Dear Dad

****although this is about my dad, I am trigger warning it for rape and victim-blaming, since this is what my dad chose to engage in during his conversation with Nina while they were cycling on Tuesday***

Trying to find my inner warrior so that I can send this to my dad after Nina had a really horrible time with him on Tuesday. She’d not been on her own with him for 3.5 months and was decimated by 45 minutes cycling with him. R thinks I need to give him the chance to change, for Nina as much as anything, and at this point to warn him that if he doesn’t change he will lose her because in a few years she will be grown up and she will have no reason to see him if he treats her how he does.

I have never stood up to my dad about anything. Ever. It terrifies me. Nina really doesn’t want me to say anything and I can sense her terror of displeasing or upsetting him. Yet I also know this is the next stage of my healing journey and that I cannot let things continue as they are, for Nina’s sake. What messages does it send her that I can see how bad it is and yet I chose not to act and to protect her?

I don’t think he will change. I don’t think he can. I think this is only headed in one direction really, and that is no contact. But at least I will have tried. And if I cut contact in future, it will be Nina’s choice if she sees him or not and I will have done my best to facilitate a continuing relationship between them.

Six years ago I was in this position with my mum and it was R who was supporting me to protect Nina from her abuse and manipulation back then too. I stopped Nina from spending time alone with my mum then, and told her we could only see her once a month together as I needed space to heal too. It was another 2 years until I cut contact completely. I can see things heading a similar way here too, but I am stronger now. I would rather have no family than be living alongside such toxicity, but I will try a while longer to bring things to a more tolerable place for Nina and I. R reminds me of my strength and he reminds me I have no choice but to stand up for Nina and protect her. He tells me to make this all about her for now, and that later on I can address what I need him to know about how he is to me, and whether I want a relationship with him. He is holding my hand as I do this. He text with Phoebe last night when she was harming and there was blood everywhere and she was all alone. For all these things I love him. Somehow he makes me feel stronger than anyone else ever has. Even K.

However he responds cannot be worse than what I’ve already been through. I keep telling myself that.

Hello Dad,

Not an easy email for me to write, but I am very concerned about the way you are to Nina and I don’t think things can be left unspoken any longer if you want to maintain a relationship with her as she grows up. She is obviously scared of me saying anything to you, but I can see you losing her if things continue as they are and that would be a great shame for both of you.

She is often upset after seeing you because you are very critical of her and judgmental and lecture her and put her down and dismiss her ideas and experiences. On Tuesday she had a horrible time. You were critical and judgmental about her fitness and effort, her responses to your lectures about safety, implied she was stupid because she couldn’t follow what you were explaining to her, and then had a go at her for not talking to you – of course she wasn’t talking after that. She couldn’t. She feels ashamed when you are like this to her and that is sad because we know you love and care for both of us, but it so often doesn’t come across in how you interact with us. It is confusing for her to be told that you are a nice kind granddad when her experience of you is so often not like that at all.

These are not new concerns, but for me they have intensified since seeing you with her more during the lockdown last year (and also through my own healing showing me that the way I was parented by both you and mum was deeply inadequate and has caused long-term damage, meaning I am much more aware of what children need now). Last summer I was very concerned by how you were speaking to her when I collected her from your house. Belittling her intelligence over Maths and mocking the effort she is putting into school, and also threatening her she’ll end up homeless and jobless if she doesn’t change, are all things that are having an extremely negative impact on her self-esteem. The teenage years are particularly fragile years of self-discovery and your job as a granddad is only to love and support her as she grows up, not threaten her about her future or shame her or make her feel inadequate.

I am also really very concerned by the victim-blaming you engaged in. It is very hard for me to hear that you told her if she gets raped or attacked it will be her fault because of her behaviour and that she is ‘asking for it’. Women and girls are never to blame for what happens to them, it is always the fault of rapists. I would be devastated if something ever did happen to her and she didn’t reach out for support or tell anyone because she had internalised this message that I’ve tried so hard to counter as it is all around in society and the media and stops women coming forward. Pointing at overweight women and saying they won’t get raped is really concerning and just not true – rape isn’t about sexual desirability, it is about power and control. Women who aren’t conventionally attractive or slim get raped all the time, pensioners get raped, disabled women get raped. Women who do all the right things with regards their own safety get raped. Most of the time women are raped and assaulted within an intimate relationship or by someone they know.

Besides all this, Nina’s safety is my responsibility, not yours. I am the parent. You raised your concerns with me, Nina now doesn’t walk on the main road and stays in [our small town]. However the perception that ‘rapes are committed by strangers in a dark alley’ is a myth. She is far more likely to get raped or assaulted in a group of friends where alcohol and drugs are involved. It is this I will be doing everything to protect her from, by checking on her whereabouts and boosting her self-esteem as much as possible so she doesn’t feel the need to engage in risky behaviours in the way I did. So far this is going well and her friends are a safe group who haven’t grown up too fast.

These are separate issues though. You could have spoken of your concerns in a loving, warm, non-blaming way. And so it is the way you speak to her and how critical and judgmental and dismissive you are of her that needs to change. I don’t know if you are able to do this, I suspect it is deeply ingrained, but you do need to try because otherwise she just won’t want to see you anymore. That would be very sad for both of you and so that is why I am being brave and writing this even though I find confronting you on anything very difficult.

It is very important you don’t talk to Nina about this. She will be frightened that I’ve said anything and she doesn’t need a heart to heart talk, she need things to change in how you are when you’re with her. It is not a communication issue and she is not responsible for things changing, only you. You’ll find if you show an interest in her life and build her up instead of making her feel small by belittling and lecturing and shaming her, that she won’t respond in monosyllabic ‘yeahs’ with you. At the moment she doesn’t see the point of talking to you because you don’t seem to care or be interested in what she says a lot of the time.

