A Guiding Light Through the Fog

I was unbelievably nervous before my session. Sat in the car with a huge panic building in my chest and bursting out across my whole body. I know I’ve explained this feeling before and I’m not sure how to articulate it well enough just now but it really was so physically painful. I had to deliberately take slow, intentional breaths because I felt like I was going to have a panic attack or hyperventilate at the very least. It was actually the worst it has ever been. I felt physically sick. I had texted Anna yesterday saying, ‘Anna, I’m not ready to stop doing the fortnightly Tuesdays in the new year. I’ve been thinking a lot about it and one hour a week just doesn’t feel enough at the moment. I’m hoping you haven’t arranged for another client yet. I’m happy to go back to paying full for it if that’s a deciding factor for you. If it’s gone already please don’t tell me by text. We can talk about it in session. It’s been another really hard week, see you tomorrow. Lucy’ I had been thinking about sending her a message every single day since our session last Saturday. I wanted to ask for a phone call but I couldn’t imagine what I would say to her if we did speak… ‘oh I just feel awful and wanted to hear your voice…’ hmmm… so I held on and held on. It’s been a long seven days.

I walked into her room and she greeted me with a huge smile and hugged me straight away. I love that we have moved on from me nervously asking if I can have a hug. It just happens now, after so much talking about hugging… months of talking about it and not doing it… now it feels natural to hug on arrival and when I leave… still feels so massively moving and holding and wonderful, even the 5 second welcome hugs. She said, ‘it’s great to see you,’ and I couldn’t speak, I was shaky and my breathing all uneven and weird. I put my keys and phone on the table and went to the toilet. When I came back in she was doing something on her phone, she often says she’s checking it’s off just before the session.

Anna said, ‘so, your text… the Tuesday sessions… let’s get this sorted.’ I cringed and covered my face with my scarf and she said, ‘no it’s okay, it’s not bad news, it’s just a bit of a change…’ I peeked out from over the top of my scarf and she explained that she has given my Tuesday slot to a new client, that she has a waiting list (which felt weird to hear – like, I’m so happy for her that she is so successful, she deserves that, she’s amazing! But also, it makes me worry that she could easily drop me and fill my space in a split second. She doesn’t need me… but that’s another story). She said that although my time isn’t available any more, a later time is free now because someone is stopping at the end of the year. I very quickly said I wanted that time. I asked her if she was annoyed that I’d changed my mind. I said, ‘I’m really sorry I feel like you’re going to say fuck sake Lucy make your mind up, this isn’t the first time you’ve said something and changed your mind, you can’t keep doing this – but you know, my minds all over the place and I find it hard to make decisions.’ Anna said, ‘you should see in my head then… yeah just coz I’m a therapist doesn’t mean I’m perfect, I change my mind all the time… we were able to figure it out, it all worked out.’ I said, ‘I don’t know why I automatically assume you’ll be angry with me.’ Anna said, ‘yeah I was going to bring that up, I wondered if we could maybe talk about that today? Did you have something in mind for today?’ I said, ‘yeah I wanted to continue talking about the last session, I’ve processed some stuff I wanted to talk about… can we talk about both?’ She said, ‘no its okay this can wait, let’s talk about your thing first, shelve my thing.’ I said, ‘but can we just talk about your thing for like 5 minutes then do mine coz mine is a big one.’ She said, ‘Lucy, there’s no rush, it’s going to take longer than 5 minutes to talk about my thing so I’ll write it down and we can talk about it another time… let’s focus on your thing.’ And so we did just that.

I started to say that I was going to talk about the thoughts I was having around her saying that my adult trusts her but my child doesn’t and Anna said, ‘okay that sounds important, before we do… what made you change your mind about the Tuesdays?’ I said, ‘I realised I was rescuing my husband.’ She asked what I meant and I said, ‘I was only cutting down my sessions so that he can afford to go to therapy. But it’s not my job to enable him, he’sjust  not ready. I said through the week to him that I was really sad I’ve had to stop my Tuesdays and he asked me who was putting me under pressure to stop, I told him I was and he said, ‘well Lucy that spare money’s just going to get swallowed up… do what feels right…’ and I realised that stopping the Tuesday sessions didn’t feel good and when things don’t feel good it’s normally because I’m not ready…’ I looked up at Anna and she was beaming at me. she said, ‘well done! You listened to yourself and you met your own needs, that’s brilliant, Lucy.’ I smiled back at her and sort of slowly nodded and looked away. Still hard to take praise from her. But I’m learning. Anna talked about how my husband is responsible for himself and I can’t persuade him to start therapy when he’s not ready for it. I said he had asked me if I had a good psychology book he could read and Anna laughed and said, ‘welcome to my library!’ she knows I have a huge collection of therapy/psychology books that I stashed away when she gently asked me to stop readingreadingreading as a way to stay in my head. I ended up lending him ‘The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read’ and asked Anna if she’d heard of it. She sort of nodded in an ‘of course I have’ way and we laughed. She then told me to back off from him, give him space on his own journey and to not ask him what page he’s on…I heard her and took note.

