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