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.

Call it what you want

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Safe and sound

I really don’t want therapy today. Not in the usual way of dreading it because difficult things about the therapy relationship need to be dealt with, but just because I don’t need it. Everything is fine. There is nothing I need or want to talk about. It makes me wonder if I’ve reached the point where I only need therapy to deal with crises that come up.  I’m sure we’ll fill my session somehow, but I just feel a real resistance to talking to K and don’t want to let young parts talk to her either. It doesn’t feel as though this is a defensive position, it feels like it is coming from a place where things really are okay and we just want time and space by ourselves later to just be – writing, creating, being outdoors, cycling – and not to be delving in to things that can just be left alone. If we were working in-person it would be a nice session if I was feeling like this, and healing in its own way to be able to share the good in my life and the content feelings, but through a screen it just feels kind of pointless.

It is making me wonder – again – if there are now better things I could be spending my money on. It makes me wonder about cutting down my sessions. I want to take Nina to Paris next Spring, if there aren’t too many restrictions by then, and just think of the amazing time we could have if it weren’t on such a tight budget… I want to do some things to the house, nothing huge, just re-painting some rooms, but if I could pay someone to do this instead of struggling to do it myself, and with some help from my dad, it would be so much easier… I’m just sitting with these thoughts at the moment, knowing that I don’t always feel this way and that there are tough times ahead with Nina that it will be hard to manage with K.

I don’t know how therapy would have worked out this year had it not been for the pandemic. It felt important. I think I expected it to be taking in what she gave me, internalising safety and the feelings of attunement, now the good stuff was less triggering. The work was in us being together and figuring out how I want my life to be now I know and understand myself so well. As it turns out it feels as though most of the growth and change that has taken place within me and in how I relate to the outside world has happened away from her. So many of the positive decisions and change I have made I’ve not talked through with her. And the past 4 months have involved establishing safety away from her, in my own home, and constantly reminding myself that I exist here, in my life, body, home, space, and not only when I am with her. Lessons I had learnt but then forgot, when the pandemic started.

I can feel that as her availability has tightened up I’ve taken a step back. Again it doesn’t feel as though this is from a defensive place though. It feels more as though it is from a place where I have been able to remind myself – often – that I don’t need her in the way I once did. And I don’t want to need her. I don’t want that anymore. I needed to need her, to heal and stabilise and attach and all those things I needed from therapy, but I don’t now. It is hard, but I am learning to be there for myself more, and learning that I have so much awareness and knowledge and understanding of what I need now. It is a strange place to be in, because I don’t think I don’t need her or therapy at all. I guess part of me wishes there was a little more freedom to choose when I need her.

Anyway, I have annual leave for two weeks from Friday and have decided to take that away from therapy as well this time. It will be nice to see how that is. The sunshine always lifts me so dramatically and for the past few days I’ve felt firmly rooted and grounded into my own life. I love my home. I have great books to read and so much I want to learn and do and embody. On Saturday I cycled to the most incredible and magical Iron Age hill fort (somewhere K took me a year and a half ago in fact, and since has become a special place for me) and yesterday saw one of my oldest and closest friends who I wasn’t expecting to see for at least another year as her husband has CF and has been shielding. I am really looking forward to having some time off work and doing some fun day trips with Nina next week. And I am kind of relieved I won’t have to contend with these ambivalent feelings about therapy for a few weeks also.

I’m also aware that my session in just over 2 hours could drastically change all my thoughts and feelings. I guess this is one of the reasons why I feel so resistant to it, in case it disturbs everything when all of me is feeling okay today. I find it really hard to show K when I’m happy, content, settled, etc. because it triggers a lot of shame, more almost than when I’m really dysregulated and in a total state. I’m sure there is work to be done there, but it almost inevitably takes me to place where I look at how shit my parents were for me to have that level of shame over who I am and the good things I experience.

