I just want to scoop that little girl up

I felt nervous about seeing Anna today because I had texted her after she cancelled the last session and between session communications always make me worry that I’m going to be told off and basically abandoned. In the text I’d asked her for a phone call because I was struggling with feeling awful for being so argumentative with her when I saw her last and not being able to feel connected to her. She had replied with a very caring and thoughtful message explaining that she’d rather have the conversation face to face, that I have nothing to apologise for and that it’s all part of the process. Anyway, as soon as I went in, Anna gave me a big smile, hugged me and said, ‘it’s nice to see you.’ I said, ‘you too’ and held on for the longest I’ve ever hugged her for. I thought I might cry, but I didn’t. Damn dysfunctional tear ducts! I thought she might have felt I was hugging her for too long but at least tears would have explained why. I sat down and she said, ‘so, where are you today then?’ Looking back that’s actually quite funny, clearly I wasn’t in the room! I said I didn’t know… I said, ‘I’m feeling really disconnected right now… from life at the moment actually…’ She asked for more information, asked if it was just this past week and because of the last session or before then. I said, ‘it’s been a really full on week, all about the kids coz it’s their birthday week, early starts every morning, day trips every day…’ Anna said she’d been thinking of me through the week and the fact that I’d be doing lots of things for the kids birthdays. The preoccupied part of me wants to latch onto that and ask her for all the details about what she had been thinking. But the avoidant part of me is stronger, I said nothing, just nodded.

Anna apologised for cancelling the last session and she brought up the fact that I had said in my text that I’d felt a lack of connection with her. I said I had been grateful for her reply and that I felt really bad for being so difficult with her. She asked me what I meant and I said, ‘well I was just disagreeing with everything you said and really struggling to connect to you.’ She talked a bit about how sometimes in sessions she might say something that reminds me of my mum and when this happens it might trigger a strong emotional response. I thought about that and then said that I’d actually found it really difficult because she wasn’t just agreeing with me. She asked me to go on and I said, ‘I just wanted you to agree that I’m a shit mum! Even though of course I know you can’t agree with me when I’m putting myself down like that but it’s just like… it’s as if you have this version of me in your head and you can’t bear to believe…’ she interrupted me and said, ‘I don’t know if you remember, but when we first started working together I said that you could tell me anything and I wouldn’t judge you, no matter what you say in this room, there is no judgement.’ I felt like she misunderstood what I meant and I said, ‘yes but it’s like… you know how when I was growing up I had my mum on a pedestal and she could do no wrong… like I thought that she was perfect… I feel like that’s how you were viewing me, like I’m a perfect flawless mum that can do no wrong and I don’t want to feel like that…’ she said, ‘we all have good days and bad days, we have days where we feel like we could have done better… but I hear you give me so many examples of times where you have put your kids first. Take this week as an example, all the things you have done for your kids birthdays, you could have just stayed in bed every day, not planned anything, given them cheap, easy gifts, but instead you have thought about what they like and what would make them happy…’ I said, ‘I just don’t feel like it’s enough… and I don’t feel like you understand me…’ Anna said, ‘I think it’s really important for you to hear me when I say this – I know you feel like you’re a shit mum, I know you feel like you’re going to fuck them up, I don’t believe that you are a shit mum, I think you’re a very thoughtful and loving mum, but I know you don’t feel like that.’ I nodded. I said, ‘you told me you think I have a phobia that I’m going to fuck up my kids. That statement has been sitting in my mind since you said it. I was thinking about what a phobia is, how phobias are irrational, that they don’t make sense but are very powerful and feel very real… and I was thinking that the phobia is actually…’ I started to well up and stopped to breathe, clench my jaw, turn my face away from the light of the window and put my hand up at my face. Despite the fact that I have already cried with Anna now, there are parts of me that do not want to cry in front of anyone… that part was very present today. I finished, ‘the phobia is that I am just like my mother.’ Anna agreed. She listed off examples of all the times mum repeatedly hurt me without ever mending the rupture or limiting the damage and then all the ways I seek connection with my kids, all the ways I try to make them feel loved. I was swaying in and out of the room like a silent wrecking ball, crashing in and feeling the intensity for a moment then fading, fading and sucked back out the hole in the wall.

I said that the kids birthdays have been quite triggering and then I tailed off. Staring into space, almost observing myself. Wanting to shake myself awake and scream into my face, ‘snap out of it! Fucking talk to her!’ Anna eventually broke the silence with, ‘of course it’s been triggering, your kids are getting everything they could wish for and when you were a child you didn’t have birthdays…’ I interrupted her and said, ‘I did have birthdays but they were just really… crap.’ Anna nodded and said, ‘I hear that there is a lot of hurt there.’ I said, ‘it does hurt but at least when I focus on my kids and me as a mother, I have some control over all of that. I wonder if I’m using that as a distraction.’ Anna said, ‘a distraction from…?’ And I said, ‘from thinking about me as a child, when I had no control. I can’t control the past, I can’t change any of it…’ Anna said, ‘no, but you can talk about it. I wonder if that’s what you’d like to do today?’ I nodded and quietly said, ‘not really but…’ and she said, ‘I know it’s very painful, but so important that she gets seen, that little girl who hasn’t been seen for so many years.’

I said, ‘I just, it’s not difficult… it’s so easy to give kids what they need… and to see them… and, even if they were properly skint like they say they were, I mean, you’ve got 12 months to prepare for a birthday… 12 fucking months to save up, to get to know the kid!’ Anna said, ‘yep and it’s the same date every year, it shouldn’t come as a surprise!’ every now and then I get a glimpse of a sassy Anna that I imagine has said these things to people who have hurt her in her personal life. I like it. I continued, ‘Yeah, I mean I prioritise the kids birthdays, I would give up everything to be able to give them what they need.’ Anna said, ‘your mum didn’t give up anything for you…’ I shook my head. I said, ‘I just don’t understand how she could fuck it all up so much! So she had no money but she had money for cigarettes and booze and new clothes and make up for her…’ I said some more angry sounding things but I can’t remember what I said now. More about how easy it is to show my kids love, even if I can’t feel the feelings. Anna said, ‘and that’s what I call being a good mother, meeting the needs of your kids and putting them first no matter what you’re feeling.’

I just sat there for a while, fairly dissociated, staring into space. Again. I started talking about what birthdays were like for me. In a very disorganised, confused way I tried to explain what I’d experienced. This very strong desire to make mum feel good, this big guilt about not really liking anything they gave me, that they never knew me well enough to get me what I liked, that they never fostered any interests in me so I didn’t even know what I liked. I talked about how I work really hard to figure out what Grace likes and that she has space to tell me if she’s disappointed or doesn’t like something or wants something else that I didn’t give her. I felt quite muddled and went back and forth talking about the kids and talking about me. I told her that mum had emailed me the other day apologising for getting the kids crap presents this year and that she would do better next time, even though we’d thanked her for her gifts and hadn’t complained at all. Anna said, ‘she’s fishing for compliments,’ and I was like, ‘yes! She always did that! Even when what she was giving me was really the bare minimum in parenting and she knew it and would eventually make some half hearted attempt at an apology, I would then have to lavish her with compliments and gratitude. Always about making her feel better about herself.’

I randomly started talking about how I wasn’t allowed to be in the livingroom in the evenings. My brother was but I wasn’t. Anna asked for more information and I said that they would always say they wanted adult time and so I wasn’t allowed in there. Anna asked me what would happen and I digressed. Talked about some other random memories. I tried to explain how I never even really knew there was anything ‘bad’ about what I experienced… Anna explained how when we are children we just accept our situation and it’s not until we’re older or maybe go to other people’s houses, then we see that what we are experiencing is not the norm. I said, ‘I’ve read about narcissists and she really fits in with this thing, like it’s so insidious you almost can’t pinpoint what’s wrong with the situation and like, they do things that are so subtle that if you were to complain about it it would make you look petty and critical… like how my mum would always cook dinner just a bit too early so my dad would miss dinner and have to eat by himself when he got home for work, that would then trigger an argument… every damn night! Anna said, ‘is this when your mum and dad were still together?’ and I said yeah but Anna seemed confused and asked, ‘would your dad not eat dinner then?’ I said, ‘she’d plate his dinner up and it would be cold in the kitchen when he got home.’ She asked me, ‘so you’d have your dinner in the kitchen then you’d be told to leave?’ I said, ‘we had our dinner off our laps in the livingroom, then I’d usually go outside to play…’ I spaced out a bit. Anna asked, ‘how are you doing with this?’ I said, ‘I feel like I’m seeing everything through a thick fog, it’s hard to make sense of it all…’ She said, ‘how are you experiencing our connection?’ I said, ‘um… it’s so hard… um I feel like you are fully here, in the room, but I am not here.’ Anna said, ‘what would help you feel more connected? What do you need?’ she said it with such a gentle and kind curiosity that I felt like I could burst into tears right then. I said, ‘to look at you, but it’s too hard.’ She made a joke about this being the only face she has and I sort of half smiled. I kind of wish she knew there are moments when I really don’t want her to joke around. She asked what makes it hard to look at her and I said, ‘because that connects me to the feelings.’ Anna nodded and said, ‘uhu, yeah and you said in your text that you had needed to cry last session?’ I curled up and said, ‘that too… I need that too now, but can’t.’ I rested my chin on my knees for a bit, looking closely at the weave of my big thick scarf that I’d spread over my legs.  

