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 under the name Clara Bridges.


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How things have changed

I turned on my laptop this evening to write a post*. I recently upgraded to Windows 10 and so now instead of taking me straight to the log-on screen, it displays a picture (is it a random one, or always the same? I have no idea) with the date and time in big letters.

Saturday, 6 August 2016.

All of a sudden I realised that it was the first time since 2013 that the day had come and (almost) gone, without me really noticing that it was the 6th of August. My therapist has often said that you know when you’re ready to leave therapy, when you no longer notice the holidays. Is it the case that you know when grief is truly done when you no longer notice the anniversaries?

The date is significant to me because it marks the day on which I had my last session with my ex-therapist, Jane. There is a section of this blog dedicated to her ; the first few months of my current therapy and also the first few months of my blogging, were taken up with grieving that ending, which was an enforced one due to the short-term nature of the support service through which I saw her.

I know that this is a relatively ‘minor’ anniversary and a different sort of grief, from losing a close family member, for example. I can fully imagine that those related anniversaries (birthdays, weddings, deaths) are never forgotten; that their character may change over time, but the dates are not just memories, but part of the fabric of life, of growing up maybe. Body memories as much as mind memories. But it was the first grief I had ever allowed myself to feel, and perhaps its intensity and its duration were reflective of it being a mixture of that present pain, and also past losses, not yet grieved.

I dreaded the first anniversary of losing Jane – and though I tried to exercise self-care, I ended up in self-sabotage and with feelings of great sadness and regret, which I was only able to write about some time later. The sadness was also mixed up with feelings of abandonment in relation to my current therapist – it was our first long summer break, and as was often the case in those days, I had expectations of how I wanted her to behave or what I wanted her to say, and when those things did not happen, I felt let down. The sadness of the anniversary was complicated by a resentment that that sadness had not been anticipated, remembered or acknowledged by my therapist (or so it seemed to me at the time).

Last year, on the second anniversary of losing Jane, I wrote about how much better I felt than I had expected. Although I had thought of Jane, my main thoughts were of my therapist, and how much I missed her. It was good to know that things had changed, and that my connection to my therapist was so much stronger. But it was also frightening, because it made me even more conscious of the fact that one day I would be grieving that relationship too, and I could not even begin (or bear) to imagine what that would be like.

This year, the anniversary feels different yet again. For one thing, as I started by saying, I hadn’t even realised it was an anniversary today, though I did think about it and wonder how I would feel, earlier in the week. I’m not sure how I feel about today’s ‘forgetting’ – guilty, I think, and worried. I can’t imagine ever forgetting to mark in some way, the date on which I eventually have my last session with my current therapist.  Though I didn’t notice until now what the date was today, it doesn’t mean I don’t think about Jane – she still comes up in conversation with my therapist, and I do still wonder sometimes whether I might see her around town. On the very rare occasions I find myself near her house, I drive past just to see if the same car is parked there. And the topic of Jane’s notes of our therapy sessions together formed a very significant part of my therapy just before Easter. She will always be important to me, for all the reasons I have previously described – and she gave me the name of my current therapist, for I which I will always be extremely thankful and grateful.

Last year I talked about missing my current therapist – and that is no less true now. Last year I talked about how recollecting my therapist’s words when I was on the phone to a friend, was comforting and helped me to feel that she was ‘real’. This year, it’s not only a case of recollecting her words – memories and thoughts of her are with me all the time, and almost everything reminds me of her in one way or another. The music that I play in the car is music that I’ve shared with her; when I have good times with my children I remember her telling me how important that is for all of us. When I shout at them instead, I remember how she says that it is always possible to mend. When I have distressing arguments with my husband I try and think of what she would suggest I do and say, and try and remember her telling me that not feeling loved is not the same as not being loveable. When I’m around flowers I think of her gardening metaphors and wish that she were around to tell me about them, and identify them for me.

This year I’m managing to hold her much more in mind – where ‘her’ is ‘new mother’, rather than whatever variant of her the different parts of chose to construct at different points in time: uncaring mother, disappointed mother, unthinking mother. Whenever I have felt disconnected and separated from my therapist during previous therapy breaks, it is because who she is became clouded by my past experiences and I no longer saw her clearly. I assumed that she would fit the pattern of my previous experience, rather than fully understanding that she was different, and was trying to offer me a new experience.

