It’s so hard to ask for things.

We had a fairly stressful weekend with a lot of flooding in our area and too much time spent altogether indoors. We did go outside a bit to ‘enjoy’ the wet weather with waterproofs and wellies but it is bitterly cold and really quite grey and miserable. Also, we tried to enjoy the time indoors with hot chocolates and movies but two young kids, small house, two adults in various stages of unprocessed developmental trauma needing space and time… it really was going to be a challenge at the best of times! Monday morning came and I felt my ‘child’ rear her tantrum head… she did not want to go to work. I’d taken the previous week off work with a terrible migraine and body pains… I have a very strict discipline policy at work for absence and I can’t really have any more time off. So I went in. I got through the day on autopilot.

As soon as I closed the door behind me after work the flood gates opened. I could feel it well up inside me from the depths of my tummy, up, up, up through my solar plexus, throat, head and then burst into tears. I think I had spent the day in this sort of compartmentalised dissociated state I get into sometimes when I have to just get on with adulting even when all I want to do is curl up in bed and hibernate for a year, only coming out for therapy sessions! So anyway, I was crying on and off all afternoon and late into the evening on Monday. I had to shelve the tears for my kids coming home, shelve them again for dinner, shelve them to go to the gym (which to be honest I don’t even know how I did that) and shelve them for chatting to my husband in the evening before going to bed early. The very intense thoughts of being an awful mother overwhelmed my mind. That I’m just like my mother. I had a muddled conversation with my friend as I tried to put into words what had triggered me… the main points of that conversation were:

I just feel panicky when I think about the importance of this job of being a parent and how fragile the line is between getting it right and getting it wrong. If I think about how hard we’re all working to heal this shit, all of the people I talk to online… all of the pain they’re going through trying to cleanse themselves of the trauma. Here I am now at the head of my family, I have the opportunity to NOT fuck things up right now so that my kids don’t have to work on healing from the damage I could inflict on them and I don’t think I’m managing to do that! It’s the one thing I wanted more than anything, to break the chain and not pass down the trauma, and I feel like it’s the very thing I’m doing… traumatising them, just by being here with them. And so my friend said to me that actually the bar is quite low for being a ‘good enough’ mother. And that fills me with grief and this desperate panic… it frightens the hell out of me. Because if the bar is low that must mean things were really actually awful for me growing up. That my mother couldn’t even reach a very low bar. And also, if I’m not fucking my kids up with what I’m doing and the bar is low, then what my mum did was abuse. But there’s a part of me that can’t get my head around that. Which makes me think I really am very fragmented… because I’ve talked at length about how abusive my mum was. But right now I can’t hear it or believe it. So maybe she wasn’t abusive and she did reach the ‘good enough mother’ bar. So my childhood was fine but I’m here struggling like hell so I must just be overly sensitive. I’m the one with the problem. Because I think my mum isn’t an abuser. I think she was maybe traumatised by her traumatised parents. And she had periods in her life when she was definitely mentally unstable – kind of up and down. And I kinda get on okay with her now from a distance. Also, things are easier for people who want to heal these days. It wasn’t as accessible back then. I have so much information at my fingertips that she never had. But I’m so confused, I don’t know where to go with this. How can I be angry with her when she didn’t know what she was doing, if she was traumatised, and she never wanted kids, and was possibly mentally unstable? How can I be anything but sorry for her? And then actually the bar for her should be very low. Because of everything I just wrote about her. She was fighting battles she couldn’t even see… they say you can only do the best with what you know… maybe that was her best? But for me the bar has to be higher. Because I am more educated. I have more resources available to me. I’m in a happy marriage. I have therapy. I have so much more than she had. So yes I should expect more from me… so I am failing and doing even worse than my mum. Because I have so much more help and knowledge… I have no excuse – this is why ‘good enough’ isn’t good enough for me, I should be aiming for perfection and on that note I am massively failing. There are many moments where I avoid emotional connection and intimacy with my kids. I know how damaging that can be… the emotionally distant mother can create all sorts of attachment disorders. And there are times when I go out and I miss bedtimes etc. sometimes multiple nights a week. Just like my mum did. Only I know how negatively impactful it can be. She didn’t know. So what I’m doing is so much worse. I am a worse mother than my own mother and therefore I am massively fucking my kids up and they’d be better off without me.

After talking with my friend and regulating a bit, I lay in bed holding Baby Panda sobbing because she no longer smelled of Anna. (See notes from the last session.) At 10pm, in desperation, I text Anna this message, ‘There’s a risk that I’m going to immediately regret asking this as soon as I send it but here goes… please would you consider bringing your perfume to the session tomorrow evening so I can spray it on the bear? Sorry to send a late text. I’m asking now coz if you go straight from work to therapy (and you’re not completely freaked out by the idea and still want to see me) then you’ll need to put it in your bag in the morning (and if it’s a no, please be gentle with me… I’m fighting pure nausea just writing this text out!)’

