I carried her with me

I made you my temple, my mural, my sky,

Now I’m begging for footnotes in the story of your life.

Drawing hearts in the byline,

Always taking up too much space and time.

Taylor Swift, Tolerate It

This loss is so much bigger than I think I had really allowed myself to take in when I was preparing for K not going back to in-person work. I knew it was coming, and I think somehow I thought that would soften the blow, but it really didn’t. Or maybe it did – I’m not signed off work, I’m eating, I’m mostly managing to work – but the waves of grief and attachment pain when they hit are huge and terrifying and I find it hard to believe that this is really how things are and that this K-shaped hole is something I will have to learn to live my life around. I know her words only imply ‘never’ and that it may not turn out to be that way, in a year or two, but I have to face the reality that my time of working in the room with her is likely over, and with it the intimate, cosy, depth healing we were doing together. I have to mourn this loss and accept it. I cannot even contemplate returning to online therapy in the autumn if these torches of hope or fires of resentment and rage are still burning bright inside me. I have to let go of that time and move forward or I will push her too far when I try to return and then I really will lose her forever.

Even if I go back to remote therapy in the autumn and manage to make it work, it is still at least 6 more months without her. It has been so long already and I miss her so much. The smallest, most unexpected things reduce me to tears – looking at the bookshelf by my bed and seeing books she gave me as gifts, books I bought because she lent them to me and I needed my own, books I bought and we both read and talked about, books I told her about, books I lent her; opening a kitchen cupboard and seeing the tea tin she gave me full of chai tea before a break one year; the glittery silver rabbit hutch and fimo bunnies on my windowsill that we made together last January; the tarot card I pulled in the autumn that told me to hold in my heart we will be together again and that has stayed propped on my desk lamp ever since – a beacon of hope and certainty that I’m not sure has a place in my life anymore. The children’s book Little Rabbit Waits for the Moon has been under my pillow since we got back from her house for the last time in March last year – she read it to us and said how this is your story for now, you have to be like that little rabbit. We posted her a card where we’d drawn the rabbit sleeping under the moon and said we were determined to be patient like that rabbit and draw on her safety during this time apart. We had no idea then that it would be so long.

I think this is the part that is breaking my heart the most – it was the end of that part of our work when I drove away from her for the last time on March 23rd, clutching a collage young parts had made with pictures she cut out for them in our session, and feeling like if this was the last time we could meet for a while then at least it was a good session to end on and we had not had a repeat of the screaming session where I gouged a hole in my forehead because she made me sit far away from her in a different room. It was the end and neither of us knew. We both thought it was temporary and it really, really wasn’t. K told us to count down 12 weeks and even that felt unbearable at the start. And then towards the end of May it became apparent that she wasn’t making plans to return to in-person work and wasn’t going to let me come to see the dogs and work outside, and that it was going to be much, much longer. I remember sitting on my bed shouting and howling down the phone, demanding to know how much longer and insisting that I couldn’t live in this amount of pain. I told her animals are euthanised when they are in this much pain and that I should be too.

And now, as we approach a year since the start of this crisis, I can’t quite believe the turn things have taken. I can’t believe it was the end and neither of us knew. I remember when her reassurances turned from ‘I’m sure we’ll see each other again’ to ‘I hope so’. I noticed this and called her on it and she had no words of reassurance. She said she didn’t know. I spent so long utterly terrified she would never return to face to face work and in some twisted way it’s kind of a relief to know what I’m dealing with now. The world has changed and K saw that long before I did.

I sobbed and sobbed on R on Wednesday. I’d been kind of okay all morning and then in the car it hit again and it was a relief to cuddle into him on the couch and let the tears flow. No one in my real life knows I’m deep in grief and abandonment annihilation this week. What am I grieving for after all? She is still alive and it is not the end. But so much is over, so much is lost. Things are lost that so few could understand, because the depth of our relationship isn’t needed for most people. I will never know Nina as intimately and deeply as K knows me – it won’t be necessary. It is a different and unique closeness we have, of course, but it is not what K and I have. It is such a secret thing, our relationship, and I know most people would think I was hurting this much because K got it wrong, let me get too close, encouraged me to see her as something she could never be. Of course it was not like that though, and we are all hurting like this because we have lost someone with whom we did truly transformational work. R understands this and tells me what an intimate relationship it was and how much evidence there is of just how much effort and care K put into our work. Talking to him about her brought it all to life. It was truly some magical alchemy we created in the room this week. Her emails were so cold and clinical and it was hard to believe she had ever cared at all, let alone done so much to make us all feel safe, loved, secure, wanted, held. Talking to R brought it to life again, made it feel real, which is the thing I am struggling with the most. And then when it hits how real it was, the grief and loss tear me open again, but at least that part feels real, human, authentic.

