That Part Isn't Here Tonight

I was in a very dissociative state driving to Anna’s. I kept oscillating between not being in my body to being right in it and crying… not a great combination while driving on motorways in the rain and pitch black during rush hour.

Normally when I press the buzzer, Anna clicks me in without saying anything. This time she clicked and said, ‘Hi, could you wait in the waiting area for a few minutes.’ So I went and sat on the seats at the bottom of the stairs. It was exactly the right time for the session to start and I’m her first client so I was a bit confused. I could hear animated voices upstairs then a young woman quickly skipped down the stairs and out the front door. A few seconds later Anna popped her head over the banister and gently said, ‘okay?’ so I came up to see her. Immediately my brain was like, ‘ohmygodthatwasherdaughter!’ She apologised and said she didn’t know what that was all about, someone got confused over appointment times or there was a mix up or something. I don’t know if it was a client who came at the wrong time or something. She had offered me that time as there was a cancelation, maybe the person decided to come anyway not thinking Anna would give the slot away. I guess I’ll never know. It actually amazes me how focused and present Anna is. She didn’t seem overly bothered or distracted by what had happened. I asked her if she was okay and she said she was fine then she waited a few breaths before asking me how I was.

Earlier in the day I had written how I didn’t know how I was going to answer that question. I wrote, ‘I think I’m depressed or numb or dissociated or tired. Exhausted maybe. Overwhelmed by all the things I’m juggling and so I’ve shut down. Or maybe I’m sad that I don’t feel any excitement for my life at the moment. There isn’t one thing that I can say really gives me a spark of joy when I think of it. There’s this murky sea of swirling grey inside my belly. Maybe it’s anger. Am I angry that she can’t read my mind when I don’t even know what it’s thinking? Am I angry that she left me over the holidays and didn’t really work too hard at finding out about the challenging bits? I want to go to bed. I don’t want to be at work. I don’t even really want to make the hour drive in the dark and rain and wind to get to my session later on this evening. I want to pause all of my responsibilities. I want to freeze life for a little bit. I want to rest and be still and find my footing. Everything seems a little too much right now. What am I going to say to Anna when she asks me how I am? I’ll probably just say I don’t know and then take it from there.’

So, when she asked me how I was I hesitated. I took a drink of water. I shifted around in my seat and looked at her then looked away. She said, ‘would you like me to sit beside you?’ I nodded. I felt about ten years old. She moved the chair beside me and I moodily stated that I didn’t like the table being so close to us. She said we could move it and she pulled it out then sat down.

I didn’t really look at her but I leaned on the arm of the chairs between us and started rambling, ‘I really hated work yesterday, I wasn’t enjoying it at all but today was a bit better because I had a classroom assistant helping me and it made me realise how isolating my job is, I’m really lonely and overwhelmed at work there’s just too much to do and I can never do it to a good level but she used to work with me a lot and she’s lovely and it just made everything flow better and I was able to enjoy bits of the day… but really I’m just not happy and I really feel so bad right now and it’s all been so nothingy and numb and dead inside for so long and I just feel so disconnected.’ Anna was nodding, I could see out the corner of my eye. She asked me how long I’d been feeling like this and I said, ‘since the holidays I think.’ She said, ‘is it just a disconnection between us or is…’ I interrupted, ‘no I feel connected to you today it’s just a disconnection from myself and life and everything. I’m hating everything just now.’

I said, ‘There is so much pressure.’ She asked me where the pressure is coming from and I said, ‘it’s all coming from inside me!’ she asked what I am putting myself under pressure about and I said, ‘everything! I need to be a perfect mother and perfect teacher and perfect friend, wife, person…’ she said, ‘do perfect people exist?’ and I got angry and said, ‘not perfect then! But just not this fucked up mess, not this needy up and down shitty person who feels overwhelmed by the tiniest things and is so fucking selfish she can’t just be a mum or whatever without overthinking everything and just overanalysing everything… I criticise myself but I’m also super critical of Adam. I pick him apart. Not all the time but sometimes. And my brain works on critical overdrive. It’s like all I can do is think of the arguments and it drives me mental. Even when I’m arguing with someone about something I feel very strongly about I can hear the counter argument to my own argument in my own head I just can’t stand being in my own head anymore I don’t have the energy anymore.’

She talked a bit about the words I’m using when talking about myself and something about how it’s understandable that I feel like this but I didn’t really take any of it in and then I just burst out with, ‘There’s just so much talking talking talking and thinking thinking thinking and so then there’s no feeling and now I’m just in so much pain and it hurts. I don’t know whats worse. The numbness or this agony. I don’t like it but there’s too much talking.’ She said, ‘too much talking and thinking.’ And as much as I know this mirroring is a strategy, it did work, it spoke to a small part of me who needed to hear the words back… I said, ‘I think I’m angry or overwhelmed or… I just, this is just, I’m talking over the feelings. I just hate this so much it hurts so much in here,’ I pushed the palm of my hand into my chest and squirmed myself away from her. She said, ‘where are you feeling the pain in your body?’ I told her my chest and agitation in my whole body.  She said, ‘If the feelings had words what would they say?’ This took me forever to figure out then I finally said, ‘this is scary… I’m lonely… I’m alone.’ She made an understanding noise and said, ‘hmm and that is so painful. Holding on to all that loneliness.’

At one point, early on she said, ‘let’s just take this slowly then, let’s go slow today and not rush over the feelings.’ I felt so relieved when she said that because all the way up in the car I had been saying in my head over and over ‘I need to go slow’ and I was crying, so I’m really glad she managed to read my mind on that one.

She asked me if these feelings were connected, she said, ‘it feels like we are talking about two separate things here – work and home life.’ I said, ‘no it’s the same thing. It’s all in me.’ There was more silence and then I said in a very broken up sentence that I couldn’t describe it and it was so hard. I glanced at her and she was staring into space with a pensive look as if she was trying to think very carefully about what I was saying. She said, ‘they feel connected?’ and I closed my eyes kind of involuntarily and said, ‘I have an image of a tree with fruit on it. All the different bits of fruit are dying, they’re dropping off, everyone around is looking at the fruit not knowing why it’s all dying, coming up with different reasons for each piece of fruit.’ Anna said, ‘but what happens in Spring? New fruit grows.’ I said, ‘NO! No new fruit will grow on this tree. The roots are rotten. No one’s looking at the roots… this is my life, it’s like painting the roses red in Alice in Wonderland – I just stick fake fruit on now… it’s all for show so you don’t see the rot.’ I feel like she must have said something here but I was in the thick of this imagery and feeling very young so it all just felt like blackness in the room and white noise in my ears.

Eventually I said, ‘I told Adam the other day that I’m not happy. I’m not enjoying family life… I left the table and went upstairs coz I got upset. Anna asked, ‘Where has this come from? I don’t think I’ve heard you talk about not enjoying family life. You were talking about playing with the kids and spending time with them and having a laugh with them the last time we met…?’ I felt caught out, like she was trying to catch me in a lie or something. In my head I could hear, ‘I’m not lying! That was the truth but so is this!’ I said, ‘That part isn’t here today. Well… that’s… it isn’t making any sense in my head. I think if the kids are having fun that’s what I mean, but I don’t really… um well it’s, there are different parts of me. The part of me that was talking about that isn’t here right now.’ There was an excruciating silence and she said, ‘like you’ve drawn a picture in pencil and someone has come along and rubbed parts of the picture out?’ I nodded and looked at her. ‘Yes! It is there but it’s also not there. And I don’t know what’s mine and what’s not.’ She asked me what Adam said when I came back downstairs and I really struggled to even remember what I’d said to him. I thought for ages and she started asking something else so I screwed my eyes up and pressed my thumb and finger into my eye sockets to block it all out and try to remember. Eventually, ‘he said that I’m too hard on myself and it’s fine and this is just family life…’ She said, ‘Did that make you feel better?’ I shook my head and she asked me what I needed him to say. I tried to think about that question and then she started asking something else. It felt like she was behind the wheel of a stolen car and she had her foot down and was speeding too fast and everything was a blur and I couldn’t focus on any of the words in the sentences. I managed to get out, ‘I feel like my brain is working much slower than usual and I need more time to think about the answers to your questions.’ She said okay in a calm voice and then I told her I couldn’t even remember the conversation. Then finally I said, ‘I needed him to ask me what I don’t enjoy about family life, or why I find it hard, or what would make it feel better.’ She said something that made me feel like she understood but I can’t remember… I think I was very dissociated.

Anna said, ‘you have been feeling this disconnect since the holidays?’ I said, ‘I think it was harder to be away from the sessions than I thought and there were crap bits in the holiday too and…’ she said, ‘that’s perfectly normal, we think these times should be full of smiles and love and happiness but actually they’re usually very stressful with many difficult times. Did you have time to yourself over Christmas? Did you remember to ask Adam for some time to yourself?’ I nodded. She asked me what I thought I needed to help reduce the pressure and I said, ‘There isn’t a realistic thing we can do… We don’t get any help or any break. Our family can’t or won’t help. Yeah, we could get a babysitter every so often, that’s okay as a one off but we can’t afford it regularly and anyway the last time we talked about getting her the kids both said they don’t like her.’ Anna agreed it is hard when there’s no help and money worries are a big one. She said she admired how Adam and I take it in turns to give each other a break and time away from family life. She said it shows we respect each other’s needs.

I don’t think I’m remembering this in the right order but at one point she said to me, ‘Are you afraid to let people in?’ I sat silently… I hate when I do this but it’s like my brain is working in slow motion or walking through a swamp or something. Everything feels laborious and like an impossible task. I eventually said, ‘Well yes, obviously!’ She said, ‘What do you think might happen if you let people get close to you?’ I said, ‘it just feels safer to be by myself. I like being by myself, I just hate people, I’m so much happier when I’m by myself then no one can hurt me.’ (I don’t really know where all this came from because I have a lot of very close friends and I keep important people very close to me… obviously a part of me hates that though!) Anna said, ‘I have an image of you with your headphones in…’ I said, ‘Yes, I love that it feels so much safer. People don’t want me around anyway. They don’t need me there, there better off without me…’ Anna questioned if I really thought that was true and I said, ‘hmmm well maybe it’s me, maybe I don’t want to be there.’

She asked, ‘when was the last time you remember having fun with the kids, laughing, getting mucky, being silly?’ I told her about the games I was playing with my son on Thursday but all the while I was thinking that I wasn’t genuinely enjoying that time I just know he was enjoying it and I was faking it. I said, ‘that was like 4 days ago… 6 days? 5…?’ (I literally couldn’t even count at this point!) I continued, ‘it’s the OCD stuff… my intrusive thoughts tell me I’m neglectful and I’m fucking up my kids so I do x, y, z to ensure I don’t fuck them up as much as I might if I don’t do those things… or worse, if I don’t do all those things they might grow to hate me.’

I then sank into a very dark place and began ranting, I was practically resting my head right down at Anna’s elbow on the arm of the chairs. I said, ‘It’s not good enough, I’m so shit at this, I should never have had kids, I’m horrible, I resent the time I spend with them, I hate that part of me…’ She interrupted me loudly and said, ‘Okay, let’s pause there, it’s important to not criticise any part of…’ and I interrupted her and said, ‘NO! NO… no pausing, I’m not going to pause, it’s how I feel, don’t tell me that I can’t say how I feel. Don’t tell me to not share this. I do hate that part of me. I hate the part of me that stands on the landing and shouts at Adam, ‘is it any wonder that I hate being here for bedtimes!’ knowing full well the kids can hear me. That’s unacceptable. It’s not okay to say that, it’s fucking hurtful and mean. That’s the sort of thing my mum and dad would say to me and it hurts like hell and I know you’ll tell me that it’s okay because I always go back and apologise but that’s not fucking good enough!’ She was repeating, ‘okay,’ in a very gentle and understanding tone then she said, ‘What would your son say that he likes about you?’ I thought for a while and then said he likes it when I tell him made up stories at bed time. She asked how often I do that and I told her every night and she sounded moved and said, ‘every night, imagine that, every night mummy tells him made up stories, you’re not just reading him a book but he gets to listen to you making up stories. That’s such a lovely, special thing.’ I said, ‘no it’s not, because sometimes I make them really short or repetitive and sometimes I’m sitting there not wanting to be there, I’m sitting in their rooms playing with them or reading stories or whatever and I’m not even really there in my head.’

She said, ‘where would you rather be?’ and this total agony washed up inside me. I was just thinking dead.  I said, ‘nowhere, I’m not happy anywhere, I want to be gone. They’d be better off without me.’ She asked me what I needed and I looked at her and immediately looked away and said I needed to not look at her because it hurts too much. She said okay softly as I covered my face with my bundled up scarf and I was just breathing very deliberately and deeply to try to get control of things again. She started speaking but I didn’t hear her. I started to cry. I cry very quietly so to her it probably looks like I’ve stopped breathing then I take big breaths then there are sniffs… but it’s not loud sobbing. My mum was a loud sobber. It used to frighten me. Her cage of a body heaving with these massive howling, aching sobs like there was a wild animal ravaging her from the inside out. I did everything within my power to make those howls stop but I never could. So, I cry silently because I always have. Because I never wanted to draw attention to myself, I never wanted to let people know I was hurting, it wasn’t safe to show weakness. So, with Anna beside me, when the first sharp inhale happened she gradually tailed off what she was saying. I heard her start to shift in her seat and she asked me if she could move closer to me. I nodded. She asked if she could place her hand on my arm, I nodded. Her hand was so warm. It always feels so warm. I sit there freezing, literally and psychologically. Like I’m shutting down. I get jittery and instinctively want to cover myself and curl in a ball. I cried and cried like that. I had so much pain in my heart and it was slowly bubbling over in quiet moments of release with small rest periods where the crying would stop but I’d still be covering my face and could easily have fallen asleep there. At one point she said, ‘let it all out, Lucy.’ In the most compassionate tone I’ve ever heard. I swallowed and held my breath and gulped it down. This is the only way I know how, I felt like saying. This IS me letting it out. Like pushing lumps of porridge through a sieve. It reluctantly oozes out of the tiny gaps in my walls of resistance.

I had calmed down a bit and asked her for a tissue, even though we both had the same distance to reach for it I wanted her to give it to me. I felt stuck, frozen to the spot, but also I wanted to ask her for something and have her give it to me. There is so much shame in crying for me. SO much shame. I don’t feel it about other people when they cry but I am flooded with the shame when I cry. It feels like a dirty, bad, horrible thing I should keep secret. I kept my face covered and turned away from her to dry my eyes and blow my nose. I lay back round still with my face hidden but closer to her and she started talking about how natural it is for me to feel overwhelmed by family life sometimes but I just became overwhelmed again and started to cry again. She put her hand back on me, it’s like being plugged into a battery charger… the heat of her hand gives me this life energy. After that wave of crying subsided Anna said, ‘is there anything that your child part needs from me or wants to ask for just now?’ I nodded and said, ‘I want a hug.’ She asked if I wanted a sitting down hug or a standing up hug and I said, ‘I wish you had a sofa!’ I don’t know how a sitting down hug would work. I told her I couldn’t be bothered standing up but I did eventually and we stood facing each other and I put my arms round her waist as she wrapped her arms firmly around my back. She rocked gently from side to side which felt so soothing and she quietly said, ‘I want that little girl to know that I am so proud of her. I know that was very hard and it hurt so much but she stayed with it and was very brave. I want her to know that I am glad she’s here and that I could be here with her… can she hear me?’ I nodded and whispered thank you. She said, ‘you are so very welcome’.

When I was sitting back down I said that I really do believe the kids would be better off without me. I said, ‘I know I might not feel like this tomorrow and that you will say they need me but it really feels very true to me right now.’ She said, ‘I know, the feelings are valid and real. This is why it’s so important that you do what you’re doing. Well done for staying with the feelings and talking through them. The thoughts need to be brought into the light and dissected or they will grow and eat you up inside. You are doing the best thing by talking about it all. And you’re not going to like this… but this is one of the main differences between you and your mum… you talk about this with me, you’re not burdening your kids with it like your mum did.’

I said, ‘I know that I cycle round these same things over and over, it must drive you crazy. It’s just you say all these positive things but I know the truth. I know that I shouted at my kids last night and yes I went in and apologised later but I shouldn’t be doing it in the first place and then going back in just feels so fucking desperate, pathetic, like I’m this attachment wounded freak going back to her pleading… ‘do you still like me?’ it’s so needy, I just feel like I’m going to pollute her with my attachment shit you know?’ Anna said, ‘Because you’re in pain Lucy. Your child is talking to her child. Your child sees what she never had and it hurts and she lashes out then she realises it’s not her fault that’s she has what you never had so she apologises to make things right.’ That made me feel like I could cry again. She asked if that sounded accurate and I nodded. She said, ‘when you were younger bedtimes were not good.’ I said no and angrily recalled how empty and hollow and alone bedtimes were. She said, ‘and that’s so fucking shit. You deserved so much more. It hurts like hell.’ We sat for a minute with this thought and this heaviness and then she said quietly, ‘I think we will leave that there for now, if that feels okay. We have ten minutes left.’ I nodded.

We talked a little about the weather and then Anna said, ‘How did it feel to that small part of you, to have me sitting with you through that?’ I said it felt okay. Driving away I thought about how terrifying it felt. Total blind panic when I felt the crying bubbling up. It was okay in the fact that I want her to be there and I actually wanted her to hold me when I cried but there was also terror there and I wanted her to not be there or I wanted to not be there.

