Emotions should not be punished (reflecting on my urges to self harm)

I just finished reading Carolyn Spring’s most recent blog post Meeting Pain With Pain and it gave me clarity about a couple of things.

Firstly… that absolute agony I feel when I accidentally look at Anna when she is resonating with my pain. I could never articulate why it hurts so much to look at her and why it makes me feel like crying. Then I read Carolyn’s words, ‘Now, in therapy, in the eyes of my therapist, my pain is reflected as pain. So there’s no hiding from it now, no dissociating, no pretence: pain hurts. This is the ineffable, unbearable reality of pain: pain hurts.’ And I now realise… I can’t bear to look at her because my pain becomes an unavoidable reality all over her face, it’s confronting and raw. She makes me feel it to the core.

The second thing that Carolyn’s words helped me understand was this… after being in so much emotional pain last night and for most of today, I’ve been so tempted to self harm. I desperately wanted to feel physical pain. She writes, ‘the answer to pain is kindness and empathy. That’s what I need to show myself.’ I realise now that my child has been punished for having needs and feelings her whole life… my knee jerk response to her showing her pain to me is to hurt her!? My child finally trusts me enough to cry her heart out and I’m contemplating physically hurting her for doing that! After reading the blog post and talking with a friend I realised if I hurt myself today it would be like betraying myself. That frightened young part of me doesn’t need to be punished for crying anymore. She needs to be loved, thanked for trusting me with her real and authentic self. And she deserves to be promised that I will protect and look after her and take her to Anna on Saturday to share her pain and have it witnessed and loved.

This is the root of it all…

Tuesday night… I sat down feeling quite relieved to have finally got there. My journey took twice as long as usual because of the traffic and when I relayed this to Anna she suggested we go back to the usual timings and not the earlier one. This feels good. I think anything she suggests I will initially try to accommodate because it feels in my mind like she is being passive and secretly wants me to change my arrangements to suit her suggestion… when actually she genuinely wants me to choose a damn time that suits me. So I agreed to go back to the later time.

I talked about how busy I have been. I went in to some details of the things I’ve been doing. Work. Family life. Kids homework and clubs. Gym classes. Therapy. Parents’ nights. Catching up with friends… she asked me leading questions that were designed to help me see a way round my arrangements. To see if I could move somethings around or maybe not do them all in one week. I was reluctant to change anything, though also wanted it all to change. I told her that my first quiet day is a Thursday and I always feel this massive emotional shift on a Thursday morning as if I am now finally feeling everything that the busyness has covered up for days. She asked me what I thought the business was covering up and I said it’s just the feelings that are always inside me. she asked if it’s things that we are stirring up here and I nodded but felt worried that she was going to say we should stop then, which is illogical but the fear is always there.

I then told her that I have this panicky feeling that I’m wasting our time. I said, ‘this is a recurring fear of mine. It comes up in these sessions. It came up in sessions with Paul. It comes up in my daily life… that I am wasting time. I waste the time I have to myself, it could be put to better use, I waste the time I have with the kids… I’m wasting my precious time in here.. I mean, I have been here (looks at clock and dramatically raises voice) FIFTEEN MINUTES… so it’s basically too late to go into anything deeper now because there’s not enough time to get out of it again and…. Uh it’s all a waste of time!’ Anna smiled and said, ‘I completely disagree. I think this is all very important. This is your daily life and this week is every week. It’s important to look at these things. and I’m wondering, I’m thinking about your mother… Was there a sense when you were a child that things always had to be busy and all of the time filled with no gaps?’ I said, ‘yes definitely with my mum, she would be non stop on the go all the time…’ Anna said, ‘what would happen if she wasn’t busy doing, when there were quiet gaps?’ I said, ‘those were the times that she was more likely to loose it, crying, shouting, talking all the time to me about her problems…’ Anna said, ‘so there’s a sense that if the busyness stops and there’s quiet…’ I interrupted and said, ‘oh my god, fuck I don’t want to be like here! I’m just like her! I am busy all the time and when there are quiet moments I lose the plot and go mental like her!’ Anna said, ‘no, you don’t behave the way she did… I think there’s a fear that if the busyness stops there will be gaps that let things in, things that hurt…’ I said, ‘oh…’ and sat with that for a while. I said, ‘so the keeping busy, the always doing… it’s protecting me from something that can’t even hurt me anymore… from 20 years ago?’ she nodded.

