Life in a Bind – BPD and me

Borderline Personality Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and my therapy journey. Listed in Top Ten Resources for BPD in 2016 by goodtherapy.org. I write for welldoing.org and for Muse Magazine Australia, under the name Clara Bridges.


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Dreams and endings – always endings

I had three dreams on the two nights prior to my last therapy session before a four week break – all of them betraying my fears not just about this temporary ending, but about the more permanent ‘ending of therapy’ to come. It’s a familiar pattern for me – one type of ‘loss’ cascades into layers of loss stretching into the future.

***

I was standing on the balcony of a block of flats and my ‘therapy jacket’* fell from where it was hanging and onto the street below. I thought to call out for help, for someone to pick it up, and then I decided I should instead run down and get it. But as I was about to rush down, a man drove up on a motorbike, picked it up, and sped away. I screamed after him, hoping someone might pursue him, but he was gone. I was devastated at the loss of something deeply meaningful and irreplaceable; even awake, I remember the quality and intensity of the distress I felt in my dream, which was so great that it actually woke me up. This is my version of a nightmare, which haunts me and jolts me awake – not fear, but overwhelming sadness and loss.

***

I got off a bus and found myself near my halls of residence at university. Waves of nostalgia hit me – good feelings, a sort of happiness, but tinged with the sadness of times now distant and never to be re-lived. Good memories shot through with the faint unbelief that this could ever have been my life – that I was ever there, younger, less burdened with things not done, lives not lived, joys not felt. I walked up to the building and the front desk staff recognised me without me saying a word, and the familiarity felt comforting. But when I looked behind them, I saw that the place had been gutted by fire. Only blackened structures remained, and the beautiful buildings had disappeared. I was shocked, saddened, horrified – overwhelmed with tears, and grief. They told me what had happened, but I don’t remember what they said. Something to do with Fresher’s Week, I think – it seems that what was meant to be a new beginning, had in fact brought about an ending.

***

I was in my car, in the bottom right hand corner of an enormous open-air courtyard within a building that completely enclosed the space on all sides. All of a sudden, the ground started falling away, starting from the bottom left hand corner and moving towards the right. I began driving up the right hand side of the square, at first managing to escape the collapse by some distance, but then having a narrower and narrower strip of land to drive on, as the break-up of the earth caught up with me, and almost overtook me. Just as the strip of land was about to disappear to nothing, I drove between a pillar and the building but the space was slightly too narrow and I crashed and came to a halt, wedged in the gap. The ground disappeared all around me, but I was pinned in place, and didn’t fall. Being stuck felt like my salvation.  

***

My therapist suggested that perhaps my husband was stealing my therapy – a reference to the fact that I deeply resented the fact I had spent much of the last week of therapy before the break, focusing on the feelings that my couples therapy was triggering in me. It was not how I had planned ‘setting up’ for the break, and it felt like an intrusion. It felt as though I was losing valuable individual therapy time and wouldn’t be able to cover everything I wanted to before the break. My therapist was not wrong in her interpretation of my first dream, but as with any dream, a number of different interpretations are possible, all of which may lead to their own insights.

For me, it was the loss of a visual representation of therapy, and the absence of a tangible reminder, that struck me most. I was reminded of the conversations I’ve had recently with my therapist about how I’ve always hoped that at the end of therapy she would give me a photo to remember her by. I don’t think it had occurred to me it was a request she might refuse – so many therapists these days have a photo online, even if their web presence is limited to their contact details and a summary of their areas of expertise. Yet she indicated that I wouldn’t need a photo – that I would carry the memories I needed, within me. It was an implied, rather than a direct, refusal, and it was far from reassuring. Sometimes I find it very hard to recall faces – and I am terrified that one day, I may not be able to recall hers. I am scared that I will lose that vital reminder of her presence, one way or another, whether the reminder is stolen by age, or illness, or another cause.

***

Over the last few months, I have spent more and more time worrying not just about the end of therapy, but about the fact that I don’t know when it will end, or when my therapist will retire. She has said she will let me know at least a year before it happens – but now it feels as though I live in dread of walking into a session only to find out that it is the session at which she makes that announcement. I have been imagining what it will be like – even though I don’t want to imagine it. I imagine it in various different ways, because the possibility of it is so difficult to conceive, there is no telling how the reality will go.

