All too well

And I forget about you long enough to forget why I needed to…

I’m fine. I’ve not blogged for a while because work has been busy (think 50 hour weeks full of rapid adjustments and constantly changing policies as we adapt to the ongoing Covid situation) and the last thing I feel like in what’s left of the evenings is more screen time. I’ve also not really wanted to think too much about things or examine too much of what’s going on. I feel a resistance to doing that in fact, and instead am enjoying just living my life a bit – the good and bad.

I have had some wobbles over K and drafted two emails asking to go back early or telling her I would want to – not yet, but soon. Each time I was able to sit with what was happening and tell myself I’d email if things were the same in a week. They weren’t. And for the past two weeks the pulling towards her has stopped. In the moments of overwhelm and emotional dysregulation it helped to ask if going back to remote therapy would actually help what was going on or whether there was something else I could do. Each time there was something else. And I’ve felt pretty content and regulated for 10 days or more now. I’m enjoying having a break from introspection and self-examination – I’d noticed a yearning for this at times over the last year or so when I felt resistance over ‘preparing’ for therapy, which was so different from the past when there would be frantic scribblings throughout the week of all the things that were coming up that I needed to share with K. It does feel as though life is ‘paused’ in some way at the moment, externally at least, and even though I know I am growing and healing during this time, it is a gentle growth that often doesn’t need to be put into words.

I do sometimes feel a bit at sea without K, as if I’m not quite able or willing to connect with what is going on for me and the parts at a deep level. But life is okay and this feels okay – I’m doing yoga and meditating and making time for things that bring me joy, so it’s not as though I’m shut down and disconnected from myself. And I am enjoying having a break from attachment stuff. Even when I’ve felt drawn back to K it’s not been attachment, it’s not been missing or needing her in that way, it’s been wanting her support over difficult things in my life because she knows me best. Right now I feel okay knowing I’ll see her next year. And if that doesn’t last then I’ll contact her then. I hear her voice in my head telling me what I need to do and how I need to treat myself during difficult moments, but I’m not sure returning to remote therapy would help. Or it would help some things but it would re-ignite others.

I’ve noticed a real lack of people I am vulnerable and truly authentic and open with in my life – without K it’s been really obvious there are few, if any, people I’m truly open with and can take hard stuff to. I share different things with different people and I’m honest with people, but somewhere inside I’m always holding things back and unconsciously trying to protect people from the truth about me. This is something I want to work on, probably with K, and for now I’m just working on making myself known to myself, because this year has ended up being all about that. This isn’t really the year for building new connections, is it?

Surprisingly it’s been very clear most of the time over the past 6 weeks that I will go back to therapy, that there is too much left unfinished for this to have been the end. I think I was worried if I took a break I wouldn’t want or need to. It feels, though, like a lot of me is suspended in the space between K and I still and at the very least would need integrating and consolidating and putting away. I feel very patient about when we do this work though. And I’m not sure if I will want our work to have the same quality as it did before – I’ve changed and I honestly don’t want to return to attachment anguish and forgetting I know how to do this on my own now. I’m also aware that life is very different for me right now – I’m not navigating new friendships or a relationship or difficult things around my family. Nina is more-or-less okay and not freaking me out with how broken she is. I’m noticing how quickly plans leave me feeling suffocated and ensuring I leave space between things. Things may not stay as they are, I guess, and I may need K a lot again. Who knows?

Young and teen parts seem okay and quite settled. Not all the time, but a good chunk of it. Nina is back in school and that helps. And I am lucky to be able to work from home till at least January because my GP supported me to apply for an exemption from in-person work due to my immune system’s tendency to over-react to illnesses due to complex trauma, and the risk of long Covid. I’ve had enough long term health stuff and do not need any more, and where I work there is a lot of risk which my institution is in denial over. I had to speak to occupational health and it was hard and stressful to do this and to advocate for myself, but I’m proud I did.

There are parts of being at my workplace that I really miss but they don’t outweigh the huge benefits of working from home for me – I am able to be much more boundaried talking to people via video call and don’t end up absorbing and holding all their emotions, and I am more productive and don’t get so over-stimulated with demands and social interactions coming at me from all sides. Working at home also really helps young parts because it means every day has the same shape, regardless of what is happening at work. We meditate before Nina gets up, do yoga at lunchtime, cycle after work, do a yoga nidra after dinner. Everyone likes living this way. No surprises. And it’s easier to fit in self-care without a 40 minute cycle to work and then the same home again each day. This period of settling is healing and comforting and was needed. Life probably won’t stay like this (well, I hope not – hopefully a vaccine will help for this virus at least before next summer arrives!) and it is important to use this time to settle and help heal my nervous system. Work still gets too much, but I feel more separate from it when I’m surrounded by things I love. I wanted K when it felt impossible to continue there a few weeks ago, but there are other ways of helping those feelings now.

