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.

’tis the damn season

Christmas was unexpectedly an absolute shit show. I was feeling completely okay about it this year, it being low-key and all, and somehow it descended into a total nightmare and brought up so much painful stuff for Nina and I. I ended up feeling so physically and mentally unwell on Boxing Day I could barely move off the sofa all day and have been in regular contact with R, who I’ve seen on and off for acupuncture since I was 21 and who has supported me through some of my darkest times, sending crazy texts full of shame and despair. He has been a lifeline and yet also not enough. I hadn’t realised till now that seeing K either side of Christmas has really helped me get through the last 5 Christmases. It’s been really hard not having a session to hold out for because it means there’s no end point where I can put down some of this shit.

My dad is just fucking awful – rigid, cold, cruel, abusive, sadistic, narcissistic. And I am flooded with shame and guilt when I think that about him. I wish I could just hate him. I wish I hadn’t been conditioned to automatically turn myself bad when I think and feel negative things about him, because as an infant and toddler I had to do that in order to preserve the attachment and survive. I’ve spent so much time in therapy unpicking the legacy of my relationship with my mum, and yet my dad is also so incredibly damaging and hurtful and so responsible for how I am, how I struggle, how I feel about myself and others. It breaks my heart that he was the safe one, the stable one, the one I turned to, and yet he broke me too. He isn’t safe at all. He never has been.

He is also horrible to Nina. I know I’ve written about this before but this year his behaviour has become so obviously unacceptable to both of us. He shames and belittles and criticises her constantly. He calls her stupid and lazy and tells her she won’t get a job and will end up homeless if she carries on how she is. He swore at her in TK Maxx after inviting her to go Christmas shopping with him and she spent the whole time she was with him a couple of weekends ago texting me to tell me how mean he was being. I hate how he speaks to her, how he mocks her and invalidates her. She has a huge allergic reaction every time she is at his house, which is ostensibly caused by the huge amounts of dust in his house (he cleans once a year at most) but is really her body just screaming “NO, this place is not good for me!”

When we got home on Christmas Day she was distraught, saying she thinks he hates her and that he doesn’t care about her at all. For Christmas he got her a tin of spaghetti hoops, an avocado, a bag of cheese puffs, some scissors and a set of coathangers. What.the.fuck.??? She is nearly 14 and there are a million things she would have liked. And it’s not even really about the gifts, because if she was met emotionally by him and we had a fun, warm time full of love and care when we were with him she wouldn’t care – it would just be an eccentric set of gifts from him. As things are though, the “gifts” symbolise how shut off and fucked up he is, and how he is totally unable to relate to anyone. They weren’t joke presents. He thought she would like them and she had to swallow her disappointment and pretend to be pleased.

I felt absolutely wrecked when we got home. Smashed into tiny pieces inside and drowning in shame. There is no love there, no warmth or joy or even niceness. It is flat and cold and distant. Any humour is mockery. And he just shows off and competes over everything. It is like being with a 6 year old boy. As Nina said, he didn’t really do anything wrong that day, but he is just not a nice person and he doesn’t know how to be with people, how to care, how to love. We spent 4 hours when we got home talking about him and how awful he is and how shit our family are and I let Nina cry and rage about it, but what a fucked up Christmas. I’d rather have been just the two of us a bit bored then have spent time with someone who makes us both feel so shit and let down and guilty.

It kills me to write bad things about him. We basically have no family without him, apart from my half sister who we are not really close to although we have chatted more this year than in previous years, but is no family better than this? If this was someone else in her life, her dad or my partner, who was nice and funny 10% of the time but abusive and cruel the rest of the time, people would be horrified that she still saw them when they were clearly wrecking her self-esteem and leaving her feeling worthless.

The triggers of Christmas will recede, but the need for action over this will not and so I am left with a sickening dilemma. Do I pull back further and leave myself unsupported and Nina with even less family? How do I pull back?I don’t get anything good from him but he does help practically sometimes, making food and helping when things at home break. But the way he complains and belittles me when he helps out, I just want to be free of needing his help. It’s hard though, as I can’t afford to pay for help with odd jobs and things. And I am still so scared of him that I never stand up to him. I am genuinely terrified of confronting him, disappointing him, enraging him, hurting him. It is clear I would rather Nina get lectured and sworn at and belittled than call him out on his behaviour and that is not something I am proud of. I am sure he is incapable of changing because he doesn’t act intentionally, he is just repeating patterns and behaviours he grew up with, but how do I pull away without telling him what the problem is?

I only know I can’t keep going like this. I hate that he thinks he is perfect and that everything mentally and physically wrong with me is caused by my mum. He kept coming up in therapy at the start of lockdown but I couldn’t go there, not properly there, with stupid remote therapy, so that trauma work is on hold till K and I can meet, which might not be till autumn. I need her to help me find a path through this that isn’t sacrificing mine and Nina’s well-being. She has never felt so far away. I feel so alone with this and it is even worse having had 5 Christmases of holding out for December 28th or 29th when I could take all the muddle to K that I am now on my own with it again. I talked to the friend I’m in a bubble with about it yesterday afternoon and she was lovely but she is not K and I couldn’t show just how fucked up this leaves me.

It is December 28th and I am done in despite having had 10 days off work. I think I’m coming down with a cold and I just need a break. A proper break. I have felt suicidal and anxious and in a constant state of dread since we got home on Christmas Day. 5 hours with my dad did this to me. I don’t want this anymore. And I can’t see a way out.

Long story short

Five years ago, when I was feeling suffocated and overwhelmed by yet another Christmas trying to placate the demands of my narcissistic mother without sacrificing my health, K asked me how I imagined Christmas when I thought about what I would like to do. No one had ever asked me that question before. ‘At the beach’ was my reply after I had thought a while. She asked what drew me there. ‘Space. It is spacious. There is room for me there’.

Christmas has always suffocated me, but that was the start of transforming it into something different for me and learning I have a right not to feel smashed to pieces on Boxing Day and the days following, and not to feel suicidal in the build up. The following year my daughter and I spent the week in a cottage by the sea and, despite being in the thick of attachment work in therapy and struggling a lot, it was heaven. I didn’t know till then that it was possible to feel so intact on December 27th.

Four years later and Christmas feels kind of flat, as it likely does for many this year, but Christmas Eve has been perfect – Nina and I drove to an amazing beach we discovered in the summer and walked and talked and ate chips. And then I walked some more while she sat in the car and I felt spacious and grounded and content and hopeful. I miss K so much – this is the first Christmas we’ve not worked since 2014 and she never took a break at Christmas either so I’m used to seeing her either side – but I’m so grateful to her for all the seeds she planted that are still blossoming now.

Things are so different from how they were. This is my life now. I know myself. I know I am deserving of peace and quiet and beauty and connection now. Being estranged from family will never be easy at this time of year, but it will always be authentic.