As soon as I hit send I felt myself leave my body. I literally felt it happening. Like when you get a fright and you jump out your skin. Sheer panic overloaded my body and whoosh I was out of it. I took a couple of painkillers to help me sleep. I didn’t fully return to my body all of the following day. I got through work on autopilot feeling as though I was the captain of a robot ship – sitting in the cab steering the body, arms and legs, looking out of the window eyes. Feeling nothing. I was certain my request would push Anna over the edge. I considered on a number of occasions throughout the day, texting Anna again to ask her to pretend she hadn’t got that last text.

I was incredibly nervous before the session but in a very distant way. I couldn’t feel the adrenaline fuelled panic I normally feel coursing through my veins, this time I felt numb and floaty. I hovered into the building and without making eye contact sat down in front of Anna. I’d gone over and over what I might say to her, that I didn’t really mean it, that it didn’t matter afterall… there was silence so I looked up at her and she gave a gentle smile and placed her perfume bottle on the table beside my water. I could not believe it. I felt a massive wave of emotion blow me over. Joy, grief, gratitude, shame, warmth, terror… I looked at her eyes and she looked quite emotional. Her face was just so fucking there right in front of me like she was really willing me to engage with this moment. It was too much for me and I immediately hid my face While hiding in there she talked about how brilliant it was that I’d asked for what I needed. I managed a whispered, ‘thank you so much’ but stayed hiding for quite a while. I didn’t really hear any of what she as saying because I was so dissociated.

An intense, slow, gently connecting session followed.

At one point, when I’d come out of hiding (still with the bottle sitting on the table – occasionally being glanced at by me just to make sure I hadn’t imagined it), I told Anna the big long garbled mess of thoughts that had upset me on the Monday night. I told her about my expectations for me as a mother and she said, ‘but the bar is different for everyone. You could have 7 people all in the same family and each one would experience things differently.’ That felt really uncomfortable to me, I said, ‘so it is my fault that I felt the way I did…’ she softened and said, ‘no, none of it was your fault, you did nothing wrong.’ I said, ‘but if I made it a bigger deal than it actually was?’ she said, ‘whose words are they?’ I didn’t answer her. A bit later when I was talking about how maybe my childhood was fine I experienced this sort of surge in my brain – I said, ‘there were so many days when it was so awful though… day after day… I remember the dread, walking up the lane to go home after school, I remember the dread in the pit of my stomach. I didn’t want to be there, I couldn’t find a place for me anywhere.’ She said, ‘yes, and you remember that, that was real, it really did happen and it was that bad.’

(Reflecting on that now, I’m realising that the feeling I get when I come home from work is an emotional flashback! It isn’t that much about my present day life it is my body reexperiencing the dread and pain and terror and depression and loneliness of my childhood… this sinking in the pit of my stomach and a numb grey wash loosely masking the blind panic inside that my life had no meaning and no joy and no hope… emotional flashback. Fuck I was so desperately along and frightened. Such big enormous feelings for a child to hold… I need to take this to Anna!

Back to the session…

Anna reminded me that I have spoken about having fun with the kids and that sometimes when I’m in this space I can’t feel or remember these times. I said it wasn’t like that in reality. I said, ‘I don’t think I lied to you but it’s just not that clean cut… I don’t really have solid happy present moments with my family… I get triggered so easily, I get spacey and turn into myself, I want to get away from them, I fake it for a bit but it’s not really how I feel inside.’ Anna said, ‘you feel like you fake it but I see it differently. I see you making an effort. Despite how you feel inside you’re making an effort with your family, you are trying to give them what you didn’t have. You greet your kids with a warm smile and open arms every day, you read them bedtime stories, you play with them, you are doing what was not done for you…’ I started getting really agitated and frustrated and said, ‘I cant explain it properly I can’t get the words right so you get it.’ Anna’s expression… I don’t know how to describe it… like deeply connecting in a sad way.. she said, ‘I am trying very hard to understand.’ But it wasn’t a critical or defensive statement. It was like a, ‘I’m so sorry that you feel I’m not understanding you, I am trying hard.’ I felt awful for her. I said, ‘its not you, I feel you trying to understand, it’s me, I don’t know how to explain it.’ she told me to take my time and reminded me that this is why it’s great when we have these 90 minute sessions because we have more time.