Whilst holding her much more in mind, I’m also managing to believe that she is holding me in mind too. I’m pretty confident that my ‘holding in mind’ has a different quality (and frequency!)  to hers; but the security and trust I feel means that I’m not dwelling on that, even though the feelings of ‘exclusion’ and ‘inequality’ still visit sometimes, which I think is usual during a break.  I know that she will think of me, and wonder how I’m doing. And she most certainly thought of me, and how the break would feel, before we parted company for six weeks; and she did as much as she could both to give me more time and sessions leading up to the break, and to give me things to hold onto and suggestions for how to stay connected, during the break. I go to sleep every night holding onto a stone that she lent me (one of a collection of mementos in her therapy room). I know where it came from and what she sees in the patterns on its surface. It connects me to her – and it is also an outward visible sign of that ‘new mother ‘relationship that I’m now trusting in.

It feels right that this anniversary should be marked by the sort of change that Jane would have been glad to see in me. I was never in any doubt that though the circumstances of our ending were difficult, she wanted only the best for me. And she gave it to me – in the form of introducing me to my therapist.

 

[* The post that I was going to try and write was ‘A new experience of mother, Part 3’. I don’t like taking long gaps between posts that are meant to link together and be part of a whole, and it’s a post I still very much want to write. It’s close to my heart, and important, and I want to share what I’ve felt, thought and learned about this subject. But I have had great difficulties with exhaustion over the last few weeks, and this has made it difficult to write in the evenings, and to keep to my usual ‘posting schedule’! So Part 3 will come……eventually. As for tonight, I knew as soon as I saw the date, what I had to write about….]


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The importance of saying goodbye

When I saw this clip, it immediately reminded me of the first person that I lost to death. I was a child and they were a close family member who went through a fairly brief battle with cancer. I wasn’t there at the end and I can’t remember whether it was days or weeks between the last time I saw them, and their death; and yet this was someone who until their hospitalisation, I saw several times a week. There was no goodbye and I was not allowed to go to the funeral. There was also no grieving on my part; the unconscious decision not to, had already been made, and the adults around me were far too preoccupied with their own grief and with seeking reassurance from me, to notice. Though I have no memory of most of my feelings at that time, the way I responded to this clip made me wonder whether deep inside I had wanted a ‘good ending’ and a chance to say goodbye.

By the time the scenario was repeated with a second close family member, my emotional defenses were already in place to absolutely guarantee that the pain would be minimal. I didn’t want to say goodbye or go to the funeral, even though this time I had to. People commented on the fact that I didn’t cry; but at least they weren’t asking me to try and negate their long-held atheism with reassurances of the existence of an after-life. All that I knew was that life after a death was a place of blackness, crying, desolation and lack of joy. There was no celebration of either of those lives, and that made the endings – unresolved as they were – so much worse.

A couple of years ago I read ‘Family’ by Susan Hill. It is a moving account of the author’s struggles to complete her family, following the birth of her first daughter, Jessica, in 1977. A few years later Susan Hill gave birth to a little girl prematurely, and she survived for only five weeks. The account of her brief life, and her death, is heart-breaking; but what struck me most of all was the way in which Jessica was fully involved and had the chance to say a proper goodbye to her sister. Just like her parents did, she held the little girl’s lifeless body in her arms, and gave her a last cuddle.

I know many people might disagree with Susan Hill’s decision, thinking that it would have been too distressing for a young child – my parents certainly would have thought so. When I first read about it I was shocked and surprised – but now I hope I would have had the courage and conviction to do the same, in that situation. Though not yet in double figures in age, Jessica encountered death face to face – and I like to think that she may have grown up into a woman who is less afraid of it as a consequence. A woman with loving memories of someone that she lost, that may bring pain, but also joy at what was gained before it was lost. Of course that’s all speculation; but if it’s true, I also like to think that what made it possible, was the fact that she had a chance to properly say goodbye.