I think since taking a break from therapy I’ve been able to acknowledge the dangers of the virus more, because it doesn’t serve me to minimise it in an attempt to make K see she’s overreacting. I mean she’s not, and I’ve not thought that since the very early days when I didn’t know what was going on with the virus really, but part of me wanted her to decide it was more important to see me than to avoid risking her own and her son’s health. Not all of me of course, and not at a conscious level, but I’m sure that was there. So in a strange way it helps, from this perspective, that cases are rising here again as it confirms that she was right not to return to in-person work over the summer ahead of a second wave (obviously I’m not saying cases rising is good, just that it has helped this side of things for me). It would have been so disruptive to see her a few times and have it taken away again. I would never have settled knowing it was all so precarious and I’d have been anxiously watching the news and cases rise and wondering when my therapy would be disrupted again. And I could have ended up in a total annihilation flashback hell just as the busy time at work was starting if she’d gone back to remote work over the past couple of weeks. It’s better this way and it is also giving me a clearer sense of what therapy can and can’t be in my life going forwards. It is sad sometimes that the very intense part of K and I’s work is done but it is also clear there will be more pandemics, soon, and deadlier than this one, and that it is a good idea to build my own supports (internal and external) so I’m not completely blind-sided by it.

I often hear Miffy (5) wanting to write to K and tell her she misses her every day but she is also okay and that she knows in her heart x a hundred thousand million that she will see her and the dogs next year. I think this sums up where we all are really. And sometimes I am filled with such enormous waves of gratitude and love for K, that through everything she did for us we’ve been able to settle and find a huge amount of peace and stability through becoming stiller and more self-reliant during a global pandemic. It’s mind-blowing sometimes how far we’ve come in the 5 years since K showed us a DVD about DID and DDNOS by First Person Plural and it all fell into place what was wrong with me, alongside the relief that there was finally someone who could help. K is and always will be a part of me and it’s becoming more apparent than ever the past few weeks just how solid the foundations I now have are because of her. It’s strange to be “okay” without her – we still think about her a lot, but it’s like she’s a whisper in the back of our minds and a place we will one day reach again.

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.

Bad blood (2)

***TW mention of suicide***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Both of us

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sad Beautiful Tragic

This time of year is precious to me. Spring marks the end of ‘the busy time’ at work and there is usually more space and a reprieve from just ‘getting through each week’ for around 5 or 6 months. I tend to not need to work evenings and weekends and my energy picks up and my health improves when it’s lighter and sunnier. And because work is less demanding I have more capacity for seeing people and going places. It is strange this year (for everyone obviously, not just for me) because I have a combination of this familiar spaciousness alongside serious limitations and restrictions, but actually so much of what I love to do at this time of year is possible now (bike rides, walks, the sea, yoga in the garden, sitting and watching the bunnies) and I actually have even more time to do it, without driving Nina around to swimming training and competitions all the time. I am also used to working mostly at home from the end of March until mid-September anyway, so it doesn’t feel that different really although I do miss seeing my colleagues on the odd days I am in over the summer, and I miss my lovely office where I could work in peace and quiet (and wasn’t disturbed by a thirteen year old demanding help or having a meltdown about having nothing to wear, sigh, as if it even matters when we are in lockdown and she isn’t seeing anyone anyway!).

So in many ways things aren’t that different from normal for me whilst it is nice weather and we can meet people outside, other than not being able to go camping or see my friends who live further away. And in many ways life is easier and my shredded nervous system is starting to settle away from the forced social interaction and general rushing around doing too much that my life seems to have entailed since Nina was 3 and I started my PhD. So, aside from the general fear, sadness and anxiety over the future and all the suffering in the world presently, which I must and do manage to switch off from, what exactly is missing from my life right now? The obvious answer is therapy, but I am still having therapy, K is still here for me, and we still have contact every week day at the moment, and until the end of June at least. So what is the problem and how do I get past it, so that I can stop feeling like my life is on hold in some way, when in fact in many ways it is moving forward and I am growing hugely during this time?