Anna said, ‘I remember you talking about your mum having two sides… one where she was quite cruel and unloving to you and the other side, the side where she would call you ‘sweety darling’… do you feel that she was being fake?’ I thought about it and said, ‘yes! So I’m just like her!’ Anna said, ‘but why was your mum being nice to you in those moments?’ I said, ‘to look good in front of people.’ She said, ‘and are you being nice to your kids only when you are in front of people?’ I said, ‘no, its usually when its just me and them…’ she said, ‘yes because you want to make sure they can feel your love, they can feel your care… you’re making an effort to break the cycle and love them the way you should have been loved… your mum never made that kind of effort…’ I said, ‘in fact just before I moved out she told me, ‘I wasted 17 years of my life on you…’ Anna let out a pained gasp/sigh… even though we’ve talked about this statement before… we talked about it in depth actually as it preceded one of the worst bouts of self-harm I ever inflicted on myself with 17 deep lines scored into my leg as an alternative to the one line vertically drawn down my wrist that I’d planned. Anna held her fists to her chest and said, ‘oh that just hurts so much, it’s just such a wounding thing to be told…’ I said, ‘I hated that she called me darling, she never called me by my fucking name… I always make sure I call Grace by her fucking name because that’s the right thing to do she should know her name!’ Anna said, ‘you’re doing it because you know it hurts to not be called by your name. you’re doing it because you love Grace and care about her and you want her to feel that love… that’s connection.’ I nodded and sat with that for a bit.

A little later Anna said, ‘So you sent that text after the last session saying that the feelings hit you as soon as you left the session…’ I said, ‘yes and I suddenly missed you, so much.’ More silence. I looked at her and she was gently looking at me… just looking… it feels so bizarre to be looked at. Just holding that spoken truth in the air. She asked me how I was experiencing our connection right now and I said, ‘but you asked me that last session and I said I could feel the connection but then as soon as I left I realised I couldn’t and sent that text. Sometimes it’s hard to even feel like anyone else is here. It’s almost like you’re a figment of my imagination. So… who knows! I know that you are sitting there, you are here with me, I feel like you are reaching over to me and I’m behind this glass wall… screaming and banging my fists on this glass wall… I want it to not be here anymore, I want to feel you.’ She said, ‘I’m so glad it’s a glass wall.’ I hesitated then asked why. She explained, ‘because it’s not brick. We can see each other. And perhaps it’s not a wall, it’s sliding doors… and the doors can open like this (motioned her hands placed palms together in front of each other then opened a little in front of her) and they can close… whenever you choose… unlike the blind that rolls up or down or the wall that you peek over… what do you think about that?’ I was nodding and I agreed and said I liked that but I just wish the glass wasn’t there at all. She said, ‘it’s there for a very good reason, you were hurt Lucy, you learned how to protect yourself. I’m so glad that you invented ways to protect yourself… and now you are slowly learning how to let certain people in… baby steps remember.’ There was a moment of pause where we weren’t speaking then she said, ‘what do you feel you need right now?’ and before I could engage my brain I blurted out, ‘I just want to leap across the room and hug you…’ I immediately panicked and plunged myself into my jumper and said, ‘no I don’t… I don’t…but I do… I do soooo muuuuuch!’ in a very young longing winey tone. Eventually she calmly said, ‘would you like a hug?’ still in my jumper I said, ‘yes but also no…’ I started to cry. She asked if I wanted her to sit next to me which I did so she moved the other chair beside me, I could hear it happening. She then put her hand on my arm after asking if I wanted her to. I felt all the crying inside me and it came out in silent little drops. I had an image of my mum in my mind and how much I’d wanted to wrap my arms around her waist and be consumed by her holding. Anna eventually asked, ‘is this alright?’ I nodded. I could feel my breathing do weird things. Little breaths then one big breath in. I could head Anna mimicking my big breaths then I tuned in to her deep consistent breathing and mine followed hers. Eventually I came out from under my top and blew my nose, dried my eyes. Hid my face from her with my arm. She slowly lifted her hand from my arm.

My memories of the session are a little hazy here. I know that we talked about how stressed and overwhelmed I get at home and work. That my work is open plan and there isn’t a single space in the building where I could be alone other than a cubicle in the toilets. And at home there isn’t a room in the house that I wouldn’t be followed into. There just is no space that’s mine. I have very few minutes in my day when I am on my own in a room… I know that in a way that is a blessing but also I really need space. I need alone time to process. To be myself. To feel things. To think without being interrupted. Anna said, ‘so, beautifully, you created that space inside yourself.’ I paused and looked around the room trying to take this in, I said, ‘in my head?’ she nodded. She said ‘don’t you think it’s amazing that you have given yourself what you need, when there seems to be no way of getting it externally? You needed space and peace so you made it inside!’ (I’ve been working this over in my mind since she said it and it’s really quite incredible how she does this, she reframes things that I had demonised inside my head and she turns it into something admirable and completely understandable… and she’s right! I did this all my life. My internal world is magical. It is everything I needed and always has been. All through my childhood… I have memories of the ‘real world’ and then I have memories of all the amazing things I did inside my head… in my inner world I could be and do anything I wanted… I was so many different things… I went to so many different places. I felt all the things I wanted to feel. In my inner world I was safe and loved and free. That’s why triggers and nightmares and flashbacks felt like such a terrifying attack… my external world wasn’t safe and loving but at least I had my inner world. When that was threatened, when my inner world was penetrated by fear and doubt and shame and terror – I had nothing. I have nothing. This is something I need to take back to session.