***

Stepping back, after two years, into the counselling service where I used to see Jane (my ex-therapist), felt strange. For the first few months after our therapy ended, even driving past the building was painful. The prospect of entering it again had filled me with apprehension; and before I could do it I had to check with the service manager that Jane had indeed retired, as she had planned, and that the room I would be attending a meeting in was not the one in which I had had sessions. I was afraid of how I might feel if I were to bump into her again; and of what it would be like to sit in that room. If there were a choice of chairs, which would I choose? I couldn’t risk sitting in the ‘patient’s’ position in case it was too triggering; I couldn’t sit in the therapist’s chair as that had been her space. It would have to be another seat – but there was still the worry that even being in the room would be too difficult and too distressing.

Though I felt unsettled, I managed to concentrate during my meeting and the next time I went back it was a little easier. During my most recent visit, I got up the courage to ask the service manager if I could go into ‘Jane’s’ room and take some photographs. For a while I had had a nagging desire to take a picture of the view out of Jane’s window – the view I spent so much time looking at because I found it so difficult to maintain eye contact. I remembered the view well, but was motivated – as was the case with wanting a copy of Jane’s notes of our sessions – by the fear of losing that memory one day. Having a picture of the view felt more important than having a picture of the room itself; perhaps because it was a memory of my vantage point and a direct recollection of my experience, rather than of the context in which it took place. In some ways the view was evocative of the therapeutic relationship itself. I was surprised when the service manager agreed to my request, and that she left me to it, albeit with the door open.

The room was smaller than I remembered, and less bright; though perhaps that was because I was visiting at a different time of day. I sat in ‘my’ chair – it didn’t even occur to me to sit in Jane’s, though when I think about it now, I wonder if perhaps I should have done….I took a picture of the view, which hadn’t changed, and of Jane’s chair and the wall behind it, which had. They seemed more drab and less interesting, somehow; but then again, I’m sure she was the only thing I noticed when she was there, and so they may well have been much the same.

The biggest and most reassuring change in the room, was that Jane wasn’t there. The room was empty; or at least, empty of her. I’m pleased I took the photos; I don’t need them now, but I may be glad of them in the future. And if there’s one thing that consistently drives me, it’s guarding against regret and the fear of mistakes, and at least this way even if I never look at them again, I cannot regret not taking them. But what I’m most glad of is that going into the room showed me the truth of the point my therapist has been trying to make all along – the same point she made in connection with Jane’s notes and that I’m sure she would have made it in connection with taking the photos, had I asked her before I did it. The point being that memories can be enough; that we remember what we need to. That I carry Jane and what she meant to me, with me. That the lived experience of the relationship is not something I can hang onto either via a bland record of it, or a picture of the place in which it unfolded; but that it is something I have internalised.

Going into the room and finding that Jane wasn’t there, and that that felt okay, showed me that my therapist was right. I had what I needed, and it wasn’t in that room.

***

When I spoke to my therapist about this a few days later, I told her it had been a relief to find that the room hadn’t been haunted by Jane. That I hadn’t been haunted by her presence, in it. I think that’s what I had been expecting, and was afraid of.

I realised, quite suddenly, that that fear went back to my first family loss. I remembered how on occasion, my parents and I would stay the night in that family member’s house. How I had to sleep in their room, in their bed, and that I was terrified. On the one hand, there was an irrational fear of ‘contamination’ – that somehow the illness and suffering they had been through, could be catching. By that stage I think I’d already acquired the belief that is still firmly rooted inside me today – that I will go through the same thing myself, at a similar and comparatively young age. And then there was the terror of waking up in the middle of the night and finding their ghost standing at the end of the bed. I was afraid to go to sleep and afraid to lie there in the dark. The whole room felt haunted by their presence, and by sickness and death.

My therapist said that she associated the word ‘haunted’ with an unresolved or somehow negative ending. One definition of the phrase, is ‘to be repeatedly troubled’, and both this meaning and my therapist’s, were certainly true for those early family losses which involved neither grieving nor good-byes.