Anna said, ‘what happens when you’re busy, what do you do? What do you do for you?’ I said, ‘well on Sunday night, after a non stop weekend. I talked to my husband about the fact that I’m really proud of us. We’ve achieved a lot this weekend, tackled quite a few stressful dilemmas and we’ve also been very connected with each other, no arguments, lots of things sorted that needed to be sorted. I said to him I might cancel my session on Tuesday as the whole week was looking very busy and I thought it would be nice to have one night off. I thought I should slow down and take a minute so I sat down to check in with myself… after a very adult, organised, proactive two days… I wanted to ask myself how I felt. I immediately started to cry coz I felt this pain in my chest and I cuddled Luna. The message I got from inside was, ‘I just wish I’d been wanted. I wish I’d been cherished. I felt like a burden, I got in the way… everyone was always so busy and stressed and I just added to their problems. I wish my mum had felt glad I was here… I wish there had been time for me.’ It wondered if my child had felt abandoned all weekend and figured that a session on Tuesday would be useful. I also had a dream that you cancelled the session and I was really disappointed so kept the session.’ Anna said, ‘I’m hearing that possibly this hour is the only hour in your week when you get to slow down and just be..?’ I nodded and said, ‘for the past month or so I’ve been wondering about this sense I have of us moving too fast in here… and after the session where I said that we were talking over the feelings… that wasn’t a preplanned thing those were just words that came out and it surprised me, so I thought, I wonder if we could do a session where we experiment with just sitting quietly not saying anything at all and just see what comes up. Even just saying it fills me with panic and I feel like, well that’s what this is all about isn’t it, pushing me outside my comfort zone? It feels like something worth trying…’ Anna smiled with interest and said, ‘it sounds important, yeah, shall we contract to do that on Saturday?’ I agreed.

She then said, ‘I was so moved to hear you talking about checking in with yourself… that’s the work we’re doing here, you checking in with your inner child is massive. There’s no way you would have down that a couple of years ago you would have just got very overwhelmed and become frustrated with yourself… well done!’ She gave a really genuine smile that makes me ache inside. I had images of my child leaping out of my body and throwing her arms around Anna’s waist.

I said, ‘I feel a lot of shame about the fact that this is so important to me…’ she asked me to explain further. I said, ‘It’s just weird to me that the thing I fear the most and the thing that is the most important thing to me is us here in this room… I feel this really strong pull, a need to feel very close to you and connected but then another part of me is terrified of that and very reluctant to even tell you… like I’m panicking just telling you this…’ Anna said, ‘…hmmm and why do you think this is important to you?’ referring to the therapy sessions, like she has done before. I paused for ages and then blurted out, ‘it’s not THIS… it’s YOU…’ I quietened right down, a bit taken aback by my outburst… ‘you are important to me, I care about you and that scares me. I mean, shouldn’t I just be coming here and talking about the issues in my life that are bothering me, not how I feel about you? But I don’t want to tell you… it’s too scary.’ she said, ‘okay I understand. And what’s the fantasy in your head of how I might respond to you saying this?’ I said, ‘you might reject me… you might say ‘oh this isn’t the purpose of therapy’, you might…’ Anna interrupted, ‘have I ever said anything like that before?’ I said she hadn’t then I recalled how Paul had responded to me feeling jealous of his daughter. That he’d talked about it being his ‘fault’ for creating a dependency because of his lack of boundaries. That he would fix that and change things. And then after talking about it for a while he eventually said he didn’t deal with transference, that it was beyond his knowledge base and that I was pushing him further than he was able to go. Basically I felt like I was being punished for telling him how I felt. I pondered with Anna, ‘but you do work with transference and attachment stuff and you’ve encouraged me to talk about how I feel about you.’ She had been nodding and making agreeing noises while I was talking. I can’t remember exactly the words she used but she talked about dependency and emails and longer sessions and I pushed back and said that I didn’t think it had created a dependency I thing it was transference and attachment stuff. I said, ‘I wish he hadn’t said that it was a bad thing that shouldn’t have happened, it made me feel so ashamed… I wish he’d said… I wish… I wish he’d just said, ‘can you tell me more about how that feels?’ or something, you know?’ Anna had a very serious, listening look on her face and she nodded and said, ‘yes I do understand.’ I said, ‘I just wanted him to listen to me and accept me.’ she said, ‘I know.’ She then said, ‘it’s reminding me of your drawing of the corridor and doors. Of a little girl standing at a half open door and then it’s slammed in her face and she doesn’t know why. Just all these closed doors…’ Oh my god that hurt so much. That’s exactly what it felt like. I told Anna that Paul was inconsistent with his new boundaries. That sometimes they were there and sometimes they weren’t. She said that must have felt confusing. I said, ‘you know I remember you said at the start when we first starting working together that I was testing you but I don’t think I do test people I think I just need to know where I satnd. I think it’s really important to me to keep things harmonious in relationships, I don’t like to antagonise people and I am respectful of their rules… but if it’s not clear to me what the rules are then it doesn’t feel safe…’ Anna interrupted, ‘the way I see testing is that it’s a bit like walking on stepping stones over a river. You don’t know if the rock is going to hold your weight so you tentatively rest your foot on it and if it wobbles then you go to another stone… you’re constantly testing to see where you can step. It’s about establishing safety and knowing where you stand in a relationship. It’s not about being difficult or pushing people away, it’s about figuring people out so you can stay safe in the relationship.’ I said, ‘I like that explanation so much more than what I first thought.’