She then said something about tomorrow being an easier day for me at work and I nodded and said, ‘Wow! You have such an amazing memory.’ She said, ‘Hmmm sometimes…’ and I said, ‘Well you listen, really carefully… and that is so meaningful to me.’ She kind of had like wet eyes (I wish there was a better way to describe it… she looked moved?) and said, ‘it is so very meaningful to me that you notice that.’ We looked at each other for a bit. I was sitting cross legged facing her playing with my scarf on the arm of the sofa. I sort of exhaled very loudly and said, ‘that was so fucking hard.’ And she said, ‘yes and you stayed with it. Well done. Look after yourself over the next few days. Go home tonight and cuddle up with Luna… or Adam if he’s lucky! Just relax and be kind to yourself.’

She then said, ‘is there anything your child would like to check with me before you go? Anything she’d like to ask me that she might worry about before we next see each other?’ I studied her face trying to read her mind to decipher what she might mean and I turned inwards as much as possible to see if there were any unresolved fears. I smiled eventually and said, ‘no… actually… I think I know we’re okay!’ She smiled and nodded. We hugged again and said goodbye.

Is this what fine feels like?

Exploring my deep need for connection.

I’m in this strange state and I’m not sure how to describe it… I don’t know if everything is just ‘fine’ and not triggered and I’m very adult and okay just now or if I’m dissociative and shut off and numb. I’ve been super irritable with my family recently so I’m not completely numb… no idea but anyway – here is a very adult seeming session…

After my last session I sent Anna a text on Saturday evening at 9pm saying…

Sorry to text late. I know you won’t reply straight away. Please can we have a quick phone call at some point, before Saturday? Lucy

She replied Sunday morning saying…

Hi Lucy. I don’t have any free evenings this week to speak before Sat, however, could speak for 10 mins at 11am today. Would this help? Anna

I then said…

Hi Anna,
I really appreciate you offering me a time on your day off. That’s really kind of you.
I’ve figured out what was going on for me and so won’t need a call now.
Basically I was really worried because I didn’t feel as close a connection with you yesterday and left feeling so much worse than I’ve felt for the past two weeks. I thought something had changed with you and how you feel about me but I journaled about it last night and I’ve woken up with a different perspective. I think unintentionally I was more guarded and the break had maybe made a part of me go into hiding. I’ve decided it’s important even in the sessions where my adult is the one that’s doing all the talking, my child needs to see and feel that we’re ‘okay’ and that might mean you always sitting closer to me or something. It is important but I’m happy to wait and talk about it on Saturday.
Thanks again for offering a call today. It means a lot to me. Hope you have a good first week back. See you on Saturday. Lucy.

She then replied…

Hi Lucy, thanks for text. I’m glad you’re feeling more settled this morning. We can talk on Saturday to ensure that not only your Adult is supported, that your child is not excluded and feels supported also. Take care and hope you’re first week back goes well too. Anna

And I largely spent the week not really thinking about it. I concentrated on my week back at work plus some other things – friend catch ups, spin classes, family stuff, inheritance stuff.

I got to Anna’s and she buzzed me in, I was quite amused as I walked up the stairs thinking about our text interactions and how worked up I’d got. I gave her a smile when I saw her and she gave me a lovely big hug. In that moment I had a really clear understanding in myself that everything is actually okay between me and her and that any time I’ve overly worried about what she thinks of me or that I’ve seen problems between us, it’s actually been a symptom of my trauma and quite clearly transference at play. I wasn’t shaming myself I was just feeling very grounded in that known fact… that these are symptoms that are there to help me understand myself and what I need. It’s like going to a doctor and being ashamed of the pain in your arm that tells you that when you fell the other day you fractured a bone… there’s not really any logic in shaming ourselves for these reactions, fears, anxieties, thoughts and behaviours… they just need to be brought into the light, analysed and looked at with curiosity so they can be worked on and healed. I wasn’t able to heal my relational trauma with the people who caused it so I came to therapy… that is literally the purpose of me going to therapy – to heal it with another attachment figure. So, having that felt sense of understanding helped all the anxiety melt away and I sat down feeling very secure, grounded and adult. Anna asked me how I was doing and I said I thought I was alright. I said, ‘sorry for sending you the messages on Saturday but I really appreciate you offering me a time for a call.’ She had a sort of ‘not phased’ type expression, raised eyebrows and slight smile. She shook her head and told me it was fine and asked me how I was feeling about it all now.

I had a wee think about it then said, ‘I kind of feel like I made a big deal out of not a lot… I talked to some people online who said that they also feel a sort of disconnect in their first session after the holidays and I guess I was reading a lot into these micro expressions… you know when I gave myself time to journal the session out it all came back to me, all the things we’d talked about. I realised it was actually a really useful session, we talked a lot about some very useful things you know?’ Anna sort of interrupted (she’d been nodding and slightly smiling in agreement the whole time), ‘it was a good session, a lot covered. How you felt when you left is very important too though and I wonder if there’s something we can do during this session to ensure your child doesn’t feel left out at all.’ I said, ‘I mean, at the moment I just feel totally fine and happy with this… but I know when I leave that’s when I will feel it.’ she asked specifically if there is anything we can do to help my child feel acknowledged in the session. I said, ‘it definitely feels better when you sit beside me.’ so she got up and sat beside me… just like that. No arguments, no shaming, no questions. I wish I could go back in time and tell myself two years ago that it’s going to be okay to ask for what I want! That, ‘yes, she will sit beside you, yes she will give you hugs and no she wont shame you for asking and yes even if there’s something she can’t give you, she’s going to sit with you in your pain of it all because she’s on your side!’

That reminds me of a dream I had last night. Basically, I was sitting on a wall beside the sea… one of my happy places. The water was wild and the weather crisp and bright. Then I saw ME from maybe 8 years ago walking towards me. I welcomed that Lucy over to come and sit with me on the wall and I said to her, ‘I know you’re in so much pain… I know, I can feel it… I know it hurts, everything hurts. Your body is sore, your heart is sore, you carry all this worry and pain… I’m so sorry you’re hurting so much. I want you to know that it gets easier, the load gets lighter, you do work to heal yourself and it gets better. You are stronger than you think. Not only are you able to carry this load but you’re also strong enough to start unpacking it and letting it go.’ The Lucy from 8 years ago was crying and actually by this point lying on the wall sobbing. I sort of rubbed her hand and got up and walked away. I totally forgot to tell Anna about the dream but it felt very profound and like some deeper understanding of things had shifted in me.

Back to the session… Anna was sitting beside me now and I said I didn’t really know what I wanted to talk about because there were lots of little things I wanted to cover from the week but also wondered if it would be better to just talk about the actual therapy and my feelings here (gestured to the room). She said, ‘take a minute to check in with yourself and see what comes up, its important that all parts of you have a chance to be here today, we’ve got time to check in.’ I nodded and said, ‘can we just talk about all the little things and see where that goes?’ she nodded and smiled.

I started to explain the situation with my grandpa’s will and how he had left me my grandmas jewellery as he knew I am sentimental and like things with meaning and family history. We talked a bit more about how emotional I felt at looking at and trying on her rings, her wedding ring… all of the memories tied up in the jewellery. I tried to explain exactly what it all meant to me, ‘when I was younger if I ever was allowed to try my mum’s jewellery on, her rings would only go half way down my chubby fingers. She’s a different build to me, her whole family are petite and I don’t look anything like them. I have a different completion and hair colour to my mum… I never felt like I knew where I came from… as if I was adopted or something. When I tried my grandma’s rings on (paternal grandmother) and they fit me, I felt this wave of belonging wash over me. Like in that moment I could see my lineage, I could see where I am from… if that makes sense.’ Anna said, ‘yes, that’s beautiful and very special. Your grandpa held you in mind when he left you that jewellery in his will. AS I’m imagining you trying those rings on… it reminds me of Luna and the work you’re doing to connect to your inner child, that deep connection to yourself and to those who love you. It grounds you.’ There was a moment where we just sat and kind of contemplated that.

I said, ‘oh so actually I talked to my dad a couple days after my last session and told him that I wasn’t really enjoying my job anymore and thought about studying something else and he was really encouraging and basically told me it was a great idea! Totally different to the way the conversation went the last time.’ Anna sort of laughed and threw her hands in the air and jokingly said, ‘wait, what? Can you just say that again while I record you!’ we laughed about the complete 180 my dad had taken and I then said, ‘but in that moment I realised you know, our parents aren’t a finished article, I mean, he was inspired by me when I was working with Paul and he actually got me to ask Paul for a recommendation for a psychologist and he’s been doing his own work… you know our parents are a work in progress too… something he said or did 8 years ago he might regret or want to change or respond differently this time round, and he did change. I didn’t remind him of the conversation we had back then but it was great to have a retake!’ Anna said, ‘of course you didn’t remind him, that’s not your style, you wouldn’t deliberately shame someone or point out their short comings, you’re very sensitive to people’s feelings.’ I love it when she says things like that, she reframes something to show the side to me that she sees.

Anna then said, ‘so have you an idea of what you might like to study? Something that would excite you, that if you decided to go for it you would want to keep looking it up and researching it..?’ I said, ‘the only thing I’ve felt that about in recent years is psychology stuff. I spend so much time reading and researching stuff to do with mental health and trauma.’ Anna said, ‘so would you like to take that further?’ I said, ‘hmmm well no there’s the voice there saying, ‘you’re not good enough,’ and also – I’m only obsessed with the psychology stuff in a selfish way, it’s all about me and my self development just now… I’m trying to think why that’s a negative thing, it is though…’ Anna said, ‘well, firstly we know what we say to the inner critic when she pops up! Secondly, rather than criticising yourself for the reasons you got into psychology, I would look at it as a positive thing. When we completely immerse ourselves in something, that’s when we achieve what we’re aiming for and you have done exactly that, you’ve completely immersed yourself in this work, the psychology, all the reading, all the journaling, that immersion is the key to your success, that’s why you are doing so well. You are dedicated to getting better and it’s happening.’

I said, ‘when I was at work on Monday, I thought about how I was probably doing myself a bit of a disservice last week when I was going on about me being incompetent.’ She chuckled and gave a little nod and raised eyebrows. I continued, ‘I did what you suggested though. I thought about what the kids were getting out of the lesson, how they would view it… and yeah, they were absorbed, they were learning, they seemed calm and like they felt safe and happy. But I don’t know, it’s like I find it boring or something, there’s nothing engaging me in the job anymore and I think that’s what makes me lazy and take short cuts and easy options, then those easy routes perpetuate the laziness. You know?’ She asked me about areas of my job I’ve talked about that she knows I liked and wondered aloud what I could do to ensure I have more of what I enjoy. She said, ‘you were 18 when you started teacher training and a lot has changed for you.’ I nodded and explained, ‘back then I was just desperate for order and security and discipline and boundaries. I needed to feel safe and school was always that for me. There would be a timetable..’ she interrupted and said, ‘and it happened!’ and I said, ‘yeah, unlike at home where they would say one thing but a completely different thing would happen, it was chaos at home and I needed order.’ Anna said, ‘but now you’ve created that safety and order in your own home and with your own relationships and you know how to ensure discipline and boundaries are held in your life, you don’t need that anymore. It perhaps feels safer to take risks? You have the security of your job, you know it’s there… now you can risk some making a change?’ I was very pensive at this point, a lot of looking around the room, deep inhales, nodding, thinking. There were a few moments where I started to speak but then she would speak and not let me interrupt her. After the third time she said, ‘sorry but this is very important… we’re onto something here…’ she was energised and seemed quite excited by this thread that we were on. She said, ‘You know this is the key I think. Yes, the children in your class are learning, they’re engaged and stimulated but your child isn’t. Your child is saying, ‘what about me? I want to learn new things, I want to explore and be stimulated and stretched, there’s more to me than this!’ does that resonate?’ I was like, ‘WOW!’ Just sat there nodding and smiling and saying, ‘wow, yes…’ she smiled and calmly said, ‘exciting times!’ I said, ‘hmmm you’ve definitely given me a lot to think about.’

We talked about a few more things that I can’t remember now then towards the end I asked if we just had five minutes left and she looked at her watch and said, ‘no we have thirteen minutes!’ and smiled. I said, ‘okay… I’m going to say something that we will definitely need to come back to because there’s more to it than this…’ she nodded me on. I said, ‘so, yesterday I looked up Paul online again for some unknown reason.’ I sort of glanced at her with a kind of cheeky, ‘oops’ expression and she had a kind of ‘what are you like’ expression. I said, ‘I wanted to see if he was still practicing. Then immediately I noticed that they’ve put a new photo up of him and it made me cry instantly. Like total sadness and grief. He looked so different, older obviously and I don’t know, I think it highlighted to me that I haven’t seen him in so long, over 4 years and he’s changed and…’ Anna interrupted and said, ‘and you’ve changed a lot and he’s not witnessed that change.’ I said, ‘YES! That too! Like I’ve often thought I’d love to book in with him and go through to his city just to show him how much better I am, how much I’ve changed. But it wouldn’t be the same.’ She agreed it wouldn’t be the same and I said something about how I do still occasionally look him up but don’t stalk him nearly as much as I used to. She said, ‘you use the word stalk quite a lot, do you really think it’s stalking? Or is that a word you’re using because you’re ashamed?’ I felt a flash of panic and said, ‘yeah, it’s the shame… I mean I don’t think it’s dangerous what I’ve done but it wasn’t necessary you know… um…’ I started to feel a bit spacey I think because she had picked up on the word ‘stalk’ and I was worried she would be thinking I’m a danger to her or something. I said, ‘so the other times I’ve used the word has been when I talked about looking at your picture? But that’s different…’ she said, ‘yeah I got the feeling you were looking at the photo for comfort?’ I said, ‘yeah but that in itself is weird, me sitting on my own in a room looking at your photo… what makes it stalkery is that you’re not doing the same! Paul’s not looking me up on facebook, you guys aren’t obsessing about me and my life outside the therapy room but I’m trying to find every piece of information I can… and it’s not things you’ve offered me, I’m looking for it… that’s just not okay!’

Anna thought about it and said, ‘so what drives you to look at Paul’s picture now?’ I said, ‘I still fucking miss him, there’s still a huge attachment there, it hurts… it’s like self harm actually.’ I looked at her and I could tell by her tiny change in expression that this was not something she expected me to say, I went on, ‘I’m looking at a photo of a man who left me, he chose to leave, I still want to know him and he got up and left the city we were working in… looking at pictures of his face or his family is like rubbing salt in this very painful wound of mine and saying, ‘you’re not part of this and you can never be part of it!’ she said, ‘hmmm yeah I think there’s some really important, big stuff here that we can unpack and work our way through.’ I said, ‘it feels different with you, I mean Paul was so shit at hiding stuff, he had so much of his life online it was super easy to find and I saw pictures of his kids, political stuff that he posted and all sorts… I’m really glad there’s like NOTHING to find about you online!’ I laughed and then sort of flashed a glance at her and she smiled. PHEW… she’s not pulled out her personal alarm yet! I said, ‘I feel like with Paul I was very naïve and young and it was all teen feelings, I wanted him to be my dad so much and I just wanted to fully absorb myself in his life. He didn’t have strong boundaries and so I sort of ran with that! But with you, I’ve known where I stand from the start, I don’t want to be part of your family, what I want is more time in this room with you! I love being here (I panicked coz I mentioned the L word so I backtracked) well I don’t love it but I like how being connected to you makes me feel and so uh… I mean if I could I’d have like four sessions a week with you in this room, boundaried and safe and protected… but with Paul it was different I really pushed to see how much he’d let me away with, how much of his life could bleed into the room…’ she said she was interested to hear how I talk about the online investigating as a form of self harm and how she sees it as an attempt of my inner child trying to feel the connection. I said I wasn’t alone in this and that there are loads of us attachment wounded clients sitting behind our screens trying to get a behind the scenes view of the lives of our therapists. She said, ‘it makes sense to me, you are looking for a deep connection… the connection is so important to you because it helps you feel safe.’ She then related that back to the stuff about our previous session, the texts, my grandma and work, that feeling a deeper connection is a core value of mine and a way that my inner child feels seen and safe and held. I said, ‘so you don’t think it’s weird and unhealthy?’ she said no and I pulled a face at her with a raised eyebrow because I was not convinced by her tone of voice. She then said, ‘well no I don’t think it’s weird however I also think it’s a roundabout way of trying to get a need met and it would be good to explore it further so we can really get to the core of the need so you no longer feel like hurting yourself in this way.’ I took an uncomfortably massive deep breath that felt unnatural but happened spontaneously and we both kind of laughed and I said, ‘can’t wait for that chat!’

I felt a need to check that we were still okay but then I took a moment while we were talking about the excessive amount of rainfall we’ve had today to really observe her and I could see she was relaxed and being friendly and familiar with me. If she was worried or uncomfortable she would have said something I think… although my inner critic just handed me an image of her processing the session later and deciding she needs to reconsider working with me. Inner critic – fuck off! Anna… if you’re psychic… please just seek supervision about this if it makes you at all uncomfortable because as you would say, this is all just part of the work!

Healing My Trust Wound

*My trust wound tells me other people are not safe. It tells me that I will be hurt and abandoned by people who are important to me. It triggers a very strong instinct to protect myself. This feels safe but it also shuts down connection. This results in a sense of rejection and abandonment because I don’t let people in. This proves my theory that people will hurt me and aren’t to be trusted.*

With the help of a lot of amazingly insightful people, my reaction to yesterday’s session now makes a lot more sense.

I have a very sensitive trust wound that is massively triggered by my attachment with Anna. (A really useful thing I learned is that we have different attachment styles with different people, what triggers me with certain people is not an issue with others… this seems obvious now but it kind of blew my mind!). Deep down inside me I still believe Anna will hurt me or leave me (to simplify things she triggers my mother wound – big time). Despite my adult managing to form a trusting connection with her, there is still a lot more work to do. The parts that hold most of the trauma went into hiding over the holidays. Which is why I felt mostly secure and calm. The night before my session, the young parts felt very excited about seeing Anna again (maybe because that is the only time they are fully seen). Then when I (we?) got to her office, in a millisecond without me even realising, the protective part of me switched in.

