Where I’m At

food

K just replied to my Friday ‘check in’ email. Our Friday email is not for therapy work, just to check she is still there and for parts and grown up me to share anything pressing we can’t hold all weekend. I love the safety of that contact. I never have to doubt and wonder if she will reply – she ALWAYS replies, every week without fail for nearly 2 years now. And it so nice to click ‘send’ on an email I know I am allowed to send and to experience what it is like to contact someone and not be flooded with shame and fears of being too much.

So I shared in the email a bit more about the food stuff, and asked her to read my post from Monday which I wrote after our session. Ordinarily I would wait till Monday and share it with her in person, but we are cycling for our session on Monday (have I mentioned before that my therapist is awesome?!) and I wanted her to have read it so we can talk about it as we cycle. It works out well timing-wise as the bike rides are meant for adolescent parts in particular to talk, as they find it easier to share stuff out in nature and without sitting opposite someone feeling interrogated lol. And oh my does everyone have a lot to say on Monday!!

I’ve been thinking more about the eating this week and have realised what a huge impact the orthorexia is having on my life. I’ve realised I avoid going out so I won’t have to eat ‘bad’ food, and I am rarely spontaneous because I can’t just buy a few bits from the supermarket on the way somewhere, everything is meticulously planned and prepared. It’s not always like this, but divergence from my ideals causes me horrendous guilt and I will then redouble my efforts. And the difficulty is that no foods are genuinely safe. Even things deemed healthy like nuts, seeds and pulses (so peanut butter and hummus and wholegrains for example), are bad unless they are soaked first to break down the phytic acid which acts as an anti-nutrient. There is some truth in the dangers of phytic acid with regards nutrient absorption, but where the line lies between ‘okay’ and ‘too much’ I have no idea. All I know is I desperately wish I could go back to a time before I knew much about toxins and estrogen imitators and phytic acid because it is ruining my life. I don’t even know why I am doing it, it’s not like I want to live an especially long life. And disease is not something I can control. I get all this but parts of me just don’t care, just want to be clean and perfect and free from contamination. And whilst the binging feels distinctly ‘not me’, and is primarily done by a 21 year old part, the orthorexia feels a lot like me, even though it is driven by particularly obsessive parts. I think grown up me keeps it in moderation, understanding the emotional and physical toll constant food prep has taken on our health in the past, but grown up me still sees no middle ground with any of it, and would, ideally, adhere to all the rules. And the binging and over-eating reinforces the obsessiveness because some parts clearly can’t be trusted with even a little bit of sweet food.

In her email K said the fact I am going for dinner with friends next week for my birthday is a good step, that social eating will be important in this work and ARGH NO I DON’T WANT TO EAT IN FRONT OF PEOPLE!!! This thought makes me want to hide in a dark corner forever.

Last night I got parts to write down all their fears about food – there is a lot! Ranging from being fed up at being denied nice foods (young parts) to a desire to avoid all contamination to shame over binging and not being able to stop once we’ve started – there was a whole brightly-coloured cacophony of anxieties over food. And I suddenly get why I dissociate SO BADLY and can barely see properly in the supermarket every week!!! It was overwhelming seeing it all written down and how much competing angst there is, but it will be a good piece to use on Monday as a starting point for trying to get to a better place with this.

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Food

Therapy this evening was hard. Really hard. So many feelings. So many parts each having a melt-down inside. It’s like someone is scribbling inside my head this evening, or actually like a whole gang of people are doing this. I’m left feeling messy cognitively, but fairly stable emotionally at least, and I made it to choir this evening which I’m glad about. Things came up that needed to come up. No more burying my head in the sand (about this at least). Two and a half years into therapy and sometimes it feels like so far we’ve only scratched the surface of what needs to be covered, processed, dealt with, let go of, or accepted as something I will always struggle with in some form.