I imagine the version where I am numb and in shock, and my defenses kick in to protect me from pain, so that I just carry on as rationally and as much in denial, as I can. I imagine the version where I simply can’t bear to be in such pain in the presence of the person who has hurt me, and I ask to leave – but I’ve never left a session, and I know I would regret it, so that scenario doesn’t seem very likely. And I imagine the version in which I show her that it hurts indescribably much – as it sometimes does when the premonition of the future hits me at home at night and I hold my stomach with wordless cries and open mouth and soak my pillow with streaming nose and eyes and it is unbearable but I bear it and yet I know that even when it passes, this time, it is coming, actually coming, this and more. And in the exhausted quiet after, part of me is grateful to be able to open myself up to the grief, which feels like an honouring of everything my therapist means to me; but part of me trembles in fear underneath, at the thought of the time when the grief will really, really take hold of me, and it won’t last half an hour or an hour, or ten hours, or a hundred…..

The imagined shock of that announcement is what the shock of the burnt-out building reminds me of. The distress following the shock, a dim foretelling of what the reality will be like. The nostalgia of returning to a familiar place with good memories, at Fresher’s Week, a time of new beginnings, reminds me of returning to therapy after a break. And it is then, in particular, that I imagine coming face to face with devastation. Therapy seems to run on academic terms, just like schools and universities – August is the ‘month off’ and things resume again, come September. It seems likely she would choose to retire at the end of an academic year, particularly as she sees a number of students. And so it also seems likely that, if she ‘gives me notice’, it will happen at the start of the academic year, and following the summer break. I’m afraid of therapy breaks – but these days  I am also afraid of going back.

***

The third dream took place on the same night as the second, and I believe it is on a similar theme. It was my therapist who saw it this time – the collapse of the ground and the ever narrower strip of road, mirroring the passage of time. The longer I am in therapy, the less time I have left in therapy. If only I could stop time….There is so much that – perhaps generously – she didn’t say, about just how my behaviour and resistance in therapy is sometimes geared towards just that. Towards denying progress (or at least minimising it and trying to show how much more there is to do); staving off the end, even though the end is inevitable and ultimately will be determined by her retirement, irrespective of whether I am ‘done’ in therapy, or not. There is a sentence in ‘Lila’ by Marilynne Robinson, which perfectly sums up that denial, and that holding back: “She couldn’t lean her whole weight on any of this when she knew she would have to live on after it”.

My therapist’s conclusion about the dream’s message disturbed me – whereas I felt that getting stuck had saved me, she suggested that perhaps I needed to carry on, despite time getting ever shorter. It makes sense – that I should carry on, make the most of the time, complete the work, if the work is ever really complete. But I can’t help wondering, did her words mean more than that? Was she encouraging me to keep going not just because it’s a good thing to do, but because she now has an actual timescale, an actual date in mind? However much I tried to think about the disappearing ground as representing time left in therapy, I could not persuade myself that driving on and falling down into the chasm was anything other than dangerous and to be avoided.

***

“Ends are for yesterday, not tomorrows.

What will you do with the time you have left?”  **

 

[* I bought my therapy jacket during a therapy break more than two years ago, and it is a constant comfort blanket and a warm reminder of my therapist, acting both as a jacket and a blanket, depending on the season and the time of day!

** – from ‘The Time Keeper’ by Mitch Albom ]


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My therapist was right – again!

[The text below was written a few days ago, straight after one of my therapy sessions. I waited to publish it, because I wanted to share its content with my therapist first. Particularly since we started curtailing email outside of session, I really want to try and keep our work spontaneous and ‘within the room’, otherwise it almost feels as though the very difficult process of changing our previous email pattern, will be undermined. I will continue blogging about my therapy, and writing is still a valuable way for me to process material – but it will more often, these days, be ‘after the fact’, rather than when I am in the very middle of a situation.]

Having spent weeks finding it really difficult to write, I now feel absolutely compelled to do it. Why? Because I’ve been driving home after my therapy session feeling incredibly grateful, and for some reason, for a moment, I’m allowing myself to be one of those people I sometimes find very irritating on Facebook, who go on about their gratitude while many of the rest of us are feeling anything but. So I sincerely apologise for inflicting that on anyone. But on the other hand, part of the problem with Facebook is only seeing the positive parts of the picture that others are happy to present to the world, whereas my gratitude today is part of a bigger, messier, darker, and un-straightforward picture, which I have tried to present as honestly as I can.