This is healing.

I haven’t written for ages. Things are okay and also not okay. Such is life. I have things to write but I also don’t want to write them. I’m letting things unfold as they need to.

Wishing a peaceful festive season to all my followers – I hope it is as you need it to be during these trying times. Much love xx

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.

I forgot that you existed

I’ve not written for such a long time, maybe 6 or 7 weeks. I hope all my readers are keeping as well as possible. For the most part I’ve not written because I’ve not needed to and have been okay – in many ways my nervous system has experienced a period of deep settling during lockdown, with no decisions to make, places to go, rushing around taking Nina to swimming training nearly every evening, social interactions, meetings and shops and so on. My brain hasn’t been buzzing, I’ve not felt over-stimulated more than once, and I’ve been sleeping well apart from the odd sleepless, panicky night about the future which I’m sure is the same for most people at the moment, mental illness or not. I’ve also completely cut out gluten and sugar (am already dairy-free as a vegan) which I’ve been meaning to do for ages due to the absolute havoc they wreak on brain chemistry and neurotransmitters and the endocrine system, and their role in causing the chronic inflammation that leads to auto-immune disease (which, touch wood, I’ve been lucky enough not to get yet, despite chronic pain and other physical symptoms but which I’m of course prone to due to chronic developmental trauma). I’ve not had the space to do it properly till now, so I’m hoping over the next few months (a year…?) when I’m mostly at home I will be able to get into good habits with it and find substitutes. It’s going well so far and I can tell my gut and nervous system are benefiting already.

I’ve felt very introvert, but mostly in a good way. Of course there have been some difficult times too – Nina got a recurrence of a kidney infection at the end of April and I ended up having to stay up all night waiting for the out of hours doctor for her. The next day I was an overwhelmed mess and had to speak (howl) on the phone to K from my car. There is worry about my work and if I will have a job next year or if I will be able to afford therapy due to pay cuts, as my sector is expected to be the hardest hit in the long-term by the pandemic. It’s scary times, but I’ve mostly been able to stay present, look after myself, enjoy the reprieve from normal life, and I’ve loved having more time for bike rides and walks and just being at home. A lot of time the difficulties I’m experiencing are because I get this sense of dread over going back to how things were (apart from therapy, obviously) because it wasn’t until this period of enforced slowing down that I saw just how unsustainable what I’ve been holding over the past few years has been.

I’d wanted to write a post about that, about how I’ve grown already through this process, but that is not what I am able to write today. For the past week I’ve really been spiralling. Last weekend was an absolute disaster. The tiniest thing was sending me over the edge, Nina and I had a huge row when I was already exhausted, which was then even more exhausting (though necessary) to repair. Even being able to do a few extra things (walks with a friend, longer bike rides) over the weekend had sent my system into overwhelm. I was struggling with how much there always is to do at home as a solo parent and frustrated beyond belief that Nina has so much free time at the moment (2-3 hours school work a day maximum, most days it’s more like 90 minutes) and I’m trying to work at home full-time in a job that has become even more demanding than usual, and then still doing nearly everything at home.

When K and I spoke on Monday as soon as she answered I realised my brain had erased her. I couldn’t remember her AT ALL. It was like talking to a stranger. She wanted to know what I could see in my room to resonate with before we arrived in the session together and I said I couldn’t tell her anything because I didn’t know her. I had no memories at all. I don’t even know what happened after that, apart from her saying she knows me, all of me, and has tonnes of memories – explicit and implicit – of our time together and she would hold it for both of us. I just ended up sobbing and howling about Nina and work and that I couldn’t relax at home because I felt as though I needed to be ready to sell it in September if I get made redundant (I couldn’t get another job locally that paid anywhere near enough to pay my mortgage – despite having a PhD I’m not trained to do much else than my job without moving to London (not happening!) so it would be nearly impossible to keep my house if I lost my job, but I really don’t think I need to be worrying about this at the moment). Everything felt utterly unmanageable, and not being able to get to her is just more than my system can cope with on top of everything else. She said she thinks my window of tolerance has really shrunk over recent weeks, which makes sense because I’m definitely flipping faster than I’ve ever flipped from ‘completely fine, calm, happy, content, peaceful’ to a complete dysregulated mess. This is shit for Nina to be around, because it makes me snap and roar at her out of nowhere, but it feels utterly out of my control. Obviously since realising what is going on I’ve cut back to doing even less, accepting that at the moment I really need to spend most of the time at home even though we can go out more here now.

I think maybe I settled again but then yesterday at the start of our session K and I had to change our session and contact structure going forward. We have been splitting my double session between Monday and Friday, with brief email contact on Wednesdays. She isn’t working Thursdays or Fridays at the moment though (she’s lost half her work with the pandemic, but she has a fuck off huge house and her partner owns properties in Portugal so I’m sure she’ll weather the lost income just fine) and I didn’t want her to lose her day off because of me as it’s even more important than usual that she looks after her health at the moment – it must be so stressful for therapists holding everyone else’s worries at the moment when they are sharing so many of them in relation to their own lives. I also knew it would be hugely triggering changing the pattern we’ve settled into over the past 10 weeks, especially because making a new plan means we are not going to be meeting in-person any time soon. I suggested doing a longer session (90 mins) on the Monday and then a half an hour check-in later in the week, which I do think is a good idea because hopefully my system will be able to settle more with the extra time (it’s why we’ve done double sessions for so long), and she agreed, but then can only do the half an hour on Wednesday (and has reluctantly agreed I can email on Fridays still till the end of June and then we will review aka she’ll take it away even though we’ve emailed on Fridays for 3 years). I was triggered and yelling about wanting to die, that I couldn’t live with this much pain, and why is there no one who cares about me who I don’t have to pay? It was pretty awful. Eventually she told me that she is really ill at the moment, with a thyroid flare, and that she isn’t sleeping well and is getting fatigue and feeling generally unwell, so that’s why she needs those two days without work. So obviously I felt like a selfish shit, but the feelings I experience are so real and it really is unbearable that we can’t meet in-person and I didn’t know until she said.