I was saying to K in our half hour session on Wednesday how much I have missed watching the Spring with her this year, especially as her new home is in such a beautiful area. Her move back in September disturbed me a lot, I was attached to her old house and scared that she was moving so much further away, and then it was a slog driving the 70 mile round trip for therapy each week in the cold and wind and rain over the winter months. She kept saying how much I would appreciate it there when Spring came, that I would see the magic of the place and how special it is. We had plans for things we would do and places we would go when the weather improved. As well as being an easier time of year for me work wise, it’s always been a really special time of year in our work, when things are more spacious and we spend more time outdoors and I need less support with daily life so our work has a different pace and energy. And it is exciting for young parts because they get more time because there is less adult-life fire fighting, and lots of the things we do are healing for them, things that K might have done with us if she’d come and rescued us when we were little in a little body.

Losing this time with her is painful. I actually think I’d be finding it easier to do remote therapy over the winter – which may well happen if our bloody government don’t get testing and tracing sorted – because that is a time I am usually wishing away anyway so another reason to hang in there and wish the time away wouldn’t be a problem. I don’t want to be wishing this time away and then find it is autumn and then winter again and I’ve lost this time and life is hard and I haven’t settled enough over the summer to sustain me through those hard, dark months. I don’t think I am losing it entirely but without the rhythm of my weekly drive to K’s and my two hours with her I feel very untethered at the moment, suspended and floating outside time and space, with nothing to ground me into my weeks. My thoughts are too frequently on K and the future, and I am constantly having to bring myself back to my own life, my body, my experiences, the present moment, and remind myself I am here and I am okay right now.

When I was parking the car earlier after dropping Nina at a friend’s garden (lol) I realised how much I miss driving to K’s and parking outside, feeling that sense of relief to have made it there and to have an undisturbed time with her where I can unpack and unpick my week and settle into the undivided attention she gives me for two hours in my week. My time with her is sacred and of course extends beyond what we talk about in the room – so much healing takes place even when we are sitting in silence together. I also said on Wednesday when we spoke how the journey to her old house, once, twice and sometimes three times a week, for 4 years was a huge part of my week – where she lived before was also beautiful, in a different way, and the drive punctuated my week at the same time as I witnessed the seasons change month-by-month. Nature has always been such an important part of my life and sharing this with K is one of the reasons we all love her so much. It was always lovely to arrive or have her tell me via email about a new arrival or new growth or a special bird she had seen from the window. And every time I got to the lane near her old house I would feel safe, knowing that however terrible I was feeling soon I wouldn’t be on my own with it. It has been huge, the containment that my regular sessions offered me, and it is also huge to have lost that proximity and limbic resonance which is such a big part of learning to feel safe and being able to trust her. I was looking forward to being able to create memories in K’s new house and garden this Spring and Summer, different memories, of a time when therapy didn’t hurt anymore and I could take in what it gave me in a way I never could before.

For years being in the room with her physically hurt me, like salt was being poured on my attachment wounds or my skin was being burnt by her presence. Leaving her felt like I was dying and my abandonment terror set in halfway through every session as I sensed our time ticking away, knowing it would soon be time to leave her and struggle alone again. Sometimes I had to stop the car down the lane after I had left to let young parts scream and sob, before it was safe to drive. It hurt to be with her and anticipate her leaving or one day not being there, it hurt to leave her and not know if I would ever see her again, and the time between sessions was unbearable, even when it was just a few days and we had contact via text or email. It was agony. I counted down in hours some weeks because things were so difficult and time passed so slowly. I remember her saying years ago that she hoped that one day I would be able to exist in the week knowing my space with her was there waiting for me and I wondered what the hell she meant! I didn’t exist without her and she didn’t exist if she wasn’t right in front of me. It was hell and I was a wreck. I am still in awe that we made it through those days. And I am extra sad that we made it through and now the measures against the pandemic are keeping us apart, because I really did reach a place where I could feel my space with her throughout the week and use it to sustain me and comfort my system until I saw her again.

It feels incredibly unfair to have done all that work, endured so much, come so far together, and then not to be able to enjoy sitting in a room with her without it hurting, to not be able to leave her house and feel okay because I know I will be back next week and I can feel her with me even when we are far apart. I think it would almost be easier to have this separation from her before I got to that place, because before it was really tough anyway and I was just surviving in the best way I could. I stopped surviving and started living and it feels as though this is what I am desperately scrabbling to stop myself backsliding into.

