’tis the damn season

Christmas was unexpectedly an absolute shit show. I was feeling completely okay about it this year, it being low-key and all, and somehow it descended into a total nightmare and brought up so much painful stuff for Nina and I. I ended up feeling so physically and mentally unwell on Boxing Day I could barely move off the sofa all day and have been in regular contact with R, who I’ve seen on and off for acupuncture since I was 21 and who has supported me through some of my darkest times, sending crazy texts full of shame and despair. He has been a lifeline and yet also not enough. I hadn’t realised till now that seeing K either side of Christmas has really helped me get through the last 5 Christmases. It’s been really hard not having a session to hold out for because it means there’s no end point where I can put down some of this shit.

My dad is just fucking awful – rigid, cold, cruel, abusive, sadistic, narcissistic. And I am flooded with shame and guilt when I think that about him. I wish I could just hate him. I wish I hadn’t been conditioned to automatically turn myself bad when I think and feel negative things about him, because as an infant and toddler I had to do that in order to preserve the attachment and survive. I’ve spent so much time in therapy unpicking the legacy of my relationship with my mum, and yet my dad is also so incredibly damaging and hurtful and so responsible for how I am, how I struggle, how I feel about myself and others. It breaks my heart that he was the safe one, the stable one, the one I turned to, and yet he broke me too. He isn’t safe at all. He never has been.

He is also horrible to Nina. I know I’ve written about this before but this year his behaviour has become so obviously unacceptable to both of us. He shames and belittles and criticises her constantly. He calls her stupid and lazy and tells her she won’t get a job and will end up homeless if she carries on how she is. He swore at her in TK Maxx after inviting her to go Christmas shopping with him and she spent the whole time she was with him a couple of weekends ago texting me to tell me how mean he was being. I hate how he speaks to her, how he mocks her and invalidates her. She has a huge allergic reaction every time she is at his house, which is ostensibly caused by the huge amounts of dust in his house (he cleans once a year at most) but is really her body just screaming “NO, this place is not good for me!”

When we got home on Christmas Day she was distraught, saying she thinks he hates her and that he doesn’t care about her at all. For Christmas he got her a tin of spaghetti hoops, an avocado, a bag of cheese puffs, some scissors and a set of coathangers. What.the.fuck.??? She is nearly 14 and there are a million things she would have liked. And it’s not even really about the gifts, because if she was met emotionally by him and we had a fun, warm time full of love and care when we were with him she wouldn’t care – it would just be an eccentric set of gifts from him. As things are though, the “gifts” symbolise how shut off and fucked up he is, and how he is totally unable to relate to anyone. They weren’t joke presents. He thought she would like them and she had to swallow her disappointment and pretend to be pleased.

I felt absolutely wrecked when we got home. Smashed into tiny pieces inside and drowning in shame. There is no love there, no warmth or joy or even niceness. It is flat and cold and distant. Any humour is mockery. And he just shows off and competes over everything. It is like being with a 6 year old boy. As Nina said, he didn’t really do anything wrong that day, but he is just not a nice person and he doesn’t know how to be with people, how to care, how to love. We spent 4 hours when we got home talking about him and how awful he is and how shit our family are and I let Nina cry and rage about it, but what a fucked up Christmas. I’d rather have been just the two of us a bit bored then have spent time with someone who makes us both feel so shit and let down and guilty.

It kills me to write bad things about him. We basically have no family without him, apart from my half sister who we are not really close to although we have chatted more this year than in previous years, but is no family better than this? If this was someone else in her life, her dad or my partner, who was nice and funny 10% of the time but abusive and cruel the rest of the time, people would be horrified that she still saw them when they were clearly wrecking her self-esteem and leaving her feeling worthless.