I said that I didn’t like how Paul just randomly made these knee jerk decisions and I hated it. She said, ‘This is a partnership. This is why we contract. We decide together what feels right. I will always say, ‘would you like to try that in the next session…’ or ‘I’ve been reflecting on this and wondered how you would feel if we adapted x, y, z…’ this is about us deciding together, it’s not about me doing to you.’ I let out a pained sign and tightly wrapped my arms round myself. I said, ‘oh that makes me feel like I could cry.’ She said, ‘what did I say that made you feel upset.’ I repeated, ‘it’s not about me doing to you.’ I then said, ‘it just feels so respectful and safe and caring and I don’t know why that makes me upset.’

I said, ‘I just wish I didn’t feel so intensely about this… I feel like a fucking idiot because I’ve fallen for this therapy thing again… like I worked so hard to block it and I failed… I just hate that I care so much about this.’  She then said, ‘Just because you’re my client and I’m your therapist, doesn’t mean I don’t care about you. This is a real relationship. You’re a teacher… you care about the children you work with, you think about them when you’re at home…’ I said, ‘it’s not the same. I don’t feel the same about the kids as I do about you…’ I was sinking further into my seat, face half covered by the neck of my hoodie and sleeves over my hands. Hating. Every. Minute. Of. It.

I said, ‘I don’t like that, what you said, it made me feel bad.’ She said, ‘What was it I said?

‘You used the words therapist and client… it feels really distancing.’ I said… shifting about in my seat. In a gentle voice she said, ‘well you are my client but that doesn’t mean it’s not an important relationship.’ This part is a bit fuzzy. I told her I felt spacey and that it felt like a really scary thing to talk about. I didn’t want to hear her call me her client, it hurts too much.

Anna said, ‘you feel that you’re an idiot for caring about me, you think it makes no sense and that it actually feels really risky… but I see it as the exact opposite. You find it really difficult to trust people (understandably) and you need to feel very connected and close to me before you can trust me… and you can only do the work we’re doing which is deeply personal, vulnerable work, if you feel close and connected to me and that you trust me. So of course, damn sure you’re bloody panicky and fearful when you don’t feel the connection, of course it’s fucking terrifying when you get a sense that I’m not on the same page as you. Because this is very deep intense work and you need to feel that you can trust me.’ I kept getting flashes of really understanding this on a deep level then it going. I closed my eyes and said, ‘let me think about that I want to try to get it deeper in my head… so… it’s not that I’m an idiot for caring about you, actually it’s a really sensible and good thing that I care because its very personal work were doing and I need to be able to trust you before I can open up to you and so there needs to be real care there in order to do that..?’ She said, ‘yes… and considering how much you’ve been hurt, it’s understandable it takes a long time and a lot of work for that trust to build,’ She asked me if I wanted to check anything with her, ask her anything. I said, ‘I don’t even know what it is that I want to check…’ she said, ‘that’s okay.’ I laughed and she said, ‘it’s progress that you’re just saying you don’t know what you want to check but there is something there… that’s more than before when you would just say no.’