As a very insightful person commented on my previous post – Little Lucy hid behind Adult Lucy’s legs as the adult took over. ‘I’ll go first to check she’s still a safe person…’ then Anna and Adult Lucy got carried away with all the chat about work etc and Little Lucy got left behind, forgotten about. It wasn’t until I was out at my car again (safe) that I felt her ache and longing. But I interpreted that as, ‘I imagined the connection, Anna never cared about me, this is just her job and I am just her client and she just uses techniques to trick me into thinking she cares about me… I’d be a fool to fall for it and let her in!’ This brought on the panic and disappointment… hello inner critic!

Realising that I’d reverted back to being guarded reminded me that the softer, younger parts of me desperately need physical evidence of safety before they can get their needs met. I felt better knowing that Anna was probably responding to my outer displays of a need for protection by holding back a bit to ensure I felt safe… except it had the opposite affect. When Anna replied to my text offering me a phone call it provided evidence that she does care. I told her I didn’t need a call after all. I said, ‘I was really worried because I didn’t feel as close a connection with you yesterday and left feeling so much worse than I’ve felt for the past two weeks. I thought something had changed with you and how you feel about me but I journaled about it last night and I’ve woken up with a different perspective. I think unintentionally I was more guarded and the break had maybe made a part of me go into hiding. I’ve decided it’s important even in the sessions where my adult is the one that’s doing all the talking, my child needs to see and feel that we’re ‘okay’ and that might mean you always sitting closer to me or something. It is important but I’m happy to wait and talk about it on Saturday.’ She replied saying. ‘I’m glad you’re feeling more settled this morning. We can talk on Saturday to ensure that not only your Adult is supported, that your child is not excluded and feels supported also. Take care and hope you’re first week back goes well too.’

I’ve learned that when my trust wound is triggered, I get very protective and I am almost blind to the reality of the situation. I shut people out, the inner critic makes me believe no one cares and I panic because I feel alone and rejected. The thing that I did differently (provoked by a lot of awesome people sharing their perspective on what was happening) is that I reached out to Anna, I took a leap into trust-ville and explained what was going on. Which gave her the opportunity to prove to me that she is still here, she does still care and she is willing to help me work through this. I didn’t abandon myself… I was my own advocate. There is no way I could have done something like this a year ago. I was too frightened to be that vulnerable. This platform has enabled me to share (anonymously) my experience which has shown me I’m not alone in my experience. It’s also invited other people’s perspectives in which has given me a fresh insight. I’m feeling super proud and super grateful right now!

Disturbing the Sediment

Therapy Shakes the Shit Out of Your Snow Globe

I don’t even know how to write all this out. I’m fairly confused by how I’m feeling just now but I’m going to attempt to organise my thoughts here. My main feelings running up to this morning’s session today were positive – I was excited to report back to Anna how well I’d done over the Christmas holiday… fuck though… where do I start with how differently I feel now compared to my naive anticipation last night? I was feeling so good last night. Directly after my session I tried to tune in to my body and what came up was panic, disappointment, confusion, worry. I’ve come to the conclusion that going to therapy is a bit like shaking up a glass of water and glitter… a snow globe or maybe more like a Mason jar that was used to collect water from a dirty river decades ago. Shaking it up disturbs all the sediment that’s been lying at the bottom unnoticed for years, it makes it super hard to see things clearly and god knows how long it will take to settle back down. It will never settle the same way again.

About an hour before my session I had proper IBS symptoms. Not just my normal pre-session anxiety. I had intense cramps, complete evacuation a number of times (every time I ate or drank something) and nausea to the point where I thought I might have a sickness bug. It lasted up until twenty minutes before the session (thank the lord for supermarket toilets) and thankfully it’s stopped now so I’m fairly certain it was a body response or body memory… somatic expressions or whatever. It was the worst it’s ever been. I’m trying to analyse this and I do wonder if the stronger my attachment to Anna grows, the stronger the pendulum swings in the opposite direction when it comes to anxiety, nerves, fear – who knows… but must it really hurt this much? It’s like punishment for allowing my heart to love and let love in. I let my guard down and the pain floods in.

It’s not that the session wasn’t good, it was. We talked about a lot of really important things. But there is something that there are no words for that was missing. It’s a deeper connection, a psychic sense between us, an energy that wasn’t there. I don’t know if I was blocking it or wasn’t inviting it in or if she was feeling differently to how she felt before Christmas… did I imagine the connection?  I felt like there was a space between me and her that I can’t express. A bit like we had erased the past two years worth of ‘getting to know each other’ stuff and we were right back at first session level. At one point she said, ‘it’s not my job to sit and judge you, it’s my job to help you figure out how you feel about yourself then help you view things in a different way,’ – writing it out there it sounds supportive but at the time it just felt generic. It felt like the kind of thing she said in the very first session… I felt like saying yes I know ANNA I know this is your job. I had been talking about how dissatisfied I am with my job at the moment and that it’s felt like this for some time. I told her I was ashamed to tell her how little effort I put into the job these days. That the perks of the job are the short days, long holidays and relatively decent pay. I told her I felt like her opinion of me was high and I didn’t want to disappoint her. That’s what prompted her little speech about it not mattering what she thought of me. Except it does matter, it matters to me… and I want her to have feelings about the things I tell her. (oooh… I want her to have high opinions of me, I don’t want her to feel distain for my lack of enthusiasm for the job… ouch). I don’t want her to sit all the way over there coldly expressing that she doesn’t give a shit if I put effort into my job or not. She didn’t say this of course, I think I’m angry. I didn’t feel a connection with her and now I feel like I’m falling down a rabbit hole. I miss her now whereas last night I didn’t feel this longing. Part of me wants to text her asking for a phone call and part of me wants to tell her I’m never going back.

A bit later Anna told me she thinks my perfectionism made me overachieve at work before I had kids and since having kids my perfectionism and ‘not enough-ness’ has been transferred to parenting so I probably now have an average level of drive and achievement in my career compared to before. I said I wasn’t sure about that and she said, ‘shall we just let that sit there then?’ She asked me to think about the kids I work with and what they think of me. I said, ‘they love me but they love all their teachers!’ She said, ‘they wouldn’t love you if you were a dragon.’ I said, ‘…but they might still love me if I’m incompetent!’ I had an angry tone and she looked at me for a bit. I looked away… I found eye contact really hard today I’m realising. The rare moments that I did look at her it was as if her face was unfamiliar to me. I then said, ‘you don’t just get nice teachers and dragons… I could be liked by the kids and totally fucking incompetent.’ She said, ‘so you think you’re incompetent?’ I gave her a comparison of what management might have observed in my lessons ten years ago compared to now. She wondered aloud if the job itself, the standards, management moderation, government pressures all encourage perfectionism and unrealistic high standards. She encouraged me to think about how the children in my care experience me and what they get out of their lessons. She gave me that task for this week in fact. The first week back after the holiday – rather than thinking of all the things I’m not doing and all the ways I’m failing, I’ve to find enjoyable parts to the day and think about what the kids are getting out of it. I said I would do that.

I told her I’d been feeling a dissatisfaction around my job for a while now, years actually. I said, ‘I decided I wanted to be a teacher when I was 18… I’m 36 now, a lot has changed. Teaching has changed enormously and I have changed – beyond recognition. The things I valued and wanted and needed from life back then are different now… I want something different.’ She asked me if I had an idea of what I might like to explore and I couldn’t think. Looking back I think I dissociated at this point, froze, numbed out, mind went blank. I didn’t notice it in the session but now I am typing this up I know I have things I could have told her about that I am interested in but I was afraid to share any of it. I didn’t want to share these things with her in case she thought it was silly or not a good idea. I told her I’d thought about studying again, retraining or furthering my qualifications but not sure in what. I told her about some of the worries I have about money… my income being limited with no chance of promotion or overtime pay… childcare costing a fortune. I feel trapped in this situation. I think I started to space out here as well. She looked at me with a sort of shock/worry face in resonance when I talked about how little I earn compared to the necessary outgoings I have along with the desire to buy a house with no way of seeing that happening soon. I said, ‘but you know I’m not happy anywhere… not happy at work, not happy at home, maybe it’s inside me – I just don’t feel happy in here.’ I put my hand on my chest and she said, ‘did Tom say that to you?’ I looked puzzled and thought for a bit, I said I didn’t think so and she said, ‘it just doesn’t sound like the sort of thing that you would say, I wonder if those are someone else’s words.’ Immediately, without even engaging my brain I said, ‘those are my dad’s words. Fuck. Fuck sake… my dad’s said that to me… oh my god you’re good!’ she laughed and I shifted in my seat, took my shoes off and sat cross legged in my chair. I went on… ‘I’ve been feeling like this on and off for years. About 7 years ago I met dad on his lunch break, My daughter was in the high chair, she must have been one and a half… I had been working with Paul just a couple of months, I told dad that I’d lost my love of the job, didn’t want to be a teacher anymore, couldn’t imagine doing it until I’m 67 years old, it feels like a prison sentence…’ he said to me, ‘you’re just like your mother, she was exactly like that, she was never happy, always changing jobs, always wanting to move house, never satisfied, she could never be satisfied!’ Anna stopped me and said, ‘Lucy, I am so sorry that your dad said that. It was nothing to do with your mum, it was about you and I’m so sorry he made it about your mum.’ I said, ‘yeah I was so angry with him I got up and gathered all the baby things up, put her on my hip and told him I am nothing like my mother and that it was the most insulting thing anyone had ever said to me, then I left.’ She said, ‘well done! I’m so glad you said that, well done!’ I said, ‘I talked to Paul about it and he said, ‘what an arse, you’re not like your mum at all, I could have told you in the first session that would be the worst thing anyone could ever say to you, why couldn’t he have just said to you that you can do anything you put your mind to…’ Paul was very supportive.’ Anna said, ‘good, I’m glad, he’s right you can do anything you put your mind to.’ I said, ‘that’s not exactly true though is it, I need an income, there are restrictions…’ she tried to help me see that limiting my thoughts with negative self opinions aren’t ever going to help me make positive changes. I think I felt angry at this point too, I had my arms folded… i don’t like when she doesn’t agree with me. I don’t know what was going on. As I’m typing it all out I am connecting with Anna’s care and attentiveness but I didn’t feel it in session at all. It’s like I was determined to not let her in. Why was I protecting myself so ferociously from her?

At the start of all of this I said I was dreading going back to work on Monday and she said, ‘tell me about it, we all dread going back to work!’ and I said, ‘hmmm… sorry!’ she immediately said, ‘no I don’t mean this, I mean the day job.’ I am so intrigued by what she does as her day job…. Anyway… I talked about how my standards had dropped so much at work, I said, ‘realistically it isn’t good enough, and I know that’s like the perfectionists number one catch phrase but I am under achieving in all areas of my life.’ Anna started to say something about how I mark success and I interrupted her and said, ‘actually I can hear a compassionate voice… weirdly… actually saying in my head that of course I’m not the same teacher now as I was before I had kids. Pre-kids I could make resources and mark work until midnight if I wanted. When I had kids everything changed… and now I’m doing THIS (gestured to the room) and this is fucking hard and it zaps so much of my brain power and my energy, of course I don’t have the kind of energy and enthusiasm I used to have for my job… I’m doing two more jobs on top of my teaching job – being a mum and going to therapy!’ Anna was smiling and looked kind of emotional. Later she revisited this part of the session and said she was really moved that I was talking about a compassionate voice in my head, she was really pleased I was able to feel that way about myself. I said, ‘yeah I really felt a need to defend myself. I dunno where that came from!’ She talked about how I am now in touch with my child and so I can feel the desire to take care of myself. Again, I think I felt angry about this but don’t know why. Maybe it’s not anger. Maybe I’m misinterpreting the feeling. Perhaps it’s a sense of fear and need for protection. Because it appears to be happening at times when she has really connected to the core of me. Like I’m feeling threatened by her seeing me. Maybe I did disconnect from her through the holiday and needed some distance in this first session back. Despite thinking the opposite was true. Or maybe this is a parts thing… conflicts within.

Early on in the session we talked about the break and I said I’d enjoyed spending so much time with Adam and the kids. But then I said it was a bit intense spending so much time together and that Adam was so needy. I said I was noticing more and more that I am avoidant… that I avoid these feelings, I avoid connection. She said, ‘you used to avoid it.’ and I said, ‘well I still do with some people.’ She said, ‘you learned to avoid feelings and connections with people for good reason!’ I said, ‘yeah Adam really triggers my need to pull away because he’s so needy, he wants constant reassurance, constantly asking me if I love him… and I know we’ve talked about this before and you reminded me that I know what it feels like to need reassurance but it’s like… I resent having to constantly reassure him!’ she said, ‘do you think he ever feels like that about you?’ and I thought about it and said, ‘hmmm, maybe… hmmmm…. No I don’t think so because he doesn’t have the push pull, he’s just pull, pull, pull… so when I’m needy and want reassurance he just laps it up, he fucking loves it because he doesn’t need to ask me if I love him!’ she said, ‘so it satisfies his anxieties when you’re anxious, he doesn’t need reassurance because you are showing him you need him’ as I’m writing this out I can see that I basically handed her that one but at the time it’s like I hadn’t even heard myself so when Anna said that to me it was like my mind was blown. Anna asked if I need reassurance from him and I said, ‘NO! He doesn’t give me a chance to worry about whether he loves me or not. He’s all over me all the time constantly telling me he loves me and that I’m beautiful… I know he loves and needs me… he doesn’t trigger my abandonment fears because I don’t need to second guess him.’ I realise now that I’m writing this out that I am so grateful that he doesn’t play the push pull games that I seem to cycle. It is annoying that he’s so needy and requires so much reassurance from me but at least he’s consistent. I do wish he was more confident and knew in himself that I love him but I am glad he doesn’t play games with me.

We talked more, earlier in the session, about what I might like to do instead of teaching and I was talking about friends suggesting I do something to do with my art. I said I didn’t think I was good enough to actually charge money and she pulled a face and said something about me definitely being good enough. I don’t know if she’s ever expressed an opinion about my art, maybe she has, I feel like she hasn’t said it’s good… anyway… I said that turning your passion into a job has the risk of sucking the joy out of it. I told her about a mini business I set up during my maternity leave with my daughter and how it turned into a very stressful thing. I felt awkward and nervous telling her about it, as if it was suddenly hard again to tell her things I’ve done in my life and what I have achieved. I said that in the end it was all just a distraction from the post natal depression and after I finished talking Anna said, ‘I just want to acknowledge that I know you’ve said before you think it would be useful to talk about what it was like when you first became a mother but you’ve never called it post natal depression before… I want you to know that I heard you and we can revisit this when we have the time.’ I nodded and went into a little more detail about how little support I had back then and how little I understood what was going on for me.

Then, randomly, ten minutes to go I said that this new year had held some painful memories for me. 20 years since the millennium. 20 years since the worst two years of my life. 20 years since my dad left. It was all fairly heavy in my heart over the holiday period. She said we could focus on that too. She described an analogy of spaghetti junction and that we could go off on tangents and come round again over and over talking about the same things but each time it brings something new into our awareness.

I’m going to talk to her about this cycle that I seem to be in. Feeling connected, feeling secure then losing that feeling and needing reassurance. I don’t understand it.

Right at the end of the session I said, ‘I saw Frozen 2 the other day, it’s a great film you should go see it!’ I don’t know how to describe her facial expression… it was maybe blank… disinterested… which is very unlike her and as I am sitting here mindreading her I’m wondering if she actually did go to see it with one of her kids or her whole family or something and didn’t want to let on… she asked me why I liked it and I told her it was a journey of self discovery and a story of finding your own power. But I was flattened by her lack of interest and I mumbled and fumbled and started getting my shoes on. She had given me a really lovely firm hug at the start and we’d both wished each other happy new year. As I was leaving we hugged again and it felt like I could have stood there for hours letting her hold me. I love how she hugs. It feels intentional, real, purposeful… both arms, full body touching full body. I want more and more and more but I pull back before I’ve even had a fraction of what I need.

And now I am all shaken up. I can’t see through the thick fog of sediment that’s been disturbed and I’m wondering how to make sense of it all and when it will all settle down.

So I’ve texted Anna asking for a phone call. I don’t even know what I will say. I typed up a message that I didn’t send. I could read it to her I guess. Or tell her I don’t need a call after all. This is the message I was going to send before changing my mind and just asking for a call… Anna, I’m so confused by how I’ve been feeling since the session. It’s like I’ve been holding this perfectly clear and settled snow globe all holiday and this morning it got shaken up for an hour and now I can’t see anything clearly anymore and it feels all disturbed and complicated… I now feel less connected with you today than I did before the holiday! I wonder if it’s to do with my adult v child needs. I feel like it was a really useful session and I got a lot of important stuff talked about but I left feeling more needy with this longing to feel closer to you which I now have to hold for a week which is annoying because I felt totally secure in our relationship through the two week break. I need to try to find a way to get those needs met in the session. Maybe I always need you to sit beside me because that seems to satisfy the younger need for reassurance that we’re okay. So no matter what we talk about I have this physical evidence that you feel okay about me. I know I’ve moved away from these kinds of texts but I remember you saying you’re okay with me sending a text. I know you won’t reply. I’d like to be able to put this ‘out there’ knowing we will talk about it on Saturday. Then I will try to just focus on being present at home and at work this week. Lucy

You're important to me too…

It was my grandpas funeral on Wednesday. I had seen Anna the Tuesday night and she had helped me figure things out in my head. She made me feel strong and encouraged me to do what was right for me while tackling a number of difficult family dynamics and requests. I had been really worried about being completely overwhelmed by my emotions on the day and scared that the requests my dad was making of me would become too difficult. I was worried I would let him down. He wanted me to stand in the line outside the church at the end of the service which I have never been able to do at previous funerals. He wanted me to help lower the coffin which just felt completely beyond my capabilities and he wanted me to work the room at the wake and listen to stories of other people’s experiences of my grandpa. I felt under pressure to do all these things but going what I’ve been like in the past, I didn’t think I would manage any of them.