The triggers of Christmas will recede, but the need for action over this will not and so I am left with a sickening dilemma. Do I pull back further and leave myself unsupported and Nina with even less family? How do I pull back?I don’t get anything good from him but he does help practically sometimes, making food and helping when things at home break. But the way he complains and belittles me when he helps out, I just want to be free of needing his help. It’s hard though, as I can’t afford to pay for help with odd jobs and things. And I am still so scared of him that I never stand up to him. I am genuinely terrified of confronting him, disappointing him, enraging him, hurting him. It is clear I would rather Nina get lectured and sworn at and belittled than call him out on his behaviour and that is not something I am proud of. I am sure he is incapable of changing because he doesn’t act intentionally, he is just repeating patterns and behaviours he grew up with, but how do I pull away without telling him what the problem is?

I only know I can’t keep going like this. I hate that he thinks he is perfect and that everything mentally and physically wrong with me is caused by my mum. He kept coming up in therapy at the start of lockdown but I couldn’t go there, not properly there, with stupid remote therapy, so that trauma work is on hold till K and I can meet, which might not be till autumn. I need her to help me find a path through this that isn’t sacrificing mine and Nina’s well-being. She has never felt so far away. I feel so alone with this and it is even worse having had 5 Christmases of holding out for December 28th or 29th when I could take all the muddle to K that I am now on my own with it again. I talked to the friend I’m in a bubble with about it yesterday afternoon and she was lovely but she is not K and I couldn’t show just how fucked up this leaves me.

It is December 28th and I am done in despite having had 10 days off work. I think I’m coming down with a cold and I just need a break. A proper break. I have felt suicidal and anxious and in a constant state of dread since we got home on Christmas Day. 5 hours with my dad did this to me. I don’t want this anymore. And I can’t see a way out.

Epiphany

I’ve regained a sense of equanimity this week. K and I are not broken. I am okay. And it turns out I didn’t need her to help me work through the painful and conflicting feelings about my brother, or work out what to do. Turns out I had it all inside me. Turns out every conversation we’ve had about him, and every feeling she’s helped me understand and verbalise and process, was all in there and I was able to draw on it even when I didn’t know I could. I sent a simple email reply in the end, saying I understood and would be in touch next year about returning to therapy as planned. What else was there to say really? I knew I needed to do something that stopped the internal rupture becoming an external one. And I mended it myself by reconnecting with my internalised sense of her.

K will have known how much I was hurting about my brother and how painful I will have found her response. She also knows me and my system inside out and she knows so well what is and isn’t helpful for us. She knew that returning to online therapy so soon wasn’t right for my system or our relationship. She probably also knew that a few sessions, even if she had space, would have caused as much difficulty as they solved. With young alters things are never straightforward, and something that might have helped adult me likely would have triggered young parts and made a mess. I had to dig deep to find the place in me that knew she wasn’t intentionally hurting me or rejecting me, that she hadn’t forgotten me and moved on to the concerns of new clients, that she wasn’t going to say I can’t go back next year, but I found it and hung on tight to it until I came through the other side of the attachment storm and found some kind of peace again.

She was right that a return to online therapy wasn’t right. It wouldn’t have helped longer term but I also think if she’d offered some one-off sessions over the next couple of weeks then it would have soothed me at the time but also may have prolonged things around my brother. As it is, I’ve been able to let things settle around this situation in a way that might have been difficult if we’d had a few sessions booked in. It would have been nice to talk to her about it but I knew what she would say and I’ve been able to move forward with the situation in a way that feels manageable. I’ve also been able to switch off from it again, and it is testimony to all the healing I’ve done that I am not consumed by fear and guilt around him, and that I can sit with the situation and let it work out over the coming weeks and months instead of needing a resolution immediately.I also feel clear and resolute in what I can and can’t manage around contact with him, and that is new for me too.