So ten minutes before the end of the session. We’re sitting right next to each other in two separate arm chairs pushed side by side with no gap between. She’s slowly taken her hand off my arm and I am able to look at her now. I said, ‘that moment when you asked what I needed and I burst out with ‘I want to leap over and ug you’ was like this crazy speaking without thinking kind of thing… I kinda wish I could do more of that coz it was like I was speaking right from here (hand on my belly).’ Anna smiled, ‘yes and that will happen more and more, rather than chastising yourself for not always talking like that, praise yourself for saying that one statement from your gut… a year ago you didn’t want to feel even the edges of your feelings and now you’re saying ‘I really hate this but what is it I’m feeling what do I need?’ this is amazing progress… you will get there!’ I said, ‘yeah I guess so… coz you know, there are so many things that I think and don’t say…’ she was nodding enthusiastically, eyes widened for me to go on… ‘like I want to have more hugs, I wanna hug you for a long time… I just don’t want to be too much you know I don’t want you to feel depleted after you’ve spent time with me you know im scared that I’ll be too needy and you’ll be exhausted and…’ Anna stopped me and said, ‘you really don’t need to worry about me you know Lucy, I’m okay. I really am okay.’ She looked so stable and secure and like she really knew the words she was saying, she really meant it. I said, ‘I really need you to be okay…’ she nodded and said, ‘yes I know, I am, okay. I really need you to be kinder to yourself… you’re very very hard on yourself. You are doing a very hard job, you’re a mother and you are in intense therapy… just one of those things would be exhausting but you’re doing all three at once.’ I smiled and said, ‘so you don’t feel like you dread our sessions or feel like you breathe a sign of relief after I’ve gone or something…? I really felt like I was emploring her, searching her face in childlike wonder for the answers. She had such a lovely smile and said, ‘ I really enjoy working with you Lucy, I could not and would not do this if I didn’t… don’t you think you would be able to tell if I felt like that?’ I thought about it and said I maybe would.

Finally, in the final few minutes while we were so beautifully connected I asked again, ‘how did you feel when you read my text?’ this question came from a playful, trusting, young place. I feel like she sensed that. She smiled at me asking and said, ‘I felt very moved. It’s a big deal! I’m so touched that your young part was so brave and vulnerable, I know that it’s very hard.’ I said, ‘and was there ever a no in your thoughts at all, when you considered how you felt about bringing the perfume? Did you think it over considering yes or no..?’ she shook her head still gently smiling, ‘not at all. For a start I know how important smell is. It was a really meaningful request. Instantly a yes from me. It felt very connecting. I’m really pleased you asked…’ I took in a big satisfying breath and so did she then she said, ‘So are Luna and Baby here… and do they want a skoosh?’ I suddenly felt frozen and asked her, ‘why is this so hard…?’ She just looked at me patiently and then I said, ‘coz it feels young and exposing…?’ She nodded. I said, ‘it’s so hard to ask for things.’ She said she knew and understood, ‘that’s why I am so very proud of you, you were frightened but you asked!’ I checked, ‘this is okay yeah? You’re okay with this? This is consensual and totally okay?’ She nodded and finally I pulled the bears out and one by one sprayed them with her perfume. I introduced her to the tiny one that shes never seen before and she asked what his name was. I said he comes to work with me sometimes (like she’d suggested) and asked her to name him. Anna looked at the label and said, ‘oh his name is Suki!’ I liked that a lot. She asked if Suki also wanted a spray which I did. I sprayed loooaaadsss and then after realised I’d kinda lost myself in the spraying and felt bad that I was wasting her perfume! I was so soaked up in the joy of it all for that minute. I put the bottle back on the table and said to her, ‘I know I’ve said this so many times and maybe you’ll think I’m only thanking you so you don’t get sick of me and leave me…’ (she laughed) ‘…but you know I really, I’m so thankful, it’s just the most biggest feeling inside me, this gratitude… I’m just I feel so lucky that I found you… and you know, I mean, I know it’s your job but you could do a really half assed job and still take the money but you know I really feel like you put a lot into this and I… well it means a lot to me, thank you.’ Anna said, ‘I know, I can feel your gratitude, you’re so very welcome, I really do enjoy working with you. You don’t have to keep thanking me but I do appreciate your gratitude.’

I put my shoes on. Put the bears in my bag then slowly turned to her and whispered, ‘it’s so hard to ask for things…’ she did an understanding face and said, ‘I know Lucy. Very very hard. You should be very proud of yourself. I am.’

We hugged and I told her it was so good to see her. She replied saying the same and I floated out the door.

I slept with my perfume drenched Luna that night and had the best nights sleep I’ve had in years. Solid, sound… woke up rested. And I have felt secure in our attachment and calm inside myself since. Smelling Suki at work helped ground me all day Wednesday. Every time I walk into my bedroom I smell Anna. It makes me smile because I imagine her reading my text and her smiling at my reaching out… rather than imagining her grimacing, she is glad to read my words. She gladly brought something from her house for me. I think I’m slowly learning that this attachment that I fear so much is actually the basis of it all… she isn’t fearful of it, she is encouraging it. I am not getting this all wrong, it is all going the way it’s meant to. And the gratitude fills me up.