The day itself was hard but I was really pleased with how it all went. We hired a babysitter for when the kids came out of school and so on the way back (across country) from where the funeral was we stopped and had dinner and a couple of drinks before going home. It was actually nice to decompress, I wasn’t ready to be faced with parenting and needed time to just BE with my husband.

On Wednesday evening I sent Anna a message.

Anna,
Thank you so much for all of your words of support and encouragement the past week and for helping me sort out my thoughts and feelings around my grandpa’s death and funeral.
Today was such a beautiful tribute for a well loved man who was highly thought of and valued by so many people. I felt a lot of very intense emotions, I cried a lot as I thought I would.
But I was able to lower the coffin and stand and thank people after the service. It felt right to do that, it was so nice to hear everyone’s stories about Grandpa, so many people loved him.
I just wanted to tell you that I could feel your support all day. I wore my necklace and had my blue heart stone in my pocket and your words ‘be yourself’ in my head.
I just wanted to tell you.
See you Saturday. Lucy.

On the Thursday I woke in a completely different mind space. I felt like everything became very dark and difficult again. I was really short tempered with the kids, didn’t want to see them or spend any time with the family at all, I wanted to just hide away. They were at school most of the day and I didn’t do any of the chores I had planned on doing, to be honest I cant remember what I DID do… a lot of sitting around scrolling on social media trying to find something to hold on to. When the kids came home, they were both bad tempered and because I wouldn’t let them go straight onto the ipad my youngest punched me in the stomach (totally out of character for him) and told me he hated me and didn’t want to be part of this family. Rather than me being able to rise above it I just took it all to heart and stormed off upstairs like a teenager, threw myself on the bed, pulled my hoodie up over my head and cried into my pillow. I wanted to disappear.

At some point Adam came up and sat with me. Rather than telling him to leave like I have in the past, I cried with him beside me. I was cycling through that negative self talk that I have been through in my head a thousand times before and a few times in the therapy room with Anna, but this time I was saying it to Adam (with my face squashed into a pillow)… ‘I’m such a shit mum, the kids deserve someone better, I fucked up the plaster of paris activity the kids wanted to do this morning, it got ruined, it started to set in the bowl and the shapes look shit and crumbly now, they were so excited about it and I messed it up – that’s what my whole childhood was like – looking forward to stuff then it being shit and having to be grateful for the shit. I’m failing at life, I’m such a failure…’ He just sat on the bed next to me as I sobbed. He rubbed my back and stroked my head. Eventually when I took a big breath and calmed a bit he said, ‘that was a really cheap crap craft set no one could have made it any better than you did… and you’re being too hard on yourself, you’re a human being!’ he then said, ‘do you think you’re depressed today because you had a drink yesterday?’ I said defensively, ‘I think I’m depressed today because I buried my grandpa yesterday!’ he said he understood. When I repeated this to Anna she said, ‘I guess it doesn’t really matter why, what matters is that was how you were feeling and you honoured and expressed the feelings.’

A bit later on the Thursday I sent Anna a text asking if I could have a 90 minute session instead of just an hour on Saturday. She replied saying she was sorry but she didn’t have that available. By that point I’d taken myself off to the gym and didn’t feel quite as helpless. I believed that she would have given me the time had she been able to. Friday was a better day, I woke up feeling fine and was far more patient with the kids. I looked back on the previous day and realise just how awful I had felt. In comparison to how I was feeling on Thursday – such a huge difference.

Saturday morning was the last session before the Christmas break and I felt quite nervous driving to the city. I figured it was because I wanted to make sure the session was perfect and took ten minutes prior to my session to think about what I really needed from Anna. I needed connection, that’s all – not perfection, just to feel close to her.

When I went in I gave her a one armed hug because I was carrying my bag with my other hand but then when I was hugging her I really felt the need for a proper ‘holding’ hug so just as we would normally let go I dropped my bag and put my other arm round her. She had begun to let go slightly but then as I hugged with both arms she went in again with a stronger hug. She said, ‘it’s nice to see you’ and I said, ‘you too’. It was so lovely because it showed me that she’s not rushing to get the hug done. She knew it had been a really hard week and I guess she was happy to give me a hug.

When we sat down she said, ‘thank you for your text I really appreciated you telling me about your day on Wednesday,’ she looked kind of emotional and I was wondering if the previous session had been hard or maybe she reread my texts or notes from our last session… I nodded and said I was glad she didn’t mind me texting. She said she was really pleased I’d text. Later on I told her a bit about the funeral and she said she’d been moved to read that I had been able to lower the coffin because she knew I was worried about that. She also apologised for not being able to give me a 90 minutes session and then thanked me for my ‘lovely Christmas card’ with a big smile which was nice. I wish I had talked a bit more about that but I had forgotten I’d given it to her. I wanted to ask if she liked what I’d drawn and if she’d read the back of the card.

I told her that the funeral was really moving, that my dads tribute was amazing and I was really in awe of him for being able to talk about his dad despite it being an obvious struggle for him. I explained that it was really incredible to hear how loved my grandpa was and all the stories of him from so many different people. The woman who walked in front of the hearse (the funeral director) told us she had worked with him before when he was a minister and so it was an emotional job for her that day too. Anna said that was lovely and she sat listening carefully to me as I explained more details of the day and some of the stories people had told me of my grandpa. I explained to Anna that my dad had obviously told the funeral director that I might not want to do the lowering of the coffin on the day because both dad and the lady on separate occasions checked in with me to see if I was okay to do it, which I was. I told her that it felt like the respectful thing to do for my grandpa, after everything he’d done for so many other people, it felt like a privilege to be his granddaughter.

Anna said something like, ‘so it was a good send off but a hard day emotionally?’ I said, ‘I have experienced so many funerals of people very close to me and each time I’ve been overwhelmed by the grief… I thought I was processing the emotions in a healthy way… but actually it was too much for me… this was different. This is the first relative’s funeral since working with you and you know, I’m feeling everything now…’ she nodded encouraging me on. I said, ‘the depth of feelings, it wasn’t overwhelming in the sense that I thought I couldn’t cope but it was devastating – you know I was really in it, I felt like I was fully in my body, like aware of everything, noticed everything… passing the rope between my hands as I lowered Grandpa into the same plot as we buried my grandma 5 years ago but I felt it all this time. I didn’t feel like I was floating away. I don’t know how to describe it but everything felt more real and…’ she said, ‘present? I wonder if what you’re describing is that you’re not as dissociative anymore?’ I felt like mindblown by this, even though it’s obvious and I’ve definitely thought it recently, it just felt so viscerally real in that moment, ‘yes. YES! So much yes… way less dissociative and more present. Wow… and on Thursday when it all really hit me I wished I could switch on the dissociation you know? I wished I could just float away but it doesn’t work that way annoyingly.’ She laughed and said, ‘no, that’s the downside. It’s good that you are more present and don’t feel the need to dissociate away from the feelings anymore but it is fucking agony, I know it feels like it will destroy you at times, I understand, but it does pass, as horrific as it feels in the moment… I mean it’s like everyday life is happening, you could be putting something in the microwave one minute, totally fine and feeling happy and 3 minutes later, the microwave has pinged – you’re flooded, crying your eyes out. That’s grief, it comes in waves.’

I said, ‘yeah… so anyway, that was that!’ which seems to be my go to topic changer when I feel like we’ve spent a bit too long on something that I didn’t want to dominate the whole session with. Anna said, ‘Yeah, so where are you just now?’ I shuffled around and said, ‘well I thought about what I wanted to get out of this session coz obviously it’s the last one before the Christmas holiday and you know the most important thing is that I feel connected to you, which I do so that’s good… um… can you actually sit beside me?’ She nodded and repositioned the chair right beside me, moved the portable heater and settled down.

I explained to Anna what happened on Thursday and that I’d cried with Adam. I said I hadn’t realised how awful and how real the feelings were until I’d got to Friday and I was feeling so much better. I said, ‘you know I invalidate my experience so much when I’m in the middle of feeling shit I feel like I must be making it up or something…’ she said, ‘yes but it’s important to remember that you’re an adult, you don’t need someone else to validate you…’ I sort of glossed over her saying that because it felt a bit rejecting or shaming or something, I’ll need to ask her what she meant. I went on to tell her that on the Friday I thanked Adam for being there for me and for not badgering me with questions or trying to fix anything, just sitting with me through it… no guilt trips. He had said to me that it was okay, that I didn’t need to thank him. I said to him, ‘don’t you wish I was better though? Like not such a fuck up.. I feel like I really failed at parenting yesterday, failed at life actually, don’t you wish I just got on with things…?’ He said he didn’t think I was a failure and that life is just like that sometimes. Anna stopped me as I was explaining this and said, ‘well done Adam’ for being able to support me in a helpful way without being too much or too demanding and she also said, ‘well done’ to me for opening up and letting Adam in when even just earlier in the week I’d told her in made me feel nauseous to think of him comforting me as I cry.

She then said, ‘I think it’s important that at some point we talk about your attitude towards your low feelings… that when you feel low you say you’re a failure, that you’ve failed. We need to work on that.’ I said, ‘but it’s not ideal is it Anna, I’m up in my room crying my eyes out ignoring the kids, not doing the housework, not doing homework, not making the dinner… it’s really not okay!’ Anna said, ‘Lucy! It’s not like you’re doing that every minute of every day. You play with the kids, you take them places, they have food and a lot of fun and laughter… and when you’re struggling, Adam is there to do it. You are not failing them, you’re human..’ I said, ‘but I don’t see other people falling apart like this. In fact the thing that made me cry in the first place was looking out the window and seeing a mum walking her kid home from school outside my window and they were chatting away to each other and she just looked so patient and lovely.’ Anna said, ‘she definitely won’t be like that all the time. People may see you walking outside and think you look like you’ve got all your shit together… we don’t know what is going on for people on the inside or behind closed doors.’ I nodded, I know she’s right.

Side note: I have reflected on this since the session and this is a core belief that will take a lot of work to be properly challenged. ‘I am a failure if I feel things. I am a failure if I get upset. I am a failure if life has to stop so that I can cry/be upset…’ as a kid and teenager I had to cope, I had to keep my feelings and my overwhelm a secret so that everyone continued to tell me I was so brave and so strong and so grown up… if they knew what a failure I was they wouldn’t love me anymore… taking a note of this for work in the new year).

We talked a bit about what I can do over the holidays if things begin to overwhelm me. We listed some things, the blue heart, the necklace (which we were both wearing today), cuddling Luna, going to Adam, talking to friends, writing… Anna suggested I take some time to go outside over the holidays as well, go for a walk before dinner or something. She said, ‘I know you like going to the loch where you live so maybe you could go there and look at the birds, take the kids with you and let them burn off some of their excess energy…’

We had about twenty minutes to go and I said, ‘I had two dreams about you since our last session…’ Anna said, ‘oh that sounds ominous!’ and laughed. I proceeded to tell her about the dreams. Both of them were sessions and they were both realistic, not abstract like a lot of my dreams. Anna said, ‘I don’t really know much about dreams, I don’t analyse them, I know that sometimes with dreams they can be have a great deal of meaning and sometimes not so much.’ I said, ‘okay well I think their meanings are quite obvious… there’s no hidden meanings!’ I explained, ‘the first dream, we were in session, you were sitting next to me and you told me that you were changing your career and that we had 6 sessions to work to an end… I just felt myself totally shut down to you…’ Anna said, ‘okay lets look at that dream for a bit…’ silence… I said, ‘um… well obviously this is a familiar fear…’ she said, ‘yes, so… and how does it apply here, to us now?’ I said, ‘um… well, it was just a dream so it’s not reality but… well I guess I don’t know what’s going on in your life so… it could be in the future?’ She said, ‘yes, it’s just a dream and it’s not reality… I don’t have any plans for stopping. If for some reason we had to stop working together that wasn’t within your control, we would spend a lot of time on working to an end… how does that feel to hear?’ I said, ‘um, well I know it’s meant to be reassuring but it feels scary, I don’t like it… that’s what happens in my dream, that’s what the 6 sessions was all about.’ Anna said, ‘we would have a lot more than 6 sessions, unless it was completely taken out of my control!’ I said that was good.

There was a bit of a pause and I could tell she was thinking. She then said, ‘this feels like that young part, maybe 4, maybe younger… the one who hides behind the chair and peeks out every so often. It may feel okay for your adult but don’t forget your child parts this Christmas. Two weeks feels like a lifetime to a 4 year old and ‘see you next year’ sounds very scary. Little Lucy has been coming out a little more in sessions and maybe she’s scared because just as she’s started to let me in a bit we’re approaching a break. All the things we adults have planned on talking about ‘next year’… I wonder if she needs reassurance? How does that sound?’ I took a big breath and felt such warmth for her. I love how she does this… I said, ‘yes, that could be it… I know I’m meant to say to myself ‘it’s okay, I won’t leave you, I’m always going to be here’… but that’s not what she wants!’ She nodded and said, ‘Remind your child we will see each other again soon and I will not forget about you during the holiday.’ I said, ‘I know that this is just meant to be like a drop in and out type thing… therapy… but it’s not like that for me… the important thing IS the relationship, it’s spending all this time building up trust… and I think coz Paul stopped before I was ready to stop with him… it just feels so important that I get to do this for as long as I need to.’ Anna was listening and nodding and she said, ‘I agree, it’s very important, it’s not a drop in thing… this is how we are working, the relationship is where the work is. The building up the trust, it’s very important.’

Anna asked me how I felt about not having contact over Christmas. I said that I’d been talking to some other therapy goers online about how they feel about Christmas breaks. I said, ‘I don’t find the Christmas break as hard as like when you go on holiday because it doesn’t feel like a total vacuum, I’ll be busy you know? We’re both off, it just feels different… I know that some people feel angry at their therapists for spending time with their families or jealous maybe but I don’t feel like that. Unless it’s very deeply supressed and I’m not aware of it yet, I don’t want to be part of your family, I don’t want to know what you’re doing over Christmas, I like that our relationship exists solely in this room, it feels safe and contained and protected like my sessions are anchors… like between the sessions I’m swimming and sometimes drowning and then you throw me a line or an anchor in the form of a session, sometimes when we have a break the line is pulled further away from me and it gets harder to cope by myself but at least I can see it in the distance… does that make sense?’ Anna said, ‘yes it makes total sense, maybe in the new year we could talk about some of your thoughts of me outside this room or what you’ve thought about my family, what the experience of knowing nothing feels like for you…’ I said, ‘yeah I mean it’s not like I haven’t wondered, I have thought about what your family might be like but maybe it’s because I experienced the opposite with Paul, I know how agonising it is to know about his family and it still hurts to think about his kids… I don’t want that here, you know? This feels more special like it’s just you and me in here…’ I sort of looked at her and smiled a little and she smiled back and nodded. She said it made sense that because I had experienced very loose boundaries with Tom it made sense that I felt comforted and safe within her clear boundaries. As I sit here typing this up I felt a millisecond burst of utter grief when I thought about her cozy at home right now with her family, maybe snuggled up on the sofa altogether laughing or something but the image burst in and out very quickly… I think it is the very efficient protective part of me that’s blocking the thought of her outside my beautifully sterile relationship with her. I can imagine it will be very difficult to talk about this with her but also very interesting.

I then said, ‘so the second dream was also a session in here. In the dream we were sitting next to each other again and I told you that I had been thinking about showing you my um… the scars on my arms and I said that I was annoyed because I wanted you to see them like they were when I was 14 or 15 years old because they’ve healed so well and you can’t really see just how bad it was. So you handed me a red pen and suggested I show you what it looked like back then. So I drew all over my arms where all the cuts used to be with you watching…’ She said, ‘have you been thinking about this recently, showing me your scars?’ and I said, ‘well, not really recently but um… well I do think I’d want to do that at some point you know not with the pen but..’ she interrupted and said, ‘you think you’d want to show me?’ and I said, ‘yeah maybe at some point yeah… but well I guess recently, well on Thursday I was really triggered and um, I guess it’s the inner critic who hands me these images immediately as soon as I’m in that place mentally she’s right there with pictures of blades on my skin like ‘here, try this, it’s your only option, do it, it’ll feel better!’ and I guess I remember the last time I was really badly triggered and I told you I wished I had cut myself so you’d know how shit I’d felt and you said, ‘you don’t need to hurt yourself for me to know how much pain you’re in’ and you know it was so powerful, I even wrote it down, it really touched me and stayed with me, so on Thursday I was thinking…’ she interrupted and said, ‘it’s not your only option anymore!’ and I said, ‘yeah, it’s absolutely not my only option, and also… I have ways I can communicate myself now and you believe me, you understand me and that’s helped me believe me and I understand myself better now…’ she said, ‘and you know how to ask for what you need and you know what you need.’ I smiled at her. ‘So maybe all of that was in my head and that’s why I dreamed it.’ She said we could definitely pick up on this over the next few months.