On Saturday I went to see my best friend for the day and we walked in the woods and it was so beautiful. I want to write soon about how our friendship has evolved through our own healing journeys, and how a friendship that was always so important to me but often left me overwhelmed and dissociated due to our shared trauma history has now become a source of nourishment and connection that I’m not sure I’ve ever had in a friendship before. I don’t get flooded with shame and dissociate anymore when we talk about ‘my stuff’ – it feels like a normal conversation. For me this is wonderful because of what it means for our friendship (she has felt the shift too, in terms of how it is to share her authentic self with me this past year also) but also because it means I now feel safe enough with her to show all of me and not feel ashamed or need to disappear, and so this can happen with the other friendships where I do still dissociate a lot when I share. The day really helped me remember who I am that is not about K or my brother. And it was really lovely to be able to talk about it all and to be understood, but not lose myself in talking about it or let it consume the conversation all day.

On Sunday I was still quite a mess and hadn’t slept more than a few hours a night since Thursday when my sister text, but I felt a change in me and a determination not to spend the next 5 or 6 months waiting for K. I have to accept that we don’t know what is going to happen next year and I have to be okay with not going back, if that is what happens. I cannot put my life or healing on hold. I don’t think I am or have been, but I also need to move forward during this time, even more than I have been. So I made an appointment for a one-to-one TRE session on Monday and it was amazing – the practitioner was so safe and warm and we went really gently. I only did the shaking part for a few seconds a couple of times but will go weekly for a while until I feel safe to do it by myself at home. It feels like the right next step in my healing and it is wonderful to have the resources (time and money and space) to do it now. I switched out for the first time in public for really a long time during the tremors part, probably because we felt so safe with her, and a young part checked that no one was going to shout at us for shaking. It makes me sad how much fear there is around being seen and about how our body responds, but that is a focus for another post as I want to write about the session soon.

It feels empowering to be using this time to try something new. We all miss K so much, every day, and it is so hard knowing we have no idea when we’ll see her again. Getting her email response was so painful. Seeing the news that it could be summer before a vaccine is rolled out is difficult. Not knowing if she’ll have space when we want to go back or she returns to face-to-face is very scary and unsettling. But at the same time I have to be okay with not knowing, with possibly not being able to go back, because life changes all the time and I can’t control K or the virus situation. Since last week I feel liberated from the constant umming and ahhing about returning to therapy now too. I can’t go back to working remotely, I really can’t, and so I just have to hang on until the situation changes. Being able to pay my Dad back next Spring also feels liberating and important. And even though we said a 6 month break and that I would email at the end of February, really if K isn’t returning to in-person work then (which seems likely, given the vaccine situation) how can I go back? Surely it would be better to wait till I can go back properly, when our first session would be in-person with a hug and being reunited with the dogs as well.

And I don’t need K in the way I used to. It hurts but it is the truth and there is healing and growth in opening up to the truth. And I am tired of handing my power to someone else. Sometimes I worry if I grow too much over the next 6 months I won’t need (or want) to go back, but that is so clearly attachment trauma talking and so I have to calm those fears and reassure everyone that if that were to happen – and I don’t think it will; our work feels so unfinished – it would be for our highest good. I have to do what is right for everyone in my system now because the future I am often so focused on controlling doesn’t yet exist.

Hoax

***** Trigger warning ***** never-ending pandemic *****

Things became really activated and not okay after writing my last post about how I was, mostly, okay. It obviously brought to the surface things that had lain dormant and there were bad dreams about K and young parts were very upset and writing lots and just feeling generally fucked up and attachmenty. And I’m so tired and work is a struggle and more than anything I want K, in-person K, and to be able to snuggle under a blanket on a cushion on her floor and feel her close by.

Mostly I guess I’ve also realised – again – that K and I won’t be meeting in-person in the Spring and going back to how things were before March, not that soon and maybe not ever. Even a viable vaccine is going to take more than a year to distribute, even if all goes to schedule and it’s ready for mass roll out from next summer. And our government is fucking up everything so it’s hardly going to magically roll out a vaccine efficiently. Or even get its shit together over test and trace. Plus we know future pandemics are going to start to come in a big hot mess from now on and we’ll be lucky if a new one doesn’t start before we’ve got a vaccine or treatment for this one.

