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Loss upon loss

***trigger warning: talk of suicide***

I heard this morning that Ana, Jess’ mum, passed away peacefully last week. She had bowel cancer which had metastasised into her liver and lungs last year. When I saw her in August I knew she didn’t have long to live, but she didn’t know at that point and was still making plans for after her recovery. She told me in November she’d been given less than a year and Jess’ sisters were in touch 9 weeks ago to say their mum had deteriorated rapidly and had days or weeks to live. I was able to send a message that they read to her while she was still lucid and she told them how special I was to her, and to Jess.

It is hard to believe that this link to Jess is gone. I struggled in the relationship due to resonances with my own mum (of course, this is what drew Jess and I together even though we didn’t know back then) but being able to visit and share that connection with Jess was so helpful and healing. I can’t believe I’ve lost that and that Jess’ sisters have lost their dad and sister to suicide and their mum to cancer and neither of them are yet 30. It’s such a heartbreaking situation.

I thought it hadn’t affected me today, hearing the news, since it was not sudden and I have had chance to prepare. I’ve also spent the day mostly in bed, so lethargic I could barely move. And then the waves of grief over Jess hit again and I realised why I’ve felt so heavy and flat and lifeless today, my body struggling under the weight of this unexpressed grief. It is like losing a little more of Jess. And there is no one to tell about this sudden grief I’ve experienced this evening. Suicide is strange like that.

I miss Jess so much. It has been a little over 6 years since she took her life and when the grief hits it still feels so raw like it has only just happened. I remember writing on my blog at the end of 2019 about her, about how there is still so much shock and how, because of the way she died, my psyche remains unable to complete the process of grieving , especially because of how dissociated I am. I don’t think the grief process will ever be complete – it just gets re-activated and then fades away, split off in my psyche like so much trauma is. It just makes no sense that we will never see her again because she was so alive. And having young parts makes it so complicated too, because they really can’t understand where she went or what forever means.

And as I’ve written before, losing Jess is all tied up with shame and disorganised attachment and other losses for me. So hard to hold and untangle and understand. So I am left wishing more than anything I was driving to K’s to see her at 4pm tomorrow, like we did for all those years. We have done so much work around Jess and suicide and Ana and the shame I experience over how I reacted and behaved in the days and weeks and months after she died, in the time before I knew I had dissociation and complex trauma and alters. K would help me hold all this, help me untangle the complicated knot of thoughts and feelings inside me, let me talk and cry and write and whatever was needed. I would leave feeling understood and held and supported. A little more contained. A little more sane.

Instead she is not here either. She is another loss to add to the collection. And I am left with no one who really understands all this complexity or who knows my story with it. And yes – I have myself now, but without a mirror it is hard to make sense of this. The waves will recede again, I know, but now grief over Jess will forever trigger grief over K and that feels desperately sad tonight.

I carried her with me

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

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

Drawing hearts in the byline,

Always taking up too much space and time.

Taylor Swift, Tolerate It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seven

I need you. We saw Ana today and I need you because it has left me wanting to cut and tear out of my skin to escape the shame and longing it has left me with. I don’t know why I feel this way and if I could talk to you we would unpick it together and make sense of it and you would pass this tangle of emotions and body sensations back to me in a neat ball that I could carry around with me.

I want to tell you Ana’s colorectal cancer is stage IV and in her liver and there are 20 lesions and they can’t operate so she’s having 6 months of chemo. I want to tell you she’s planning to build a tiny house in her garden and sell the big house and she’s talking like she has the 20 years ahead of her she should have, but the 5 year survival rate is so low and it scares me because Jess’ sisters have been through too much loss and they can’t lose their mum as well.

I want to tell you how hard I try to connect with her and how it’s like she’s in a glass box and I can’t reach her and it hurts because I want a connection with Jess through her. And it hurts because she cannot hear or see me and I know how hard it was for Jess not having a mum who saw or heard her. So hard that it means she is no longer here in fact. It hurts because after I’ve seen Ana I’m hit again by the deep connection Jess and I had that we didn’t really understand but that drew us together and would have kept us close for the rest of our lives, if only she had stayed. Both parented by people who should not have had children, one of us by a man who chose to leave his children behind when his pain got too great and the other by a woman who carries suicide in her DNA and threatened to leave a hundred times. Ana doesn’t hear people, she couldn’t hear her daughter even when she was screaming out in pain. She speaks but she cannot listen and it hurts because she wants to be there for me but she can’t be. It all feels such a muddle and I need you to help me hold it and make sense of it because the confusion and shame are eating away at me and I don’t understand it. I can’t make it make sense and it leaves me shattered and ripped up inside.

And I am still trying to atone, K, for what I did and how I reacted in the weeks after Jess died. I want someone to forgive me but I don’t know who. I want to explain what I know now and didn’t then, but to who? I am scared I’ll spend my whole life trying to atone and it makes missing Jess so complex. I told you last year I wanted the grief of losing her to be pure and you tried to explain that my attachment to her means it can’t be, because for me attachment and loss and shame go hand-in-hand, but I still didn’t understand what you meant and now you are not here to explain. I’m scared of what will happen in December without you, because the anniversary of losing Jess is stained by my badness and I don’t know how to make myself clean. You used to tell me what was inside of me wasn’t black but golden, but I can’t see anything shiny in me when you’re not here.

I need to tell you how much I miss Jess. I want to talk about her but without you there is no one who knows me with her, no one who knows what we were together and what she took away. There is no one I can talk to about her. She was the most beautiful, sparkling, jewel of a person I’ve ever known – it will be 6 years in December and still I’ve not made a friend who I have anything close to what I had with her. I don’t know if I ever will. I don’t want to, I just want her to come back. Ana has painted a rainbow on the garden wall for Jess but when she builds the new house it will disappear and it feels as though a little more of Jess will be wiped away too. Jess’ garden will be sold – the place you told me last week you can picture because I spoke of it so vividly – and all the sacred memories of Jess in there will belong to someone else. I can feel young parts howling and screaming inside. It’s been 5 years since we’ve felt this agony and not had a meeting with you in a  few days to soothe us and help us understand. We’ve not had to face this pain alone for 5 years because we found you and now we have to hold it alone. The grief still rips through, K, as big and untamed as it ever was, but now it shrieks of your absence too and I wasn’t expecting that.