At the end, when we were doing the usual ‘what are you doing for the rest of the weekend’ chat, I sort of paused and said, ‘um… soooo…. Uhhh I just wanted to say….’ I put my shoes on then awkwardly, while bent over putting my shoes on I thanked Anna for sticking by me the past two years, for her patience, for believing in me. She said, ‘you’re so welcome. Thank you for saying that.’ I said, ‘you know, it’s really important to me, all of this.’ She said, ‘Lucy, I know I am important to you, but you are also very important to me… did that go in? Is everyone listening?’ I laughed and said, ‘a part of me doesn’t believe you.’ She smiled and said, ‘yeah I get that, but I’m not talking to that part! You know, I admire your determination and consistency. You have religiously come back, week in week out, despite how painful this is – because you are dedicated to feeling better… dedicated to working through this. Thank you for letting me come along for the journey!’

She asked me how I was feeling and I said I felt good. I said, ‘you know I think I’m going to be okay, it’s gonna be fine – this break.’ She smiled and it was a sort of calm moment of quiet between us and she said, ‘yeah, I think so too Lucy.’

Going Back to the Start #2

Jan 18th 2018 Session 10

After getting massively worked up this past week (following the last session) and sending Anna the text telling her how I was feeling, I spent the morning feeling so anxious and nervous about the session. Imagined just texting saying I wasn’t going to come. I did go though. Sat in the car for fifteen minutes before my session getting more and more worried. I rang the buzzer and Anna answered quite quickly compared to usual. I was so fucking nervous, my heart was pounding and my breathing all weird. I could barely look at her. She said something about it being really wet today and I muttered that I was going to dump my bag and jacket, which I did, then I went to the toilet.

So the session started with me sitting awkwardly trying to regulate my breathing and Anna asked if she could turn the recorder on. I nodded and she asked how I was. I sort of widened my eyes and shrugged – ‘pretty nervous’ – is all I managed. She said, ‘I just want to start by saying that I was really moved by your email,’ she went on to say how pleased she was that the session had meant so much to me and that it had meant a lot to her too. That really surprised me. She then said, ‘ I was surprised to receive your text, you had sounded so positive in the email. I’d been wondering how you were after the session because you’d said it was an intense session and so I was pleased to get the email and to hear you were doing well.’ I felt really uncomfortable – it’s so hard to trust her. I felt like saying, ‘why are you saying this to me, is this a trick?’ It is so hard to trust anyone. But I held with it. She said that maybe my inner child was getting mad at not getting responses to messages. That it was hard to not get a reply and that it feels like when I was a kid and I’d be really excited about something and it would fall flat or mum wouldn’t share my joy. She said that it’s important she doesn’t reply because I could misinterpret what she writes, that I need to see her and see her face and that the way she is speaking is genuine. That it might not feel authentic if she wrote it in a reply. But that she understands it’s really hard and that it’s okay to be angry about that.

She told me that she was concerned when she received my text and sad to hear I was feeling overwhelmed but also said something about me being careful about how I word things when I’m texting her. She asked what I had meant when I said I thought she would tell me off. I said, ‘it’s not like I literally thought you would tell me off, it’s like I thought anything you say, I wouldn’t believe it was genuine… but I guess I do believe you’re being genuine, but its like I thought you would say ‘thanks for sending the email. I was pleased to read that you felt the session went well, but its probably not a good idea to send emails like that so could we just stick to talking about all this in session’ – and although it’s not directly being told off, it is like a rejection, I would be able to just see it on your face, just a subtle change in the way you look at me or the way you speak, I’d know you were getting sick of me and didn’t want to work with me any more.’

Anna asked me what I had been feeling when I sent the email and I said I’d felt really good, that I was happy and felt good about it all. She said she could sense that. She said my inner child was really excited to be allowed out, to be seen and understood. So what happened..? I said that the inner critic took over – ‘don’t be fucking stupid, she doesn’t really care. She has to care for that hour she works with you but don’t try to infiltrate her life between sessions, she doesn’t want to hear about this between sessions. Like in the sessions it’s just you saying what you need to say to get the client better or something.’ She said, ‘do you think I don’t think about you between sessions?’ I was kind of taken aback by this like my breath was taken. I said, ‘well I kind of didn’t think that you would..?’ she stayed quiet just looking at me and I felt confused and sort of reluctant to ask, but I did ask… ‘do you?’ in a voice that was so much more quiet than I expected. She nodded with an open expression, ‘yes I think about you, wonder how you’re getting on… don’t you work with kids and maybe they tell you something and it makes you think about how they are when you’re at home?’ I said that I did but didn’t think I was worth thinking about. This moment was agony.

I said that I felt the same with Paul, that it’s like – ‘therapist has a set of things they need to say. Say you care or whatever, just to get the client ‘healed’ then you can hurry up and stop working with me.’ she said, ‘well hurrying up is not on the agenda. It’s really important that you tell me when you’re feeling like that.’ I said I felt like I’d been trying to be this ideal client and just to be good and say the right things, that I did find the boundaries hard. I said that I should probably talk more about Paul at some point, because I feel like he was not as boundaried as her. On one hand I liked it and on the other hand I felt like it wasn’t good for me. She made a note of that. I said that although I totally understand why the boundaries are there, that they make total sense and that in a professional sense I am the same with the kids I work with, but that on some other level it hurts… ‘like isn’t there something in transactional analysis about strokes or something and like even a negative response is better than no response at all? So I felt in the past like I might as well just not even bother sending a message if I’m going to get nothing back because it’s worse in some way… why give me the offer of allowing texts if it’s just going to hurt me when you don’t reply?’ she listened and understood but didn’t really answer.

I said I was worried about whether I was distracting us from the main things we’re meant to talk about by making up all these fake issues, that she had asked at one point what we actually talked about with Paul and how it was mainly this kind of thing. Like me emailing him, getting worked up between sessions, talking that through, and how I can see the value of that but also it annoys me I wish I could just get on with the stuff I’m meant to be talking about. She said, ‘but do you think this is all fake? It doesn’t feel fake to me, it feels important and real, you’re not making it up.’ I said, ‘oh no, sorry I guess not… um maybe I mean that its like all invented stuff in my head.’ She said it was okay (as in, don’t apologise) and talked a bit about the restorative relationship and how worthwhile this kind of conversation actually was. She said if she felt like I was getting side tracked from what we had discussed then yes she would bring me back to focus but she feels that all that we discussed so far is definitely worthwhile.

I’m sure the conversation moved on and I was talking about something else when Anna asked directly, ‘so, this has been a hard week, did you cut yourself?’ I couldn’t believe she just came straight out with it. I said, ‘no,’ with a slight smile and shook my head. She sort of looked at me for a while and said, ‘what would cutting have done for you?’ I said, ‘um well one part of me is like working really hard to use everything I’ve learned over recent years to stay grounded and mindful and on top of things and then the inner critic is just like pulling all that down and criticising it all. That side won, I just felt like all the emotions were just so much bigger than me. Like I just couldn’t pull it all together. You know, I have a life I need to get on with, kids relying on me and work and everything, I just know that when I’m struggling like that and I’m way up here, the only way… the quickest simplest way to bring me back down is to cut. It just immediately works. Then I could just get on with life again and be what I need to be. You know? Och I don’t know that sounds really stupid. But that’s just how I felt.’ Anna said, ‘You’re explaining it really well. I understand. I’m really glad you were able to keep yourself safe.’ She said she knew that it was very difficult and that I had obviously made a commitment to telling her when I felt like cutting and she appreciated that I had done that. I said a part of me was like, ‘don’t tell her that! Once you tell her then you won’t be able to actually do it!’ She said something about how I’ve found something that works, that texting her works and stops me from doing it and so for now that’s a good thing. I agreed.

Anna then asked if I did draw to try to help me calm down. Conversation went like this…

Her – ‘did you draw?’

Me – ‘oh, yeah, uh hu’

Her – ‘what did you draw?’

Me – ‘um, well… do you want to see? I have a picture on my phone.’

Her – ‘oh yeah, yes!’

Me – ‘oh my god that makes me feel so nervous, it’s almost worse than sharing the hard stuff!’

Her – ‘yeah, I can understand that!’

… so I got my phone out and got it onto the picture. Anna said that she couldn’t draw for toffee, ‘if that helps you feel any better’. I wish I’d said she just didn’t have the right teacher but I didn’t think quick enough. So I leaned over and passed her the phone. Anna sat and looked at the picture for ages with a smile and said, ‘oh wow! That’s really brilliant! Oh I love it. I love the colours, you have a real talent!’ I felt so awkward by this point and didn’t know where to look – I was sort of smiling and looking around and thanked her and said, ‘it’s so weird I just find this so hard like I don’t know how to take all that I want to leave the room… like I feel like the critical voice is just saying ‘och it’s not that good, nothing special, there’s so much I could change and improve. Don’t be full of yourself.’ Anna said, ‘but whose voice is that?’ I said, ‘hmmm but mum wouldn’t really say that, she would say something like… (closed my eyes to concentrate)… she’d say, ‘oh that’s lovely (in a sickly voice), of course you get your artistic talent from me.’ or something like ‘yeah I could do something like that if I had the right materials or time but I’m too busy doing the housework’ or whatever – you know like taking it away from me.’ Anna said, ‘she effectively is saying that then, by saying you get it from her or that she could do it she’s saying it’s nothing special and taking the pride away from you.’ That made sense to me.

Anna said, ‘That mumma bear stuff really meant something to you didn’t it? It really had an impact!’ I said it did. She said, ‘I hope you’ve got that picture framed on the wall!’ and I told her it was still in the art pad. She suggested I get it printed on a cushion or something and put it on my bed. I quite like that idea, I think I will! Anna then said, ‘it was a really meaningful session for me too, it felt special.’ I said, ‘yeah it did feel meaningful, I felt like um like I was closer to you or you were closer to me or something, like I felt understood by you.’ Anna said, ‘yeah there was a connection, I felt that.’ That was so validating, oh my god – SO AMAZING! I really feel like she actually does care about me and that she enjoys working with me. I can feel something shifting in me… this could be really beneficial for me – this relationship, it feels like it could be a really positive, healing experience. But there’s a fear there, it’s frightening to let go and trust.

Anna asked what kind of conversations I was having in my head with her and I talked about worrying that she would be annoyed with the email. I talked about how I really wanted to work on being authentic and that with Paul I spent so much time shitting myself about the work we were doing together that I would go over and over stuff through the week and rehearse what I might say so that I would feel the emotions at home by myself, maybe cry on my own, then by the time I spoke to him I didn’t feel anything anymore. That I don’t want to do that with her. She talked about how it makes sense that I was doing that because I didn’t want to be blindsided. She said, ‘It’s like an interview where you learn what you want to say and it feels good but you’re knocked sideways when you get a question you weren’t expecting.’ She said that in Transactional Analysis they work on contracts so each session I decide what we will focus on for that session. She asked if I wanted to talk about the snakes card or keep talking about all this. I said we could maybe do the snakes chat but if it seems to be taking a while we could split it. She said the session about the bear was slow to get started then got quite in depth and she had worried that I felt overwhelmed when I went away so maybe we could spend 25 minutes talking about the snakes card then have ten minutes to come down afterwards.

So she handed me the snake card and I looked at it, ‘yeah I really hate this picture… what am I meant to say about it?’ she reminded me that was the one I didn’t like and just to say what I noticed about it. There is something awkward about that moment, what do I actually say?? I said, ‘well I guess I don’t like snakes very much, they’re adders – even worse coz they’re poisonous… um well I don’t have a big problem with snakes, I held a snake when we were on holiday with the kids… but anyway… so I don’t like that there are two of them, like they could gang up on me. And snakes can like squeeze you and bite you, like they can sort of get in at you… something about them getting in at your boundaries. She said, ‘because they can sort of get in anywhere?’ and motioned her hands in a zig zag way and I nodded. I said, ‘fuck its so weird how this just gets right to the heavy shit straight away…’ I said, ‘you know your home is meant to be this safe place that like holds you and protects you from anything dangerous, and like your parents are meant to reinforce that protection. I just never felt safe with her. She didn’t protect me. You know, your body is meant to feel like a safe place. That safety… I never had it.’ I was getting kind of worked up and Anna made agreeable noises like she compassionately understood what I meant… even if I didn’t really know what I meant.

I said, ‘I feel like I spent a lot of time on my own. Like when I was 5 or 6, maybe 4 and we lived in the tenement flat and there were like rows of gardens out the back and I used to be out there on my own for what felt like hours. Like I didn’t feel like I could go back in the house or something. I remember playing out the alley way in a skip with some random kid who was also out there. You know but mum was so inconsistent like sometimes she would not want me around and sometimes she would be overly anxious about where I was and come out screaming searching for me. I remember wandering over across the gardens to where there was this old man. It ended up I used to go and help him dig his potatoes in his allotment but I so vividly remember the first time I met him, ran across and spoke to him. Then mum came running across the gardens shouting my name and was so gushy, holding my face and like acting so worried. Led me back to the flat. She always acted so overly loving in front of people.’ Anna asked me what she was like when we got back home and away from people. I said, ‘I don’t remember in that particular instant but I can imagine she would either have gone back to ignoring me or maybe been really angry. Both mum and dad really struggled with like containing their feelings and would rage. They’d get so angry, they couldn’t control themselves. She would maybe have lectured me about wandering off and talking to strangers… but she just left me out there on my own, you know?’

I said, ‘there are quite a few sort of weird memories that like we all used to laugh about as if it was funny… like this time when I was in P1 and mum took me to school when it was a bank holiday and left me there when there was no one else there.’ Anna said, ‘what? That’s awful, you must have been terrified, how old were you?’ I said I would have been about 5 – primary one. She said, ‘poor little Lucy standing there at the school gates with no one else there that must have been so scary. What happened?’ I said I remember feeling a bit frightened when the door wouldn’t open and then I don’t remember much else but I know that the cleaner drove me home. But I explained how we would all laugh about that as if it was funny, how mum would have just said it was an accident or that it wasn’t that big of a deal… Anna asked if I believed that, that it was just an accident. I said, ‘she didn’t give a shit about me, it was easier for her if I wasn’t there.’ Anna said, ‘and that hurts, that’s hard to say… it’s easier to say it was an accident, it’s hard to imagine she didn’t care.’ I said, ‘it just illustrates how far down the list of priorities I was. I mean there’s loads of stories like that… like they used to put my sandwiches in a margarine tub, which is sad in itself, they couldn’t buy me a fucking packed lunch box… and one day they actually gave me the margarine tub for lunch instead of the one with my sandwiches in… (I was laughing a bit but Anna looked serious), I mean, it was obviously a mistake… but I just felt really crap.’ Anna asked what mum’s reaction was and I said, ‘probably just that it all worked out fine, that I still had something to eat, a school dinner…’ we talked a bit about how mum didn’t give me the responses I needed. I talked about how when I’ve forgotten to put my daughters water in her bag I’ve gone out of my way to get it to her, gone back up to her school to give it to her. Anna said, ‘because you could imagine how she would feel when she went into her bag and saw it wasn’t there.’ I agreed.

I said, ‘I mean, another thing that’s laughed about a lot is how like when mum used to take me to playgroup she says I enjoyed it, I do remember enjoying it, then she would collect me and bring me home and I would drag my wee red chair into the corner of the room and ignore her, she says for an hour… and they would laugh about that, like how funny it was that at 3 or 4 I was punishing mum or whatever… but I just feel like, what I’ve read about attachment, that just screams of like I didn’t feel safe with mum, like so I felt rejected or abandoned or whatever but I couldn’t go to her and she didn’t try to see what was wrong, it was easier for her to leave me to it and just get on with whatever she was doing. If I was sitting on that chair I was at least out of the way. I mean I would go to my daughter if that happened now and read her behaviour and try to work out what was wrong…’ Anna agreed and we talked a bit about the mis-attunement.  

‘I hid quite a lot. I would hide if they were really angry.’ Anna said, ‘where did you used to hide?’ And I said, ‘well it depends which house we lived in… but you know like under the bed… in the wardrobe…’ She repeated that back to me stating that they were my safe places then asked me where my safe place in my house is now. I said, ‘well there is nowhere I can go that I won’t be followed!’ she said, ‘but being followed is different from being safe.’ And I said, ‘oh right yeah well my whole house feels safe.’ We exchanged a smile and she said, ‘your whole house feels safe.’ And I said, ‘yeah and my kids never hide from me! Unless we’re playing hide and seek!’ and she smiled.

There’s something else about this picture but I feel like I don’t really want to say that just now… (Anna told me to take my time) ‘sooo…. Um yeah’ – lots of hesitation then Anna said, ‘what is it that makes you reluctant?’ I said, ‘it’s um a pretty heavy topic, and embarrassing, like… just difficult to talk about…’ there was a gap and then Anna mirrored, ‘you feel like it’s quite a heavy thing to talk about. Embarrassing.’ I said, ‘yeah… um well it’s just. There’s something phallic about the picture or the snakes… or like the tall stone thing (I turned the card to her so she could see) – it’s pretty phallic. She said, ‘so there’s something sexual about it?’ and I said, ‘hhhmmm yeah well male.’ I paused and said, ‘yeah I really don’t like this picture.’ She said she could tell and I said, ‘I get why it makes me feel this way, you know… there’s obviously stuff there about this kind of thing but I’m just definitely not ready to talk about that at all.’ She said, ‘yeah stuff that’s not to do with your mum and dad?’ and I nodded… she said, ‘there’s no rushing this, you talk about things when you are ready to talk.’