Out of the woods

Therapy is working again! Something shifted last week after my session and on Tuesday I felt like I’d actually had therapy the previous day, for the first time in three months really. It was as though it had landed somewhere inside me, instead of falling right through me and leaving no trace. I didn’t feel great afterwards. Things had been stirred up, there was some teen anger over some things K said, we felt a bit lost and tearful after the session and the next day, but it was all things that I knew what to do with – writing, self-care, cuddly toys, letting things metabolise and not forcing them – and the main thing was that it reached me, touched me, left an impression on me. As I think I wrote before, I don’t mind feeling sad or difficult feelings after therapy, as long as it feels like I’ve had therapy and can allow the feelings to be there and practice doing the right things when I feel that way.

We did our half hour short session on Wednesday – I sat in the country park near my house and we spoke about some of the things that came up on Monday and then about some of the struggles I’m having parenting a teenage girl at the moment – I mean, it would be tough anyway, but our proximity has increased exponentially at the same time as my window of tolerance seems to have shrunk dramatically, and so it is really bloody tough right now. Talking to her I could really feel how well she knows me, all my stuff, all that gets triggered by Nina’s (normal) behaviour, and that she is going to be here to help me over the coming years – she says these are the hardest days of parenting (she’s not wrong!) and going through them is what led her to train so she could help other parents in that situation. That session was the closest I’ve felt to K since right near the beginning of lockdown – at the end my heart was so full of gratitude and some other feeling I cannot name – a warm glow filling my chest. It was amazing to have reached that place again and to be able to hold onto her too. She said it was lovely to talk to me, and I could tell she really meant it, felt it, that we had found each other again and that I was going to be able to do this work.

I don’t know what led to this shift – having some space around my session without Nina here, doing things differently at the start of the session (we did drawing together instead of a mindful breathing check-in so me and young parts could ground into the connection between us rather than get lost inside ourselves), knowing and accepting it’s not going to be anytime soon that we see her so we are relaxing into what we’ve got for now instead of always pushing to find out when we’ll be meeting, allowing in what she is able to give me instead of being scared if I let it in she will want to work like this forever, discussing why I’ve been far too ashamed to share anything good in my session since we haven’t been meeting – and it doesn’t really matter. The main thing is it feels manageable to work like this.

Sadly, about 3 hours after we spoke last Wednesday I got triggered into horrific emotional flashbacks after the new-ish (9 months in) Head of Department who is a total narcissist (I think I’ve written about him before) humiliated and threatened me in a Teams meeting in front of the whole department for no reason at all. It was really horrible and of course triggered all my childhood stuff. I barely slept that night and on Friday night had panic attacks all night about him and the threat he poses to my career progression and job security. I’m fucking terrified of him, as are a number of other colleagues even without a childhood of narcissistic abuse, and his behaviour is creating a real climate of fear and intimidation where we are all scared to speak in meetings and don’t know who we can trust. It’s disrupted everything. I’ve been to a Speak Out Guardian at work for the second time about him now, but I really don’t think he’s going anywhere at the moment. And of course he’s a true narcissist, so his inner circle are intoxicated by his attention and cannot see his abusive behaviour at all. It really feels a very unsafe place to work, but I am pretty trapped there as moving jobs would require a move to another city and nowhere is hiring for the next year at least in the sector I’m in.

So the weekend was difficult. After Friday and the night of panic attacks I was tired (obviously) on Saturday morning. I had arranged a beach walk with a friend which I was really looking forward to. It was lovely to see her and have a rainy walk, but I kind of collapsed when I get home and was sad to be missing solstice because of the impact the dickhead manager had on me. But I could feel my session with K was there, waiting for me, which just has not been the case for the past few months, and I knew she would help me hold it all and work out if I can manage to stay working there without being in flashbacks for days after every interaction with him.

