Design a site like this with WordPress.com
Get started

Jess-shaped hole

I am really struggling with the upcoming anniversary this year, more so than last year which has taken me by surprise in some ways. There’s something about five years, about how long that is, that I am finding really very difficult this year – it hasn’t ‘just happened’ and yet the loss is still so real and raw. There is a Jess-shaped hole in me, and there always will be – time doesn’t fill it, it just makes it harder to believe she was ever here. I sometimes doubt our connection, worry I made it up and that she didn’t even really like me that much, which I guess is the legacy of a narcissistic mother who made me doubt my own reality. I need to constantly remind myself that it was real, otherwise I feel ashamed for finding it so hard that she is gone, as if I am totally over-reacting and have no right to these feelings.

Last year wasn’t fun by any means, but it was also much more tangled with my estranged mother’s 70th birthday (which is the same day as Jess died). This year I’m barely thinking of my Mum, it’s all about Jess, and it feels very raw and quite frightening if I’m honest. I think there is still a lot of shock and disbelief around too – it is still so hard to comprehend that she really won’t be back. K said how, without that chance to say goodbye, the mind never has chance to catch up with what happened and, especially with the level of dissociation I experience, it might never feel real for me. And she said how it feels so other, that when I describe her with her arms up ready for a hug, and her liveliness (she was so alive) then it is truly shocking that her physical body is no longer here. And I know that I agreed to identify her body so that it could be released in time for the funeral in part so that it might feel more real, but I can never really match up the image of her so alive – dancing, cooking, riding her bike, laughing – with that cold, blue, bloated ghost in the morgue, so it didn’t really work in many ways.

And every year young parts have some kind of meltdown because they can’t seem to get what has happened. I can feel them getting excited as the anniversary approaches, because it is ‘Jess’s day’ and it feels like we are getting ready to see her again – they just can’t understand that we are not going to, that this is not what anniversaries are about, that we never will see her again. I hear little voices asking when she’s coming back. It seems to make it harder than ever, because of course we have to go through the whole ‘she’s dead’ ‘is dead forever?’ thing all over again. This makes me worry I sound crazy, but it is what it is. Having young parts complicates everything (a lot). It was actually the first anniversary of Jess’ suicide, 4 years ago, when we’d been seeing K for around 3 months, that I first really knew that she understood and would be able to help me. We’d only just started to figure out I had alters, and I remember her saying how hard it was for very young parts to understand something as huge as suicide – a sudden death was bad enough, but when that person chose to die it makes it so much more complicated and shocking and incomprehensible. At that point everything shifted for me I think as I began to understood my own reactions and behaviours and experiences and I realised K was capable of really understanding and helping us all.

K and I had an extra session today and we have one next Thursday as well (the actual anniversary is the 10th). I worried that me asking for these extra sessions was unnecessary this year, but I was so grateful after work to have those 90 minutes with her and to be able to put down some of the heaviness and let her hold some of what I’ve been carrying. I’ve felt so tightly coiled the last few days, aware of this pit of grief and loss and confusion inside me but having nowhere for it to go except into my physical body, which aches and hurts from being held so tightly. I’ve managed at work and it’s been kind of fine and kind of awful at the same time, but it’s hard keeping everything inside at work and at home.

We talked a lot about Jess and suicide and my mum’s mother’s suicide when she was 12. And we talked about my own suicidality and what happened for me after Jess died. I have so much shame over how losing Jess affected me and how lost and dysregulated and unable to cope I was. It is a shame I cannot shake, the worst shame I experience, and nothing seems to loosen it. It feels like it is eating me from the inside and I want to cut out of my skin to be free of it, to be someone else, someone who is good and doesn’t do bad things. I managed to share a little more with K than I have before about that time, and she was very validating and compassionate about how much pain I was in and how I didn’t know back then that I was dissociated and had complex trauma and young parts, but I feel so disgusting inside about it. I feel like I really need to write about it and share it with her, to loosen its hold and begin to let some of the shame go, and I would love this year to be the year I do this, but I am so scared to face what’s inside me over that time. I know she will make me feel better about it, I know that shame is healed in relationship and that sharing it will begin to dismantle its power, but the thought of sitting down and writing about that time makes me feel so bad.

K and I talked about how far I’ve come since we first met, when killing myself and Nina seemed not only to be the only way out, but also an entirely rational option given the pain I was in, the transgenerational trauma, the horrors I must have inflicted on her and what a painful future was ahead of her. It took so much work to get to a point where I could see Nina was happy and secure and safe, that I had been ‘good enough’, and that I couldn’t take her life. It’s good to see that progress, and to see that, for the most part, I can trust that Nina is okay, but it feels incongruous at the same time for my grief over Jess to still be the same size as it was back then.I really don’t want to go to work tomorrow or next week. I really need some space and time to myself to write and think about Jess. I wish I didn’t have to work. Or parent. Not forever but for a little while. I need to see the sea and walk and feel close to Jess again.

The road you’ve taken leads to the stars and for a while you’ll dance ahead,

But I know my soul will find yours there in the place where you have led.

Together we’ll stand still in time, friends forever – come what may.

And as kindred spirits we’ll dance again; our mortal years will fade to grey.

Tentative steps

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

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

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

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

Reaching

I couldn’t reach K again today and now I’m home and it feels like my insides have been ripped out. How after so many months of feeling so held and safe and connected am I here again for so many weeks now?

I read K what Phoebe wrote last week. She said it’s amazing because it sums up the block between us that is happening right now and that is about something historical that has led to a special shape within me, a pattern that says that most things are not safe (what a fucking sad statement of fact).

‘I can’t reach you’ I managed to whisper.

‘Yeah, I know’ and she sounded sad, like she really knew how fucking painful it is to be a metre from her and also a million miles away. And it surprised me that she knew straightaway, she knew I couldn’t reach her, because I was behaving ‘normally’ and pretending all was fine, and she is still the only person who sees through my mask and knows I’m out of reach.

‘Well… I think it’ll come back’ and I started to sob and she said ‘don’t worry, you know what  – this went on for a long time with Mum, years and years and years. So right now there’s a patterning that’s saying don’t trust. We’ll get through it. I’m confident it’ll come back.’

She said how important it is that we don’t pretend it’s normal, like I had to as a child, and that we let it be there and let things be difficult and authentic. She thinks it will settle of it’s own accord over the next few weeks, if we sit in the storm with it and don’t force it.

‘And I’m here, no matter what. And it’ll be alright. I’m convinced it will be okay’.

‘It’s hard without you’ I said quietly. (And it is so hard, to be without her after months of feeling her with me all the time, whenever I looked for her).

‘Yeah, and I’m here, waiting in the wings.’

And we talked about Phoebe again, and how she didn’t used to have any words. About how she was mean all the time because she was scared of K and how much she hated all the other parts for attaching to K. She was the last, shame kept her far away and angry and defended for so many years. And it hurts so much that she wants to connect and can’t. But she knows K hasn’t done anything wrong now and she knows K doesn’t hurt us deliberately and just wants to help. The blocking is automatic and it comes from us, not K.

So things are different but also the same. Or maybe they are the same but also different. I’m not battling K. We’re not falling into horrible relational re-enactments and locking horns. I’m not accusing her of being different or convinced she hates me. I know she’s there and that I can’t reach her. We can talk about what’s happening now, even though we cannot make the connection come back however much we both wish we could. And inside me is a gaping pit of emptiness and I want to die/cut/take drugs to fill it, but I know this hole is not caused by K but by my parents who couldn’t love me, and so whilst I want to die I can also hold on tight to her belief that I will reach her again. I just really hope it’s not much longer because I miss her. I missed her even while I was in the room with her for 2 hours earlier. Everything internally and externally is very hard at the moment and I need her with me and it really fucking hurts when I can’t reach her.