I said, ‘I’ve done a lot of processing this week and, well actually before I talk about all of that, so I just wanted to say to you… see, you know how I talk with a lot of imagery when I’m really struggling and the words don’t come but pictures do and… well when I was finding it really hard and I talked about the road and the fog and you stepped right into that metaphor and just asked me what the fog was like and suggested we pull over and… it was seriously fucking amazing Anna! Like, perfectly exactly what I needed, you know!’ I looked at her and she looked kind of emotional. I said, ‘you didn’t try to pull me back into logic and words and explaining… Paul used to intellectualise and he would observe what was happening then explain it to me and it would snap me back out and I wouldn’t feel anything anymore but you… you entered my world. That was amazing, thank you so much.’ Anna said, ‘you’re welcome, you know that I think in pictures so it makes perfect sense to me, I’m just glad that works for you… and of course it is important to bring you back, that is the end goal, but there is no hurry, I’d rather take it as a sign that you’re needing to slow down and that part of you needs someone to step into the pictures with you and we can walk out of it together when you’re ready.’ I could have leapt across the room and wrapped my arms round her waist in that moment. She then said, ‘I think, when you feel the fog come down and you lose connection with yourself… you also lose me. We need to find ways that you can keep the connection to me, like a guiding light shining through the fog. That no matter how thick and bleak it gets, you can still see that I’m there shining through it all. A constant, with you through this… I never left you, you just struggle to see me when the fog comes down.’ She described, ‘you know when you’re driving in fog and you can see the faint fog lights of the car in front of you… very faint but you know they’re there… we need to find a way for you to see that I am still here beside you.’ It was a really striking image to have, that even though the fog was blinding – her light was there in the distance. She never left me.

I took a big deep breath in and out and then she said, ‘what image did you have about today’s session?’ I said, ‘hmmm… I’d imagined you sitting next to me, because of what we’re going to talk about and I hoped I would feel a connection with you, without a wall there.’ She smiled and said, ‘would you like me to come over then?’ I nodded and so she rearranged the chairs and placed herself at an angle next to me. a few minutes in I asked if we could be closer and without hesitation, she pushed the chairs completely together and sat down asking if that was okay. I can’t explain how much it means to me that she’s okay with sitting close to me. She’s really okay with sitting right next to me. She isn’t repulsed, she doesn’t want to quickly move away, she doesn’t want to look away. It’s not too much for her. It’s amazing.

I really struggled to get going, told her I was massively anxious… she said, ‘okay so you were talking about the fog and the spaceyness and the loosing connection,’ and I said, ‘yes and I am experiencing that fogginess right now…’ she said, ‘okay I wonder if that fog is creeping in because you know you are trying to tell me something that didn’t work or you feel like what you want to say might come across as a criticism and you’re worried I will be angry with you or it will cause a rift between us?’ I said, ‘yes… that’s it.’ She then launched in to this amazing speech… ‘okay Lucy, I want you to see if you can take a step back away from that fear, there’s the inner critic telling you that I will be defensive or hurt by what you’re going to say and maybe I’ll want to stop working with you if you push me too hard. That’s not going to happen. So, I want you to fuck the censoring and just try to share your feelings with me because this is all very important and it’s very important that you experience telling me how you feel about this and even if we don’t agree, we will still be okay at the end of that… do you think you can give that a go?’ I nodded. We were sitting side by side and I was sort of looking down and slightly to the side, looking at her hands and the arm of the chair, it’s a good positioning because I feel close to her without feeling in the spotlight.

I said, ‘I did an inner child guided meditation this week, I wanted to try to connect with her in a different way… so it was a short thing where you imagine your childhood home, I imagined the one I was happy in coz I thought that would be easier, you imagine your child is standing at the front door and you go up to her and take her hand and walk through the house with her and just notice things. You’re meant to notice what is in each room, who is there, what they’re saying, what you see… it was all empty Anna, there was no one there, nothing there, empty echoing rooms, just her alone there… then you are meant to walk away from that house and walk her back to your life but I was crying quite a lot by then so I didn’t do the ending properly… but it was amazing that I could even hold her hand!’ Anna asked where I had got the meditation and I told her it was on youtube.

