All the things I’ll never tell you

Dear K,

I can’t believe 6 months have passed. It feels as though everything and nothing are the same as when we said goodbye for a little while, all those weeks ago. It is 11 months since we last drove to your house. Somehow the passing of time is comforting because it doesn’t feel as though we’ve lost you, despite this time apart, and one day the end will come, even if it turns out to be many more months till we can see your face again. Our brain erasing you for the whole break was our greatest fear but we feel so connected to you still. We are scared you will have forgotten us or let us go but when we look through old messages and think back on our time together we can feel how connected we are and we don’t think that would disappear for you if it hasn’t for us. Whenever we couldn’t remember you before you could always remember us, so if we haven’t forgotten then we are pretty sure you won’t have either.

We wondered if you thought of us when Joe Biden was elected or when Taylor Swift released another surprise lockdown album or when it was the first Monday of the year and you weren’t seeing us for the first time since the start of 2015. We have thought of you every day but it hasn’t always hurt. Some days it has but a lot of the time we have felt patient and calm and just so grateful for you and all the work we’ve done because it has become obvious this past year just how much we’ve healed and internalised your safety now. And we have mostly enjoyed this time of integration and settling, waiting to return, knowing both of us hold the intention that we will continue our work when we can.

There is so much I want to tell you. It’s also been nice to keep so much to myself for so long, almost as if there is a clearer line around myself now. I don’t think about how I will explain things to you or hold out for a time to share them. I don’t do things to tell you anymore, I just do things. There is a peace and a spaciousness in that – it’s such a different way of being. It is also sad. It marks a loss. When I return things will not be how they once were. There will be joy but also grief when we are reunited. I am learning that life is endless cycles of coterminous grief and joy, balance and instability, hope and despair. And I am learning to be okay with that.

I want you to know Christmas was incredibly hard, that my dad is intolerable, that I have been so lonely during this latest lockdown that sometimes I cannot breathe. I want you to know that attachment panic and shame has been killing me this past week and I’ve run out of space on my thighs to cut and it is taking all my willpower to not take the razor to my arms, that I only hold off from that because I am desperate to feel the warmth on my skin when I’m out on my bike in a few weeks’ time. I am disappointed in myself and also I don’t care. There are worse things and nothing else soothes and settles things like that, not yet.

I want you to know that despite self-harm since mid-December I have continued to grow and learn about myself during this time apart. I want to tell you that this respite and solitude has led to the biggest transformation in my life imaginable but that I am done now and desperate to rejoin the world. I want to transition into being more sure of who I am among other people now, instead of only being able to keep sight of myself when I’m alone. I want to practice what I’ve learnt and prove that I can be more balanced and see myself clearly even when life isn’t stripped back to the bare minimum. I needed this time so much, but now I am in need of human contact more than I ever have been before. Or it feels that way at least.

I’ve wanted to tell you that giving up sugar and gluten completely was the best thing I could have done for my health. I want to tell you I have no cravings and I never eat more than I want to and I haven’t deliberately starved myself since May last year. For the first time since I was 8 years old I don’t feel as though I am living under the weight of an eating disorder. Maybe there is just the right amount of control in this diet to please everyone, without needing to restrict. It works so well and I know you will be so happy. I don’t know if it will last, attachment might shake us back into anorexia again, but things feel so different around food now. It doesn’t dominate. It just is. And it has definitely helped my gut and brain health, reduced the grey day fogginess a little, given me a steady flow of energy throughout the day. I will forever be grateful that in the stillness of the pandemic I had the space to make this choice and integrate it into my daily life with such ease.

I want you to know that we are waiting for Ana to die and this in between place is deeply painful, as she hovers between life and death and I imagine a world without her or Jess now. She was sick last time we spoke to you and I knew how sick she was but she didn’t, not yet. In November she told me she had a year left to live but then Jess’s sisters emailed 4 weeks ago to say she’d deteriorated rapidly and had only a few days to a couple of weeks left. She is holding on still, waiting for a sunny day so she can feel the warmth on her face in the garden before she goes. More than anything we hope she gets that chance. I was able to say my goodbyes and it helps that there is not unspoken love. I want you to know that there is gut wrenching sadness that this connection to Jess will be gone, but there is also guilt-inducing relief because being with her triggered all my feelings and all my shame around being unseen and disconnected and invisible because of how she is, and now I don’t have to decide whether to continue to atone by seeing her.