It is not helped by the fact that I know other Ts in our county are now resuming face-to-face work because they can maintain safe social distancing at their practice, and some are offering to work outdoors. K could do both these things, but her regulatory body still says to work remotely ‘where possible’ (whether or not it is actually possible for certain types of trauma survivors is a separate issue!) and I’m not sure how much autonomy she has. And of course I’m not sure how much autonomy she wants to have. I know she hates remote working as much as I do, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t think it’s what we need to be doing. I emailed her yesterday afternoon and said that I’ve seen that a number of therapists in our county are now working in-person again, and could she let me know on Monday whether the UKCP have issued any guidelines and what kind of timescale we are looking at – it would help me to know if I need to hold out for weeks, months, or even longer. In the county we are in (around 800,000 people) there honestly couldn’t be a safer time to meet with distancing, especially outside. We have way less cases than when K and I last met in March and only a handful of reported cases in the past week, and if we are worried about safety then it is safer now than in a couple of months when schools go back. I don’t want to push her though. It would be unfair of me to do that. I just want to know – if she’s thinking we can’t meet till we have the elusive, and perhaps impossible, vaccine then I would need to stop working with her because I can’t keep working remotely. It’s only worth doing if it provides me with an experience of constancy during a difficult time and therefore leads to bigger healing. And the government advice is likely to be that those who ‘can’ work from home continue to, indefinitely – what does this mean for therapists? Theoretically they ‘can’ work remotely, but I don’t think they are able to work as effectively. And it is mad that Ikea will be open next week and hairdressers able to start back up over the summer, but people can’t access essential services like therapy in-person.

This isn’t really the problem though. The problem is the descent back into absolute disorganised attachment hell that I am experiencing. I am stuck in the push/pull, move closer and die/step away and die dance again, where my fight/flight response and my attachment response are activated at the same fucking time and I am caught between needing to stop therapy NOW because it is killing me and not being able to stop therapy because that will kill me too. I cannot believe I am back here. I’ve not experienced this since summer 2018 and it is crushing to be in this again. I feel so angry that I had worked so hard in therapy to reach a place where this didn’t happen to me, where I was comfortable to reach out to K when needed without shame and as a result needed her so much less. I had settled into what our relationship was and could be, rather than constantly obsessing over the boundaries and all it wasn’t and couldn’t ever be. Her family didn’t matter, her friends didn’t matter, her other clients didn’t matter, all that mattered was her and I in our two hours together every week. I was finally healing in relationship, having learnt to tolerate the pain of connection and move past the constant terror and panic and body memories of grief that made being around her and away from her both completely unsafe.

Yesterday when Phoebe (15) was yelling about being her job and how unbearable it is that no one really cares, she reminded us all that we’ve been here before, but that is the fucking worst part – we had moved past that place of shame and rage that we have to pay someone to care (and even then couldn’t get what we need), and then it has re-surfaced because of this fucking pandemic. It is like all the progress has trickled out of us over the past 10 weeks – all the trust and connection and safety. We are left feeling fearful, suspicious, ashamed, distrustful, and constantly fucking aware of K having loads of other clients, and then people in her real life that she actually loves and cares about, that we are just one of many like us to her, whereas to us she is our special person; the most important relationship we’ve ever had. I can’t trust it’s real, can’t trust she cares, can’t believe any of it. And the shame is immense – we are feeling poisonous and toxic and damaged and that we need to be kept at arm’s length and shoved in a box so we don’t infect K’s real life. I honestly thought we were past all this the past two years, and for the most part , since K announced she wasn’t taking 2019 off after all, therapy has been such a beautiful thing. Even with K’s house move in September I didn’t lose her, didn’t lose our connection, I trusted it was there and that I would be able to connect to it when it felt safe again. I knew she was there and that we were in it together, that she was there holding our space till I could move into it again. And at the start of the pandemic I was experiencing horrific attachment pain, but it wasn’t disorganised attachment pain – I needed her all the time but it didn’t feel shameful. I wasn’t caught in that awful push/pull of needing to reach out but not feeling able to in case it pushes her away like I am now. I am so disappointed that not meeting face-to-face, with no clear idea of when ‘normal’ therapy will resume, has set me back. It means the thousands I’ve spent on therapy feels totally wasted and I wonder why I bothered if this can still happen to me. What hope is there for me to ever have an intimate relationship when I cannot tolerate this one even after all these years?

I wish I could be someone who benefits in almost the same way from video or phone therapy as in-person, but I just don’t. I need proximity to feel safe. I’m triggered already by not being able to get to her, that in itself is plunging me into flashbacks and causing stress and dissociation, and then when we have a session by phone or video call and I can’t take that in either, it is just fucking agony. We have had some good sessions, definitely, but nothing like what we would have in-person. And they don’t leave me feeling full up and connected and contained. And sometimes the sessions trigger me because I’m relatively fine and then there is the painful reminder of not being able to reach her and not knowing how long this could go on for.

I wish I could take a break and trust she will be there when I come back, but I can’t. I can’t trust any of it. I get worried she’ll make me start back in a different slot, take away the Friday email, stop my discounted fee, or just decide to stop being a therapist. This is of course compounded by the thyroid issues she is having at the moment. She says she is keeping working, but who knows. As many of us will have been painfully reminded recently while reading about the heartbreak of a fellow blogger, our ability to continue the most important relationship of our lives is dependent on so many things that are completely out of our control, even more so at the moment than ever. I don’t know if a break would help anyway. I’m basically just holding out for when we can meet in-person again, but the end doesn’t even seem to be in sight right now, and I don’t know how much longer I can keep doing this. Would I settle without her, as I’ve been able to do so much of the time over the past 8 weeks, or would it trigger an absolute abandonment tidal wave?

And of course this isn’t the only difficult thing in my life right now, obviously, so it doesn’t feel the right time to take away my main source of support for the past almost-five years. The world is free-falling into disaster. Nina is home for at least another 3 and a half months and likely to be only in school part-time for most if not all of the next academic year, my work is going to be super stressful next year if I survive the jobs cull in September, stuff has come up around both my parents that I need to work through (I’m not doing trauma work remotely so we are waiting till we are in the room together to do this work if possible, but stuff still comes up that needs sharing and processing), Nina is fine but also experiencing understandably huge emotional waves I have to help her hold, so I still need K’s support with these things over the coming weeks and months. I just don’t know if I can keep working remotely. I want to but I also want to stop and it is hell being caught between two painful and impossible options. I wish I knew how much longer it would be like this, and whether I will get back to how I was in therapy or whether all that work is lost forever.

Everything has changed

***** TW talk of suicide ******

Things continue to be incredibly difficult. I’ve been searching for how to buy cyanide online and how quickly it kills, not for now but to be prepared. To make matters worse Nina is really struggling – she has gone from someone who reports ‘feeling happy at least 95% of the time’ to feeling flat and hopeless and experiencing huge outbursts of rage. I’ve told her it’s amazing she’s never felt this way before, but of course it means she has no resilience to it and no sense that it will pass. So I am trying to hold myself and all the freaking out parts, but also her. I had been feeling as though parents of young kids would be struggling so much more than the parent of a teen, but at least they love parental attention and are possible to entertain, it’s just hard work and monotonous for the parent. With a teen they just want their friends and however hard I try I cannot be enough. Plus she has a sense of time and knows we are in this for the long haul. She is being sent work from school this week which will hopefully help, but then it is 2 and a half weeks Easter holidays and after that who knows how long of this strange new life we all find ourselves living.

