After my last session on Tuesday I sent this text to Anna:
Last night’s session was really hard. I’ve been feeling panicky this morning but I think it’s just because it’s frightening to be so vulnerable and honest. I still get scared that I’m too much for you and you’ll want to stop working with me. There really aren’t the words to express how grateful I am for what you’re doing with me. Sitting with me and helping me through all these thoughts and feelings and for letting me have hugs. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, thank you for helping me 💙
She text me back the next morning saying:
You’re very welcome Lucy.
Then on the Friday morning she sent me a text saying she was very sorry but had to cancel Saturday’s session because she had a virus. She said she knew it would be disappointing and she apologised for that. She offered me the Tuesday which I took. I actually felt okay about the cancelled session and just wanted to enjoy the day with my family but the weekend ended up kind of shitty and on Monday I felt the need to send this message:
Hi Anna, This past week’s been hard going in my head/feelings and I’m very anxious this morning. I’m at work but really just want to go home. I thought it’d help settle me if I touch base with you and check that we’re going to see each other tomorrow evening. Lucy
She replied saying she could offer me an earlier time on the Tuesday which I took. Then, because of her short (interpreted as abrupt) texts, I stressed that she was pissed off with me.
She buzzed me in and when I went in she seemed sort of off. I hung my jacked up and I went to the toilet and when I came back in she was already sitting down. The past few months we’ve hugged at the start of the session and thi schange to our routine felt really rejecting and distancing. I knew I’d feel disconnected from her if I didn’t ask for a hug so I braved it and said, ‘can I hug you please?’ Thankfully she got up and gave me a hug. I could hear she was still loaded with the cold so I said, ‘aw I’m sorry you’re still ill, that’s really shit.’ We sat down and I asked her how she was and she said she felt better. I thanked her for coming in despite still feeling crap. I really did feel so grateful but I was also sensing that she really wasn’t fully well yet and could probably have done with more time off.
Anna then asked me how I was doing. I immediately started to feel myself pull away. Looking around the room, avoiding any eye contact. I started to answer, saying it had been a hard week. I couldn’t even remember what had made it hard. I said, ‘I actually feel like I don’t need to say anything today, I just want to sit with you.’ she said, ‘that makes sense… there’s possibly a fear that if you go too deeply, I’ll leave again.’ We didn’t really go further into that at this point but I was puzzled y what she meant. I felt very distant and ‘away’ then I realised if we were going to get anywhere in the session I was going to need her beside me so I asked her if she minded sitting closer. She moved over but I had to ask her again to move her chair closer. I asked, ‘do you really not want to sit close to me?’ and she said, ‘no, it’s fine but I just don’t want you to catch this virus, it’s been a nasty one. I want you to really hear me, I am happy to sit beside you – any distance you might feel or be aware of when you reflect after the session is purely because I’m mindful that I don’t want you to catch this.’ I nodded and smiled. Randomly she talked about preparing for the snow. She said, ‘I’ve been thinking about that long journey you make to get here… I don’t want you getting stuck on the motorway in a snow drift just to come to a session so if you feel it’s not safe to drive up here just remember you can have a phone session, just text me during the day. Obviously I will be in the office coz I work during the day but I’ll pick up your text at some point, I just think it’s important to have a contingency plan in case this snow they keep threatening us with actually happens!’ I said it was lovely she’d thought of that and I appreciated it.
She said, ‘so in your text you said that you’re worried you’re going to be too much for me… shall we explore that a little?’ I said, ‘it’s fine I don’t really feel like that any more.’ Anna said, ‘how were you after the session cancelation on Saturday? I said, ‘I really was fine actually. I was glad to have a full day with the family. But then Adam was in a fowl mood and the whole day was filled with arguments and that really threw me.’ Anna said, ‘do you think there might have been a connection between the arguments and me cancelling the session?’ I said I didn’t think so. How foolish of me!
