Waiting and wondering

I emailed K on Tuesday lunchtime asking for a sense of her current plans on returning to in-person work and whether she thinks she’ll return once her and her son are protected following their vaccinations, or if she’ll be waiting a while longer till restrictions ease more in mid-May. I said a few other things but overall it was mature and balanced and no over-sharing.

She’s not replied. Yet. I feel I need to put that in, because surely she will reply next week. She doesn’t work Thursday and Friday anymore and will want to hold that boundary (even though it seems unnecessarily firm). Maybe she needs to think it through, talk to her supervisor, discuss with her T-friends what they are planning around vaccines and in-person work. I know she will want to be REALLY CLEAR with me – this has always been her top priority with me, making sure things are clear. I know she has and will prioritise this above all else. She won’t want to offer false assurances and things she can’t follow through on. She won’t want to cause confusion. But also – surely she’s thought about this already!! She knew I was emailing at the end of February about returning. My sister (counselling psychologist with NHS) has barely left her flat this past year and yet is planning to return to in-person work in mid-April after her second vaccine dose. Surely me asking this hasn’t come as a complete surprise. She may feel it’s still too early to make a decision or indicate timescales, but surely she would then say that.

All kinds of explanations and possibilities are going through my mind, about the reason she’s taken so long to reply but also the wider significance of what it might mean. Is she working out how to tell me she has no idea when in-person will resume and thinks I should find a new therapist to continue this work with? Is she going to tell me her capacity has changed and she can’t hold big process like mine anymore? I’m so aware that she has the power to draw a line under our work and I would be POWERLESS to change her mind. As R reminded me yesterday – that feeling of powerlessness is echoing my experience as a baby but I am not powerless now. I have power in my own life. But I can’t make her come back to me. I have power in my own life but I can’t save myself from losing her if that’s what she decides. That really fucking hurts.

I need to try and ground and switch off from turning it over and over now and try and settle for the weekend, because I won’t hear from her till at least Monday. I need to give my system a break also, because really the triggering may not even have begun yet. I was expecting to be triggered by her response, but not for 3 days after sending it before she even replies. Who knows what delights are in store for me next week? Earlier in the week I tried to let myself hold that it could be good news, that the time apart will have been long enough and I don’t need to feel I’ve not suffered enough. Right now though I cannot see how good news could lead to a delay – surely she’d be excited to tell me when we could meet in-person if there was good news.

I also saw on her website late last night that she is now only working 10-4 on Monday and Wednesday (and offering supervision on Tuesdays). I don’t think even if she ever goes back to in-person work that I could go during those times. Not regularly every week. I work full-time and she is a 45 minute drive away. It’s about an hour and ten minutes if I were to go from work and I couldn’t guarantee I could work at home every therapy day. Even getting to hers at 4pm meant finishing work at 3pm every Monday which is so early and caused mayhem the rest of the week, but at least the home journey didn’t take time out of my work day as well. It would involve losing half a day of work every week to go between 10 and 4pm. It’s just not possible really. And she will know this. I can’t even work late the other days to make up for it because N will have swimming.

Plus I still find therapy disruptive, even though it’s easier than it was, and I’m not sure I could settle to work afterwards. Not consistently. It also doesn’t feel best use of an expensive and emotionally-invested time in therapy to come back and be straight into the demands of work, rather than letting it land and doing any writing I need to do to process. Sometimes this was a necessity when I went two or three times a week and things were triggered nearly all the time, but now therapy stirs things up but life is more stable, and so I really valued the space at home after therapy, especially if I felt held and connected. I don’t want to have to work afterwards and yet there would be no choice. Even if I could fit it in at the same time each week, which I don’t see how I could.

And with only space for 8 clients she’s unlikely to let me do a double session fortnightly, because that would mean two hours every other week she would struggle to fill. And I doubt she would be able to honour the increased-but-still-reduced fee she’d given me from September and so I don’t think I’d even be able to afford a 90 minute session every week, let alone the double we used to do.