It has only been a week – 7 short days – and already it is as though we’ve survived a lifetime without you. There have been dozens of things that we’ve all wanted to share with you and ask you – funny things, healing things, scary things, hopeful things, shameful things, sad things, frustrating things. Tonight is the worst though. We are broken up and confused and filled with an anguish we cannot name. You know everything K, we’ve worked on Jess’ suicide together since we first walked into your house all those years ago and you would understand exactly what is going on for us all now. I need you to help us all and I can’t have you. It makes this confusing mess so much harder when I know I have to carry it alone until it recedes and lies dormant again, waiting for the next time to remind me that I cannot atone however much I wish I could, because some mistakes can never be fixed or mended or absolved – not by time or regret or tears.

 

Speak now

It’s actually feeling pretty horrendous right now that in less than 48 hours I’ll be ending a call with K with no idea of when I’ll see or speak with her again. On the face of it I’m fine, but lurking below the surface is a lot of shock and disbelief that this is really happening. It all seems so sudden. It is hard to believe I’ve been trying to make online therapy work for 5 months. Even harder to believe that it could be 6 months or more until we can actually see K. So much could change in that time.

I keep thinking of what I can do to make sure I get what I need from Monday’s session and come away settled enough and with enough of K to sustain me for this time apart.

I can’t.

I can’t get what I need to sustain me for that time via a screen because if I could, I wouldn’t be in this position of having to take a break – remote therapy would be sustaining me.

I want the session to be what my whole system needs but it can’t be. I want our tears to be held and soothed but they won’t be. Most likely I’ll spend the session in a dissociated disconnected haze, unable to reach K, with young and teen parts creating internal mayhem but not being able to verbalise anything, and then the whole fucking horror show will hit afterwards and it will be too late. K will know absolutely nothing about how we are for months and months. Whatever happens afterwards will be mine alone to hold. It won’t get shared the following week. It won’t get shared ever.

I don’t want to do this. I keep thinking of a million things we haven’t told K. I keep thinking of how we will survive the winter and Christmas and our mum’s birthday and the anniversary of Jess killing herself without K. Will she even think of us on those awful dates that shape my year and have shaped our work for 5 years? I don’t want to have to get through those times without her, but even if we keep working like this it still feels as though we have to do it without her this year because we cannot reach her. We haven’t reached her since 16th March. This whole thing is so fucking heart-breaking and I wish time could stop so that Monday never comes and we don’t have to say goodbye. Or I wish that my life could be suspended so that time continues to pass without me being aware and then it would be the day before we are actually seeing K at last.

Everyone always says ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’, but when you have a dissociative disorder that is not true. When you have spent your whole life dissociated, absence only makes the heart forget. It is hard to believe we won’t be forgotten when we grew up invisible and when we are so good at erasing people from our mind. We can’t hold on to people we love so how we can understand that other people can hold on to us? Can they? Will K? What does it even mean to be held in mind? What does it mean that K holds us all in her heart? Will she be holding us there when we are not paying her to?

This past 5 months has been so fucking traumatic for young parts. For all of us. (And for the whole world, I know). I can imagine that if and when we finally get to be in the room with K again there will be a whole lot of howling and screaming to be done as we are finally able to really feel and express what it was like to so suddenly not be able to get to her, not be able to physically see her, after all those years of her being the safe haven in our week. It is almost our worst nightmare coming true, with no time to prepare and at a time when we needed her more than ever.

I miss her so much it is fucking agony really. An agony I know is there but I cannot connect to. The only way I am managing to get through this build up to the break is with the knowledge that whether we work remotely or not it still feels like we are on a break. And I know in some ways this way is better and there will be growth despite it being difficult, but I am sick of having to be strong and brave and look on the bright side and find my own stability. I only want K. I only want to be in my safe space. I only want to know we are in this together but we are not anymore. From Monday at 5.30 I am in this alone. Our relationship is paused which basically means it doesn’t exist in any tangible way anymore.

K said back in March, early on when we were discussing the fact that we both needed to prepare for not meeting for a while, that she was so committed to this work, to continuing it and making it work. We have both tried so hard and it has been painful and tense and our work has had an edge to it a lot of the time, a harshness it had not had for more than 18 months. I’m scared she won’t be committed when we go back or won’t want us to go back in 6 months because that commitment will have disappeared with this space.

On Monday we want so much – stories and drawing together and talking about the dogs and all the things we have done together and telling her our plans and how we will survive and how much she means to us – but I can feel it will all fall flat and it just fucking hurts that we have to take a break under these circumstances even though of course if we weren’t in this stupid situation we wouldn’t have needed a break at all. We want to tell her everything we’ve been waiting to tell her – tales of love and shame and grief and regret – but I don’t know if we will be able to speak at all and then it will be too late and all those unspoken words and stories will have to be kept inside until it is time to speak again. If that time ever even comes.

 

Invisible string

And isn’t it just so pretty to think, that all along there was some

invisible string, tying you to me?

Somewhere inside me is a deep knowing that this is not the end with K. There is so much fear and worry and anxiety over all the things that could conspire to keep us apart next year, but when my mind is quiet and I listen to my heart, I know we will meet again, work again, and that it will be the same between us. I know each of us will have grown and changed in our time apart, because being part of this beautiful universe means also being part of its endless waves of transformation, but I also know the essence of what we have together will remain unchanged. Each of us will be playing our part in preserving our connection during this time apart. Each of us is holding this time as a pause, a reprieve, not an ending. It didn’t feel this way last week, or at times in our session last night, and I know it won’t when it is time to say goodbye on Monday, but alongside all the noise and confusion and uncertainty within me, there is a sense of peace and a sense that we will not even be away from K, not really, no more than we have been.

I know in life we never know what is going to happen and that control is only ever an illusion (I think this year has shattered the last bastion of any delusion of control for all of us), but I also have a deep sense of trust that our work is not done and that the universe wouldn’t take her from me when we had only just reached a place of safety and stability and trust in our work with her. Today it feels very much like a pause, not an ending, and I feel in a good enough place that I will be able to spend the next 6 months honouring all the work we have done together and integrating it into my life. What K and I have is sacred. It cannot be broken. Bigger than that, though, is that our work will never truly be over – it is the foundation for all the rest of the healing and growth that will take place in my lifetime and so our work will continue forever now. And it is this that is stopping me rushing to fill the void she will leave – I want there to be a space in my life and to notice what it was filled with, and find ways of honouring our connection even though we are not meeting or speaking.