I have written so often about the feeling of having a bottomless ‘pit of need’ inside me, and how painful that is to encounter within myself. As I was driving this evening I was conscious of the contrast and of the excitement and pleasure of feeling as though I was a container overflowing, rather than a pit needing filling.

I’ve just had two therapy sessions on consecutive days, after a short therapy break, and both times my feelings upon entering my therapist’s house were different to other ‘returns’. This is the shortest break we’ve had (a week) so perhaps that helped – it was long enough to trigger break-related feelings and also to function as a period of consolidation, but short enough that I still had a sense of connection to the material we had been covering before the break. There was therefore less uncertainty about what it would be like to resume; but even so, I don’t remember feeling quite so excited before, about ‘coming back’. I have always longed to resume sessions, and couldn’t wait, as well as getting frustrated and anxious about the return – but unafraid excitement was something a little new.

I felt like running up the stairs to the therapy room, and just entering it had a real sense of safety, comfort, and of coming home. I literally cried with relief (and other emotions) at a couple of points during yesterday’s first session back, and even today couldn’t quite get over how good it felt to be back. And not just back – but back in a really engaged and open and undefended way. It’s how I really wanted to be, in session, before the break happened, but I couldn’t really manage it at that point.

I’ve been wondering why – where this sense of excitement and ability to be open, came from. It’s not as though the break was easy or my feelings positive the whole way through. As I mentioned in my previous post, though the break started well, my mood changed completely part-way through, and rather than feeling confident and secure in the therapeutic connection, I felt fearful and very self-critical.

I did try and think myself out of that state  – and was helped both my own realisation that the change in mood and my perceptions of my therapist came from within myself and were not triggered by anything she had said or done; and also by a brief email exchange that we had. She was open and supportive, and posed a couple of interesting questions for me to think about. And I did…..

My therapist has sometimes expressed surprise that I have not shown more curiosity about my dreams or about my subconscious. One of the things that was different about this break and the return, was that I was more curious about what had been going on during the break, and I was more invested in trying to understand it. I returned to therapy excited to talk about what had happened and my attempts at unpicking it; but also excited about trying to understand it with my therapist, and not just on my own. The first session back was emotional and difficult in parts, but also thought-provoking; and with the luxury of some time to myself after the session, I felt as though I took a number of important steps forward in getting to grips with the material we’d covered.

I couldn’t wait to tell her, and had an even greater sense of excitement and anticipation when I arrived at session today, knowing that I would share these steps and that we could talk about them further.

If I try and think about why there has been this change in my curiosity and excitement about the material of therapy, I suspect I may not be able to identify a single factor, and that a range of elements contributed. However, it’s also possible that among the range of factors there may be a single very important one; and that I might have to acknowledge that maybe this is part of what my therapist meant when she said that the reason for reducing email contact outside of sessions was to ‘free me up’ so that we could interact in a more ‘lively way’ in person. It’s a little irritating when she’s right…..!

But it also makes me feel very very grateful for her, and for everything she’s done and is doing for and with me. I’m enjoying this feeling of overflowing, because I know that while the fact of overflowing may continue, the feeling will come and go, despite wanting to hold onto it.  When I look at the wider picture, there is a great deal that continues to be very painful. Outside of therapy, my husband and I are finally in couples counselling, but probably at least a year too late – we have essentially withdrawn and become used to ignoring each other and only talking when the need arises. In therapy, despite the connection, trust, and gratitude I feel, I’m still a little too afraid and insecure to read an article I saw on Twitter about what happens when therapists dislike a client, and I feel renewed pain at the question of touch in therapy, when I read about others’ current struggles with the very same issue. And I’m still jealous of my therapist’s daughters, and the place they occupy in her life. In no way have these things been suddenly ‘fixed’ and nor do I expect them to be – resolved, at some point, perhaps, but who’s to say in what way, and when?

But the feeling of overflowing is there together with those other things, and they can co-exist, and I think that that is different, too. It reminds me of some passages in a beautiful book that my therapist recommended to me a while ago, which had a big impact on me. “This is not to say that joy is a compensation for loss, but that each of them, joy and loss, exists in its own right and must be recognised for what it is. Sorrow is very real……life on earth is difficult and grave, and marvellous…..so joy can be joy and sorrow can be sorrow, with neither of them casting either light or shadow on the other.”*

I think that pretty much sums up how I’m feeling right now – and I wanted very much, to share that with you.