I said, ‘I was thinking about the trust thing – of course I trust you – I know you’re a safe person, you’re reliable and consistent and you’ve been so kind to me and… but there are some things I don’t know… I can’t predict how you’re going to react to some things… um and there have been some things you’ve said that…’ I started to say how hard it was to talk about, that I didn’t want to hurt her feelings and I hadn’t thought all this through so didn’t know what I wanted to say. She reminded me again to ‘fuck the censoring’ and that this is my therapy and it’s important to share how I feel. So I continued… ‘my brain interprets some of the things differently to how you intend them. I know you mean for me to feel supported by these things but the inner critic pops up and I just can’t take any of it in… if you imagine there is an actual child sitting in the room… (she made an agreeing noise) and when I’m talking about the really really hard stuff… like… um well sometimes you say things that sound generic and I struggle to believe them.’ There was a silence and I felt myself sinking in my seat. I covered my head with my jumper and she encouraged me to keep going. She said, ‘nothing bad is going to happen to you when you share this, I really want to encourage you to keep going.’

I said, ‘maybe I need to give an example then… um… when I was trying to tell you about when I was… um… (agonising delaying)… when I was assaulted and you said the words to me, you said, ‘did he make you do something you didn’t want to do’ and I just nodded, I hadn’t even told you anything I just nodded and you came and sat next to me and you said, ‘I see you… that wasn’t your fault… you did what you needed to do to survive…’ it felt like you leapt from the first step to the last step… all of that, it’s just therapy jargon, it’s stuff I’ve read over and over. All the therapy books have ruined me for this stuff coz I’ve read it all and I know it doesn’t take away from the fact that yeah maybe you really mean it but in my head it just sounds like you’re defaulting to some powerpoint slide you’ve seen at a training course.’ Anna said, ‘okay, I see what you’re saying, but you were never seen as a child, and your previous therapist didn’t see you, it’s vitally important that I see you…’ I said, ‘yeah but there’s a difference between having a felt sense of being seen which is powerful and connecting and being told I am seen which just feels empty.’ She picked up her notepad and started taking some notes and said, ‘this is really good, this is so good, you’re teaching me how to help you… keep going,’ so I took a big deep breath and kept going, ‘I’d hardly said anything. How can you say that you see me or that it wasn’t my fault when you don’t even know what happened, you don’t know what I did!’ I took a breath and said, ‘you said to me at the end that I might want to talk more or that might be enough for me and what I heard was that should be enough for you, that I should stop talking… that I’ve waited my whole life to find someone to finally talk to about all this and you’re telling me to stop talking and…’

Anna interrupted, ‘Lucy, you were 14… you were still a child, there is no way any of it was your fault. He was an adult and you were frightened and didn’t know what to do. No one was there to protect you so your protective part stepped in and created this self critical story around the abuse, that if only you had done something… it’s safer for you to believe it was because of something you did wrong, but that is not true. The child doesn’t understand and the critical part wants you to stop talking about it. That’s why I explicitly state these things… and maybe this is where the fog comes in, the resistance to accept the words I am saying to you, to protect you from the reality of what I’m saying, it’s too painful to hear from me that I see you… and maybe some days there is no fog, it’s just black… so then we will talk about the blackness. When we are talking about these things in future sessions, do you think you would be up for telling me what the critical voice is saying?’ I nodded and said, ‘yes but often I can’t even hear it, it’s like when you can’t tune in to the radio station you want and you hear overlapping voices and mixed up songs or white noise. I can’t pick out the words until I’m home and then it becomes clearer.’ Anna said, ‘that white noise is telling us something though and so I’d invite you to tell me when it is there as well… and when you are quiet and I am quiet too, I am staying quiet for a reason. I don’t want to cover that white noise with my words, I want you to be able to have the space to explore the noise and the overlapping voices and share your experience with me so we can work on untangling it together. How does that sound?’ I agreed that I would try.