Attachment still hurts

Attachment pain is killing me. It’s not felt like this for months and months, since December last year in fact so nearly 9 months. I can’t even remember what to do with this pain and the gnawing, aching sensations in my chest and tummy. I feel so empty inside, so desperate for something I cannot even articulate. I want to curl up and die, preferably with K right next to me. It hurts so much. When it was time to end our phone call earlier I just wanted to scream and cry. It wasn’t enough time, it feels like it will never be enough time again, even though for all those months therapy hasn’t felt like this at all. It is like K and I are the same but the new house feels so strange and all wrong and we are both floating untethered in the new space. I need longer there, to learn what it is like there, to know I can trust it, to know K and I are the same and everything is still there. It still feels so far away and I can’t work out how our skies match up or where the moon should be.

K continues to be amazing and kind and validating. Monday’s session was not enough to settle this wave, I could feel the abandonment tidal wave threatening to erupt even before I left, as the time trickled away and the week apart stretched ahead. She took me outside before we left, to the special spot in her new garden, a shady space where you can sit under the trees and look across to the rolling hills and the edge of the moors and watch the sun go down. And as we sat there I wanted to beg her not to send me home yet, to let me stay until I’d soaked in enough of her to sustain me again and could feel deep inside that everything is the same and will be okay. I know she can feel my internal disturbances even when I don’t speak them out loud, and she said for now it is like it was when we met and to contact her when I needed to, to not hold back if I need her, to let her know how I am doing. She didn’t used to say those things, although we text most days at the start and often worked by phone, but I think before texting never used to help, and waiting for a reply was agonising, and we just couldn’t take in what she was saying and would end up more triggered, whereas now she knows this is temporary and that her presence helps me. She knows I can support and care for myself in the ordinary course of life now, that I have come so far, and that is why she is offering more, knowing she won’t have to pour this much into me again forever. It is good to remember things are different now, even though the storm feels the same.

Walking to the car I could hear the screaming inside, the pain was so intense, like part of me had been ripped away, like I was being left alone to die. The week ahead, even with phone contact, felt completely impossible to survive on my own. I nearly threw up before I got in the car. I wanted to scream and sob and wail, but feeling those feelings alone is intolerable so I swallowed the screams and I drove home, the pain in my head intensifying as I got nearer home and I pushed the feelings down more and more so I wouldn’t be a mess when I got back to Nina. We text K an hour after getting home. She said it is a big storm that will settle, to resource and rest, that we could work the next day (yesterday) by phone if it would be helpful. I tried to rest but young parts were so disturbed and the head pain was so intense and debilitating. Yesterday I had to work in my office and had meetings and a training and coffee with a friend and mostly I was adult but there was an undercurrent of disturbance all day and at Nina’s bedtime I yelled at her because she had the guinea pigs on her bed and one of them did a wee and so her sheets needed changing at 9.45pm. This was an annoyance, but the rage it triggered in me was clearly disproportionate. I did myself a reiki treatment and that soothed things a bit and I apologised for yelling before she fell asleep. K and I spoke this morning and it helped and hurt at the same time. I can’t even remember really what she said, but it was about attachment and trauma and not feeling safe in relationship, about how we are still working through the imprint of what happened to me as an infant and my attachment system, and that we were both working really hard to contain this wave and would continue to do so. I wish I could remember her words, but they’ve mostly dissolved already and I want to reach out by text but there is nothing she can do and ultimately this pain is not about her. It was so soothing to hear her voice and know how solid she is but it also hurt so much to have her there and to know I would then have to survive until Monday again without her. This feels so ridiculous to be writing, I’ve not struggled between sessions like this for so long.

I told her the huge and really intense dream I had last night about her and my Mum and all the pain I keep hidden. I was shouting a lot in the dream and just so completely broken. The content of the dream is pretty textbook, but as those of us who experience trauma dreams and nightmares will testify, their power and their residue is immense. I had intense knee pain, and other body pains, in the dream (which I have had a lot of lately, and could feel in the night every time I was semi-conscious) and had been carrying on for weeks as though my knee wasn’t hurting, but finally went to have X-Rays. My body was broken in multiple places and when the radiographer showed me my knee images my knee caps were cracked in two. I was told I would need to wear a cast for 3 months and my first thought was practicalities around getting Nina to and from swimming training and getting to work, shortly followed by ‘how will I get to K’s?’. Somehow I managed to get dropped off at the junction of the A-road I come off at to get to her new house, thinking that however much it hurt my knees I would walk the rest of the way, but then every time I went round a corner I was somewhere different than I expected to be and there were still miles to go. I was in so much pain and made it to a telephone box thinking if I called K she would come and get me (which she has said she will do in the landrover if there is ever flooding or snow I can’t get through to get to hers), but she wasn’t bothered and said she’d see me when I was healed and the cast was off. So I called my Mum to come and drive me to K’s and she did. I don’t remember seeing her in the dream though, and the next thing I was at her house, where I grew up, with my sister sitting across from me and when she found out how I’d got to K’s she went crazy at me about what I had done to my Mum and did I not realise the state she’d been in since I cut contact two years ago, and how this would destroy her (i.e. me reaching out to her when nothing has changed). I said it was fine, she knew nothing had changed and this was a one-off, but my sister continued to say angry things to me until I exploded and screamed at her ‘what about what Mum has done to ME?’ and how she broke me, how it is taking years and loads of money in therapy to recover, how for the first 18 months of therapy my plan was to kill Nina and I, so ‘what about ME?’ and if it wasn’t for what she had done I wouldn’t have needed to get to K’s in the first place.

This dream is so obviously about all my system is struggling to process at the moment, about climate breakdown and not being able to get to K’s, about attachment and damage and my dysfunctional family and the impact what I’ve had to do will have had on family members, and about the lengths I go to to conceal my pain, physical and emotional, consciously and unconsciously. And K says it shows us what big things have been coming up around her move and not being able to get to her, and things changing, and then not being able to see my sister at the weekend, for various reasons but in part because of the family mess and the emotions it would bring up. It has stayed with me all day.

I still feel as though I am dying, but I realise what is worse is knowing I won’t actually die between now and Monday, instead I will just have to live with these intolerable feelings and with no one to soothe it for all that time (obviously logically I can see actual death would be worse, but it doesn’t feel that way). I cannot escape this pain. I can’t remember what I did to soothe it, did anything work? I’ve been trying to think about ways this pain is different from before. I don’t feel K and I’s relationship is under threat, only our ability to see each other and work together. I don’t feel caught in the disorganised attachment dance, desperate to reach out to her yet terrified of pushing her away, I am just aware, from an adult space, that I can’t keep texting as there is not really anything she can do other than wait out the storm with me. And I also know now this pain is not about her, and this does leave me feeling like at least we are in this together; it is not about me needing more and her holding back from me, it is not making her angry that I feel this way, it is not making her want to give up on me, she is on my side and doing all she can to help make things better right now. If I text she would reply. She’s said we can work by phone again on Friday (except how much is all this phone time costing me, argh) and that she is solid in us and it doesn’t feel different for her.

I really, really hate feeling this way. I hate having young parts freaking out whilst at the same time I am trying to work. I want someone to hold me but I know if there was someone here it wouldn’t help. I asked K if she would go away if the baby part (Hope, she is called) really screamed with her and she said she thinks that baby did scream with her on Friday and I said “not as loudly as she screams when you’re not there” (because I was aware, even in that state, of holding back and not making too much noise) and she said if you become aware of that baby part coming out tell me and we will find ways to soothe her because it’s not good for babies to be allowed to just scream. And I said ‘but she doesn’t know what it’s like to scream and not be on her own’ and I think K understood this. I know she knows the level of distress, but to have it witnessed in all its intensity before it is soothed feels like something older parts need to witness happening if that makes sense.

This past week or two has been so hard. It is crazy thinking I felt so much worse than this for weeks and weeks on end for such a sustained period of my life. I don’t know how I coped, especially when it truly felt all about K and she couldn’t reach me in it. She thinks this will take a while to settle again, that it is a good reminder for us of how even though things are so much better now that it doesn’t take much to tip the balance again, that it shows why my body is so broken, but it is also really hard knowing these feelings still lurk and are still so life or death in their intensity.

