Waiting and wondering

I emailed K on Tuesday lunchtime asking for a sense of her current plans on returning to in-person work and whether she thinks she’ll return once her and her son are protected following their vaccinations, or if she’ll be waiting a while longer till restrictions ease more in mid-May. I said a few other things but overall it was mature and balanced and no over-sharing.

She’s not replied. Yet. I feel I need to put that in, because surely she will reply next week. She doesn’t work Thursday and Friday anymore and will want to hold that boundary (even though it seems unnecessarily firm). Maybe she needs to think it through, talk to her supervisor, discuss with her T-friends what they are planning around vaccines and in-person work. I know she will want to be REALLY CLEAR with me – this has always been her top priority with me, making sure things are clear. I know she has and will prioritise this above all else. She won’t want to offer false assurances and things she can’t follow through on. She won’t want to cause confusion. But also – surely she’s thought about this already!! She knew I was emailing at the end of February about returning. My sister (counselling psychologist with NHS) has barely left her flat this past year and yet is planning to return to in-person work in mid-April after her second vaccine dose. Surely me asking this hasn’t come as a complete surprise. She may feel it’s still too early to make a decision or indicate timescales, but surely she would then say that.

All kinds of explanations and possibilities are going through my mind, about the reason she’s taken so long to reply but also the wider significance of what it might mean. Is she working out how to tell me she has no idea when in-person will resume and thinks I should find a new therapist to continue this work with? Is she going to tell me her capacity has changed and she can’t hold big process like mine anymore? I’m so aware that she has the power to draw a line under our work and I would be POWERLESS to change her mind. As R reminded me yesterday – that feeling of powerlessness is echoing my experience as a baby but I am not powerless now. I have power in my own life. But I can’t make her come back to me. I have power in my own life but I can’t save myself from losing her if that’s what she decides. That really fucking hurts.

I need to try and ground and switch off from turning it over and over now and try and settle for the weekend, because I won’t hear from her till at least Monday. I need to give my system a break also, because really the triggering may not even have begun yet. I was expecting to be triggered by her response, but not for 3 days after sending it before she even replies. Who knows what delights are in store for me next week? Earlier in the week I tried to let myself hold that it could be good news, that the time apart will have been long enough and I don’t need to feel I’ve not suffered enough. Right now though I cannot see how good news could lead to a delay – surely she’d be excited to tell me when we could meet in-person if there was good news.

I also saw on her website late last night that she is now only working 10-4 on Monday and Wednesday (and offering supervision on Tuesdays). I don’t think even if she ever goes back to in-person work that I could go during those times. Not regularly every week. I work full-time and she is a 45 minute drive away. It’s about an hour and ten minutes if I were to go from work and I couldn’t guarantee I could work at home every therapy day. Even getting to hers at 4pm meant finishing work at 3pm every Monday which is so early and caused mayhem the rest of the week, but at least the home journey didn’t take time out of my work day as well. It would involve losing half a day of work every week to go between 10 and 4pm. It’s just not possible really. And she will know this. I can’t even work late the other days to make up for it because N will have swimming.

Plus I still find therapy disruptive, even though it’s easier than it was, and I’m not sure I could settle to work afterwards. Not consistently. It also doesn’t feel best use of an expensive and emotionally-invested time in therapy to come back and be straight into the demands of work, rather than letting it land and doing any writing I need to do to process. Sometimes this was a necessity when I went two or three times a week and things were triggered nearly all the time, but now therapy stirs things up but life is more stable, and so I really valued the space at home after therapy, especially if I felt held and connected. I don’t want to have to work afterwards and yet there would be no choice. Even if I could fit it in at the same time each week, which I don’t see how I could.

And with only space for 8 clients she’s unlikely to let me do a double session fortnightly, because that would mean two hours every other week she would struggle to fill. And I doubt she would be able to honour the increased-but-still-reduced fee she’d given me from September and so I don’t think I’d even be able to afford a 90 minute session every week, let alone the double we used to do.