I went off on a tangent and talked about how house proud my mum was and that it was all for show. I talked about how I used to find it really hard going to other people’s houses. That when I went to friend’s houses they always seemed so warm and friendly, their parents seemed really loving and welcoming… it was painful to be there and see how other people lived. I said, ‘I feel so ashamed of all of this, like I don’t want you to know how shit it all was.’ Anna said, ‘just take your time, this is important.’ I said, ‘if I could describe my whole childhood, I would say it was like one massive rollercoaster, everything happened so fast and just happened to me, at me almost, and I never knew what was coming next…’ Anna said, ‘and you had no control over any of it, and you couldn’t get off… that’s a really good analogy, Lucy.’ I gave a slight smile and looked at her, I said, ‘it was frightening a lot of the time, things would just happen and I didn’t have any time to process it, it just all happened…’ we spent a bit of time in silence, occasionally glancing at each other.

I continued, ‘it was different at different points, and we moved house a lot… but I’m thinking about when I was like 11 or 12, we lived in a flat with a long garden that had a river running along the bottom of the garden. I used to sit down there on the wall and cry while watching the water rushing past because the noise of the river drowned out the noise of me crying…’ Anna said, ‘that sounds really lonely.’ I said, ‘yeah’ not looking at her, I continued, ‘I used to do that a lot… just take myself off… I used to go for long cycles up the back roads to the countryside behind the village and sit and cry by myself, or cry in the shower, or in bed at night…’ I laughed a bit when I said this and she said, ‘that sounds like you were hurting a lot, something made you laugh?’ I said, ‘well I was just thinking what a loser! Then thought, don’t say that coz then Anna will say ‘don’t call yourself a loser’.’ She said, ‘I think it sounds like a child who is experiencing big emotions that she’s having to hold all by herself and then because you have no one to go to, you’re finding times to be by yourself to let the feelings out… I wonder if you hoped your mum would try to come find you and comfort you?’ I said, ‘maybe but I can’t imagine that ever happening… I mean I used to go off all the time… even when I was really young… like when I was 4, even back then I spent a lot of time outside… we lived in a tenement flat and the gardens all ran together along the back, then a wall, then a lane. I used to play out the back in that lane… I remember playing in a skip down that lane actually.’ I sort of shook my head in disbelief. ‘I remember being in and out of people’s houses… there was a sense of not being able to go home, you know? I didn’t ever feel like I could just ‘be’ at home.’ Anna questioned, ‘to stay out of her way?’ I said, ‘I guess I would have just been under her feet,’ she said, ‘so you knew to stay out of the house so you would not get under her feet so to avoid angering her?’ I was kind of spacey and didn’t really respond although I had listened, I said, ‘she did come after me back then, she’d run around shouting my name and then she’d find me…’ I don’t remember what Anna said after that. ‘She would tell me off for not staying in the garden.’

I randomly jumped back to what Anna had said, ‘you know, there were probably countless times throughout each and every day when I had to supress how I felt to keep her happy so it’s like it would all be stored up inside me and I guess then I’d find ways to let the feelings out, by myself.’ As I recall saying this, I don’t have a memory of what Anna looked like or what I was doing, I think actually I had my eyes closed. I did that quite a lot this session, closed my eyes when talking about some of the memories. As if on a roller coaster, terrified, eyes squeezed tightly shut. I wonder why I did that.

Anna started to talk about that little girl, me at 4 years old, as if she was in the room with us. She was being compassionate and I couldn’t stand it. I interrupted her and said, ‘I don’t want to have compassion for her, I’m so ashamed of her, I don’t even want to think about her, I can’t bear to imagine her being in this room with us.’ I felt hot with rage. Anna said, ‘let’s explore that shame, what are you ashamed of?’ I said, ‘I can see her in my mind. I don’t want to describe her to you, I don’t want you to see what I see.’ Anna said, ‘because…?’ in a curious tone. After a long pause I said, ‘I just hate her so much,’ Anna said, ‘what do you hate about her?’ I said, ‘I don’t want to tell you what I’m thinking because it’s words that an adult should never say about a kid…’ Anna said, ‘hmmm I understand, it’s important that you share how you feel though, these feelings deserve to be shared…’ eventually I said, ‘she looks like a homeless kid – it’s embarrassing, she’s dirty, her hair’s a mess coz… well my mum always cut my hair, she would always hack at it, it was a total mess all the time… and that girl, she’s dirty, a total loser… she’s needy… she’s too much…’ Anna said, ‘those are not your words, ‘too needy’ – who’s words are they?’ I reluctantly said they were my mum’s words. Anna said, ‘think about your kids, you take them to the hairdresser and they get to choose how they want to style their hair and you let them choose their clothes. You didn’t get to choose… that little girl, it’s not her fault that her hair was messy, you say she looks like a homeless child, it isn’t her fault that no one is taking care of her, she couldn’t go home so she stayed outside, she would stay away, she played at other people’s houses. You say she is dirty, you see a loser, I see resilience… I see a little girl who knew how to keep herself safe.’ I nodded and there was more silence then I looked right at her as she said, ‘I just want to scoop that little girl up into my arms and hug her.’ I started to tear up and quietly said, ‘that sounds nice.’ There was another quiet moment. I could amost hear the crying inside me. Anna then said, ‘one day that self compassion will grow and you’ll be able to reach down and pick up that little girl yourself and give her all the love she needed…’ I didn’t like the sound of that, I don’t want it to be me holding her I want it to be Anna, it made me feel rejected and embarrassed actually, to imagine me holding my child ego. I sort of blocked the idea out of my head and just held onto the idea that Anna isn’t repulsed by that girl and that she would hold her up in her arms if she could.

Anna gave me a ten minute warning and we agreed that it would probably be a good idea to stop. I started talking about something we had done as a family this week and we had a bit of a laugh about something funny that had happened. I then said, ‘you know, this stuff we’re doing, it hurts so much.’ Anna said, ‘I know, and you’re doing so well staying with it, so well.’

We hugged goodbye and then I found myself in my car, tears burning the back of my throat.

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A Realisation

EDIT – I’ve just reread my post from yesterday and I see that I sort of wrote about this yesterday… that shows how dissociative I was – I didn’t even remember what I’d ‘realised’ after the session!

I’ve just had a realisation about yesterday’s session. The distance and lack of connection I am feeling with Anna is exactly what I feel with Grace. The therapy room is often a mini stage for all the things that happen in our day to day lives that we can’t get a hold of.

The therapeutic relationship is an intense version of other relationships in our lives. It places us under the magnifying glass. Showing us what often remains unconscious. It acts as a mirror, reflecting back to us what we need to learn about our patterns, thoughts and behaviours. It unpicks and scrutinises so that we may learn new ways to be with others and with ourselves.

I have unconsciously transferred my feelings (the very frightening numb nothingness I feel for my kids – especially my daughter) so that I can work on it in the room with Anna. I wonder if she experienced it like that too. If she did then she could use that counter-transference to help me understand how my daughter (and probably other people in my life) feel when I’m going through an episode of disconnect. Does she feel connected to me or does she feel pushed away and shut out? Does she feel like I’m not all there or is she still able to sense the care and bond between us even when I can’t feel it?

This could potentially be really important work. I’ll be bringing this to Anna on Tuesday. I wonder if she’s also reflected on the session and sensed this dynamic playing out.

Ignorance is Bliss

I said I was feeling anxious and Anna said, ‘normal anxious or unusual anxious? Because you have spoken about how you always feel anxious before a session so I wonder if it feels different today…?’ I said, ‘I feel anxious often before a session, not always.’ She smiled patiently and nodded. I don’t know why I said that because she is right, I do feel anxious to some degree every session. I guess today I felt more so than usual. But also, I was feeling contrary… I don’t know why. I feel like I was hard on her, quite argumentative. Creating distance. Looking back I wonder if I was unconsiously playing a game – creating space and disconnect in the relationship so that she might feel (in the form of counter-transference) the disconnect and distance I have been trying to explain to her that I feel with my kids, and in most of my relationships. Now though I just feel really sad that I didn’t connect with her, I regret not pulling her closer. I was close to tears a lot yesterday and cried while on the phone to my friend in the evening. I really wanted to cry with Anna but when I was sitting with her I was quite dissociative and it just felt like a big wall was between us.