*from ‘Lila’ by Marilynne Robinson


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Constant shifts and comforting words

I wrote this almost three weeks ago, over a weekend, and meant to take it to the first therapy session of the week with me and show it to my therapist. It was during the very early days of our ‘new approach’ of trying to restrict (or cut out) email contact outside of sessions. And so in that spirit, I wanted to show her the poem in person, rather than send it electronically.

However, my mood and attitude in session were different to how I had been feeling when I wrote the poem, even though there was no obvious reason behind the change. The change wasn’t even apparent until I was in the room – perhaps something that happened very close to the start of the session (and which I now can’t remember), triggered my defenses, or perhaps it was something else entirely.

By the end of the week, things had recovered, but there was a similar replay the following week; and by the time I hit a short therapy break (which I’m nearing the end of), I still hadn’t managed to show her the poem. I now suspect I simply won’t get the chance as there will be too much else to cover before we then hit a longer, four-week break.

The break itself has followed a similar pattern to those previous two weeks – a few ‘good days’ where I feel connected, vulnerable, open, and determined, followed by a fairly sudden change where it’s almost as if a switch is flipped. I then suddenly see everything through a lens of fear, self-hatred, and potential judgment, which closes me off and puts up my defenses. Whichever lens I’m looking through, it colours everything from my perceptions, to my thoughts, to my feelings, to my behaviour. It feels as though my worldview shifts into a different state, and that the changes in thoughts and feelings are symptoms, rather than causes of that shift. Which still leaves me searching for an explanation as to why this happens, and that in turn leaves me feeling incredibly frustrated and demoralised. It feels as though I have little control over these shifts; they are regular, and unpredictable, and I feel completely at their mercy. That is difficult at the best of times; but during a therapy break, when I need to try and maintain my equilibrium, it is even more problematic.

Thinking back, I think these shifts have always been there, but they are more noticeable in the context of no contact outside of sessions, where I cannot seek reassurance and try to reconnect ‘in absentia’. It also means that whatever is going on, the changes are much more clearly something to do with me and my own thoughts, as they are not happening in connection with anything my therapist might have said or not said, over email (or even my expectations of what she might have said, or not said). That is both a consolation (as it means I still feel secure in who she is) and a concern (as I have no easily identifiable trigger or explanation for what is going on).

As I was writing this poem, some of the language evoked images and memories of self-harm. Though initially it was unconsciously done, as I worked on the poem it became more intentional. Some of the images felt a little incongruous with the subject matter, which is essentially a positive statement about my determination, despite these mood/worldview shifts that I appear to be caught up in, to be open to everything my therapist has to give me, including the tough lessons that preparing to lose her, and then losing her (at the end of therapy), will bring. However, something about the images also felt right; if they are a little radical or a little unsettling, well, so is complete openness and vulnerability – at least for someone who is used to the very opposite of those things. They are unsettling because to someone who is not used to them, exercising them can feel like leaving one-self wide open to hurt and harm. And so it seemed fitting that the poem should somehow be a kind of re-interpretation of self-harm; that its words should give a different meaning to the images that they invoked.

Thoughts and images of self-harm have resurfaced more frequently since my therapist and I have virtually stopped email contact. However, I’m hoping that now, when that happens, the words of this poem will come to mind. And that instead of feeling desperate and afraid, I will remember that openness may hurt, but – just as oxygen binds to blood and keeps my body alive, the internal bond with my therapist and the love that I carry for her, sustains me. If she’s reading, I want her to know that I know that – even when that knowledge is a little buried or veiled from view, and even when that knowledge is difficult to feel.

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Self-care strategies for the summer therapy break – Part 2

Part 2 of my recent post for therapy website welldoing.org contains seven more strategies I find helpful for coping during therapy breaks, and it can be found here:

https://welldoing.org/article/7-acts-self-care-better-mental-health

If you have your own tips, it would be great to hear what works for you! My thoughts are with anyone who has a therapy break upcoming….


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Self-care strategies for the summer therapy break – Part 1

Over the last eighteen months or so, I have found myself developing a number of strategies for trying to cope with therapy breaks, and in particular the long summer break, which for me tends to be between four to six weeks long. I recently summarised thirteen of those strategies in a two-part post for the therapy website welldoing.org, and this is the link to the first part, containing my first six tips. I hope you find them useful!

https://welldoing.org/article/this-is-why-self-care-makes-such-a-difference-in-mental-health


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Marnie Uncovered

On Friday I heard Zara Larsson’s ‘Uncover’ sung by a boy soprano. Somehow, I’d never heard the song before, and the combination of the music and the amazing tone of his voice, left me with tears streaming down my face. Once I ‘get into’ a song, I tend to listen to it on repeat, and so I have been playing it almost constantly on Youtube since then.