Although my therapeutic relationship with Jane did not have a chance to run its course – as I saw her through a service that offered only short to medium term support – we had the vitally important chance to prepare for our ending, and to say goodbye. And so though at the time it was heart-breaking, and though it took a full eighteen months before I felt as though I had fully grieved her loss, it turned out to be a ‘good ending’. My only ‘good ending’ – so far.

What this short clip doesn’t show you, is what happened immediately afterwards. Meredith is gripped by anguished tears – presumably, with the realisation of what she unthinkingly denied Amelia. Sometimes, we act without thought; sometimes, with the best of intentions. But I hope, if nothing else, this post can be encouragement to us to try and ensure we do not deny ourselves or others (most commonly, our children), the chance to say goodbye before a loss: whether that be the loss of a loved one to death, the loss of a friend due to a change of school, the loss of a pet, the loss of a house due to a move – even the loss of a therapist. Along with allowing ourselves, or them, to grieve, it gives us all the best chance that we will come to feel it as a ‘good ending’ – even if it feels anything but ‘good’ at the time – and that is a priceless gift.

 


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Anniversary

Two years ago, on 6 August 2013 at 6.50pm, I walked out of Jane’s office (my ex-therapist) for the last time. I have included this clip, because this was the song that I played over and over again for several months after that day. It was our ‘break-up song’, if I can call it that. I have written about our brief therapy relationship, what it meant to me and how attached I became to her, in the ‘All about Jane‘ section of my blog. Losing her meant feeling the grief I had never let myself feel over losing anyone before. It was intense, often overwhelming; it took up the majority of my first eight months in therapy with my current therapist, and it wasn’t until eighteen months after that August day, and one year after I knew for certain I would never see her again, that I felt I had actually grieved her loss fully, and had finally accepted it. To realise that was painful, but also comforting at the same time, because it meant that I had grown closer to my current therapist.

The sixth of August 2014 – the first anniversary of that loss – was a very difficulty day for me. I felt let down that my own therapist had not remembered the significance of the date and had not contacted me by email. Although I had tried to exercise ‘self-care’ by watching a film and having a glass of wine, I had ended up giving in to the urge to internet-search and google Jane, and that made me feel incredibly bad about myself, and as if I had betrayed and sullied the memory of our relationship.

And so it was with some trepidation that I was ‘looking forward’ to the second anniversary of that loss, this year. But I am surprised. I am surprised at how much better I feel than I expected. I am surprised that Jane was not the first thing on my mind when I woke up this morning. It didn’t feel like I was grieving anymore. I thought of Jane – but not in a way that caused me pain. I loved her and her smile – I still do. But the only feeling I was conscious of today was missing my current therapist. Wanting to be close to her – to see her again. Wanting to see her smile, and hear her voice. What a difference to last year, when I simply felt betrayed and let down by her. What a difference to when I was still in anguish over the loss of someone I had idealized and still missed dreadfully.

It’s encouraging to realise how much things have changed – to realise how attached I have become to my current ‘therapy’ (as my therapist would say – and I feel like saying: “No! Attached to you! To my therapist! Let’s tell it how it is!“). But at the same time it is scary – progress in general is scary. It would almost feel more comforting if I was in bits about Jane, as I was last year. Or in bits about not having my current therapist around at the moment. I don’t like being okay. Change is difficult to handle – but most difficult to handle is the thought that change means that this current therapeutic relationship, which I am so incredibly attached to, will eventually need to be grieved as well. Maybe not in quite the same way as I grieved Jane – because that relationship ended prematurely, before we were done, before I had made much progress. But it will be grieved nonetheless. And yet…..

I had a lovely phone conversation with one of my best friends yesterday. And part of that conversation involved talking about some of the things my therapist and I had discussed, and the impact it had made. It was part of a wider conversation on the topic of children growing up, and the discussion I had had with my therapist just naturally came to mind. And I thought: is this how it will be, in years to come, when I no longer have her physically with me in session, but I carry her and her words with me, internally? She felt woven into the fabric of my life; it felt natural to recollect her and her words. It felt comforting, and real, and special. That, in itself, was a big surprise, given how difficult it normally is for me to retain a sense of her reality and her presence, particularly during a therapy break.

