how I work and what goes on for me and that none of that will change. She will remember it all. 

There is a deep sadness but we are not triggered and losing it. There was a lot of crying on Monday evening but we still went to bed on time and took a sleeping tablet and yesterday worked almost as normal though we were quite distracted and unfocused. I saw a good friend in the evening. I briefly considered self-harm before bed last night as a way to soothe things, but it seemed a little dramatic and so I didn’t. My whole system seems to be mostly accepting of the reality and that, in the face of it, this is the only way forward. It gives me some space to find myself a little more and K is also still here, all around me – everything we’ve done and made and been forms the foundation for the safety and stability and knowing I now have. Leia wrote in our parts’ book how everything safe feels like K because safe is a feeling she first had with K. That is so true. Our whole home feels like K and it is because of her that so much of my life now is possible.

I’m not angry with K. I trust that she is doing the right thing. She is not saying she will hide away forever but right now we don’t know enough about the virus and the long-term impacts and I respect her decisions based on her own auto-immune conditions and her partner and son’s health. If it was my son who was that sick I would do anything to protect him and I wouldn’t take any unnecessary risks. He is not even 30 yet. She will be waiting to see what happens when schools reopen, when the uni students are back, when winter comes and people start getting sicker from the virus again. It helps me to remember all this and that she is not doing this because she is irrational or pushing me away. The NHS is planning to provide remote therapy over the winter because the risk is increased in situations where there is a lot of talking, which is basically what therapy is. And when we meet I want to be able to hug her and sit close and not be freaking out about touching things. I so hope we reach that place in the Spring but I also don’t want my life to be on hold until we meet again. I don’t think it will be. Growth doesn’t really even feel like a choice anymore.

I also know she wouldn’t want to start seeing people in-person and have to go back to online if cases increased. It is easy for me to say I’d have preferred that, but I also remember what it has been like in the past when I’ve been gripped by fear of not reaching her due to snow, flooding, traffic jams, illness for the days leading up to my session. To have that every week and to not know how long we had left of in-person sessions before a potential second wave or local lockdown would have been tough. Perhaps less tough than this, but there is also an element of peace and settling involved in this decision that there has never been while we’ve been working because I could never really believe I would see her until I was in the car driving there each week.

Sometimes my mind catastrophises and tells me I’ll never see her again, that we’ve just ended without either of us knowing it and that there will be heartbreak when this becomes apparent. So then I look back on the 5 years of work we’ve done together and I know that not to be true. It could be shorter or longer than we’re expecting but I do trust we will start weekly work again. I am trying to hold in my heart the image of us re-united in the therapy space and walking down the lane to see the dogs again. The winter feels a little bleak and black but I will be continuing our work and she is there if it is really too awful to manage. I do know how deeply she cares. I do know that she also holds how remarkable our relationship and journey together so far has been, that she doesn’t have this with everyone, that she holds me and my work and my way of being in the world in high esteem. I can’t always find this knowledge, but it is there and it is carrying me through these waves of grief and loss.

Speak now

It’s actually feeling pretty horrendous right now that in less than 48 hours I’ll be ending a call with K with no idea of when I’ll see or speak with her again. On the face of it I’m fine, but lurking below the surface is a lot of shock and disbelief that this is really happening. It all seems so sudden. It is hard to believe I’ve been trying to make online therapy work for 5 months. Even harder to believe that it could be 6 months or more until we can actually see K. So much could change in that time.

I keep thinking of what I can do to make sure I get what I need from Monday’s session and come away settled enough and with enough of K to sustain me for this time apart.

I can’t.

I can’t get what I need to sustain me for that time via a screen because if I could, I wouldn’t be in this position of having to take a break – remote therapy would be sustaining me.

I want the session to be what my whole system needs but it can’t be. I want our tears to be held and soothed but they won’t be. Most likely I’ll spend the session in a dissociated disconnected haze, unable to reach K, with young and teen parts creating internal mayhem but not being able to verbalise anything, and then the whole fucking horror show will hit afterwards and it will be too late. K will know absolutely nothing about how we are for months and months. Whatever happens afterwards will be mine alone to hold. It won’t get shared the following week. It won’t get shared ever.