I wonder how you would feel and what you would think about the fact that I reconnected with R in December and have been seeing him every week since the start of this third lockdown. I needed him when I lost my mind when I first realised Nina likely has ADHD, and over Christmas when spending 5 hours with Dad destroyed us both, and when Nina was hating me and raging at me constantly for weeks on end at the start of the year and I lost myself in doubt, not knowing if she was right that I am the worst parent in the world and have ruined her life and caused all her problems. I felt out of my mind with shame and panic and despair and his endless reality checks brought me back. He said some things you would have said, about normal teenage behaviour and how hard it is for me to hold steady as I have no idea what is real after growing up under the shadow of such extreme narcissism. And he reassured me that her story is so different from mine, that she is damaged but not like I was. He helped me carry on loving her and myself when killing us both, once again, felt like the only way through.

Nina turned 14 in January and you weren’t here and that broke my heart. It is the hardest age for me – the contrasts are so stark. The year I turned 14 I was off school for 3 months because of anorexia and self-harm. It is the age I started drinking really heavily and lost my virginity and we did “family therapy” which led to Mum becoming more abusive and out of control. Leia and T’s worst memories are when we were 14. We needed you and you weren’t here and we understand why but it still hurts. The weeks around her birthday were the hardest I’ve experienced as a parent – we were both so dysregulated, I was barely sleeping, we were rowing all the time. We came through and have only had one small argument in the past month now, but I hope you are there next time we hit a rocky patch because your presence and voice soothe me and I’ve never felt closer to you than when you and I talked about how parenting a teen was affecting me last summer. I can still remember the warmth in my heart as I sat on the grass in a field near our home and it felt as though you were right beside me even though we were miles apart.

Connecting with R again has been steadying and destabilising, beautiful and agonising, healing and damaging, all at the same time. It has shown me things I’d rather have kept hidden, about myself and what happens to me when I move closer to someone and the terror and craziness it still triggers. His presence is a gift and curse. He loves me and holds me and tells me all the things I need to hear and I can feel pieces of me falling into place as he holds me at the same time as different parts of me unravel and I lose myself again. And I’m forced to confront the fact that disorganised attachment means this is what relationships are for me. He said this week he wants to be a stabilising force for me and not make things worse. I put my head in my hands and groaned that this just is not possible, not all the time at least. It is not a viable goal because connection and attachment activate my nervous system and throw me into that terrifying push/pull where I need to move closer and run away at the same time because I feel so unsafe.

Inside me is still a big melting point of disorganised attachment pain and shame and distrust and terror of intimacy and fear of abandonment and the pain of feeling invisible unless I am the only one. I can observe it all happening now but I am not past this. I thought I was, and it is not at the intensity it was with you for years for sure, but it has left me wondering how I will ever be free of what my parents did to me. How will I ever manage a relationship with someone I don’t pay, where it is not all about me, where they are allowed needs too? I want to talk to you about this and hear you make reassuring sounds about how far I’ve come and how much is possible.

R is amazed by how solid and stable I now am – relatively speaking! – and says such beautiful things about the work you and I have done and how much you both love me. It feels like more of our work is integrating with him to bear witness, because he has walked this path beside me since I was 21 and he knows more than even you about the level of physical pain I used to experience. He reminds me you are not here because you are afraid for your son and not because you don’t want me. He tells me ‘never’ is a long time when I panic that we won’t ever meet again.

And he is learning about disorganised attachment and he is beginning to understand how incredibly traumatised I am. It’s like he knew before how broken I was but has now seen my level of pain and dysfunction and fragmentation is at a different intensity than his. I needed this from him. He wants to learn about me so he can help me better which both warms and terrifies me – what if he goes away when he realises how intense my process is? He is not you though, and sometimes when he holds me it makes me miss you more than at any other time this past year. Despite this I’m so glad he is here. He gives me some of what I need, some of what I lost when we suddenly couldn’t meet. He tells me he is here because he wants to be and that I am so easy to love and when he holds me it begins to thaw some of the ice that is inside me and helps me feel less repulsive and toxic and untouchable. Being with him is another step towards learning it is safe to feel safe in relationship.

I want to tell you how much we miss Ollie, that his absence hangs heavy every single day. Rainbow is doing well but she needs a new friend. She is sad. Do you remember they were together all the time? We used to tell you how much they helped us because they always snuggled up together and knew where each other was – they felt no shame for loving and needing contact and company and it started to loosen some of the shame that kept us separate from others too. I hope next time we see you we will have adopted a new bunny and will be able to show you pictures. Your new house is too far to bring them in the car but we will always remember Rainbow and Ollie at your old house.