I said, ‘I feel like I want to reach down and pull that bear from my bag but I don’t know if that would be weird or not…’ she had an expression on her face that I cant describe like maybe desperately encouraging me or something. She said, ‘if you need Luna for comfort right now then why deprive yourself of that comfort? I know that you feel comforted by my presence when you’re very upset and when you’re not here Luna is a support for you so it makes sense that you would want to hold her when the feelings come up… lets contract that whenever you’re in here, if you feel the need for Luna, you don’t need to ask permission to get her out of your bag, just do it… how does that sound?’ I said, ‘it sounds scary, I feel really ashamed… I don’t want you to see me holding her and I’ll worry what you’re thinking of me.’ she said, ‘when I see you reach for Luna I will ask you what came up for you to need her and I will be really glad to see you comforting yourself with her…’ I said I was worried that holding her would make me cry. Anna said that would be okay if I did. I um’d and ah’d and then exclaimed, ‘for fuck sake Lucy this is ridiculous you have fifteen minutes left just fucking do it!’ and I reached and pulled Luna out by her arm, sat crossed legged on the armchair with Luna in my lap, both arms wrapped round her and chin resting on her head. I said, ‘I feel really fucking embarrassed now, I don’t like that you can see meeeee…. Ahhhh I hate this. I think it’s easier when you’re sitting beside me because then you cant see me or maybe I cant see you.’ Anna said, ‘ah, yes I was curious about why you chose to keep me seated over here this session and didn’t ask me to move over. I had wondered if you wanted to be fully seen by me tonight or maybe to be able to see me?’ I was really struck by the fact that she’d noticed and wondered as well what it all meant. I said, ‘please don’t stop sitting beside me though, even if it is about hiding…’ I then said I felt really overwhelmed and I buried my head in Luna. Anna said, ‘her fur looks so soft.’ I just sat stroking Luna’s ears for a bit. Anna said, ‘remember you can still ask me to come and sit next to you.’ I said in a muffled voice, ‘can you now.’ So she moved over and asked me if I wanted her hand on my arm which I did. She sat rubbing her thumb back and forth holding my arm. I felt like I wanted to cry but couldn’t. I was leaning over to her side but face hidden from her and I said, ‘I really hate this feeling so much…’ she said, ‘I know you do, Lucy.’ In that deliciously empathetic tone she uses so well.

I told Anna that earlier in the day my son, Reuben had been crying and when I went to him he was cuddling his huge teddy and I almost wanted to praise him for finding comfort before I’d got there. I peeked at Anna and she smiled. I said, ‘I don’t know why I feel so much shame holding this bear… I cant imagine what my parents must have done or said to make me feel like this is such an awful thing to do… but it feels so exposing…’ Anna said, ‘I know. It is. I feel honoured that you’re allowing me to be here with you while you hold Luna. This is personal and it is private. Just you and me.’ I said, ‘I feel naked sitting here…’ I laughed and said I was glad I wasn’t actually naked and she said she was glad she wasn’t too and then we joked about how there probably is a type of therapy out there like that which lightened the mood a bit. Then her candle reached it’s end and went out and all the smoke sort of bellowed up and into our space and Anna tried to hold her composure through some slight coughs then practically gagged, got a drink of water and said, ‘I feel like I’ve eaten an actual candle!’ and we both laughed a lot. It felt very very funny. Anna said, ‘mental note – sit the candle further away next time!’ and I joked about it happening at the most intense moment of the session.