Your inner critic creates distance between us

Anna is a transactional analysist. A lot of our work is looking at my inner dialogue. She encourages me to share the things I hear in my head completely uncensored, even when my thoughts are critical of her! Anna said to me recently, ‘of course your inner critic belittles me, I’m a threat to her! I undermine her existence.’ I said, ‘but this is ridiculous, there is no ‘inner critic’ it’s just me, all the voices and thoughts are just mine, isn’t this just a convenient excuse so I don’t have to take responsibility for the horrible things I think?’ Anna told me that the inner critic is like a contamination of the authentic self. It’s the beliefs and words of our parents and other adults who influenced us when we were children. She said she can hear when I’m speaking from that ego state because it’s not who I really am deep down. Quite often I find it very hard to hear when I’m speaking from my inner critic because it all feels and sounds so reasonable and true to me. But Anna is slowly helping me untangle it. She will stop me, challenge the statements, ask me to take a closer look at what I’m saying. She’ll ask me, ‘who’s voice is that?’ or, ‘where have you heard that before?’ or, ‘that sounds familiar’ and I’ll be encouraged to dig deeper to find my core authentic beliefs.

Last Saturday in session I rattled through a memory from childhood, rushing through the details when she said, ‘let’s just pause there, Lucy. That’s really awful. Devastating. I’m so sorry that happened to you.’ I carried on without looking at her and she gently said, ‘did you hear me?’ I said I heard her but couldn’t connect to it. She said, ‘I know, that’s why it’s important to pause and let this reach you.’ I laughed and said, ‘you’re making a big thing out of nothing though Anna, it really wasn’t that bad!’ She took a deep breath and said in a stern voice, ‘your mother told you that it wasn’t that bad. NO ONE in this room believes her.’ In that moment it burned into me, hot and unbearable. I wanted to hide behind the chair but didn’t want to make myself more visible by moving. That is when I know I’m ‘in my child’. Trapped – wanting to connect and wanting to run. This is where the work is – pulling it all apart, through the agony of being seen by her.

The first thing Anna did at the start of that session was thank me for the text I’d sent her after our last session. ‘Baby smells of your perfume which is really nice. I wish I’d taken the moment in more when you were holding her. There’s something really comforting about seeing you with them.’ I cringed and said it was embarrassing, ‘I hope you weren’t freaked out by it!’ She looked concerned and said, ‘no I was deeply touched. I know you go over your texts many times so it wasn’t just a quick one you fired off. It will have taken a lot for you to send it. I saw it as a message from a very young part that felt relieved and comforted like she was smelling Baby and thinking, ‘ahh it’s okay, that smells like mummy’ and I know I’m not your mum, but I know a small part of you sees me in a motherly role. And that touched me, it didn’t creep me out at all, it made me feel connected to you. I was proud of you for sending it. It felt important.’

In my head I was thinking, ‘this is amazing, she knows a part of me wants her to be my mum yet she’s not scared shitless,’ but I was totally numb behind my protective glass wall. I told her I felt like I was going to push her away, I was too needy, too demanding. That one day she’d snap and tell me enough is enough. She reassured me that my texts don’t anger her. She said, ‘Lucy, you are not too much for me and you don’t have the power to MAKE me feel anything.’ We talked about boundaries. We talked about the roots of these ‘archaic’ fears. She explained that the texts help her understand how my young parts are feeling because they rarely come out in session.

She said, ‘I wonder, do you think your inner critic creates distance between us between the sessions? What does she tell you?’ I said, ‘um… that you’ll find relief in forgetting about me, you don’t want to remember me and if you do then you’re angry that you’ve remembered me… and if I text you maybe you’ll roll your eyes and think for fuck sake can’t I go a few days without thinking of this girl!? I feel like I burden you…’ Anna interrupted and said, ‘do you think I don’t think of you between sessions?’ I said, ‘I know we’ve talked about this before and you’ve said you do think of me, you hold me in mind, but I feel like you’d be really boundaried about how much time you spend thinking about your clients… it’s not the same as how I feel.’ She said, ‘and what is the fantasy…? If I was to think about you through the week…?’ I said, ‘that I’m too much for you and uh…’ she got kind of enthusiastic and said, ‘yes! Go on!’ I said, ‘and um…’ I told her I was feeling spacey so she got me to put both feet on the floor and take a drink of water. I went on, ‘that you’ll suddenly just break and you’ll tell me you can’t do this anymore…’ I then launched in to a long description of my dad and how I would never know how he was feeling until it was too late. That he would seem fine, calm or neutral, then suddenly he’d explode with rage. Then later my mum would come in and tell me that I just was too much for them, I needed to stop being so difficult, that it was my fault they were having so many arguments.’ Anna reached herself forwards into my line of vision and said, ‘it was not your fault Lucy, that was a very unkind thing for her to say. It must have been so frightening to have your dad lose his temper like that?’ I nodded and felt myself falling inside. I told her that I was very good at never showing them how I felt. We talked about that for a bit.