And the time we have missed you the most was when Rainbow started a small fire!!! She jumped on the coffee table and knocked a candle on the floor and it set fire to the rug!! This is the naughtiest-silliest thing she has ever done and not being able to draw a picture to show you was probably the worst part of this break, for Lotta and Miffy and Cody at least! It will likely be the first thing they tell you when we see you. We know how shocked you will be and can hear you saying ‘oh my goodness!’ and laughing a lot.

I want to tell you I miss you but if I could do that then I wouldn’t need to because you would be here. I hope it is not too much longer till we are together again and that we find each other – changed but the same.

Please don’t forget us.

Love CB and everyone xx

You saw me

I reconnected with R this week after more than 18 months without seeing each other. He is an acupuncturist who I have had a profoundly deep, healing, and beautiful relationship with since I was 21 when I first saw him with constant and debilitating head pain. At times our connection has been distorted through transference and projection on both our parts, and at times I have drifted from him and wondered if our work is done, but I have always returned to him. His steady and familiar presence when I message him even after months of not talking is one of the most comforting things I’ve ever experienced. It had been nearly a year of no contact up till the start of December when we have been in regular contact via texts and voice notes. Being with him again felt like coming home and we have agreed never to let it be that long again. But he also understands that I needed to be away from people who knew me last year, so that I could discover who I am . And that is what I did; in solitude, away from the world, I found myself.

He used to tell me he was always here, that we were connected, that he wouldn’t go away from me (over and over and over when I needed it…) but he also told me that he knew the person I was seeking connection with wasn’t really him – it was myself. I felt so ashamed when he said that, as if he was telling me we weren’t really connected and what we had wasn’t real. He wasn’t. I understand it now. I connected to myself last year and now I can see how much I needed that and how much more authentic and livable life is when we are the biggest and most important person in our own lives. None of this made sense to me before but now it does and I can see it takes nothing from our relationship. It adds to it in fact, because, along with K, he laid the foundations for the journey to reclaim myself that finally transformed my life last summer. What a gift he was willing to give me, and what a lifelong connection it has carved out, in my heart and his.

He held me in 3 of the longest hugs I’ve had in years and the first hugs I’ve had since February last year. I burrowed into him like a child, so close I could hear his heart beating, and felt my system beginning to settle as I sunk into his familiar safety and allowed myself to feel his arms tightly around me. He is the only person I allow to really hug me, who I don’t pull away from before I am ready in case I stay too long and give them chance to feel what is inside of me or think I am dirty and broken for enjoying human touch. He is the only one who I can tell how much I love their hugs without feeling ashamed and toxic. He has seen everything that is inside of me and he still loves me. He was there when none of it made any sense at all. He has seen the black, desperate, shadow side of me, and also the light. To be able to see him having changed beyond recognition this past year was indescribable. The years fell away as soon as I stepped into the room and we were connected as we always have been. He shed a few tears as he hugged me. He told me how proud he is of me. When he asked how my sleep had been I said the past few weeks had been bad but generally last year my sleep had been fine for the first time in my life and he stopped me to exclaim ‘Look at you! Look what you’ve done’ and it lit me up inside to know that someone who really knows me could see the change so clearly. I am not who I was but I am also the same. These words make no sense and yet they are the only way I can describe the transformation that has taken place inside of me. A different person and yet more more myself than ever.

I do not know who R is to me, I only know my feelings for him are true and pure and that it means the world to me that he is able to express his love for me. I think small parts of me see him as a father figure and want to clamber into his lap and curl up and listen to him breathing, some teen parts see him as a slightly annoying old person always telling us to eat and look after ourselves, and others just see him as someone wise and loving who is always on the end of the phone when we need him but who doesn’t really exist beyond that. He is part therapist, part teacher, part spiritual guide, part friend, part father figure (but far too wise and compassionate and open to comfortably fit our archetype of even ‘good enough’ fathering and so casting him in this role is odd). In the end I let him be ‘my acupuncturist’, knowing that will never do justice to the depth of attachment and connection we share, and knowing that all that matters is that we know it is real, what we have, and also full of messiness and transference and projection for both of us. And that is okay. I’ve learnt to let him be in his place in my life and not try and work out where our boundaries lie. He lets me go away and come back and every time I return I seem to be able to take in his love a little more.