As I was listening to it today, with the words of yesterday’s post on the book ‘When Marnie was there’, still very much in my mind, I found myself thinking of this as Anna and Marnie’s song, at least in the beginning phases of their friendship, before they started, together, to change. They were each other’s secret, and in the safety of their friendship, they started to uncover their real selves and reveal things that neither of them had spoken about before.

Anna moved nearer and the girl said, still in a half-whisper. ‘You remember I said last night that you were my secret?’ Anna nodded ‘I knew just what you meant. You’re mine.’

‘There are all sorts of things I want to know about you……. – and yet, in a way, I don’t want to know them all – …….No, that’s wrong! I do want to know. But I want to find them out slowly, by myself, as we go along….’

‘I’ve been so lonely’, said Anna, surprised to hear herself saying it- it was so rare for her to confide in anyone.

Here, when the tide was out, they spent hours altering the course of steams, and making tiny villages out of mud and sand.

Running back across the fields with Marnie, she felt as light as air.

I like this version of the video because, unlike later versions, Zara Larsson looks like the teenage girl that she is, a young girl with long blonde hair, only a few years older than Marnie would have been in the story. The song lyrics follow below…..

Nobody sees, Nobody knows
We are a secret, can’t be exposed
That’s how it is, That’s how it goes
Far from the others
Close to each other

In the daylight, in the daylight
When the sun is shining
On a late night, on a late night
When the moon is blinding
In plain sight, plain sight
Like stars in hiding
You and I burn on, on

Put 2 and 2gether – 4ever
We’ll never change
2 and 2gether
We’ll never change

Nobody sees, Nobody knows
We are a secret, can’t be exposed
That’s how it is, That’s how it goes
Far from the others
Close to each other
That’s when we uncover, cover, cover [x2]

My asylum, My asylum
Is in your arms
When the world gives heavy burdens
I can bare a thousand tons
On your shoulder, on your shoulder
I can reach an endless sky
Feels like paradise

Put 2 and 2gether – 4ever
We’ll never change
2 and 2gether
We’ll never change

Nobody sees, Nobody knows
We are a secret, can’t be exposed
That’s how it is, That’s how it goes
Far from the others
Close to each other
That’s when we uncover, cover, cover [x2]

We could build a universe right here
All the world could disappear
Wouldn’t notice, wouldn’t care

We could build a universe right here
The world could disappear
Yeah I just need you near

Nobody sees, Nobody knows
We are a secret, can’t be exposed
That’s how it is, That’s how it goes
Far from the others
Close to each other
That’s when we uncover, cover, cover [x2]
That’s when we uncover

 


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A childhood story – further thoughts on ‘When Marnie was there’

The house on the far left is The Marsh House (Marnie’s house) – or rather, the house that inspired the book ‘When Marnie was there’. The house is located in Burnham Overy Staithe, in Norfolk (or ‘Little Overton’, as it is referred to in the book). Photo is by Chris Wood (User:chris_j_wood). [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons .

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about rediscovering a book that I read as a child, the memory and impact of which stayed with me, even though I could not remember anything apart from the name ‘Marnie’ in the title. The book was called ‘When Marnie was there’, and I have now read it twice within the space of a month. The first time I read it, I cried for almost an hour after I finished it, but for no reason particular reason that I could identify. The second time, as I read it I turned over the tops of pages which contained sentences or paragraphs that particularly struck me or rang true.

I am still trying to understand the power of this book which means so much to me. I know without a doubt that I saw (and still see) myself in Anna, the book’s main character. The way she defended herself from the world and from her emotions, following on from loss, mirrored my own response as a child (and not only as a child). When I read it for the second time, I think I was looking for something redemptive, in the way that Anna had begun to be transformed through her encounters with Marnie, the little girl who lived at The Marsh House.

There are thoughts beginning to take shape in my mind, and a post starting to form. But I am not quite there yet. What I have felt compelled to do, is write down all those passages that struck me. And that is what I did tonight – I went through every page with a turned-down corner, and typed those sections out, and am copying them below. I hope you will forgive this post, therefore: both for its insularity (for without being me and without knowing why these passages chimed with me, they may appear rather random); but also for what it gives away. I very much hope that these passages will encourage you to obtain a second hand copy of the book and to read it, rather than feeling as though I have spoiled it by revealing some of how it unfolds. There are still important plot points and many other beautiful and frightening components of the story that I have not given away.