‘I’m having a complete meltdown unrelated to your move…’

What a day! I spiralled into a hysterical crisis after I wrote this morning and ended up going to K’s an hour earlier than planned. I messaged her when I came off the main road so she could wait outside and show me where to park, telling her I was 9 minutes away and was having a meltdown that was ‘unrelated to her move’ (ahem…). I was crying when I arrived, pretty much yelled at her that I couldn’t possibly do that journey every week (I will be), and then sat on the floor of the new therapy space crying as she made tea, not even able to sit on my normal cushion. She offered me a hug when she brought the tea in and sat on the floor with me where she held me as I sobbed and howled. I’ve never lost it like that with her before and let the feelings out so loudly, and she stayed holding me until I was done and then helped me sit on the cushion with the blanket and drink some tea.

She has been amazing today. We unpicked the time I’ve had since we last met. We talked about all that came up over not being able to see my sister this weekend, and how I just want a family. We talked about how sad and frustrated I feel that PTSD and dissociation limits my life so much. And she showed us the stables and paddock where her rescue donkeys will live and we sat looking at the beautiful view and Miffy asked if other people who are little in a little body would go there and she said no, not at the moment – there are no children and we are the first people to go to the new house which she said was nice (it is, of course). For the first time in a very long time I was freaking out from about 10 minutes into the session that it would soon be time to leave and I would be back on my own with the intolerable feelings I was experiencing for another 3 days until we meet again. (Maybe that should have alerted me to the fact this was crisis was attachment-based…). She said she was available over the weekend so we could work by phone if needed, and to let her know how I was doing later.

I then cried all the way home and for most of the afternoon, stopping only when my Dad arrived to help Nina with her Maths homework before taking her to swimming training. (He pretended not to notice I’d been crying, which a few years ago would have sent me nuts, but I accept that it brings up too much in him now and can forgive his limitations). I text K and she was so kind, said this was deep pain (I think she knew before I did that something bigger was at play today) and used her lovely phrase ‘soup and blankets’ which she said to me the first time she saw me in crisis (our second session), and told me this wave would pass. And she repeated her offer of phone work over the weekend. Then the pain in my head became unbearable and I thought I was going to need to ask my Dad to drive me to hospital for IV painkillers. So I asked if we could speak this evening (oh so wonderful that this is a simple request now and I no longer get stuck in that hellish place of disorganised attachment where I am desperate to reach out and terrified in case I am ‘too much’ and make her go away all at the same time and dither in a shame spiral until it is too late) and we spoke straightaway. Her landline was being connected as I arrived today – perfect timing!

It’s probably the most beautiful phone call we’ve ever had, apart from maybe the one after she told me she wasn’t going away after all and we had a meltdown because even that was too destabilising…. We did a check in and told her how bad the head pain was and that there were a lot of worries that she would go away and that a part kept saying just to not go anymore because if we stopped going it would hurt less than K going away. And K said as soon as we left today she’d been thinking ‘attachment, attachment, attachment’ which was funny because I’d said to my friend that K probably thought it was funny that I’d said in my text that the meltdown wasn’t related to her move… And she said how even though all the things I shared about life being too much were valid, underneath it all was something much bigger and that it felt to lots of young (and not-so-young) parts as though we had ended because there was so much worry that she wouldn’t be there when we got to the new house and that we would have to stop working. She said it was like we had gone back to the old days where there was a constant fear that she wouldn’t be there, wouldn’t open the door, would disappear, would say we were too much. And she reminded me of how deep and extensive my attachment wounding is (which helped, because sometimes I forget and just feel nuts!). We shared a lot, about what we thought of the new house (that it *might* be okay but is much too far away, that it is pretty, that some things were the same, that she was the same in the new house, that we liked it that she met us at the door with Digby on his lead even though we were too upset to notice him). We asked if we could do cutting and gluing soon and talked about the picture we are planning to make, and about donkeys and film nights. She told me how much progress I’ve made, how very hard I’ve worked in therapy, how the damage I endured as an infant and young child is so huge that it has taken us years – 4 years so far – to start to process and unpick what happened to me, and that we still have so much work to do and she is so glad we are continuing to work. And she said how even though today was like before it also wasn’t, because we know this territory now and we know what we are doing. She said how nice it is that we are in a different phase of the work where – apart from today – I can enjoy our time together now with less of an edge for me around being in relationship. We talked about how it was before, when therapy was so painful and speaking to her on the phone when I was in crisis made everything hurt even more but not speaking was awful also, and how now it helps to speak, it really helps – I felt soothed straight away this evening and the pain in my head subsided massively.

And somehow we managed to share how much it hurts when we’re not there knowing that she will soon be starting with new clients now she has moved, because it’s always nice with new people where nothing bad has happened yet, and how this is so linked to feeling invisible and non-existent unless we are extra prominent, and all the painful realisations around this I had whilst we were on holiday recently, that I’ve not fully worked through yet but am still reeling from as it is so huge and sad and limits my life in such extensive ways. I said when we were with her none of those things matter because we can feel how real our relationship is, but that when we’re not there all those other people become huge and we are completely eclipsed. I used to text K constantly asking ‘are you still here?’ but partly I was actually telling her I was still here, because I couldn’t believe I still existed for her when I wasn’t there, and I didn’t exist if she couldn’t see me. Learning I am here is such a huge part of my journey and the work I need to do still. I told her today on the phone that these realisations about why I feel so invisible and am so terrified of being replaced are the most painful realisations I’ve had for nearly 18 months, and I asked if it would stop hurting one day to know why I’m like this, and she said she thinks it will soften and become easier to live with.

I said how hard it was to realise that I still need therapy every week and that even though I cope I struggle without my Monday session. And then I realised that I used to be unable to cope for a whole week without her and now I usually manage that time completely fine, it’s just hard without her for longer. And of course there is shame in that still, but our time together is the glue that holds me together and enables me to do so much other stuff in my life too. We also spoke about my fears that she will say I shouldn’t come anymore and why therapy is taking so long, and she was so validating about why I need it, why I need her still. I said I couldn’t understand before what people did in therapy for DID for so many years (7-10 on average) but I do now, and that I wish I’d known it wouldn’t hurt so much all that time (although I wouldn’t have believed it anyway). And someone little asked if it was okay to always need therapy when things had been really bad for a long time and she said yes, and she has no plans to go anywhere ever now, she is where she wants to be. And if it wasn’t for imminent climate-induced societal collapse I would be so happy to hear this!

The last thing we talked about was her offer to do a double session for only a little more money than I’m currently paying for 90 minutes, to make the journey worthwhile. At first when she offered I was unsure because it will mean I am later home for Nina and will still be an extra £50 a month. But there is something so nice about double sessions, I find them so safe and containing, and I think it will be less tiring to have more of a break between the two 50 minute drives. It also better reflects the stage of therapy I’m in, where it is so much about spending time together and doing ‘nice’ things. I said my friend said I should go for it and that this was my thoughts also – I said how on the way home I’d felt very sharply again how important it is to still prioritise my therapy or I would compromise my ability to work and be involved in Extinction Rebellion. And in the back of my mind – always – is the knowledge that climate breakdown is happening so much faster than we ever expected and it is important to make the most of being able to get to K for as long as possible. I cannot imagine ever looking back and wishing I hadn’t spent money on something so vital for my well-being. I have such gratitude for the journey K and I are on together and all the ways in which it enables me to function and grow.

As we were finishing the phone call she said again how big this transition is for my system and how she will be flexible for me and available by phone over the coming weeks so we can work if things are difficult, until all this is settled. I felt all snuggled and wrapped in a blanket when the call ended and that was nice, but it has dissipated quite a lot now and I am feeling lost and unsettled again. I am so incredibly tired and feel as though I’ve been through a near-death experience today so hopefully I will sleep and can spend tomorrow putting the house and my selves back together again.

 

Collapse and terror

I’m ‘trigger warning’ this post as it is about ecological collapse and societal breakdown again, which I know I find deeply triggering at times. I thought about posting it on my other blog, but the therapy relationship and young parts and complex trauma is so central to what I’m struggling with that it needs to go here, and there are young and teen parts around that need to have their say too so I expect this post will have some switching so we can all get our words out.

