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…
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.
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…