The Other Side

So, I said goodbye. At the beginning of this month, I finished therapy. The session was a long one: I asked my therapist if she could just let me stay (in the last session of the day) until I was done, and that when I felt “done”, I would leave. We started at 7pm, and around 9:30pm I felt myself slowing down, pausing. She asked me: “Are you just pausing to think about what you need?” and I found myself calmly replying: “I don’t need anything.”

I don’t need anything.

It was a strange feeling to realise that I enjoy talking to her, love being in her company, delight in receiving her love and attention and care … but that I don’t need her anymore. The beginning of this year was tough, not least that we were in the middle of the pandemic. In Germany at least, things have eased up slowly (for now). I got my vaccination and I feel safer. My mental health has had its ups and downs over the last year, but in general I have felt competent, stable, and like I built up the skills to look after myself. Therapy was becoming exhausting, it felt stalled in some way, or like I needed to take a break, take space, explore my independence. I just had a feeling in myself that I needed to move on, or move into something new.

And now, it has been about 3 weeks since I finished. I wrote her a quick note when my daughter began school, just to say “Look at my daughter! Look how well she is doing, how beautiful we are!”. I love sharing my joy, after years spent sobbing my eyes out in therapy. Sharing my joy with my therapist feels like taking pride in my own progress. She replied happily, taking pride and joy in my happiness, too.

I almost don’t know what to do anymore. Do I just go and live my life? How can I ever look at life the same way, after going through such a transformative process?

I feel almost stunned. What comes next in the adventure?

Safety

Today I told L that I need 3 more sessions, and then I will finish therapy. Suddenly I feel as if I have agreed to go skydiving, and the plane is flying higher and higher. I remember that feeling in my stomach: “What am I doing? What have I agreed to?” and the gasp of my breath as I jumped out of the plane, tandem skydive instructor attached to my back. But skydiving was one of the best things I have ever done, so: time to leap out into the wide open air, and fall.

When I hugged L goodbye today, I didn’t want to let go. I just wanted to lay my head on her shoulder forever, and to just breathe. When I am close to her I feel so safe. My feeling of security with her is something that I have never really felt in my life, except with M. I realised as I stood close to her, that even the smell of her skin is safety to me. My mother was a heavy smoker for my entire childhood, and when she hugged me I always felt a sense of unease, a desire to escape, a push-pull feeling of needing comfort from her, and not feeling comforted by being close to her. She often smelled like cigarettes, a harsh and somehow painful smell, and it permeated everything: her clothes, her hair, her breath. I didn’t like it, it made me feel sick.

With L, I feel safe in her gaze, in her presence, in her arms. I feel so strange when I realise that I feel safer with her than I ever did with any parent. I know that it is one of the many gifts of therapy and her work, but it is also more than that. How can it be so physical, how can I feel so safe with her body, when I never felt that with my own mother, whose body I grew within? It astounds me, the difference.

What does it mean, to begin to walk away from that safety?

Difficulty at the Beginning

Change is hard. When we want to change ourselves, our behaviours and our lives, the change can be incredibly difficult; often, we remain blind to the patterns that we remain trapped within. As soon as we begin shifting a pattern, the mind resists. Cutting and hacking a new pathway through a thick forest is a lot harder than driving on a smooth well-known highway. Just facing the forest can be hard, even if the highway takes us to a place over and over again that we don’t want to end up: the forest is dark, difficult to go through, and we can only hope it will come out in a sunny clearing. Many times, we do not choose to begin, for fear of getting lost, or what we might find along the way.

When I first started this blog I had no idea how much work it would take to change myself and my inner voices, as well as my perception of the world. I only knew that I couldn’t live the way that I was. Now as time goes by it gets easier: I can still see how difficult the adventure is, but I started enjoying the challenge. Over time I feel much more certain of my ability to figure things out, to look after myself (or to ask for help), and to feel confident that I will be able to handle whatever comes.

I was reading about this concept of “beginner’s mind”, and thinking about how I can maintain a mindset of openness and exploration, without getting overconfident or assuming that I know how things will go. It has been such an important part of my process to feel confidence in myself and to trust this sense of inner clarity that I have, and now it feels like a task to balance confidence with holding no expectations. I told my therapist L. that I want to finish my sessions in the next few months and that I want to wrap things up. Sometimes when I go to sessions now I feel like I have nothing to say, I just sit there mentally searching for things to discuss. I feel this strong pull inside myself that I want to be alone, I want to look after myself on my own, I want to “test” my competence and see how I go. I have hope that it will go well, and at the same time I am trying to keep it in the back of my mind that maybe without therapeutic support, maybe I go downhill again. Who knows? I am nervous to take the next step.