She checked that I was okay to stop and I was. I put Luna back in my bag, chatted a bit about the plans for the rest of the weekend. Hugged a big long swaying hug and thanked her then left.

I then text her on Tuesday morning –

I don’t enjoy my job. I feel burdened by the unrelenting needs of the kids in my class. When the parents send me messages on the communication app we use (out with working hours) I feel annoyed with them and that even though I’m stretched thin, it’s still not enough for them. Quite often I wish I could quit my job.

When you compare our relationship to the ones I have at my work, it just confirms my fears – that you feel burdened by me, that you don’t enjoy working with me and that I am too much for you. Doesn’t everyone dread their work..? I’m your work.

It’s boundaries! My mum was too much for me. My friends feel too much for me. My kids feel too much for me. Work feels too much for me. I’m projecting that onto you and assuming you feel that too. But it’s the lack of boundaries in my life that allows people and work to be too much. And you have healthy boundaries so maybe that’s a very important difference. Maybe your boundaries protect you from being burdened and overwhelmed by me.

I took the following paragraph out before sending… I struggled to articulate myself last night, it all felt quite overwhelming, I’m still struggling to understand it all. I know that I want to matter to you. I want you to enjoy your work and specifically enjoy working with me. I know that all of this feels important to me because I’m still afraid you’ll want to stop working with me and if you like me you’ll be less likely to leave. But this is just your job, so liking me isn’t even enough to keep you here. It wasn’t enough for Paul.

Wednesday night I got home from work after 8pm. It had been a long and busy three days. I sat and stared at the TV while we watched a drama together then went upstairs at 10pm while my husband made the lunches for the next day. I was taking my make up off in the bathroom and could feel my chest tightening. My breathing becoming more shallow. Feeling a bit panicky. I moved around the bathroom a bit and put my hand on my chest. I spoke to Anna in my head, ‘I remember this feeling, this is how I’ve felt before when I’ve had a panic attack… I don’t like this feeling, it’s like my throat is closing up… I can’t breathe…’ I imagined she would ask me what I needed and then I realised I needed to cry. Then it just hit me. Wave after wave of silent, open mouthed sobbing. Buckled over on my knees with my head in my hands, resting on the ground, eyes tightly closed. Noiseless wailing. I have never cried like that…. Not as an adult anyway. I remember crying like that a lot when I was a teenager. Alone in my room feeling completely desperate.

I had to calm down, wash my face and go to bed. I didn’t want my husband to see me like that, I can’t be bothered explaining it all to him.

Then this morning (Thursday) I got my daughter ready and out for school. Intended on spending some time with my son in the morning before nursery but could feel the ocean rising again. I basically sat him in front of the tv for over an hour while I was upstairs crying on my bed holding Luna. The only thoughts I was aware of were thoughts of wishing Anna loved me. Wishing she was with me. Feeling separate from her and alone. Feeling frightened of the massive emotions and as if I might never stop crying. There were lulls in the crying. I was able to wash my face, reapply my make up and take my son to nursery. I cried again when I got home. It struck me that I have never trusted myself to be able to cry like this. The overwhelming feeling is that I wish I could cry like this with Anna but I guess if I’ve never been able to cry like this by myself then how could I expect myself to cry with someone else like this. Perhaps this is a small step in the right direction. Fully expressing the emotions and allowing them to pass through me when I’m by myself so that I can then do it with her.

I have really struggled to write this session up. Every time I’ve tried I have felt overwhelmingly exhausted as if I could just fall asleep. I think this is some sort of dissociation. Now that I have cried on and off for the past five hours it feels like I was better able to write it all up. I think this is the root of it all. The deepest pain that is so black and roots so entwined round all of the parts of me that I can barely make it out. The desperate pleas inside for Anna to love me… the grief underneath that screams for my mother to love me. The crying today and last night has felt like a scraping off of another layer. I know it is part of the process but it feels life threatening. In my adult I feel certain that Anna is prepared for this work… but in my child I am still so terrified I will make her leave me if I go any deeper with this. I guess this is the tentative testing steps onto the rocks as the water rushes around and under me… and I only need to go one step at a time.