Because there are so many selfish shits in this country totally ignoring government guidance we are going to end up in lockdown soon. This will mean Nina can’t spend some of the time with her Granddad and we will be together 24/7 probably till September at the earliest. At the best of times this would be a very tough proposition but whilst in mental health crisis this feels like something I just cannot handle. I will not even have time on my own in the house to fall apart and put myself back together again, as I’ve relied upon ever since I became a parent. It will all be holding it together and holding someone else together too. It feels absolutely impossible to cope with, especially without my weekly escape and sanctuary with K, where I can breathe and let it all go.

There are so many memes about how to make the best of this time and loads of advice for parents who ‘suddenly find themselves home schooling’. It is such bullshit and clearly not written by people with shredded nervous systems who will also be trying to work full time at home. I honestly don’t know how I am going to manage when I go back to work from this sick leave on Monday. My whole system feels totally broken and hyper-sensitive and I don’t know how I will cope without time in the house by myself, with a teenage daughter who goes to bed later than me and is going to be struggling with such a huge change and loss herself. She was swimming 10 hours a week and just getting her independence with her friends, so to have all that taken away overnight, I’m not surprised she is struggling so much. It doesn’t help that most of her friends’ parents haven’t got the memo about social distancing saving lives and are letting their children have sleepovers and get togethers. Hopefully this will stop soon.

K and I will be working by phone this afternoon but an hour just doesn’t feel enough to connect and settle this storm. In addition my neighbours are clearly spending their first day ‘working from home’ having a massive party and have music on really loud and I find it impossible to focus on anything when noise is intruding on my space, but particularly when I feel this way. It’s just incredible that so much has changed so fast. It is two weeks since I thought K was over-reacting by making me sit further away, but she really wasn’t. Already our NHS in London is overwhelmed, 30 and 40 year olds waiting to be treated in intensive care, facing death because there are not enough ventilators. I am trying to hold on to this being temporary, trying to believe people who tell me we’ll get through this as a country and things will go back to normal, that weekly face-to-face sessions with K will resume, but I don’t really believe it, not because I am catastrophising but because our economy will be in tatters and the climate crisis was already threatening collapse.

I keep getting these huge waves of panic and grief and despair. I don’t know how to survive this – I scan every development to try and work out what it means for my therapy, for my recovery, my ability to survive this. Half the country is freaking out and the other half have no clue because they don’t read the news. Both of these are problematic responses to live alongside. I worry for the physical and mental well-being of all those who are confined and separated from those they love and rely upon. Reading what is happening in Italy helps me keep things in perspective and remember that this really is a life or death situation, and that I want K to stay safe even if it means we don’t meet for a year and so I will do my part in that. It is really f*cking tough though, and if one more person tells me ‘therapy isn’t stopping’ or asks ‘can you contact your therapist by phone instead?’ I will kill them.

A light in the darkness has been the NHS local crisis support line I was given – after I rang the first time I was given a number I can call 24/7 but also can keep contacting their line 6pm-midnight each evening. The woman I first spoke to has been incredible – she understands DID and attachment trauma and the importance of the therapy relationship, she is compassionate and kind, reassuring but also full of practical advice and makes sure I don’t try and be too positive or fall into total negative thinking. I’ve spoken to her twice, on Thursday and Friday evenings, and she texted with a young part on Friday and Saturday evenings too and helped us to go to bed. It is so unusual to find someone who ‘gets it’ so this has been such a blessing. She says the other people on the helpline are lovely too, but she wasn’t sure on their knowledge of DID. She is working this evening so says if I’m triggered after speaking with K I can call again. It really helps us all feel less alone and I wish it was available elsewhere in the country too. I haven’t been able to ring as often as I’ve needed to because Nina has been here, but knowing they are there is a real lifeline.

Delicate

It’s incredible how quickly disordered eating behaviour comes back when my attachment system feels under threat. I’ve not eaten since I left for therapy at 3pm on Monday, nearly 48 hours (I’m drinking water). It always starts the same – my tummy is too tight and I’m too shattered inside to eat, and then at some point it morphs into seeing how long I can go without food, to the point where I don’t feel hungry, don’t want to eat, where I start to enjoy the feeling of power over my situation it invokes in me. I’m not worried as I’m sure K and I will speak by phone tomorrow or Friday (how frustrating to have to pay for an extra session because of her strange, made up precautionary measures) and that things will settle and I’ll return to eating. It’s probably silly though, as my immune system needs strengthening at the moment, not depleting, but I just can’t bring myself to eat.

I honestly feel horrendous. My whole body is on fire and my heart is racing. It feels like my life is under threat, that I’m going to die if she doesn’t soothe me, that I already have died, that I survived a near-death experience on Monday. I’ve made it into work and had a meeting and have had a lot of people asking what I’ve done to my head (cringe). It’s K’s birthday today otherwise I would have text and asked to speak today. I also know this is not about her, not really, but it also is – she’s the only person in my life who I would have this reaction over. It scares me a little that she can still trigger this in me, it’s pure torture, but she pointed out on Monday that this used to happen so often for me and I have come so far because it has been so much better lately. It makes me sad that not eating is my automatic way of trying to preserve attachment, denying my needs to try and be safe. I still prefer this response than comfort eating, because starving doesn’t make me feel gross and out of control.

I saw a friend last night, a new-ish friend who I only told a little about the big old mess of my family a few weeks ago, and I told her what had happened on Monday and why I got so triggered. She was lovely and validating (her mum is a therapist so she gets it, to some extent) and is as pissed off as me, perhaps more so, by the irresponsible media frenzy around Coronavirus, but she also referred to K not being able to meet all my needs and that perhaps I need to get some met elsewhere, that everyone has their limitations. And it was like NOOOO, this is not an issue, my therapy is fine. K has behaved like an idiot, frankly, and it is vaguely unprofessional and not good modelling, but generally our work is amazing. It doesn’t undermine that, and it doesn’t mean my relationship with her is under threat in any way. If my friend had seen how utterly crazy I was for the first 3 and a half years of therapy she would see that my therapy relationship is fine, that K is incredible to have been able to do this work with me, that I have come SO FAR, that this was a minor thing, as far as my therapy journey has gone, and really doesn’t change how strong and incredible K and I’s relationship is. We’ve not had a single issue like this for over 18 months and even now I don’t feel this is a rupture (though my anger over her reaction is trying to create one) or that K and I have lost each other, it is that I’m re-experiencing being abandoned and pushed away as a baby. My response is totally out of proportion to what has happened, even though she shouldn’t have done it, and it will settle – we’ll talk on the phone and probably talk it through more on Monday, why it hurts so f*cking much what she did, and it will be okay.