It feels big. And good. And then I keep thinking about how excited I am about everything else I still am working on, and everything that is still to come. What comes next to test my courage, my ability to learn, what will come to open my mind and to expand my world?

Everything That Gives Light Is Dependent On Something To Which It Clings

My children were listening to an audiobook CD of fairytales this morning. The CD kept skipping and stopping, and I listened to them restart the same story (Der Wolf und die sieben jungen Geißlein) over and over. They didn’t understand that the CD was dirty and needed to be cleaned – they just wanted to hear the story, so they tried again.. and again.. and again. I took it out and cleaned it for them, and then the story played all the way through.

I started reading In Praise of Risk by Anne Dufourmantelle as they listened to their audiobook.

I am thinking of what it means, to take risks (or not), and how we experience life unknowingly facing numerous risks every day, tens or hundreds of unknown avoided deaths in a lifetime. She writes about intimacy (though not as we typically would think of intimacy), and in one of the first chapters she talks about dependency. I recently told my therapist that I don’t like being dependent on her. She said that I’m not, and that rather, I am just “channeling” through her what I needed to get: the missing emotional nourishment that I needed to grow and develop. I guess dependency doesn’t have to be pathological in its expression, because healthy reliance on others in community, partnership and society is just a part of the bonds of life.

I realised that I took a risk in allowing myself to believe that I will be supported in some way by what my therapist provides, that I can rely on her, that she will be there when I need her. Over the past years I have allowed myself to take on a much more childlike form, to place parts of myself in her hands, not hoping exactly, not asking exactly, but simply doing it, experimenting with the potential of loss, harm, satisfaction, an unknown future. It’s a way of seeing that I am worthy of care, both by the fact that she offers it to me, and by my allowing her to provide it. Even important is that I take that care inside myself, and allow it to take root in my sense of self: I matter to someone. As therapy progresses, I feel less and less “childlike”, and our relationship grows and changes to one of more mutuality in our interactions. I still like it though, that I have gone through this process of regression in some way, a way to tell myself that I can accept it, that the “child me” deserves it. Dufourmantelle writes:

To take the risk of dependency is a sign of friendship for this body from just after birth.” 

I am thinking of the kids and their CD, playing to the same broken point over and over again, not knowing how a CD works, not knowing what was happening, until I came and cleaned it for them. When we are children our dependency is inbuilt – there is no choice in the matter. But as an adult, when we allow ourselves to depend on someone, to rely on them, our choice is a little more complicated. Shaped and formed by previous experiences, we have sacrificed parts of ourselves in our childhood dependency to ensure that we would get what we needed. These sacrificed parts will never stop banging at the door until we see them and allow them to live again in all their glory, whatever they are: righteous anger, joy, curiosity, tenderness, sorrow. We know that in relying on someone else, we form a bond … but it is not always easy to know if the bond will be one that causes us further harm, losses, or require further sacrifice.

I struggle because my experience is that when I rely on someone they let me down. They hurt me, reject me, and they leave. Usually I would get so panicked that I flip between intense clinging, followed by total rejection of the other. My husband, M. is one of the few people who refused to engage, stating over and over that our bond was good, true, and that I could rely on him always. Sometimes it sticks in my mind the number of times I asked him in our first couple of years together “Promise you won’t leave me?” and his response: “I will never leave you.” Over time, I realised that no matter how many times he told me, something inside me didn’t shift. I had to change something inside myself, to really trust his words. So I began again: in therapy I started testing my ways of relating to other people and how I bond with them, and slowly it settles. I already come to rely on myself more and more instead of people outside of myself. I find the “mothering” part inside myself, teach it using my “perfect parent” models (of which I am lucky to now have a few), and use that part to care for the children inside me. I feel supported by myself, cared for, loved, and my childlike dependency on others reduces.

I come to like a certain kind of dependency now. Whenever we trust someone else, we are holding some part of ourselves out to them, risking it. We hope that we can depend on them not to hurt us, a dance of care and trust that is more balanced and mutual: yes, I want to look after you; yes, I want you to look after me.