There were so many things K said last night that helped us all feel like this really is just a pause. She kept saying ‘in our work so far’ and about things that will be a big part of our work in the future. We were making cards to post to each other and then open together in our last session next week and when someone little worried if she would remember our favourite colour is purple she held up the purple glitter glue she had mixed up ahead of our session and said she definitely wouldn’t be forgetting that. So I know she believes it is just a pause and I try to hang on to her certainty even when my own wavers. And we both know I am doing the right thing even though it is not a choice I would ever have willingly and freely made at this point in my journey. It is still genuinely one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make and stand by in my life. Being forgotten is really all of my system’s biggest fear, and so I guess it will be a big lesson in trusting that we are memorable if we get to the other side and she remembers, but it is a long time to get through until then, not knowing if she will remember us all. She said last night ‘I am never going to forget you guys. No matter what happens’ and that sometimes you meet someone in your lifetime that it is just not possible to ever forget. ‘Even till you die?’ we asked and she said ‘That’s right. It has been such a big journey, such a big journey, it’s just not possible’.

I feel like a different person than I was when I first emailed K (5 years ago on Friday) and said I needed help to work through what I thought was complex-PTSD after memories of abuse and neglect had come back to me just a few months previously. I am a different person. I expect to a lot of people who have known me throughout this time I seem the same, and in many outwards ways I am the same, but the shifts within me have been and continue to be profound. It is incredible to think back over how far we have come together. And I really hope more than anything that ‘the time when we couldn’t meet because of the pandemic’ becomes just another chapter in our story that we will look back on together.

It does hurt. A lot. When I allow myself to go there it feels like such a huge loss. K has been a recurring appointment in my calendar since 26th August 2015. Not knowing when we will speak again after Monday is strange and unsettling and scary and I know the waves of grief will come again. We’ve also agreed that if I need to go back sooner I can, that if we email and say we want to start again it will be non-negotiable and we won’t have to justify it to her or try and convince her. If we reach the point where we email it will be because we’ve tried to sit with things for a significant period of time and have become too dysregulated and/or something big has happened with my mum or brother or something else and we have a sense that even working remotely would be better than nothing. Making this decision was so hard, I’m not going to put myself in the position of having to make it again by rushing back to remote therapy and then encountering the same issues. I hope I won’t need to go back sooner, but I’m not going to force myself to cope if it does feel unmanageable and I think working with K again would help. And I know she knows me well enough to know if I reach out to her it’s because it is the right thing to do, and not a knee jerk reaction to emotional discomfort and overwhelm.

I don’t think it will be easy. I think I will find it hard over the winter without her, when there is little sunshine and painful anniversaries, less space for me and always a lean towards overwhelm. I know some parts will miss her intensely, but in many ways this doesn’t feel much different for them than seeing her via a screen for nearly 5 months. And we have made it for a set period of time – I will email at the end of February with the intention to recommence work in March. We need to know we are going definitely going back, but we also need to be able to stop scrutinising the news to try and work out the subtext of what the latest developments might mean for in-person therapy. If we were to leave it that we wouldn’t see K again until she started in-person work then we would just be watching the news anxiously for the possibility of that and it would defeat the purpose of the break. Living like we have been is exhausting and we need some time off from it. She is going to contact us straightaway (like, the next minute after she has decided!) if she starts to work in-person again before that, and we also have to be prepared to return to remote work in March next year, if things are still as they are now. I don’t know how that would be, but things will be different by then – in the human world and in my internal world – so I don’t need to think about it yet.

After our session last night I felt much more at peace with the decision and a strong sense that our connection can endure this time apart. (That is what attachment is after all: a deep and enduring emotional bond that connects one person to another across time and space). After the session I made K a card with two hearts joined together with red thread and a card explaining that it is because of a Japanese legend we read about because of a new Taylor Swift song (I love her for releasing such an exquisite album during lockdown, proof that great beauty can be born from isolation and solitude). According to the legend, an invisible red string connects us to those whom we are destined to meet, no matter how far apart we live or how much our life circumstances differ. Destiny connects us to these people, and whilst the red string may stretch and tangle, it can never, ever break. This song and its story brought me great comfort during the recent short break from therapy and it is helping me stay strong in this decision and trust that K will be there waiting for me on the other side of this strange and uncertain time, because our journey together is not yet over.

This is why we can’t have nice things

This situation is heart-breaking. I keep getting hit with waves of grief and loss this evening. How can K and I both be in the same place as we were in March and have to stop our work because we can’t see each other? How can everything be the same and yet so completely different? I feel like I’ve been fighting against this place I’m now in for months. I know it is right but it feels so wrong, maybe because it is only right because everything in the world is so wrong. I never would have chosen this or needed this.

K has been such a huge source of support for 5 years now. I can count on my fingers the number of weeks we haven’t worked in that time. She has been there, solid and predictable and safe, the same week in week out until finally I could see and feel who she was and that she was different from all the people who’ve hurt me. I’ve spent so much time freaking out that I would lose her and now I am and I know it’s meant to be temporary but it doesn’t feel that way. It really doesn’t.

I know I’ll survive this but I can’t believe I have to. And I don’t know how to trust that she will be there when I can go back. Will she want to see me? Will she remember me, the parts, our story? Will she remember us, who we’ve been together? Will it be the same? Will she think of me? Will what we had slip away? Has it already gone? Maybe I can trust she will be there but not that we, her and I, will be the same. How can it be, when so much time will have passed?

I feel like this is my fault, like if I’d been able to hold onto her and feel she was still there none of this would be happening. She is still here, she has been here all along, but I couldn’t reach her when she wasn’t close by. It was me it all slipped away from. Yesterday she said she feels she knows me just as well, that nothing has changed for her, that without the pandemic we’d have kept working because everything was working so well. Everything has changed for me. Nearly every single part had written in our parts’ journal during the break how much they hate remote work. It was fucking devastating returning from a break to K’s flat image on a screen. We tried so hard to make it work like this with lists of things to talk about and work on and ideas and suggestions, but without her close by it didn’t feel safe to share anything vulnerable – positive or negative. She said our journal was painful for her to read, that it was clearer than ever following the break that this isn’t working for any of us – my whole system is hating it and getting nothing from it. We hate knowing that she has tried so hard to keep the connection, that she was so committed to continuing our work during this time, and yet because we are broken we couldn’t feel it and now it has to be taken away.