I can feel the anger building over her over-reaction to Coronavirus. It is making me want to email her a list of statistics and real threats and tell her I’m so disappointed that she of all people has fallen for the media hype, but I made it into work today and two colleagues are utterly freaking out and one won’t come within two metres of anyone (which makes me irritated but hasn’t left me screaming and clawing at my head in abject despair), and when you look at the news and see that every single story is linked to Coronavirus, it is easier to understand where she got to. And it was a small change, a HUGE change for a person with attachment trauma, but objectively it was a small change. She didn’t shame me at all for my reaction, for yelling and shouting and screaming and digging and clawing my head. She kept trying to reach me and she met me as soon as I managed to reach towards her, she didn’t let me get lost in that place or give up or tell me I was being ridiculous or get angry with me. She pointed out how far I’ve come that this rarely happens, how it used to happen so much, and she validated that whilst it is a small thing that to me it really feels huge, I really do have that reaction. She saw the young parts and she saw how distressed they were. Listening to the recording from Monday it is clear she did everything she could do to help me not lose my session or our connection – she was gentle and calm and incredibly validating and containing in session, and she was able to do that because she knows me so well and knows how to help me come back enough to connect with her. At the end of the session she told me how well she knows me, that she knows how to hold me and the baby and all the young parts even when she is far away.

Being angry at her feels like a distraction from the huge attachment terror I’m experiencing, like if I can get her to understand her behaviour was mad then I’ll be safe. My need to correct her and have her understand is huge, and it reminds me of being younger and trying to control my mum in an attempt to have some control over the craziness around me. I want to prove to K she was wrong, that she made a mistake and it harmed me, but even if she was it doesn’t change what it triggered in me. How many times has my body responded like this to a perceived threat, mishearing or misreading something, and even after it is clarified within a few minutes I remain lost in the flashback and activated for days? It scares me what it triggered in me – how will I ever manage an actual intimate relationship? I thought I was past all that craziness but it still lives in me.

K definitely should have kept things as normal on Monday and provided me with a space to talk about what will happen if there is disruption to our weekly sessions. I do hope she’s had that pointed out by other therapists. Maybe she will be feeling sheepish, she should be, and maybe she will own this and maybe she won’t. Whatever happens for her though it doesn’t mean there won’t be future disruption – I think that is coming to the UK quite soon and that I need to prepare for phone sessions after Monday. So I really don’t want to make this rupture into something it’s not, I don’t want the extent of my emotional reaction to the perceived abandonment and rejection to take me to a place where extreme levels of anger at her feel justified and I am driven to rant at her how wrong her perception of the threat is and how crazy her decision to work in a different room far apart was, so I am trying to keep my anger at her Coronavirus fears separate from what I am re-experiencing at the moment as that is helping me remember she hasn’t let me down or broken us and that we left feeling connected and have been in touch since.

For now I think I will keep starving myself in an attempt to feel safer, but I can tell this will settle, even though it is absolutely horrendous to be in this place, and it doesn’t require K to realise she’s been an idiot in order for this to happen because that is separate from what is happening now. In the past I have been triggered by so many things she has done and, apart from the bike puncture debacle nearly two years ago, none of them were anything inappropriate K had done. It’s been really helpful to hear how many people thought she completely over-reacted on Monday and that they would have reacted the same, it is validating and comforting and makes me so grateful to have this community of people to turn to for support.

You need to calm down

I’ve not written on here for ages, it must be about a month. I had some incredibly difficult news 10 days ago but couldn’t find the words to write about it here although I’ve journalled lots. I’m not going into it now, but will just outline it as context for the complete state I’m in today. I heard via text from my sister the weekend before last that our Mum has been really ill with a pulmonary embolism and multiple blood clots in her lungs. She wanted to know what I would want to do next time as she wasn’t sure whether to contact me. She said Nina should also make an informed decision over what to do at such times in future, in case Mum were to die. This triggered an absolutely massive emotional storm, as to be expected given the complexity of my family situation and the fact my disabled brother, who is 49, still lives with Mum and I am scared shitless over what will happen to him when she dies or if she gets very ill for a long time. K was amazing and we spoke on the phone on the Saturday evening after I found out and she was very supportive in our session last week. Maybe I’ll write about all it brought up at some point, as there are big themes and decisions I will need to make for future, but not today.

I did manage to stabilise although was struggling with a lot of somatic stuff in the last part of the week and over the weekend. I was holding out for therapy and being able to ask for a hug and talking it through with K again. On Friday in our email she had said we would agree a policy on a Monday about Coronavirus to keep us both as safe as possible (I’d said I was going to ask my GP about pain medication in case I get the virus and get a huge pain flare like I did when I had norovirus and needed IV morphine in hospital, although generally I’ve been impressed with my ability to stay present and take the threat of disturbance due to the coronavirus one day at a time). I was surprised K thought we would need to talk about it – obviously if I got it or needed to self-isolate I wouldn’t go and we would work by phone if possible. Likewise if she got it. It had occurred to me that it could cause a major disruption to therapy for quite a few months, especially if each of us end up needing to self-isolate for 14 days multiple times, but that is not yet and there is no point getting worried about it before it happens.

So I was really taken aback when I arrived yesterday for my session, already feeling anxious because I’d had a difficult morning with work and was finding it hard to focus because of feelings of panic over the amount I have to do over the next 4 weeks, and she said we were working in her sitting room because of the Coronavirus. She said there was hand gel “if I wanted it” and I could use the toilet as normal (yeah, thanks K!) and I then became completely triggered and panic-stricken when I went into the room whilst she was making tea and discovered the chairs she had set out for us were 4 or 5 metres from each other. I was completely gobsmacked because as far as I know this is not how it’s spread and it seemed like a total over-reaction which I really wasn’t expecting from her at all. I mean, I could pass it or catch it from the mug of tea, from the parts journal she reads every week, from touching door handles going to the toilet – there are germs everywhere all the time and it’s hard to avoid them so we just do the best we can with hygiene and keeping our immune systems strong. She came back and I absolutely lost my shit and spent the next 50 minutes screaming and crying and howling about how she was too far away and I hated it and I felt as if I was in an abyss and was dying while she was in a huge glass cyclinder a million miles from me. I yelled that I couldn’t even hear her and when she said she was here and she could see me and how distressed I was someone just kept shouting ‘you’re not here, you’re not here’. It was complete hell and I clawed and dug my nails into my head so badly that I’ve now got a huge red lump with no skin on it and a big scab forming. Like a true fucking mad person. (And when K asked what had happened I yelled that she couldn’t see because she was so fucking far away!).