This is all feels so hideously complicated. Is it a sign from the universe that it is time to let her go?

I would really appreciate people not commenting that she is unreasonable to keep me waiting. It has been 6 months, I asked for a sense of where she’s at, mentioned I might extend the break – none of this is time pressured and my email certainly didn’t give a sense of urgency. She is entitled to take time to think through her response. It would have been nice if she’d acknowledged my message and said she’d get back to me when she’d checked some things, but she knows I know she doesn’t work Thursday and Friday now. And I’ve been fine without her for 6 months really, so she doesn’t owe me a speedy response. It is my response and the huge fear and uncertainty and loss it brings up that I am struggling to hold. I want to believe we will find each other again but it becomes harder and harder to find any certainty around that. It is agonising waiting and also to think of what it would be like to never see her again, or to meet only to say goodbye.

All the things I’ll never tell you

Dear K,

I can’t believe 6 months have passed. It feels as though everything and nothing are the same as when we said goodbye for a little while, all those weeks ago. It is 11 months since we last drove to your house. Somehow the passing of time is comforting because it doesn’t feel as though we’ve lost you, despite this time apart, and one day the end will come, even if it turns out to be many more months till we can see your face again. Our brain erasing you for the whole break was our greatest fear but we feel so connected to you still. We are scared you will have forgotten us or let us go but when we look through old messages and think back on our time together we can feel how connected we are and we don’t think that would disappear for you if it hasn’t for us. Whenever we couldn’t remember you before you could always remember us, so if we haven’t forgotten then we are pretty sure you won’t have either.

We wondered if you thought of us when Joe Biden was elected or when Taylor Swift released another surprise lockdown album or when it was the first Monday of the year and you weren’t seeing us for the first time since the start of 2015. We have thought of you every day but it hasn’t always hurt. Some days it has but a lot of the time we have felt patient and calm and just so grateful for you and all the work we’ve done because it has become obvious this past year just how much we’ve healed and internalised your safety now. And we have mostly enjoyed this time of integration and settling, waiting to return, knowing both of us hold the intention that we will continue our work when we can.

There is so much I want to tell you. It’s also been nice to keep so much to myself for so long, almost as if there is a clearer line around myself now. I don’t think about how I will explain things to you or hold out for a time to share them. I don’t do things to tell you anymore, I just do things. There is a peace and a spaciousness in that – it’s such a different way of being. It is also sad. It marks a loss. When I return things will not be how they once were. There will be joy but also grief when we are reunited. I am learning that life is endless cycles of coterminous grief and joy, balance and instability, hope and despair. And I am learning to be okay with that.

I want you to know Christmas was incredibly hard, that my dad is intolerable, that I have been so lonely during this latest lockdown that sometimes I cannot breathe. I want you to know that attachment panic and shame has been killing me this past week and I’ve run out of space on my thighs to cut and it is taking all my willpower to not take the razor to my arms, that I only hold off from that because I am desperate to feel the warmth on my skin when I’m out on my bike in a few weeks’ time. I am disappointed in myself and also I don’t care. There are worse things and nothing else soothes and settles things like that, not yet.

I want you to know that despite self-harm since mid-December I have continued to grow and learn about myself during this time apart. I want to tell you that this respite and solitude has led to the biggest transformation in my life imaginable but that I am done now and desperate to rejoin the world. I want to transition into being more sure of who I am among other people now, instead of only being able to keep sight of myself when I’m alone. I want to practice what I’ve learnt and prove that I can be more balanced and see myself clearly even when life isn’t stripped back to the bare minimum. I needed this time so much, but now I am in need of human contact more than I ever have been before. Or it feels that way at least.