Anna asked me what the arguments were about. I explained it allto her in excruciating detail all the while thinking ‘why are you going into so much detail?’ but I’ll briefly explain it here – basically Adam was grumpy coz he’d had a few drinks the night before. Plus. he’s an awful passenger and was criticising me all morning as I drove us around places in the morning. I just wanted a nice day. I hate having arguments in front of the kids. He was stressing about money and saying we didn’t have the money for petrol, this was a wasted journey, didn’t have the money to go get lunch etc. it’s his anxiety and I understand it but it annoys me that he can’t keep it in his own head and talk to me about these things when we’re on our own. I don’t want to argue in front of the kids and I don’t want to talk about money worries in front of them. I was explaining all of this to Anna, sitting beside her staring straight ahead, ranting. I continued explaining that I’d ended up using my overdraft to buy us lunch and kept trying to hush Adam’s complaints. Then on the way home he asked me to stop at Tesco so he could buy some ‘supplies’… basically more beer for that night. I told him no and kept driving home. I could feel his anger but he wasn’t saying a word.
A little later in the session I explained that when Adam feels and expresses intense emotions I feel like I absorb them like a sponge and then they become my feelings and he is fine. This is an exact reinactment of what used to happen when I was a child with my mother. Her feelings would burst out of her and I’d take them in to me. I then end up physically knotted up while the other person can get on with their day.
So anyway, he gave me the silent treatment the whole way home then when we parked up he got out, didn’t help with the kids, stormed in the house and went upstairs and stayed there. We had a text argument where I told him that it triggers a deep pain in me (the way he behaved) because my mum would complain about having no money, wouldn’t provide things for me that I needed then she’d go and buy herself fags and alcohol and make up and jewellery and anything she wanted. I don’t want my kids experiencing that horrible, painful confusion of believing that you don’t deserve to have what you need. I told Adam if he hadn’t moaned about having no money all day in front of the kids then I wouldn’t have had a problem with him wanting to spend his money… though I was disappointed that he had £15 in his account and would prioritise booze over treating us to lunch. I also told him that if he was spending the money on something that would benefit him in a more positive way then I would also be fine with it. But the fact he’s wasting it on alcohol just really grates on me. He said I am controlling and that I spend hundrds of pounds on therapy and he can spend his tiny amound of spare money on whatever he likes. I was not happy about him compairing my therapy session sto his beer sessions… I want him to do better. I want him to learn how to be kind and caring to himself. I’ve given up trying to persuade him to go to therapy but at the very least could he not take up cycling again or join a club or something. I want him to parent himself. I don’t want to have to look after him… but the thing is, I know that 90% of the time things are great with us and I don’t really have anything to worry about… it just triggers deeper stuff for me.
Anna asked me how I was doing and I struggled to orient myself… I saw on her watch that half an hour had passed and I switched to this unfiltered, stroppy, huffy part that said, ‘I’m pissed off I wasted all that time talking about Saturday! I didn’t want that to dominate the session.’ Anna said, ‘oh but it’s not a waste, it’s been really important… you’ve been talking about Adam but your child has been telling me about your mum. She’s told me that she hated all the arguments at the weekends, that she just wanted to have nice, happy days… she’s told me how much it hurt to be told there was no money for the things she needed and then to watch her mum buy anything she wanted. She’s told me how painful and confusing it was to hear all the adult conversations about money worries… your child was feeling a lot of pain… does that feel right?’ I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me. This total agony in my whole body. I couldn’t look at her, it felt like tunnel vision. My breathing felt like it was all on the outbreath. Like shallow in and hard forced out. Tight in my chest. My tummy hurt. I nodded.
Anna said, ‘which part do you think sent me the text saying she felt too much?’ I said, ‘a really fucking depressed part!’ Anna said, ‘hmmm… the same part that was here on Tuesday?’ I nodded. I was now sitting with my knees up, my arms wrapped round my chest gripping onto my arms. Anna asked, ‘do you feel that it was your adult part that was upset on Tuesday or your child part?’ I said, ‘well it wasn’t my fucking adult!’ she made an understanding noise and said, ‘do you want to know where I’m going with this?’ and I nodded. she said, ‘I think it was a very very small part who was upset on Tuesday and because she cried she felt very frightening that she was too much for me and then I cancelled Saturdays session and abandoned her and she feels like she scared me away. So at the start of this session she thought ‘it’s okay she’s here now, let’s not say anything, let’s not feel or get upset in case she leaves again,’ does that make sense?’ I gave a tiny nod. I said, ‘there’s so much shame in me.’ she said, ‘I know.’ In her fucking painfully addictive gentle tone that I just want to gouge out of her and shove inside me. I want to be able to house that gentle kindness.