It is hard to find the words to express the level of terror my system is experiencing right now about what is ahead for us humans and the planet that is our home, about how it will affect us personally and the reality that, once the environmental shit really hits the fan, we will not be able to see K anymore. This fear feels so primal. At times all I can feel is blind panic at the idea of being left alone to die (ring any bells…) and the acute pain of being abandoned. My greatest fear about the societal collapse that is being driven by intensifying climate and environmental crises is not being able to get to K, and of course this has been triggered – again – by the news of her house move. It had settled for a while again, awareness of the crisis had been mostly integrated into my daily life instead of surfacing in waves of shock and horror and subsiding, and healthy grief had surfaced. I had – for the most part – settled back into the present again, and had connected with joy and beauty and found solace and affinity in spending time with new, like-minded, open-hearted people. Then K’s impending house move came along and totally obliterated everything and sent my system spiralling back into utter madness over the prospect of near-time societal collapse.

Today has been so fucking hard. I have felt all smashed up inside, have barely done any work, have dissolved into sobbing grief over the loss of the house and all it symbolises, have text and emailed K with questions, and am now waiting for tomorrow when at least she will hopefully know where exactly she will be living in 5 weeks’ time. All of these things, these worries, can be resolved by settling into a new pattern, getting to know a new place, learning that she is the same in the new house, and so on. They are worries that can be soothed and can subside, but underneath all of that is the creeping, debilitating fear of societal breakdown and being taken away from her, being unable to reach her as the planet burns and wars rage, and crops fail, and water runs out. And this is not a fear that can be soothed away because as irrational as it seems, it is also a rational fear based upon what science and experts are telling us. We are in the sixth mass extinction and a million species are threatened with near-time extinction. We are running out of time to avoid mass starvation and displacement on a global scale. These fears are so young but they cannot be soothed by evidence of K’s care and commitment because they are fears of what is very likely to come to pass, whether it is in two years, or five or ten.

K will only be about 26 miles further away than she is now when she moves, but those 26 miles make all the difference between being able to get to her still after societal breakdown (whilst there is still food and water at least), and not being able to get there at all.

Now – 13.3 miles: a 70 minute bike ride

After the move – 39+ miles: a 4 hour hilly bike ride

Even with a skill to swap as we (hopefully) transition to a skills-based economy, that is too far to do regularly, perhaps even ever if things really go to shit. The horrors we envisage, the horrors we know will be unleashed as the crisis intensifies, are beyond comprehension, and the thought of not having K there as it unfolds is literally the worst thing imaginable some days. So yes, there is worry about adding 60-90 minutes of travelling each week to an already busy life when K moves, but beyond this there are fears of what this change means in the face of the collapse which is coming, even though we don’t and can’t know precisely when.

Ecological collapse-induced societal breakdown is not far off. Some would say it is already happening. Things are happening so much faster than expected – The Arctic is literally on fire, pouring the equivalent of Sweden’s total annual emissions of CO2 into the atmosphere as it does so, permafrost is melting 70 years sooner than was expected even relatively recently, fascism and the far right are rising as environmentalists predicted would happen with the declines in the Earth’s resources, the list goes on. And we have to phase out cars if we are to survive as a species and I am invested in that, but I will need my car to get to therapy once K moves, and I am invested in that too. I am deeply invested in this aspect of the status quo even as I rebel against it. It sickens me. If we manage to salvage parts of this civilisation as it goes down maybe there will be some kind of transport available to get me there, but if not then 40 miles between us might as well be 400.

And it terrifies us. Not being able to get to K while the world is burning and everyone is dying fills me with genuine terror. To survive, maybe communities will be built and some people will transition to a gentler and kinder way of living, but even so her community will not be mine. She will not gather me in and scoop me close to her as the horrors unfold – even if she wanted me in her tribe she could not do that. And there is no one to talk to about this. So many people think societal collapse is an irrational fear or cannot comprehend it at all, despite what the scientists and experts are saying about its likelihood, despite the food shortages, droughts, famines, wildfires, storm surges, flooding, earthquakes that we see all around and are told will worsen to the point of catastrophe as the planet warms and the ecosystems collapse. And those who ‘get’ the horrors that are ahead wouldn’t get what the fear of being separated from a therapist is like, or what it is like to look like a grown woman but to have a host of freaked out child parts living inside you, peering out in horror at the future they envisage. I am scared there is not even time to build a community or fall in love with someone who will love me back and hold my hand through all this. And I am so fucking furious that my life is finally basically how I want it to be and I am in a place – physically and emotionally – that I could imagine being in for years and years, and yet it is being taken away from me. All those years wanting to die and now I want to live, I want a life, and yet all the time the ticking time-bomb of environmental and societal collapse is counting down. I am finally getting what I want and I cannot keep it. And I am finally in a place in therapy where I really believe that K will not go away and we can work together for as long as I need, and yet she could so easily be taken away by forces outside of our control. I literally fucking hate the fact that I am alive during this time. Out of all the times to be alive the one where the future is disappearing in front of our eyes as we look on powerlessly is actually the worst imaginable. I literally want to fucking die to avoid what is ahead.

Over-exposed

Therapy was hard this evening. I am left feeling a little blurgh. A little hollow and bereft of meaning and substance. I’m fine. I’ve made dinner for myself and Nina and washed up and am now in my study with a cup of tea, knowing I did good work in therapy today and it will help to process and write about it and what came up, but I feel a bit grotty and untethered and would quite like a hug and someone to settle and soothe the disruption inside. It is also useful to reflect upon how things were and compare them with how they are now. A ‘little blurgh’ now is so incredibly manageable. It is uncomfortable, sure, and it is a reminder that trauma and dissociation still haunt me even after a stable, peaceful, and actually quite joyful week, but it is important to notice the contrasts and how far I’ve come, especially in the past year. Last year at this time K had recently told me she was taking 2019 off as a sabbatical from work and I was struggling in ways that I can barely believe were real now, looking back. I cannot imagine ever being back in quite such a desperate state again, but maybe I won’t make any grand declarations around that just yet…

This week I’ve felt relatively ‘normal’. I said to my friend yesterday I’ve mostly felt how I felt before I started therapy, before Jess died and the world I’d built around and inside myself completely fell apart. It was a relief because I’d been in a bad place over the ecological collapse and I couldn’t imagine ever feeling normal and stable again. I had reiki and a massive outpouring of grief at an Extinction Rebellion ‘resilient communities’ workshop 10 days ago and since then the terror has dissipated and I’ve felt much more grounded and at peace over what is happening to the planet and what is ahead of us here in England too. K and I have also been doing some work around ‘active hope’ and preparing for the grief work we will do together to help me open to the losses that are happening all around by doing lots of work around gratitude. The grief is always there, the awareness is with me nearly all the time, but it is beginning to be integrated into my life more, and the shock is beginning to subside I think. I’m sure it will come and go, but it is wonderful to be reminded that joy and peace and gratitude can co-exist with sadness and fear and loss. (Indeed they must – the grief is only so big because there is so much to love and therefore so much to lose).

Anyway, so I was expecting to have a good session today, and it was good, but it was good for therapy (i.e. hard) rather than nice and peaceful and connecting. I felt adult and self-contained when I arrived and then a young part came out as soon as K brought our cup of tea in and started playing with the new mini Russian dolls K got recently. This was a surprise as young parts have been very quiet and content this week and I’ve hardly known they’re there, and it left me a little suspicious haha! And as soon as we’d done our mindful breathing and check-in (breath, body, mind) I completely dissociated. I wanted to tell K the good things that have happened this week (meeting an amazing person who lives a 3 minute walk from the new house, joining up with other vegans who are part of Extinction Rebellion to form an affinity group for non-violent direct action, riding my bike to the forest on Friday evening for Solstice and walking and reflecting on what I wanted to open my heart to and bring into the light in the coming year, not feeling self-conscious and hyper-critical at a work colleague’s engagement party on Saturday afternoon, seeing friends yesterday and really enjoying being in our new house because it’s much nicer to have people in) and yet the minute I even thought about telling her about these things I felt like someone had peeled my skin off and judging eyes were piercing and boring into me. I felt completely over-exposed and had a desperate desire to hide – it took a lot of effort not to pull the big blanket over my head and wait for K to disappear.