My session today has also reached me and I just had a beautiful bike ride and feel like I can do this, however long ‘this’ has to go on for. We did drawing again at the start and this really helps little people to settle. It was really helpful to have her support about the work situation, her reminders that I don’t deserve this, and need to not let him push me out of where I work because my career is important. She was pretty angry on my behalf too, and that was so comforting because I know my mum would have told me to watch my step and would have asked if I was sure I wasn’t causing the problem. And K helped me around Nina again as well, because she really gets how hard it is having her here all the time and that lately it is like I’ve lost all the positives of lockdown and got all the worst parts of ‘normal life’ back, with very few of the good bits. I can tell she is more relaxed in our sessions as well now, which I guess is because my sessions are easier to hold again and we are reaching each other. So if this continues I won’t need to take a break, though I have bravely told her my annual leave dates so will have two weeks off therapy at the end of July. and I think I will drop the Wednesday session soon as it is right in the middle of my work day and not very spacious.

I still can’t say I love therapy this way. Far from it. I am still desperate to see her and be back in the therapy space. I’m still not getting the mirroring and holding in the same way. But it is enough to sustain me, and all the parts of me, for now, and seeing her face on the screen and not being physically with her is not breaking my heart the way it was before. And that is a wonderful thing. Life is quite tough at the moment of course (though also beautiful in many ways, and I am grateful to be living where I live, where I can cycle and see the sea and we are relatively untouched by the horrors unfolding across the globe, and I am driving 90 minutes to see my best friend on Saturday – I cannot wait to see her!) and the thought of losing K’s support at this time has really been causing a lot of distress. Now it doesn’t seem as though I will have to, which is a huge relief. Cases are dropping fast in the UK now and those who are shielding can stop doing this from August (provided things keep moving in the right direction) so I am hopeful we will be able to work in-person sooner than January. K is very hopeful that we will get our Christmas film session, and even though that is a while away it feels survivable if remote therapy continues like this. I do hope we can do some in-person therapy before the winter in case there is a second wave, but I am relinquishing control over that and right now just feel grateful I am able to take in therapy enough this way to make it possible to continue and to get K’s support with the things I need support with, and that I have space after my session to let it sink in and stay with me.

Sad Beautiful Tragic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me

Over the weekend I was reflecting in my journal how long it has taken to have a true sense of who I am. I remember writing something around 5 years ago, when I was very actively trying to heal myself but wasn’t yet in therapy, about who I am as a person, but looking back I can see it was all about how I come across externally and how I fitted into the outside world. It was positive, it was about me being a good person, but reading it now it is clear that it wasn’t written from inside me. It wasn’t about what made me happy, what is and isn’t right for me, what brings me joy and peace and how I want to spend my time. I don’t think I had a sense of who I was at all back then. A huge amount of my time was spent doing things to escape the insatiable pit of need inside me. And I had no idea what I wanted or enjoyed because I was so busy twisting myself into all kinds of shapes to fit what other people wanted and expected of me. I was reading about the enneagram over the weekend, which is a fascinating addition in my journey of self-discovery, and I realised how much I like being at home and having cosy, quiet times with a blanket. I used to want to make the most of every minute I wasn’t being a mum – seeing friends, going out, getting things done. Turns out what I really needed was time to just be, at home, by myself. In a life that is often a whirlwind of things needing doing and places to go, over the past six months I’ve realised how precious time by myself at home is, and how much I love so many of the things that are already part of my life.

I love comfort – blankets, cuddlies, snuggling up, zoning out. I love nature and sunshine and being outside in wild places. I love deep, intense conversations and one-to-one time with special people. I love reading for fun and escapism. I love being on my bike. I love laughing at simple things and finding people to share my dark sense of humour with (not thinking of anyone in particular here #amber). I love my research and writing and imparting my knowledge and new ways of seeing the world to others. I love the bunnies and just being in the garden watching them. I love days when there is nothing to do and the possibilities are endless. I love when I make a new friend I really connect with and when they tell me they feel the same about me.

I hate making decisions. I hate conflict. I hate scary films and people arguing around me. I hate being in big groups of people I don’t know that well when my role is not clear and I don’t know what’s expected of me. I hate cramming too much into a day. I hate supermarkets and having to go into town. Right now in my life I hate cooking and preparing food because sometimes it feels like all I ever do.