This is all feels so hideously complicated. Is it a sign from the universe that it is time to let her go?

I would really appreciate people not commenting that she is unreasonable to keep me waiting. It has been 6 months, I asked for a sense of where she’s at, mentioned I might extend the break – none of this is time pressured and my email certainly didn’t give a sense of urgency. She is entitled to take time to think through her response. It would have been nice if she’d acknowledged my message and said she’d get back to me when she’d checked some things, but she knows I know she doesn’t work Thursday and Friday now. And I’ve been fine without her for 6 months really, so she doesn’t owe me a speedy response. It is my response and the huge fear and uncertainty and loss it brings up that I am struggling to hold. I want to believe we will find each other again but it becomes harder and harder to find any certainty around that. It is agonising waiting and also to think of what it would be like to never see her again, or to meet only to say goodbye.

With or without you

I’ve made a decision over what to do at the end of the month. The limbo is difficult and I’ll be glad when the decision is reached and communicated and agreed upon between the two of us. I am going to email in a couple of weeks and ask for a sense of K’s thoughts around returning to in-person work and whether she’s waiting till after she’s had both vaccine doses or will be opening up to some clients after the first one has taken effect. I’m going to assume she is planning to return to in-person work once she’s vaccinated and leave it to her to tell me if she is planning to keep working remotely until distancing is no longer needed or we know if people can still get serious illness from the SA variant or some other known uncertainty. I will also ask if she’s planning to offer outdoor work once the weather is better, or whether she’d consider that for me as we’ve worked outdoors before. I expect her answer to that will be no, for various reasons I’ve written about before, but who knows? I’ve learnt that anything is possible and nothing can be counted on this year!

Once I have some more information from her I will make a decision, but I expect I’ll be extending the break until at least the end of May (when she’ll be protected after vaccine dose 1) or September (if she’s waiting till she’s had the second or to see what happens longer term around serious illness and transmission and the vaccines). I suspect she will say it is still too early for her to know how much longer remote work will be for, or that she thinks it might be next year. In which case I will ask to extend the break either until autumn or until she starts in-person work if it ends up being sooner. I *think* I want to return to therapy, even if it is online, in autumn. Summer does not feel like the right time to re-commence therapy unless it is in-person. By July I also will have paid back the huge debt I’ve owed my dad for a long time, and so I’d be able to “see” K without completely giving up in-person work with R. I don’t really want to do next winter without her and regular therapy. And a break of more than a year feels way too long.

It feels really tough to think about extending the break beyond 6 months but I also know it is the right thing to do. This year has gone so slowly so far it is unreal – I cannot believe it is only 12th February – but the first 4 or 5 months of the break went fast and 6 months away from K doesn’t actually feel that long, and so extending for another 6 months if needed feels okay. Sometimes. We will soon have longer and lighter days and life will be fuller again and I hope that means time generally will not drag so much.

Spending time with R has really confirmed, once again, that I cannot go back to remote therapy, particularly not over the summer. The summer is my time for expansion and integration and growth and remote therapy cannot support that. I cannot get what I need without being in the same room as someone. And I can’t give up weekly cuddles with R to see K on a screen. Reconnecting with R has also renewed my faith that K and I’s relationship will endure, however long this time apart ends up being. I didn’t see him for 18 months, had no contact at all for almost a year, and yet he was there and we were there, solid as ever. Stronger even. More open and loving with each other. K and I have something rare and sacred and it will be there even if the break ends up being many, many more months. I am sure of that. We have spent so much time together and she knows me better than anyone apart from myself. If R hadn’t forgotten me and my journey, there is no way she will have done either.