When we are working by phone (which I still prefer to video calls) there is too much space around me, she is not there drawing a boundary around ‘my stuff’ so I can see it clearly. It is like my words and emotions are spilling out of me and floating into the air, rather than being processed and reflected back to me in a shape I can contain and understand. I don’t want to keep going if it will be like this indefinitely, but I don’t want to stop either. It is hard. And again and again I wish it didn’t matter. I wish I could take in that she is here, take in what she is giving me still. I think if I didn’t constantly worry that our work is finite I would have more patience to endure. I mean, of course our work is finite, but I am worried we have less time than I was expecting (her health, my finances, other factors), and that this is such a huge and horrible waste of our time working, for it to be second best and not enough and re-activating some kind of painful disorganised attachment dance.

This time of year has been special in K and I’s work, but it’s also special for me and I don’t want to lose it, wishing it away so that K and I can be together again. So much about my life in this moment is okay, despite the spectre of pandemic. I was re-listening to an Elizabeth Gilbert podcast (have I mentioned I have fallen in love with her over the last couple of months?!) from near the start of lockdown and she talks about the difference between empathy and compassion, and how, at this time of empathetic overload, it is really important to distinguish between the two – empathy being where we take on another’s suffering to the point that we are suffering too and cannot help anyone, and compassion being recognition that another is suffering but that we are okay. She talks about the tremendous courage it takes to sit alongside someone and witness their suffering and not get drawn into it, but this is the only way we can be of service. It is definitely something that got me thinking as I tend to completely unravel when I allow myself to acknowledge the scale of the human and non-human animal suffering occurring at any one time and then my grief and overwhelm is so enormous that I am just adding to the suffering and am no help to anyone. It is easy to feel guilty at the moment to have a home, food, a job for at least the next few months, and her words, and that distinction, got me thinking how it really is okay to be okay even though others are most definitely not okay, and that this is the only way we can truly help.

So I am okay a lot of the time, though not all the time of course because… teenager at home full-time, mood swings, irrational anger, constant mess and nagging, and when I am in my adult, K is less prominent in my life – she fades into the background and becomes just someone who knows me (really, really) well and who I look forward to spending time with each week. But when my attachment system is triggered, not seeing her really does feel like life or death – in those moments I would rather die than not see her again. Right now, when I am feeling relatively adult and contained, I am okay with waiting till she is ready to work in-person again. I have to be. I am trying to remind myself it is not about me, actually, but her – her vulnerability, her perspective, her priorities. It is not about her pushing me away and rejecting me and wanting to keep me at arm’s length. I know she hates working like this, so she will not extend it just to make a point or force me to cope in order to build my resilience. At the moment UKCP guidelines say therapists should continue working remotely. Much as I hate knowing other people are meeting with their therapists soon, I have to sit with my lack of control over this and what her regulatory body decides to do when. All I can hope is that K’s therapist friends will start meeting for outside sessions or move back to in-person because their practice can do this safely with distancing and she will follow suit. I can’t control it though, and I don’t want to push her. If she doesn’t feel safe it is not for me to force her or challenge her or refuse to work with her till she changes her mind. It is not for me to make her feel bad and guilty for wanting to keep herself safe or do what her regulatory body are telling her.

What I *think* is my intuition is telling me that I am not going to see K anytime soon. Maybe this isn’t my intuition and is some kind of defence mechanism preparing me for the worst, I don’t know. Maybe I will be pleasantly surprised. I remember ages ago a part telling her that they were worried we would resume face-to-face and then it would be taken away again. She said ‘what, if there’s a second peak do you mean?’ which I guess suggests she is, or was, planning to return to face-to-face when she can, before the inevitable second peak (because our government is shit), but everything is changing so fast and her thyroid wasn’t pranging out then. I think we all thought cases in the UK would be much lower before lockdown was eased and it means the level of risk isn’t really going to decrease from where it is now. It is K’s decision and not mine what she determines to be the risks for her personally and the people she knows, though of course nothing can change until the UKCP change their guidance…