I love making my home a clean, tidy, spacious place to be. I love calm and quiet time at home alone. I love cancelled plans and unexpectedly having time to myself. I love candles and incense and crystals and the moon. I love reggae and techno and house music and banging bass lines. I love dancing as the sun comes up. I love meeting new people, making new connections, and having conversations just for the sake of talking. I love it when all I can hear is silence. I love healthy comfort foods – dahl and soups and homemade bread. I love Cornwall and coastal paths and walking by the sea. I love tree tunnel lanes and paths by the river, stepping stones and picnics under trees. I love magic and fairy tales and glitter and the colour purple. I love flowers and trees, hearing running water and listening to the sea. I love playing cards in the pub with a bag of crisps. I love having meals cooked for me and trips to the cinema. I love finding common ground, people who are vegan for the animals and when someone tells me they are also a feminist.

I hate multi-tasking and too many competing demands on my time. I hate when the house is messy. I hate it when my views are undermined and people misunderstand me. I hate unexpected invitations and changing plans and clutter around me and feeling suffocated by too much stuff. I hate asking for help, admitting I’m struggling, feeling overlooked and left out, being minimised, people normalising my trauma. I hate washing up, traffic jams, wasting time, things taking longer than I expected. I hate seeing people unexpectedly when I’m out, uninvited visitors, loud noises and interruptions.

I love coming home to an empty house, having Friday nights to myself so I can hide from the world after a busy week. I love making my home clean and tidy on a Saturday morning. I love snuggling with a blanket to watch a familiar film, comfy clothes, putting my pyjamas on, early nights. I love skating, climbing, running, swimming in the sea. I love buying a whole pile of books in a second hand bookshop. I love fairy lights, twinkly things, sparklers and glitter. I love camping and starlit skies, watching the moon rise and paddling in the sea as the sun goes down. I love learning new things about ancient belief systems and how they apply to my life. I love having straightened hair and shaved legs and wearing dresses in summer. I love frosty mornings and seeing the pink streaks of sky as the sun rises when I am cycling to work. I love rollercoasters, people who make me laugh uncontrollably, and being able to share my growth and process and discover new things about myself through talking to those I am close to. I love rainbows and stormy seas and the smell of the woods when the sun comes out after it has rained.

I read this list to K earlier and she said it was really beautiful and that it is astonishing that I have so much that I love, and that it is perfect that so much of what I love contradicts. And she pointed out how when I’m in a very, very bad place I can’t see these things or feel them at all, but they are always there, and that there is so much I appreciate and that I truly, truly do love being part of this world. And she is right – I do, when I can hold onto all these beautiful, simple things that make me happy and feel alive then being me is really a wonderful thing. Everything I love is so uncomplicated, so attainable – it is all right there already. And seeing what I hate and knowing why and owning it instead of pretending I’m okay with it has been one of the hugest parts of all the healing I’ve done in the past few months. I honestly feel so amazed to look back on all the growth and healing of the past few years and how it is starting to give me a true sense of who I really am inside and what I want more of in my life. After years and years of having no sense of who I was beyond what I was moulded into and the societal norms I tried to fulfill, coming to life in this way feels so special and freeing.

A place in this world

So another year draws to a close. I’ve grown past the need to make grand declarations about all the things I will do in the new year to make myself a better person, but I do think it is a good time to reflect on what has been and the lessons learnt, and to draw a line under that which no longer serves us and can be left behind as midnight passes. K and I were laughing yesterday that this time last year I decided my word for 2019 would be glow, because this year has been unexpectedly really quite bad and that word doesn’t reflect how the year ended up being at all. I was thinking a few weeks ago that when I look back on this year it seems very jagged and tangled – I was expecting it to be a much smoother year than previous years where I would be integrating the healing I had done so far because I had now done the work with K (not all the work by any means, but ‘the work’ – people in therapy for attachment trauma will know what I mean by this), but in fact it has thrown up a lot of things I wasn’t expecting about how I am and how I live my life. And so whilst I’ve learnt a huge amount about myself in recent months, I’ve not yet been able to integrate this new awareness into my life in any meaningful way or use it to make things easier for me.