I somehow managed to tell K what was happening and we spoke a bit about why this happens for me and why I can’t even think about sharing good things and positive emotions I experience without dissociating and feeling completely exposed and covered in black, sticky shame. I couldn’t even make eye contact when she suggested it so she offered to close her eyes so I could look at her and see if she was the same without it being scary. I said I felt as though she could see right inside me and was thinking I shouldn’t feel good things. And she said how interesting that was because that’s not where she’s coming from at all. She said all the things I already know but that it helped to hear again, about this being an emotional flashback where my body and mind are going through the process of something that has happened before, so that I feel as though people can see badness inside me but that’s not what she sees at all. She talked about the critical voice coming in and saying I don’t deserve good things, but I realise now as I am writing that the sense of shame and over-exposure I get when I try to share good things is pre-verbal, there is no cognitive process attached at all, just a feeling that someone can see right inside me and it’s not that there is badness inside me, but that it is bad to show any of me at all. We know why this happens, the legacy of an engulfing narcissistic mother I’ve written about before, but sometimes it just hits on another level why this happens to me, and it is sad that it isn’t just negative feelings I was shamed for, but just existing full stop. I was shamed as a baby for feeling positive emotions, for enjoying the feeling of connection to others, for showing who I was, for feeling as though I belonged. It was unsafe for me to feel and experience these things. This is heart-breaking really, isn’t it, and although I’m past the stage of therapy where I need to really feel this now (thank goodness) it still stings sometimes. Before I could talk I internalised badness and shame when I felt good or when I expressed myself. It was never safe to be me. It was never safe to be an authentic version of myself. And it is fucking infuriating because even now I am healed in so many ways, this legacy still makes the battle to absorb relational healing so tough. I am doing really well with connecting with new people through Extinction Rebellion without dissociating, and I feel I belong there, but I still feel shame afterwards for feeling connected and belonging. A work in progress…

Someone small asked ‘why did it happen?’ and K talked again about my Mum being seriously mentally ill and my Dad being hyper-critical and too young to be a parent so they had no parenting skills at all and went about it all wrong. And we talked about how she would laugh and ridicule me when good things happened and I said I get so scared of K thinking I am showing her too much of what’s inside me and then I just can’t show her anything at all. I cried quite a lot and it was getting foggy and thick in the room so K suggested we go outside into the garden and smell some of the flowers that have recently blossomed. It was beautiful out there – we saw a baby blackbird struggling as she learned to fly and smelt lots of gorgeous flowers and then her dog decided to go for a dip in the pond which was very funny. And then we had more tea and did some work on gratitude and I felt ashamed again about the headings we had chosen last week for the gratitude lists we are making before we create some spirals and decorate them. And it was such a contrast from last week because then I’d been excited about the lists we would make and today I just felt ashamed for ever having enjoyed anything. And it shows how shame builds on shame, how shame about one things permeates everything else and twists excitement and openness into something black and heavy and judgmental.

I also shared with K what I wrote after my session two weeks ago, about how feeling safe to be me is forever associated with her now so that when I am somewhere I feel accepted and, more importantly where I accept myself, it feels as though she is with me. And she said how peaceful she felt as she listened and absorbed it all and how this is exactly what we are aiming for in therapy – ‘you’ve taken in the safety, taken me in’. And I really have. I need more of it still to displace this shame and sense of over-exposure that still surfaces, but I have taken in so much and even though I feel like the same person in many ways I also feel completely different to the person I was 4 years ago. I don’t think I realised till today how that feeling of safety I never had wasn’t just because my external world was so unsafe and unpredictable while I was growing up that I had to be on alert all the time, but also because it was so unsafe inside me too, so unsafe to reveal what was inside me because my Mum is a narcissist with a huge borderline process and masses of unresolved feelings she projected all over me and used to eclipse me entirely. It’s crazy just how long it has taken of depth psychotherapy to get to this point of understanding and acceptance of how I am.

At the end of the session I said I felt as though I had my skin back on. And then I realised that it was only because I didn’t tell K the good things. She said I had done a lot of depth work nevertheless and that I am bringing things that are hard to bring and I’m tackling these big areas instead of running from them. And she said there is still a lot of work to do to unpick these damaging messages I internalised when I was so young. And this is okay. I like therapy now, mostly, and it doesn’t disrupt my life the way it used to. Even when it leaves me unsettled it’s still a million miles away from how it used to leave me. It used to feel like I was being tortured, now it mostly feels nice, with the occasional sense that someone has peeled back my skin and stirred things round with a wooden spoon. I look forward to my session but I don’t long for it now, counting down the days and hours and then feeling the pain of abandonment before the session has even ended. And my life outside therapy is growing and expanding so rapidly at the moment and I feel as though I am unfurling into it. And it feels good even though my brain and felt memories don’t always let me feel as though it is okay for this to be happening to me.

Safety and Shame

Since I last wrote we have moved to our new home. There is so much I could write about it, but basically it is shaping up to be all I dreamed it would be. We’ve only been here two and a half weeks, and I got struck down by a bad cold the day after we moved, so there are still a lot of boxes and muddle, but my bedroom and my study are finished now and it is beginning to feel like home. In fact it feels like it will be more than home, it will be a sanctuary. What is ahead for humanity is going to be difficult to say the least, and having this place as a refuge as I prepare myself for what is to come is something I do feel enormous amounts of gratitude for. And it feels so wonderful to be somewhere so much greener than where we were before, somewhere spacious where the air feels cleaner and lighter, where there is more sky and it is easier to breathe. Cycling home to this place lifts me, even in the rain. There are hills and woods and trees and when I do yoga in the garden I can see the sky.

I’m sure I’ll write more about what this house means to me in the coming weeks, but this evening I wanted to write about something I tried to put into words in my journal earlier, as I was writing in the study (I love having a study! My first day working in there today was amazing – it is small but feels spacious and airy and it is filled with books and pretty things. Having that space to work and be in the evenings when I need some space is another wonderful thing about this move) after my therapy session. (As another aside, I was worried about what it might be like being back with Nina straight after my therapy session now we’ve moved, but so far – two weeks in – it has been okay. Last week’s session was difficult as we had missed a week and I was very dissociated and couldn’t reach K at all – by the of the session I couldn’t remember the beginning of the session and by the time I got home it didn’t seem as though I’d been there at all – but because I’d been in a relatively good space beforehand I managed to hold this and didn’t spin off into panic and so despite feeling unsettled and uneasy it was okay being back home with Nina afterwards. This evening I cooked and then journalled and then we went for a walk before Nina went to bed and it has been mostly okay – different, but okay. And a sign of progress because I used to be SUCH A MESS after nearly every therapy session that there is no way I could have come home to Nina by myself every week. It would have terrified her for starters! I’m under no illusion that there will be times when it is hard, but for the most part therapy these days is a world away from how it used to be). Anyway, I was trying to put into words something that came to me after my session. It was really hard to turn it into something tangible earlier, but maybe I’ll do a better job here…

Telling K about my new home has been lovely, despite how much shame-triggered dissociation I still experience when I try to share good and authentic things with her. It was amazing that when I told her that this house feels different from anywhere I’ve lived before and that it is like none of my home has leaked anywhere else she got exactly what I meant! I guess it feels as though I am energetically intact in this house – all of me is here and nothing has come in that disturbs me. I mean, obviously my Mum hasn’t been here, doesn’t even know I am here, but more than that – she is not in this house at all. K is. It is as though the special spaces I’m creating within these walls are built on her, on us, as the foundations, instead of the person my Mum tried to make me be. It is not so much that it feels as though K herself is here, but that her sense of me is all around; the me she knows, the me she has helped me find, is everywhere in this house and it feels safe to be me here.