“Love—now I risk the word, a bit apprehensively to be sure—is an art of dependency.

Mistakes

“The truth is this: sometimes we display good qualities and sometimes bad. Sometimes we act in helpful, productive ways and sometimes in harmful, maladaptive ways. But we are not defined by these qualities or behaviors. We are a verb not a noun, a process rather than a fixed “thing.” Our actions change—mercurial beings that we are—according to time, circumstance, mood, setting.”

– Self-Compassion, Kristin Neff

For the first time in therapy I talked to my therapist L about the biggest mistake I have ever made. The long and the short of it is that I was abusive to my little brother, when I was 14 and he was 3. I was looking after him, and I couldn’t handle it. I screwed up, massively, and no matter how much I tried to make it up to him it felt as if I had a black mark on my soul, a stain on my character, a piece of me that was nothing short of evil. When he died 6 years later in a drowning accident, I felt as if I had failed him as a big sister in every possible way. I had hurt him, I had abandoned him when I left home, and I hadn’t protected him from the harms of my parents and their neglect. I pushed his memory to the side as much as I could, but despite my best efforts the memories began to resurface after I had my son, A.

My brother and A look similar: dark caramel hair, blue-green eyes, and a shining wickedness of mischief in their faces. I was filled with sadness, panic: seeing my brother “overlap” with my son when we went swimming, I imagined my son drowning. As my son got older, reached 3, then 4, I compared their lives and burned and raged inside at the unfairness of it all. My son is happy. Healthy. He’s safe, whole, growing, adventurous, explosive, and with a sense of humour that has us all laughing nearly every day. My brother was happy too, shining and bright in the midst of abuse, chaos, and terror. He was always smiling, despite his hand always bleeding from his obsessive finger-chewing, despite the bruises that always peppered his body. I think the neglect and abuse came from a lack of ability, a lack of control, a lack of support. I did what I could to look after him, and so did everyone else. We all failed at it in some way.

As I got closer to my therapist L, the black mark of my abusive behaviour towards my brother gnawed at me. I felt so ashamed, so guilty, and no matter how much I reassured myself that I am a totally different person now, that I regretted it, it fed upon me more and more. Finally, I crashed. Crying, I told her what I had done, feeling as if my body would just be swallowed up by the ground, as if my entire soul and heart was sinking deep into an abyss of guilt and pain. Steadily, she reassured me. She gave me a way through, a new way to look at the situation. I’m processing it, finding ways to discover the voice inside myself that says: “You did a bad thing, but you are not a bad person.” It feels horrible to try to reassure myself, as if I don’t deserve to ever feel better. I tell myself “Honey, you were 14. You were just a kid yourself. You and him were both in a horrible situation, together. He’ll always be your brother. Connect with him, don’t turn away from him anymore.” I’m still figuring out how.

It’s strange to admit: so often I apply a victim narrative to myself, a narrative of helplessness, hopelessness, abuse and harm committed against me. It’s true. But I have also acted as the perpetrator, the abuser, the harmful person, exerting power and control over someone much smaller than me, someone innocent. I know I did something wrong.

I have been reading a lot about how to process this, how to accept it, and how to keep moving: for the benefit of my partners, my kids, and everyone else who is still around me today. I work on myself to improve as best I can. The key thing I am discovering is that I can continue to choose healing over harm in every action I take: to the best of my abilities I can try not to harm others, and I can try not to harm myself. Yet, still beat myself up after nearly 20 years for my actions as a 14 year old. Why? I found Kristen Neff’s book “Self-Compassion” helpful in my attempts to find a way forward that is connecting and kind; I can focus on the now, rather than the past. She explains:

Rather than getting lost in thoughts of being good or bad, we become mindful of our present moment experience, realizing that it is ever changing and impermanent. Our successes and failures come and go—they neither define us nor do they determine our worthiness. They are merely part of the process of being alive.

The more that I think about these ideas, the more I can move. I keep reminding myself we are all wounded in some way, and we have all wounded others. It is not the wound that we create or that is within us, it is how we deal with it, and we are all in this life dealing with these things together.

The Simplest Stories We Tell

It took me a long time to realise how much shame I hold in my body. So many other emotions, behaviours, actions I take are mislabeled as other things without me taking the time to look the real feeling in the eye. Noticing, being aware of my own shame has a sort of triumph in it. Aha! I see what is happening, now! It sounds odd, to be triumphant about shame. For me the repair is in the knowledge, because without being able to see my feeling and the story I am telling around it, I can’t untangle it. Without feeling it I can’t heal it.