Moving house took up a lot of time and energy in the first half of the year. It’s easy to lose sight of what a huge achievement it was to buy and sell at the same time whilst working full time and looking after Nina. This time last year our old house was on the market and I had no idea where we would end up or if we would even be able to move at all. The place we’ve ending up living wasn’t on my radar at all at that time and I’m so grateful for all the twists and turns that led to being where we are now. I love our new house, I love the surrounding area and how calm and peaceful it is, I love the new friend I’ve made here and through her I am excited to meet other new people this year. I love how safe it is to let Nina go out and play with her friends and that she can cycle and explore and go paddling in the streams near our house. The stressful self-inflicted summer I had and then the past 4 months of hell at work have meant I haven’t been able to take all this in as much as I would have liked to, but Nina and I walked in the meadow here and had a drink at the local pub this afternoon before she went to her friend’s for a sleepover and it was so lovely and still and there were birds singing everywhere and it really reminded me how far I’ve come to get us here. I made a good decision and I made it happen and I am incredibly proud I did that. Next year I hope to spend less time frozen in my house and more time uncurling in the sunshine and riding my bike in new places around here.

Fully waking up to the impending climate and ecological apocalypse – and just how close it is – also took up a lot of space this year. I fully immersed myself in Extinction Rebellion from April onwards and I’m really grateful I did that as I know I have made a big contribution and meeting others who are awake to the catastrophe most people are sleepwalking into was very empowering and I met some truly special souls. I over-committed myself and although I caused myself a lot of stress because of this, and it meant I headed into the busy time of the year at work without having had a proper break over the summer, I don’t regret it because it helped me uncover some long-standing patterns and, more importantly, the reasons behind so many of the habits I so easily fall into. Back in September I said to K that I didn’t see how I would move past them, and she said she thought bringing them into awareness would be most of what was needed. I was sceptical as it all came down to the fear of being invisible, and needing to be extra visible in order to exist at all, as another lovely legacy of narcissistic and abusive (traumatised) parents, and it felt impossible to move past something that has been so huge in my life, but actually I’ve taken a break from Extinction Rebellion till the Spring and I know I am still held in mind there, and I’ve realised that the most important thing is being visible to myself and this is something I’m continuing to work on. So, as usual, K was right.

Beyond this wish to make myself bigger in my own life next year, I really want to find my comfort zone in 2020. I was talking to a friend on Sunday and I said how there were so many posts on insta at this time of year about the need to push out of our comfort zones in order to experience true growth, but that I would be happy to find mine and stay there forever. I don’t think it had ever occurred to either of us that other people have a comfort zone, a place and way of being where they feel safe and at ease. I mean, I knew comfort zones were a thing, but I’d never thought about what it meant to have one or taken time to notice that I really don’t have one. We were also both confused at to why someone would want to push out of something that sounds like such a nice place to be! I do know there are times when I feel truly present and content and at peace with myself and the world, and I want more of that, but I also want to create a space inside me and a place in the world where I feel safe and at ease. K and I talked about this yesterday and she agreed it was a good goal for 2020 and that we would spend time working out what my comfort zone is, what feels okay and what doesn’t, because I am so used to pushing through everything and it has been hard to see what is genuinely okay and what is dissociation. Since the summer I am starting to really notice so many things that are not okay for me and that I need to leave behind and whilst it is hard accepting the limitations of my life because of my childhood, it is part of acceptance and for me growth seems to be very tied into finding this elusive thing known as a comfort zone.