Because so much of myself has been tightly bound up in shame for my entire life, it has never felt safe to be me. This is what therapy, in recent months is giving me, now I can tolerate actually being in relationship and close proximity to K without wanting to die –  a sense that when I show who I really am I am not bad or unlovable or worthless or impossible to understand. I’ve never felt free to be me because showing myself, my feelings and thoughts and wishes, was so unsafe as a baby and child, and so every piece of self-expression (even expressing myself to myself, even letting me be known to myself if that makes sense) has been a risky journey of discovery, and this emerging sense that it is safe to feel connected and safe to be myself is because of who I’ve been with K.

So many of the special things I own that make me feel safe in my home remind me of K – not mentally, it’s not a cognitive reminder where I consciously think of her, it’s a felt sense of safety that I associate with those things and that I also associate with her. I look around my study and it feels as though the guiding force that has shaped it is K. It’s so hard to put into words, but it feels so ‘me’ and that me feels so intimately connected to the work we’ve done together and the internalised sense of safety I’ve begun to develop through our time together. And whilst I feel like the same person and I love so many of the same things as I did at the start of therapy, and whilst nothing about me has changed dramatically over the past four years, what has changed is my ability to feel safe being the person that I am. I have grown into myself and learnt not just who I am but that it is okay to be that person.

I think what I’m trying to say is that things that make me feel safe and known, things that enable me to express who I am, will forever be linked to how K has made me feel. Safety and K will always be linked in my psyche on some level now, and because so much of what I’ve needed to learn is that it is now safe to be who I am, this means that any time I am authentically myself or experience feelings of safety and belonging (like at Extinction Rebellion the night I wrote about in my last post) it will feel as if K is with me, guiding me and holding me. I’m guessing this is what having a Mum who makes you feel safe and loves you for who you are is like. And even though it is clear I missed out on so much, gaining what I’ve gained lately in therapy, at 35/36, is so much sweeter and has opened up levels of gratitude in me that I doubt ‘normal’ or securely attached (or even semi-securely attached) people ever even feel. It’s not that I’m grateful to have gone through what I’ve gone through, but sometimes the places it has brought me and the peace it has enabled me to find do feel so much sweeter, so much more deserved, when they are contrasted with the way things were. And there are times I am with K, particularly when young parts are chatting to her and I am sitting back observing, that I feel so lucky and couldn’t possibly wish things had been different because I wouldn’t have needed to do this work with her. Everything that happened to us brought us to here, and there is something so magical about feeling safe inside sometimes after decades of not even knowing what that meant.

How do I heal myself while Planet Earth is dying?

This post includes my thoughts about how I will continue to heal from complex trauma as I integrate my understanding of the implications of the current ecological breakdown for us, as humans, in our lifetime, into my life going forwards – how will I continue to heal and grow whilst around me the world as we know it is being destroyed?

I’m putting a trigger warning at the top of this post – I am writing about my struggles to come to terms with what I now deem to be likely, perhaps even inevitable, near-time societal collapse and the possibility of human extinction due to climate change and loss of biodiversity. For some people this will seem a ridiculous and fantasy-based thing to be writing about, akin to the many claims of impending apocalypse we’ve seen throughout human history, but for others who may already be teetering at the brink of this awareness, as I had been for the past six years until it hit me full in the face two months ago, it could be enough to send them over the edge and this would seem unfair given that this is primarily a blog about therapy and healing from complex trauma and dissociation and triggers of this kind are not anticipated. I am also disabling comments on this post as it has taken me a long time to feel brave enough to express my fears and grief openly here, and I know I am vulnerable to getting triggered on this issue.

I want to write about the current environmental breakdown in the context of my personal struggles and how it has triggered my (almost)DID system into a state of panic and despair, and to think about what I will do with my life and how I will continue my healing journey as I integrate this new awareness, but it is impossible to do this in a way that doesn’t engage with the scientific consensus or the research by human geographers, engineers, political theorists, sociologists and so on who have taken the science and started to work out what it means for us, as humans, in our lifetimes and that of our children. I am struggling greatly with how I continue to work on my own healing, how I will be able to feel better, whilst around me the world as we know it is being destroyed. I ended up so terrified on Friday that I text K at 6pm and asked if we could speak – we did a half hour phone session and one of the things she said is that this will become part of our work every week from now. She said whilst it is outside of the bounds of ‘normal’ psychotherapy, it is important for us to make it part of our work, and the way I see it my healing and the well-being of Mother Earth are inherently connected. As a starting point we’ve each ordered a different Joanna Macy book which we will read and swap – Joanna is a Buddhist scholar and activist who writes on ecological awareness and, through the concept of ‘active hope’, has created a framework for personal and social change. I hope her work will be helpful in my own work of grieving what we have lost, will lose, and preparing for the future, whatever it will hold.

I don’t think the fact that we are experiencing dramatic climate change and alarming loss of biodiversity, or that we are killing ourselves and non-human life with pollutants and toxins, is open to dispute anymore (by anyone credible at least). It is clear that we are in the midst of catastrophe – the recent devastation caused by Cyclone Idai, unprecedented wildfires, floods in the US, loss of sea ice, accelerated sea level rises, loss of habitats (including human ones), insect populations decreasing by 60%, intense heat waves, children dying of air pollution, plastics found inside people and non-human animals, news reports that a tonne of plastic waste is being dumped in the ocean every minute, the list goes on. The past 22 years have seen the hottest 21 years on record, globally, with the past four being the hottest yet. What scares me most is that all the ‘worst case scenarios’ predicted for 2020 in the 1990s are now coming true – things are at the very worst of the worst they were expected to be, worse even, and still the burning of fossil fuels and industrial agriculture continues. And climate change is non-linear, with tipping points and feedback loops and a huge number of unknowns that could accelerate the warming to the point that the earth is uninhabitable by the end of the century. Whilst some of this is common knowledge, what is less commonly acknowledged is that climate breakdown and ecological collapse threaten our existence; we are in the sixth mass extinction and this isn’t just ‘a pity’ for the species involved – the ecosystems we are dependent upon for food and survival are dying, and with them – so will we. Our current way of life, unbridled neo-liberalism and free market competition, the constant quest for “growth” and “development,” are threatening our existence and yet the powerful elite do not care as long as their riches are protected. As David Attenborough said recently, ‘we are in terrible, terrible trouble’ and ‘time is running out’ – the patriarchal, capitalist separation of humans from nature, of our existence from that of ‘the environment,’ has masked this threat. We talk about ‘saving the environment’ without realising we are the environment and it is ourselves we need to save.

We are nature

Climate change has been on my radar since I was a little girl. From the age of 9 or 10 I would lie awake at night worrying about “the state of the world” and I was really passionate and outspoken about environmental issues, telling my family and anyone who would listen that there was nothing more important to worry about, no point fighting for justice for humans if we had no planet to live on. And lately it’s really hit home to me that climate change and ecological breakdown is not just an environmental issue, it’s a human rights issue, it’s an issue of justice – those who have contributed least to the catastrophe are already paying the highest price, and the most vulnerable in our societies also, those with the least resources and support, will be hit hardest when the crisis accelerates (at the beginning at least). Having been vegetarian since I was 6 or 7, I went vegan in 2013 because I realised that we had no hope of reducing climate change without eliminating the meat and dairy industry. (Of course I care about animal welfare hugely too, in fact I see us as no more important than any other species which is why, probably, I find the likelihood of human extinction easier to contemplate than others do – we are not special and if other species can go extinct, so can we). The winter of 2013/14 was especially stormy and wet and unpredictable – it was frightening and I spent much time with my two best friends at the time talking about climate change, and about the skills we would need to help us in the turbulent times ahead. It’s come up in therapy quite a lot, along with fears and anger and frustration over our consumerist culture and over-consumption and how it is destroying our quality of life and the planet, but for the past few years I’ve been taking time to heal myself and my concerns for Mother Earth have been sidelined (though my work is still on related issues of justice so it’s not that I ever stopped caring).