I told a friend I met online and who does understand that I feel like I’ve lost the closest thing I’ve ever had to a mum. And she replied to say that is exactly what I have lost. And she is right – K always will be the closest I’ve had to that experience. I will never have a relationship like I’ve had with her again – it wouldn’t be needed because I don’t think that depth of healing will be needed again.

I was telling R on Wednesday how, because I had to learn to see myself through her eyes before I could see myself through my own eyes, because I’d only ever seen myself through my mum’s distorted lens, it means that things that have had nothing to do with her remind me of her. For so long I took her with me everywhere. I looked through her eyes to see myself and my experiences. I carried her with me. So she has been everywhere with me and memories that should be mine alone, from places we’ve never even been together, remind me of her. Things I love and that make me feel safe feel like K. She is everywhere. R said this is like growing up, leaving home; our parents are everywhere and give us a sense of safety in the world (ideally) even when we leave them. But now I have lost her and I have nowhere to take this grief.

I am still not sure I will be able to return in the autumn, but I do want to try. Even if it is my intention to work in that way though, online therapy may be too hard or ineffectual. A fifty minute session once a week may be too difficult – I’ve never been able to do short sessions. Even for TRE last year I needed 90 minutes so we could settle first and feel safe enough to do the work. With R it is never just an hour and often nearly two. I honestly don’t know how 50 minutes once a week on a screen will work. And there will be no between session contact, no emailing, no text messages and emojis. There will be no parts work, no making things, no stories, no film night at Christmas, no walks or time in the garden. No sand tray, cups of tea in ‘my’ owl cup, no hugs or K moving to sit beside me. It’s the hugest loss. It will be different. It will be adult. It may still be connected and I may receive proof that K knows me, remembers me, but I’m honestly not sure I can do the work I want to do via a screen. And of course parts won’t have disappeared, haven’t disappeared. I am much more integrated than I was, but integration was the end point of K and I’s work and I am not sure how that will work now. I guess I will find out when I return if it will work and at least if it won’t we can have a proper ending. And yes, she may go back to in-person one day, when she feels safe enough, but I cannot hope for that. I can only accept how things are.

Do I blame K? Am I angry with her? I think maybe I am angry with her as a professional but not as a person. I don’t know if that makes sense, but I think professionally she owed me more – I don’t think it is okay really that psychotherapists have been in this uniquely privileged position of being ‘able’ to work remotely, when most people in similar professions cannot. I am not angry with her on a personal level, because I do understand, but it is still so hard that she shut down and retreated and even I did not mean enough to her for her to risk seeing me. It is not straightforward, and from an adult place I can understand her reasoning and know I would have done the same for Nina as she has done for her son, but I also feel deeply hurt. And of course there are parts, mostly teen and young parts, who just cannot comprehend how she could do this. She could have seen just us, because we couldn’t work online and it wasn’t safe. I said to R this week that in K’s position I would have seen me, especially last summer, but how can I know if that is true. I can’t. I only have to seek to understand her and trust it is not about me, only about her.

I think in the year of therapy before the pandemic K fell from her idealised position and became a human being in my eyes. It is this that enables me to understand. I know she is just another person, imperfect, scarred by her own childhood, doing her best to walk this path beside me, deeply impacted both by me and by life circumstances. For so long I saw her as more than this, idolised her and thought she never felt the things that we feel. It has been disconcerting but also deeply healing to accept she has her blind spots, her struggles, her physical manifestations of developmental trauma, that she has likely screwed up her own children to varying extents, has a tendency to shut down and withdraw under stress, takes too much on sometimes and then pulls back, and all these other things that make me love her more because she is human and she chose to meet me in my humanness, week after week, month after month, for 5 whole years. The years when we were so close are intensely painful to think about, both because they brought so much pain but also because they fell into past tense without either of us realising, but they are also full of magic and I hope through R and writing and being in nature I can capture that magic over the coming months and be in as good a place as possible to take in what is on offer in September.