It is only in the last few months of this year that I’ve really begun to understand how traumatised I am. I know this sounds silly because I went to K knowing I had CPTSD but it was only this year, when things were so much better from an attachment perspective and I wasn’t lurching from one crisis to the next, that I had the space to be able to see just how shredded my nervous system is because of relational trauma. And I think it is this that is making it so hard to keep going at work and in my full on home life – it’s not going to miraculously get better. More than 4 years ago, when I’d only just started therapy, I was worrying about whether I’d be able to keep working and K said that I might want to look at reducing the number of hours I worked in a year or so’s time. I remember being confused, because I had been planning to be recovered by then (ha!), but I can see now what she knew then that I am only just waking up to; healing from attachment trauma is a lifelong journey and the work is never truly complete. I need a different life than the one I envisaged for myself but I am not able to have that right now. It is hard knowing that I cannot make the big changes I truly need, that I will have to keep struggling through at work for the foreseeable future, but it is important to accept what is and not create more stress for myself by resisting it. I know that what I really need is to spend more time healing and caring for myself. Ideally I would work 3 or 4 days a week somewhere calmer that I can leave behind me when I go home so that I could spend more time doing things that help me heal and grow. This is not my reality and can’t be, but it is good to keep in mind the ideal I think, and then work at fulfilling the parts that I can for now, whilst holding in mind that I don’t want to live like this forever.

Realising how traumatised my brain is has shifted things, because I can see that whilst things will get better than this, I will always need a more gentle life than someone without CPTSD and I will always need more time for doing different things to nurture my system than someone without alters/parts. And whilst I have kept going despite work and therapy being horrifically hard the past 4 and a half years,  I am now really reluctant to continue doing this year in year out, barely hanging on at work, because of the longer term impact it will be having on my physical and emotional health. I am so aware of the statistical likelihood of me getting an auto-immune disease, something like lupus or MS or thyroid disease, and the amount of stress my body is under really isn’t good for me in terms of triggering something like that. I do lots of things to take care of myself – vegan diet, alcohol free, exercise, time in nature, yoga, meditation, therapy, avoiding over-stimulating situations, the list goes on – but the amount of toxic stress chemicals so frequently flooding through my body worries me. It is no longer sustainable. It never has been but I have been surviving and getting through every year, and as I wrote back in October, I can’t keep doing that now I know that the reality is I won’t suddenly not have PTSD anymore. I don’t want to keep surviving and pushing through exhaustion and being triggered by overwhelm and an endless list of too many things to do. Life is short and time is precious, and the climate crisis really throws this into sharp relief. We don’t know how long we have left of being able to live like we are now in this country, but this year has really taught me that I can’t just hang in there until Nina grows up and I can work less and have more time for me. I need to live now. I want to live now.

I have had horrific anxiety about returning to work ever since it became obvious last week that two weeks off wasn’t going to be enough to replenish me and reset my nervous system. I was expecting the break to help, but I’ve had a virus for two weeks now and I know that come Monday I won’t be feeling refreshed and ready to go back for another crazy three months. Yesterday morning I thought I wasn’t going to be able to do it at all but my session with K last night really helped settle things and I am planning to spend the next 5 days getting myself in as good a place as I can for going back. K suggested last night that we spoke about short, medium and long term in relation to work, and where I could see myself. We talked about why I do what I do, that I love so many aspects of my work and how I’ve said for the past 9 years that even if I won the lottery I would keep doing the same thing, but I said I couldn’t handle the way things had gone in the type of institution I work in and how corporate it now is. I cannot handle the pressure, the administrative load we now have to deal with on top of the actual work we have to do, and how many different things we are expected to hold in mind all at the same time. I could rail against that and dream of the good old days when things were different, but it doesn’t change the reality and therefore it is not somewhere I feel able to work for the rest of my life. I will find out next week (I hope) if my application to come off probation a year early has been successful. If it is I will be so relieved. At the moment I’m thinking I will need to take some time off sick then, but K and I both said this may change as I may feel very liberated knowing I’ve met my targets and had my appointment formally confirmed (after 4 years!) and this may create some space to start saying no to more and doing less that will make it feel more manageable. So we will see. I also need to be prepared that my application won’t be accepted and I’ll have to wait the full 5 years, but I will deal with that if and when it happens. And in the medium term I just need to keep going, because I need money and Nina is only 12 and there are no other jobs that I could do where I would earn enough to pay the mortgage and continue in therapy, but I hope that I will be able to end probation and that this will enable me to make some different choices with regards the shape my career takes now and find ways of being there that mean it doesn’t consume me so fully as it has the past few months. The longer term is harder because best case scenario we have another 30 years before scientists and other academics predict our civilisation will collapse due to climate breakdown but many are predicting it will be less, and so I cannot make a plan for what I will do when Nina leaves home and I have more time and need less money because I’m not sure the life I expected to have five years ago when that time came is realistic, but if I hadn’t read the science and didn’t know what was ahead then I would be looking to change direction entirely and stop doing what I do now forever. So this is the goal I will keep in mind, because I think part of staying present, for me at least, means switching off from the fear of what may one day come to pass and assuming things will continue as they are forever. And I want to make decisions based on love not fear as that is the only way I can see of getting out of this mess humanity has got into in the first place.