Even without knowing the story, and without knowing my own internal context, I hope that these passages hang together. All I can say is that they must have hung together in my sub-conscious, and this is my attempt to figure out why. For greater clarity, I have used italics purely to separate out paragraphs a little more, and to show where one quoted section ends, and another begins. I hope I am not infringing copyright law by quoting to such a degree!

***

She could only stand there stiffly by the open door of the carriage, with her case in her hand, hoping she looked ordinary and wishing the train would go. Mrs Preston, seeing Anna’s ‘ordinary’ look – which in her own mind she thought of as her ‘wooden face’ – sighed and turned her attention to more practical things.

Already the turmoil of Liverpool Street Station, the hurry, the confusion, the nearness of parting – against which she had only been able to protect herself with her wooden face – seemed a hundred years ago, she thought.

There was a picture over the bed, a framed sampler in red and blue cross-stitch, with the words Hold fast that which is Good embroidered over a blue anchor. Anna looked at this with mistrust. It was the word ‘good’. Not that she herself was particularly naughty, in fact her school reports quite often gave her a ‘Good’ for Conduct, but in some odd way the word seemed to leave her outside. She didn’t feel good…..

A small bird flew over the creek, quite close to her head, uttering a short plaintive cry four or five times running, all on one note. It sounded like ‘Pity me’! Oh, pity me!’

And then she saw the house…..As soon as she saw it Anna knew that this was what she had been looking for. The house, which faced straight on to the creek, was large and old and square, its many small windows framed in faded blue woodwork. No wonder she had felt she was being watched with all those windows staring at her!

Sitting alone on the shore….she looked back at the long, low line of the village and tried to pick out The Marsh House. But it was not there!…..Alarmed, she stood up. It had to be there. If it was not, then nothing seemed safe any more….nothing made sense….She blinked, opened her eyes wider, and looked again. Still it was not there. She sat down then – with the most ordinary face in the world, to show she was quite independent and not frightened at all…….as they rounded a bend in the creek and she saw the old house gradually emerge from its dark background of trees, she felt so hot and happy with relief that she nearly said, ‘There it is!’ out loud. She realized now that it had been there all the time.

Then as they rounded the last bend, she turned as she always did, to look towards The Marsh House…..They drew nearer, and then she saw, quite distinctly, in one of the upper windows, a girl. She was standing patiently, having her hair brushed.

She ignored the hand, pretending not to see it, but in that instant she longed to flop down on the floor beside him and tell him everything. But she could not have done that without crying, and the very idea of such a thing appalled her. Anyway they would miss the point somehow. Mrs Preston always did. She was always kind, but also she was always so terribly concerned. If only there was someone who would let you cry occasionally for no reason, or hardly any reason at all! But there appeared to be a conspiracy against that.

Already she had spent many afternoons here, lying in a sandy hollow, hearing only the wind rustling the tops of the grasses, the distant crying of the gulls, and the soft soughing of the sea. It was like being at the very edge of the world. Sometimes the gulls came nearer, screaming noisily as they quarelled over small fish in the pools, and sometimes they cried mournfully far away along the beach. Then Anna felt like crying too – not actually, but quietly – inside. They made a sad, and beautiful, and long-ago sound that seemed to remind her of something lovely she had once known – and lost, and never found again. But she did not know what it was.

Nothing had been said at the cottage about Anna staying out so late, and having to be brought home by the Beales. All that day, and the next, she went about quietly, steeling herself against reproaches and scoldings that never came. And gradually she thought she understood why. Mrs Pegg knew now that Anna was not worth bothering about. And this was her way of dealing with it – by saying nothing at all. She was tired of Anna…..This was not so, but Anna was not to know. At home things had a way of lingering on. They were not necessarily referred to, but you could feel them in the air…..Mrs Pegg appeared entirely unconcerned. This, thought Anna, could only mean that she had abandoned her, because she was too bad to be worth bothering about.

She had not seen Marnie since the party three nights ago, and The Marsh House had been silent. She glanced towards it now and saw that it seemed dark and asleep. The suspicion entered her mind suddenly that perhaps the family had gone away without her knowing….