Yesterday I yelled, like really properly yelled, at my daughter over spinach, or rather her failure to eat it and the fact that she told me I was “torturing” her by giving her lentil dahl for tea. I lost it. White hot, uncontrollable rage. Short-lived, but scary for her nonetheless, and my apologies and validation of her feelings (cross with me, sad, scared) took a while to sink in. She was still cross with me this morning and I said that was okay, that it was understandable she was cross still because I completely over-reacted.

I don’t want to be this person. I don’t want to be triggered over spinach and what my daughter eats and the fact that it is a constant battle and takes huge amounts of effort to get healthy food inside her. Lots of things were triggered for different parts yesterday, not just what I’m about to write about, but what I’m about to write about is something that clearly needs a lot of work in therapy to understand and overcome. It’s something I find very difficult to accept, partly because EDs are so ingrained in who I am and so seem like entirely normal behaviours (I read something about this being an aspect of OCPD in particular – another label I resonate with), and partly because it makes it clear to an extent that nothing else really does that I do have DID.

What my daughter eats is important to me. It’s important full-stop. The problem is that it is not this simple. I worry obsessively about what she eats. We try to avoid sugar, I’m vegan and she has relatively little dairy, and she has hypomineralised back teeth so is meant to avoid acidic fruits and juice and sugary drinks. Sugar is in EVERYTHING. I also regularly freak out about tinned foods, harmful chemicals in foods and hair and skin products, processed foods, estrogen imitators, GMO foods, BPA, foods high in phytic acid, inflammatory foods and auto-immune disorders, her not eating enough protein, calcium-rich foods, iron, omega 3, etc. The list goes on.

Most of the time I a) manage to keep this in check and b) don’t let her realise how bad it all is inside my head.

My worries are legitimate – the Western diet is a mess. But they are also complicated by the fact that I set myself impossible standards. As I sobbed in therapy tonight – no food is safe. As K pointed out – when I’ve cut out everything I’m worried about there is literally nothing left. Not even water is clean enough some days.

Tonight in therapy it became painfully obvious that I have parts and some of the parts having eating disorders and they all have different eating disorders. Anorexia. BED. Bulimia. Orthorexia (which extends beyond food to harmful chemicals and clean living more generally). As K said, my job is to look after the parts and it is like looking after a whole ward of mental health patients. This made me laugh, and some of the teenage parts loved this assessment, but it’s serious. The fact many of the parts have different EDs stops any one disorder getting too serious from a health perspective. But it’s a fucking mess.

Everyone has different priorities – vegan food, healthy food, as little food as possible, junk food to avoid feelings, nice biscuits and cakes because I am 5 or 10 or 7, no sugar, no harmful chemicals, minimal phytic acid, no tinned foods, no wheat, no processed food, no single use plastic packaging, no soy, the list goes on.

There is a huge battle raging inside me all the time. Sometimes I go shopping and buy stuff and later can’t work out what the hell I was thinking, because someone else was in control when we were shopping (and LOL because this reminds me of that AWFUL article in the Mirror with the couple who find supermarket shopping so stressful with DID). Maybe someone more relaxed. Maybe someone who just doesn’t care. Maybe someone who understands food is meant to be a pleasure. Maybe someone who just wants to eat and eat and eat until the pain goes away. Maybe someone whose sole aim in life is to eat as little as possible.

There is no middle ground. When the reins come off parts who like over-eating go crazy. All-or-nothing. There is nothing in between. K says this reflects everything else in my life. I have no middle ground with anything. Disorganised attachment. Too much or not enough. Everything or nothing.

My Grandma is anorexic, has been all her life. My Dad cycles obsessively, weighs himself every morning and writes it down on a chart, is so strict with himself about what he eats it is painful. I had to ask him to stop talking to my daughter about calories and weight, because she gets ‘enough of that silly talk from the girls at school’. My Mum is overweight and binge eats, as does my disabled brother who still lives with her. My sister really struggles with food and her weight and taking care of herself generally. I don’t want to pass this shit on to my daughter (any more than I have already). I want it to stop but I don’t know how. I feel as though I have too many unhealthy coping strategies (beyond food – definite control issues generally and aspects of OCPD, as well as cutting and other unhealthy strategies) and I don’t know where to start.