So in many ways next year will be the same as this one, which pleases me and horrifies me in equal measure, but it does look clearer and more stable and peaceful, with no huge changes, and I am learning every year a little more about what I want and need and opening to the possibility that I deserve these things and I deserve a place in this world where I feel comfortable and safe and at ease.

And I will finish by wishing a happy and healthy new year to all my readers! Thank you for following my journey this year and taking the time to provide support and insights into what I share here, it is so very appreciated. I wish you peace and joy and strength in the coming year.

Stars

My session today was what I needed, what I hoped it would be, as Christmas descends and I work hard not to lose myself. I’ve had a really bad sore throat since Thursday so I text K this morning to check it was still okay to go, as the last thing I would want is to pass some kind of viral yuk to her at this time of year. We had a special session planned watching the new Lion King film on DVD so I was dreading that she would say she would prefer to work by phone, but I wanted to give her the option and luckily she replied immediately and said ‘do come CB’. Young parts have been excited about this session for ages, and it’s been nice to have something safe and fun to focus on in the build up to Christmas to take the attention away from the days that will follow. As we said at the end of the session, next time we see K it will all be over for another year, and we both agreed that this is very good news.

We did an extra 30 minutes today, so a two and a half hour session, so we would have time to check in properly and read the entries in the parts’ journal from this week, and then time at the end to check out too, once we’d watched the film. Last week we had made cards for each other with A LOT of glitter glue [this is young parts’ favourite thing EVER to do with K, they get so much joy and excitement from peeking at the one she is making for us as we make ours, and it’s always so nice bringing home our card she has made us] so they were dry and ready to exchange and there was a small gift for me too which K said I could open then or take home to open on Christmas Day. I chose to take it home – it will be something nice and connecting for young parts to do in a quiet time on Christmas Day. Then K lit a fire and brought through more tea and a vegan mince pie with vegan cream for each of us and we settled to watch the film with blankets and one of her dogs.

It was so cosy and warm. It used to hurt so much to have times like that and to feel all I never had growing up, and it used to feel as though it would never be enough, but it doesn’t feel like that now because I can take it in and hold it in my heart when I am not there. Young parts asked questions during the film and laughed out loud and hid under the blanket at scary parts, and it is so nice that all that can be expressed without huge swirls of shame engulfing more grown up parts now. It is our fifth Christmas working together and it is incredible to look back on the changes that have happened during that time. I wouldn’t say I find Christmas any easier now, but it has a very different quality – I don’t get swept up in other people’s stories of how things should be, I hold true to how I want it to be, the expectations and pressure I put on myself have drastically reduced, and I am okay (mostly) with it not being an enjoyable time of year for me. I don’t beat myself up for this and I take in small joys where I can – nice food, a break from work, some good books, cosy times with Nina, time for peaceful walks and being by the sea. It is tough still, but it is not how it used to be. I am not how I used to be.