Anyway, the point is all this is irrelevant; I don’t want to be second-guessing what she will do and when I will see her. It is exhausting and pointless. For now I am committed to continuing to work remotely with her, and if it becomes apparent that this is not ending any time soon then I will think again about whether this is the best use of my money right now. I don’t want to lose the next months, and possibly longer, of my life pining for her, not when I had come so far and she is not actually going away. There is a vague fear that she is going to prepare me for an ending with her soon, but she is only 51 and I’m pretty sure she can’t afford to stop working now, so I hope this is not my intuition. In my heart I can feel we will work in-person again one day, and I am really trying to be patient and hold on to that feeling, and accept things are as they are right now and that I am lucky she is still here. It doesn’t feel like a ‘real relationship’ to me without proximity (I have had two long-distance relationships since I was 19 and I can see now why I struggled so much with them!) but perhaps this is a good opportunity to show my attachment system that people can be constants in our lives even when we don’t see them.

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.

Cruel summer

I think a certain level of acceptance of how long we will be living like this is gradually settling around the country now. I’ve known in my heart for a while [I say a while, it’s probably been a week, time is moving so strangely at the moment and it feels like years have passed every time I sit down to write. It is like this for so many I am sure] that it will be many, many months till K and I resume face-to-face sessions, till Nina returns to school, till life goes back to some semblance of normality. I am constantly having to push away fears that K and I will never see each other again, or if we do it will just be to say goodbye because weekly sessions are no longer feasible long-term. It is always hard to know what could be real. I am trying to trust that we will come through this challenge and our work will go back to normal, because it is all there is to do. It is hard though.

Last night I watched a beautiful sunset from the country park where we live. The sky was wide and open and I felt free for just a few minutes. Life at home is stifling but we are doing okay in some ways. I feel more restless than overwhelmed. Either a calm acceptance or a huge amount of dissociation is engulfing me, who knows. There is a lot of worry that if the bunnies get ill during this time we won’t be able to get them vet treatment. This seems to be where the anxiety is being channeled today. Yesterday it was mostly freaking out that my job really isn’t safe. I text my old Head of Department and asked if our jobs are safe in the medium term. He says many institutions like ours won’t survive this, but that we are among the top and so in a strong position and I don’t need to worry. He knows a lot about how our institution works, and particularly its financial position, and it did reassure me. It’s just hard to shake the sense that this is how our world, here in the UK, will end, that this is just the start of the great unravelling that is well under way in many parts of society and across the globe already.

One of my friends also triggered me last night when I mentioned the fear of redundancies where I am, as she responded that we need Universal Basic Income – of course we do, I know this and I think it is coming, but I don’t think losing my job and having UBI would leave me with enough money to pay for therapy, or for the car I need to run to get to therapy. My mortgage is astronomical. I have zero savings and still more than £6k of debt to pay off. I have spent a TERRIFYING amount on therapy over the past five years, it makes me feel quite sick. I try to tell myself it was needed, still is needed, that probably we would just have a slightly bigger house, a newer car, memories of a few more holidays, had I not spent the money on that. I also try to reassure myself also that had I not done the work I’ve done with K I could (would!) have totally screwed Nina up and possibly even killed us both as this was my plan when I started therapy in August 2015, but it is hard to shake the sense that I have been really stupid spending so much money on that when I could have been saving for the end of the world. To be honest, I don’t really understand how UBI works, I just know that as things were (still are for me, it is important to remember – my job isn’t immediately under threat) I would be out of debt by August next year and able to save a little amount each month and pay for therapy too. I am so careful with money. I just wanted a little time where I didn’t have to be, before the climate crisis sweeps across the UK and life as we know it drastically changes…

K has always said I’m the person who reminds her most often how important it is to trust in the universe, to not have a scarcity mindset that attracts the very thing we are all so fearful of, but it is hard to hold on to this trust when all around us is panic and fear of everything running out and disappearing and no one having enough (loo roll stock-piling really epitomises this dominant mindset!). And at times it feels like such a privileged way to be living, to be able to trust that money will work itself out and to use evidence that despite difficulties during my PhD and the uncertainty of getting a post afterwards, it always has in the past, and that the universe is on my side because once I started to trust it, it has always brought me the right houses at the right time and brought me K, because not everyone has these luxuries I know, but at other times I think a safe home and a therapist who knows how to work with the identity fragmentation that follows childhood abuse and trauma isn’t really a luxury at all. I don’t know. I do want to trust though, that K and I will carry on working during this challenging time and pick up face-to-face sessions when we can.