When I thought about it later, it felt wonderful – but frightening at the same time. I’m not ready to say goodbye. I know it will be a long time yet before I do. But I am so so not ready to say goodbye. SO not ready, that I am crying as I write these words. Even to glimpse that goodbye, from a distance, and to acknowledge its inevitable reality, is painful. But there is hope in knowing that her presence can still feel wonderful in her absence.

Because one day, these will be her anniversaries that I will be writing about – and I need to know that I won’t feel cold and alone, but warm and in her company. That one day we will reach a point where she can never really leave, and I can never really be left.

But not yet. Not yet.


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Progress can be painful

Jane 2Two weeks ago my therapist suggested that one of the reasons why I may be finding things so difficult at the moment, particularly with regard to the therapy break over Easter, is that it is ‘that time of year’. When I asked what she meant, she said that it was at this time last year that I had been waiting to find out whether I would be able to go back into therapy with Jane, my ex-therapist, after a break of a few months. It was also the time when I found out that Jane was considering retiring, and would no longer be taking on any more patients.

I paused for thought – it would certainly at least partly explain why I had been so pre-occupied by thoughts of what it would take to ‘push my therapist away’, and by worries about our therapy having to end prematurely if, like Jane, her health began to suffer, or  she decided to retire. However, I hadn’t made the association with how I had felt this time last year, or indeed any association with Jane at all. What I did notice, when I started to think about it, was that for the first time it felt as though Jane was part of my past, rather than my present. The thought felt interesting, but also disturbing, and so I pushed it to one side. Jane had been so much at the centre of my thoughts and feelings over the last couple of years, even in her absence, that any shift in her position felt strange and uncomfortable.

Although Jane and I only had fifteen sessions together, I formed such an immense attachment to her and idealised her so completely, that losing her was devastating. I spent much of my first eight months with my current therapist in tears over this loss, but with the ever-present prospect and hope that I would return to therapy with Jane. I have experienced bereavement but I have never properly grieved – yet this felt like a powerful grief that took months to loosen its hold. Even up to a few months ago, I would be regularly overwhelmed, out of the blue, by sadness, loss and longing for her. I persisted adamantly in my view of her as perfect in every way – the perfect therapist, the perfect human being.

Although at various points I felt I had made a commitment to my current therapist, she was still very much ‘in the shadow’ of Jane. I constantly compared her and her words and actions, with Jane’s. Before Christmas, when my therapist made some reference to the fact that I had difficulty ‘letting go’, I was shocked and said that I had committed to therapy with her. Yet my unthinking Freudian slip when I answered her, said it all. ‘I’ve committed to this therapy – I have no choice’. Which of course begs the question – but what if I had a choice? Or rather, what if I had the only choice I was really interested in having, the option of returning to therapy with Jane?

Even at Christmas, despite the fact there had been some momentous and intimate moments in my current therapy, and I felt my therapist and I had made great progress in building a more trusting relationship; when I thought about what I would do if I had that choice, the answer was unclear. I didn’t know what I would do – the draw to return to Jane if the option were open, was still very strong indeed. I very much suspected that if I had the opportunity, it would be almost impossible to resist. Although I found it disturbing to think that I couldn’t yet say that I was invested completely in my current therapy, I also found the thought of completely letting go of Jane, just as disturbing.

Which is why last weekend was a mixed-up, bitter-sweet, wonderfully healing and also painful time. Thinking about the fact we only had two sessions left before the break, I turned again to my therapist’s suggestion that part of the background to my feelings of distress, are my memories and experiences of last year’s ending with Jane. I asked myself again the question – what would I do if I had a choice? What would I do if Jane contacted me to say that she was not retiring – that we could resume therapy together again? What would I do if the one thing I’d been wanting for so long, was actually offered to me now?

I would say no.

I’m not sure when and how the change happened, but at that moment I realised that I could now answer that question unequivocally and without hesitation. I would not choose to return into therapy with Jane. It was a massive shock. On the one hand it was incredibly welcome for the sense of relief in not feeling conflicted; the sense of security and safety and ‘rightness’ that I’d come to feel about my current therapy. But on the other hand it was very upsetting because it signified a letting go of the kind that I hadn’t done before, and that a year ago would have seemed completely impossible.