A lot of this session was very dissociated. I struggled to write notes for it. Just bullet points and a paragraph here and there. I delved deeply into some very painful stuff relating to my dad abandoning me, choosing to not help me when I really seriously needed his help… things in my life that lead me to this very strong belief that I am better off on my own, an island. I can have people exist adjacent to me but I must not need them. I love people from a distance. At one point I was explaining something and the preamble to the story went along the lines of me saying that I knew it sounded stupid. She stopped me and told me to be mindful of the criticisms and to not over analyse myself, ‘just speak uncensored’. I laughed and said, ‘do you know me?’ in a jokey way, seeing as over analysing is all I seem to do. She very seriously replied, ‘I really hope so!’ as in, she really hopes she knows me. As I was driving home, something really massive was stirring inside me – this thought kind of blew my mind… this sort of grief – a panicky realisation that she has always been there… she hopes she knows me… she does hope that she knows me. She has sat with me every week for two and a half years… this is the 119th session and we have had some 90 minute sessions and phone calls in addition to all the one hour sessions… all of that time… ALL OF THAT TIME dedicated to her getting to know ME and helping me get to know myself… she has been there trying to reach me every minute of the time we shared (and all of the time outside of our sessions, her reading my texts, her taking our work to supervision, her planning for and reflecting on our sessions)… and for most of it I could not feel her. That’s devastating. The care and connection has been sitting there a metre away from me and I’ve been numb to it. Those thoughts completely floored me.

When I got home I sent her the following text, ‘Sometimes I miss you almost as soon as I’ve walked out the door. I think my adult dominated the session again today. I stood in the way of that young part you were talking about, the one who felt like she could smell mummy on the baby panda. I could have cried when you said that coz it’s exactly how it felt and I’ve been too ashamed to admit it. I could easily have fallen into a deep dissociation every time we went near the topic of how I feel about you. It’s just so painful. I know we’re not planning Tuesday’s session but it’s really important that I let that small part be in the room with you. I think that’s probably the point of it. I want to limit the planning and talking and overthinking to leave space for her. So that she can be there and feel connected to you and not dissociate away from it all. Now I’m going to utilise all my tools in an attempt to not obsess about all of this in my head for the next three days. Thank you Anna, for understanding. I really felt today that you do. That’s so important to me.’

I knew I only had to wait until Tuesday before I would see her again… three days wait – easy!

A creative way to get comfort…

As soon as I sat down I felt uncomfortable and on show. The room had been rearranged and it didn’t feel the same. I didn’t want Anna sitting beside me because my skins really bad at the moment and I didn’t want her to see up close how bad I look but also sitting in front of me she can see the whole of me which also feels too intense. At several points in the session I told her I wanted to hide.

I told Anna that I’d brought the pandas and that I’d show her later and she said, ‘is the wee one really soft..?’ and I realised it was silly to wait so I pulled Luna out first so she could remember how big she is then said, ‘here’s Luna’s baby,’ and pulled the wee one out. She immediately reached over to take her and so I passed her over. Just seeing her look right at the baby panda and hold her with both her hands melts my heart. She asked what her name was and I said she was just called Baby. It was a nice few moments of Anna stroking her, saying she was so soft and fluffy… then I squirrelled them both away in my bag again down on the floor beside my chair. Every so often I flopped my arm down over the arm and could rub Luna’s ear for comfort.

I said, ‘I’ll just launch straight in then…’ and she nodded. I then said, ‘I hadn’t planned on talking about this and actually in the car this morning felt totally fine and good actually but now I think it’s really important that I talk about Thursday.’ She said that it sounded like a good idea. So I said, ‘Thursday was the absolute worst Thursday I have had so far… I know we’ve talked about Thursdays being the day when everything just hits me but this Thursday was the hardest ever. I’m trying to think what made it so hard, let me think…’ I sat for a minute with my eyes closed thinking. I said, ‘it was the usual thing, I woke up on Thursday morning and felt the pain in my chest and throat immediately… got myself and the kids ready while on autopilot… then when Grace was at school I felt it all in my throat and chest. Welling up inside me. Overwhelming me. I had to push it all down until Reuben was at nursery and then when he was away I laid on my bed and cried for over an hour. Then calmed down again… I didn’t want to tell Adam so I just pretended everything was fine when he got home… then in the evening… something happened but I can’t remember let me think…’