I told her I wanted to continue talking about what we’d been talking about the last two sessions… my lack of ability to feel love/connection with my kids. I said, ‘but it’s so hard though, I think I need to slowly pick through it all because it’s very confusing and fuzzy inside my head and body… I don’t really know what I think or feel about it all… I don’t feel like I’m going to make any sense today…’ she said, ‘just take your time and see what emerges, we can work on what ever comes up.’ So I started to explain in a really disjoined, unemotional way that I had been processing all of this through the week and it had made me upset to think of all the things I’ve missed because I’ve not been fully connected to my kids. I said, ‘I think I’ve underestimated how dissociated I’ve been in all of my relationships all my life… I don’t think I’ve ever really connected to people… maybe I’ve never felt love for anyone and I’ve never felt on the receiving end of anyone’s love… I don’t even know what love is.’ Anna asked me what I thought love was and I deflected the question. She gave some examples of love and said, ‘if we had 50 couples here we’d have 50 different examples of love, love means different things to different people… maybe for one person it’s that her partner brings her a cup of tea in the morning…’ she gave other scenarios but I wasn’t able to focus on what she was saying. I was feeling quite deifant and at one point said, ‘so it’s just acts of service? As long as you do x, y and z it doens’t matter how you feel? I want to know what it FEELS like in the body!’ I moved to sit on the floor because my anger was making me feel really spacey and I pulled the candle over to smell it. It was Ylang Ylang and I think I said outloud, ‘that smells nice’ – interrupting whatever she was saying. I wish she’d noticed how far away I was. I needed her to find me. It’s like playing hide and seek and reaching the point where you realise everyone has stopped playing and they don’t care that they never discovered your hiding place.

I told her I’d spoken to a friend last night and realised a few things. I realised I have felt love for my kids, that I would do anything for them (she smiled enthusiastically and nodded and it made me feel nauseous, like she HAS to believe I am this perfect mother)… I continued, ‘maybe it’s that I can’t feel a connection to them or something. I’ve spent their whole lives doing everything in my power to demonstrate love to them when I haven’t been able to feel it. I’ve said to you before that they deserve better than me, they deserve more, I’m not enough, they’d be better off without me… what I’ve realised is that what I mean is they deserve a mother who is fully present and feeling and connected to them all the time.’ Anna was quiet for a fair amount of the session. I wonder if she’s reached a point where she doesn’t know what else to say to me.

Eventually she said, ‘you have told me countless stories of moments you’ve had with your kids that have really moved me when you have attuned to their needs emotionally, you’ve listened to them, you’ve shown an interest in them…’ I got kind of pissed off and said, ‘I don’t feel like you understand what I’m trying to say, I KNOW that I am DOING the things I need to do but it’s like… uh… fucking hell I don’t know how to explain it!’ She told me to take my time and I said, ‘if you were talking to someone, like a colleague at work and they were distant, they were going through the motions but weren’t fully in the conversation, you’d notice it wouldn’t you? Well kids are the same, they know, THEY WILL KNOW I’M NOT THERE EMOTIONALLY!’ She asked me how I know Adam loves me and it pissed me off because she asked me that last weekend and I’d answered her then. I said, ‘you asked me that last Saturday and yeah I do feel his love…’ she asked me how I know he loves me and I said, ‘well he’s stuck around for quite a while!’ she said, ‘what does that tell you?’ and I said, ‘that he’s persistent!’ and I laughed. I said, ‘I know he loves me, he tells me, he gives me examples of things he loves, he compliments me, he prioritises me, he wants to spend all his time with me, he does things for me, he listens to me…’ then I said, ‘my mum told me she loved me all the time,’ Anna interrupted and said that my mum said it with words but not actions and I said, ‘she showed me she loved me in some ways… she tidied my room, she put dinner on the table…’ I gave a sarcastic laugh and said something about ‘bare minimum love!’ Anna said, ‘what were the things she didn’t do?’ I sat in silence with my arms folded and my foot tapping. I was sinking inside myself, feeling very angry that she was making me think about this. I said, ‘show an interest in my life, spend time with me, prioritise what I like, listen to me, let me feel my feelings, hug me every so often…’ There was a pause and then Anna said quietly, ‘these are all the ways she didn’t show you love?’ I nodded, still in a really sullen mood. She said quite firmly, ‘and you do ALL THESE THINGS for your children, Lucy.’ This broke my window gazing and I stared straight into her eyes and said angrily, ‘but I don’t FEEL IT! Do you think you’d be as good a therapist as you are if you couldn’t feel a connection with your clients? If you felt nothing for them?’ She felt something when I spoke to her like that but I don’t know what it was, maybe I hurt her feelings, I really hope not. It all felt scary and fragile and on a knife’s edge. She said, ‘that’s a really good question, sometimes we don’t feel… and there’s always a reason for that…’ I said, ‘do you think your clients would benefit from the work you’re doing with them if you felt nothing for them? Do you think they’d be able to tell?’ she started to try to formulate a response and I cut her off, ‘you don’t need to answer that, I’m just trying to get you to understand what I’m feeling. There’s a difference between doing something on autopilot and doing it because you feel it.’ Anna said, ‘I am trying to understand, I am convinced the feelings are there. You dissociated all of your life for good reason Lucy and we’ve been working for two years and very slowly putting that barrier down a tiny bit at a time and now you’re starting to feel things and it’s fucking scary, I know that.’

I said that I felt like I was fucking things up. She had said something about no one being perfect and the kids were bound to grow up with things that they would need to work on because that’s life, she said, ‘when we have experienced a childhood like you did we develop this hypervigilance in relationships and you are hypersensitive to the needs of your kids…’ I cant remember exactly what she said next but then she said, ‘and you have developed an extreme phobia of traumatising your kids like you were traumatised as a child…’ (Extreme phobia… that one’s gonna stick with me!) I said, ‘if I thought for a second that I would fuck my kids up I would never have had kids, they are better off without me.’ I wasn’t looking at her, I was staring with my eyes blurred, focused a few inches from my face staring at the wall.’ She said, ‘we can’t choose the feelings we numb, it’s a bit like when the tiger bread comes out the oven and it’s not been sliced by the machine yet, it all just comes out in one go… you’re being overwhelmed by all these feelings that you’ve so brilliantly protected yourself from for all these years and it’s very frightening…’ I said, ‘I don’t know why I am STILL going over this shit… like yesterday me and Grace were in the car and I had the music blaring and I could see her wee face in the mirror singing away…’ Anna was smiling but her face dropped when I said, ‘but the only reason I had the music on was so we didn’t have to talk, it was just me and my fucking daughter and I couldn’t bring myself to talk to her! I always do that, I create distance, I don’t know what to say to her I don’t know her! I forced myself to turn the music off but I didn’t know what the fuck to say and I just asked if she was excited about the party later but I mean, any fucking stranger could have asked her that, that’s not something you say when you really know a person…’ Anna said, ‘okay lets slow down, this is what this session is about so I don’t want you going away thinking you haven’t focused on the ‘right thing’ because this is it, we have gone with what has naturally come up… so… do you think a traumatised child sits happily singing along to music in the car? She sees you singing too, even if you’re not singing she’ll just think you’re concentrating on driving. And you asked if she was excited… that’s not ‘nothing’ that’s asking about her feelings. That’s caring and loving!’ I said, ‘but kids KNOW! I remember when she was a baby I read that babies sense their mothers feelings, they know when the mother is anxious or depressed, Grace will KNOW that I’m not in it with her…. When I was a kid being in the car was horrible, it was so erratic and crazy and arguments and… when the music was on that meant everyone was happy and calm… no one was arguing when there was music on.’ Anna said, ‘okay so that’s a memory, a childhood memory that you’ve lifted and changed to fit with the present moment. When you were a child it was frightening to be in the car with your parents, but when the music was on everyone was singing and happy… so perhaps you put music on in the car to help your child feel calm because she is anticipating arguments and feelings of danger… but Grace doesn’t have any experience of that. You are not your mother and Grace is not you.’ Suddenly I said, ‘so does it not matter if I don’t feel the love and connection? Can she feel a connection and love just because of the things I do, the loving actions make her feel loved? Will she feel my love even if I can’t feel it?’ I looked at Anna and she gave a subtle smile and slight nod, she said, ‘what do you think?’ I took a very big breath and so did she. I’m not sure I answered her.