The UK heatwave in February and first round of youth strikes for climate on February 15th triggered me hugely and before K’s break in March parts were really worried and there was a lot of writing in our parts’ journal about the threat of climate change and what it would mean for us and the creatures dependent on the earth for their survival. Whilst she was away we read a lot and really came to understand just how serious the crisis is, and that it’s not a future problem or a problem for people far away, it is a threat to our way of life and our existence right here, right now. Nina and I went on the youth strike for climate on March 15th and after this, rather than feeling hopeful and inspired, I felt utterly defeated and isolated – it all felt so real, seeing thousands of young people fighting to have a future, and yet the strikes just felt as though they were much too little and much too late. For a long time I’d written off my anxiety over climate change as part of my PTSD, pathological in nature, and something that I needed to deal with by staying present and focusing on my own life and security. That evening I googled ‘anxiety over climate change’ and found absolutely loads of resources to help people dealing with their fears and grief over the breakdown of the environment and the implications it will have for human life. Whilst it was a relief to know I wasn’t alone in my fears, it suddenly made the whole issue even more real. It turns out people are going into therapy to deal with fears and grief over the ecological breakdown, and it is known that climate change is a ‘threat multiplier’ (this is how the military refer to it, stating that it increases stress on water, food, and energy systems, that can then increase the likelihood of conflict  – domestically and internationally)  so whilst the effects of climate change are causing depression and anxiety, and PTSD for people already directly affected by climate disasters, the stress of climate change awareness also intensifies existing mental and emotional health problems. This is part of the issue I’m having, and unsurprisingly there is nothing written on how to support young alters with climate change – the problem is they know more than I would reasonably tell a child, and are completely freaking out about what it will mean for them. And it is hard to tell scared young parts that the worst things have already happened because I am no longer sure that is true – ‘does starving to death hurt more than being abandoned as a baby?’ they want to know, and I do not have the answers to that.

I’ve been confused and lost for many weeks now, reading reports and journal articles and absorbing myself in the science, the academic research that has grown out of this science, what the activist movements say and, whilst there are different interpretations of what we should do based on the scientific knowledge we have, there is consensus that we are in a dire predicament. And I think, basically, I am starting to come to the acceptance that it is probably too late to avert climate catastrophe, and that with food scarcity in the Northern Hemisphere (another two summers like the last one we had here where grain production dropped by around 30-40%, and we are in extreme trouble from a food production perspective) and drought and famine in the Southern  Hemisphere, will come mass migration, wars over resources, and probably societal collapse. The World Bank reported in 2018 that countries needed to prepare for over 100 million internally displaced people, here in the UK due to rising sea levels as well as further afield, due to the effects of climate change, and this is not including millions of international refugees. 

And so the question for me now is how do I move forward with this knowledge in a way that is meaningful but does not involve getting lost in denial (which includes most types of activism and a lot of lifestyle politics – apparently going vegan and not flying are the only two things that really make a difference, the rest of the changes needed are all things that can only be implemented by world leaders, and I’m already committed to these two things). I don’t have the answer to this question but it is something I will talk through with K to help me begin to forge a path forward out of this madness. I don’t want to fall into depression over this because, as my very wise daughter said, if we worry about it all the time now then it may as well be really bad now. It is more important than ever to stay present and enjoy the safety and security and peace we have now, because things are likely to change drastically sooner than we ever expected. I also don’t want to lose sight of the healing I need. In fact it becomes more important than ever that I become as strong and resilient as possible, and am able to build relationships and community, in light of what is ahead. This is something I struggle with – I want to reach out and find new people who are also awake to this, but relational trauma makes this so very hard. I am scared I won’t be accepted in new communities, even though logically I can see that the types of people aware and fighting for climate justice are likely to be kind and open-hearted.

Despite all the unknowns, what is clear is that change is coming – either this will be an end to global capitalism and neo-liberalism and humans will once again seek out deep and meaningful relationships with each other and the natural world of which we are a part, or it will be societal collapse, catastrophe, mass starvation, and possible extinction. Much as I despise capitalism, it is still this system which enables me to work with K and enjoy a good standard of living, so it is hard to envisage life without it. I asked K a while ago what would happen if the economy collapses and we move to a barter-based system – would there be another way of paying her? She said absolutely, that we would work something out, and it was such a relief that she took the question seriously. This was momentarily comforting, as was her saying on Friday that we are both committed to doing this work no matter what, and so, barring something huge and unexpected, we would be working together with the intention of keeping doing this work. So even if there is war over resources, or no power, or not enough food, we would still keep meeting, in fact especially then as it would be so needed whilst bad things were happening all around. None of this alleviates the creeping fears though. If there is societal and economic collapse she won’t need to work to feed herself. If life becomes purely about survival she won’t gather me close to her as she will her own children. And there is nowhere I feel safe like I do with her. It is that never-ending painful state of knowing that your attachment figure is not your mother – that free-floating state which is uncomfortable and stark and a bit-too-real – rearing its ugly head again. Why is there always something that will take her away from me?

At times it feels like I am lost in a horror story, a nightmare of humanity’s own making. It doesn’t feel possible that we have a fight for survival on our hands in our lifetime. The youth climate strike two days ago felt so surreal – how could I be there protesting to get government to take action to save humanity, to enable my daughter to have a future? How is that necessary? The science is clear now so how are we needing to protest this stuff? It is infuriating and absolutely heart-breaking that corporations are allowed to destroy the planet and the ecosystems we depend upon and we are powerless to do anything. How is this happening? How is it being allowed to happen? How has the wealth of the elite few been allowed to threaten the future of the whole planet and all who live upon it? And what was even more scary on Friday were the looks of confusion and bewilderment from passers by, who have no idea of the ecological crisis or what it will mean for them. I’m not sure where I will go with my activism now, if I want to give up hope and move to the Deep Adaptation agenda of Jem Bendell, or if I want to get active with Extinction Rebellion who share a similar outlook but still think we can mitigate the worst impacts, or if I want to fight system change in some other way, but I know that incremental fixes and individual lifestyle changes are utterly insufficient, and I know that part of my work now will be to raise awareness and focus on getting governments and the media to tell the truth about this crisis. It feels utterly abhorrent to me that as a species we are facing a catastrophe of this magnitude, that humanity is under existential threat, and yet the vast majority of people know nothing about it because it is not on the news or talked about in Parliament. People have a right to know, they need to know, so they can choose how best to spend the time we have left and start to give up the things we cannot carry with us as civilization changes, either by choice and action or by us destroying our home to the point where it can no longer sustain life as we know it.

The only thing that really seems clear and certain is that we don’t know what will happen, there are too many variables, too many unknowns – it is bad and it will get far, far worse, but we don’t know exactly when or how. Sitting with uncertainty is hard. It is something humans are bad at generally and for those of us who grew up in abusive and unpredictable environments it can be especially hard. No one knows what is going to happen or what the best thing to do now is. Should we continue to fight or just enjoy the time we have left, making sure we express gratitude for our comfortable existence whilst thousands are already dying and starving due to climate change? Ultimately, the past few weeks have led me to confront my own mortality, which is something we must all do at some point of course, but beyond that it has forced me to confront my own vulnerability, and the fact that I may not live till old age or be able to protect my daughter from what is ahead. We all live with the vague and uncomfortable awareness that we could get injured or ill or have our life cut short in some way, or suffer a loss we find it hard to recover from, but we have no experience as a species of living through a period when our time on this planet may be coming to an end. It is hard to know what to do. If some of the predictions are correct and there will be a societal collapse within a decade then fuck it, fuck debt, I’m going to rinse loads of credit cards and have a lot of fun with Nina (without flying of course). But if things just get progressively worse and the cost of food rises astronomically due to shortages then having debts will add to my stress, and ultimately could stop me being able to afford to feed us both. So it seems wise to be cautious, whilst at the same time knowing it is impossible to prepare for what may come and that there will be no point being angry with myself in the future for making the wrong choices now.