On reflection I can see I was fairly dissociated at this point. I was feeling spacey and forgetful and there were big gaps in my memory which was frustrating me. She encouraged me to take a minute and slow down. I took a breath and then said, ‘oh yeah I remember now, it was awful actually I went to a spin class to try to use up some of the energy I had coursing through me and then afterwards I needed to go and get diesel but on the way to the diesel station I had another panic attack, it was fucking terrifying and I had to pull over and…’ Anna said, ‘okay lets slow down, take it slow.’ I felt like I was struggling to take a full breath in that moment and so I looked around the room and down at the candle on the table and out the window. I nodded and closed my eyes and continued, ‘to be honest with you, I know this is the inner critic speaking but it’s my own fault that I got myself in such a mess because I was talking to you in my head and doing that thing that I’ve not done in ages where I was like rehearsing what I could say to you and so in my head we were at the start of the 90 minute session that we’ve planned where I’m going to sit and not speak and just see what comes up and I mean (I laughed) it’s ridiculous because the whole point of that session is that I DON’T plan it and I just see what happens but I guess the idea of that makes me feel anxious so it made me want to plan it in my head… so in the session in my head there was a short silence then everything just came pouring out of me, all of the things I’ve never told you just spilled endlessly and I guess I was getting more and more panicked and anxious and it felt like I was being strangled, like I couldn’t take a breath and my throat was closing up and it felt like I was actually going to die and I pulled over in a layby and…’ Anna interrupted and said in a very serious voice, ‘it can be terrifying to have a panic attack, that is exactly what it feels like, as if you’re going to die, and you were all on your own and it was dark and you’re driving, very scary!’ I could feel the shame prickle and I couldn’t look at her. I nodded and continued, ‘I need to not have these conversations with you in my head they’re too scary I think I frightened myself I wasn’t ready to even imagine saying all that stuff…’ she said, ‘I know… the point of the not talking at the start of the 90 minute session is to go slow and be authentic and see what comes up in that moment, to slow right down, not say everything all at once. I think you make a good point about maybe creating a boundary around the car. I know it happens sort of automatically, that when you are on your own in the car it feels safe and containing because no one is going to interrupt you or discover you, but it’s important we keep you safe. We can’t have 8 year old Lucy or 14 or whoever come out while you’re driving and expect her to safely control the car. You did the right thing pulling over, how did you help yourself calm down?’ I told her I put the fans on full freezing cold on my face and told myself, ‘I’m an adult, I just went to a spin class, I’m going to get diesel, it’s raining, it’s 2020, I have a husband and kids and Anna and life is okay now, this will pass…’ and that by the time I’d finished saying all of that I was finally able to take a breath in again. Anna said, ‘I’m so glad you could keep yourself safe. I wonder if we can create a boundary here… like when you’re in the car and you notice your mind start talking to me or ruminating you say, ‘I am driving, I’m concentrating, it’s important that we stay safe, I promise we will come back to this when it’s safe but we’re not going to think about this just now…’ a bit like what you’d say to the kids if they asked you to look at something or they’re distracting you while you’re driving, you’d tell them it needs to wait.’ I nodded and agreed. I said it’s hard because I didn’t notice it happening until I was in the middle of it. She said, ‘it’s just about practicing the boundary over and over until it becomes a habit. You notice the overwhelm, contain the emotion, establish the boundary… with repetition of this routine you’ll begin to feel safer in yourself.’

I told her, ‘when I was getting the diesel I realised I haven’t filled this car up since we bought it and didn’t know how to open the diesel cap door. I phoned Adam and he told me it was under the footwell so I pulled that lever, got out and went round to discover the door still shut. I went back and shone my torch and realised it was the bonnet I’d opened. I phoned him back and told him and he said, ‘for fuck sake! It’s between the chair and the door, open the door and look!’ he was really impatient with me and made me feel like an idiot.’ Then I had to figure out how to close the bonnet by myself. We talked quite a bit about this. We explored why his response had hurt me so much, that it triggered my wounded child. I felt a shock inside like I had been told off, I felt ashamed for not knowing how to do it and I felt like he hated me. Then I felt angry with him. I told Anna it reminded me of how harsh and impatient my dad used to be. That sometimes he’d have all the patience in the world and then he’d snap and shout at me really loudly in my face and I remember just freezing, he’d often threaten a smacked bottom as well so I’d just not look at him and stiffen up and wait for it to be over… wouldn’t let him see how I felt. Then mum would come in and tell me she wished I’d stop being so difficult that I just push him too far, that I need to stop arguing or whatever and that because I push him so hard then they argue and I need to just be easier to live with. Anna was saying over the top of me, ‘what? No… what? That’s not your responsibility! So not only was it your fault that he couldn’t control his anger but also your fault that they were arguing? Lucy, parents should be supportive and caring and loving, that’s a horrible thing to say to a child… really horrible, you didn’t deserve that…’ she said some other things and I said, ‘yeah and so then I…’ she said, ‘Lucy did you hear me?’ I looked at her and she liked angry and red in the face which I now realise was probably anger at my parents but I felt a bit overwhelmed. I nodded and said, ‘yeah but I cant connect to it I don’t want to…’ she said, ‘I know, I know Lucy, but it’s important.’ I said, ‘but really? It feels like we’re making a bigger deal out if it, is it really that bad?’ she told me what I had said to her but she replaced me with Grace in the story and asked me if I could imagine saying those things to Grace. I said I would never say that to her, put that onto her. We sat with that for a bit. I felt a little out of it so I looked at the trees out the window being blown about by the storm. I focused on the beads of rain on the window. I looked at the candle flickering on the table and focused on it’s smell. I flicked my eyes up at Anna and she was looking down at my chair legs. I wondered what she was thinking. She looked at me and I looked away. I said I was finding it really difficult and she said, ‘I know, well done for staying with it.’