Anna said, ‘when you have arguments or angry words you always go back and explain to Grace what has happened, that it wasn’t her fault, she is learning from you that people make mistakes but that they apologise, that love is strong and that loving relationships are caring and respectful…’ there was a pause and then she asked me if I heard her. I nodded. I must have looked very distant. I sat back up on the chair and pulled my knees to my chest and she continued very slowly and quietly in a sort of sing song voice like speaking to a child, ‘you never had that, Lucy. You would cry yourself to sleep and no one would explain what had happened, no one cared to tell you… you would then wake up and try to make sense of the frightening things that had happened by believing that you were to blame…’ I was feeling completely depressed and bleak at this point, she does this sometimes, she’s trying to lead me by the hand into the flames so that I feel it. I wanted to cry but I couldn’t. She said, ‘and now you are an adult you can see that it could never have been your fault, you were a child, you deserved for someone to come back in and hold you and tell you that it wasn’t your fault and…’ she continued but I felt like I had fallen backwards out of a boat and was sinking head first into the black depths of the ocean inside myself.

At one point I came back. Gasped for air and suddenly launched into a very cohesive thought, ‘I think although this stuff about my kids is all very real and I do really struggle with the numbness, I think that perhaps on some unconscious level I have been fixating on them because worrying about how I am mothering is painful but so much more manageable than thinking about how I was mothered and perhaps I feel like I have more control over how I parent my own children so I can scrutinise it to squeeze it into some sort of perfection whereas I had no control over how I was parented and the pain of it, the realising, the grief is so agonising I can barely look at it without burning my eyes out, it brings to mind a philosophy allegory that I learned about when I was in uni, I think it was Plato, I don’t know if you know it… the story goes that there are these men, they’re prisoners and they are all chained together facing a cave wall, their whole lives they live like this watching the cave wall, dark figures move across the surface of the wall and they think that this is life but then one day one of the men breaks free and turns around to see that the real world has been going on behind him all this time, the sun is painfully blinding as he’s never faced that way before and he realises that the dark figures were shadows cast from the sun of the people in the real world… he then faces the dilemma of going back to the cave to tell his fellow prisoners of what they’ve missed out on their whole lives…. I don’t really know why that comes to mind now… I feel almost like I’m just waking up and it’s so painful there’s part of me that wants to go back to being ignorant and chained down to the not knowing… because now I have to face all that I missed all that I didn’t have, all of it… I can hardly bear, Anna.’ These few minutes were the most connected we were in the whole session. We were looking at each other the whole time and she was listening carefully to me. I don’t remember where it went after that.

Before the session ended I talked about how when she had offered me the phone call last month and the slight reduction in cost for the double session weeks, it had made me cry because for a second there I felt her care for me and it hurt because I haven’t always been able to feel that. She said that I won’t be able to trust that care in relationships and that naturally I will be guarded and so I test it. She elaborated then asked if it made sense and I nodded. She said, ‘like how you texted me before the session to check that it was definitely the reduced price, just to make sure I wasn’t going to take the offer back, that I hadn’t changed my mind (we knowingly smiled at each other). Eventually we start to let in the kindness, we experience the good in people, we let them care, we take more risks, we learn that some people can be trusted… but there’s no rush, it can’t be rushed.’ I said, ‘I don’t feel the need to rush as much as I used to, not like before… I mean I don’t want to feel this awful all the time and I do want it to be over but I used to want to hurry up and get through it all quickly so that I was ‘better’ before you left me but now I don’t really feel that so much.’ She smiled and said, ‘well that’s massive progress, that today you don’t feel the need to rush because you trust I’m not going to leave you… that’s two years of work right there… well done!’ I gave a small smile.

At the end of the session we hugged and she felt so warm and smelled so lovely. She felt like home for that split second. I unintentionally said outloud, ‘you’re so warm, this is lovely’ and she squeezed a bit tighter and said, ‘you did really well today Lucy, I know that was really hard, well done for staying with it… we will see each other on Tuesday.’ I thanked her and then I was in my car and now I am home, missing her, wishing I could go back to her office where it will now be dark and cold and empty. I would curl up on her chair and go to sleep and not wake up until she walks into the room and turns in the light on Tuesday.

Preparing for the Tears

Anyone who has followed my therapy journey thus far (or even those who have just dipped in and out occasionally) will know I have had a hard time crying. I’ve talked at length about my desperation to cry with Anna in session. I’ve had so many times where the tears have burned the back of my throat but I haven’t been able to let them come. I have never deliberately stopped the crying, it just would never happen until I walked out of her office and turned onto her street, then it would start. Or when I reached my car and sat down, then the dam would break. During one particularly painful session I did begin to cry but the hot shame ate me up and I hid my face in my jumper only to escape to the toilet a few seconds in.

I have really only ever cried on my own… even crying on my own felt shameful. At first I thought I didn’t need to cry with another person, I believed I could deal with all of my issues by talking and thinking my way through them. But over the months working with Anna I have noticed a strong desire to cry with her. I wanted to be able to completely express my emotions and have my therapist support me in those moments. I felt like I was missing a vital part of the bonding, connecting and healing relationship by not crying. But I felt like it was beyond my capabilities. How could I learn how to cry in front of her when I have never cried in front of anyone before. Even as a small child, I don’t remember crying while being comforted by someone. I never went to my mum when I was upset.

There was a moment in session around the year and a half mark where Anna clumsily stated, ‘we’ve been working together nearly two years now and you still haven’t cried with me…’ that hurt. I talked to her a lot about it, I’ve blogged about it, she apologised and said she regretted it immensely. I think she was trying to illustrate to me how deeply my trust had been broken as a child, for me to still be finding it so impossible to be vulnerable with her. It triggered a massive shame response in me but interestingly, instead of giving up (like I imagined I would), I became even more motivated to drive myself forwards towards crying with her.

I didn’t consciously do things to help me cry but looking back I can see that a number of things that happened between us were laying down the foundations for that work to be possible. One thing I did was challenge her on how she responds to my massive feelings in session. I told her that I’d been speaking to my friend who is also a client of hers and I know that she offered my friend physical reassurance, that she sat beside her when she was crying. I questioned Anna, ‘why do I have to ask for things that she gets offered to her? Why, when it’s so much harder for me, must I ask for what I don’t even know I need…?’ That session was a big turning point because we contracted that when I am dissociative, very sad, very numb, crying… she will ask me if I want her to sit beside me, ask if I want her hand on me, ask if I want a hug from her. I can see now that I was afraid I would be the most vulnerable I’ve ever been, I’d cry and I’d be sitting by myself crying while she watched me. It would be an abandonment I wouldn’t be able to recover from… that session helped reassure me that she would respond the way I needed her to, even when I didn’t know what I needed.

Another thing I did was let her know how I felt about her note taking. I told her there had been times when I felt like she was using my dissociative moments to take notes and in those moments I’d finally be able to look back at her only to catch her with her head down, writing… I didn’t know at the time but I was asking to be seen. I needed her to notice the subtle changes in my face and body, I needed her to be completely aware if I was going to cry, I couldn’t bear her missing it… the rejection would have been agony.

Along with these things, I talked a lot about wishing I could cry in session. I would tell Anna how pissed off I was at myself and each time I did Anna would tell me to understand why it is hard to cry, to respect my protective parts who have looked after me so well, she would tell me to be patient, that these things take time and that there is still a very young part of me who is frightened to be vulnerable with her. I understand now that I was trying to see if SHE was pissed off with me or feeling frustrated or impatient. I needed to know that she respected my time frame and understood why I was finding it hard.

I also did things by myself to help me become more comfortable with crying in front of Anna. If I cried by myself I would imagine her sitting with me. At first when I did this I could only imagine her sitting in her chair in front of me and it felt so awful that even in my imagination I would run out of the room. I actually told Anna this – I felt so much shame admitting it but she told me she was really proud of me for finding such a creative way to comfort myself and feel close to her when we’re apart. Eventually I was able to imagine her sitting next to me as I cried, arm around me. That was a huge step for me and it was only imagining it in my head! I also looked at her photo (from her professional website) while I cried which looking back, really helped desensitise me. I told her about this too, thinking she’d be repulsed by my stalkerish behaviour. But she was just pleased I was finding ways to practice being close to her.

There have now been two sessions in which I have cried with Anna. I sort of feel robbed of a fan-fair and celebratory champagne… where was the chorus of ‘well done’ and round of applause. There was no enthusiastic acknowledgement of the unimaginable after it happened. Both times it felt just like an extension of talking or sitting with her while I’m feeling things (this also was an amazing achievement after being numb for so long). The crying just made sense. It wasn’t an explosion of messy noise and humiliation. It was a quiet seeping out of tears and whispered words. It was effortless. I can’t believe I’m saying those words… but it really was easy.