I was still hunched and curled in on myself. I rambled, ‘my mum would drink til she was sick and I’d have to look after her. She would be overwhelmed by big massive emotions when she was drinking, cried all the time, loudly, it scared me… I’d do anything to make her howling stop. I feel like an idiot for what I did on Tuesday… it’s like performance anxiety or something… like this stupid pathetic tiny cries that I fucking stifled and squeezed out of me, hiding behind my hands like a fucking child and what? Am I meant to be proud of that? Fuck sake I just want to be like a normal fucking person who cries normally. I can’t even fucking cry properly and you know when you said, ‘let it all out’ I just felt like… fuck I just felt like ‘this is me letting go Anna I don’t know how else to do this. This is me fucking doing all I can do…’ but it wasn’t good enough its just fucking pathetic!’ Anna said, ‘Lucy, me saying, ‘let it out’ was not about me saying ‘do it louder, do it longer… push harder’ it was about me saying, ‘this is okay, I’m here, I’m not leaving, this part of you is welcome here… let what ever comes, come. Let whatever you can out… I hope that makes sense. It’s okay that you cry quietly, it’s okay that it doesn’t last very long. It’s okay if one day you cry louder or you always cry silently, it’s okay if you cry for a whole session or only ever cry just for a few seconds… it’s all just fine because it’s your experience.’ I was listening and occasionally this hypervigilance would kick in and I’d dart my eyes at her all over her face to try to see if she was being genuine then go back to staring at the wall or her watch or my knees. She continued, ‘I know it’s hard for you to let yourself be upset here and I was so proud and so honoured that you felt safe enough to do that with me. It takes a lot for you to cry and you being comfortable to let that happen here with me is a privilege.’
I had this powerful sense in my body of the fact that I love her and wish she was more than just my therapist. I said, ‘I think the last session was really hard and then you cancelling and then Adam abandoning me through the argument, it all just mounted and made me feel awful.’ She said, ‘so it was a series of events that culminated to make you feel alone with it all, and that small part of you was scared that she’d pushed me away?’ More nodding.
At one point I said, ‘I think it really is so shitty that this is the only hour in my week when I feel like I can be this version of me… this is shit, it’s just this one hour…’ Anna started to explain that it’s totally understandable that the therapeutic hour is important to me and that anyone who said otherwise doesn’t understand the importance of this relationship and the work. She said what she’s said before about it being admirable that I’m so ‘dedicated to getting better.’ I kind of hate this phrase… I just makes it so clear that there’s something wrong with me. I told her there was so much shame in the crying. I said, ‘it’s the most intimate and personal thing I could ever do in front of someone I feel like totally naked and exposed and like it’s really hard to feel safe when I feel that unprotected.’ She was sort of enthusiastically agreeing, ‘uh hu, yup… yes it feels like being naked, it’s very exposing.’