I know I will miss her and think of her everyday, for as long as this takes. Everywhere I look in my home there are things that remind me of her, of how I felt when I was with her. None of us even knew what safe was until we felt it with K and now there is safety around us so much of the time because so many things implicitly remind us of her. There was and is so much still to do though, so much more of her we wanted to soak in. It feels so unfair that we had finally reached a place of stability and relative calm in our work and now it has to go on hold, for who knows how long.

I can’t believe that in 13 days we will say goodbye not knowing when we will speak again. I can’t hold on to the feeling that we will meet again, when the whole world is falling into ruins. What if there is no going back? I’m so scared that the other side we need to reach doesn’t exist and never will. What if everything has changed even more by the time she returns to in-person work? What if she never does? What if there isn’t a time we can meet because all her end of day sessions are taken and I can’t fit it in around work? Part of me wants to keep going just so I don’t lose my time. But I know I can’t do that. More than any of this I’m scared of pushing us to a place we can’t come back from, with my rage and resentment and disappointment and disconnect.

I’m so scared I’ve already broken us and we’ll never get back what we had. I can’t even take this pause feeling safe and connected like I would if we were in the same room, it feels like it’s already something I made up and now I have to head into this unknown place without her support. It’s just too hard.

Change

The thing about change is that by the time you know it, it’s already happened. It’s behind you. You never know change is happening until suddenly you realise everything’s different. And when it’s the end of a cycle, there’s nothing you can do about it. Once the thread starts unravelling you don’t know where it’s going to end up.

Thank you so much to everyone who offered support and reached out last week. It really was the worst week I’ve had in a long time, worse even than the start of lockdown because I was at least signed off work then, and I really appreciated all the care and kindness I got from this community. It is so hard when so few people in ‘real life’ understand the agony that is attachment pain – I realised last week it is a form of self-harm to reach out to people who don’t get it, because it seems to be something that will help in the moment, when being alone is intolerable and even lying down in bed feels so unsafe, but just leads to feelings of shame and invalidation afterwards. And so whilst I wish none of us knew this pain, it is reassuring to know there are people out there who understand and don’t make it feel worse.

I think I’m through the worst of the attachment crisis now and hoping very much that it doesn’t get triggered again in my session tomorrow. I don’t feel okay, but I am stable and eating and sleeping and not seeing K doesn’t feel like life or death as it did last week.

My phone session on Wednesday was horrific. The attachment pain was the worst I’ve experienced in almost two years. It honestly felt like it was killing me, like there was something actively dying inside me. I told K all I could see was a baby wrapped in a blanket falling through an abyss. She wants us to get to know that place, that agony and terror, but I don’t want to, I just want to keep that pain and that baby as far away from me as possible. I could feel her working really hard to find ways to help, but we only had 30 minutes and it just wasn’t enough. She said she knows how painful my process is, and on Friday in the email said she knows it is so very hard for me right now, and it helped that she knows how bad this is, that I’m not making it up and being dramatic. Those feelings are so real, so all-consuming, so annihilating. I can’t believe after all these years they are still here, that they’ve lain dormant all this time, but are as intense as ever.

K says it is very important to remember that this is a long, long standing disruption to body and mind that happens because of the age I was when the original wounding happened and the duration of the disruption in attachment. I sobbed on the phone that I couldn’t believe that attachment, something that was supposed to make a baby feel safe and protected, could go so wrong and leave someone feeling like this for their whole life. And I know this pain is not about K, but it doesn’t make the process any easier, it doesn’t make the experience of not being able to physically get to her any easier to bear.

I couldn’t reach her on the phone, couldn’t take in she was there, it was just fucking agony and I could barely speak I was crying so much. When we ended the call I felt like I was being crucified, no exaggeration. It is the worst pain imaginable and it lives in me, always, waiting to be re-ignited when something reminds my brain of that original wound. I told K I really missed her and she said she really misses me too, but ‘missing’ doesn’t come close – her absence is obliterating and annihilating me. Not all the time, not when I am adult and grounded in my life, but I cannot predict when it will resurface over the coming months and it scares me that there could be so much instability after a year of things being so much more stable.

And the worst part was having Nina downstairs, having to hide my tears, when I just wanted – needed – to lie on the bed and howl. I needed to curl up and watch films with a blanket, but that is just not an option at the moment, and it is so hard knowing this is how therapy must be for now and for many more months. Even if I choose to lean into this work, can I, when I need to howl and Nina is here all the time and I have work to do?

K said in the email on Friday that she appreciates my wisdom in trying to see what might provide embodied relationship through this time. I have ideas for what could help me sustain a connection, but it feels like all of it just slips through me. I can’t hold on to her, can’t feel her, can’t switch off from the panic and pain of not being able to get to her, and so I’m still not sure I can do this work remotely. When I think about it, I feel very torn. All kinds of thoughts are running through my head and I am trying just to let them be there, reminding myself thoughts are not facts, and I have some time to work out what is best as I’ve committed to working till the end of June to see if I can take in therapy without being in the therapy space. I really do want to, but it doesn’t feel like something I can completely control – I can’t make my limbic system suddenly be able to take in someone’s presence remotely, however much I wish I could.

I realised yesterday – again, on a deeper level than before I think – how I really did grow up feeling as though I didn’t exist. I had no sense of myself because my mum didn’t reflect my experiences back to me. When K is in the room with me she is my mirror, helping me see myself and understand myself and my experiences. This is what I don’t think I can get via the screen. Instead of my experiences being reflected to me in a contained way, I feel like I am just dissolving into the air around me as I speak. Is there anything she can do about this? I don’t know. It’s not that I get nothing from our sessions, and her knowledge of my parenting, that I’ve not fucked Nina up, and her guidance during this time, on how I can be a parent through a fucking pandemic, is invaluable, but I am not getting the co-regulation and soothing I got in the room. Not even close.

How can I see myself if I can’t see her and she can’t see me?

And because I don’t feel seen, there are parts in me that are terrified of being forgotten by K, that we will stop existing for her, and that then we won’t exist anymore either. Or worse we will exist, but not really exist. We will survive, but never really be alive.

Over and over I am reminding myself to come back to me – my body, my experiences, my home, my life, but… sometimes it is not enough and I need a mirror.