I said, ‘there’s something I want to bring up, and I know it’s nearly time to stop, I just want to say… you asked me a question twice and I struggled to answer directly and I don’t know why. I mentioned to my brother, about how you’d asked me if mum and dad had every hurt me or whatever and I’d said they hadn’t… maybe I was ashamed, I feel weird about it because they treated my brother so differently to the way they treated me.’ Anna said, ‘so shall we bring that up next time then?’ I said, ‘yes lets!’ sarcastically and she overlooked my tone and said, ‘so they did hurt you… physically?’ I nodded.

Going Back to the Start

This was the first session where I felt a connection with Anna.

It was our 9th session.

Jan 6th 2018

I wished her a happy new year and asked if she had a good break. She said she had and asked how our Christmas was. I said it was okay – lots of sickness with chicken pox and vomiting etc. I said Christmas was always bitter sweet for me because I enjoy it with the kids but have some unhappy memories of Christmas as a kid.

Anna asked if I was still up for doing the picture card activity that we’d discussed before the break. She had laid the cards out over the sofa and table. I was so touched she’d remembered and stayed true to her word. I smiled and said I was up for it. It felt a bit strange like maybe I felt awkward and embarrassed about being into it… it’s a bit of an ‘out there’ type thing to do – we never did anything like this with Paul. There’s actually something so endearing about the fact that she shamelessly set it all up… I don’t know how to articulate it but it had a sort of innocent optimism about it. Like a safety.  

I stood up, felt my skin burn with embarrassment as I became so visible to her standing up and walking over to the sofa. I looked at the cards and Anna gently asked me to choose one that I liked and one that I didn’t like. I commented on how beautiful the cards were and she agreed and told me to take my time, no rush to choose. I see a few that I like but I’m drawn to the bear as one I love and the intertwined snakes as one I really hate. I brought them back to my seat.

Anna took a note of them and asked me to start with the Bear. She said, ‘tell me what you notice about it.’ Sat poised with her notepad and pen. I feel a pressure to come up with something clever and perceptive. I want to impress her. I don’t know what to say.

I sat uncomfortable in the seat directly opposite her. Feeling her gaze bore into me I said, ‘it looks like a warm and strong bear… that’s all I have!’ She smiled and said, ‘take your time…’ and I just thought what else is there? I said, ‘um… it looks like a caring and protective bear and reminds me of how I am with my kids.’ Sort of with a questioning tone as if checking with her that it’s the kind of answer she’s looking for. She asked what I notice about the colours and just anything else I might notice about the card itself, not just the bear. I said, ‘I like the blue, it’s my favourite colour… um… she looks like she has a kind face… ummmm…. it’s kind of Christmassy which I don’t like so much, the snow is okay, snow can be fun as long as you don’t have to drive in it. But the border is a bit Christmassy… that’s okay though, I guess.’ Anna said, ‘you have some unhappy memories from Christmas?’ Sudden burst of panic in my chest and down my arms. I wanted to leave the room. Couldn’t even look at her.

Eventually, reluctantly this triggered a conversation about some of my memories and feelings of Christmas. Memories of feeling guilty for receiving presents, for mum and dad having no money. That they would go on and on about how much they’d spent on Christmas and that they couldn’t really afford it. That I was made to feel lucky for everything I’d received even though I never really got anything I wanted (because I would never have asked for what I wanted)… I always felt so undeserving. I then jumped out of that sombre mood and switched to a more lively, defensive tone, ‘I did have some happy memories of Christmas. I had fun with my brother, mum and dad did buy us stuff… maybe they did their best… it could have been worse… it wasn’t total neglect…. I feel guilty talking badly about them, family loyalty is high up in my values. With Paul it took so long before I could talk about my mum and dad, I just feel so awful about it.’ Anna said she understood that it was difficult. I said I’m sure they tried their best and that they weren’t happy and that I’m sure mum has something like bi-polar or borderline or something and she struggles and it’s not her fault. Anna said none of this is about apportioning blame, that she isn’t judging them or me… that it’s important for me to share anything I want to share.

I talked about there always being arguments, that it was hard not being at school over the holidays – school was my safe place, I had teachers I talked to regularly at secondary school, ‘being at home and not being able to go to school was difficult. I missed the consistency, the safety.’ Anna was nodding and looked understanding. It was hurting to think about it actually, I didn’t realise I felt like that. I explained how holidays when everyone was at home all the time was like a pressure cooker. That if there were arguments or if I back answered them or something they would say I was so ungrateful and that I didn’t appreciate everything they’d done for me. Anna asked if I still felt undeserving of I receive gifts and I thought a bit and said, ‘yeah I do feel a bit like that. It maybe gets less every year but there’s still something there.’ I said that my husband had grown up with very little and has this scarcity complex type thing where he just thinks we shouldn’t buy each other things at all. Anna asked if it was just for Christmas or birthdays as well and I said all the time. He doesn’t ever buy things. I’m sure she’ll bring that up later!

Somehow we moved on to talking about mum talking to me like I was an adult my whole life – uncensored, unfiltered, not age appropriate. I said, ‘The first time I really remember doing this was when my cat died. He’d been ill and there had been lots of tests and medicine but nothing worked. I was twelve and he was a really special cat, he was my companion. He used to sleep on my bed and I’d talk to him. It seemed like mum totally fell apart. It was never really about the cat for her, she was mad or sad about something else, maybe her failing marriage. But she would sob and I would comfort her. We had to go to the vet and have my cat put down and she couldn’t handle it, she wanted to leave him there but I just felt like that was so wrong to leave him there on his own. So I sat with him and held him, even though I had a phobia of needles, I looked away as they injected him, then sat on my own holding him as he slipped away. And for weeks and weeks she grieved that cat, even though she’d never cared about him. And I comforted her, because that’s what I’m good at – being there for people. No one asked how I was doing with it all. They just presumed I was fine.’

Anna said, ‘that’s so sad Lucy, I’m so sorry that happened.’ I find it hard to believe her when she says things like that. It just sounds so empty to me. Or maybe it’s me that’s empty. I said, ‘I remember that was the first time I had gone to speak with my guidance teacher. She sat there with her note pad and pen poised, ready for me to talk. I didn’t really know what to say so I just said I was sad because my cat had died and she looked at me as if to say, ‘that’s it?’ She didn’t get it and neither did I. I didn’t know that the feeling I had was bigger than just my cat dying. That it was a total lack of anyone caring for me. That I was alone. That I was miserable all the time on the inside. I thought my mum was amazing, I thought my family was amazing…’ Anna said, ‘it’s all we know so we believe it’s normal.’ I said, ‘but it was more than that, it was like a cult – we were brainwashed to believe we are the best, this is the best family, the best mum, there are these truths you are taught to believe and there’s no other way of thinking.’ She wrote something down… maybe I chose the wrong words. I wonder what she wrote.

We went on to talk about the times mum would talk and talk at me about her life. How much I loved that time because when I was listening to her and talking to her about her, she was looking at me and hearing and seeing me, telling me, ‘oh you’re so wise Lucy, where did you get all this wisdom? You know just what to do and say to make me feel better…’ I looked at Anna and said, ‘I threw my heart and soul into her, I bought her self-help books with my pocket money, I made her mood boards and cut out quotes and inspirational things from magazines and I printed stuff out for her about mental health and I helped her make doctors appointments and suggested she get counselling. Then at about 17 when I couldn’t take it any more, when I felt like all we ever did was talk about the same things over and over again and said to her, ‘we’ve been over this, these are the things I’ve suggested I don’t know how else to say it!’ she got so mad at me. How I was so selfish and didn’t I see that she needed me.’ Anna said again it was sad… I hate that word! It’s not SAD! It’s shitty, it’s vomit inducing, its unbearable… it’s not fucking sad!

I said, ‘I remember you said to me in the last session that the child works hard to try to help the parent in the hope that the parent will eventually be well enough to be a good enough mother. It’s about survival.’ She nodded. I said, ‘I remember when I was in my mid teens – 14 or something – I said to mum…’ I laughed at this point and said to Anna… ‘why on earth I thought it was a good idea to say this to mum… it was such a provocative thing to say… I said how when she said horrible things to me I imagined I had like a Perspex bubble around me like a protective forcefield, that her words were like daggers and spears that would hit off the shield.’ I looked at Anna and said how weird it was that I should say that to mum and not to someone else, I said it was such an aggravating thing to say and she agreed it was a provoking thing to say but she wondered why I would say it, ‘what do you think you hoped would happen?’ I said, ‘that she would have a personality transplant and suddenly say oh I’m so sorry that you are hurt by what I’ve done, ill never do it again… and maybe hug me or something!’ ‘And that didn’t happen?’ Anna asked. ‘Nope! She said ‘thanks very much! I’m your mother and I love you and nothing I do can harm you!’ she was so angry and full of rage. Anna nodded knowingly and said, ‘that’s so sad. Lucy, that is so sad.’ Still I feel nothing.

Anna asked me if I have ever said to my mum, ‘can you be there for me now?’ I said, ‘NO! I’ve never said that… why would I? I can’t trust her. She would belittle or invalidate what I said.’ Anna interrupted me and said, ‘or she would tell people what you had told her,’ I agreed – ‘exactly! She told people everything, even right in front of me, or on the phone, she would talk about things I had told her in confidence. So I learned to never share anything of me with her. I cut off my feelings and emotions, I just thought with my head, helped her by being ‘grown up’ and not being ‘childish and emotional’ I just focused on her.’ Anna said, ‘do you think you consciously shut down your feelings? Deliberately stopped the emotions?’ I said I did think that happened. She wrote something down again.

We talked a bit about when we would visit my grandparents. That it was a two hour drive deep into the countryside, we’d often make at the weekends. I explained that dad would often sit in the other room for the whole weekend and I would sit up with the other adult women, involved in all the adult conversations. Topics ranging from violent news stories, tv soap storylines, family affairs, gossip… I said, ‘I felt important and very much part of the group and conversation. I was the youngest one there by a long way and it made me feel special and like I belonged in their family. It was like being accepted into the mean girls gang… better to be inside the gang than on the outside being their victim… quite often we would all bitch about the male members of the family, often mocking and demonising my dad. I hate that I played a part in this. But these conversations would last for hours, them all smoking cigarettes and drinking around me. But then this weird thing would happen. I’d feel an overwhelm come over me and I’d have to go to the bathroom. I would then get all shaky all over my body, like proper all over body jitters (it felt like the shock my body went into after I had a serious car accident and I was lying on a stretcher with a neck brace on violently shaking on the table)… then, standing in the bathroom trying to stifle the shakes, I would burst into silent sobs on my own.’ Anna asked if I was away for a long time and I said I must have been because I was crying my fucking eyes out. ‘Even my brother remembers noticing it once and feeling like everyone was just acting like it was a normal thing that Lucy did sometimes.’ I sort of laughed and said, ‘I mean, that’s not normal! Why would no one come to me? Why would no one think, hmmm there’s something wrong here!’

Anna checks in on how I’m feeling all the time, asking for physical check ins and emotional ones. She asked, ‘how’s thing doing here?’ and pointed to her stomach. I said I wasn’t feeling anything in my stomach I was feeling it ‘here’ and I pointed to the centre of my chest. She mirrored me (like she often does – mirrors my breathing when I have a big inhale/exhale or mirrors when I change my head tilt from one side to the other) she pointed to her chest and said, ‘here’ in confirmation. I know she’s trying to align herself with me so she can figure out how I’m feeling and how I work but also so I feel like she understands me, so that I trust her. I wish I didn’t have this much understanding of the therapy process… it steals the wonder from it a bit. I’m overthinking every fucking detail. She asked what it feels like and I said I didn’t really know what it was, ‘is it anxiety? It’s like flight or fight, like it hurts in the centre and bursts out and down my arms…’ she said, ‘so it’s like panic – a panicky feeling that if you let someone in they might hurt you. You want to trust people but you don’t want to be hurt. A part of you is panicking because you are sharing so much with me.’ Yep – that just about sums it up! Wow.

I talked about mum’s behaviours changing when she would move in and out of relationships. That she was relatively stable when we were growing up but when dad left she totally changed. It was like she was a different person. With these different guys she had relationships with she became so obsessed with them she even lost interest in eating. She lost loads of weight and forgot all about us. I talked about how I just held everything together. Made sure we were fed. Would get angry with mum when she was out all night and came home at like 3am. Anna asked how I felt when she did that and I said I just felt totally responsible for her and my brother and like I was an adult, then I checked myself and quietly said, ‘no that’s not a feeling that’s a thought…hmmm.’ I then said after some thought, ‘I felt frightened. Frightened and alone. There was no one looking after us.’ Anna said it was sad. She said a few times through the session that things were sad.

We got back to talking about the Bear. Anna said because we’d talked about difficult things and there was just under twenty minutes left we would leave the snake just now and that she would bring the cards back next time. She assured me we would revisit it next session if I still wanted to.

She said, ‘You know Lucy… I think that bear is you.’ I just stared at her and back at the picture of the bear. She said, ‘You’ve had to be that strong, protective bear to your inner child your whole life. Protecting her from your mum and from all the hurt and the pain. You’ve had to do that since you were very small.’ I looked at the bear and at Anna and really felt like that was true, felt so touched that she had said all that. She continued, ‘I was really touched when you said the bear remined you of yourself then later you said she had a kind face.’ I smiled, it feels nice to imagine that is maybe what she sees in me.

Anna said something about how no one had shown an interest in me and how I was doing and asked, ‘how does it feel for you when I ask you about your feelings? When I say that it was sad?’ I said, ‘well I’m getting really frustrated with myself because I want to feel this, I’m totally intellectualising still, I mean, I can say – it’s sad! Yeah, it’s sad! But I don’t feel it… I’m so annoyed that I’m not feeling this! Well I mean I am feeling something, sitting here with you.’ She said, ‘what are you feeling?’ I said, ‘well, I’m noticing that I’m starting to care about what you might think of me and I don’t like that feeling. It started way earlier with Paul, like from day one I had this almost infantile need for him, like a push and pull of wanting to need him and wanting to like him then wanting to not need him and wanting to not care what he thought, like I was going mad.’ She then said, ‘what do you think I might think of you?’ This kind of question makes me squirm. After searching the room and her face for an answer I looked at my feet and muttered something about her maybe thinking I was self-obsessed… that she must help people with really awful problems, terrible lives, way worse than mine. That I have a good life and a lovely family and job… that I should just be happy with it and get on with my life. Anna looked kind of thoughtful and concerned. She said, ‘that’s your mum talking that’s not you talking, those are your mums words – you should get on with it, get over it… of course there will always be hundreds of people worse off than us but we can’t compare ourselves.’ She said, ‘Do you want to know what I think of you?’ As much as I wanted to crawl behind my chair and say, ‘no not really!’ I hear a voice come out of my voice before I could push it back inside, ‘Yes please!’ Anna said, ‘okay, I think you’re a young woman who works really hard to try to make the right decisions with everything she does…(I can’t remember some bits she said)… and it’s like you are trying to rewire your brain, it’s not that it doesn’t come naturally, it’s that you feel like you can’t trust that instinct and you need to rewire what you were taught with everything you do and you have these two wonderful children and I know you’ve told me you get down on the floor with them and play with them and you love them and want what’s best for them and I know that it’s… I want to swear (I nodded her on), it’s fucking tiring for you to be working so hard all the time!’ She then said, ‘and you have these walls up for a good reason, you’ve had to protect yourself and it’s hard to break that down, it takes time and we’ll take the time, I mean here I am, I don’t know you and you’re expected to open up to me, these things take time and you’ve done such a good job of protecting yourself, the people who you were meant to trust let you down so of course it’s hard to let the defences down. I think you need to stop berating yourself so much. You’re very hard on yourself.’ We just kind of looked at each other, probably just for like two seconds but it felt like ages… it felt so amazing to hear her say all that! She said, ‘how does it feel to hear me say that?’ and I pointed to my stomach and said, ‘I’m feeling it now!’ She said, ‘does it feel good?’ and I laughed and was like, ‘no! ha! No… aw man we should have started here half an hour ago!’ She said, ‘shall we pick up from here next week then?’ and I agreed. I said, ‘thank you for understanding me. I feel really understood and…. heard. Thank you.’ She seemed moved by that and just gently smiled at me and nodded.

I put the cards back. She thanked me. I paid her and she gave me a receipt. She asked what I had on for the rest of the weekend and I said, ‘I just feel like I need to go sit in a dark room for an hour.’ She said, ‘yeah maybe listen to some music and have some time to yourself. Remember, if you experience some sort of kickback from what you’ve shared today, remember my thoughts I shared… and maybe you could draw or write about how you’re feeling and bring it to the next session.’ I felt like I needed to reassure her that I was fine, I smiled and said, ‘it’s a beautiful day, we’ll probably take the kids out for a nice walk in the countryside.’ I thanked her and she said see you next week. I said have a good week and left.

Big deep breath in the car. Drive home.

I felt pretty liberated and empowered. It was such a revealing session and what she said had an impact on me.

That evening I sent an email…

Anna,

I promise I won’t make a habit of emailing this kind of thing I just really wanted to thank you for today’s session. It felt really good to talk all that through and to feel so understood and validated by you.

I’m feeling so empowered holding the thought of me being like a protective mamma bear – that really resonates so much and has given me a beautiful way of reframing a part of me that I had struggled to see in a positive light.

Since looking again at the photo of the card I’ve noticed that the bear’s probably coming out of hibernation (after winter rather than it being Christmas time). That made me smile considering I had mentioned at the start of the session how I like new year and how it always has an optimistic energy of potential change for me. Also, perhaps she’s left her cub in the cave to check on how safe it is to come outside – maybe it symbolises me slowly letting my guard down. It does feel like that.

Something quite profound happened today. Thank you for guiding me through it.

Looking forward to seeing you next week.