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

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.

Five weeks

In 5 weeks I have to decide what I will say in an email to K at the end of our planned ‘break’. I wax and wane on this all the time as I just don’t know what is best or right or even possible. 10 days ago talking to R I said I can’t go back to online work, I really can’t, I’m not prepared to pay for that as it just doesn’t work for me. He said how clear I sounded, how obvious it was how much I’ve changed from how I stated what I wasn’t prepared to do with such clarity. It never used to be that way. And honestly being in the room with him, having him right next to me, being in a sacred and held space, having him hold both my hands with his as we talk and he helps me let go of enough shame to look at him, being able to snuggle into him for endless hugs – it only makes it clearer that I need to be in the same space to really feel K is with me. Even without touch I could feel her holding me. The screen is re-traumatising, takes me back to being an infant and seeing my mum but not being able to feel her because she’s not emotionally present. I can’t pay to put myself through that again.

Anyway, sometimes it really does feel that simple and clear – email K and say I’ll come back when she returns to face-to-face. The thing is it’s not that simple, in part because I’m not sure this will ever happen and the longer we leave it the harder it would be to go back to remote work just for an ending, if it became apparent that was needed. And leaving things hanging and unfinished is hard.

The break has been ‘fine’ and I’ve definitely thrived in some ways, though I feel I’ve taken steps backwards recently and am becoming increasingly dependent on R this past month. This troubles me only because I don’t want to lose sight of myself or prioritise connection to someone else over connection to myself. I don’t want to lose myself in him. It is clear my attachment needs are still trying to take control when there is someone around in that role and that I find it very hard to stay focused on my own life and not become consumed by them. I also know that I do need to learn to be in intimate relationships with people (not sexual, emotionally intimate) and stay with myself, and also that it is okay to have needs and need people without giving up all autonomy and power to them so that I feel I cannot survive without them or when they are not available. So feeling these flutterings of attachment needs and noticing them and coming back to my own life is important work. But it’s hard. I’ve told myself I won’t contact R until I go on Wednesday, only because I want to come back to myself and the knowing I have that I can stabilise and thrive by myself now. I mean I managed without R for over a year until I reached out in December due to something trapped in my back that meant I couldn’t move. So I don’t need him, but sometimes I feel like I do. I don’t like that because I’ve felt much more grounded in my own life since last summer. On the other hand what is going on in my life and the world right now is objectively fucking horrifying and I can’t do it alone. I do need him.

Back to K… The plan has been to see how things are nearer the time and what I need and think I can tolerate then. I am aware of a desire to ‘make it over’ just to have some control and certainty, so I am trying to sit with ambivalence and the unknown on this one because it feels like such an important lesson in living more openly. I can’t see things shifting drastically over the next 5 weeks though or there being any clearer idea of where the UK is headed over the next year or so. Things are very, very difficult at the moment and I am teetering on the edge of full blown crisis most of the time. Pandemic. Parenting. Dad. Nina’s ADHD. Work. Isolation. Grief. Sleepless nights. Dread and fear.

Would online work help? Could we do 6 phone sessions in March and April and then break again until she is back to in-person? Will she ever do that? Would 6 sessions make everything worse or help to contain things? If it helped would she let me continue? Or should I ask for 6 online sessions to end our work because this limbo is awful and I am thinking it’s unlikely she’ll be back to in-person work this year now unless there is proof that those vaccinated cannot get seriously ill and there are no new variants lurking around? Would my nervous system settle again if there was an end and I could let go and move on? A big part of me says yes, but there are also parts who are struggling and need her support and guidance with parenting and my dad. I don’t want to lose what we had. I read through some old blog posts yesterday and really remembered the strength of our connection. The work we did was incredible. I am not ready to lose that forever.

I thought of asking for a phone session to talk through the options but I would likely just get triggered. I lose sight of my true needs when my attachment system is triggered. I know this.

I saw a photo of her today on her adult daughter’s instagram. (Yes, we’re in that territory again…). So we’re at the worst point in the pandemic in the UK and she’s breaking the rules now! Her son was there too. Maybe the daughter has been self-isolating before going, but still it seems kind of weird timing. I don’t really care. It didn’t sting like it could have, would have once. Mostly it was nice to see K looks the same and hasn’t died of Covid. It makes her feel further away though. I honestly cannot imagine ever going back and finding her again.