This pandemic has just twisted everything beyond all recognition. The world is unrecognisable and it is clear there will be no going back. Even if the pandemic is over in another year or two, the world will not revert to how it was at the start of 2020. And whilst there might be positive change, and whilst I very much hope that is the case, I wasn’t ready or prepared for suddenly losing the shape that therapy had in my life.

It is nearly 3 months since it first became apparent to me that my life was about to be disrupted, but I never could have imagined it would end up like this. There is so much grief over all that we would have done this spring and summer together, that we might lose our Christmas film and card-making sessions in front of the open fire, that I won’t get in the car and drive to her house again this year, if ever. I am losing so much and I am also trying to prepare myself for the reality that she may not return to in-person work, or not in time for me to work with her again, and I may have to let her go one day soon. I am trying not to catastrophise, but I also have to be realistic – because of her son, she may choose not to work face-to-face for longer than the rest of the year. We just don’t know what is going to happen with the pandemic, but we do know we need to learn to live with this virus as it’s not going anywhere, and we need to adapt to this ‘new normal’ (ugh) and part of that may be adapting to remote therapy. And if she is right that her other clients are mostly fine with remote work and just see it as a disruption rather than a threat to their existence, then presumably she can just choose to continue working with those kinds of people, who don’t have attachment wounding from a very specific time in their infancy that has led them to be like me.

It is hard to stay strong in my conviction that we will meet and work together again when the pandemic is leading many other people to lose their therapists. The losses just keep ricocheting, and they remind me frequently that I can’t keep working with K if it doesn’t work for me, doesn’t help me, through this time, because it would be naïve to assume we will be able pick up where we left off in November or January or March . I am so resistant to this idea of a ‘new normal’ and  the changes that are ahead because all of them seem to take me further away from the time when my sessions with K were a predictable and recurring feature in my life. I wasn’t ready to lose them and by the time I knew I was losing them, they had already gone.

I almost do

 I bet, this time of night you’re still up
I bet, you’re tired from a long hard week
I bet, you’re sittin’ in your chair by the window
Looking out at the city and I bet
Sometimes you wonder ’bout me

And I just wanna tell you
It takes everything in me not to call you
And I wish I could run to you
And I hope you know that every time I don’t
I almost do

Last month my mum was found to have a pulmonary embolism and multiple clots on the lungs. They had quite a scare, my mum and sister and brother, but I only found out afterwards, when she was stable and on treatment, as my sister had been unsure whether to tell me. She said I needed to let her know what she should do next time, and what Nina would want to do, in case Mum were to die at such a time. I never wrote about it at the time because it was too huge and awful and brought up too much to process, and then a week later K made me sit further away and in a different room for therapy and all hell broke lose for several weeks.

I replied to my sister’s text to say that K and I had discussed this in therapy last summer and that I would want to say goodbye, but what didn’t really occur to me at the time was that it is unlikely to be a one-time thing, and there might be multiple times over the next year, five years, even 10-15 years (she’s 71 at the moment) when Mum is very unwell and we are told it would be a good idea to say our goodbyes. And it could also be that later on Mum is very unwell for an extended period of time and it will be very hard to manage what to do around contact and seeing her then. (I am not thinking about this at the moment, but it will be something to talk through with K in the abstract at some point I know, and then make a decision over if it were to arise).

The other thing I hadn’t really realised until this news was that estrangement is not a one-time decision, it is a choice that must be remade and recommitted to over and over again. Perhaps this isn’t the case for everyone, but I know my mum would want to see me and Nina if I were to ever want that, and so it is a choice I can still make, to see her or not see her. It is painful to keep making that choice and all I can do is keep in mind that being estranged from my mum will never be okay, it is just more okay than it would be to see her. I still worry I have made all this up and that she is really not abusive and mentally ill and damaging, but K said again yesterday that I’m not making this up, and we laughed that it would be hard to do therapy all this time if you were making things up. As I wrote in my previous post, my behaviour and emotional dysregulation are pretty good indicators of how bad it was.

In the days after hearing from my sister that Mum had been ill I went to a really dark place over my brother’s longer term well-being in particular. He is disabled and hugely traumatised (it’s hard to tell which of his ‘problems’ are caused by his disability and which result from the abuse he has endured for nearly 50 years) and still lives with Mum and even though he is quite a bit older than me (he will turn 50 next year) he is still likely to live a long time after her and it is very frightening to think of what will happen to him – physically and psychologically – without her here. It is something I have worried about since I was very young, when it first became apparent that I was expected to have him to live with me and basically take over everything our mum does for him when she is no longer able to do it. This is not something I feel able to do, in large part because of the difficulties my mum’s abuse and mental illness has left me with, but at the same time I feel horribly guilty and ashamed that I’m not willing to take care of him as much as he will need. And there is also a lot of anxiety over how we will provide what he needs in terms of living support when Mum isn’t here, financially and logistically. It’s all a horrible mess and hearing about Mum’s illness brought back how complex and painful it all is, and how I will never truly be free of it all. K was very supportive and one of the best things about her is that she is probably the first professional I’ve spoken to about my complex family situation who hasn’t just told me ‘your brother is not your responsibility’ as if that is 1) true, and 2) makes everything okay. She has sat with me in the huge feelings and never tried to tell me it is not as complex and difficult as it really is.

Not reaching out to Mum when she was ill was really hard. And then Covid-19 has, of course, brought up even more for me in terms of family estrangement and fears that my mum will die, not least because it will leave my brother in a terrible situation physically and emotionally at a really shit time when there is limited support. I felt such a strong pull towards my mum three weeks ago, when I was first off work and Nina was first off school, so I asked my sister if she thought it would upset Mum too much if I contacted her to say I was thinking of her and my brother and sending love. My sister said she thought Mum would really like to hear from me as she had been asking how Nina and I were, and she said if I didn’t want to open up contact again to say I ‘wasn’t ready’ to be in contact again, even if I think I never will be, because Mum doesn’t need to hear that I never will be ‘ready’ at the moment. So I wrote her a text that said I am not ready to be in contact yet, but wanted her to know Nina and I are thinking of her and my brother during these difficult times. I said I was pleased to hear from Katie [my sister] that my brother is off work and that we were self-isolating due to Nina’s asthma so she was off school (before they closed) and we were safe. I wrote that we were both sending much love to them both. I pressed send and held my breath.