Notes from today’s session 25.01.20

At the start of the session I said I didn’t know what I wanted to talk about, ‘I was in a rush because I had such a busy morning and so I grabbed Luna, my art folder and photos and figured I could just see what felt right…’ Anna said, ‘I think the fact that you brought Luna today is really important even if she just stays in your bag, we know she’s here… maybe she could come along to every session?’ I said, ‘it really fascinates me how positive and encouraging you are about her… last session you were sort of excited at the idea that I bring her back in,’ Anna said, ‘hmm yeah, she is special. I think Luna represents that small part of you. That’s massive. I remember you talking about buying her, deliberating over the cost, was it worth it, was it selfish, is it silly for a 36 year old woman to want to buy a stuffed toy, you bought her for yourself, you allowed yourself to have her. How did you feel when she arrived?’ I said, ‘I was excited… then sad.’ I thought about Luna sitting beside me on the floor in my bag, covered with my scarf. Anna said, ‘yeah, I know… the sadness is there, grief.’ I said, ‘I remember when I was about 8 or 9 I helped run a bring and buy stall, when I was setting the tables up one of the things that caught my eye was a little stuffed bear. I basically stole that bear from the stall and put it in my school bag. I had to hide it because obviously people would ask where I’d got it so I hid it under my bed and any time I hid under there, she was there with me… I just really loved that bear and I didn’t really have any other stuffed toys, my brother had them. Why wouldn’t she buy me…?’ I tailed off. Anna said, ‘perhaps your mum needed you to not be a child.’ Oh that hurt. I said, ‘why am I so ashamed of Luna?’ Anna said, ‘my take is that you were shamed for being a child when you were a child so now you’re ashamed that you still have these needs… but it’s okay to want to have toys or to play or cuddle stuffed animals… whatever you want at any age!’ I nodded, acknowledging that the shame was stopping me from even bringing Luna out my bag. I said, ‘it feels scary, vulnerable,’ Anna finished my sentence, ‘exposing.’

‘Last session when I was huffy and teenagery, I’ve been thinking about how you responded to me. You didn’t take any of it personally, you laughed actually. Were you amused by me being so moody?’ Anna smiled, ‘hmmm it was interesting…’ I wish I’d asked her more about that but I just continued talking, ‘I was never allowed to express those feelings as a teenager.’ Anna asked, ‘what would have happened if you had shown those feelings?’ I explained that my mum would probably have got angry with me, said I was adding to her problems. She’d say, ‘what’s wrong with you? Grow up! Snap out of it… why are you doing this to me?’ ‘It was actually really powerful telling you that I felt like I wanted to hurt myself. I think I was reluctant for you to praise me at the time because I knew I was still in the middle of wanting to do it and so I felt like I might still go home and do it, then what?’ Anna said, ‘I was praising you for looking after yourself despite feeling like you wanted to hurt yourself.’ I interrupted, ‘yes but I still wanted to do it so it felt like you were pressuring me. You were saying, ‘well done,’ but what if I went home and did it that night? What’s the opposite to praise… disappointment?’ she spoke over me and said with total sincerity, ‘concern.’ I seriously love the way she thinks. I just looked it up, the opposite of praise is condemnation and criticism but I love that for HER the response to me looking after myself is genuine warmth and praise and the response to me harming myself would be concern and care. She has never criticised or condemned me. I looked at her for a while and smiled. She said, ‘I’m sorry you felt pressured by me praising you. I was proud of you and glad you could find ways to look after yourself. If you had hurt yourself I would have been concerned that you were so distressed. I would want to explore that with you without judgement.’ I said, ‘There were so many times when I was a teenager and I wasn’t able to tell anyone how I felt, no one helped me make sense of how I was feeling.’ She said, ‘Thats why it’s vital that those parts of you that were rejected and exiled in childhood are now witnessed, seen and validated.’

The Breaking

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.

That Part Isn't Here Tonight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is this what fine feels like?

Exploring my deep need for connection.

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

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

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

She replied Sunday morning saying…

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

I then said…

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

She then replied…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Healing My Trust Wound

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disturbing the Sediment

Therapy Shakes the Shit Out of Your Snow Globe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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