I’ve wanted to tell you that giving up sugar and gluten completely was the best thing I could have done for my health. I want to tell you I have no cravings and I never eat more than I want to and I haven’t deliberately starved myself since May last year. For the first time since I was 8 years old I don’t feel as though I am living under the weight of an eating disorder. Maybe there is just the right amount of control in this diet to please everyone, without needing to restrict. It works so well and I know you will be so happy. I don’t know if it will last, attachment might shake us back into anorexia again, but things feel so different around food now. It doesn’t dominate. It just is. And it has definitely helped my gut and brain health, reduced the grey day fogginess a little, given me a steady flow of energy throughout the day. I will forever be grateful that in the stillness of the pandemic I had the space to make this choice and integrate it into my daily life with such ease.

I want you to know that we are waiting for Ana to die and this in between place is deeply painful, as she hovers between life and death and I imagine a world without her or Jess now. She was sick last time we spoke to you and I knew how sick she was but she didn’t, not yet. In November she told me she had a year left to live but then Jess’s sisters emailed 4 weeks ago to say she’d deteriorated rapidly and had only a few days to a couple of weeks left. She is holding on still, waiting for a sunny day so she can feel the warmth on her face in the garden before she goes. More than anything we hope she gets that chance. I was able to say my goodbyes and it helps that there is not unspoken love. I want you to know that there is gut wrenching sadness that this connection to Jess will be gone, but there is also guilt-inducing relief because being with her triggered all my feelings and all my shame around being unseen and disconnected and invisible because of how she is, and now I don’t have to decide whether to continue to atone by seeing her.

I wonder how you would feel and what you would think about the fact that I reconnected with R in December and have been seeing him every week since the start of this third lockdown. I needed him when I lost my mind when I first realised Nina likely has ADHD, and over Christmas when spending 5 hours with Dad destroyed us both, and when Nina was hating me and raging at me constantly for weeks on end at the start of the year and I lost myself in doubt, not knowing if she was right that I am the worst parent in the world and have ruined her life and caused all her problems. I felt out of my mind with shame and panic and despair and his endless reality checks brought me back. He said some things you would have said, about normal teenage behaviour and how hard it is for me to hold steady as I have no idea what is real after growing up under the shadow of such extreme narcissism. And he reassured me that her story is so different from mine, that she is damaged but not like I was. He helped me carry on loving her and myself when killing us both, once again, felt like the only way through.

Nina turned 14 in January and you weren’t here and that broke my heart. It is the hardest age for me – the contrasts are so stark. The year I turned 14 I was off school for 3 months because of anorexia and self-harm. It is the age I started drinking really heavily and lost my virginity and we did “family therapy” which led to Mum becoming more abusive and out of control. Leia and T’s worst memories are when we were 14. We needed you and you weren’t here and we understand why but it still hurts. The weeks around her birthday were the hardest I’ve experienced as a parent – we were both so dysregulated, I was barely sleeping, we were rowing all the time. We came through and have only had one small argument in the past month now, but I hope you are there next time we hit a rocky patch because your presence and voice soothe me and I’ve never felt closer to you than when you and I talked about how parenting a teen was affecting me last summer. I can still remember the warmth in my heart as I sat on the grass in a field near our home and it felt as though you were right beside me even though we were miles apart.

Connecting with R again has been steadying and destabilising, beautiful and agonising, healing and damaging, all at the same time. It has shown me things I’d rather have kept hidden, about myself and what happens to me when I move closer to someone and the terror and craziness it still triggers. His presence is a gift and curse. He loves me and holds me and tells me all the things I need to hear and I can feel pieces of me falling into place as he holds me at the same time as different parts of me unravel and I lose myself again. And I’m forced to confront the fact that disorganised attachment means this is what relationships are for me. He said this week he wants to be a stabilising force for me and not make things worse. I put my head in my hands and groaned that this just is not possible, not all the time at least. It is not a viable goal because connection and attachment activate my nervous system and throw me into that terrifying push/pull where I need to move closer and run away at the same time because I feel so unsafe.