I read through some of our Friday emails from the past few years. So much knowing. So much that is sacred. I want to believe she will care if I go back but honestly – if I have this much ambivalence and I’m the one who is attached to her, I really don’t see how she would care that much. Her life remains basically unchanged whether I return or not. Accepting what she is and isn’t to me, and what a therapist is and isn’t in a person’s life, has been something very big I’ve confronted over the past 6 or 7 months. Painful but liberating. And I know this is how I’m managing to look at this situation in more of a detached way than I would have a year ago. I would be fine without her but I’d like a chance to reflect together on our work before saying goodbye, and I don’t really want to do that via video call ffs.

It is very clear that R is not K this week. I don’t mean in the sense of him being different from her because that is obvious, but that he doesn’t have the skills or knowledge to hold my depth process if it arises. He unwittingly triggered me last night. In response to the message I sent where I said he was my North Star, he said he loved it and ‘That’s me, eternal, never going away’ which is beautiful of course. But then later said in a voice note that it made him laugh when I sent a quote about the North Star (‘An eternal reassurance for travellers on their journey to ensure they can always find the way home’) because it was the story of his life as a therapist (acupuncture therapist, though he now does some identity trauma sessions with clients too). He said it resonates really strongly for him, so it means a lot to have it in his head, and that he might put it on his website in some way. He said it was lovely I’d come up with that image but ugggghhhhh. I messaged and said ‘nooooo don’t put it in your website. It’s mine!’ and that I didn’t want to think of him being this person for other people. He said he wouldn’t but it was too late. My chest was already smashed into pieces and I was flooded with shame and terror.

I told him I was triggered (it happens in an instant still!) and he said to read back on our conversation from that afternoon and that he has only a few people, as do I, who he has this level of connection with. And he said that I am special to him and that what we have is special because it is ‘years in the making, hammered out like a samurai sword. Unbreakable.’ And of course this is beautiful, it really is, and I KNOW what we have is unique because the work he does isn’t about the relationship like it is in psychotherapy so he’s not building this depth connection with many people at all. He told me last week that he has had to think about boundaries because when he holds me his heart is all there and it doesn’t feel like he is hugging a client because he loves me differently than that, but still – K would have known not to say the website thing. K would have known it needed to be a sacred image between her and I. K kept everyone else out of our work and I needed that to feel safe.

I know this is a primal fear that if I am not the most visible I don’t exist and the connection isn’t real. I’ve blogged about this before. So this is a good lesson in me learning to trust that what I have with people is special even when they have other people, just as I have lots of people I love and am connected to but it doesn’t diminish their importance to me or the strength of our connection. And it’s stupid really because I know he really struggled when I started work with K and he lost me (they had a really bad phone call right at the start of my therapy with K when she rang him, where he kind of claimed his right to keep working with me alongside her because he’d worked with me for so long, and she said she couldn’t work with me if I was working with him because of splitting, and I picked her of course) and when I dipped in and out for a treatment over the last 5 years I never really talked to him about what was going on in my life in deep sense, so we’ve commented how even though we’ve been in touch we still have 5 years to catch up on. And he told me years ago when I saw him that he didn’t feel as connected to me as he used to because he held back because of K, so I know he found it hard and ffs even yesterday I needed his support because I missed K so much, so it is obvious I have other people who I’m also connected to and that K is still centre of my system’s world, so it is silly for me to need to be ‘the only one’ and not just ‘one of a few’ when clearly he is not the only one to me!

But with an attachment figure, which R is, it doesn’t work like this. And K would know that. But he doesn’t because he is not trained in attachment work. He knows a lot about trauma and has trained extensively, but he doesn’t know about parts and dissociation and attachment. And for so many years we didn’t have the depth relationship we have now and so the boundaries are completely different. He will reply to me whenever I message him and send me voice notes whenever I ask (I don’t abuse this), but I guess it’s been a long time since he was my only person, which he was for a while after Jess died, until I realised I needed ‘proper’ therapy and found K. For a long time he used to mop up the crises that couldn’t be contained by therapy and reassure me he was there so that I felt real, but I would then stabilise again with K. It worries me now that he is the only one in case all the crazy that unleashed with K comes out with him. He wouldn’t be able to contain it and it would break us both. I’ve never thought of him in the therapist role, it’s always been something else because it’s not therapy and the boundaries can be totally different. He doesn’t have to be so careful but also he doesn’t know how careful actual therapists are over this stuff. K always says how people who’ve not worked in the NHS usually cannot contain process like mine because they’ve no experience with it. R wouldn’t have coped with the ‘me in therapy’ at all.