Looking back I can see that I had prepared myself and her for the time when the tears would come. I unconsciously made sure I would get what I needed when it happened.

I’m working on processing my understanding of all of this. I know this post is fairly disorganised but it’s just how my brain is working right now… slowly building my understanding of these changes in me.

Make Them Feel My Love.

What is love? Do I even know what it feels like? Can I feel the love my children have for me? I know it’s there but can I feel it? Can I feel the love I have for them?

Can my children feel my love even if I can’t feel it?

There’s this quote I’ve read various versions of many times… something about how you can’t selectively numb feelings, if you numb one you numb them all… if I’m honest I’ve always thought that was bullshit. I would kind of agree with it theoretically but I always thought it didn’t apply to me. It was only when in session with Anna that I would realise just how very numb I am. She would express deep emotional responses to what I was talking about and I’d feel nothing. Or I wouldn’t know what I was feeling. I’d maybe notice that I was feeling spacey and numb but I’d think, ‘well I was laughing my head off earlier so I haven’t numbed all my feelings!’ But I’m learning that it isn’t as black and white as I first thought and perhaps there’s a pattern. I wonder if the emotions I’ve numbed are the very vulnerable ones… anger, sadness, fear… love. I fucking numbed love. If I could feel my heart I’m sure I’d feel it breaking at this realisation.

Anna and I stumbled upon this very painful topic two sessions ago that we then continued exploring on Saturday. She was very tentitive about it wheras I marched right back in. She reminded me I don’t have a second session this week and that maybe I’d want to save this topic for a week where I have 3 sessions in 8 days. I didn’t understand why she was making such a big deal out of it all… oh hello numbness!

In our session last Tuesday I talked about my friends two month old baby who I had spent a great deal of time with the previous weekend. I told Anna how I’d held her in my arms and soaked up the beautiful, peaceful trust that babies gift you. I said, ‘it’s such a precious thing, it’s an honour to have a baby fall asleep in your arms… I felt this amazing connection with her as I held her, I didn’t feel like that when I held my own babies…’ Anna gently probed further and I sobbed into my hands as I exclaimed that I felt nothing when I held my baby girl… that I don’t know if I ever felt anything for her. Even now, 7 years on… do I feel love for her? It’s like there’s a vast empty nothing inside me. I desperately want there to be love there. But I can’t feel it. Anna encouraged me to explore all the ways that I show my children I love them. I started to robotically list all the things I do for them. That I take an interest in what they’re interested in, I never withhold affection, I help them repair disagreements and ruptures, I seek to understand them, I buy them things they need and want, I play with them… I said, ‘I know what you’re doing, you’re trying to get me to see that I actually do love them!’ She smiled and said, ‘I’m encouraging you to explore how you feel and to look at your behaviours… to understand why you are the way you are… to maybe go a little easier on yourself… how do your kids experience your love, Lucy?’ I thought for a long time with my eyes closed and then spoke, still eyes shut tight, while I attempted to describe how my children might experience my love.

I wonder, is this why I work harder at ‘parenting’ than everyone says is necessary..? Is it to prove my love for them? Do I do everything in my power to make them feel they are loved, even when I can’t feel it…?

But what even is love? How can we know it and feel it? I told Anna, ‘this is the hardest puzzle ever!’ And she said patiently, ‘yes it is, it’s the core of it all… and we won’t find all of the pieces today… or for a very long time in fact. But just knowing the puzzle is there is enough just now.’ Oh but it hurts. It aches like it needs to be fixed now. How did I come to be so broken that I can’t even feel love..? Of course I know the answer to this question in the pit of my stomach. I was wounded in my main attachment relationship so how can I relax into an attachment relationship that looks so similar to the original source of my pain. How can I trust myself as a mother when mother is not a person I’ve ever trusted? How can I feel love in a mother daughter relationship when the mother daughter relationship I experienced hurt me so much it made me numb?

Anna asked me if I think my children love me. I said, ‘of course they love me, I know that in my head… I mean kids love their parents no matter what they do to them, they cant help it, I know that much… I loved my parents more than anything… I know my kids must love me, I just can’t feel it.’

Anna said it’s normal for parents to struggle with these feelings, that oftentimes women don’t experience the initial bonding and rush of love that we’re told we should feel when our babies are born. I said, ‘I appreciate you trying to normalise this but this is not normal. This is a triggered feeling. It’s a numbness. It’s not normal. This is not what other people talk about when they moan about their kids pissing them off.’ She said, ‘I hear you. I believe you when you say that you can’t feel their love and you can’t feel your love for them. Perhaps it’s about accepting and forgiving the part of you that’s struggling to find those feelings?’ I thought about that for a while. Forgive myself for not feeling my children’s love and for not feeling a love for them? I said, ‘maybe this is how my mother felt… she couldn’t love me… maybe this is what she meant when she said I was difficult to love… and maybe if I forgive myself, I have to afford her the same grace?’ Anna said, ‘Lucy, there’s a big different between neglecting and abusing your child because you can’t feel a love for them, and….’ I stopped her mid sentence and whispered, ‘thank you for calling it abuse and neglect. Thank you for saying it was those things.’ I started to cry and she came and sat beside me. She put her hand on my arm and gently rubbed it. She said, ‘you are not abusing your children Lucy. You are loving them even if you can’t feel it.’

Hiding in Plain View

I had to change the name of everything. I had a bit of a panic… a member of my family found out about the blog and the name of it. I’m hoping I’ve done what I needed to do to make it safe to continue writing publicly.

If any of my regulars notice the ‘old’ blog name anywhere that I have missed please email me or DM me on Instagram.

https://www.instagram/finding_lucy_king/

finding.lucy.king@gmail.com

I had started thinking I was going to have to quit writing… this is hopefully going to work so I don’t have to do that. Fingers crossed.

A Need for Closeness

When I first started working with Anna, my unconscious defences were razor sharp. I found every reason imaginable to not like her. I found so much ‘evidence’ to support my suspicion that she didn’t like me. I believed she could not cope with me, that she was inexperienced, that she was just a ‘sit there and nod’ kind of therapist. I felt good about the fact that I couldn’t imagine caring about her because I believed that made me impenetrable to the severe attachment pain I’d experienced with Paul (my first therapist). Unbeknownst to me I was terrified I’d fall in love with her, like I did with Paul and then she’d leave me, like Paul did. This was all outwith my awareness of course… I just thought she couldn’t help me and we were a bad fit.

Something kept me going back though. I’m not even sure what it is that made me stay rather than leave and find a ‘better’ therapist. Perhaps my conscious mind did kind of know she was good enough..? The friend who had recommended her to me knows her stuff (being a therapist herself) so I felt like perhaps my skepticism was more to do with ‘my shit’ rather than based in reality. Also, I’m used to existing and persevering in toxic relationships. I’m used to trying to make my mummy love me, trying to make my mummy ‘good enough’… so perhaps this felt familiar to me?

Things started to change very gradually (to the point where I can’t even pinpoint the changes). It was a series of very small happenings between us that slowly enabled me to see Anna for who she really was rather than what I’d imagined in my mind. Her gently tuning in to my emotions time and time again was a massive bonding experience. Also, learning that she was okay with physical touch (hugs and hand on shoulder for comfort) made me realise I had misjudged her. Laughing with her. Taking her up on her request for honest feedback when she’d ask over and over for me to tell her how I felt she was working with me… when I finally did start to share what worked and what didn’t work, she took the feedback with such grace and willingness to adapt and change that I was able to see she was not this cold, rigid, inexperienced and frightened therapist… she was in fact very switched on, very resilient, very comfortable with sitting in her own and other people’s feelings. It’s like having a dimmer switch gradually turned higher. To start with we were in the dark and I had to use my imagination to paint a picture of her in my mind. As the time went on I began seeing the real her more clearly. It’s really been quite amazing to have her become herself in front of me. As I reflect on this I am wondering if this is how she feels about me. Perhaps I was closed off and hidden at the start and she has slowly watched me unfolding, slowly becoming more of myself in front of her.