I do miss her. A lot. The missing has really set in this past few weeks. R holds me and cuddles me and it heals at the same time as it sets off an ache for K that nothing can settle. I hope that in getting some clarity from her and agreeing to extend the break for another set amount of time my system will settle again, as it did for the first months of the break. I hope it will enable me to lean into the work I am doing with R and the love and safety and stability he gives me. I hope it will allow me to uncurl into the sun and longer days and light that is approaching and feel less like I am in some strange limbo land. Half alive.

And I hope we find her on the other side of this. I hope I am right that our bond is unbreakable. I hope she feels it too. I hope she notices my absence sometimes and wonders how I am doing. I hope she is looking forward to connecting again. I cannot wait to share my growth with her, but I think it is going to be a while till I can do that, especially as sharing ‘good’ things last year via video call was so deeply triggering and shame-provoking. I hope we will be back in the room this summer, I really do, but I am prepared that this won’t be the case and I will be okay once I know what is happening over the coming months.

All too well

And I forget about you long enough to forget why I needed to…

I’m fine. I’ve not blogged for a while because work has been busy (think 50 hour weeks full of rapid adjustments and constantly changing policies as we adapt to the ongoing Covid situation) and the last thing I feel like in what’s left of the evenings is more screen time. I’ve also not really wanted to think too much about things or examine too much of what’s going on. I feel a resistance to doing that in fact, and instead am enjoying just living my life a bit – the good and bad.

I have had some wobbles over K and drafted two emails asking to go back early or telling her I would want to – not yet, but soon. Each time I was able to sit with what was happening and tell myself I’d email if things were the same in a week. They weren’t. And for the past two weeks the pulling towards her has stopped. In the moments of overwhelm and emotional dysregulation it helped to ask if going back to remote therapy would actually help what was going on or whether there was something else I could do. Each time there was something else. And I’ve felt pretty content and regulated for 10 days or more now. I’m enjoying having a break from introspection and self-examination – I’d noticed a yearning for this at times over the last year or so when I felt resistance over ‘preparing’ for therapy, which was so different from the past when there would be frantic scribblings throughout the week of all the things that were coming up that I needed to share with K. It does feel as though life is ‘paused’ in some way at the moment, externally at least, and even though I know I am growing and healing during this time, it is a gentle growth that often doesn’t need to be put into words.

I do sometimes feel a bit at sea without K, as if I’m not quite able or willing to connect with what is going on for me and the parts at a deep level. But life is okay and this feels okay – I’m doing yoga and meditating and making time for things that bring me joy, so it’s not as though I’m shut down and disconnected from myself. And I am enjoying having a break from attachment stuff. Even when I’ve felt drawn back to K it’s not been attachment, it’s not been missing or needing her in that way, it’s been wanting her support over difficult things in my life because she knows me best. Right now I feel okay knowing I’ll see her next year. And if that doesn’t last then I’ll contact her then. I hear her voice in my head telling me what I need to do and how I need to treat myself during difficult moments, but I’m not sure returning to remote therapy would help. Or it would help some things but it would re-ignite others.

I’ve noticed a real lack of people I am vulnerable and truly authentic and open with in my life – without K it’s been really obvious there are few, if any, people I’m truly open with and can take hard stuff to. I share different things with different people and I’m honest with people, but somewhere inside I’m always holding things back and unconsciously trying to protect people from the truth about me. This is something I want to work on, probably with K, and for now I’m just working on making myself known to myself, because this year has ended up being all about that. This isn’t really the year for building new connections, is it?

Surprisingly it’s been very clear most of the time over the past 6 weeks that I will go back to therapy, that there is too much left unfinished for this to have been the end. I think I was worried if I took a break I wouldn’t want or need to. It feels, though, like a lot of me is suspended in the space between K and I still and at the very least would need integrating and consolidating and putting away. I feel very patient about when we do this work though. And I’m not sure if I will want our work to have the same quality as it did before – I’ve changed and I honestly don’t want to return to attachment anguish and forgetting I know how to do this on my own now. I’m also aware that life is very different for me right now – I’m not navigating new friendships or a relationship or difficult things around my family. Nina is more-or-less okay and not freaking me out with how broken she is. I’m noticing how quickly plans leave me feeling suffocated and ensuring I leave space between things. Things may not stay as they are, I guess, and I may need K a lot again. Who knows?