Then a weird thing happened. I could hear muffled sounds outside Anna’s room and see shadows moving under the door. I told her there was someone outside the door and my voice sounded distant and small to me. However, when we both stopped and looked nothing happened so she kept talking a bit more, then I saw it again and this paranoid panic washed over me, ‘there’s someone out there, there is, I can see them at the door!’ There was this moment of pure, beautiful connection and care… I expected her to say there was no one there and that I should just ignore it and keep talking but she didn’t, she got up out of her seat, confidently walked over to the door and opened it. I was shaking, I felt so scared and small, looking back I can see I was triggered to an unsafe, young memory and she wasn’t triggered so she was behaving like a normal adult but at the time she was like this brave hero who was saving me. She stepped out of the door, keeping it mostly closed for privacy and then came back in, closed the door and said, ‘there’s a cupboard just outside my door, my colleague was getting something from the cupboard, she’s in her room now… you feeling okay?’ in an instant I felt fine again… it was actually quite amazing, I’d expressed a fear, she’d checked on it and reassured me I was safe… it probably lasted 3 minutes, if that, but it felt like a tiny little puzzle piece of trust or something similar had clicked in to place. I’m not sure she will even have noticed how momentous it was for me, perhaps I’ll share this next time I see her.

I then continued, ‘when I’ve told you about times mum hurt me and you’ve said things like, ‘you were a child, it wasn’t your fault…’ I dunno I can’t think of it anymore but you say things sometimes that sound like pat answers and I just can’t take it in…’ Anna said, ‘I have an image of a bubble around us when you’re opening up and sharing with me and then I say something like that and it’s like I’ve taken a pin and popped the bubble and you lose the trust in that instant.’ I nodded, feeling quite sad at how accurate that fragile, delicate analogy is… the tightrope she walks… I said, ‘you can’t win, I’m so sensitive, I mean what are you meant to say to me? Of course you’re going to say you believe me, I deserved better… all that.’ She said, ‘yeah but your parent ego want’s to keep me at a distance, part of you really doesn’t trust me and is looking for any evidence to support the belief that I don’t really care about you.’

I said, ‘I feel so bad about all this, I want you to know that so much of what you do is helping me, so much of what you say is exactly what I need and I’m working really hard at this and…’ She stopped me and said, ‘Lucy, this is very important, it’s really great that you’re sharing this, you’re helping me understand how I can best support you… you may feel worried that you’re criticising me but you’re not,’ She looked at me in my eyes and repeated, ‘trust me, you’re not!… you’re telling me how that part of you feels when she can’t speak for herself… that child part of you who is very frightened and doesn’t know what she’s allowed to say, this is really great work… thank you for telling me all of this. Do you think that part is able to communicate when she’s triggered?’ I shook my head.

I said, ‘you know when we were talking in the last session about something and you asked me if I could feel our connection, that you had your hand on me and you felt the connection and I said I could feel you trying to connect with me but I felt there was a wall there… I loved all that, I loved that you asked me if I felt the connection and I loved that you said maybe it’s a small wall… all of that imagery really helps me feel closer to you… (she wrote this down) you know my mum and dad never had time for all that and Paul always tried to get me to intellectualise but you really let me explore things the way my brain sees them…’ She said, ‘you were always a very creative child, that is what helped you get through some incredibly difficult times and that is what’s helping you progress in your therapy now. You are able to articulate things to me through pictures and when there are no words – images are there for us… when there are no images, colours…’

Anna said, ‘I hope that if you take nothing else from this session and when you are driving away from here going over the session and you’re questioning, did we actually talk about that, did I really say that, was she actually okay with this I want you to remember that we did say these things and that I’m saying well done. I want to hear all of this even though we may not agree on all of it. I will still say these things in session in the future, that I see you… I want you to know we can survive not agreeing and I will still be here even if you tell me in the moment that you hate what I’ve said…’ I said, ‘but it’s really scary, I find it frightening when we don’t agree or when you don’t understand what I’m trying to say… really frightening… like that’s one of the things that makes me shut down… remember when I said to you that I felt myself shutting down and I wanted to sleep? It felt like I was dying because I had this felt sense that you weren’t here with me anymore, like you’d left me…’ Anna said, ‘can we liken it to a sense of losing gravity and floating away? That you don’t have a sense of yourself…?’ I said, ‘that is EXACTLY what the dissociation feels like… lack of gravity… and I start feeling like that when I don’t trust your responses. The spaceyness… dizzy, floating.’ We looked at each other and she nodded and smiled as if she was saying with her eyes, ‘I completely understand because I know that feeling.’ I’m imagining that in my head but it really felt like she got it on a personal level. Anna said, ‘so when you’re shutting down, what do you need in that moment? I have an image of a very young child, 3 or 4 years old and I’m spouting all this adult therapy jargon and it’s completely going over her head and she just feels ignored and lost and like she doesn’t exist.’ There was quite a long silence. I’m so floored by how powerful it is when I feel understood. Like it makes me feel so full of hope and promise… she fucking understands me. I repeated, ‘what do I need?’ She said, ‘yes, what does your child need? What does she need that she is unable to ask for?’ I said, ‘she needs to feel like you really want to be here. To hear you say, ‘I’m here with you now’, she needs to tell you she’s scared and she needs to feel your touch…’ Anna said, ‘in that moment, is she aware that there’s another part of you that understands the words I’m saying?’ I said, ‘no! She hasn’t got a clue what’s going on, she doesn’t know she can trust you, she doesn’t… they don’t… I think there are big walls between the parts…’ my heart was pounding because we haven’t really talked explicitly about ‘parts’ a lot and I didn’t want her to freak out but she just carried on talking as if we were sharing info about our favourite food or something.