Recently I’ve noticed a change in how I experience my relationship with Anna. There is a growing trust. It feels like I can be honest about how I’m feeling and she’s not going to reject me. I really get the sense that she understands attachment trauma, she understands that I need to attach to her, to trust her, to relate with her for co-regulation, to internalise her. This has resulted in me telling her more about my need for closeness. Telling her that I look at her photo when I’m sad or crying, to try to learn how to be more emotionally vulnerable with her. And to desensitise myself. I told her that I think about her all the time – she’s the first thing on my mind when I wake up and the last thing I think about before I fall asleep. I’ve told her I dream about her… always expecting her to be disgusted by these things, to finally tell me that I can’t have what I want… I’ve told her that I want to be physically close to her, I want to sit next to her, that a very young part of me wants to crawl up into her lap. I’ve drawn many pictures of her. (The most recent drawing was basically a portrait of her face copied from the photo on her counselling website… I was sure she’d be freaked out by my stalkerish behaviour, but she wasn’t at all!) Most recently I told her, ‘a part of me really wishes you were my mum’… she just says ‘yeah’ in an ‘I know’ kind of way.

In our most recent session I said, ‘I keep expecting you to be repulsed by my ever increasing need to be close to you… I’m waiting for you to finally break and shout at me, ‘it’s too much! I’m not your mother, you’re a grown woman, give me space, get away from me!’ But every time I say something like ‘can I sit next you’ or I ask for more hugs or whatever you just accept it, you allow me to have the closeness I need and you act as if it’s totally fine by you…’ she smiled and said, ‘your need for closeness doesn’t frighten me, Lucy, it’s natural for you to want to be close to me… it’s like how your kids want to sit on your lap or want to climb into bed with you in the morning… they want that closeness. You never had that when you were little, you were constantly pushed away by your parents, those needs went unmet… the very young parts of you are looking to finally get those needs met.’

An enormous amount of my toxic shame originates from my mother rejecting my need for closeness. As Anna accepts this part of me, it’s making me reach out more, it’s helping me open up more. It’s slowly healing that buried, wounded part of me. One expressed need at a time. Anna has told me she believes, ‘you can’t have too many hugs’ and that I wasn’t hugged enough as a child. She’s told me that children should, ‘be the centre of their parents world, but unfortunately for you Lucy, your mum was the centre of your world… the balance was tipped in the opposite direction.’ She has talked about how children’s needs are never wrong. That a child’s needs can’t (and in fact shouldn’t) be met 100% of the time by their parents. But to frequently have physical and emotional needs ignored is incredibly damaging. It generates this very deep and intense feeling of wrongness inside the child. ‘I am wrong to have these needs’ and ‘I don’t deserve to have what I want’. This is why she has so often encouraged me to search inside myself for what I need. And asked me directly what I need or want from her. Frustratingly I often don’t know what I need or want, but she accepts that confusion and uncertainty and covers it with a blanket of compassion and patience.

I am a few days in to our second two week break in the past month. During our last session I was able to tell Anna how painful it was to be away from her and have no contact. She received my anguish with an accepting curiosity, not an ounce of the defensiveness I expected. She even offered me more between session support than she has before which showed me she’d reflected on how much I need to feel connected to her through the breaks. I went shopping yesterday, looking for a gift for a new baby in the family. Happily I got what I was looking for and uncharacteristically spend some time browsing a few shops. I stumbled upon a necklace almost identical to one Anna has. She is wearing it in her website photo and the symbol on the necklace is one that I’ve always been very fond of and I actually already have a necklace very similar to it but much smaller. Her necklace is really nice, it was obviously fairly expensive, it’s real silver and has gems on it, the one I found in the shop is much cheaper and with no stones. I have always been aware that she was possibly given her necklace by one of her family members, perhaps even one of her kids… but still it is something that I feel connects us in my mind because I love he symbol so much. The necklace I saw yesterday reminded me so much of her that I bought it. I wore it today and it helped me feel close to her. For once I don’t actually feel ashamed of this bid for closeness. She would say, ‘if it brings you comfort and helps you feel close to me then that’s great, it’s what you need… there’s nothing wrong with that… it makes sense.’ My daughter and I regularly wear matching bracelets we made each other. These things strengthen attachments. It is important that I feel a strong attachment to Anna because that’s the only way I’m going to be able to trust her enough to share the worst most locked away bits of myself then hopefully I can allow her help me make sense of them, accept them, learn to accept them myself and ultimately heal.

I Cried

Finally, I have made it to the end of the two week therapy break. As I write that out I feel like it’s quite ridiculous that it caused me as much pain as it did… I can stand to be away from so many people for longer than two weeks yet this felt like it could destroy me. There aren’t even the words to describe it… it’s like I don’t exist if I’m not seeing her regularly… I know other people with attachment/developmental traumas feel the same way about therapy breaks and I have a world of understanding for them, yet as is always the case, it’s hard to find compassion for myself.

I have written on Instagram how hard the break has been. I’ve been very depressed and desperately lonely… despite keeping busy and filling the two weeks catching up with friends, going to the theatre with my family, trips to the gym and a massage and facial… the very nature of feeling fragmented I guess is that I can ‘usually’ maintain some sort of ‘normal’ existence while a part of me is imploding on the inside. I really struggled to look after myself after having some very exposing sessions (discussed here and here) and then a sort of rupture in the last session before the break. I sent Anna a series of texts the day after that session which yo-yo’d between being angry, upset, asking for a call then saying everything was fine. The four texts spanned a 12 hour period. She didn’t reply to any of them. I pretended I was okay with that but I think it really elevated my anxiety. I was sure she would have looked at those texts with total distain. Fuck sake don’t I deserve a break!? Leave me alone you needy bitch! That kind of thing.

Session day finally came around. I felt very anxious in the morning. I umm’d and ahh’d about sending Anna a message and eventually sent one saying along the lines of please go easy on me today, I know you’ll want to talk about the texting and boundaries and we will but I really need to feel connected to you… this has been the hardest break yet and I’m really scared I’m going to shut down and pull away from you, I really need to try to make sense of this. She actually replied, much to my surprise, saying we would work it out together and that she was looking forward to seeing me later. I felt relieved that she’d replied but also a bit spacey. The drive there was a total blur. I was on another planet and suddenly I was standing at her door one minute after the start of our session time.

Anna clicked the buzzer and said, ‘hello!’ in an unusually chirpy way as if to show me that we were fine. She was the only one working in the office, all the other rooms were empty. It always feels more intimate when we’re the only two bodies in the building and I’m aware of this sense in me that she trusts me enough to be alone with me. I walked slowly up the stairs and went in her door and she walked straight up to me, arms wide open and gave me a big hug. I held on to her for ages, face resting on her shoulder and could feel my heart in my throat, my breaths were quick and shallow. I could feel my heart racing and I wondered if she could feel it too. I wondered what she was thinking… I always wonder that.

When we sat down I couldn’t really get comfortable, shifted around a lot. Eventually I took my shoes off and pulled my knees up to my chest. Anna asked how I’d been and I said I didn’t know. I looked out the window. I couldn’t regulate my breathing and I said, ‘I feel really wired.’ She said okay and she started breathing deeply, really intentionally which made me start to breathe like that. At one point she asked me what I needed but I didn’t know. She said it was important that I don’t censor myself today. I looked at her and she said something about there being lots of emotions I will have felt since we last saw each other and they were all welcome here.

Anna said, ‘what happened after you left here last session? I thought we’d resolved everything and you were feeling good?’ I said, ‘I don’t remember what the end of the last session was like but I just totally freaked out afterwards… all the blog stuff, it made me freak out… I don’t know… I felt like you didn’t trust me, I wanted to make you believe me, I felt like you would want to stop working with me after finding out that I write about the therapy on my blog.’ Anna nodded. I said, ‘I think it’s teen stuff… it all feels really confusing in my head but it was just, I didn’t feel like a grown up anymore, I felt like a teenager… the care you were giving me by checking that I was keeping myself safe online felt really threatening and judgemental to me. You know my mum never gave me safe boundaries, she never gave me a curfew or advised me not to hang around with people who weren’t good for me, she never looked after me like that and when I was a teenager, on the odd occasion that she did try to assert some sort of control over me I’d laugh at her or tell her to fuck off, I felt like she only wanted to be my mother when she needed something, I’d managed to look after myself all those years I didn’t need anything from her now… so the same thing kicked in when you talked about your concerns around the blog…’ Anna understood exactly what I was saying and said that she did trust me and knew I could look after myself, that she just cares about me and the care is the thing that triggered all of this in me. I said, ‘I wanted you to know that of course I wouldn’t jeopardise either of our privacy and of course I’m very careful about what I share, I wanted you to know that and to also be proud of me for sharing things I’ve kept locked away my whole life.’ I started to feel emotional but held my breath until it passed. Anna was being really lovely, I don’t know how to put it into words… if you could see energy omitting from a person, hers would be a lilac hue of fluffy soft hearts floating towards me. Or maybe something more solid and holding like a thick, warm blanket draped over me. Nothing about her presence felt angry or harsh or judgemental… I was feeling her care for me. She said, ‘I became your mother in that moment, your responses to me – you don’t really care about me you just care about yourself, you don’t believe me, you don’t trust me, you think I’m an idiot… that was your mother you were talking to.’ I nodded and really let that sink in for a few moments feeling flooded with emotions.