We often make excuses for your behaviour, but honestly it is every time, even when I’m there. You barely see her as it is and I know that she will want to see you less and less as she grows older if things don’t change. I don’t want that to happen and I’m sure you don’t either. I would think there are people you can talk to about finding different ways of communicating with the people you care about.

I hope you understand why I’m writing and that it reflects my commitment to sustaining a relationship between us both and between you and Nina in future. Please don’t feel pressured to respond – I understand that this email will likely bring up difficult things for you and will, hopefully, lead to a period of self-reflection. There is no rush, but I do need a commitment from you that you will try and change how you speak to and behave towards Nina from now on.

Love CB

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.

This is me trying

I didn’t know if you’d care if I came back

I have a lot of regrets about that

It is the start of day two. Day one was very long. It already feels like I’ve survived a lifetime without K. There have been so many things that have come to mind that we all want to tell and ask her. It’s hard to believe it could be so many months until we get to share them, and that likely they won’t even matter by then. It is 27 weeks until we will email with a view to starting weekly sessions again. If things become too difficult we will start work again sooner, but honestly remote work is so hard and it will be at least mid-November before I reach that place.

Things feel flat and I feel kind of empty but I’m trying to just give the feelings space, let things settle, let the heaviness lighten. I am trying to hold onto hope whilst at the same time opening to the uncertainty of what is ahead, for all of us and for the whole world. Sometimes it’s easy for me to forget the tragedy unfolding on a global scale – Yemen, Syria, India, the US, Brazil, the list goes on. Systems are collapsing under the strain of what this virus is doing and I am safe and protected in my home. I am trying to find space for that and remind myself of the enormity of what is happening, not to minimise my feelings or invalidate myself, but to provide the context for what is happening in my life and why things have been so different, to help it all make sense. We’ve been so protected where I live and I don’t know anyone in real life who’s had the virus, so it helps me to integrate the past 5 months if I bring to mind the scale of what’s happening.

Our session on Monday was everything it needed to be. I cried a lot. K cried and said beautiful things about me, us, our work, which of course my brain erased immediately. She read us our two favourite stories. We put some things on the shelf in the therapy space to come back to next year. We talked about how I will manage a visit to my friend Jess’s mum next week (Jess is my very close friend who killed herself in December 2014) having just heard she has metastatic colorectal cancer which has spread to her liver.  We talked a little about what I will do with the money and the time. K reminded me that she knows me and sees me and knows all my stuff and how I work and what goes on for me and that none of that will change. She will remember it all. 

There is a deep sadness but we are not triggered and losing it. There was a lot of crying on Monday evening but we still went to bed on time and took a sleeping tablet and yesterday worked almost as normal though we were quite distracted and unfocused. I saw a good friend in the evening. I briefly considered self-harm before bed last night as a way to soothe things, but it seemed a little dramatic and so I didn’t. My whole system seems to be mostly accepting of the reality and that, in the face of it, this is the only way forward. It gives me some space to find myself a little more and K is also still here, all around me – everything we’ve done and made and been forms the foundation for the safety and stability and knowing I now have. Leia wrote in our parts’ book how everything safe feels like K because safe is a feeling she first had with K. That is so true. Our whole home feels like K and it is because of her that so much of my life now is possible.

I’m not angry with K. I trust that she is doing the right thing. She is not saying she will hide away forever but right now we don’t know enough about the virus and the long-term impacts and I respect her decisions based on her own auto-immune conditions and her partner and son’s health. If it was my son who was that sick I would do anything to protect him and I wouldn’t take any unnecessary risks. He is not even 30 yet. She will be waiting to see what happens when schools reopen, when the uni students are back, when winter comes and people start getting sicker from the virus again. It helps me to remember all this and that she is not doing this because she is irrational or pushing me away. The NHS is planning to provide remote therapy over the winter because the risk is increased in situations where there is a lot of talking, which is basically what therapy is. And when we meet I want to be able to hug her and sit close and not be freaking out about touching things. I so hope we reach that place in the Spring but I also don’t want my life to be on hold until we meet again. I don’t think it will be. Growth doesn’t really even feel like a choice anymore.

I also know she wouldn’t want to start seeing people in-person and have to go back to online if cases increased. It is easy for me to say I’d have preferred that, but I also remember what it has been like in the past when I’ve been gripped by fear of not reaching her due to snow, flooding, traffic jams, illness for the days leading up to my session. To have that every week and to not know how long we had left of in-person sessions before a potential second wave or local lockdown would have been tough. Perhaps less tough than this, but there is also an element of peace and settling involved in this decision that there has never been while we’ve been working because I could never really believe I would see her until I was in the car driving there each week.

Sometimes my mind catastrophises and tells me I’ll never see her again, that we’ve just ended without either of us knowing it and that there will be heartbreak when this becomes apparent. So then I look back on the 5 years of work we’ve done together and I know that not to be true. It could be shorter or longer than we’re expecting but I do trust we will start weekly work again. I am trying to hold in my heart the image of us re-united in the therapy space and walking down the lane to see the dogs again. The winter feels a little bleak and black but I will be continuing our work and she is there if it is really too awful to manage. I do know how deeply she cares. I do know that she also holds how remarkable our relationship and journey together so far has been, that she doesn’t have this with everyone, that she holds me and my work and my way of being in the world in high esteem. I can’t always find this knowledge, but it is there and it is carrying me through these waves of grief and loss.

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.

Cruel summer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hold on

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A place in this world

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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