It’s not that I don’t want to see Jane again; she meant to much to me, and still does. I still find it incredibly difficult to get my head around the fact that despite living in the same city, I will almost certainly never set eyes on her again. That thought is as hard for me to comprehend as it is to try and imagine infinity. I would love to see her again – I still long for it. I would love to talk to her, to hear her voice, to see her smile. I have no photos of her, and am worried that soon I won’t be able to remember what she looked like, or how she sounded. I want to see her again. It hurts that I can’t.

But I don’t need to be in therapy with her. I have everything I need in my current therapy. It’s not always what I want, but that’s okay – questioning what I want, and why, is part of the process. I wouldn’t want to replace my current therapist with anyone – not even with Jane.

I cried tears of happiness and of sadness combined. It felt like an arriving home and a leaving behind. It was the day I suddenly realised that things were no longer all about Jane.


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Numbness and denial – but somewhere underneath there’s this…..

“……I have been waiting until the end of this week to reply to you as I have been finalising some decisions about, in effect, moving towards retirement…………..I am thus sorry to let you know that I will not be able to offer you any ongoing sessions and I wanted to let you know when I had clarified this.

I am sorry if this is disappointing but I hope that you will be able to continue with any sessions that you may still be undertaking.

In any case with my very best wishes to you for the future

Jane”

No. Air.

 


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All about Jane – Postscript

All about Jane. That was what I had originally wanted to call my blog, as it seemed to sum up my life for the past year or so. Jane, my ex-therapist – despite an absence of many months, she still feels like the mainstay of my life. How can that be possible when all the time we had together was fifteen one-hour therapy sessions, spread over a few months? Yet I started to grieve her from the very first day, when she completed a sentence I was struggling with, with a word that perfectly captured what I was reaching for. I knew our therapy was time-limited, and I still remember the contradictory aftermath of that first session vividly. Self-harming to distract from and give expression to the pain I was feeling at the thought of losing her, eventually. And an intense, burning desire to fill up my whole body, every inch of it, with pain, at the frustration of not being able to feel enough.

I wanted my post on losing Jane to stand alone. I wanted the grief to stand alone. But I also had a nagging need to write a postscript. Because I feel such guilt and shame at writing and sharing how I feel about that loss. I feel guilty for my grief. I feel condemned.

Jane is still alive, and I barely knew her (though I felt she knew me intimately). I don’t feel entitled to my grief. I feel I have no right to that emotion. I feel that it must be a slight on the grief of those who have lost enduring and long-standing loves to death.

I have lost in that way, as well, but Jane’s is the only loss that I have allowed myself to feel since my aunt died when I was ten. In two years of therapy, I haven’t dared to broach the subject of death. It’s entirely possible that unfelt grief of losses since, have become transferred onto and wrapped up into, how I feel about Jane. It’s just a theory, because I haven’t dared to explore it. Or maybe it’s just an excuse, to alleviate the guilt, and to justify the pain. I do  wonder why I was so adamant that I would allow myself to feel Jane’s loss, and not close myself off from it. Perhaps there is a degree of emotional safety in grieving when you know that you do not necessarily have to accept finality as part of the loss.

Some time on, and the possibility of resuming therapy with Jane, privately rather than through a free service, is now available. The possibility, but not yet the reality, as there is no space for me, yet. My life has become a series of markers in the sand  – a list of ‘not yets’ and ‘contact me again’, in two months or three, or after Easter. Now it’s after Easter. Now I’m waiting for another reply. I’m waiting to lay down another marker, preparing to live a little longer without the air I feel I need to breathe. I’m waiting to put down anchor. I’m waiting to come home.

In the meantime, my grief feels stolen – stolen from those who have more right to feel this way. And so I had to write a postscript, to say sorry, in case I stole from you.

 


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All about Jane – attachment and loss

I have a spent a great deal of time trying to write this post, but like grief itself, it just feels wrong. Like grief itself, it feels senseless, jumbled, confused, meandering. I go over it and over it, and just can’t make it right. So I have to let it be. I have to let the words, such as they are, communicate as best they can.

