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.
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.’