A bit later we started talking again about when her responses are slightly out and it feels like techniques or jargon it reminds me of mum and dad. I said, ‘mum and dad both didn’t listen to me but in different ways. My dad would sit there distracted with the paper or football on the tv and he would pretend he was listening but none of it went in whereas my mum would look like she was listening but whatever I said she would twist around and make it about her.’ Anna said, ‘and what does talking to me feel like?’ I said, ‘It’s like night and day. I know you’re listening.’ Anna asked how I knew and I said, ‘I can feel it inside myself, I feel you are listening, you respond to what I’m saying, you remember things I’ve said, in so many ways you show me you’re listening.’

We started to talk about how frightened I feel when we don’t agree or when I say something that appears to be pushing the boundaries a bit. Anna said, ‘I get the feeling you have a rebellious kid inside you who keeps wandering off and you keep pulling her back into line.’ I nodded enthusiastically and she said, ‘But kids wander off for a reason… maybe we should let her go and see where she takes us?’ I said, ‘but I want people to like me, that’s why I pull her into line, I don’t want to be difficult and push you away…’ Anna said, ‘that’s your critical parent coming in saying if you explore or wander off, you’ll be told off or abandoned.’ I said, ‘fuck sake, why is the parent ego such an arsehole!?’ and within a millisecond she laughed and said, ‘because the adults in your life were arseholes!’ we both laughed and then she continued, ‘… but also you do have nurturing, supportive sides to your parent ego, you did have caring adults too, but your critical parent is very strong.’ I said, ‘the critical parent voice can be really belittling and I think it belittles others to keep the wall between me and other people so I don’t let them in.’ Anna said, ‘just so you know we have 5 minutes left.’ And I tutted and said we’d have to leave it til next session then. She made a note of that and said, ‘okay we’ll pick up on the critical voice belittling others on Tuesday…’ I was staring at the wall and she said, ‘where did you just go?’ (THAT Anna… THAT’S when I FEEL seen… when you notice I’ve gone somewhere!!) I said, ‘I went back to Tom. He did a schema questionnaire with me early on and told me that the results showed I had a big abandonment schema and I had unrelenting high standards and was very critical of myself and others. I fought him on it and said I wasn’t critical of others.’ Anna said, ‘so, do you think he might be right?’ I reluctantly said I did but that it was a protective strategy, that it stopped me getting close to people coz I knew they’d leave me. We agreed to come back to this in a few days.

When she hugged me goodbye, Anna thanked me for sharing everything I did today and told me I should be really proud of how I pushed myself. She asked me what I’d taken from the session and I thought for a minute and then said, ‘that you’re going to stick around even when I have difficult things to say… and that I can say difficult things.’ we smiled and reluctantly I left… always, always wanting more.

Since the session I’ve been thinking about why the ‘therapy jargon’ and techniques is so abhorrent to me. I have a theory. I think on some unconscious level, I believe that when Anna resorts to her techniques and tried and tested therapy chat, it’s because she’s out of her depths or struggling against being triggered by the material I’m presenting. She’s not Anna with Lucy, she’s therapist with client. It’s like a part of me believes that she is finding it really difficult to respond in an authentic and connected way because I am hurting her so she goes to the baseline, safe responses that she knows works… it’s a fear of my poison, a fear I am breaking her, a fear that she will abandon me.

That, I will take to my session on Tuesday.

4 thoughts on “A Guiding Light Through the Fog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s