And it hurts less to be leaving K’s warm home the day before Christmas Eve now because I know that her life is not the perfect fantasy I used to imagine, and I know she finds Christmas a tough time of year too.  It’s partly why I am so grateful to have a therapist who brings so much of herself to the therapy space, whilst at the same time being so clear and careful around boundaries and expectations, because I know enough to know her life is shaped by pain and loss too, and I know all the consumerism and consumption and societal expectations make her sad like they do me, but I also know she takes care to make it what she needs it to be and doesn’t pretend it is something that it isn’t for her. In the run up to the awful, suicidal Christmas I had shortly after we started work in 2015, she asked me how I would want Christmas to be. I replied by talking about my need for space and that I just wanted to spend the day by the sea. At that time it felt so unattainable and yet shortly after Christmas that year I booked a cottage in Cornwall for Nina and I to go to for a week for Christmas 2016, and that year was the beginning of doing things differently. We walked by the sea every single day and I realised Nina’s Christmas expectations were so low, so easy to meet – a big telly, nice food, new books, playing games, and walks on the beach left her so content. It was so peaceful and calm and I realised all the BS my mum had fed me about what a child needed was all for her, not Nina. I’d always feared that without my family of origin, however positive that loss of toxicity was in the bigger picture of our lives, I would never be enough for Nina at this time of year, but it turns out what she needs to make her happy is so simple. Who knew?!

Anyway, back to today… After the film K talked about some of the lessons we could take from it (not in a cringey way – she said she was genuinely surprised by how good it was and I have to admit the Lion King genuinely is excellent and has lots of lessons for how we need to tend to our dying planet too) and someone small said how much they liked the film. K encouraged us all to hold on to the film and the special time we had shared together and make it part of our internal safe space this Christmas. She said how special it was to have that time sitting together being still, and how even though it is something so simple not many people achieve that at this time of year, and she is so right – there is no one else I will feel that connected to whilst watching a film this festive season; ‘repatriating young children, young parts’ she said this evening, and that it so true. She also started talking about how we will both need to look out for a super amazing film for next year ‘without making a fuss, obviously, about Christmas early on, sorry, re-enacting something there right at the last minute…’ which made us both laugh a lot because my mum’s Christmas demands always started in September and made it not just a stressful time, but a really, long, drawn out stressful time. It was nice to know we have another year working together though, that whatever happens that is our intention. And I never could have dared to believe she would still be here now, yet she is.

I would say that overall the past few months have been AWFUL, but somehow I’ve found my way back to K over the past few weeks and it helps so much being able to reach her and know she is there when I am here. I have a GP appointment in the morning to check my throat as it is so painful, and then Nina and I have our traditional Christmas Eve walk in our favourite forest (which is now only a 10 minute drive from the house since our house move, which is part of the reason we wanted to move to where we are) and trip to the cinema (Frozen II, which neither of us are hugely excited to see, but going to the cinema is something really nice to do on Christmas Eve and we are both keen to stick to the traditions we’ve begun since becoming estranged from my mum who had a lot of traditions she used to manipulate and control us). And we will go to the beach and walk by the sea on Christmas Day, which is all I’ve ever wanted to do at Christmas really and is something we’ve been able to do for 4 years’ running now. So it will be a quiet few days, and it is undeniably painful when I think of how many people will be spending time in big groups of close family and friends, but it will be authentic, and that feels a lot more important after years of pretending to be someone I am not.

For those who’ve not seen The Lion King, there’s a beautiful line about the stars that Simba’s dad says to him early on in the film: ‘look at the stars. The great kings of the past look down on us from those stars… So whenever you feel alone, just remember that those kings will always be there to guide you’. And K said at the end of our session to remember the stars are always there – always, even when we can’t see them. And of course she is the brightest star in the sky for me so much of the time, but there are so many other stars too. I’ve had to cancel some plans with friends the past few days because of my throat, but I am seeing my two best friends from my PhD and raving days at the weekend, and I have made such a good friend who lives a 3 minute walk from the new house who is also a vegan and a mother and who brings such joy and solace to my life during these troubled times, and I have my beautiful daughter and other friends to see next week also. I imagine the next few days will feel lonely at times, but that is okay. I have some books to read and films to watch and the days will pass. And K says we can work by phone on Friday afternoon if I need to and then we are meeting on Monday as normal, so I feel as safe as it is probably possible for me to feel ahead of Christmas.

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.

Tentative steps

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

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

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

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

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