K asked what was underneath my rage at my daughter yesterday and it is fear, obviously; fear of being invaded (by bad foods and, ultimately, cancer) and fear of not being perfect. These two things – the need to be perfect and the fear of being invaded – sum up my whole fucking life.

When I check in with my ‘core self’, being vegan is the main priority. This is the value that fits with who we are and who we want to be and how we want to live. I just don’t know how to let go of the other stuff, even a little, without everything going crazy. I don’t know how to help one part (e.g. by letting up on the sugar thing) without feeding into the unhealthy coping strategies of another (e.g. BED).

Swirling mess of parts tonight and I feel completely overwhelmed by how enormous the task of deciphering and understanding this stuff is, even whilst it is just one element of all I/we struggle with. K says we will come back to this again and again and again. She pointed out the huge feelings behind what happened yesterday. She says I need to find a way to let go of some of this because at the moment food is controlling my whole life, but I don’t know how to. I don’t know what it means to let this stuff go. She says I’m putting all this effort into food and what we both eat and that I am still in huge amounts of pain over it. I can see that she is right, but I don’t know what to do about it or how to change when it is so complicated.

I feel like I’m standing at the bottom of a mountain and I need to get all the parts together so we can start to climb it, but we can’t come together until we are at the top of the mountain. I don’t know where to start. All I know is that for now I need to hide this better from my daughter. It’s about control. I need to make sure I don’t reach breaking point where I lash out at her full stop. About food or anything.

I don’t have much love for myself, or the parts tonight.

 

Argh!

Getting ready to go on holiday as a single parent has to be the most stressful ordeal EVER. Control keeps me sane-ish and getting ready to go away triggers me like nothing else.

On top of the usual organising, sorting, tidying, feeding, cleaning up, reminding about personal hygiene, shopping, etc etc is the need to co-ordinate packing, sort the car, organise food and entertainment to take, check oil, give pet instructions to a friend, throw away rotting food in the fridge, and leave the house in some semblance of order so we don’t come back to a tip which would defeat the purpose of a ‘relaxing week away’.

When I moaned about having to clean out the rabbit hutch and guinea pig cage today before we go my daughter retorted with ‘you should have done it yesterday’. Yes I should have done half of EVERYTHING yesterday, why didn’t I think of that?! Oh yes, I did – that’s why I spent most of yesterday getting stuff ready to go away too. Half of everything is still everything. Yesterday was also when my daughter saturated the bathroom and all the towels and her clothes in a temper because I wouldn’t take the iPad before she washed her hair and she had to get out and do it herself. So I had fun sorting that mess last night too.

I suggested my daughter go to the shop to get something for her lunch that is quick and easy i.e. a sandwich or pasta salad and she has come back with fresh pasta and sauce requiring cooking and more washing up. Seriously?!

I’m sure once we set off all will be fine but right now I’m wondering why I bother!

She’ll be there

 

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Today was my last therapy session before a two week break as on Saturday I’m off on holiday for a week. It was so the session I needed today and I am also really noticing the benefit of the double session as we covered so much ground – there was space to process nightmares and tough stuff in my current life and it’s links to my past and trauma responses, and also space to work on some past trauma and form a narrative around some big life events, and also make each other bunny-shaped Springtime cards so we have something for during the break. The one K made me is above and I love it, especially as the bunny has brindle fur like one of her dogs 💕

When I got there she had selected two books for me to borrow for my holiday, and also the Viva magazine (we are both vegan and this is such an important thread of connection in our work). I love that I didn’t have to ask for this, that she was thinking of me ahead of the break. I was in a bad place – heavy and energyless, aching all over, dizzy and lightheaded, really dissociated, and just done in from nightmares and physical symptoms and single parenting. I still feel these things, but it feels more manageable now.