As a child, my parents often rejected me. My mother especially. Not because of me, but because she was overwhelmed. Preoccupied. With a violent marriage to a man she loved, and a mother telling her never to give up on commitment, she lost her power and hope, lost herself in her own despair. It culminated in her trying to take her own life, and I will never forget the moment she stood right next to me and swept our telephone to the ground, ripping the cord from the wall so my Dad couldn’t call an ambulance. I barely remember the rest: did an ambulance come? (I guess so, since she’s not dead). Did I run away? (I don’t know). Did she get better? (Sort of). When I realised as an adult that she had tried to leave us so permanently, the sense of abandonment and fear I felt was unreal. Were we not worth sticking around for? Did she not love us? How could she look right into my 7-year-old face, less than 1 metre away from her, and fight being saved?

These adult musings are just a fraction of the story my young self began to tell, without the words to describe the terror, no outlet to talk to, nobody to mend the pain. I withdrew, became angry and anxious, and the photographs of me from that age are nothing more than haunting, light gone from my eyes. She was out of control, chaotic, cold, and the shame I internalised in response to this behaviour has torn the good parts of me apart for the longest time. The stories children tell are simple ones, because we do not understand the nuances or complexities of human behaviour or abuse. We are totally dependent, and require a steady and stable caregiver who we are biologically primed to attach to. I was torn between the need for closeness, the fear of danger, and a lack of understanding what was going on. With constant rejection and chaos the stories I told were: This is my fault. I am not good enough. I am “too much” for her. I make her crazy. I’m bad, disgusting, no good.

I’m lucky that I had enough in me to make it through that, as well as everything that came after. When I look back at my life and see all this chaos, with this little girl wading her way through the swamp without giving up, I realise I told the wrong story. The story is not that I’m worthless, or bad, or someone causing problems. I’m brave. I’m resilient. I have so much love in me, and I have enough strength in me to feel the feelings, untangle the narrative, and mend it all. Of course I don’t do it all alone. I have many people standing by my side. I asked my mother for some photos of her as a teenager and as a young woman, and I looked at this 19 year old in her wedding dress, love and compassion just pouring out of me towards her. It’s so heartbreaking to realise that she was in so much pain that she didn’t want to stay anymore. And I know from experience that being that chaotic, being in so much pain, makes you believe that you are a burden, that you are damaging everyone around you. She wasn’t trying to harm us. She was trying to save us, along with herself.

I look at all this toxic shame I carry and think about pulling it off my body, out of my skin, out of my heart and ribs and the soles of my feet. It doesn’t belong to me, nor her. I don’t want to keep it inside anymore, so I take it out and release it into the air and the sunshine one bit at a time.

The Problem of Achieving a Quiet Heart

So, it’s been a long time since I last wrote. Interestingly, my last post was around the time that I started therapy with a wonderful woman called “L”. This blog started as a way to express my thoughts, to chronicle my attempts to choose courage instead of fear, to reinvent my life and pull myself out of the mental swamp that I was tired of living in. A lot has changed. So much has changed that I feel almost like a new person, renewed and fresh.

Therapy is such a weird process, one of the most challenging and beautiful and painful processes I have ever gone through. I say “gone through” as if it’s in the past, when I’m still in it. As much as it pains me though, I know I am nearing the end of at least one phase of it. I feel a deep ache at the love L has given me, over and over and over, the patience and the kindness, and the thought of our time together changing and closing. I know some of my intense feelings are just part of how therapy works. Yet, some of it is so much more than that: a genuine, deep, and meaningful connection, a striving for balance; tranquility and growth at the same time. At certain points the sessions were excruciatingly difficult, while these days it slowly settles. We still have moments where everything feels incredibly consuming, but mostly I feel a sense of peace and a knowledge that I have to take steps into my own independence.

My first post on this blog was about beginnings. My friend J’s correspondence art project and mission statement were what I started this blog with, and the concepts in her words still resonate with me:

Conservation of Energy (knowing– exactly –when to “end”/knowing what is a “beginning”)

I wasn’t thinking too hard about endings years ago, I was all about reinventing myself, making conscious choices to move forwards. But beginnings and endings are all part of one and the same cycle.