I said that the first week in particular was just awful and Anna asked me what I had needed in that time. I just kept thinking I needed you!! but I said, ‘probably just to feel everything, and that’s what I did… I felt everything… it’s the worst I’ve ever felt… the last time I felt like that, when I was a teenager, I never properly felt it, but this time I felt it all. I was so depressed.’ I said, ‘Do you remember the drawing I did that was like a corridor with doors going off it?’ she nodded enthusiastically. I said, ‘it feels like in those two really hard sessions we opened one of those doors and the 14 year old girl who was in there… well me… um she came out and now she’s fucking everything up for me!’ Anna nodded and said in a very gentle voice, ‘yep, that’s how this works… that’s the work…that’s the therapy…  it’s hard and I’m afraid it will keep getting harder… we open doors that have been closed for years and the feelings resurface and they feel overwhelming and we look at them and dissect them together, in here… it’s just really awful timing that I had my two week break right after she came out of her room and I wasn’t able to be here to support you.’ I felt like I’d just told her the most crazy thing ever and she accepted it completely. In fact she made me feel like it made total sense.

There were quite a few quiet moments. I was feeling very heavy and sad inside but looking back I wasn’t feeling self conscious, I felt accepted and like there was space for me to just feel how I was feeling. I said, ‘I missed you so much Anna, it was the hardest break, I’ve been so depressed and felt so alone… and I didn’t realise we’re only seeing each other twice this whole month and that’s really shit. I’ve gone from seeing you twice a week every week for two months to just twice in this whole month…’ Anna got her diary out and said, ‘let’s have a look at the calendar.’ I felt this wave wash over me, a sadness or something, like an awareness that she cares and wants to try to make this easier for me. I said, ‘I think I forgot how nice you are…’ and almost without even noticing it I started to cry. It felt like a crumbling inside me, or a melting, a slow shift in the ground like a gradual landslide that creeps up on you. The discomfort in my body when I cry is palpable. I wouldn’t be surprised if it suddenly started pouring out of my pores… the shame. I dropped my leg off the chair and started shaking it furiously. I lifted my hand to my face.

After probably no more than thirty seconds of this silent crying, I heard Anna put her diary on the table and she said very gently, ‘would you like me to come over there and sit next to you?’ I nodded. She moved my bag and dragged the other chair right over so the arms of the chair were touching. I was still silently crying, holding my breath in places as it’s just what my body naturally does when I cry, it chokes and blocks and restricts like a car accident on the motorway… a few cars escape and then the rest come to a halt. She said, ‘would you like me to put my hand on your arm?’ I nodded. I eventually breathed a bit and calmed down. Not looking at her I said, ‘I hate this so much, I feel so ashamed that I need you so much… I missed you so much… I remembered the last time I felt like this and you said I had abandoned myself and I know I did abandon myself but I don’t know why I did that… I even phoned in at work I just couldn’t face it… I didn’t feel like an adult I couldn’t cope…’ Anna said, ‘because it’s the only way you know how to respond… we can focus on finding some coping strategies for when this happens again so you don’t feel so alone next time, because it will happen again, this is the work and as much as it doesn’t feel like it, this is really good work you’re doing.’ I nodded, staring into space with my back facing her. I leaned forward and got a tissue, dried my eyes and blew my nose. When I sat back I shifted my body so I was leaning towards her rather than away like I was before. Anna put her hand back on my arm. I looked at the floor and said, ‘the thoughts came back… that the kids would be better off without me…’ Anna asked me if I’d kept myself safe. I said, ‘well… I mean, yes… but…’ she interrupted and loudly, purposefully exclaimed, ‘well done, Lucy!’ She leaned into my line of vision and repeated, ‘well done!’ looking right into my eyes. I nodded slightly and looked away. I said, ‘I thought about hurting myself every day. Points where I was so close to doing it. I stood making the dinner one night, very dissociated, imagined lowering my hand into the pan of boiling water along with the peas… there was a moment where I didn’t know if I’d actually done it or not… I was so gone, like not even in the room anymore.’ She made a noise like she understood and nodded her head. ‘I thought about smashing a glass in the sink and shoving my hand inside it so it would cut up my wrist…’ A tear escaped my eye and I quietly continued, ‘One of the days, I got a blade and sat with it against my skin… part of me wishes I had hurt myself because then you’d know just how awful I’ve been feeling…’ Anna immediately responded, ‘just because you didn’t hurt yourself, doesn’t mean you weren’t in absolute agony, you don’t have to hurt yourself for me to know how in pain you are… Lucy… I believe you when you tell me how you’re feeling… let me repeat that… I believe you when you tell me how you’re feeling.’ It hit me in my chest and I put my head down and cried silently. She believes me. That’s what I needed to hear without even knowing it. She believes the extent of my pain. I don’t need to hurt myself to show her my pain. She believes me.

I had my head in my hands and said, ‘it felt like it would be a relief to just not be here… it makes me angry that I can’t do what I want to do just for other people… I can’t hurt myself because my kids and Adam would see… I know it’s not good for me but I wanted to do it… I just felt so awful and I wanted it to stop.’ Anna said she understood and that in that moment I was aware that these feelings don’t last forever. I said, ‘it is lasting a very long time though.’ I felt completely understood and supported. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that before. There’s no shaming or judgement. There’s no panicked warnings or telling me I shouldn’t be thinking those thoughts, she just sat with me, in the feelings. She said, ‘… and did you have suicidal thoughts?’ I nodded. She said, ‘…are you still having suicidal thoughts?’ I nodded. I said, ‘passive ones… just like… sometimes it makes things feel slightly less shit when I imagine there’s a way out…’ she said, ‘have you got a plan?’ I said no. I thought in my head about all the ways I think about dying, every day… none of them are planned out, they’re all just accidental deaths. I told her about how I’d sat with my son one night when he was frightened because he’s started to worry about monsters at night. I sat with his tiny hand in my hand and just looked at it. I said, ‘I know that’s all bullshit, I know they wouldn’t be better off without me, I know it would completely destroy their lives, every day for the rest of their lives, it would fucking destroy everything for them… but it’s like I’m trapped, it hurts so much to keep doing this… life… but I have to, for them.’

I said, ‘I had imagined you’d be really angry with me for sending the texts and that you’d want to stop working with me.’ Anna said, ‘you know that you can be angry with people and still love them, you don’t want to divorce Adam every time he makes you angry do you?’ I said, ‘no but me divorcing my husband is very different to you deciding you want to stop working with a client. It’s totally different!’ She was quiet for a bit and then said, ‘yes… do you want to ask me about that?’ I felt panicky and then shook my head. She said, ‘no…? I think that you do.’ I felt fear rush through me and tentatively said, ‘did you feel like you wanted to stop working with me?’ She said, ‘no.’ I looked in her eyes and said, ‘not even just a little bit?’ She said, ‘no’ again, firmly. I said, ‘were you angry with me?’ and she said, ‘not at all, I was frustrated that you were going to have to sit with that for two weeks and I couldn’t support you like I am now.’ She said, ‘I want to tell you Lucy that when you text me I was in the car with my family, I did read them… it was difficult for me, I felt stuck between a rock and a hard place because you had said you would feel worse if I said no to a phone call but there was no way I could ensure a private call with you, I couldn’t think of a way to reply to your message that would be holding because it might have helped you in the moment but then you might have started over thinking it again, or maybe you would have continued to text me or misunderstood my intentions, so I decided that the best thing I could do was hold the boundary, that’s why I didn’t reply… I held you in mind Lucy.’ I said, ‘I’m really sorry Anna, I’m sorry my texts made you have to think of me when you were on holiday.’ She said, ‘Lucy, you don’t have to text me for me to think of you… I think about you, I hold you in mind even if you don’t text me.’ I said, ‘willingly?’ and she said, ‘yes’ with a smile. She asked me how that felt and I just tried to take it in. I looked around the room and said, ‘nice, it feels nice.’ I started to cry again.