I asked K on Friday if she was frightened and she said she was, but not like I am. She thinks it’s the presence of young parts making things so difficult, although equally I do know other people who are also crying every day and feeling absolutely petrified by what is to come, so I do think it is a very tough reality for anyone to absorb. We talked about how I couldn’t find any resources for people like me, people with DID and complex trauma, and we agreed that it is unusual for people with such complex mental health needs to be so absorbed in and aware of the environmental breakdown, at this point in time at least – this will change as mainstream media and the public come into awareness I’m sure. This is not meant as a criticism or a suggestion that people don’t care, but, like I was for so long, people with these complex issues are often focused just on survival most days and, deservedly, focused on enjoying their own lives on days where things feel okay. So whilst I could find recognition that climate change threat worsened existing psychological issues, there wasn’t a lot about what to do about this or whether it is realistic for people like me to be able to get involved in activism without losing their minds completely as I seem to be doing regularly at the moment.

I do know that however hard things get financially my therapy will be a priority for as long as possible, even though it does prevent me getting out of debt and saving for the future. I know sometimes I get frustrated that it takes so much of my salary, that it means less money for fun stuff,  but ultimately it is what will help me cope with what is ahead and will help me build the relationships I need to support me in the dark times ahead. On Friday there was an older teenage part thinking that killing myself and Nina was really going to be the only option to save us both – I’ve been there before and I don’t want to spiral into that place again, especially when we don’t know what is ahead, not for sure. And I also know I want to continue to heal and let go of some of the guilt that I could find joy and peace and contentment in my heart whilst our beautiful earth is dying. I know I want to make the most of every precious minute with those I love. I know that spending as much time as I can with my friends who don’t live nearby whilst train travel is still possible is hugely important. I know I want to avoid town and supermarkets because I get triggered by consumer culture. And I know I want to spend as much time as I can in places that are still wild and relatively undisturbed, remembering how beautiful the earth is and how deeply connected to it we all are. And I know it is important to me to live in a way that aligns with my values even if they will not, by themselves, enable humanity to avoid what seems to be coming – avoiding plastic, eating locally-sourced food, reducing waste, reusing as much as I can, buying second hand clothes and other things, not allowing Nina to become absorbed in fast fashion, not flying or driving unnecessarily. And it is important to keep in mind that even if these things don’t help the bigger picture, they are part of me living the best life I can, whilst at the same time accepting I have to be part of this capitalist, patriarchal society – I have to ‘make a living,’ I have to let Nina have new things so she is not bullied at school, the pressures of our society that I resent still constrain me and do not allow me the time I wish I had to live in a way that further minimises my impact upon the Earth. I cannot escape the things that are destroying our planet, however much I wish I could.

When I think about what I want to prioritise in the months ahead, it is clear that they are things I would want to be doing to heal anyway – yoga, meditation, wild places, cycling, time with people I am close to, saying no to things I don’t really want to do, living gently and recognising what is important to me. I want to lead by example, like I do with veganism, and show a different way of life not based on mass consumption and exploitation of the earth’s resources and creatures is possible. Maybe we will not move away from global capitalism as a society until it is too late,, but at least I will have shown it is possible to live and not be consumed by material possessions and the constant quest to buy “the next big thing”. I want to live a gentle life – in many ways the type of life that is necessary for someone healing from developmental trauma is the type of life needed to heal Mother Earth also. In some ways this new level of awareness has helped me shift my reactions and occasional resentment around ‘my busy life’ – I want to gift Nina her joy of swimming for as long as possible, I want to see her glowing face when I collect her after training and she talks excitedly about swimming techniques I know nothing about, I want her to feel strong and secure as we face the unknown together. And I want to find a better balance with my work, work which is important but not enough to save us from what is ahead. I want to keep work in perspective, something which is important to do anyway of course, but the need for this feels even more pressing now. I want to get out of debt as soon as I can at the same time as still enjoying life now. I want to take action but not let it consume me or stop me absorbing and grieving the reality, which is that planet earth is dying, and we are running out of time.

Food

Food is causing issues again. It’s been creeping back in for a while. I put on weight over the winter and then I start restricting and then all hell breaks loose and I’m here with a stone to lose and wondering how someone so adept at starving themselves can end up needing to lose weight. It comes in cycles. It is all part of the same eating disorder. It goes with the territory of attachment trauma. I know all this. Yet I am left feeling ashamed and helpless and totally disgusted by myself. I found my relapse with anorexia last summer far scarier, but it feels much more shameful to be battling with the other side of this cycle. Usually the restricting parts balance out the over-eating parts and weight stays relatively stable, but this cycle plays out most days. Restricting parts have been less prominent lately which I can see is a good thing because they take over primarily when attachment anxiety is high. I find restricting easier to deal with though, easier to admit to, easier to seek help for.

I am not fat, I cycle loads and I know I am fit and strong, I can still fit into most of my clothes, but I am bigger than I would like to be. I’ve been a stone lighter for most of the past six years, and I’ve had times during those six years when food and eating has been a ‘non-issue’ and I’ve felt happy and content and not really thought about food much at all, other than making sure I am eating healthily. So that weight feels like the weight I am genuinely comfortable with. This weight now does not. In part I can see that in the past few months I’ve really taken on board just how much I am holding in adult life, every day, with my crazy full-time job, solo parenting, running a house and driving Nina to swimming training 3 or 4 days a week, on top of therapy and growth and healing. So I’ve tried to lower my expectations around food and not think about it so much. This strategy doesn’t seem to work. It’s almost like food needs to be quite a big part of normal life in order for it not to take over completely. Counter-intuitive but true. Maybe I’m starting to see I will always struggle with food, having had disordered eating nearly all my life so far, and so I need to find ways that work for me and don’t cause me to cycle through the different aspects of disorder so rapidly or cause the pendulum to swing in such a way as to leave me feeling totally out of control and overwhelmed.

I’ve needed to raise it in therapy for a while. I did today, with the caveat of “I don’t want to talk about it but it is an issue again”. We did talk about it, but I cannot tell K I need to lose weight because teen parts silence me with their terror that she will then notice the weight gain and think how disgusting and out of control we are. I’ve been waiting to lose the stone before talking to her about food. Clearly that strategy was never going to work! She validated and normalised it, asked for some examples of when it has been problematic lately. I said how it starts as me being determined to eat well each day and then something goes wrong, one thing eaten that ‘shouldn’t’ have been, and then everything goes wrong and too much food is consumed and we resolve to start again the next day. I said how I know people who comfort eat and yet just acknowledge that it was a reaction to a bad day and don’t completely shame themselves with it. My comfort eating happens in secret, even when it is not much extra than normal. Any deviance from ‘the rules’ is a shameful secret. I know food causes issues for so many people but that seems to cause more shame rather than comfort.

I get so lost in this stuff. Food causes me so many problems. I hate it. I hate how much energy it takes up. I end up putting on weight when I try to take the focus off food. I try and be less restrictive and just chill about it and then it’s like binge parts and comfort-eating parts go wild because ‘no one is watching’. And often it is like ‘fuck it, who cares??’ but the problem is I do care. I avoid seeing people I’ve not seen for a while because I want to have lost this extra stone before I see them. This strikes me as a little insane but it is how my system works. For some parts there is nothing more terrifying than being overweight/over-our-ideal-weight, not necessarily because we look ‘fat’ but because people will think we are out of control. Being out of control, not being able to control what I put into my body, is something I find immensely triggering. I see this is all about boundaries and attachment trauma. I get that, but I want to move past it. I want food not to dominate my life. Ironically when I stop worrying about food so much is when it takes more of a hold over me.

Anyway, so K and I have a two and a half week break between sessions now and she has given me homework over the break of writing down everything I eat so we can look at it together and start to work with the triggers – “CBT-style” as she put it. She said if I’d come to see her with an eating disorder this is what we would have done. It seems so fucked up that something which would have taken many people into therapy in its own right has had to take a backseat to all the other craziness that has needed to be dealt with in therapy. The thing is, I think writing down everything I eat will help me through the break, give me something to focus on, and it will definitely get my eating back on track for now, but I also know that for the next 18 days I will completely regulate my eating because I am accountable to her. This is obviously good for the weight loss which is objectively needed, and it will be good for my health as I will want K to see I am healthy and not out of control, but long-term I just don’t know how to get past this. My food goals are so far away from what is possible, so rigid and restrictive, that they are impossible to sustain. And I don’t want to lapse back into orthorexia either. Ugh. It’s a mess.