I don’t want to do this. I keep thinking of a million things we haven’t told K. I keep thinking of how we will survive the winter and Christmas and our mum’s birthday and the anniversary of Jess killing herself without K. Will she even think of us on those awful dates that shape my year and have shaped our work for 5 years? I don’t want to have to get through those times without her, but even if we keep working like this it still feels as though we have to do it without her this year because we cannot reach her. We haven’t reached her since 16th March. This whole thing is so fucking heart-breaking and I wish time could stop so that Monday never comes and we don’t have to say goodbye. Or I wish that my life could be suspended so that time continues to pass without me being aware and then it would be the day before we are actually seeing K at last.

Everyone always says ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’, but when you have a dissociative disorder that is not true. When you have spent your whole life dissociated, absence only makes the heart forget. It is hard to believe we won’t be forgotten when we grew up invisible and when we are so good at erasing people from our mind. We can’t hold on to people we love so how we can understand that other people can hold on to us? Can they? Will K? What does it even mean to be held in mind? What does it mean that K holds us all in her heart? Will she be holding us there when we are not paying her to?

This past 5 months has been so fucking traumatic for young parts. For all of us. (And for the whole world, I know). I can imagine that if and when we finally get to be in the room with K again there will be a whole lot of howling and screaming to be done as we are finally able to really feel and express what it was like to so suddenly not be able to get to her, not be able to physically see her, after all those years of her being the safe haven in our week. It is almost our worst nightmare coming true, with no time to prepare and at a time when we needed her more than ever.

I miss her so much it is fucking agony really. An agony I know is there but I cannot connect to. The only way I am managing to get through this build up to the break is with the knowledge that whether we work remotely or not it still feels like we are on a break. And I know in some ways this way is better and there will be growth despite it being difficult, but I am sick of having to be strong and brave and look on the bright side and find my own stability. I only want K. I only want to be in my safe space. I only want to know we are in this together but we are not anymore. From Monday at 5.30 I am in this alone. Our relationship is paused which basically means it doesn’t exist in any tangible way anymore.

K said back in March, early on when we were discussing the fact that we both needed to prepare for not meeting for a while, that she was so committed to this work, to continuing it and making it work. We have both tried so hard and it has been painful and tense and our work has had an edge to it a lot of the time, a harshness it had not had for more than 18 months. I’m scared she won’t be committed when we go back or won’t want us to go back in 6 months because that commitment will have disappeared with this space.

On Monday we want so much – stories and drawing together and talking about the dogs and all the things we have done together and telling her our plans and how we will survive and how much she means to us – but I can feel it will all fall flat and it just fucking hurts that we have to take a break under these circumstances even though of course if we weren’t in this stupid situation we wouldn’t have needed a break at all. We want to tell her everything we’ve been waiting to tell her – tales of love and shame and grief and regret – but I don’t know if we will be able to speak at all and then it will be too late and all those unspoken words and stories will have to be kept inside until it is time to speak again. If that time ever even comes.

 

Invisible string

And isn’t it just so pretty to think, that all along there was some

invisible string, tying you to me?

Somewhere inside me is a deep knowing that this is not the end with K. There is so much fear and worry and anxiety over all the things that could conspire to keep us apart next year, but when my mind is quiet and I listen to my heart, I know we will meet again, work again, and that it will be the same between us. I know each of us will have grown and changed in our time apart, because being part of this beautiful universe means also being part of its endless waves of transformation, but I also know the essence of what we have together will remain unchanged. Each of us will be playing our part in preserving our connection during this time apart. Each of us is holding this time as a pause, a reprieve, not an ending. It didn’t feel this way last week, or at times in our session last night, and I know it won’t when it is time to say goodbye on Monday, but alongside all the noise and confusion and uncertainty within me, there is a sense of peace and a sense that we will not even be away from K, not really, no more than we have been.

I know in life we never know what is going to happen and that control is only ever an illusion (I think this year has shattered the last bastion of any delusion of control for all of us), but I also have a deep sense of trust that our work is not done and that the universe wouldn’t take her from me when we had only just reached a place of safety and stability and trust in our work with her. Today it feels very much like a pause, not an ending, and I feel in a good enough place that I will be able to spend the next 6 months honouring all the work we have done together and integrating it into my life. What K and I have is sacred. It cannot be broken. Bigger than that, though, is that our work will never truly be over – it is the foundation for all the rest of the healing and growth that will take place in my lifetime and so our work will continue forever now. And it is this that is stopping me rushing to fill the void she will leave – I want there to be a space in my life and to notice what it was filled with, and find ways of honouring our connection even though we are not meeting or speaking.