I feel so angry that this is happening, sad that we are losing the Spring and Summer, fearful for those who are not safe at home due to abuse or neglect. I am angry that China are continuing to lie and have been giving us all false hope. I am apprehensive about how work will be for the next year and how rather than getting less stressful as we enter ‘the quieter time’ it is about to get even more stressful and reactive there. I nearly lose my shit when I see people talking about how living like this, physically distant from each other, will become ‘the new normal’ because it can’t – we are being deprived of the basic necessities of a life worth living. It is vital for now, of course it is, but virtual connection will never be as good. We are relational beings – we need regulation from others, we need companionship, we need community, and we cannot get these things through a screen. They are obviously important to help us manage through this time but they can never replace what we get from each other and being part of the world – natural and man-made, and I do really hope people never get used to this new, and hopefully temporary, way of being. It is not that I want to be surrounded by people all the time, but that I enjoy being part of everything so much, and solitude is something I value highly only because it is such a rarity for me and helps to bring me back to myself.

I have also been wondering what it is about my particular brand of attachment trauma that means that without meeting I don’t feel K is my therapist anymore and I don’t feel we have a real relationship. I am aware on a cognitive level that we do, that what we have endures across time and space and distance, that I am held in mind and in her heart, that she knows me and that won’t stop because she doesn’t physically see us, but at the same time I still feel somewhere deep inside that I am losing her and that as the months of phone and Skype go by she will slip further and further away and that she will let me go. I see others who are struggling with what is happening around us but are able to transition more easily into working remotely, and I am unsure why not being able to physically get to K is such a huge trigger for me and activates my attachment system so extensively. Of course there are concerns that I won’t have privacy for our sessions because Nina will be here, but it is not just that which is causing this.

After crying all afternoon on Friday I reached out to K by text, explaining that I wasn’t going to manage until Monday without contacting her so was doing it before the proper weekend started. We had spoken earlier that day but young parts hadn’t been reached. It is so hard finding time for everyone when life is so utterly crazy. You really know you have a complex dissociative disorder when you have parts getting triggered by not having ‘time with’ your therapist despite a phone call! In our phone session I had told her that the text exchange on Tuesday and Thursday mornings was really helping. She was pleased to hear that and said we would need to review it – we panicked and she said ‘no, not to take it away’, but that I might need more support in a month. This is scary. Every time she mentions the length of time we could be forced to work like this or says the C word we feel jarred and triggered – it makes it all feel much too real, that she is talking about something that really cannot possibly be happening. I asked in my text if we could talk about putting more planned support in place for a while, particularly for young parts, and said that I would look at money…

She said of course we could make a plan. I know she wants to support and hold all of me and to be there for young parts throughout this. More contact time is definitely needed at the moment but I’m not sure in what form or if it would even help. What would be enough right now? I prefer speaking by phone as it feels closer and I know K feels she can listen and hear much better on the phone than with a screen that sometimes freezes and so on, but I think Skype is also needed and I think a time that is dedicated to young parts is needed – when we work in-person young parts are settled just from being with K, but I don’t think they get the benefit of phone contact unless they are being addressed directly. It’s weird, but I think time they know is theirs, to ask questions and have stories and maybe do some ‘remote crafting’ would be helpful.

I feel so conflicted over needing and planning extra support. Part of me is thinking if I have the means to pay for a little extra support and contact during this time I should, and I do have the means for now because obviously some outgoings will reduce for the next six months (refund on tickets for Taylor Swift in Hyde Park, sob). But then there are parts who are fearful that we should be saving money for what comes next, that spending too much on therapy now could mean Nina has to go without food in the future, or that I can’t afford to see K at all. I can’t work out what are adult worries and what are young worries, what is adult caution and what is a young part trying to exert control over something that is ultimately impossible to control. And of course always is the need to balance what I spend on therapy with the fact that for an extended period of time now it has kept me ‘stable enough’ to work. Without therapy during a global pandemic I sense that my ability to work would be severely compromised! I also feel selfish because whilst I’ve donated some money for PPE for NHS staff and will donate money to a food poverty charity tomorrow when I get paid, I could obviously be helping a lot more if I wasn’t spending so much money on therapy.