Inside me is still a big melting point of disorganised attachment pain and shame and distrust and terror of intimacy and fear of abandonment and the pain of feeling invisible unless I am the only one. I can observe it all happening now but I am not past this. I thought I was, and it is not at the intensity it was with you for years for sure, but it has left me wondering how I will ever be free of what my parents did to me. How will I ever manage a relationship with someone I don’t pay, where it is not all about me, where they are allowed needs too? I want to talk to you about this and hear you make reassuring sounds about how far I’ve come and how much is possible.

R is amazed by how solid and stable I now am – relatively speaking! – and says such beautiful things about the work you and I have done and how much you both love me. It feels like more of our work is integrating with him to bear witness, because he has walked this path beside me since I was 21 and he knows more than even you about the level of physical pain I used to experience. He reminds me you are not here because you are afraid for your son and not because you don’t want me. He tells me ‘never’ is a long time when I panic that we won’t ever meet again.

And he is learning about disorganised attachment and he is beginning to understand how incredibly traumatised I am. It’s like he knew before how broken I was but has now seen my level of pain and dysfunction and fragmentation is at a different intensity than his. I needed this from him. He wants to learn about me so he can help me better which both warms and terrifies me – what if he goes away when he realises how intense my process is? He is not you though, and sometimes when he holds me it makes me miss you more than at any other time this past year. Despite this I’m so glad he is here. He gives me some of what I need, some of what I lost when we suddenly couldn’t meet. He tells me he is here because he wants to be and that I am so easy to love and when he holds me it begins to thaw some of the ice that is inside me and helps me feel less repulsive and toxic and untouchable. Being with him is another step towards learning it is safe to feel safe in relationship.

I want to tell you how much we miss Ollie, that his absence hangs heavy every single day. Rainbow is doing well but she needs a new friend. She is sad. Do you remember they were together all the time? We used to tell you how much they helped us because they always snuggled up together and knew where each other was – they felt no shame for loving and needing contact and company and it started to loosen some of the shame that kept us separate from others too. I hope next time we see you we will have adopted a new bunny and will be able to show you pictures. Your new house is too far to bring them in the car but we will always remember Rainbow and Ollie at your old house.

And the time we have missed you the most was when Rainbow started a small fire!!! She jumped on the coffee table and knocked a candle on the floor and it set fire to the rug!! This is the naughtiest-silliest thing she has ever done and not being able to draw a picture to show you was probably the worst part of this break, for Lotta and Miffy and Cody at least! It will likely be the first thing they tell you when we see you. We know how shocked you will be and can hear you saying ‘oh my goodness!’ and laughing a lot.

I want to tell you I miss you but if I could do that then I wouldn’t need to because you would be here. I hope it is not too much longer till we are together again and that we find each other – changed but the same.

Please don’t forget us.

Love CB and everyone xx

K-shaped hole

I miss K so much. I cannot bear this. The pain of missing her and not being able to reach her is killing me the last 2 days. Why am I like this? The hole in me is excruciating. This pain isn’t all about K, I know this, it is about me. But it’s also about K and what she is, what she has had to be, to all of us.

I can’t believe next week I will email and likely find out if I’ll see her this year. The dread and anxiety is building but so is the need to see her, re-connect, be with her. I’m torturing myself listening back to our penultimate session. It is soothing and painful all in one. It is so familiar and so out of reach, how she is with us all. She knows all of us and everything about us. She knows our whole story. She was so clear this was just a break, not an ending. Will she be expecting me to return next month? Is that what I should do? Sometimes I still can’t believe this is real. It is 6 months today since our last session.

I miss her voice. I miss her presence. I miss her words and wisdom. I miss how she listened to us. I miss her way of being with us. I miss how predictable and steady and solid she is. I miss having someone who worked so hard to make us all feel safe.