There were so many things K said last night that helped us all feel like this really is just a pause. She kept saying ‘in our work so far’ and about things that will be a big part of our work in the future. We were making cards to post to each other and then open together in our last session next week and when someone little worried if she would remember our favourite colour is purple she held up the purple glitter glue she had mixed up ahead of our session and said she definitely wouldn’t be forgetting that. So I know she believes it is just a pause and I try to hang on to her certainty even when my own wavers. And we both know I am doing the right thing even though it is not a choice I would ever have willingly and freely made at this point in my journey. It is still genuinely one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make and stand by in my life. Being forgotten is really all of my system’s biggest fear, and so I guess it will be a big lesson in trusting that we are memorable if we get to the other side and she remembers, but it is a long time to get through until then, not knowing if she will remember us all. She said last night ‘I am never going to forget you guys. No matter what happens’ and that sometimes you meet someone in your lifetime that it is just not possible to ever forget. ‘Even till you die?’ we asked and she said ‘That’s right. It has been such a big journey, such a big journey, it’s just not possible’.

I feel like a different person than I was when I first emailed K (5 years ago on Friday) and said I needed help to work through what I thought was complex-PTSD after memories of abuse and neglect had come back to me just a few months previously. I am a different person. I expect to a lot of people who have known me throughout this time I seem the same, and in many outwards ways I am the same, but the shifts within me have been and continue to be profound. It is incredible to think back over how far we have come together. And I really hope more than anything that ‘the time when we couldn’t meet because of the pandemic’ becomes just another chapter in our story that we will look back on together.

It does hurt. A lot. When I allow myself to go there it feels like such a huge loss. K has been a recurring appointment in my calendar since 26th August 2015. Not knowing when we will speak again after Monday is strange and unsettling and scary and I know the waves of grief will come again. We’ve also agreed that if I need to go back sooner I can, that if we email and say we want to start again it will be non-negotiable and we won’t have to justify it to her or try and convince her. If we reach the point where we email it will be because we’ve tried to sit with things for a significant period of time and have become too dysregulated and/or something big has happened with my mum or brother or something else and we have a sense that even working remotely would be better than nothing. Making this decision was so hard, I’m not going to put myself in the position of having to make it again by rushing back to remote therapy and then encountering the same issues. I hope I won’t need to go back sooner, but I’m not going to force myself to cope if it does feel unmanageable and I think working with K again would help. And I know she knows me well enough to know if I reach out to her it’s because it is the right thing to do, and not a knee jerk reaction to emotional discomfort and overwhelm.

I don’t think it will be easy. I think I will find it hard over the winter without her, when there is little sunshine and painful anniversaries, less space for me and always a lean towards overwhelm. I know some parts will miss her intensely, but in many ways this doesn’t feel much different for them than seeing her via a screen for nearly 5 months. And we have made it for a set period of time – I will email at the end of February with the intention to recommence work in March. We need to know we are going definitely going back, but we also need to be able to stop scrutinising the news to try and work out the subtext of what the latest developments might mean for in-person therapy. If we were to leave it that we wouldn’t see K again until she started in-person work then we would just be watching the news anxiously for the possibility of that and it would defeat the purpose of the break. Living like we have been is exhausting and we need some time off from it. She is going to contact us straightaway (like, the next minute after she has decided!) if she starts to work in-person again before that, and we also have to be prepared to return to remote work in March next year, if things are still as they are now. I don’t know how that would be, but things will be different by then – in the human world and in my internal world – so I don’t need to think about it yet.

After our session last night I felt much more at peace with the decision and a strong sense that our connection can endure this time apart. (That is what attachment is after all: a deep and enduring emotional bond that connects one person to another across time and space). After the session I made K a card with two hearts joined together with red thread and a card explaining that it is because of a Japanese legend we read about because of a new Taylor Swift song (I love her for releasing such an exquisite album during lockdown, proof that great beauty can be born from isolation and solitude). According to the legend, an invisible red string connects us to those whom we are destined to meet, no matter how far apart we live or how much our life circumstances differ. Destiny connects us to these people, and whilst the red string may stretch and tangle, it can never, ever break. This song and its story brought me great comfort during the recent short break from therapy and it is helping me stay strong in this decision and trust that K will be there waiting for me on the other side of this strange and uncertain time, because our journey together is not yet over.