It’s no good people saying that we have to learn to live alongside this virus and that in-person work will have to resume at some point, because it’s not true. K will – rightly – put her health, and that of her son’s first, above her job, regardless of how important it is and how much she misses face-to-face work. She is doing a good enough job for most of her clients remotely. She works 3 days a week now and I’m sure can find enough clients who will benefit from working with her to fill those spaces, whatever the medium. She doesn’t need to risk her health. Just as I know at work that what I’m providing is different – and inferior in some ways – but I am prepared to do it all remotely to avoid being very ill and experiencing long-term symptoms similar to those I’ve battled nearly all my life. So I don’t judge her, but I do know she is very unlikely to return to in-person work before we have a vaccine or, at the very least a very accurate and rapid test. And by the time that happens, what other threats could humanity be inflicting on itself that will keep us apart?

My only hope is for a fast test that I can buy cheaply or get prescribed and take once-a-week, just as I am leaving for K’s, to confirm I’m not contagious. I don’t even know how likely this is to ever happen or if it would definitely mean I could go back.

And I feel so selfish and privileged that this is my top concern during a global pandemic because so many are suffering in countless ways and all I am missing in my life is K. To be honest, if things stay as they are now I could cope as I am seeing enough people and Nina is in school and there isn’t much I can’t do that I would like to do. Obviously I am finding it hugely stressful watching the world fall apart and people’s livelihoods get ruined and knowing how many are isolated and in despair, and it’s hard wondering if and when I will be stopped from seeing friends, but everything apart from not being able to see K is okay, in terms of how my actual life is now.

What is wrong with me that I can’t do this work remotely when so many others can? It is leaving me unsupported at a time of huge stress and uncertainty and leaving me unable to finish the work K and I started, leaving it and me suspended and unable to move forward. I miss her so much but even if tried to work remotely again I wouldn’t get what I need from her, and I am giving up hope that I ever will now. I don’t see how things will ever change.

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.

Invisible

We miss K. There is not much more than that to say really, but in my real life there is no one we can tell and so we are writing those words here because right now it feels so unreal that we ever knew her. She has faded far away and all those hours with her feel as though they never even happened.

We cannot say ‘we miss K’ out loud because there is no one who would hear those words and understand. They would tell me I have friends or that I can go back if it’s too hard, but the truth is I’m not sure it would be any better if we were meeting if it was online. Which it would be. I am trying to hold in my heart that we will work in-person again, but that is hard. This once-in-a-hundred-year event is going to become commonplace unless animal agriculture stops, and the next pandemic could begin before this one even ends. In the face of the utter destruction of the natural world it is hard to hold onto hope that a part of my old life will be returned to me.

We want to talk to K about the bunnies. Young parts are trying to come out and talk to Nina more and more and this is getting precarious. This used to happen a lot – it wasn’t noticeable until the start of therapy when I realised I had parts, but then it was and then it eased because they got to talk to K each week. Now it is happening again, and because I am mostly co-conscious with parts I can watch them out and talking but can’t control what they are saying. It’s not good as it makes her angry that I am ‘pretending’ to be little. I don’t know what to do about it.

Anyway, I just wish K knew how hard this is. Missing her is horrible.

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.

Seven

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Come back… be here

Thank you to everyone who’s given me so much support this week, and all the other times, it is so appreciated and helps so much to know there are people who understand how hard this whole situation is.

Day 3 isn’t even over. Oh my god this is honestly the most stupid decision I’ve ever made. What was I thinking? It feels utterly impossible to survive this break. And it was my decision. Except it doesn’t feel like my choice – I would never have made this decision if 2020 wasn’t shaping up to be the worst year in human history.