Young and teen parts seem okay and quite settled. Not all the time, but a good chunk of it. Nina is back in school and that helps. And I am lucky to be able to work from home till at least January because my GP supported me to apply for an exemption from in-person work due to my immune system’s tendency to over-react to illnesses due to complex trauma, and the risk of long Covid. I’ve had enough long term health stuff and do not need any more, and where I work there is a lot of risk which my institution is in denial over. I had to speak to occupational health and it was hard and stressful to do this and to advocate for myself, but I’m proud I did.

There are parts of being at my workplace that I really miss but they don’t outweigh the huge benefits of working from home for me – I am able to be much more boundaried talking to people via video call and don’t end up absorbing and holding all their emotions, and I am more productive and don’t get so over-stimulated with demands and social interactions coming at me from all sides. Working at home also really helps young parts because it means every day has the same shape, regardless of what is happening at work. We meditate before Nina gets up, do yoga at lunchtime, cycle after work, do a yoga nidra after dinner. Everyone likes living this way. No surprises. And it’s easier to fit in self-care without a 40 minute cycle to work and then the same home again each day. This period of settling is healing and comforting and was needed. Life probably won’t stay like this (well, I hope not – hopefully a vaccine will help for this virus at least before next summer arrives!) and it is important to use this time to settle and help heal my nervous system. Work still gets too much, but I feel more separate from it when I’m surrounded by things I love. I wanted K when it felt impossible to continue there a few weeks ago, but there are other ways of helping those feelings now.

I think since taking a break from therapy I’ve been able to acknowledge the dangers of the virus more, because it doesn’t serve me to minimise it in an attempt to make K see she’s overreacting. I mean she’s not, and I’ve not thought that since the very early days when I didn’t know what was going on with the virus really, but part of me wanted her to decide it was more important to see me than to avoid risking her own and her son’s health. Not all of me of course, and not at a conscious level, but I’m sure that was there. So in a strange way it helps, from this perspective, that cases are rising here again as it confirms that she was right not to return to in-person work over the summer ahead of a second wave (obviously I’m not saying cases rising is good, just that it has helped this side of things for me). It would have been so disruptive to see her a few times and have it taken away again. I would never have settled knowing it was all so precarious and I’d have been anxiously watching the news and cases rise and wondering when my therapy would be disrupted again. And I could have ended up in a total annihilation flashback hell just as the busy time at work was starting if she’d gone back to remote work over the past couple of weeks. It’s better this way and it is also giving me a clearer sense of what therapy can and can’t be in my life going forwards. It is sad sometimes that the very intense part of K and I’s work is done but it is also clear there will be more pandemics, soon, and deadlier than this one, and that it is a good idea to build my own supports (internal and external) so I’m not completely blind-sided by it.

I often hear Miffy (5) wanting to write to K and tell her she misses her every day but she is also okay and that she knows in her heart x a hundred thousand million that she will see her and the dogs next year. I think this sums up where we all are really. And sometimes I am filled with such enormous waves of gratitude and love for K, that through everything she did for us we’ve been able to settle and find a huge amount of peace and stability through becoming stiller and more self-reliant during a global pandemic. It’s mind-blowing sometimes how far we’ve come in the 5 years since K showed us a DVD about DID and DDNOS by First Person Plural and it all fell into place what was wrong with me, alongside the relief that there was finally someone who could help. K is and always will be a part of me and it’s becoming more apparent than ever the past few weeks just how solid the foundations I now have are because of her. It’s strange to be “okay” without her – we still think about her a lot, but it’s like she’s a whisper in the back of our minds and a place we will one day reach again.

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.

Speak now

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

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

I can’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Invisible string

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

invisible string, tying you to me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Out of the woods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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