‘Marnie! I thought you’d gone away.’ ‘Silly, I live here.’ ‘But I never see you.’ ‘Goose, you’re seeing me now’……‘I’ve been so lonely’, said Anna, surprised to hear herself saying it- it was so rare for her to confide in anyone.

 They lay, side by side, sucking the ends of grasses, while the wind roared by over their heads, scarcely stirring their hair. In the sudden quiet, Anna murmured ‘You are lucky. I wish I was you.’ ‘Why?’ Anna wanted to say, because you’re pretty and rich and nice, and you’ve got everything I haven’t, but she was suddenly tongue-tied. It would have sounded silly.

Marnie moved nearer and touched her hair. ‘Dear Anna, I love you. I love you more than any girl I’ve ever known’. She wiped the tear away and said, suddenly gay again, ‘There! Does that make you feel better?’ Anna smiled. Yes, she did feel better. It was as if a weight had been lifted off her. Running back across the fields with Marnie, she felt as light as air.

They were on the far side of the marsh, where sea lavender and marsh weeds gave way to hard sand. Here, when the tide was out, they spent hours altering the course of steams, and making tiny villages out of mud and sand. Even before a house was complete Marnie would start making a garden for it, collecting springs of sea lavender to make bushes, and wild harebells to stick along the sides of each minute garden path. When, next day, they found the tide had washed it all away, she was undismayed and would start on another all over again. But Anna was always a little regretful for the lost houses.

‘What!’ Anna was surprised. ‘Don’t you like the sea? I’ve always thought you were so lucky having it come right up to the house like that.’ ‘I’d rather have a garden’, said Marnie.  ‘There’s one at the front, of course, but that’s different…..’ ‘The front?’ Anna was puzzled. ‘Isn’t that the front that looks out on to the staithe?’ Marnie stopped drawing flower beds in the sand and looked round at her in surprise. ‘The front? How could it be, you goose? How do you suppose people could come when the tide’s up? Did you imagine everyone came like you did, in my little boat?’  She laughed, and Anna who had imagined just that, felt foolish. She realized now that of course it could not be so. She was surprised she had not thought of it before……‘But tell me……where does the front come out?’ Anna thought hard, trying to visualize that part of the road, then remembered the high brick wall that ran along one side, with the tall iron gates halfway along. She had looked through them one day and seen a dark drive, bordered with yew trees, curving away to the left. ‘It looks so different,’ she said slowly, ‘I never thought……..’

 She put her cheek against Anna’s for a second, then ran on. Anna had to be satisfied with that, Marnie loved her best, and would rather be with her. That was all she had wanted to hear. She paddled across the creek and saw that the windows of the house were in darkness after all. But that did not mean they had gone away; only that they were round the other side.

She thought of the dark drive and the forbidding front entrance on the main road. Edward, and all the other guests, were welcome to that, she thought happily. She and Marnie shared the side of the house that she liked best, the quiet, secret side that had seemed to recognize her when she first stood dreaming by the water, the side that looked as if it had been there for ever…..

It was exasperating to wait for hours in the chosen place, only to have Marnie pop up on the way home. Surely she used not to do this? Anna could not remember, but it began to feel as if Marnie was playing hide and seek with her.

‘I can’t be everywhere all the time. And I’m here now. Come on, let’s be friends’. But Anna did not feel like being coaxed. ‘It isn’t fair’, she said. ‘I need you more than you need me’. ‘Nonsense. I need you, too, but you don’t understand – I’m not free like you are. Don’t let’s quarrel, darling Anna!’ Then Anna’s resentment melted away, and they were happy again.

 But she began to realise that she must not rely on Marnie too much. That if she was over sure of meeting her, that would be the time she would not come. That it was almost as if Marnie was determined Anna should never take her for granted. And yet sometimes they were as happy together as they had ever been.

Marnie murmured, so low that it might almost have been the wind blowing over the grasses, ‘You are lucky. I wish I was you.’ Anna turned to her, suddenly quiet. ‘That’s what I said to you – last time we were here’. ‘Did you?’ ‘Yes, don’t you remember? Oh, poor Marnie! I do love you. I love you more than any girl I’ve ever known.’ She put out a hand to touch Marnie’s hair, then stopped in mid-air. ‘And that’s what you said to me’, she said slowly, with a surprised look on her face. ‘How funny, it almost seems as if we’re changing places’.

But how could Marnie have gone without even a word? Anna could never forgive her for that. And she would never trust anyone again. The hurt inside her hardened. She pushed away the tray and lay down again. Then, turning her face to the wall, she closed her mind to everything.