My therapist L introduced me to the I Ching, also known as the Book of Changes. The truths that fill this book are a special kind of wisdom about life’s rhythms, and the natural laws that govern our beautifully changing world of flux. It makes me happy more and more that the tattoo on my left arm is a tree with all four seasons. When I got it, it represented change: my changing moods, the cycles of my life, and the ways in which I tried to come to terms with the shifting multitudes in me, many of which I struggled with immensely. It was an attempt to see the beauty in something that tore me apart, a mixture of positive and negative. The tattoo on my right arm is one of flowers: growth, memory, and a re-writing of my past into something beautiful. Beginnings and endings are woven through the I Ching in a tapestry of life and death, acceptance and struggle, polarities in good and evil, the shedding of the old, approaching the new. In the first Hexagram it states:

Here it is shown that the way to success lies in apprehending and giving actuality to the way of the universe [Tao], which, as a law running through end and beginning, brings about all phenomena in time.

I realised recently that I’m afraid of the next ending. Ending therapy, finding my autonomy. I read back through some of my old posts on this blog, many despairing, confused meanderings through the darknesses of my mind. Those dark moments didn’t stop when I started therapy, though they come less frequently now. They are less deep, less severe, easier for me to pull myself out of. The light and the gold and the brightness that has come into my life is of a magnitude that is indescribable.

When I’m grateful to L, she often says that I’m the one doing the hard work. But I cannot imagine the responsibility of having other people’s minds in your hands, their happinesses, their traumas, their dreams, their fears and abuses and angers and loves and failures. I am doing the work in my own journey, but she has been right there alongside me showing me the path. With her help I have transformed in ways I never thought possible. L’s Dad passed away early this year, and I went through my own mini-grieving in response. Not because she seemed sad, or because I knew him, but it just made me so sad, that he had died. That she had lost someone. I keep thinking “I suppose none of us are getting out of this alive,” and for some reason it has given me a strange comfort and drive to be more brave, more open, more loving. I wrote a post some years ago talking about the “small but strong” version of myself that was scared of my depression, scared of my moods, scared of the darkness in me. I know now that my heart is stronger than I ever thought possible, more courageous than I dreamed. I can look at my moods, the darkness flitting around the edges and smile at it. It doesn’t beat me to a pulp anymore. The fear never leaves me, but most days now I can turn towards it with curiosity and an open heart.

Endings feel like they are a part of everything around me. I am planning to move away from Berlin to travel some more while the kids are still young and not in school, and I get sadder and sadder at the prospect of leaving. I told L that I was thinking of whether or not I wanted to have a personal relationship with her instead of a therapy relationship, and for the first time in a long time I am struggling to untangle the courageous choice from the fearful one. Am I afraid of the relationship ending, afraid of not having her in my life? Perhaps the courageous choice is to just let her go and focus on my own autonomy. Or am I afraid of attempting something new and different, following what I know my heart wants? Perhaps the courageous choice is to take a risk and try it. This odd bubble sits in my chest as well, reminding me that I am not the only person involved in this decision. Can I even fairly put her in a position where I would ask her to answer me? Am I being foolish even considering the idea? It’s an ethical minefield, no doubt. Maybe my courage and hope aren’t balanced enough with consideration, seriousness, and contemplation. Maybe the answers are clear, and I just don’t want to accept them.

All I know is that I don’t want to live a life of regret, but it’s hard to know what you should take a chance on, and what you shouldn’t. The main things I regret are the times I have harmed others, and I know that potential for harm lies in attempting to change our relationship into something else. Staying in the safety of the therapy relationship is significantly less risky. Whenever I think about risk though, I smile when I think about how she often says “No risk, no fun”. So far, she has been totally right for everything I have encountered – I question now where the limit is. There are certain kinds of risk-taking that are akin to leaping off a cliff! At least for now I decided to do nothing and accept that everything comes in its right time. Maybe there never will be a right time, because it’s just not the right thing to do. I don’t know. What I do know is that when something is right, you feel it and experience it without so much internal conflict: it just happens. Something interesting about the I Ching is that “After Completion” comes before “Before Completion” (the two final Hexagrams).

While the preceding hexagram offers an analogy to autumn, which forms the transition from summer to winter, this hexagram presents a parallel to spring, which leads out of winter’s stagnation into the fruitful time of summer. With this hopeful outlook the Book of Changes come to its close.