Every so often I think it would be easier to take a break from therapy, from K, for the whole 6 months or more that this shit show lasts for because it is too triggering to have contact with her and not be able to physically reach her. There is some sense in this, when so much of my overwhelm is due to not being able to reach her. I could forget about her, stabilise somehow, maybe. I don’t think it is the answer though. Too much is coming up, my family situation is too present, my dissociated parts too present, my old unhealthy coping mechanisms too activated, to suddenly plunge us all into a life without K or therapy. So I am left wondering what to do, whether I can afford another half an hour session per week to help contain this crisis, and whether even if I can it is what I should be spending money on…

There, brain dump over! Thanks for making it to the end of this post if you did, and hoping my dear readers are coping as well as possible during these turbulent times.

Hold on

“I know how to hold you all” have to be the most soothing words I’ve ever heard because not only does it mean we are all held, but also that it is safe to be held – K knows what she is doing, it is not an accident that she makes us feel better, it won’t just stop working between us and disappear. Just had (another!) crisis phone session – me sitting in my car in the pouring rain with a cup of tea and my duvet in case Nina woke up whilst we were talking. I meditated this morning and then fell into an absolute panic stricken state again, racing heart and total craziness. I text and said I couldn’t survive this and she offered a phone session but I said no initially because of money, but then got worse because tomorrow feels forever away, so I text back and said could we (let’s face it, none of us are going anywhere or spending much money for a while and this doesn’t seem the time to be worrying about debt (for me personally, I know for others there will be genuine and very frightening financial implications of this outbreak and I am donating money) and we spoke straight after.

It really helped, thank goodness. The panic had been triggered, among other things, by her partner emailing me yesterday to say he was trying to get home (he moved to Portugal with two of their dogs who we are very attached to two and a half years ago, so he’s kept in touch sending photos of them and telling us what they are doing) with the dogs as soon as he’s got their passports (the dogs’!) sorted but that lots of Spain is in lockdown so it’s difficult. It wasn’t a very clear email and was totally triggering (would I still be allowed in the house if he was there (he’s much older than K)? would he have to self-isolate? would he disturb our sessions? would the dogs be home and us not allowed to see them (this was the first fear that came out on the phone!!)?) and I did eventually email him back and say I was triggered and could he explain a bit more (wish people would slow down and be more mindful in their communication, now more than ever that is needed). He said the syntax was that I might be seeing the dogs soon, so it was meant to be a good email!

Just hearing K’s voice helped – she is so calm. I hadn’t wanted to reach out to her about Steve because I didn’t want to make it about me when it’s probably worrying for her, but she says she’s not worried and hadn’t asked him to come (I had visions of her pacing the floor in anguish about never seeing him again, as my mum would be), but he had felt it was right to try. He might not be able to get home as he has to take the ferry because of the dogs and has to wait till Tuesday when their passport requirements are signed off at the vets, and by then most of France and Spain may be in lockdown, but he wants to try. If he gets here then I will still be allowed in the house and to see the dogs, and Steve will go back to Portugal at the end of the summer.

We were honestly hysterical on the phone trying to explain that everything else feels manageable in terms of what is ahead in my own life apart from the fear of loss of attachment, and that this means every single mention of the virus is a huge trigger. I said (sobbed) how in that place I lose sight of everything else in my life, the focus is solely on attachment because it feels threatened, and I said Friday’s call hadn’t helped but Thursday’s had (I think I was in too adult a place having just finished work, so young parts fears didn’t come out properly until after the call so that is important to notice at this time especially). And we talked through that this is because young parts need to come out and connect in order for them to settle enough for adult me to look after us all – if young parts don’t feel connected or visible to K when they are distressed everything falls apart. And I think also they need to talk to her check she is the same to them, and hasn’t forgotten how to be with them, because her not being the same is a big worry and isn’t always resolved by her being the same to adult me. So she said we will support them top down (helping adult me so I can look after them and so they benefit from the support she gives adult me) and bottom up – so she holds them and soothes them and they have time with her being quiet and held. She says how brilliant I am at resourcing, but that I can’t do that when young parts are this distressed and she asked what young parts needed today. I said they need to hear her say about us (K and us) being special and joined together and why we are special and she said how she knows all of us now and that we’ve known each other so long and that she knows how to hold us now. Honestly it was the most soothing thing because she is so right, she really does know how to hold us – I cannot imagine what this outbreak would have done to my system 3 or 4 years ago when contact with K was a lifeline but felt like it was killing me. Back then when a crisis call ended I would be plunged right back into abandonment despair and would be unable to cope because it just wasn’t enough, now mostly I feel better after talking. It has taken so long to get to that point but I am grateful I reached it before this current situation!