I said, ‘I hate this feeling so much, I hate it… I don’t even know what it is or how to describe it… it’s like an agitation or a fucking jumping vibration in my body like it’s just so powerful and I don’t know what to do with it.’ Anna said, ‘it sounds like rage, does it feel like rage?’ I said I didn’t know. I felt confused but now in reflection, I guess I can see why rage makes sense. All of the stuff that surfaced in the session about my parents, the triggers that I’d explored, the child feeling abandoned by Anna and Adam… it makes sense. But in the session I was still in this fuzzy place of not seeing it clearly. I angrily ranted, ‘I really wanted to self harm this week. Every day it was such a strong urge. Every fucking day. It’s not even really gone away… like I feel it right now.’ Anna asked me what I have needed, what was the need behind the urge. I was so unwilling to enter into that kind of introspect. I said, ‘I wanted to fucking feel the pain, like feel it hurt, I wanted to cut my fucking skin and bleed. I know you didn’t ask that but that’s what I wanted I don’t care what I needed…’ she said, ‘you wanted to express the pain… and did you hurt yourself?’ I had my hands up at my face and my eyes closed totally blocking her out. I paused then a raised voice burst out of me, ‘NO!’ I put my hand up at her and said, ‘but I don’t want a fucking ‘well done’ coz it fucking stayed inside me all fucking week and it’s still here, I could do it right here right now!’ Anna said, ‘and it’s really important to validate that pain, that you so desperately want to cut yourself. It feels almost unbearable, and yet you resisted. Something made you stop yourself. Something else kicked in. That’s something to be proud of.’
I said, ‘I mean, a part of me is proud of myself for you know like getting upset with you sitting beside me and for then all week resisting the urge to self harm but… ugh it’s a really small part of me though coz…’ she interrupted to say, ‘it doesn’t matter how small, it’s a part that’s proud of you and you should be proud.’ I said, ‘hmmm but there’s the other voice saying, ‘fuck sake it’s not that big a deal I mean it’s your fucking body if you wanna do it just fucking do it. It’s hardly the worst thing a person can do. Just do it and stop taking about it! It would instantly make you feel so much better!’ She said, ‘I know you don’t want to hear praise but I’m going to say it, I’m so proud of you for not hurting yourself, well done! It’s a big deal because you looked after yourself and you deserve to be looked after.’ She asked me what had stopped me from harming myself and I said, ‘I think that’s one of the things I’m angry about though because my body is not my own. There’s not a single part of me that wouldn’t be seen by someone… Adam and the kids… I thought of every creative story imaginable for accidents that could have happened where I could hurt myself and make out like it wasn’t deliberate. But it’s so hard to lie and I just couldn’t come up with anything. I can’t even hurt myself if I want to because I don’t want to tell Adam about how I’ve been feeling…’ Anna said, ‘what do you need when you’re feeling like this?’ I said, ‘what I WANT IS TO CUT!!’ She said, ‘because the physical pain is an expression of your emotional pain.’ And I said, ‘yeah and it gets it out. It stops the emotional pain. It’s an expression yeah…’ she said ‘and now you have other ways you can express your pain.’ I said ‘but it doesn’t feel like it.’
I felt like I was hunched inside a shoebox placed on the seat beside her. I wasn’t feeling connected to her and I felt so tightly coiled that my lungs couldn’t inflate. It could practically feel my intestines slow to a halt. I said, ‘I feel so tense and tight and like constricted or something like I can’t fucking breathe…’ Anna nodded and said, ‘what would it be like to relax your arms down at your side and sit up straight, take a deep breathe?’ she did each of the things as she described them and I just remained locked in the shoebox. In my head there were a million different voices screaming at me and I couldn’t make out any single one voice and I didn’t know what to do. I was then aware that she’d let out a gentle, breathy smile laugh and I looked at her and she had a kind expression on her face like she found it funny and endearing that I was being so stubborn or something. I sort of laughed back and said, ‘I don’t want to! I don’t want to move.’ She asked what I feel might happen if I move and I said, ‘I feel like I’ll end up a puddle on the floor.’ She sort of chuckled and said that was unlikely and I said I felt spacey and weird. I was feeling panicked because I had been on and off dissociative all the way through the session and I needed to feel connected to her. She immediately became quite instructional. ‘okay, place both your feet on the floor, feel the floor, sit with our back against the chair and take a deep breath.’ She did all these things and as if I was a robot following her instructions I did it all too then I sort of crumbled inside, hunched shoulders, hollow insides, ‘I don’t want to feel in my body I don’t want to feel I don’t want to be grounded I don’t want to feel.’ i was whispering, or feeling very far away. She said she understood and that she knows this is painful. She repeated the grounding technique and for some reason this brought me back.