A natural cycle governs everything in life. I could never have dreamed years ago that I would be able to consider anything with even some sense of the confidence and harmony I feel many days now. Pulled from side-to-side by my own mind, I felt only chaotic, wild, and out of control. One part of me hopes that actually it will never be fully tamed, because I grow to enjoy having a little bit of wildness in me. Anyway, I know that this path is not a linear one. As L says, we all do the best we can in the time and space that we do it in.

What The Fuck Am I Doing Wrong?

So, it happened again. Another woman from my daughter’s Kita has feelings for me. And of course, just as perfectly and just as terribly, I have feelings for her too. I saw it months ago: joking to my husband “I think A. has a bit of a crush on me…”, hearing how she talked about me “People are staring at you because you have those flecks in your eyes… and you’ve been cycling.. you look so healthy..”. It was obvious and I ignored it and ignored it because I didn’t know what to do. It felt sweet and maybe (just maybe) like I had imagined it. I talked to my friend M. and said “Am I losing the plot here? She’s just into me in a platonic way, right?” and M. said “Yes, platonic, platonic.”

And no, it’s not platonic. Not at all. A. told me that she’s bisexual, or queer, or pansexual, or whatever you want to call it: not straight. She told me she wanted to go to this club with me…. KitKat. It’s a sex club, a fetish club. We went out for drinks, got drunk, and went there. I couldn’t focus on anyone but her. I wanted her, and I knew I shouldn’t.

After things ended with S., all those months ago, S. and her husband split up. They both reassured me it wasn’t anything to do with me, and that their marriage had actually had problems for a long time. They don’t hate me, they both still talk to me, and as far as I can tell, they are telling the truth about it not being my fault. But I really do not know if I could do it again: I changed my mind, maybe it was a mistake.

So now with A. … beautiful, smart, wonderful A. I want her to like me, I want her to have a crush on me, I want her to lose control and do all the things with me that she and I both know we shouldn’t do. I like her so much, and seeing how S. and I grew apart, seeing how we broke our friendship in the end, seeing all the pain and complication surrounding our lives, I am not sure I can do this with A. It would be so reckless, with foresight, knowing exactly how badly things could end.

I love how she laughs. I love how she smiles. There are so many things about her that I can’t help but feel so drawn to, not least of all that she seems to understand me. I love hearing her talk about her PhD and all the academic stuff she’s working on. At coffee this morning she mentioned something about illuminated manuscripts and I felt my eyes grow wider and I felt my breath catch in my lungs; she’s so intelligent, so interesting, I can’t get enough. Yesterday she tried on some clothes for work, some business outfits, and one of the items was a leather jacket. When she put it on, my body just said “…Oh god..”..

I like her so much. Will it never be realised? I guess one day when one or both of us decides we don’t like each other in that way anymore, it will be the end of a relationship that never happened. And thinking of that, makes me sad.

In all of this, I wonder: what kind of impression am I giving to people. What are the chances that in my kid’s kindergarten, there are two mothers, two married women, who are both falling for me. What am I doing wrong? It’s not supposed to be this way. A. and I did some work together, editing someone else’s document, and the guy had written that to determine the history of an object when assessing it for art acquisition purposes, that one should circle the object first from far away, and then up close: like prey. I joked that a friend calls me a predator, because I always seem to get the people I’m interested in. But I don’t feel like a predator, not at all, rather I feel like sometimes I am so confused and so uncontrolled, that suddenly I am leaping into something completely blind and that it just so happens to work out. And then again, other times it doesn’t. I feel like life isn’t supposed to be this complicated. I can’t help but think that I am making it so… but another part of me wonders if this is just what life is, sometimes: complex, uncontrolled, inconvenient, pleasurable, hard.

Platonic

Recently I’ve been feeling something pretty strong towards my best friend here. She’s wonderful and I can’t help but adore her and I feel nothing but joy when we’re together. At first when I started feeling so emotional I would leave her house and think “Oh shit, am I falling in love with her?” (not again!?) and I felt scared that it would tear us apart and ruin everything. But I sat with that feeling and decided to just let it be, to just let it happen. And it kept happening, I saw that I loved her and that I felt this way and that it was okay: how can there be anything wrong with loving a friend?

I usually feel a lot for my friends, but sometimes it goes beyond what I think most people seem to experience, something in that slightly-more-than-just-friends zone. Sometimes there’s attraction too, and when it’s mutual that’s when things can get complicated. But I’ve navigated these strange and tiny ships through big storms, and even though I have a few friend-shipwrecks along the way, most of them survive and make it through to calm waters on the other side.