I wear a silver ring to remember her by. She liked silver jewellery, as I used to when I was growing up. Silver rings on every finger and silver bracelets on her wrists. I need a constant reminder of her, something to keep the memory of her alive, something to keep her real. But the ring wasn’t enough. I also wear a silver bracelet – maybe the more items that remind me of her, the more real she will feel, and more I can try and keep her with me.

The day I lost her was the first and only time in my marriage that my husband and I slept in separate rooms. I couldn’t describe what I was going through – I just needed space and time to grieve. I didn’t want to be touched, to be spoken to, to be with anyone else. I needed to be alone and to try and give it all expression, to pour it all out in tears, if I could. It was only a few hours later, but I felt as if my memory of her was already fragmenting, and as if I was already losing the reality of her. I felt as if I would shatter violently, as if I wanted to break out of my body, because there was just too much hurt to hold inside. The one week anniversary of the last time I saw her was a powerful re-experience of the devastation.

Over the next few weeks and months I put her name into Google repeatedly, even though I knew the result would always be the same, and that I would find nothing. I looked at the one document I had that had her name in it – somehow seeing it written down made her feel more substantial, confirmed the fact that she had actually existed, brought her closer in some very small way. Seeing her name, repeating her name in my mind was a strange kind of attempt to self-soothe, to fill the void left by her absence.

When I was out in town, I looked for her in crowds, searching for her face amongst those of strangers. Every day, driving past the windows of the building that we met in, I felt physical pain at the reminder and memories of her, as I looked up at the windows and imagined her inside. I felt a little angry at her for abandoning me – ‘a little’ was all I could let myself feel. I was still determined to keep her on her pedestal, still determined to halt the idealisation/devaluation cycle indefinitely, and keep her in an idealised state forever.

Any attempts by another, to provide the support that she used to provide, served only as a reminder of what I was now without, and brought fresh despair and anguish. I no longer had a ‘safe place’, an ‘anchor’. The sense of self-acceptance that had started to grow within me, entirely due to her acceptance of me, was fast fading away, and any little self-esteem I had left, could be pummelled into the ground by the weight of a feather.

As the months wore on the pain turned from a raging fire to constant burn  – a permanent ache but also a strange emptiness. Often, unless I’m feeling intensely, it doesn’t feel like I am feeling at all. But every so often, for no clear reason, an intense sadness and a missing of her, comes upon me and makes me utterly desperate for her again. In those times, the need for her is overwhelming. In those times, I cling pathetically (and thankfully, at a distance), to my two closest friends, transferring the unbearable need for her, into a desperate neediness towards them. And even outside those times, when I mention her name, the tears are never far behind. It takes just four little letters, spoken out loud, to reconnect me to the hurt.

In her absence, there is no longer anything to tie down the reality of her, or to keep me grounded. When she was in my life, she occupied her own space within it. That space was so large, that sometimes it left room for little else. And within that space she was adored, obsessed over, but still an idealised person of human proportions. But now that she’s gone, she has started to become less self-contained and the image of her is losing its integrity and coherence. It is as if the black hole of her absence has sucked in all meaning from elsewhere and attached it solely to her. The ways in which I have begun to think of her are quasi-religious. She is my Alpha and my Omega – my only hope, the only one who can ‘save me’. She stands for all that is good, noble, compassionate, caring, and for a million other things besides. Forgive me, for I have fucked up my life. Absolve me of my iniquities.

In her ‘elevated’ state in my mind, she has become less a person of flesh and blood, and more a philosophical construct, a concept of ‘the ideal’.

I want her to be human. I want her to be here. I want to feel again – intensity and love. I want her physical, perfectly imperfect presence. And it kills me that I’m grieving for someone who is still alive. That we could continue to share the same city air, until one of us dies, without me ever seeing her again. Trying to grieve, while living with the possibility of reconnection – is this what purgatory feels like?

Just as it was the last time I saw her, I don’t know how to end. I think a close friend of mine summed it up as well as anyone could ever do, in four short words.

Darling, grief does you.