K was really kind and patient and only spoke firmly twice when I was really challenging her that this is not the way the virus is spread and wouldn’t make any difference, defending her right to have made this decision, but I am still absolutely incredulous that she didn’t hug me or move closer because of this ridiculous reaction to the threat of Coronavirus (there are no cases in my place of work yet and I’ve not heard of anyone near here with it at this time) and just left me sitting miles away from her with young parts out of control and screaming and crying and really distressed. It still hurts so much and feels punitive and rejecting and completely unlike her. We did manage to calm down and make some use of the second half of the session (thank goodness we have a double session!) and managed to connect to her a bit and take in what she was saying and how kind she was about how much distress we were in, but we left feeling all the terror of abandonment and annihilation and since then things have been awful. I’ve not been this triggered for ages and ages. I’d forgotten how completely unbearable it is to be feeling like this and to have 6 days to wait till my session.

My friend who also has attachment trauma was really validating and said it would have felt rejecting and caused that kind of reaction in her too. And I can really see that my extreme reaction was irrational and based on past experiences and that what K did was perhaps a little bonkers and over-the-top but not totally beyond the realms of the normal, but I also think K was wrong for implementing this without discussion and before we’ve even been told to implement social distancing measures in the UK. I mean I’m still working as normal and so is everyone else I know. In a couple of weeks we’ll be told to work from home where possible I’m sure, and schools and universities might be closed, but I’d assumed I’d still be able to go to therapy because the guidance would be to avoid infected people unknowingly spreading the virus to dozens of people, but I can see now that K will make us work by phone for the duration.

I don’t want this to turn into a post slagging K off. I can see that my reaction was triggered by things from the past and that if anyone else had said they were sitting further away from me because of Coronavirus (unless vulnerable or immunocompromised) I’d have just thought ‘what an idiot’ and gotten on with my day. I can see that it came at a time when I was already overwhelmed and needing closeness and a hug and not to feel pushed away. I can see all this and yet I still can’t move past what she did. It still feels so unnecessary and hurtful. Even if we’d had our session in the normal room and she’d told me next week we’d be in the sitting room it might have been better (though I don’t imagine she thought for a minute I’d get triggered by being in the sitting room, 4 or 5 metres from each other instead of 2!).

There are just 12 cases in the county we live in, out of a population of around 800,000, and yes it will increase but none of the guidance is telling us to keep away from people or change our normal habits beyond extra hand washing. She said it is spread via close contact between people and she didn’t want to work in a small room without a window that opens to keep everyone as safe as possible, so I screamed that I felt the most unsafe I’d ever felt there. I also told her Carolyn Spring of Pods had emailed therapists on Sunday and asked them to model to clients a healthy response to the threat and that here she was totally over-reacting. She said she doesn’t think it’s an over-reaction and that it was either this or remote working – ‘what, till September?!!!’ I yelled. She said she’d been ‘reading and reading and reading and reading’ about it over the weekend (when I’m getting lost in the climate crisis stuff she tells me it’s not helpful to keep reading, but clearly she is allowed to get lost in all the Coronavirus hysteria for days despite the threat being so much less than that!) and this was the decision she had come to in order to stay safe and keep working. She says it not about whether I am infected but that she could have it as she comes into contact with people who work in the NHS, but then surely it is my choice whether I expose myself to the risk, not hers. I honestly do think that therapists have a responsibility to model calm and a proportionate response and to help clients keep perspective if they are worried (which I wasn’t, only about the disruption to therapy – I’ll probably get it and have a bad pain flare and then be fine again) by pointing out all the other threats and how the media is creating fear and panic. Instead it seems as though she has been reading The Sun and The Express and had totally fallen into a state of anxiety over it. (I know therapists are human, but I’m pretty sure she should at least be pretending she’s calmer than she is).

I saw my GP this morning (who now thinks I’m utterly bonkers as she wanted to know what had happened to my forehead (where I had repeatedly dug my nails into it and clawed at it to leave a huge, inflamed patch of skin and a big bump) and had to look at it with the torch to check it’s not infected) and she laughed and was totally gobsmacked when I told her what K had done. She said it is not in line with any of the current guidance or information about how it is spread and won’t make any difference anyway – if one of us has it it will likely be passed on regardless if I’m in her house for 2 hours, so sitting further away from each other will make no difference at all because it’s not airborne, it’s passed by respiratory droplets. She said she could see why it had triggered me so badly when I needed her to be safe and calm about the threat and that it really doesn’t help when professionals start making up their own precautionary measures. It was so validating that she thought it was a total over-reaction at this point in time as well.

I mean, reading online I can see why K may have reached the decision she did as it does say in some places that it can be passed on by sitting 2 metres from someone for 2 hours if airborne droplets land on them from an infected person, but I still don’t think it was something she needed to implement at the moment. Think of all the hundreds of thousands of office workers just in the UK who are sitting next to each other in windowless spaces for 8 hours a day! And if she is really that worried then she shouldn’t be working because her precautionary measure won’t help in the event she does have it or a client has it. Maybe it is not for me to judge what she has decided to do about it, I’m just surprised that out of all the people I know it is her who is freaking out whilst the rate in the UK is still quite low. I have friends with health anxiety who I am really proud of for not getting swept away by fears over this. Nina has mild asthma so of course I’m apprehensive that she’ll get it, but I also know she has plenty of inhalers and has only needed to be nebulised once when she had a respiratory infection that triggered an attack. I have a friend whose husband has cystic fibrosis and would likely die if he got it as he already has compromised lung function and an extremely low immune system, but the family aren’t panicking and self-isolating and taking the kids out of school, and he’s still living normally as far as I know. I obviously won’t see my Grandma for a while if there are cases near where we live as she is 83 and is currently having chemo for non-Hodgkins lymphoma and it would definitely kill her. My sister has really bad OCD over germs and I know she’ll be freaking out as she is a counselling psychologist in the NHS in London where there are cases, but I can’t imagine she’s been asking clients to sit that far away from her (and if she did, she would own it as her own anxiety instead of pretending it is a proportionate response at the moment). K has asthma so I can see she would rather avoid it but if she’s that worried she should do something that will actually prevent her getting it i.e. not go out for a few months.

I do feel utterly crazy for reacting like this. Even though K was so nice and talked gently about abandonment being my biggest trigger and how all this belonged in the past, and she didn’t get angry with me, it’s still so embarrassing to be a grown woman who is taken over by young parts screaming because they have to sit in a different room than they are used to. I’ve honestly not had a reaction like that with K for so long, and I was proud that I manged to yell and that I let young parts out so they could scream and sob instead of withdrawing (it’s only the second time this has happened, and is partly why it hurt so much that she didn’t move closer or offer a hug like she did the last time this happened). I really don’t know if I can get used to working with her whilst sitting that far apart. It feels so unsafe and rejecting and like I am dirty and tainted and untouchable. I cried yesterday that no one ever held me when I was upset when I was little and she said she was holding me, that she knows how to hold me now, but it didn’t feel that way at all. It was so hard to even feel she was there at all when she was physically so far away from me.