As he held me I whispered how I felt as though I could see myself through my own eyes for the first time this past year, instead of needing someone else to show me I’m real and that I exist. I said how all the times I text him and K asking if they were still here I was really asking if I was here, because I didn’t feel real if they couldn’t see me. He said of course I didn’t, because my parents couldn’t see me for who I was. My mum looked to me to fill her up because she was empty. Instead of bringing who I really am into existence for both of us she emptied me to try and fill herself. But she was insatiable and there was never enough of me. ‘When I looked into my mum’s eyes I didn’t see myself, all I saw was her pain’. R saw me and K saw me and they helped me learn to see myself. I realised last night that R saw me before I saw myself. And I realised how huge this is, has been, that he really did see me, actually saw me, let himself know me. I wrote this just now that I will share with him next week:

There was a time when I didn’t exist, because the only person who needs to truly see us is ourselves, and I couldn’t. I couldn’t see myself because as an infant no one provided me with a mirror to see and know myself. I grew up feeling invisible and non-existent because I couldn’t see myself reflected back in the faces of those who loved me. They weren’t able to see me so they couldn’t love the real me and so I learnt to keep her hidden so far out of sight I couldn’t reach her either. Even as an adult I only existed when other people could see me and were reflecting me back. Alone I disappeared. And so the me I saw wasn’t really me, it was other people’s versions of me. Fragile and out of reach. An image that dissolved as soon as their light wasn’t shining upon me. You told me you saw me and I didn’t understand then what you meant and how clear I was to you. The truth is that when you can’t see yourself you can’t see others either; I needed others to show me who I was instead of who they were. I was invisible and others were an illusion, a projection. I didn’t know how clearly others could see me because to myself I was always just a grey outline round a scribbled grey mass and others were merely a way of making myself more real. Now I know what it means that you could see me and even though I don’t need you in the way I once did, it seems to matter even more than I thought it did that you are here and that you know me. You have always loved me for who I am but I didn’t know till now how clearly you could see who that person was. Now I know what it really means to see somebody. Now I know that you being able to see me was a sacred knowing of all the parts of me; I was real to you. I was whole. You saw all of me. You saw me before I saw myself. And now I can see myself too, through my own eyes for the first time, and I understand what it was you could see.

We sat in his new practice room in a wooden cabin in the countryside near my house as the light was fading and for 75 minutes we were in our own world and the pandemic and isolation and Nina and my lack of family didn’t matter anymore. I thought it would feel strange and unsettling to see him somewhere new after 15 years in the previous room but it didn’t, it was magical – a magical place and a magical feeling. A new start that felt like coming home. He asked if I would rather be in the old room next time and I said no – that room holds so much of my pain. It feels right this way. ‘Yes, you are different now’ he said. And I am.

august

Today is 5 years since K and I first met. I remember that day like it was yesterday but at the same time it feels as though a hundred years have passed since then. I am a totally different person than I was when K and I started working and yet more myself than ever.

I wanted to reflect a little on where I was at in therapy at this time in each of the years we have worked, so I looked in my old journals to see what I’d written and what I was working through at this point in August each year. I don’t want to trigger myself though, so this will be a light post that doesn’t delve too deeply into what was coming up. It felt important to mark this date in some way though, and it is also a good reminder that time passes and things change even when it feels like we will be stuck in the same painful situation forever.

In August 2015 I really was a total mess and had been since Jess died in December 2014 really. I was also functioning really well when I wasn’t in emotional flashbacks (hello dissociation I was yet to discover I even had) and I was putting all my energies into healing and making change in my life. I was working regularly with my acupuncturist who is trained in working with trauma, and also with a shamanic journey therapist. Both of these people were important to me, but they weren’t able to contain the level of distress and the memories that were coming up and I was suicidal and regularly planning to kill myself and Nina because it seemed as though the damage from transgenerational trauma was too great for either of us to ever recover from. I contacted K when it became apparent I needed ‘proper therapy’ to guide me through the healing process (which I thought would take a year or two!) and we first met on this day 5 years ago. This is what I wrote in my journal that evening:

This evening I went to meet K, psychotherapist. She seemed good. (Lol, this makes me laugh so much – ‘good’). Lots of experience with complex trauma. She said my flashbacks are pretty severe and that we’re going to need to go very slowly and build up the trust and the relationship before we move into looking at the trauma. I feel less hopeless than I have. I’m prepared for things to get worse before they get better… I feel a structured path and contained space is going to really help me, along with someone strong and able to challenge me.

Honestly, I had no real idea what I was getting into or how much worse it was going to get… I didn’t even realise I was dissociated, let alone someone who was extremely fragmented with almost autonomous alters or parts. And I had no idea how important the relationship would be, how it would become something that felt like it was killing me and keeping me alive nearly all the time for more than 3 and a half years. I thought therapy would be all about me, but in fact it was all about K and us – her and I together – and that has been so unexpected and beautiful and painful all at the same time. Bittersweet.