I am so scared she’ll say she can’t work with us again. And if we extend the break then it feels like this is more likely to happen. Maybe I should go back so I know she is there. It has been so long of this now. I can’t do this anymore. I miss her and just want to see her and to know if things are going to be okay.

With or without you

I’ve made a decision over what to do at the end of the month. The limbo is difficult and I’ll be glad when the decision is reached and communicated and agreed upon between the two of us. I am going to email in a couple of weeks and ask for a sense of K’s thoughts around returning to in-person work and whether she’s waiting till after she’s had both vaccine doses or will be opening up to some clients after the first one has taken effect. I’m going to assume she is planning to return to in-person work once she’s vaccinated and leave it to her to tell me if she is planning to keep working remotely until distancing is no longer needed or we know if people can still get serious illness from the SA variant or some other known uncertainty. I will also ask if she’s planning to offer outdoor work once the weather is better, or whether she’d consider that for me as we’ve worked outdoors before. I expect her answer to that will be no, for various reasons I’ve written about before, but who knows? I’ve learnt that anything is possible and nothing can be counted on this year!

Once I have some more information from her I will make a decision, but I expect I’ll be extending the break until at least the end of May (when she’ll be protected after vaccine dose 1) or September (if she’s waiting till she’s had the second or to see what happens longer term around serious illness and transmission and the vaccines). I suspect she will say it is still too early for her to know how much longer remote work will be for, or that she thinks it might be next year. In which case I will ask to extend the break either until autumn or until she starts in-person work if it ends up being sooner. I *think* I want to return to therapy, even if it is online, in autumn. Summer does not feel like the right time to re-commence therapy unless it is in-person. By July I also will have paid back the huge debt I’ve owed my dad for a long time, and so I’d be able to “see” K without completely giving up in-person work with R. I don’t really want to do next winter without her and regular therapy. And a break of more than a year feels way too long.

It feels really tough to think about extending the break beyond 6 months but I also know it is the right thing to do. This year has gone so slowly so far it is unreal – I cannot believe it is only 12th February – but the first 4 or 5 months of the break went fast and 6 months away from K doesn’t actually feel that long, and so extending for another 6 months if needed feels okay. Sometimes. We will soon have longer and lighter days and life will be fuller again and I hope that means time generally will not drag so much.

Spending time with R has really confirmed, once again, that I cannot go back to remote therapy, particularly not over the summer. The summer is my time for expansion and integration and growth and remote therapy cannot support that. I cannot get what I need without being in the same room as someone. And I can’t give up weekly cuddles with R to see K on a screen. Reconnecting with R has also renewed my faith that K and I’s relationship will endure, however long this time apart ends up being. I didn’t see him for 18 months, had no contact at all for almost a year, and yet he was there and we were there, solid as ever. Stronger even. More open and loving with each other. K and I have something rare and sacred and it will be there even if the break ends up being many, many more months. I am sure of that. We have spent so much time together and she knows me better than anyone apart from myself. If R hadn’t forgotten me and my journey, there is no way she will have done either.

I do miss her. A lot. The missing has really set in this past few weeks. R holds me and cuddles me and it heals at the same time as it sets off an ache for K that nothing can settle. I hope that in getting some clarity from her and agreeing to extend the break for another set amount of time my system will settle again, as it did for the first months of the break. I hope it will enable me to lean into the work I am doing with R and the love and safety and stability he gives me. I hope it will allow me to uncurl into the sun and longer days and light that is approaching and feel less like I am in some strange limbo land. Half alive.

And I hope we find her on the other side of this. I hope I am right that our bond is unbreakable. I hope she feels it too. I hope she notices my absence sometimes and wonders how I am doing. I hope she is looking forward to connecting again. I cannot wait to share my growth with her, but I think it is going to be a while till I can do that, especially as sharing ‘good’ things last year via video call was so deeply triggering and shame-provoking. I hope we will be back in the room this summer, I really do, but I am prepared that this won’t be the case and I will be okay once I know what is happening over the coming months.