I told Anna about my dream of her giving me a box (I wrote about it here). She listened carefully to the dream and occasionally I looked up at her to check on how she was feeling. She was sitting with her face so close to me and I wondered what she thought of me, seeing me so close up… no make up on. I wondered how she felt when she looked in my eyes. If she felt a fondness for me or if she was annoyed by me, is she glad she met me or does she wish I’d never walked into her office? I told her how the dream had comforted me and reminded me that our relationship is very special, that she gives me things that she doesn’t give anyone else, that are special just for me, that just as much as she keeps her family life private from me, she also keeps our sessions private from her family. She was enthusiastically nodding and saying, ‘yes’ when I said these things. I said, ‘I think you actually do understand what this is like for me.’ She nodded with her eyebrows raised and a half smile as if to say more than you realise.

At one point Anna asked if I wanted her to move back over and I said, ‘do you want to go back over?’ she said, ‘that’s not what I asked…’ so eventually I said, ‘I like you sitting there.’ She said, ‘okay I’ll stay here, I like sitting next to you too.’ She revisited the issue of us only managing two sessions this month with various commitments. She then offered me something she’s never offered before, ‘how about we have a phone call on the Thursday of the week where we don’t have a session?’ I couldn’t believe she offered it to me to be honest, I’ve read and heard about other people having phone check ins with their therapists but I just never thought it would be something Anna would offer. I thanked her profusely and asked if she was sure, she raised her eyebrow at me and I said, ‘okay, well thank you, I’m happy to pay for it obviously!’ She said, ‘Lucy, I’ve offered it to you, it’s fine, you don’t have to pay for it!’ I started to well up again and she said, ‘I hope these are happy tears!’ I said, ‘I just can’t believe how nice you’re being… it just makes me feel so sad.’ She said, ‘because I’m not your mother…?’ and I said, ‘not because I want my mother to be here… but rather because… well I wish… well there is a part of me that wishes you were my mum. I think.’ *queue panic* She said, ‘well maybe you would have wanted that kindness from your mum when you were little?’ and for a split second the proclamation felt rejected, I reiterated, ‘no… I wish you were my mum.’ And she accepted it that time. ‘I know.’ She said quietly.

We sorted some more appointment times and talked about how I was going to look after myself until the next session. When we hugged at the end of the session I said to her, ‘I feel like I should be cracking open some champagne tonight to celebrate crying with you!’ she laughed and said, ‘why not?’ I said, ‘well I don’t actually drink so… uh…’ she said, ‘well, coke and a pizza then!’ and we shared a wee laugh, while still hugging.

I honestly could just hug her forever.

A Letter to My Therapist

Approaching our two year therapiversary

Dear Anna,

You are on holiday and I miss you… so I’m sending my words out through my fingertips to try to scratch the itch of longing.

Recently it feels like something magical has happened inside me. A quiet awakening of a hope that maybe change is possible. In the winter, when I drive to work in the morning, the sun rises as I make my journey. The sky is black and blue when I get into my car. As I drive it slowly turns indigo, violet, brighter blue… towards the end of the journey I see lilacs and pinks, sometimes bright orange and red. By the time I get out of my car, the sky is pale blue, feathered with wisps of cloud. The change happens so gradually that sometimes I catch myself thinking, ‘Is it really changing? Was it really that dark when I started?’ Because it doesn’t just happen like the flick of a switch, it’s hard to really notice the change. That’s what this therapy journey has felt like for me… every so often I get a sense that things seem brighter and more hopeful now, was it ever really as dark as I remember?

I have noticed an opening, where there was once a closed and bolted door. When I started working with you, no matter how much I wanted to be vulnerable and trusting, I just couldn’t do it. There was no immediate way that I could suddenly just tell this small child inside me to, ‘just play the game, she knows the rules, we’ll be okay!’ It didn’t feel okay and so she mainly observed from behind the protective barrier. And you were consistently patient with me. Constantly reassuring me that it was important to go slow, the pace of a child, there was no rush, these things take time.

Two summers ago I over zealously preened a hydrangea that I bought when we moved in here. It’s one of my favourite plants and I was heart broken when it didn’t flower at all last summer. I thought I’d permanently damaged it. I am an awful gardener. I appear to kill most green things I try to cultivate – both outside and inside plants don’t seem to want to live with me. My mother seems to be a very intuitive, skilled gardener who has built beautiful, healthy, thriving gardens from scratch… she can’t do it with people but she can do it with plants! I did not inherit her green fingers sadly. Happily it would seem I didn’t inherit her style of parenting either. The hydrangea is such a beautiful flower, the petals actually change colour depending on the quality and ph of the soil (or so I understand it) which I think is an amazing analogy for children and the environments they live in. What nourishes them at the roots can change who they become. Last year I re-potted the plant, fed it and left it be… a month ago I noticed a tiny lilac bud tentatively pushing out between the green leaves. This summer, it began to flower despite my unintended mistreatment of it. Another analogy for children and how they can grow and bloom, despite how they have been hurt. Healing can happen if we put the right care and attention into something. Plants (and people) are resilient. They want to live and be beautiful.

It reminds me of this quote – “And the time came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom”-Anais Nin. It perfectly describes how I feel about therapy. The pain of staying small and silent, coiled in on my own turmoil was so unbearable that I had no choice but to do something even more painful by stepping into the brutal vulnerability of speaking my truth to another human being and allowing you to see me… small parts of me, slowly.

This summer I have felt inside myself that you really care about me. I don’t know if I’ve ever really felt that before… to actually feel the care a person has for me. I feel it inside my body… not just words in my head but felt inside my chest. It’s developed so gradually that I almost didn’t notice the change. The fact that it feels easier to sit with you. That your gaze doesn’t make me want to combust. That your questions don’t feel like stabbing judgements. That the caring and affirming things you say to me no longer feel like generic therapy catchphrases.

You have talked about how we get the most out of our relationships when we take risks, take a leap of faith. That people may let us down but that those failings can be repaired with honest communication and a real desire to work towards repair. That if I ask for what I need, I’m more likely to get it than if I never let anyone in. But you didn’t just talk about it, you practiced it and you have repeatedly encouraged me to bring this to you. Consistently asking me what I need, asking if I’m getting what I need from you, making it clear that it’s safe to tell you how I really feel. Then when I did start telling you how I felt, terrified at first and now with increasing confidence, you responded with an openness to understand me, with grace and reflection on the part you played. You’ve modelled a desire to understand the other person and to self-reflect. You have shown me what it feels like to be in a relationship with someone who respects me, is interested in me, wants to understand me, doesn’t want to hurt me. You’ve not been afraid to challenge me, you’ve helped me question the old thought patterns that are perpetuating the hurt. I remember when I first read the info about you on the website and the line, ‘you will be listened to carefully’ really grated on me. I thought, ‘surely that’s the very least she could do!’ but now I have experienced this I understand that I’ve never truly felt listened to my whole life. I certainly wasn’t listened to as a child. Even with three years of therapy with Paul – he struggled to truly listen without letting his own stuff enter the room… I never experienced this level of listening before. Listening to understand and know and help, with no defensiveness and no desperate need to be right.

Recently you mentioned the ripple affect of therapy. How me doing the work I’m doing can have a positive impact on my relationships and other peoples lives. I see that happening all around me. the way I parent the kids, the way I teach, the way I relate to Adam and Daniel and other people and how I then see them relating to me and others… it’s quite amazing really. It makes me think of the first time I heard the song, ‘This Is Me,’ nearly two years ago. It was a demo video and I didn’t even know it was for a film. It shows Keala Settle singing to a panel including Hugh Jackman with all the backing singers around her, ‘…and I know that I deserve your love… there’s nothing I’m not worthy of… this is me!’. The song clearly meant a great deal to her personally and Jackman was moved to tears as he listened. It struck me how powerful the words were and you could see her slowly embracing herself and her own power as the song went on. Two years later you’d be hard pushed to find anyone who hasn’t heard the song and even harder pushed to find someone who didn’t feel like it spoke right to their hearts. The song becomes yours when you hear it and sing it. If someone had written that song and kept it hidden away, it could never have touched so many lives.

The changes that I’ve noticed happening inside me feel like massive mountains have been moving… shifting icebergs. And yet, just like icebergs, there is still so much more ahead of me than what I am seeing. I know this is just the beginning. It is obviously still so hard and painful… the biggest change so far is that I now feel like I can do this.

In one of our early sessions I was talking to you about a session I’d had with Paul. I explained how he told me he’d struggled to pull me out of quite a deep dissociation the previous week and he didn’t want me to upset myself like that again. I said to you, ‘so I never really went close to that pain again with him… I just knew that door was closesd… I mean, that defeats the purpose doesn’t it? I shouldn’t have had to hold myself back for him… isn’t that the point of therapy? To take you places you can’t go by yourself!?’ You nodded and said, ‘yes.’ Well, Anna… I’d like to say thank you for helping me find my way to where I am now. I could not have got here by myself.

With gratitude (and love),

Lucy