A year later our work had really got going and I was deep in the attachment work, but I’d say I still hadn’t reached the most intense and agonising work we had to do. We didn’t mark a year but I wrote briefly in my journal:

A whole year of working with K. I had no idea she’d come to be so important to me, no idea I was dissociated or had parts or was as broken as I am.

She went away for the first time since we’d been working together a few days later and I remember I had intense pain in my toes and was convinced I was getting rheumatoid arthritis. I really lost it and was in a state of heightened anxiety and catastrophising about everything. Luckily I bumped into my acupuncturist and he said often toe pain is where we are – literally – gripping the ground in fear! This explanation and validation was enough to settle things but for quite a few years after that I experienced toe pain when I was apart from K. She had wanted us to do some work by email during the 10 day break but I was too cut off to contact her – I sent a short email telling her I couldn’t send a proper email because it felt weird since I didn’t really know who she was. She replied and said she understood and was holding hope for me. Then a young part (Miffy) quickly sent an email while I was distracted in town, saying she missed K and hated the break and she remembered her even though no one else did. K sent a lovely message for her and young parts and a video of some goats running around the garden wall of her house in Portugal and just before she came home Miffy text her because she was so worried she wouldn’t come back and K replied saying ‘I am coming home. In Lisbon tonight and going on an aeroplane in the morning.’ We cried and cried in relief after getting that message, letting out all the anguish of the 10 day break. We literally counted down the hours till she was back and had the hugest meltdown ever after we finally got to see her the next day.

August 2017: K and I did a long bike ride to celebrate and then had tea and some of the cake I had made her sitting in the garden. It was perfect. She said it was her favourite therapy session ever, with any client, and that stands – for both of us – to this day I think. It was perfect. I was choosing a secondary school for Nina at that time and as we cycled and I talked it through K helped me get past all the background noise and unwanted input from others to work out what was right for both Nina and I for the next stage of our lives. It was magical and it is wonderful now that she is at the perfect school for her and we are living out of town and it was all due to seeds sown by K that day. And also such a positive experience of being supported to tune into my own sense of what is needed after a lifetime of being unable to hear my own voice due to trying to keep everyone else happy.

Our third anniversary, in August 2018, was during our only month-long August therapy break, shortly after K had told me she was taking 2019 as a sabbatical for her health and we would be ending our work – or taking an extended break with no definite return at the end of it – at the end of the year. I was in bits, as those who’ve followed my blog since then will know (her circumstances changed and in October 2018 she told me she wouldn’t be able to take the year off so we could keep working if I wanted to), but I did manage to make the best of that month to stabilise myself and make plans for how I would continue my healing journey without her. I marked the date by writing a blog post about the fact that K stayed for so long through so many hard times despite it being a rocky road that she felt ill-equipped to walk beside me on sometimes. I am so bloody relieved that wasn’t the beginning of the end though – we’ve done incredible work since then and also reaped a lot of the rewards from all the hard times in the previous three years.

Last year at this time things were SO different than they had been in previous years. I’d really moved through a lot of the attachment work and was in a much more settled place where I didn’t experience anywhere near as much shame for needing K. Nina and I were away on the 26th so K and I marked 4 years since we had our first proper session which was 2nd September. K was about to move house, which some of you may remember caused a bit of a storm, despite her saying we weren’t making a hullabaloo out of it because the most important things – her and I – were going to the new house! We sat in the garden and she gave us a beautiful silver bracelet (the one Nina wrecked last week) and I gave her a huge card made by a lot of parts in my system with pictures of things we had done together and things that are meaningful for us. Then I read aloud something I had written for her (which you can read here if you are interested) and we reflected on our time together and how far I had come. It was also our last session in her home that we had been to over 300 times, so it was emotional and difficult (I’ve written before about why the therapy room in her last house, and the garden there have been such huge parts of our healing journey) but also beautiful and I wrote down some things K said in the session afterwards about how she wishes she could magic shame away for us and how lovely it would have been for Miffy ‘if she had had all that when she was very little in a little body’.

This time last year I was so aware of how far I’d come in terms of being able to tolerate closeness and connection without feeling crippling shame or wanting to die or dissociating and forgetting K entirely – it was breathtaking and it is this which has sustained me through everything the past year has thrown at me. Missing her is a deep ache inside me right now but I also feel so much gratitude for all that my work with her has enabled me to be, and perhaps also a little hope that on this day next year we will be sitting together in her garden reflecting on 2020 and looking back in amazement that we survived such a huge disruption in our work.

Invisible string

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

invisible string, tying you to me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is why we can’t have nice things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Both of us

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sad Beautiful Tragic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I forgot that you existed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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