I am okay but also really not okay. It is taking all my strength to be okay but I can’t sustain this till the spring. Not possible. I miss K so much and there have been about 30 things already that I’ve gone to write down to tell her next week and then caught myself. Yuck. It hurts so much. I keep getting hit by waves of grief and when I think of her I’m aware of an internal sense of free-falling through an abyss. All around is empty space. There’s just too much of it and not enough of me and she gets further and further away as the hours go by. I keep coming back to me, my body, home, life, plans, but it is hard work and I can feel myself getting lost. I just want to email K and say I made a big mistake and can I come back. But then back to what… Remote work. That was so painful and pointless.

Yesterday started off kind of okay, I felt crap but accepting. And then it was dark and grey and wet here, and I felt groggy and tired and foggy and so flat and empty. Just a taste of the months to come over winter. Work is going to be absolutely crazy full on for the next 7 months and I can’t believe I’m heading into this time without K ,and planning to try and endure nearly all of this time without her support and co-regulation. Already there are workplace dilemmas and boundary issues I’m struggling with and would value her input to help me unpick. It struck me how this whole ‘taking a break’ was much easier to contemplate in summer, when life is more spacious for me and I’m able to spend huge amounts of time alone and connecting with myself and doing things I need and love, but all this is going to be much harder in the coming months. Now work is getting busier again, and I have more meetings and huge amounts of social interaction each day, there is less time for me and I can feel myself dissolving, as if my sense of self gets absorbed into others and I’m too thinly spread. Scattered energetically. It’s making the lack of mirroring from K very daunting as I’ve had a difficult reminder of what happens for me and why the past few exceptional months have been easier for me in many ways, with the isolation and solitude and lack of decision-making and so on.

Heartbreaking also yesterday was finding the special bracelet K gave us last summer to celebrate 4 years of working together out in the garden in the mud and all tarnished from the rain. Nina had taken it from my room without asking and lost it out there earlier this week. It was devastating. And I know I did thoughtless crap like that when I was 13 (and older) but honestly, of all the things for her to ruin this week, it just led to a massive wave of pain because we can’t even tell K what has happened to it. And my dad was being horrible yesterday and I can’t tell her that either. And a reminder of why stupid online therapy doesn’t work, because there is trauma work to do around him still, lots has come up during lockdown, but I can’t go there on a screen so it’s all on hold whatever. And I can’t get the gentle warmth and holding through a screen. So none of the work I need to do is possible right now, but then it means I can’t have K either.

It was sunny today and things have felt better and I worked productively, but the days are not going to be like this for very much longer. Maybe remote therapy would have been easier once my life became fuller again because I’d have had more things I needed to share and get input on so there would have been a point to therapy even without doing more trauma work or getting more of whatever magical things she poured into us all. Maybe I should have waited. But it was so hard and often re-traumatising to work like that… What an impossible situation. Last night it just really hit me what this decision involves – not speaking to K for 6 months… It feels like it all happened so suddenly and here I am on the other side of this decision, even though I know I’d thought it through. And then the alternative – keeping going with stupid remote therapy. Which is worse? I don’t even know. Maybe there is just a lot of shock going on in my system and it will settle, but right now it just feels impossible to survive 6 months without K whilst we’re in a pandemic and adapting to that at work and there is still so much change and uncertainty ahead.

We miss her so much. We’ve missed her for 5 months now but this feels worse, more of an empty space. It’s so hard imagining her living her life with me not being a part of her week anymore. Will she even notice on Monday that we are not there? And if she does, for how long till she gets used to not knowing what we are all doing? I want her to at least know how hard this is for us all this week, in case she thinks we are fine and having a nice time, but likely she isn’t thinking about me and how I am at all so why does it even matter that she knows how I actually am.

I really hope the next 5 months goes at warp speed like the last 5 have, ,or that the government get their shit together with tests we can do at home and get results within half an hour and then we can go back to therapy and normal life!

This was a pretty pointless post but it helps to get it down and I sometimes get tangled when I journal – writing here helps me make the internal mess a little more coherent.

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.

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