I said, ‘I think I felt like this all the time when I was a teenager.’ She nodded and made an agreeing sound and I said, ‘I’m feeling very teenagery just now actually.’ She immediately smiled and said, ‘yes I know, I get that!’ I looked at her and laughed and said, ‘really?’ she was nodding and raising her eyebrows and said, ‘oh yess, uh hu! …but thank you for telling me that, Lucy. I’m glad that part of you was here tonight.’
It actually amazes me that she can withstand that stubborn, resistant, angry part of me. But then I wonder if there’s something quite appealing about spending time with me when I am far less censored. My teen parts are raw, filled with all sorts of rage and righteous indignation. They’re not interested in being overly polite or people pleasery, they make her work for the connection… maybe she likes that?
There was a quiet moment where she said something about being grateful that I was able to share everything I shared today and that she really was very pleased that I hadn’t hurt myself. I felt the tears brimming my eyes and I said, ‘I find your kindness and care really overwhelming you know Anna, it really hurts…’ She said, ’I know.’ I said, ‘when we first started working together I don’t think I really believed it. I thought it was all bullshit therapy jargon that you said to everyone.’ She smiled and I said, ‘but I think that’s just because it hurts too much to believe you .’ she sounded moved and said, ‘I know, it’s fucking agony…’
Anna changed her tone and asked me how Luna is… ‘still in one piece?’ she joked. I smiled and said yes. I talked about how I’ve been looking online researching how to wash Jelly Cat teddies so they stay plush. She suggested I use a washing machine bag. We chatted a bit about that and I said it would be weird putting her in the machine because she’s like a baby to me… I guess she was grounding me with day to day chit chat.
Anna then said she’d been thinking about Luna through the week and wondering, ‘she’s too big to fit in your bag at work and I wonder if there’s a smaller version you could get or a strip of the fur that you could take with you so you can have the sensory calming affect of touching and stroking her fur wherever you are.’ I felt really touched by the fact that she had been thinking about me and just sat with that lovely warm feeling for a moment.
I then said, ‘I’d thought about bringing her in again to another session… I don’t know why but I just thought I might..?’ I felt a prickle of embarrassment and Anna suddenly became very animated and exclaimed, ‘yes! That’s a great idea. That would be lovely.’ I could feel my eyes widen and a young playful sense of wonder around Anna’s enthusiasm and her total lack of shaming around this mid-thirties woman and her stuffed panda. Then the inevitable pain poured in. It hurts so much when she’s nice to me. My eyes started to well up again and Anna subtly acknowledged my sadness with an understanding facial expression and said, ‘we won’t stay with this as it’s so close to the end of the session but know that it is okay to bring it back in next session or whenever you want. And Luna is welcome any time. It would be lovely to have her back in here… washed or unwashed.’ I sometimes wonder if Anna is using Luna as symbolism for my youngest parts… when I saw her hold Luna a few sessions ago it felt like I was watching her interact with me as a child. It was very powerful. I had totally personified this little panda. I was watching her dancing the bear about on her knee talking to her and I was thinking, ‘aw I bet she’s loving being on Anna’s knees, getting talked to and looked at like that…’ it felt lovely and also I felt a lot of shame about it being so meaningful to me.
So much of my attachment wound is tied up in the teen years. These moody, huffy, stubborn attitudes that surface in therapy are a repressed version of me that was never allowed to be fully expressed. As a child and as a teenager I had to constantly supress any feelings so that I could be the grown up, look after everyone, be mature. I couldn’t huff and moan and rebel. Often I was the only one behaving and holding everything together while everything around me fell apart. In the sessions there is a sense of breaking down and exposing this prickly, protective, damaged young teen who barely has the strength for it all. But I guess the truth is I was already quite broken. And my broken pieces had fused together in a muddled pattern of mixed up coping strategies, defence mechanisms and triggers… this part of me was crammed into that shoe box and has waited for longer than her own lifetime to be let out… so yes I am breaking, but just like we sometimes have to break a bone to set it in the correct position again, perhaps I too need to be broken and guided into place to heal in the way I was always meant to be before I was broken in the first place.