Fifteen minutes later Mum replied with a message that was heartbreaking yet exactly what was needed, telling me they had been thinking of us too and that they were safe and being careful, and that they both love Nina and I very much. I wanted to message back SO MUCH but I knew I couldn’t because there could be no end to it, and she might then start messaging at other times with updates and so on, and it could lead to a place I am not able to be in. It would also hurt Mum too much for me to pull back and so I cried – a lot – but didn’t reply, leaving it as a one-time reaching out which definitely felt like the right thing to do during this time. The next day hearing from my sister that my brother is really struggling with isolation and not being at work and not having his routine also broke my heart. I wanted to reach out, to help him, to support him, to do something to try and ease this time. I considered making cards with Nina to send him, but again – where does it end and could it do more harm than good?

K and I spoke about Mum and my brother on the phone the day after I heard how much my brother was struggling and I cried and cried. It was really fucking difficult to be feeling such horrible and huge emotions around both of them and not to be physically with K either. I told her I’d text Mum too and she agreed it was a good thing to do in the circumstances and that I had done it in a way that maintained boundaries. We spoke about how this pain and struggle is a long-standing thing that is amplified by the current pandemic – generally, my brother’s life has been pretty shit and the coronavirus outbreak has just made it shitter. Even if I was in contact with him he would still be really struggling at this time and I would still be powerless to change that. Not reaching out to him is so difficult though. Not being able to help him, save him, has been something I’ve struggled with so much since I was really a little girl, witnessing the way our mum abuses him and how traumatically bonded he is to her. It’s come up in therapy over and over again. Letting it be there whilst humanity is going through this crisis is incredibly difficult. Slowly, over the years, I am coming to accept that it is just awful and confusing and a total mind fuck and that I can’t change that. I can’t make it okay. I can’t make my brother okay. I can’t make any of it okay. This has been one of the toughest parts of my healing journey for sure, having to accept my brother’s life is what it is.

As I mentioned in my last post, on Sunday I got hit by another huge wave of Mum pain. I missed her so much and was desperate to reach out to her. It is so hard and distressing not to be in her life, not to be supporting her or to hear how she is. I tried to let it be there – the longing to connect, the hurt, the emptiness and sadness that it has come to this. A part started writing in our parts’ journal how we made it all up and she wasn’t that bad and cutting her out was a total over-reaction. This is the way the crazy always starts. I reminded everyone that it is natural to seek connection with our birth parents, that we are hardwired to do this, and that the yearning will likely never go away (though it will evolve and how we relate to it will change, I know this now), but that this doesn’t change how impossible it is to have her in our life. Last night I talked to K about it, mostly from an adult place, though I could feel and hear young and teen parts struggling too, with memories of ‘happy’ times with Mum and doubts over what we have done, and fears that she will die soon, too soon. Something that came up at the start of March, when I heard Mum was ill, was that this is really going to be how it is – she will die, one day, and we will have been estranged. It will never be put right. It cannot be.

On the phone to K yesterday I said how hard it is – still – to believe it was so bad with her that it had to come to this. And I said how hard it is because there were good times, and she tried really hard, and if she was dead, if that was the reason I don’t see her, it would be easier to hold the fact that there were bad times (lots of them) but also good times, but because it is a ‘choice’ not to see her it is hard to open to the good times and accept they were good because it makes me doubt everything. And whilst I know these times were rare, that they stand out because they were not the norm, and that they were also still unhealthy and all about her and what was going on for her, they still make it so hard because they make me want to go back. K reminded me how difficult it had been and we talked about how I had needed to protect Nina. It also came up when we spoke about my excessive drinking and crazy relationships, that those things are there are as proof of how difficult things with Mum were and continued to be.

I sobbed how much I miss her and that I just can’t bear that she could die and that it would have ended like this. It will never be okay and nothing takes it away, it is just there and it doesn’t matter what I do, I can’t change that hole in me. I don’t want her to die not knowing certain things. I want her to know I feel only compassion for her now, that I don’t feel angry, that I understand, and I don’t even feel I need her to know how damaged I am because of her. I just want her to know that estrangement was never about her, it was only ever about me. K said I should write this down because it was very mature and wise and shows that I’ve reached a very different place from where I was when we were first working – a place of forgiveness and compassion. I feel very sad for Mum and I expressed worry that this present place I’m in is just me making her feelings bigger than my own again, like I always have done, but K said she thinks it’s different because her and I are both holding other perspectives on this and we know that other stuff hasn’t gone away, but at the same time I have truly reached a place where I am beginning to forgive my mum for her madness and what it did to me. It is incredibly hard to hold such compassion for someone and not to be able to reach out to them during a time of crisis, but I know if I did nothing would have changed and being in each other’s lives would be untenable again very quickly. So I sit with all these confusing, conflicting thoughts and feelings whilst at the same time knowing that there are huge and painful experiences to go through in my relationship with her in the future, despite the distance between us that I must maintain for my own sanity. There is more difficult and conflicting stuff to come and it is this that I don’t think I had realised until I heard she was ill last month. I thought I had made the decision to become estranged and that’s how it would be, but she is still my Mum and her life, and death, will always impact me in different ways.

 

Making sense of what was lost

Five years ago today was the day I identified Jess’ body in the morgue. It was the worst day of my life without a doubt, though there are many others around that time that compete for the same award, but I’m not going there now. Instead I am going to balance today with some light and write a little more about our friendship, but also about the things I am beginning to piece together in therapy about why our friendship was so special to me and why it caused me to lose my mind quite so spectacularly when she died. I’ve questioned for so long whether my attachment disorder meant I over-reacted to a loss that shouldn’t even have impacted me, especially as quite often after it happened and in the years since I’ve been so dissociated at times that it hasn’t meant a thing to me, and then the self-criticism has really set in. Jess’ Mum has said to me she knows the two of us had a very special connection, and I’ve felt it sometimes I really have, but at the same time it’s so hard to hold onto something after a lifetime of doubting my feelings and intuition.