And suddenly all the bitter grudge she had been feeling against Marnie melted away. Marnie was her friend, and she loved her. Joyfully she shouted back, ‘Yes! Oh, yes! Of course I forgive you! And I love you, Marnie. I shall never forget you, ever!’

She turned again to the window. Marnie’s face had disappeared completely, blotted out by the blinding rain. But she waved wildly, trying to smile a good-bye, and pointing along the narrow strip of shore, which would soon be covered. And suddenly, as she looked, it seemed to her that the house was empty after all. That there was no one behind any of those blank staring windows. It looked like a house that had been empty a long time…..

Since her illness a shutter seemed to have come down between her and everything that had happened to her just before she was nearly drowned. It seemed now as if it had all happened a long time ago. Sometimes she almost felt as if she were seeing Little Overton for the first time. Then she would remember Marnie.

Marnie had gone. There was no doubt about it. As soon as she saw The Marsh House again, Anna knew for sure. She stood for a long while gazing at it, wondering what was different, and could find nothing specific. The house just looked empty. She was not surprised. She had known in her heart that she would never see Marnie again. But secretly she mourned for her.

Coming across the marsh at low tide one afternoon, she found an old lady sitting on a camp stool, sketching. She stood behind her for a moment, quietly watching, and saw that she was painting the staithe and The Marsh House. The lady turned and glanced up at her, and smiled. Instead of slinking away, as she would previously have done, Anna found herself smiling back…….‘I love that old house, don’t you?’ said the woman. ‘Yes’, Anna said. The woman turned back to her painting. Anna waited, wondering if she would turn round again, but she didn’t, so she crept quietly away. But she was pleased and felt as if she had made friends with someone just by not running away.

Coming to the front entrance of The Marsh House she was surprised to find the iron gates wide open….following the bend in the drive she came in full view of the house, and stopped and stared. She had never imagined it would look like this. It was just as attractive as the old house by the water. For some reason she had always thought of the front as if it were some quite different place. Now, for the first time, she realized what she must always have known really; they were two sides of the same house. And this side was, if anything, even more attractive. It had a warm, welcoming look which she had never expected.

Two sides of the same house…..One facing out on to the main road, the other looking back over the water…..And so strongly had she been attracted to the backward-looking side that she had even, for a while, mistaken it for the front. She wondered how she could have been so silly. But then, the gates had always been closed before, so how could she have known?

She lay down on her back in a hollow, feeling suddenly lonely, and wept for Marnie. The sad, long-ago sound of the gulls crying in the distance brought real tears now, and they fell from the corners of her eyes, trickling down the sides of her neck and wetting her hair before they sank into the sand. But even as she wept, a new and delicious sadness was creeping over her. The sadness one feels for something enjoyed and now over, rather than for something lost and never found again. A sandpiper flew overhead calling ‘Pity me’ but its cry was now like a little lament for Marnie rather than an empty pity for herself. Comforted by her own tears, she lay there until the sun had dried them….

For a moment she found it impossible even to imagine Mrs Preston at The Marsh House, but the more she thought about it, the more she wanted her to come. She wanted her to see the Lindsays, and she wanted to see her with the Lindsays. If they liked her and she liked them, then – even if only for an hour – Anna’s two worlds would be joined into one. At the back of her mind, too, was a thought she had not yet allowed herself to think about seriously. Her holiday could not last for ever. It was already August, and although the subject had never actually been mentioned, she knew she would have to go home again before next term began.

It was raining harder now and she was beginning to get wet, but it did not matter. She was warm inside. She turned and began running back along the dyke, thinking how strange it was – about being ‘inside’ or ‘outside’. It was nothing to do with there being other people, or whether you were ‘an only’, or one of a large family….it was something to do with how you were feeling inside yourself.

The wind made a roaring noise in her ears as she ran, and she shouted and sang at the top of her voice. She remembered once, some summer morning – when had it been? – running along a dyke in a wind like this, and feeling the same sort of happiness. Then she remembered. It was when she had been with Marnie, that first time they had gone mushrooming – that first time they had been real friends.

For an instant she fancied she saw someone – a little girl with long, fair hair– waving to her from one of the upper windows of the Marsh House. But there was no one there…..It was the end window – the window that had once been Marnie’s…..She stood for a moment, watching the rain falling slantwise across the house and streaming in rivers down the window panes, wondering what it reminded her of. Then she remembered that, too.