This isn’t about comparing them. It’s about realising that R can be there but that I have to keep very much in control of my process and reactions when it comes to the attachment because he is not a trained psychotherapist and the whole thing could easily implode if things kicked off. I’m hoping I’ve come far enough that this wouldn’t happen. It feels kind of precarious though and I am scared that as we reconnect my attachment system will go wild. I really hope in noticing all this that I can remember that I can contain myself now when I really need to.

Well this was just a mind dump really. Things feel no more clear. I guess I’ll just see where I am in 5 weeks. I thought in August that by March we’d have a much clearer idea of how long the pandemic would last, even if in-person work still wasn’t possible, but that isn’t really the case at all, despite the promising vaccine rollout. It means I still have no idea if and when I’ll ever be able to work with K again and I don’t think that will change for many months. It’s a hard place to inhabit.

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.

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.

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.

Call it what you want

I don’t really know where to start with this post, or where it is going, where it needs to go. Thoughts have been coming and going while I’ve been cycling and doing other things this week, but nothing seems too urgent. Big shifts are taking place, but I don’t feel in too much of a hurry to work out what they mean. There is a certain level of resistance too – I don’t really want to think about therapy or the future right now. Yet here I am, writing, feeling like something needs to be said. We’ll see what happens.

For the past couple of weeks I have felt a huge internal shift with regards my relationship with K. I keep trying to work out if it’s positive or negative, but I think that means different things to different parts, and different parts have different experiences of this shift and what it is caused by, so I don’t think there is a ‘right’ answer or way of understanding things. I’ve noticed over the past few months that I’ve been turning inwards and towards my own life for security and safety, much, much more than I ever have before. And then with K’s changed availability due to the pandemic I felt very angry that my well-being still seemed to be dependent on somebody else after all this time in therapy. More than being angry with K for not being clear about the whole Friday email debacle, I felt angry that it mattered and angry that the pandemic had led me to regress in terms of needing her between sessions, and I no longer wanted to be that person. I wanted to be able to take in K’s support during my paid for time and just get on with my life the rest of the time.

Young parts definitely feel defeated lately, with the whole remote therapy thing, but it has seemed as though instead of shutting down and freezing and disappearing, they’ve turned to me, to each other, to their own lives and the things that give them meaning, in order to feel okay. I just feel as though I don’t need K anymore. I can’t tell if this is a defensive shutting down lack of need, or if it’s a more genuine moving forwards and away from her in order to develop more of my own sense of self. I think it could be both. It is hard to put it all into words, and it is definitely fuelled by K not being able to fully give me what I need in my sessions now we are working remotely, but it could be that her changed availability acted as a catalyst for my system to just think ‘enough!’ It is time to move away from her to a certain extent I think, although this could just be that I shift my perspective on therapy and what it is now, compared with what it used to be in my life, and take steps towards myself instead of ending therapy or taking a long break. It does seem as though this is what has changed, as though my mind has pushed her away, but instead of the usual experience of being lost and dissociated and unreal without her, I have found myself a little more.

A while back K was saying again about my fragile sense of self, about how unwell I feel when I don’t feel connected to her. She was kind and gentle, and she is right, but it makes me so ashamed and sad. It’s the reason I went into therapy really, underneath all the other stuff, but the shame is still there. It is work we plan to do when I return from this short 3 week break – thinking in more depth about my ‘loss of self’ due to narcissistic parenting, talking about a book on this we started looking at back in February, before everything went to shit! One of the things that I’m really struggling with is that I feel I am really growing and healing and discovering myself at the moment, but I don’t feel able to share much at all of it with K. This has always been a problem of mine, and it is something we were working on prior to lockdown after I got promoted at work and spiralled into a horrible shame spiral, and also needed others to reflect my success back to me so it felt real. I wish I could share this progress and growth with K, but I find sharing good things almost as triggering and shame-provoking as sharing difficult things, more so now even I think, and so trying to do this via a screen is basically impossible. There is work to be done here, but I hate the thought of not doing it in-person.