Another friend of mine moved away recently. When she left I realised that our relationship had been deep in some ways but very shallow in others. We had shared a lot of stories with each other, we had eaten many meals together, our kids played a lot. But I didn’t feel anything for her. If she didn’t message me, I didn’t mind. I liked her, but the emotional depth just never happened for me. With my best friend, when I’m not taking to her I miss her, I wonder how she’s doing. I think about her and her little family with those intense feelings that come with actually loving someone. I want her life to be wonderful. It’s a selfish feeling too, that I want her to be in my life. I want to have her and to keep her, but if she wanted to leave for something that would make her happy, I would want her to go.

When I got here I felt so isolated and scared of being lonely; it was a fear that I didn’t even realise I could experience until I got here. I had been afraid of the language barrier and of the logistics: visas, permits, apartment, kindergarten for my kids… I never thought about how I might not make friends. Everyone who knows me well is back in New Zealand, they know all my quirks and weirdness and flaws, but still choose to be in my life. Here I had to start again and just hope like hell that someone would like me.

After meeting her I felt like everything would be alright. At first all we did was go to playgrounds and eat ice cream with our kids. I don’t know how or when but it gradually became a lot more. It was as if she had grabbed my hand and gave us this shelter from the insanity of moving to the other side of the world. She told us about how when she arrived in Berlin she was so depressed and so lonely, and I felt like she protected me from that pain. I will be forever grateful for that.


With M. and the kids I have my own home that I created, one that travels with us no matter where we actually live. But my friend gave me a home here. Enjoying Berlin and loving Berlin began with having that security and love she gives. She gives the best hugs, and she is free with her affection. That’s exactly the kind of person I need in my life, and up until now I’ve only had a few of them. For all I know things are not the same for her, and maybe things are a lot more shallow in how she feels towards me. But I know she cares about me and opens up to me, at least enough for me to see there’s something beautiful between us. In my life that’s something rare.

What I Need

For the first time in ages I have told someone what I need. Not what I want, what I need. A girl that I’ve been sleeping with keeps wanting to meet up, but I lost all my energy to socialise and have sex and it all just fell away before I even noticed it was gone. I told her that it’s nothing to do with her, but that I can’t meet up with her and I just need to focus on myself for a little while.

Even though my mood feels okay, I’ve been spending the last month in bed, at home, not venturing out much other than places that I have to go to. I take the kids out, I go to the supermarket, but I actively avoid everything else unless it’s with a close friend. These are the little blinking orange lights that show me “Hey, look out, things could get a lot worse from here if you’re not careful.”

5 years ago I didn’t notice this was happening until it was too late. I sat in my bedroom every evening, ignoring M. and refusing to interact with anyone unless I was drunk; I would wait for that blurry feeling to wash over me until I could show affection and say what I thought and crack jokes and then as soon as it was over I was back into my bed and thinking some of the darkest thoughts I’ve ever thought in my life.

We did go on holiday to Edinburgh; it felt familiar — the city is laid out like Dunedin; the street names are all the same and even some of the buildings felt so much like New Zealand. Everyone was speaking English instead of German and I could just breathe for a moment. It also felt like as soon as I caught my breath, I was suffocating all over again in everything that came with those home-feelings: memories, people, damage, the small-city-ness of it all. I missed Berlin and the trains, I missed the queerness, I didn’t feel as secure walking around just being me, even though visibly I look like some boring 30-year-old Mum. I don’t look like anything strange or weird or like I push any boundaries in my life ever, but I do feel inside myself like I just don’t fit in some places. A woman I met at a rooftop bar the other week told me that in Berlin she feels like she can really be herself and relax and everyone just accepts her. She said:

In Berlin, everybody cares about who you are. But nobody minds.

And she was so right, this is true for me at least.

I need to focus on myself for a little while, I need to gain back some idea of what I’m doing and where I’m going. The emotional responses I’m having to M. and my friends and my kids is something that I didn’t expect – I’m not feeling so grumpy or angry or short-tempered as usual, instead it’s openness and love and this good feeling for them, mixed in with this bad self-feeling, this lack of motivation and quiet fear of venturing out into the world. But why do I feel this confused bundle of emotions, why do I feel so simultaneously buoyed and flat? That’s what I need to figure out.