To be honest I’ll be glad if the Coronavirus peaks in a couple of weeks here, as the news is currently suggesting, because the thought of months and months like this is awful. I know this sounds selfish because if the peak is delayed for a few months it will ease pressure on the health system and potentially reduce the deaths of vulnerable people, but my outlook to life is non-selfish nearly all the time and on my blog I’m allowed to express all my thoughts! It’s also infuriating because this is the level of response that is needed for the climate and ecological crisis and yet governments and most of the public don’t give a f*ck about that. I’ve been really good and only watching the news once a day and not googling, but last night I spent ages reading stuff online trying to see how K had come to the decision she came to at this point in time. All the advice I can see says hand washing is the most effective thing we can do. I’ve not seen any other therapists, like massage therapists or other alternative therapies, deciding not to treat people because of the threat. It just seems so important to keep living normally and not giving in to fear, and I’m not sure pulling away and distancing from attachment-traumatised clients fits with that. (I do realise I’m still in a very triggered place and that those reading this may think K was completely right to do what she did, I’d be interested in people’s thoughts on this!).

Also ref the title of this post, I don’t think K actually is in a state of panic over this – I’m trying to use a Taylor Swift song title for every blog post this year and this one seemed to be the most fitting today!

False God

I am feeling a lot of shame over the things I am about to share. I am aware that cognitively I have no reason to feel ashamed but this doesn’t shift the emotional legacy of toxic parenting so… I’m sharing, but feeling uncomfortable about it.

Since my promotion I’ve not been in a good place at all. I spent most of the weekend feeling very unwell – dissociated, heavy, lethargic, quite extreme levels of pain – and whilst I would love to blame it all on the lack of sunlight (which definitely doesn’t help), a busy week, getting my period, and not having anything exciting or joyful planned for the weekend, I am also aware that a lot of big feelings are being held inside and that, as usual, the physical symptoms I have been experiencing are caused by blocked emotional energy. It strikes me as faintly ridiculous that I get triggered by something objectively good, something I should be proud and happy about, but when I unpick the reasons for it I can see that it’s to be expected really, given my narcissistic parents.

There are quite a few strands to unpick to work out how I’ve gone from a place of such excitement and relief to a place where I feel so depleted and small in the face of my success. The first is that I seemed to fall into fight/flight over my promotion – I found it really hard to emotionally regulate in the days that followed, because I am unable to emotionally regulate I guess, and I think being excited and happy and proud of myself are difficult emotional and cognitive states for me. I definitely felt on edge and borderline manic and all my usual routines seemed to go out the window. It is clear that I don’t really know how to deal with any emotions – although my capacity is increasing through therapy of course – and I know growing up I was shamed by my parents for all my emotional states and when I was successful my mum would be proud and happy for me for as long as it reflected on her well, and then she would snap at me that I was boasting and being big-headed. She did this in particular on the night I found out my PhD amendments had been accepted and I was officially Dr B__________. It hurt a lot, because I didn’t know back then all it must have triggered in her, and it felt like I really was showing off and deserving of contempt and humiliation. And it was always so confusing because she was so proud of my successes, especially in writing, but I wasn’t allowed to feel and experience them myself. It was all about her, of course, but it never made sense when I was growing up and I just felt rubbish and not good enough all the time, and that if I felt happy or proud of myself it was because I was a bad person.

So I was having a hard time being with what was happening inside for me last week – I couldn’t take it in or just be with my internal state. I couldn’t even access my internal state. I’m not sure I even had one. I totally disappeared. I said to K earlier it felt like my success was only real when I was talking to other people about it. I think this is linked to the first strand – I needed others to help me emotionally regulate in the face of such a huge event – but goes beyond it also because it stems from growing up with an engulfing narcissistic mother who eclipsed my sense of self. So last week when I tried to feel inside for what my promotion meant TO ME there was nothing there. It’s so hard to explain, but I just had no sense of myself at all, nothing inside. I told K I feel like I don’t exist. And she said how, as we already know, I have a sense of myself not existing unless it’s in relation to others, not having a sense of self, a true sense of foundational self, unless it is reflected by others. And this stings so much because it is true, of course it is, but I feel such enormous shame that I feel so unreal and need other people to validate me and make me real. It feels so shameful because it is like I am always seeking approval from others and trying to make myself visible to them because I want to be better than everyone else. The truth is, as I’ve written before, it is about feeling invisible and unreal unless I am extra visible, leaving me always having to do more than most to exist at all. It feels as though it is my fault that I don’t have a sense of self, that I have been weak and let myself be absorbed and reflected back by others. I know this isn’t how it works, that I didn’t and don’t choose this, but I still feel pathetic for being this way.

And Mum’s absence was loud last week. There is a deep sadness that because we are estranged, and most likely always will be now, I was not able to share this news with her – it was the first time something big had happened and I hadn’t been able to tell her and even though I know had she been involved she would have spoilt it and made it about her and left me feeling all kinds of yuck, she has been there for everything else and knowing she doesn’t even know (unless she googles me, which I guess she probably does do from time-to-time) is hard. She would be proud. She would have bought me flowers and a card and taken me for a meal and told me she was proud of all my hard work. K said earlier how of course it would bring up huge feelings of loss, when something big happens in my life and there is no one to share it with, and that of course I would want to share it with my family of origin even when it is a really complicated situation. I miss my mum so much. There is just this huge hole where she is supposed to be and it fucking aches so much.

She really did help me get where I am now (even if she was a large part of the reason why getting here was such a fucking struggle) and I am grateful to her for instilling a lifelong love of reading and learning in me and for supporting me in my studies. I am grateful that even though she was a terrible mother in most ways, she left me that gift and it is something that I will always treasure. K said this evening that it’s probably the only good thing Mum has left me with – academic success and a love of learning – and it is sad because she she is right, there is nothing else good from her, but it is also something I am so grateful for and I wish she knew that. I wish she knew that even though I can no longer see her, that gratitude hasn’t changed. I love what I do for work. And it saved me from a life of drugs and binge drinking and overdoses, I am sure of that.

K asked what I needed from my Mum, beyond just being able to share the news with her, and I said I just wanted to hear ‘you’ve done enough’ so I can stop now and just be. I cried a lot when I said these words earlier, because all week I’ve had this sense of ‘now what?’ and I just want this to be enough. I want to feel as though I’ve arrived. Cognitively I do have this sense of things calming for me now, but emotionally I still don’t feel as though I’ve done enough. K said how I just wanted to be recognised by her (Mum) for who I am, what I’ve achieved, the struggle. She said how young it is, the need to share, the excitement. And I can feel that. I can feel young parts in me feeling so sad because it was never enough – fantastic GCSE results, 4 As at A Level, a first class Law degree, Research Council funding to do a PhD, getting a doctorate, proper academic posts, none of it has been enough to stop me feeling like I don’t exist.