There’s also a sense of K being ‘just a person’ that has become very dominant during the pandemic. The pedestal I put her on at the start of therapy has gradually eroded over the years, in large part because of the careful disclosures she has made over our time together about her own life and childhood, and I was definitely past the idealising stage and had come to accept a lot about her humanness, but the past few months have really made it clear that she is just a person with her own messy life and health worries and stressful life circumstances. I’ve bumped up against her perception of the threat of the virus multiple times and it has really highlighted how I have absolutely no control or power in our relationship and she will always put her own well-being and family first (as she should, of course, as we all should). I don’t know if her perception of the threat to her and her son, and her refusal to work in-person for a long time is reasonable or not, and it is irrelevant really, it is more just knowing that it is time I became more reliant upon myself to provide stability and permanence, because she cannot do it. That hasn’t changed – there has never been control on my part, just as we can’t control anyone else, or most things in life – but my understanding and willingness to push against it has changed; I am not able to know or predict what she will do or determine when we will meet again. I can decide not to see her or work with her, but I can’t decide anything else in our relationship. I don’t want this reality of what she is to me to be such a strong determinant of my well-being.

It helps having more time – in some ways, not all – whilst we’ve been in lockdown and I’ve been working from home. It means I can stay in contact with who I am more easily, because there is more time for me and I’m not getting lost in interactions with other people and driving Nina around and so on. This time away from normal life has taught me a lot about myself, more than I ever would have learnt in therapy during this time, and I will blog about it separately because every time I think about going back to ‘how things were’ I panic and feel overwhelmed and I need to find a way of carrying some of the benefits and certainty of this time into the future. I get incredibly stressed and overwhelmed when I think about what things will be like once swimming has started again and school term starts and work gets busy again. And whilst I can see it could be nice to have K’s support with all this, having more time and money could also be helpful during this time. I have to live this stuff, live the changes, to a certain extent. I’m not sure what I can get from K over the next few months that will come close to what I can get from myself.

Over the past week or so it’s seemed as though whether or not I see K makes little difference in terms of moving forward and continuing to heal. In part this is because of remote therapy not giving me what I need, and the likelihood that this will continue for quite some time. I think it is also that I’ve internalised K and the therapeutic relationship a lot, and therefore don’t actually need to see K to continue to draw on the work we’ve done together. There’s work we can do for sure, and Nina and I had a huge argument on Tuesday evening and I definitely wanted K then, but I just don’t know if I want to do it right now, or if I want a break from thinking about the whole thing. I think maybe I want some time to really integrate the healing I’ve done so far. It’s like I can usually work out for myself what is going on now, what I need to do. I am really getting to know myself during this reprieve. I’ve prioritised self-care in all its forms for years now, but over the past 4 months certain things have become even more embedded and habitual. I’ve completely quit sugar and gluten and can already feel the difference. I think this will be a lifelong commitment for me, or until climate breakdown leads to food shortages and scarcity here at least. I am in a very clear routine with meditation and yoga and journaling and creative activities and exercise now, more than I’ve ever been before. All I can see is me continuing to really develop a sense of what I want and need, and then try to live by it, over the coming months and years. It is tough because I can’t live the life I need in all ways, because of work and Nina, but talking about that with K won’t change it.

And I really don’t want to be spending £300 – £400 a month on therapy anymore. I really, really don’t. During lockdown life has been quite a bit cheaper (predominantly petrol – I worked out I’ve saved around £450 over 4 months on petrol not driving Nina around to swimming or travelling to therapy) and I’ve been able to put a little aside and also had some spare cash to replace things that had broken, get some new supplements and things, and get some new-to-me clothes from Depop. It has been nice not needing to watch every penny. However, as life is returning to some kind of normality, and swimming starts again on Saturday, this isn’t going to be the case anymore. And if I wasn’t spending so much on therapy…

Obviously for a long time therapy was an essential expenditure. I don’t begrudge any of the money I’ve spent on it so far. But now? Now things feel different…