Being able to talk about my parenting struggles with someone who understands and who knows me and my past is invaluable. She gets that solo parenting is hard, but also knows that underneath that lies the huge things that come up for me, and the younger parts, around having a pre-adolescent in the house. So we set these current struggles in the context of my past, my childhood and adolescence, my single parent journey, and my needs and responses due to trauma and dissociation. And it not only helps it all make sense, but it helps me stay hopeful that maybe I won’t always struggle quite this much, as I begin to understand why I feel and respond how I do. And ultimately I hope the dissocation will reduce, as I become integrated and more in touch with my emotions, and so I will have more energy for the challenges of the teenage days! I hardly ever let myself think about this, but I wonder what it would be like to have a partner, to have someone to share the emotional and physical burden of childrearing with? My daughter is bigger than me (not physically, energetically), she has a stronger sense of self and what she wants and needs. It helped to remember today that this is what I  wished for her when I was pregnant – to have a childhood unlike mine and to grow up knowing who she is. So I’ve achieved that, but it makes it hard for me because she is so present at home, so there and demanding and sure of herself. I feel I’ve spent my whole life caring for the needs of others. In many ways I have. But as I realised today – it is me that needs to get bigger, not her who needs to get smaller. She is perfectly imperfect just as she is!

So I left therapy feeling connected, and for the first time at the start of a break I really know K will be there, not just when I get back, but the whole time I am away as well. This may not last, but it feels like a good place to start ❤️

She still exists

My daughter, N, and I just saw my Mum and brother driving near our house. They shouldn’t be this side of town, there’s no need. It has really shaken me and N is distraught. She misses her Grandma and Uncle, despite everything. Why is my Mum over here? Was she hoping to catch a glimpse of us on Easter weekend? We were coming back from Sainsbury’s – she used to call it ‘your Sainsbury’s’ as there is one right by her too. Was she going there, hoping to see us? A friend of N’s who is just 10 saw her in our Sainsbury’s at Christmas and my Mum spilled all over her how much she misses N and how awful everything is. FFS. What was she doing there? How can she do that to a child? And what if we’d seen her? What if we’d bumped into her today? And also – none of this matters. What matters is she’s real.

She still exists.

She has been able to carry on with her life without me.

This hurts so much.

I tell my daughter why we’ve done this, reassure her it’s the right thing but inside it hurts so much and I just want things to be different.

I want my mum.

Today was already a day to be got through after CSA nightmares last night (still unsure if this happened to me or not as I have no concrete memories at all) have left me groggy and distressed and really dissociated. K and I have a half hour phone session this afternoon because of this already but now with seeing my Mum and brother it doesn’t feel enough and will it be more triggering than helpful, only having that time.

Things feel completely unmanageable today and I am struggling to be there for N when I just want to curl up in bed and howl about the unfairness of all this.

My own break

From Tuesday I have a self-imposed therapy break. My T isn’t taking a break over Easter, but I am taking my daughter away for a week. So we will meet on Tuesday and then not again until 16th April. It’s only 13 days, it’s me that’s going away, we have contact scheduled on 5 of the days (email or phone), blah-de-blah… it still feels difficult. Argh! I want to enjoy my holiday. I don’t want to feel separation anxiety and attachment pain when it is MY holiday. It is me going away, not her, and it is not work-related but something fun. Something needed and wanted and looked forward to. We are going somewhere beautiful and peaceful with walks and mountains and waterfalls and a cosy cottage just the two of us. There will be laughter and fun and time for reading and films and calm. But underneath all this there  will be stirrings of unsettlement and worry from the parts. There already is. It is hard when she is geographically far away. All sorts of fears come up about whether she will be there and whether things will be the same when we return. Always that surprise from someone little when we return from any kind of a break, hers or ours, that K is the same! Always waiting for something good and safe to be taken away. And I guess being away from K is a reminder of all she is not to me, to all of us. And that hurts. She is not part of my real life. She enables me to have a real life in many ways, but I will never share that with her. She has real people. And I have a whole life too that she is not part of. At times like this I am aware of all the space between us and it is scary and unsettling and infuriating because I just want to be a grown up and enjoy my life without feeling the absence of someone who is not mine to miss.