All I’ve ever wanted is for my parents to notice me, the me inside my achievements, the person I am inside. The text from my Dad last week just said ‘well done’ (ugh) and when I was trying to talk to my Grandma on Saturday about my work and she was asking questions about what this promotion will mean (which was nice as she can’t really relate to my work and was clearly really trying to show an interest) he kept butting in and turning it back to him and then changed the subject entirely after less than two minutes. I get it is a reflection of him, of how he feels about himself, of his insecurities and limitations, and that it is not about me, but it is still infuriating, especially knowing he has been like that my whole life, at times when it will have had a lasting impact on my development. I remember getting twelve awards in an end of term assembly when I was 13 and when I rang to tell him after school he was like ‘yeah? and…’. It is just such a shit way to raise a child.

It came to me this evening when I got home how bizarre it is that I am seeking approval, still, from two people who I don’t even respect or like very much, one of whom I’ve come to see is so damaged and damaging that I can’t have them in my life at all. I do care though, I care not so much about what they think of me, but that they recognise what I have achieved, who I am, how hard I have worked to be where I now am. I hope that the first step in beginning to really, truly validate myself is that I am beginning to question why so desperately want two people I don’t even want to see to be the ones to validate me. I want to make myself real. I want to be the one who gives myself an internal sense of being real and enough, just because I am here rather than because I have done something noteworthy.

K asked how Nina responded and I said she text me straight back and wrote ‘yeeeeessssssssssssssss!’ and then ‘well done mummy’ (and then told a friend my income has doubled now – if only haha). And K said how lovely it was that Nina gets it. And she said ‘and I get it, I really truly do, and I am immensely proud of you. It is amazing’. And my heart filled a little bit, but not enough because I just can’t take it in and make it mean something for me. She gave me a big hug at the end of the session and said again how proud she is, and that she hopes that I start to feel it within myself soon, but that there is no hurry, no faking. And I really hope I can. I hope one day – soon – I can validate myself, tell myself how well I’ve done, that I’ve done enough now and it is time to soak it all in. I am enough. And I hope I can have a sense of myself, for myself, when something else happens, so I don’t have to go looking to the wrong people to tell me I am okay now. That place feels very far away though and right now I am still left with a sense of not being here at all, not existing in my own life, and that is just so bloody hard to live with.

Tentative steps

I think we managed to reach K a teeny tiny bit last night, managed to take in just some of our connection and her presence again. I felt different when I woke up this morning. More settled and less overwhelmed and ready to face the day and all that I knew it would bring. Lighter. More spacious. I felt sad on the way to work, a deep sadness around my Mum and my childhood and the chronic pain and emotional distress I’ve had to learn to live with, but it was from a place of self-compassion and not an overwhelmed “I can’t keep going, this is too hard” sadness. It felt under control and also a needed sadness, if I am ever to release the shame that binds me so tightly inside my harsh internal world where on some deep and primal level I don’t feel I deserve support and understanding because it is my fault how I am. I felt less cut off from myself and K felt just a little closer in time and space. And I was curious to note how those tiny steps back towards her helped me also be in a space where my life isn’t quite so overwhelming. My life is objectively too much for a person with CPTSD and a dissociative disorder and chronic pain, but the feelings of overwhelm and not being able to continue are also attachment-based – without a sense of ground beneath me and safety inside me I lose my way and lose sight of myself in among the chaos so quickly.

I cried early in our session yesterday about the fear of not being able to reach her again, and what it would be like to leave her if that happened , how awful it would be and how it would feel like I was dying again – “you are right there and we can’t reach you” someone whispered. And sometimes it still really helps to hear K explain why this happens; her explanations are so soothing and it releases some of the fear that I am broken for not being able to reach her and for feeling like I don’t know her at all. She said how attachment doesn’t happen overnight, that it comes through trust and deep attunement and empathy and all sorts of modelling of ways that didn’t happen very much for me when I was very little. And she said how at various times in our therapy journey it was very hard for me to be around her, because it was so painful to be around some aspects of the things I missed out on. “And very frightening to be in contact, but it’s also very frightening for you not to be in contact. So we’re holding an incredibly fine line between what it’s like to feel abandoned and really empty and the fear of feeling very close”. And she talked about how for a long time it was like that, but then it settled and we weren’t in that territory so much, but her house move has been a big psychological breakdown in terms of connection so we need to build up trust again, and we can’t rush it and so need to try and be okay with it taking a while longer.

She talked about how her move had brought up profound fear for me, so deep that we didn’t even know it was there, so deep that it was hard to put into words and stirred up things for me on a very different level than the things we talked about in terms of her moving further away and it being a pain to get there. “I’m talking about what it is like for a baby, or a toddler, or a pre-school person to have grossly missed trust and no holding that makes sense. So I think it has stirred up something really deep in your psyche that is hard to even name”. And she said then we throw in the autumn term and the fact I’m a parent at the same time and it’s clear why this is a really difficult time, and ideally we’d be meeting more right now to feel into that trust again but “you’ve got a heinous week full of grim things to do” [LOL so true] so that is not possible. It helped though, just her saying that we need to be meeting more often at the moment, but can’t, because I wish we could and it is just not physically possible but it helps to know my wish is reasonable given the circumstances. And as we approach the worst month of the year for me with my Mum’s birthday and the anniversary of Jess’ suicide on the same day [December 10th] and just as Christmas, season of perpetual triggers and emotional flashbacks, is pulling me into its claustrophobic cage, I wish so much that I could go twice a week to try and further settle things before we reach December. We’ve always met extra in the early part of December but I looked at my work calendar today and it is scary how hard it is going to be to fit it in this year.

It was a really full session. We talked about so much, about the time after my overdose when I was 22 and what was needed back then, about the physical pain that has dominated so much of my life, since I was really very small (and continues to, though never as bad as it was for the decade from when I was 20), about the lengths I go to keep it hidden (consciously and subconsciously), about how on some level it’s because I feel responsible for what happened to me as a young child and, particularly, for the way my body and nervous system responded. There is so much I want to write about because I have gained so many insights and so much self-knowledge in the past few weeks, but I am tired and tonight I really just wanted to write about how by the end of the session, after we’d had a Mog story and made plans for a film night next week to try and feel cosy in the new house, things felt a little more settled. It felt as though a little bit of whatever has been keeping us away from K had dissolved inside me so there was space for a little of what she gives me to reach me too. When she feels near, even when she is far away, everything feels just that little bit more stable, and I really hope we can reach her properly and feel filled up of nice things again soon.

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