Kindest regards,

Lucy

Five days later I sent this text…

I’m stressing myself out so much. I’ve been spending a lot of time in my head. Made up this scenario that you’re going to tell me off for emailing you like it’s a boundary violation or something. But that’s not the way I meant it at all I just didn’t think and I’m sorry if that’s how it came across. I’m struggling to stop all these made up conversations with you in my head.

But now I’m wondering if a part of me set this all up so that would happen so you would say something that makes me feel bad and I could go back to closing off to you. It’s like sharing joy and expecting rejection. I’m so angry with myself for this.

I’m obsessing about ways of cutting that would look like an accident but I know that’s not what I really want. I couldn’t bring myself to be in the room with you if I did it because I couldn’t lie and I don’t want to let you down. It’s like I can’t let myself feel a connection without wrecking it. What the fuck is wrong with me.

I’m trying really hard to bring myself out of this. I’m texting you to try to stop the conversations in my head and I’m going to draw to see if that helps calm me down and take my mind off things.

It’s good to know I’m seeing you on Saturday. I really hope you don’t want to stop working with me.

I know you won’t reply. Thank you for giving me this outlet.

Session 10 to follow…

New Year Intentions

During the holiday break last year between Christmas and New Year, there was a low point where I felt completely stranded and helpless. In that moment I had an idea of what Anna might suggest… think about next year and what you would like to get from our work. I broke my old and rather painful tradition of setting New Years resolutions that really only set me up for failure and instead wrote a more gentle set of intentions.


Today, almost a whole year after writing it, I shared it with Anna. She smiled warmly at me after reading it and said, ‘well done, I see you doing all of these things… all of those seeds you’ve planted and all of the buds appearing… and we don’t do these things all the time but I see you being brave every time you come back to a session, working on bringing that awareness back to yourself. I see this in you! Well done, this is lovely. Would you add anything for next year?’ I looked at it, thought about it then said, ‘maybe I don’t always have to be brave…’ Anna said, ‘there’s bravery in being afraid remember! Being afraid and showing up anyway.’ I said, ‘I need to work on crying when I need to cry…’ and that’s what the rest of our session was focused on. What is stopping me from ‘really crying’ with her.


Intentions: be kind to myself, forgive myself, trust my intuition, care for my body, move when I need to, eat when I need to, sleep when I need to, cry when I need to, let others help me, be patient with myself, listen more, be open to change, be brave, practice mindfulness, let go.’

Grief and Generational Trauma

Learning that I’m not quite as alone as I thought on this road to recovery.

This blog entry includes some of my Instagram posts so if you follow me there it may feel like repetition. I’ve had a really hard week and wanted to try to gather my thoughts on it all in one place.

My grandpa died a week ago today. I went to work because I thought it would be good to keep busy. I had cried four times before 9am the day after finding out but I stayed in work, I didn’t feel like I had a choice. It felt important to keep going, keep moving/thinking/talking. Plus my attendance record is appalling and I didn’t need another absence.

Grief is such a powerful force. It crashes through the centre of you in waves with no warning. All of a sudden you are reminded of the loss. A longing to speak to the person. The pain of remembering times you will never be able to get back.

And each new grief reminds you of all the other griefs. It brings with it a tsunami of memories of all the people you long for that are no longer in your present life.

When I told my four year old son that his great grandpa had died he dropped his head and his eyes filled up. He said, ‘it feels sad in here’ and put his hand on his chest. He’s right, it does… it feels so sad inside.

I text Anna as soon as I found out saying, ‘My grandpa died today. I postponed my last visit to him because I was tired, I feel awful. I should have gone. I’m sorry to text you, I know we don’t do text chats but my first thought was to tell you. I’m really gutted 😢’ I didn’t think she’d reply but she did send me a message back within half an hour and stepped outside her normal boundary to say, ‘I’m so sorry to hear about your grandpa but glad you have told me. That is very sad news. You looked after yourself, that is self care and nothing to feel bad about. Maybe take some time to yourself, and think of the many times you had together. The times we have with loved ones are special, please don’t dwell on one missed visit. Be kind to yourself, spend time with Luna and your family. Take good care of yourself.’

It really went in… I felt it, her care. I really believe she was pleased I reached out to her and that she wanted to be there for me. I asked her for a session on the Tuesday but she didn’t have any time for me. She said, ‘unfortunately there have been no cancellations.’ I do actually believe that she wanted to be there for me. I did want to see her but also felt relieved that I could just stay at home. I’ve been feeling so tired recently. I just wanted to sleep.

The following day Anna sent me a message out of the blue asking if I’d like a phone call. I jumped at the offer. She said she would call me at 7.30pm and she did just that. Something about that consistent, reliable care is both intoxicating and terrifying to me. It made a part of me melt and a part of me panic. I never experienced consistency and reliability and trust with my parents – this is going to be a massive part of my restorative healing process with Anna. Letting her be the things I lacked and believing I deserve it.

I didn’t even know what to say to her when I answered the phone… she said, ‘let’s start by thinking about what made you say yes to a call to begin with…’ I said, ‘because I wanted to talk to you. I’ve just been feeling so much since grandpa died and I knew you’d know what to say. You know me and you understand more than anyone that this is a whole new world of grief for me now I’m not numb anymore. I thought you’d know what I’m going through…’ she said, ‘yeah, I do.’ I talked a bit about my grandpa and my realisation that this grief is the same as the grief I feel about my childhood. We talked a little about that but I could tell she was keen to keep me ‘in my adult’ for the 20 minutes of the call. She talked about how it’s important to tend to my small child parts too. ‘Make sure your having lots of cuddles with Luna and that you’re telling Little Lucy that it’s okay and normal that she’s grieving. She needs your love and compassion now more than ever… she is grieving all the memories she has with your grandpa. I know you can do it because you’ve done if for your own children.’ She said, ‘Remember it comes in waves. You’re allowed to feel okay in between the sadness. Allow yourself to feel whatever it is that you’re feeling.’ As the plans for the funeral are underway I feel the stress and family chaos building. There’s just so much to do and think about and so many different opinions to take into consideration.

Like I said to Anna on the phone, I have noticed that this grief is familiar to me. It feels exactly the same as the pain I feel in my chest when I think about my childhood or my mother. The longing for it to be different. The grief of it all is the same as the grief of someone dying. I’m actually feeling it now instead of being numb to it.

I’ve managed to talk to Adam a bit more than I usually would about how I’ve been feeling. I’ve been so overwhelmed by the emotions that I’ve not been able to hide it from him. Randomly crying in the middle of making the dinner or watching tv. My husband and I have been together for over 18 years. We met when I was still living with my mother. He witnessed a lot of what was going on and we talked about it at the time but then as the years went on it felt natural to let all of that stay in the past. We rarely bring it up these days. A couple of years ago when I was working with my first therapist I asked Adam, “when you first came back to the house and saw the chaos, didn’t you think ‘I want to get the hell out of here and away from that’ to protect yourself from it all?” He said with complete sincerity, “no Lucy I thought, ‘I want to get her the hell out of that house and away from all that chaos!’ I wanted to protect you.” His words mean so much to me. They say ‘I saw it all, I saw the way it was and it WAS that bad’. It’s so immensely validating.

Recently I shared with him a story I’ve never told him, about a time when my mother deeply betrayed my trust when I was a child. He said, ‘you grew so kind and so caring when these things could easily have turned you to stone.’ I work so hard at letting his words reach me. Ignoring as best I can the shouting snarls of the inner critic.

The other night he noticed I’d been crying and he said, ‘I’m so sorry you’re having to go through this grief, on top of all the pain and overwhelm you’re already going through. It’s so unfair. I was thinking about you today when I was at work. I imagined this barren, destroyed waste land, like a nuclear fall out space… and a lone green shoot pushing up out of the cracks. You are that green shoot – resilient and determined. You’re doing all this work by yourself, despite how painful it is, pushing up out of the shit that you came from… I really admire what you’re doing you know…’

My dad spoke to me the other day of how he got to know my grandpa so much better in recent years since my grandma died. He told me how my grandpa was like a broken man on the inside. How he would cycle round have these very dark periods where he’d repeat what a failure he was, that he believed he was a coward, a useless human. This is the man who dedicted his life to serving others. My dad told me that grandma hid (and managed by herself) years of grandpas mental health dips. But there was more that my dad learned… my grandpa’s father was a sensitive man who had been signed up to the army and forced to be a machine gunner in the First World War. I can’t imagine what that would do to a young man. There’s undiagnosed, untreated PTSD right there. Then he met the life of his life when he was quite a bit older and they got married, shortly after became pregnant with my grandpa. My grandpas mother died in childbirth. So from his first breathe he was motherless… born into trauma. Within my grandpas first 9 years of life his grandma and his aunt (both of which had cared for him) died. So much loss in such a young life. Trauma inherited. Layers of it. My dad told me he could hear his own inner voice in the words my grandpa would say about himself. I told my dad that those words had been passed down to me and my brother. Generation upon generation of trauma, self hate, abuse, neglect, loss.

It has to stop with me.

Thinking about Adams analogy of the lone green shoot pushing up out of the barren landscape reminds me of the community here and on Instagram – of all the people who are swimming upstream trying to heal their wounds. There are so many lone shoots of green, pushing towards the sky and away from the trauma that we ‘grew in’. What we are doing is having a greater impact than we realise. A ripple affect far stronger than the fall out that tried to destroy us.

I had a really holding session with Anna on Saturday, in the middle of all of this. We sat next to each other. It was quiet and slow. I talked about the funeral arrangements. I shared a couple of memories of my grandpa and showed her some pictures of him. She reminded me to not let myself get pulled into the games that everyone else was playing and to try to focus on my needs and my well-being.

I eventually pulled Luna out of my bag after talking quite a lot about the anxiety I felt about showing her to Anna. I sat her on my knee and Anna was so delighted I’d brought her. I handed her over to Anna and watched as she held her between her hands and spoke to her, then made Luna speak back. She said she could see why I’d fallen for her and that she wanted to keep her. It was lovely to watch. I wanted Anna to hug her but she didn’t. I think part of me felt like I was watching Anna holding a very young part of me. I will bring her to future sessions and maybe we’ll progress to that.

Anna reminded me of how precious the memories of my relationship with my grandpa are. She told me that however I feel is just fine. That it’s okay if I feel numb (which I did in the session) and it’s okay if I’m crying my eyes out (which always happens to me at funerals). I’m seeing her the evening before the funeral as well which is amazing. Feeling very well supported and held through this. I think she understands how much more painful this feels for me now that I no longer block all my feelings.

I’ve been writing a letter to my grandpa. In it I’ve told him how grateful I am for all that he did for us and all that he shared. I’ve also apologised for not visiting him the week before he died. The guilt I was feeling over that was immense but Anna has helped ease it. I’ve also told him that I am working hard at untangling the web of trauma that has been laced between and around our family for hundreds of years. That I am not just doing it for me, for my children or for generations to come… I’m also doing it for him and grandma, their parents and all who were before them. Those who lived in a time where mental health was not as well understood and help and care was not so easily accessible.

Interestingly I learned recently that my grandpa actually saw a transactional analysist for some time in his early adulthood. I don’t know if I’ll ever find out more about that but it’s comforting to know that he did try to heal things. My dad also saw a psychologist as a teenager. Perhaps I can see the work I’m doing as a link in a chain. Not an isolated shoot… maybe there are other shoots around me that died but their roots fortified my roots…?

Not sure if any of this is making sense, but here it is anyway.

Soothing the inner child and repairing ruptures

Another 90 minute session…

I spent an hour last night going over my notes and trying to figure out what I felt about the past week and how I felt about the session. I decided I would read my notes to Anna word for word. She has said in the past that it’s a good idea to write how I’m feeling in the moment and then bring it to session so that’s what I did. I was sure I wasn’t going to hug her on arrival today, I just wanted to go in and talk immediately about how I’d been feeling.

I was fairly nervous beforehand but also a bit of teen anger coming through, I felt the bravery to stick to what I wanted to talk about. I walked in and went straight to my chair, dumped my stuff and went to go to the toilet. She stopped me on the way out and said, ‘Do you want a hug?’ in a kind way but also in an I know stuff has gone on this week so you might not want a hug kind of way. I melted and went straight into her arms. Big breath out. She said, ‘it’s great to see you!’ and I said (while still hugging), ‘you might not still feel that in half an hour!’ she said ‘okay’ and I left for the toilet. When I came back in I said, ‘I don’t know why I said that, sorry…’ and smiled. She said, ‘maybe because that’s how you felt… so maybe we should start there?’ (I’m only just realising that me saying that clearly shows that a part of me feels that if I tell her I’m not happy about something she’s going to wish I hadn’t come and that she’ll want to stop working with me… broken record!) She said, ‘I do want to say sorry for having to cancel the session on Tuesday. There was a situation… I wasn’t able to work and I know it will have been really disappointing for you. I’m sorry.’

I said, ‘yeah it was hard, I was sort of okay with the cancelled session because I was so emotionally exhausted and have been sleeping a lot because I’m so tired but it was such a hard week and I was really badly triggered and I just felt very overwhelmed and alone and…’ Anna said, ‘what did you need?’ I flipped to a very stroppy teen feeling, arms folded, legs crossed at the ankle, staring at the floor I snapped, ‘a fucking phone call perhaps… like you said I could have when I need it… that might have helped!’ there was silence, heart pounding. I looked up at her eventually through my eyebrows and she looked very serious and said, ‘I’m sorry I wasn’t able to speak with you. I was unavailable all of Thursday and then Friday I was away from home.’ I looked back at the floor.

She sort of checked that I was doing okay and then continued, ‘I know this is really hard but I think it’s important that you know, I did not want to cancel your session, it was unavoidable, I was sad about it too. My whole week was turned upside down and there was no set time that I could be certain I would be able to give you the holding space you needed.’ I said, ‘why ask if it could wait then? Why tell me you were busy and couldn’t speak and then ask if it could wait?’ she said, ‘I thought that the contact in a text might be connecting enough, then asking if you were able to wait until Saturday was an attempt to get your adult on board…’ I said, ‘well what would you have done if I’d said no, that it couldn’t wait?’ she said, ‘I would have tried hard to find a time for you but I trusted what you were saying to me, that it could wait.’ I said, ‘well you didn’t really leave me any choice… it’s really fucking hard for me to ask you know, do you know how hard it is for me to ask for what I need? (she nodded) … and I built myself up all day to ask you and then when I asked you gave me excuses about why we couldn’t speak then as an afterthought asked if it could wait… if I’d said no and you had phoned me, I’d have had to then prove to you it was that important for a phone call… of course it can fucking wait coz look, here I am, I’m alive, but it was pure agony getting to here.’ Then I switched to feeling more adult and caring and said, ‘but you know, my heart aches for you and what you may have been going through this week… this is such a fucking unusual relationship… if I knew you outside of this room I would know what was going on in your life and I would care and take an interest and I wouldn’t harp on about my shit, I wouldn’t be trying to make you feel guilty for prioritising your family over your work, of course family is at the top of the list… but also I know this is my therapy, this time is mine and that it’s not my job to care about you but I really do and I’m sorry you’ve had a challenging week and I do really care…’

Anna said, ‘Lucy, yes this is your therapy and it is your space to explore exactly how you feel about what happened this week. I really am sorry I wasn’t able to speak with you on the phone. I did wrestle with it but there wasn’t a way to make it work, I considered it very carefully and I did hold you in mind.’ I was still angry and sitting there thinking, what use is it to me that you held me in mind? But also I’m grateful that she said that and I do believe her.

Anna said, ‘This past year has not been great, lots of cancelled sessions, which is unfortunate. They have all been unavoidable and although I know your adult believes me when I tell you there are legitimate reasons for the cancelations, your frightened untrusting child part does not believe me… does that sound right?’ I said, ‘Yes… I just think you shouldn’t offer things you can’t follow through on. I know I sound like a fucking petulant child and life’s not that black and white, but we should just say no phone calls, no texts… don’t tell me I can have something and then not let me have it. It’s so disappointing and just so mortifying to ask for something and not be given it. It made me feel so much worse. It was so stupid to ask for it in the first place, I knew how risky it was, I knew there was a 50/50 chance you’d say no and you did and then I felt so much worse!’

Anna was nodding and said, ‘if that’s what you want then we can contract for no calls and no texts but I want you to know that it is still okay by me for you to text me and for you to ask for phone calls. I may not always be able to give you what you’re asking for or you may need to wait a day but I don’t have a problem with you asking. This week was unusual circumstances but if I can, I will happily give you a call… and this is so important, that we talk about this, how it feels, how you feel… well done for telling me all of this because it can’t have been easy.’ I nodded.

There was a bit of a silence and she asked, ‘how is all this feeling so far?’ I said, ‘um… can we rearrange the room a bit?… can you sit next to me?’ she smiled and got up and moved things round a bit and sat right beside me. I shuffled around and told her I hate these chairs. They’re too small, I can’t get cosy. I curled my legs round and turned to face her.

I told her that I felt like there were two conflicting feelings inside me. On the one hand I knew that she would never cancel my session for no reason and that I should give her a break but the other feeling is that I want to go on and on at her for going against what she had said and that it was really shit for me and I don’t know how to cope with both conflicting feelings. She said, ‘that’s really normal Lucy, to feel like that, it makes sense… that’s your adult and your child… you care about me and also you are hurting. You being upset about what happened doesn’t detract from you caring about me and hoping I’m okay… equally me having a valid reason for not being able to speak to you on the phone doesn’t mean you don’t have every right to be hurt and disappointed by that.’ I tried to get my head around that one. I said it felt very black and white in my mind and I was struggling to hold both ‘truths’. She said that made sense to her and that it would get easier as the parts of myself become less fragmented.