I still feel utterly rubbish but less on edge and able to surive until tomorrow afternoon at least. This morning Nina and I are going to buy loads of craft stuff so we can make decoupage animals over the coming weeks (sounds as though schools here will close for SIXTEEN WEEKS, it’s gonna take more than decoupage animals to survive that) and to stock up on pet food. Later on it is my turn to do the 100 mile round trip for swimming training, which I could really do without today but I guess I need to just get on with it.

Sending love to all my readers and hope you are staying strong and well during these uncertain times.

Stay stay stay

I’m in the worst attachment crisis I’ve been in for over a year and a half. It is utter hell and because it’s in large part being driven by the disruption caused by the Coronavirus outbreak it seems impossible to settle it, because it is based on real things that are unfolding and I can’t reassure myself that K and I will be continuing to meet and she isn’t going away because that just isn’t true right now. We don’t know what is happening when or how long the measures will last. We worked by phone again yesterday evening – I’d had an overwhelming day at work as we are moving everything online and so there was loads of stress over how to do it and levels of anxiety among our international students in particular were palpable as they decide whether to fly home and risk not being able to get back here, or not being able to travel on to their home cities once they land. Every adult decision I had to make and thing I needed to do was triggering young parts further and further into attachment panic.

The call was fine but didn’t settle things, which I think K could tell, and then I self-harmed a lot after we spoke not because the call was triggering but because it wasn’t enough and didn’t land and then I was by myself again. I was really feeling as though I needed the crisis team or to go to hospital, so to be honest if cutting helps me manage things a bit then it’s okay – not ideal, but okay. My friend came over and I managed to distract a bit while she was here (didn’t tell her about the cutting because I think it sounds more dramatic than it is, for people who don’t get it) and I slept with diazepam which was a relief.

We text K first thing this morning and said we are basically in constant terror but also already in annihilation flashbacks so it’s like both our worst flashback states together (I can’t even explain but it is like the body memories of total annihilation and death due to loss of attachment whilst being in constant fear of being abandoned whilst feeling that bad) and she said she hears it and she is here. She said on the phone yesterday that she can’t see that anything will stop us meeting on Monday and that we will still work if after that we can’t meet face-to-face, but it’s not the lack of work that bothers me, but that not being able to physically get to her triggers all my attachment stuff and then I cannot seem to ground into my life and connect with all the things that aren’t K that make my life safe and okay. The attachment fear takes over and becomes the only thing that matters. On Thursday she had explained how my attachment system works and why it is only her that can soothe it, and that has helped a little with lessening the shame over not being able to just do other things that are important and helpful to me.

I made it to see one of my oldest and most special friends today – she moved to a city that is 80 miles away a couple of years ago so I drove up there for the day. It was lovely to see her and we had a nice walk in the woods and talked about lots of things and she was so understanding about what this f*cking virus has triggered in me attachment-wise and totally gets that it’s not that K is the only thing in my life, but that when it feels like my time with her is under threat it totally takes over everything. I would honestly rather die than lose her when things are this bad and it means every f*cking thing unfolding globally becomes a trigger for a potential loss of connection with her.

I picked Nina up on the way home and have reassured her that if we end up at home a lot over the holidays and with school closures afterwards we will build a routine and not just sit on our phones all day and that we’ll be fine, but I don’t feel capable of following this advice for myself. I’m scared if I do things to distract I’ll lose K, so I’m basically stuck in this awful place. I’m still not eating, though K has told me I need to and I said I would (‘because you won’t go away if we eat, that’s silly?’ said someone little on the phone yesterday, but I’m not sure they believe it). My mouth is constantly dry with a rancid taste regardless of how much water I drink because of all the toxins. I will probably cut again. I honestly seem unable to stabilise and am scared this crisis will last for months.

I am hoping it will become easier now I’ll be working at home until at least early May and can avoid all the fear and anxiety people at work have been experiencing and also once I’ve seen K face-to-face on Monday, but I am worried I’ll get into a total state again when I see her and especially being in the different room again and with the chairs so far apart. When will it stop being so hard? I really hate that my experiences as a baby have left me with this forever, that I actually feel this way in the present as a result of things that happened so long ago. I am so cross that I feel perfectly capable of handling what this virus is throwing at us and yet it is still triggering the hardest feelings imaginable in me because K is my attachment figure but not my family and however hard she tries, she may not be able to preserve our therapy in the face of what is ahead.

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!

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