Can’t sustain this

Last week was a hell on earth kind of a week. It was an unavoidably frantic week at work, and alongside that I had a broken down car, bike puncture, daughter friendship issues, a major ‘incident’ at my place of work which made the national news, a rabbit who escaped her cage and trashed the front room (funny now, so not funny when I got home from work really late due to my bike having a puncture!!), the tidal wave over my Mum hitting for the first time, and a lack of sleep due to being so triggered and dissociated my brain was literally buzzing some nights even with diazepam and sleeping tablets.

In some ways it was a ‘one off’ kind-of-a-week, and in other ways it was reflective of just how much I am holding at the moment. I am a single parent, I work full time in a demanding job, and I have complex-PTSD and a dissociative disorder. I could handle one of those things, but all together – it is too much. And yet again doubts are raised about the sustainability of my current life with recovering from complex trauma and dissociation. Is my work giving me enough meaning and sense of self and purpose that it balances out the destruction it sometimes (often!) does to my central nervous system?

In my double session yesterday K and I spent the first HOUR talking about last week. She said hearing about it was making her heart race. I dissociated so much from just TALKING about it I could feel myself floating in mid-air. I’m dissociated all the time, but this was really intense even by my standards. What the hell did last week do to me when I was living it? I said I felt lessons needed to be learned from last week, but when I look back I can’t see what I could have done differently. Not without changing EVERYTHING.

Without saying too much about what I do, I LOVE my career – it is fulfilling and challenging and it makes a difference in the world. It gives so much meaning to my life, it gives me purpose and I love the people I work with and impart my knowledge to and being part of the bigger picture in terms of changing some of the injustice in society. But it is FULL ON. For half the year it involves working more than full-time hours – long hours, evenings, weekends and also lots of meetings and interactions which I find really draining because people and ‘social’ spaces are one of my biggest triggers. I battle through the constant state of dissociation every day and it is so hard working in a mentally demanding job with so much pressure when I feel like I am underwater most of the time. And then for the other half of the year it is much quieter, much more self-contained – still pressured, but manageable and easier to combine with my emotional health needs. Without work I struggle enormously. I need it. I just need less of it. And it is not the kind of job that can be done with less hours, it is not something that can be done part-time.

From Thursday, the quieter time begins, and things will feel more manageable. But this is the 3rd year K and I have watched me struggling badly at this time of year. From mid-November I’ve just been hanging in there, holding out for 29th March. I keep thinking when my daughter grows up, when I have more money so that is not a stress too, when I can afford a gardener, etc., things will be easier. I keep thinking when I’m ‘out the other side’ of trauma and attachment therapy things will be easier. But it scares me that this life I live is so incompatible with ‘the gentle life’ I need to live in order to recover from the PTSD stuff. I get so much from my job, but the thought of doing all this again next year, and the year after, and so on – it feels so completely overwhelming. I don’t want to do anything else though, I want to be able to manage my job the way other people not living with the after-affects of childhood trauma, abuse, and neglect do. That is the part that feels really unfair. I am starting to realise that ‘recovery’ will be very different from what I imagined when I started therapy, and that the physical, emotional and mental health and vitality I dreamt of may not ever be truly mine. I will get better at managing it all I’m sure, but that is very different from what I had in mind 3 years ago.

Sometimes this all feels more manageable, and I have SIXTEEN DAYS OFF WORK after Thursday, but today it feels like I am doing my selves a disservice by the life I am living. A young part wrote in our book on Sunday that she needs a mummy and that she has L (a teenage part) and K, but that grown up C (i.e. me) ‘doesn’t notice her’. That made me so sad because she’s right – the last few weeks, months even, have been so much about survival the parts have been neglected and that really doesn’t feel okay. When I have more energy perhaps I will try and plan some fun stuff for us all to do over the Easter weekend…