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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