I think K saying ‘we will ritual around this every year’ a week or so ago really helped, gave me permission to *still* be finding her suicide so hard. And a very helpful and wise comment on my blog last week helped a huge amount too, about how with a suicide the shock prevents the grieving process from being completed, so in many ways it may never feel real for me and young parts. Another thing that helped in a weird way was a text from a friend, Cath, who knew Jess but wasn’t close to her like me, about something random on the day of the anniversary last week – when I replied with a lovely photo of her and Jess on a night out and said ‘thinking of all those who loved Jess today’ she replied saying she had forgotten it was the anniversary. She ran a half marathon in Jess’ memory the year after she died, and I’ve often felt triggered by her talking of Jess as if she knew her really well when they only met a few times, so I have to be honest I found this exchange quite validating; that date is etched on my memory forever now, there is no way it could ever pass without me noticing it, and even when I don’t consciously think about it my body always tells a different story, reminding me it is there.

I told K it felt validating in some ways that Cath had forgotten because it confirmed my connection to Jess was real and that my irritation in the weeks after Jess died when she tried to compare our grief was kind of justified. K said how my experience of friendship with Jess was hugely different from Cath’s because it was such an important attachment and profound friendship for me that really stood out compared to other friendships that I’ve had. “It has really different qualities, the meeting of two beings, where you truly met each other and you saw the best sides of each other, but at the same time you weren’t afraid to share the edges, and although she subsequently didn’t share the final shadow and difficult part of her mind, she did share some of it with you, didn’t she?”

As my posts from last week revealed, I was in such a shame-filled place around the anniversary of Jess’ suicide. In my Thursday session I said to K how I wished this time could just be about being sad for Jess, instead of it all getting tangled with shame and leaving me in this horrible place where I feel like I am the worst person in the world. K says for her it makes sense that my big attachment feelings and shame over who I am are triggered by this grief and I end up in a place where I cannot see anything good about myself; they are linked and we can’t separate them, not yet at least. And she explained the ways this loss is linked to my attachment difficulties in a way that enabled her words to land in a different place in me than they have before. She spoke about how important attachment is for me because of my traumatic attachment, and how my relationship with Jess has proved to be one of the most important relationships in my life because I truly felt met and seen and heard and able to give back in a way that is very rare for me. It’s true – we shared so much of what we loved and it was a light and fun friendship where I felt able to be truly myself. And then this very profound attachment ended because, as Miffy says, ‘she died on purpose’ and on a very young, unconscious level it triggers me into feeling bad and feeling shame because she chose to go away.

So you have this amazing meeting place. Jess comes into your life and she is like a shining star. She brings out the best in you and you bring out the best in her. And you finally realise what it’s like to really, truly love someone and want to spend time with them. And then you lose her. And so of course your grief is compounded by attachment issues because for you it can’t not be, because for you attachment in many ways is a bigger deal than a death. So she dies, you’re triggered into attachment loss, you feel like you’re dying and that it is all your fault.

I am working on the post about my process and disintegration in the days and weeks after Jess died which I hope will help me heal some of the shame I feel about what it did to me. I will post it when it is done and I’ve shared it with K. I read what I had written so far to her on Thursday, after she had told me about women in my home city in the day facility for EUPD who repeatedly break their own bones and throw themselves down stairs and bang their heads against walls and drink far too much and get hospitalised to express in some way that they are full up with very, very toxic and complex emotions. She talked about me having the same process as those women and it really, truly helped to hear that, not because I am better than them because I am more functional, but because she sees how huge my feelings are, and because she reminded me that those women and me all feel like this and are totally emotionally dysregulated because of childhood abuse and neglect. And we spoke about how in some ways it would be easier to be like that because it is such hard work holding it all together. I know I am grateful for my work and daughter and ability to contain myself, but it is exhausting. Knowing K sees that huge level of pain in me even when I don’t externalise it through self-harm or crazy ranting emails or desperate texts, and knowing she must truly know what hard work it is to contain all those feelings and all that process, was so healing.

She said how we would never think those women are bad, so it is funny that I think I am bad, especially because something really, truly bad happened when Jess killed herself and so it is no wonder that it spilled out a little and made some mess. I told her about the annihilation hole that opened up whenever I was alone after Jess died, every time I tried to sleep even when someone was next to me, and how I must have been repeatedly re-experiencing being left alone to die as a baby and young child. And I remember saying over and over again how I was losing my mind and “this isn’t me” because I was so dissociated and had no idea what was happening or what my feelings were. I didn’t have any idea I had complex trauma and alters back then, I had very few memories of my childhood at all and no real sense of the abuse I had experienced. So now I would know why I was feeling what I was feeling and might be able to explain to people I had complex trauma and what I needed (no alcohol or weed would have been a good start) and things would be different. I know they would be different now but the shame I feel is still so intense even though I know I cannot help that I didn’t understand back then.

I’m not sure I’ll ever truly forgive myself or be able to let go of the fears over what people must think of me for how my emotions spilled all over the place in the first two months after Jess died. I was an absolute wreck. My biggest memory from the time is being utterly baffled by how everyone else was able to carry on as normal at least some of the time – even Jess’ Mum and sisters were eating and sleeping and going for walks – rather than being totally immersed and consumed by the pain. I can see how it must have looked like I thought my pain was bigger than other people’s but I didn’t – I thought everyone must be feeling how I was and I couldn’t understand how they were able to contain it and function and not just totally lose their minds too. On the day of the funeral everyone was leaving the wake to go and get ready for Christmas in two days’ time and I was so confused that they could carry on with normal life when this had happened. I understand so much of this now, but it still fills me with shame that I will never get to explain to other people why I was how I was. K said it doesn’t matter because we know. And I can see this is the end goal – self-forgiveness and letting go of the shame because I did not react how I did because I am bad, only because I was in so much pain. And I also know that after 5 years this loss is finally starting to fit with all I know about myself around attachment trauma now, and maybe in understanding I can start to forgive myself a little too, but it is a long and hard road facing all of it instead of burying it for another year.

Shame and survival

I survived yesterday. Hopefully things will start to even out now, although of course Christmas is approaching fast so maybe that is wishful thinking. It’s been very hard with young parts because I could feel them getting excited for ‘Jess Day’ when she might come back, when of course that’s not what the anniversary is at all. It was also my mum’s birthday yesterday. I didn’t think of her much, but it is all there somewhere. Yesterday was a rubbish day. I was so triggered I barely slept on Monday night so yesterday I was incredibly tired and carrying huge levels of dread and anxiety due to all the big feelings squashed up inside me that I don’t have space to feel and probably couldn’t access even if I wanted to. I had to come in for meetings in the morning but worked at home in the afternoon, though I didn’t achieve much. I struggled through parents’ evening at Nina’s school and spent some time trying to understand the new GCSE grading system as her target GCSE grades do not sound to me like they are anywhere near her capabilities, and then headed to bed as soon as Nina did at 9.30.