And it is scary. Very, very scary. I wonder if I’m ready to end therapy, move to less frequent sessions, or take an extended break. I don’t want to be ready but I can feel an increasing sense that I am, that I need to let go and move forward. I guess it’s why the boundaries in therapy are so important, otherwise we would stay forever, but if I’m not willing to work on depth material or difficult things I can’t have K. It makes me not want her, because I don’t want to look at those things at the moment. I always imagined when it was time to end that I would put into words how huge what we’ve done has been, pull it all together and reflect on how far we had come together. I never imagined it would just drift away and I wouldn’t necessarily want to look back at all the ground we had covered because I had become more central and prominent in my own life and it didn’t matter so much. How can K and I’s journey not matter?! This is the part that makes me suspicious, makes me wonder if I’ve just cut off from her as some kind of defence mechanism… But if I have, it definitely hasn’t caused me to lose sight of myself. Is this the place we are meant to get to in therapy?

Something my sister said a long time ago about working – and ending – with ‘borderline’ clients has really stayed with me. She said that when her work with borderline clients has been coming to an end they often got incredibly distressed and felt they weren’t ready to end at all. It stirred up all their abandonment fears and made them really act out. But when they were asked to complete a follow up survey a few weeks after ending therapy they would report feeling much better, and this tends to continue long after the therapy has ended. So, although I don’t have BPD in the strictest sense, it’s all developmental trauma and I share the fear of abandonment that is at the core of it, and therefore I don’t think I will ever feel unequivocally ready to end therapy. I also know when I decide to, when I try to, I will experience a huge wave of abandonment and annihilation pain, just as I have multiple times this year about not being able to get to K because of the pandemic, each time that wound has been triggered, but that won’t mean it’s not the right time. I don’t think I will be able to end therapy and not feel that way, I  may even need an emergency therapy session after I end therapy to cope with the feelings that come after I end therapy, but I don’t think that will be a sign that I’m not ready. If I wait until I don’t feel that pain to end therapy then I will be in therapy forever.

To make it clear, I’m not actually considering ending my therapy with K. There is definitely still work I want and need to do with her. I’m not sure if what I’m experiencing now is being ready to end but I definitely wouldn’t want to do it remotely. An extended break is a possibility. Or, like I said above, I continue and just accept that therapy’s place in my life has shifted and other things are more important, either on a temporary or permanent basis, and I focus on those things too. I don’t know what I want and I’m not in any rush to decide really. I’m enjoying some time off work and some time away from therapy and deciding what to take there. And I have worries about a break…

My fears are varied. Top is that if I take a break, K won’t be there when I return because she will stop working as a T because of the pandemic and her health (auto-immune thyroid disease). Next is that if I take a break when I return she won’t honour the £10 an hour fee reduction she is giving me from September (less than the discount I’ve had till now, but still £60-£100 a month depending on whether I do 90 or 120 minute sessions) because I’ll have saved money during the break. Next is that she will give my time to someone else and when I want to start again it won’t be available and she won’t have an end-of-day slot I can do. This wouldn’t happen if it was a set period of time, but none of us knows how long she will be working remotely for, or how long I would want to take as a break, and so I don’t see how we can have a set return date. And I’m worried I will need her because something bad happens, and she won’t be there. I’m even more worried I won’t need her – what will this mean for the future of our relationship? Is it over? This is never how I would have wanted to end things but the pandemic has changed everything.

I know if we were working in-person I would continue. There is a healing and containment and emotional regulation I would get from K that I still need and want and benefit from. Things are different now though. I don’t want to cling on to our weekly work during this time if it stops me moving forward in my life.

Maybe I have to take a break and trust she will be there if I need her. But maybe I also have to trust that if she is not there again that I will be okay.

It must seem as though I spiral through this break/not-break place a lot, but every time it is clearer and easier and less intense. I don’t feel caught in that awful place where each option (carrying on/taking a break) feels utterly unmanageable. I know I can do therapy remotely now, so it is more just a sense of not needing it, and being able to work out what will serve me over the coming months, all the time holding in mind that events may transpire to mean K and I don’t work in-person again and I need to be okay with that, I want to be okay with that. She feels very far away and it is heart-breaking really that after this short break we won’t actually be ‘reunited’ – she won’t open the door and smile and say ‘welcome back’ and that it is nice to see me. The familiarity and routine of my therapy time has been taken away, and without it I don’t know what is left to salvage.

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