This is why we can’t have nice things

This situation is heart-breaking. I keep getting hit with waves of grief and loss this evening. How can K and I both be in the same place as we were in March and have to stop our work because we can’t see each other? How can everything be the same and yet so completely different? I feel like I’ve been fighting against this place I’m now in for months. I know it is right but it feels so wrong, maybe because it is only right because everything in the world is so wrong. I never would have chosen this or needed this.

K has been such a huge source of support for 5 years now. I can count on my fingers the number of weeks we haven’t worked in that time. She has been there, solid and predictable and safe, the same week in week out until finally I could see and feel who she was and that she was different from all the people who’ve hurt me. I’ve spent so much time freaking out that I would lose her and now I am and I know it’s meant to be temporary but it doesn’t feel that way. It really doesn’t.

I know I’ll survive this but I can’t believe I have to. And I don’t know how to trust that she will be there when I can go back. Will she want to see me? Will she remember me, the parts, our story? Will she remember us, who we’ve been together? Will it be the same? Will she think of me? Will what we had slip away? Has it already gone? Maybe I can trust she will be there but not that we, her and I, will be the same. How can it be, when so much time will have passed?

I feel like this is my fault, like if I’d been able to hold onto her and feel she was still there none of this would be happening. She is still here, she has been here all along, but I couldn’t reach her when she wasn’t close by. It was me it all slipped away from. Yesterday she said she feels she knows me just as well, that nothing has changed for her, that without the pandemic we’d have kept working because everything was working so well. Everything has changed for me. Nearly every single part had written in our parts’ journal during the break how much they hate remote work. It was fucking devastating returning from a break to K’s flat image on a screen. We tried so hard to make it work like this with lists of things to talk about and work on and ideas and suggestions, but without her close by it didn’t feel safe to share anything vulnerable – positive or negative. She said our journal was painful for her to read, that it was clearer than ever following the break that this isn’t working for any of us – my whole system is hating it and getting nothing from it. We hate knowing that she has tried so hard to keep the connection, that she was so committed to continuing our work during this time, and yet because we are broken we couldn’t feel it and now it has to be taken away.

I know I will miss her and think of her everyday, for as long as this takes. Everywhere I look in my home there are things that remind me of her, of how I felt when I was with her. None of us even knew what safe was until we felt it with K and now there is safety around us so much of the time because so many things implicitly remind us of her. There was and is so much still to do though, so much more of her we wanted to soak in. It feels so unfair that we had finally reached a place of stability and relative calm in our work and now it has to go on hold, for who knows how long.

I can’t believe that in 13 days we will say goodbye not knowing when we will speak again. I can’t hold on to the feeling that we will meet again, when the whole world is falling into ruins. What if there is no going back? I’m so scared that the other side we need to reach doesn’t exist and never will. What if everything has changed even more by the time she returns to in-person work? What if she never does? What if there isn’t a time we can meet because all her end of day sessions are taken and I can’t fit it in around work? Part of me wants to keep going just so I don’t lose my time. But I know I can’t do that. More than any of this I’m scared of pushing us to a place we can’t come back from, with my rage and resentment and disappointment and disconnect.

I’m so scared I’ve already broken us and we’ll never get back what we had. I can’t even take this pause feeling safe and connected like I would if we were in the same room, it feels like it’s already something I made up and now I have to head into this unknown place without her support. It’s just too hard.

Blank space

Just clicked send on this after my session ended half an hour ago… My heart is breaking.

Dear K,

I don’t need more time to think, I know in my heart that a pause is the right thing to do. There is so much work we all want to do with you still – gentle, healing work of the kind we were finally able to do, but we can’t do it this way. We are going to break us if we keep trying, and after taking all these years to build a relationship that is so strong, that would be even more heart-breaking than this situation already is. This feels like such a hard thing to do, but I am hurting both of us keeping going like this, I can feel it.
I will take the next two sessions and then go on a pause. We have a card and gift for you also as we will have been working together for 5 years on 26th August, so I will try and sort out getting that in the post so we can see you open them before then.
It feels very important for all of us that it is clear it is a break and not an ending – there is no way any of us ever would have ended our work like this without the pandemic. Being able to be in a room with you and not feeling like it was killing us was so precious after all those years of struggle, and we want more time soaking that in because it was so hard to get to that point and we are not ready to leave it behind.
With best wishes,
CB