I am often aware of an internal pressure around difficult times to do things in a particular way – to write, ritual, find the lessons from the loss, do something special and sacred to mark the process and progress, and I know I feel like I failed somehow yesterday for not doing this. I am catching those thoughts though, and reminding myself that surviving is all that matters. I did cope better than last year – there were some tears, but it didn’t totally take me over this year. And K and I are meeting for an extra session after work tomorrow and doing some kind of ritual for Jess then so there will be some way of marking it and maybe closing down this difficult time for now. I identified her body on 17th and then the funeral was the 23rd, so there are a lot of reminders still to come, but after Friday life will be a little more spacious and I hope that will help me take better care of myself and begin to uncover and let go some of the shame that gets tangled up with the grief at this time of year. I text K yesterday morning and said something along the lines of how I wished I could just feel pure grief over Jess instead of it being so enmeshed with my childhood and trauma and this deadening shame which seems to eat me from the inside whenever I experience big feelings. And I find shame so hard in itself, but it also triggers complete and utter panic and dread in me because young parts are terrified of how bad they are. It’s a vicious cycle that it’s hard to step outside of.

K said on Monday that it seems that whenever I feel very bad, i.e. lots of negative emotions, it sends me into a very dark place where I am convinced I am bad. And I split and lose sight of everything good about me, so that all that exists about me is bad and evil and abusive. I’ve really descended into a place of horrific shame and complete panic over how bad I am the last few days. This has manifested as being convinced I am just like my Mum and have utterly destroyed Nina’s self-esteem. On Sunday evening I was in such a bad place that I had thoughts of killing both of us again, which I’ve not had for years. I can see that I do embody my mum in some ways some of the time, that I will have impacted Nina of course through my own unresolved trauma, but I can’t hold onto all the good I’ve done at the same time, all the ways I am different from my parents, all the ways I’ve healed myself and in turn healed her. My need for space is so powerful and it is so hard as she descends into teenage years and doesn’t go to bed until 9.30/10. K says it is so important that I express it as ‘needing quiet time upstairs to do X’ rather than needing time away from her. I try to do this, but there are inevitably times when I explode, when I am over-stimulated and completely at capacity with my own feelings, when I have no space for her inside my head, when I yell and say things I wish I hadn’t.

Monday’s session was consumed by my shame and fear over how bad I am, as a mother and person. I wanted to know when we would know if Nina was okay and K said we already do know. She tried to remind me of all the good I do, all the ways I’m not mum, but I’m too scared to voice most of the ways in which I feel I am the same so how could she really know? She said I’m not a narcissist, that I’m real and genuine and have an open heart, that I’ve done something my mum would never have done in going to therapy and looking at myself and changing what I could, bringing awareness and understanding myself. I said that 95% of the time I think I’m the mum I want to be,  but that 5% feels as though it totally eclipses all the good work I do, that it would be less confusing for Nina if I was just awful all the time. She disagreed. One of the struggles of course is that Nina and I have so much time together at home (this is also the lovely part of being just the two of us – we are very close) and there is so much time for her to observe me and how I am and what I do. I try incredibly hard, and always have, not to overshare my feelings and concerns. I think I’ve done a good job of that. I’ve definitely not parentified her and I’ve respected her growing autonomy and need for privacy. I’ve told her how much I value her as a person and not lived through her and her achievements. I’ve started a list of all the ways I am not my mum, but when I go to that dark place it’s like none of that stuff exists.

I spoke on Monday about how much Nina triggers me because she is just like my mum, not because Nina is abusive but because my mum is a child still – what Nina does is normal teenager stuff, but it triggers me because it is all so familiar from when I was growing up and it hits those old and unhealed wounds. K said the past few days I’ve been re-experiencing my childhood, that’s why it all feels so bad. And she said to assume that for a teenager their parent doesn’t exist beyond just being their mum, that Nina will have no empathy or ability to see me as a person or awareness that how she is being may hurt me. She said really I, as a person, am invisible, just there to fulfill Nina’s own needs, and that we just need to assume I will get nothing back from her for a while now on an emotional level (so it’s an added bonus if I do). And I sobbed ‘just like my mum’. And that is so true, it’s why it hurts, because I was ‘mothered’ by a person who couldn’t see me, who I didn’t exist for, who had no awareness of me as a person with my own needs and feelings. It is no wonder Nina’s behaviour hurts me. I am very apprehensive about the years ahead and what they will do to me. I don’t want to have child parts having to live with someone who hurts them without meaning to. I think it is very important to understand what is happening though, and to keep taking care of myself and making myself visible to myself, so that Nina has less of an impact on me.

I am really so glad that, all being well (or as okay as possible at least), K and I will be working in the years to come, as Nina enters teenage days. I do not want to be engulfed by shame. I don’t want to be triggered by her. And I certainly don’t want to behave how my mum did when I was a teenager and I would hate for Nina to ever experience feelings like I did then and continue to now. I am so frustrated that the anniversary of Jess’ suicide has left me dealing with such big stuff and feeling so much shame, but I can kind of understand it. I want to be able to believe K that Nina is okay, that K would know if she wasn’t, that I’m not like my mum (all the time at least), that I might behave like her at times under pressure, but I don’t see Nina as an extension of myself, but I feel so bad inside that I struggle to take in her words. K said she would have contacted social services about my mum had she known what was happening and I know she’s never had concerns about my parenting so I should be able to believe her, but it is so hard because everyone thought my mum was wonderful and I struggle to work out what even it was she did that was so bad some days.

I am working on writing out what happened after Jess died and trying to understand why I experienced such a huge storm of emotions that made me do things I’m not proud of, and I’m hoping if I’m brave enough to share it with K once it’s finished it will start the process of separating my big feelings of grief over Jess from this pervasive sense that I am a bad person for feeling that way, because I can see that it must be this that has triggered all this shame and terror over my parenting. I can sense huge feelings inside over Jess, but over the top of them are layer-upon-layer of shame and panic and despair and dread and so I can’t reach them or let them just be there, pure grief for someone who brought so much light and magic to my life.