At one point we talked about trust, again. I said I couldn’t trust anyone and she asked what would happen if I trusted people. I said I would get hurt. That you’d have to be a fool to trust people, people just let you down. They never do what they say they’ll do… Anna said, ‘I understand why you would feel like that and I understand that words are really important. Especially with you because words were always so meaningless when you were growing up. People would say one thing and do another, people would ignore what you had to say, people would lie… of course you feel like shouting at me, ‘don’t offer something if you can’t follow through!’ you feel like I told you that you could ask for a call and then when you did ask I said no… but what I would say is, when we are hurt the tendency is to assume everyone will hurt us, we close ourselves off to people and don’t give them the opportunity to show us care and love and to meet our needs. It takes bravery to be open and to trust, to try again. By being brave enough to tell me how I let you down, you’ve given me the opportunity to sit with your feelings and to apologise for my actions that caused them. To explain to you a bit about why I did what I did that let you down and let you know that I didn’t want to let you down and that it made me sad too. Does that make sense?’ I told her it did and I thanked her for telling me. I was feeling quite quiet and like I was sinking inside myself.

I got my journal out of my bag and said, ‘I feel like I need to just read this to you.’ Anna asked if I can remember without reading it (she has explained before that in the past I have used reading off my notes as a way to block the emotions). I said, ‘but I feel likeif I just say it to you now I will recall it from this adult place, like filter it through a place where I feel fine and you know, it’s nice to sit with you and I just want to be nice to you and keep everything calm and close and connected but really a lot went on and I need to maybe share it from the words I came up with at the time…’ Anna agreed that was a really good idea but then I started talking about something else and annoyingly didn’t really go fully back into the journal notes.

A bit later I tried to bring things back to talking about the week. I had a look in my journal and reminded myself of the couple of things that had triggered me earlier in the week. I described the situation with my husband that had triggered me. That it had immediately thrown me back to a very vulnerable place. ‘My whole body felt filled with emotions, totally overwhelmed, like a flashback – I didn’t feel like me ‘today’ I feltlike I was right back then.’ Anna asked if things are the same nowadays and I said, ‘it’s totally different now, nothing is the same as it was back then… it’s not like that now at all.’ Anna said, ‘so this is really important, you were triggered into the part of you that can’t hold on to what things are like now. The child part who is still trapped back then. So things are different now but when you were triggered you could no longer remember how good things are now with him. The overwhelming feeling you get when you’re triggered, that child place you go to, it’s important than you find a way to soothe yourself in that moment and help that part be aware that she is not vulnerable anymore, she is strong and safe…’ she said something about remembering that those feelings are not about ‘now’ they’re about ‘then’. I think I got a bit spacey then because I can’t remember what we said.

We talked a bit more about where the sensations were in my body when I was triggered and she asked me if I kept myself safe despite having these massive overwhelming feelings. I reluctantly said I had kept myself safe and she said, ‘well done Lucy, I know how hard that must have been, I’m so pleased you looked after yourself, well done.’ I hate this whole interaction, we’ve done this dance before. It doesn’t satisfy the part of me that was desperate to hurt myself. It just feels not as holding or something. She is trying to be supportive and encouraging but I just want to tell her how desperately close I was to pushing that blade through my skin. But I started to feel weird, my legs were going tingly and I needed to move around a bit.

At one point I talked about having coffee with my friend and how she had questioned why I struggle to trust Anna and I gave her an analogy that if you were repeatedly hit over the head with a mallet by someone you lived with as a child then when you grow up, anyone holding a mallet standing next to you would make you flinch… I told my friend that Anna triggers these transferencial feelings in me, something inside me is certain she will hurt me like my mum did. Anna nodded and agreed and explained a bit further to me why she works with transference in attachment based cases. That it is so valuable to be able to work with the therapeutic relationship as it is in the room. She wondered aloud if maybe my friend hasn’t gone that deep in her own therapy and that’s perhaps why she doesn’t understand why I am experiencing things this way. I said, ‘she just isn’t as crazy as me, she doesn’t have the same mad attachment stuff with her therapist that I do.’ Anna said, ‘okay so let’s pause and I’d invite you to say that again but without the criticism and instead with feelings…’ I rolled my eyes, spent ages thinking then said I couldn’t do it.

After a bit more patient coaching I said, ‘she does the work with her therapist within that hour and then doesn’t think about it through the week whereas I do the work and I carry it with me every minute of the day and I think about you a lot…’ Anna said, ‘because’ and I said, ‘because maybe that’s the kind of relationship we have..?’ in a questioning tone. Anna said, ‘what kind of relationship do we have?’ there was a silence and then she said, ‘I want you to know that I feel a pull to answer for you but it’s really important for you to answer this yourself, in your own words… for you to hear it.’ I said, ‘hear it from you?’ and she said, ‘no hear yourself say it.’ I said, ‘but I hear myself say it over and over in my fucking head all the time…’ she said, ‘it’s important that all parts of you hear yourself say it out loud.’ I said, ‘well… it’s not the relationship is it really, it’s not you it’s all me, it’s just what I feel about you,’ she said (still ever so patiently), ‘how do you feel about me?’ I said, ‘this is fucking humiliating, are you really going to make me say this?’ she said, ‘yes, it’s important, this is where you lose me… in the shame and pain of how you feel about me… your inner critic pushes your child to a place of abandonment…’ I couldn’t bring myself to say it fully, I just said, ‘I care a lot about you, I think about you a lot, it means a lot to me, what we do here… I like you and… I don’t know…’ Anna said, ‘and it’s important, you’re doing really deep work here and it has an impact on both of us, this work, we’re both learning from each other. Not everyone is up for this kind of work… I’m wondering if it’s unhelpful for you to speak with your friend about your sessions? It’s important that you choose carefully who you share with because what we don’t want is for you to have this delicate, precious thing that’s important to you and then someone questions it and you’re left thinking is it as I remember? Maybe I imagined it. Maybe we don’t work this closely with each other. Maybe I shouldn’t feel this way… you see what I mean? We start to gaslight ourselves, because that’s what we’re used to.’ That all made total sense to me and I told her I’d planned on not going into details with this particular friend about my therapy in the future.

She then said, ‘I’ve been thinking a lot about you and how painful it is for you when you are in that very young triggered place and you no longer feel any connection to me. You completely lose me. It’s as if I don’t exist to you… does that sounds right?’ I nodded, hiding most of my face behind my scarf. She continued, ‘I understand that. I’ve been thinking about how we can work together to help you feel connected to me in those times.’ She started delving into her pocket and said, ‘I know you look at my photo sometimes and that helps you feel connected to me… does that still work for you?’ I said it did and I commented that I’d noticed they changed her photo on the website and I liked it. She smiled and said, ‘I was wondering if this would help as well. I have these stones (she pulled out a black pouch), I thought perhaps you’d like to have a look at them and if you wanted to choose one you could take it away with you. When you’re feeling in that dark, vulnerable, overwhelmed state maybe you could hold the stone and it might remind you that I exist, I’m here, I care, I hold you in mind, this is real, we are connected and I will be there to support you at our next session. What do you think?’ I just looked at her face and down at the stones in their little black pouch and back again kind of in disbelief.

She poured the stones out onto the palm of her hand. About 5 heart shaped glass stones, all different colours. The inner critic chimed in immediately, ‘how many other clients has she offered one of these to? Did she get that pouch of stones from a generic ‘therapist toolbox’ course… are they personally hers or is this just some technique she does with clients like me!?’ Another part wanted to cry and hug Anna and thank her… I think I did thank her out loud for thinking of me and trying to show she cares. I said, ‘I wanted to ask you about the possibility of using a transitional object over a year ago but couldn’t pluck up the courage for the inevitable rejection… fuck sake!’ Anna smiled and said, ‘why fuck sake?’ I said, ‘it’s like the hugs… I’ve deprived myself of something I could have had, if only I’d asked!’ She said, ‘aw but you weren’t ready then, you’re ready now. We know each other better now, it has more meaning now… everything takes time, these things can’t be rushed.’ I told her I would love to take a stone and that it meant a lot to me. I explained that I love collecting crystals and that I have one I carry that reminds me of her, I keep it in my pocket.

We went on to talk about ways I care for myself in her absence. She asked how I managed to hold on to my connection with her during previous breaks and I said that I sometimes look over my journal notes to help remind myself of things she’s said to me. I then said, ‘um.. I don’t know if you’re going to think this is weird but, well you know your necklace that you have, the tree of life necklace,’ she nodded and said, ‘yeah, you have one too,’ surprised I said, ‘you know?? Have I worn it here?’ I don’t remember ever talking to her about the necklace or wearing it to session, I was too afraid she’d see it and think it was weird I was copying her. She nodded… I seriously have no recollection of ever letting on to her that I have one too. I told her that I wear the necklace when I’m missing her or if we have a missed session and it helps me remember her and feel close to her. She smiled. I’m writing all this out and I am actually staggered by the fact that she is not wanting to run a fucking mile… how this isn’t scaring the shit out of her is beyond me… this just seems like such bat shit crazy, obsessive, needy stuff! But she was sooooo happy and kept saying how it was a great idea. She had a really genuine smile on her face and told me she was glad I had found a way to help myself through the missed sessions and that I could hold the pendant in my hand and maybe think in my head, ‘what would Anna say’ if I was struggling… which I do a lot! This whole reparenting thing is amazing, how she actively encourages me to seek connection and reassurance from her. It’s blowing my mind as I’m thinking about it. She doesn’t want to push me away!??

I said, ‘while we’re talking about this… another thing I did this week which I think probably is pushing it in terms of weird stuff… well… oh fuck I don’t know how to talk about myself without criticising myself!’ I whispered, ‘why do I do that?’ and then said louder, ‘I think I criticise myself so other people don’t get in there first, but I don’t expect you to criticise me so why do it here!?’ she said, ‘your adult doesn’t – maybe your child does!’ I said, ‘hmmm yeah, she thinks you’re thinking it, you don’t say it out loud but you think it!’ Anna quickly said, ‘what does she think I’m thinking?’ I replied, ‘oh jeez she’s really lost the plot now!’ Anna was nodding and then said, ‘I’m nodding because I understand that your child believes your inner critic when she says I think you’ve lost the plot, I’m not nodding because I agree… I’m not thinking that at all. That reminds me, in your text you asked me to tell you I don’t hate you. I didn’t reply to that because I wanted to say it face to face, that’s not your adult speaking, your adult knows I don’t hate you… your inner critic distorts the things I’ve said to you and makes your child believe I hate you and that we don’t have a connection, that’s when you feel like I don’t even exist anymore.’ I was just sitting there blown away at all the connections firing off in my mind… yep that’s exactly what’s going on.

On a number of occasions through this session Anna paused me when I was being critical of myself and asked me to go back and say the sentence again but instead talk about my feelings. I couldn’t do it a lot of the time, it was slow and hard. I could just about talk factually with no emotions (good or bad)… she said that was my adult, the factual voice. She wanted me to connect to my child, so kept encouraging me to speak with the emotions. At one point I got really annoyed with her and said, ‘wow this is so hard! I am realising I’m so hard on myself, I don’t know how to not criticise myself!’ she said, ‘I know, and I am going to do this from now on, just pulling you back to try to reprogram you to focus on the feelings and be compassionate with yourself because I think this is where the sticking point is, this is why you lose connection with me and other people.’ I said, ‘okay… so another thing I did was that I listened to this longing I’ve had for a while now… well I’ve always found it quite upsetting and it triggers a lot of sad feelings… um… my kids and all their toys, their stuffed toys and well… I didn’t really have a lot of that stuff when I was little and um… recently over the past year I’ve had this idea that I might like to get myself a stuffed animal or something but I mean I know that’s a bit weird coz I’m a 36 year old woman but…’ Anna interrupted and said, ‘I love stuffed toys!!’ I smiled and said, ‘well I saw a Jellycat panda in a shop when I was Christmas shopping for the kids and fell in love with it but it was over £40 and I just thought I couldn’t justify spending that much on a toy for myself so put it back… then thought about it over and over and kept looking it up online… well anyway I realised my mum always used to complain about the cost of things and how it wasn’t worth it and I just thought, I can spend my money on whatever I want, I work hard and if I want a fucking stuffed toy I should get myself one! So I just bought it online last week and it arrived a couple of days ago and I seriously fucking love it, it’s the most adorable thing ever.. it’s super soft and cuddly and lovely and I thought about bringing it here today but didn’t have the courage and…’ She interrupted and said, ‘oh I was just going to say I wish you’d brought her in I’d love to see her, will you bring her next week?’ I nodded. I said, ‘I decided I wanted my child to name her but all I kept hearing inside was Pandawanda… which is a bit much haha… so that can be her inner world name but then I had a dream last night where the name Luna came to me and…’ Anna said, ‘oh lovely, you love the moon!’ and I lit up and was like, ‘yes I do! So she’s Luna! Um… and I had such a big excited feeling inside me on the first night I had her like a kid on Christmas eve, it felt like a sleepover and I just was saying in my head she’s all mine and I actually had to put her out the bed because I couldn’t fall asleep I was so excited.’ Anna was really loving all this chat about Luna. I told her that my husband seemed to really understand why I’d bought her, that it was a gift to my inner child and he was very supportive of it all which has been lovely.

She then said, ‘holding a soft toy can be so soothing. When Little Lucy is really struggling and you are losing that connection, you can hold Luna… rock her, stroke her. When you’re holding her you’re comforting that small part of yourself. You might be cuddling or rocking her but it’s like your rocking your child parts. It’s a different holding to when our partner holds us, that’s our adult being held…’ We sat with that thought for a while. I really know what she means. It’s like nothing else I’ve ever felt before, holding Luna. I keep wanting to come up stairs to visit her and when I hold her it seems to open something up in me. I will bring her to session and see what happens.

Anna went on to say that she knows my child is still hiding behind the chair but she sees her peeking further and further each day, that she believes my child will eventually learn to trust her. With about ten minutes to go Anna told me I had done really well talking openly about how I’d felt, that she’d let me down and hurt me. She said, ‘the hope is that through these times when I miss you or hurt you, that you are able to tell me honestly how you feel and that I can hear you, see you, work at understanding you and try to repair and heal what was broken within our relationship… and that through our relationship you can heal something that happened and is happening in other relationships out there… does that make sense?’ I nodded and there was some quiet time. I looked around the room and took a big breath and looked back at her and quietly said, ‘you really hurt me when you didn’t let me speak to you on the phone.’ She said, ‘I know… and I am so sorry… it hurt me too. I hope you feel I’ve been able to show you I do care.’ I nodded, so fucking close to tears. She continued, ‘I know you feel that it’s a risk to ask me for what you need but trust is a bit like faith, you sometimes just have to blindly leap in and hope that you will be okay either way…’ she went on to talk about how people will hurt me and let me down but also there will be people who care very deeply and want to mend that with me and that if I’m brave enough to be vulnerable and share when I’ve been hurt, that’s when the repair can happen, like today.

I quickly nipped to the toilet and when I came back Anna was sitting staring out of the window. I sat down and she said, ‘we have three sessions before the Christmas holiday so maybe one of those session we could talk about what you can do to help support yourself through that break where you will have no contact with me, none.’ I nodded and she started listing things like coffee with a friend, journaling, going to my husband for a hug, cuddling Luna, drawing, reading, watching tv, a bath, the gym… I was just thinking ‘NONE NONE NONE NO CONTACT NONE’… I guess we will cover that in another session!

She asked me how I felt about ending the session today and I said, ‘I feel like we’re only half way through this, I still really feel like I should have read you what I wrote in my journal, all of it…’ she said, ‘I think the pace needed to be slow today, it’s been a good pace, it’s okay that we’re only half way through, bring your journal back on Saturday and we can continue this next session.’

She then gestured towards the table and said, ‘I laid the stones on a tissue so you can see all the colours and choose one you’re drawn to.’ I looked at them and could have cried at the thought of her pulling a tissue from the box, spreading it out, carefully placing all the stones on top of it while I was in the toilet and then patiently waiting for me to come back. Why does that break my heart so much? It’s agony. I thought about asking her what her favourite colour was but in the end I didn’t because I figured she would ask me to choose mine… my favourite colour is blue and she often wears blue clothes so I chose the blue one. I thanked her and then looked in her eyes and thanked her again, ‘thank you for thinking of me and for bringing these in, it really does mean a lot to me that you’re showing me you care.’ She gently smiled and nodded.

She then told me a story of when she was on the train recently and she saw a wee boy sitting at a table seat with his mum. He was pushing a car around on the table as he sang Jingle Bells to himself. He was in his own wee world and he sang the whole song start to finish. Anna said everyone around was looking with ‘awww’ expressions and the little boy was oblivious, no self consciousness just total trust that he was safe because his mummy was there. As I’ve typed this out I think I understand why she shared this story. I didn’t get it at the time and it just made me feel a bit sad but now I think she’s saying that this is an example of how a free child should behave and when my child trusts her I might be able to have a carefree, uncensored approach to being with her… maybe not but that’s how I’ve interpreted it just now.

We talked a bit about my plans for the rest of the weekend and we hugged at the door. I thanked her again and told her I liked her perfume… seeing as this was the session for creepy oversharing and obsessiveness!! As I drove away my head was filled with everything we talked about and everything we didn’t. Now that I’m typing it out I’m struck with a very powerful sense of longing. She was so attuned to me and worked so hard to connect with me and I really did feel it, so much so that now I am alone again I crave to be with her. I want to feel that connectedness all the time. The absence of it feels like I’ve been sucked into a black hole. I’m going to find a container for my special blue heart glass stone and give Luna Pandawanda a cuddle before going to sleep… and if you got to the end of this post congratulations! I think this may be my longest so far.