I told her that when I went home I told Adam there was no need for him to swear at me. He said he’d just put the kids down by himself and was busy tidying and felt hassled by me. I just went upstairs and went to bed. Anna came back to this later in the session and said that when people do one thing that makes me feel like there’s a disagreement or misunderstanding or they hurt me in some way, it changes the whole way I feel about them. I told her I’d noticed this and that this was one of the things that made me ask Paul if he thought I had BPD because I know it’s called splitting. She didn’t respond to that but said it makes sense that I respond in this way because that small part of me is always looking for evidence that people don’t really love me and that I’m an idiot. So his reaction to me asking for help (which is hard for me to do) made me feel shame and rejection and abandonment and all the things I fear and so it made me go into myself… I retreated, protected myself and went to hide upstairs. She played out a scenario of a more adult way to deal with. Of me saying to Adam that it didn’t feel nice for him to lose his patience with me and what was going on for him at that moment. We talked that through a bit.

I then said, ‘so when I was upstairs I cried for like two hours solid and it was so intense… I know I said this recently that I cried deeper than ever before but this was the deepest most painful crying ever, I couldn’t even stay quiet it was so intense… and I can’t believe I’m going to tell you this it’s so embarrassing and hard to explain…’ she reminded me to take my time, ‘I was like lying in the foetal position in bed under my covers with my arms over my head and there were no thoughts just deep crying and then I suddenly felt like my head was huge, massive in my hands, felt like it was the size of a space hopper or something (I laughed awkwardly)… like it was really trippy… I felt like I dunno – weird proportions…’ Anna said, ‘it sounds like a huge amount of grief being processed from a really young preverbal place, you mentioned the foetal position, you know how babies and the foetus, the head is so much bigger in relation to the rest of the body, I wonder if you were really grieving from a very young regressed place… does that sound right?’ I was nodding and just looking at the floor. I covered my face and said I was really embarrassed. She said she understood and then said, ‘I think you know that there is a huge amount of grief to be processed and a lot of it doesn’t have words because the grief and longing is from a time before you had the words to express what was happening or how you were feeling, but you are feeling it now and that’s so good, I know it doesn’t feel good but really this is exactly what needs to be happening, I’m so proud of you.’

She asked me if I knew what had made me cry and I said, ‘I’m reluctant to tell you this because I feel like it’s like rubbing salt in the wound but… well do you remember a couple of years ago I told you that my mum was a singer and had made records?’ she nodded and said she remembered. I said, ‘well there was this particular album that she recorded that had two songs on it that I loved. I taped it onto a mix tape and used to listen to it on repeat on my headphones in bed on my Walkman. One song in particular that I liked listening to had lyrics that were exactly the words I wished she’d say to me about feeling comforted and loved. So… I’ve not listened to it in decades and on Thursday night I had the urge to hear it again so I looked it up to see if I could find it on youtube and I did find it so I listened to it and that’s what made me cry so much. You know when we spoke on the phone you said, ‘you’re not that little girl anymore, you’re not alone in that room with the door shut, you don’t have to cry by yourself anymore, you’re an adult now…’ and those words had been going around and around in my head and it all just built up… so on Thursday night it felt like it was her crying, her tears, her pain that I was connecting to…’ Anna said, ‘do you know why you were connecting to her pain?’ and I thought for a moment then quietly said, ‘because she needed me to.’ There was a long pause and I looked up and Anna was tearful with a kind smile on her face. She was nodding and said, ‘yes… she is not alone anymore, you are ready to hear her and comfort her now… she needs you and you are there for her… that’s magical Lucy, isn’t that wonderful!’ I found her enthusiasm uncomfortable. It’s really hard to connect to. She asked me if the song meant something different to me now I’m an adult and without being consciously aware of it I pulled Luna out of my bag and held her against my chest. I asked Anna to sit next to me which she did and I said the song meant the same to me now. I told her the song and she recognised it and asked what in particular moved me about the lyrics. I asked her if I could say them to her and she said of course but then nothing came out. I said, ‘I know the song off by heart, it’s threaded through the bones of me, I’ve listened to it thousands of times and can hear her voice singing it in my head.

You asked me ages ago if I felt like I loved my mum and wanted her to hug me and I told you I hated her and wanted nothing from her. But on Thursday night I could just remember how much I loved her, that I wanted to be close to her so much… I remembered that she used to wear black leggings and really heavy chunky knit cream jumpers that skimmed her thighs and she had a lovely body and… its so weird it sounds so weird but even as a child I noticed this, she was soft and curvy and slim and beautiful and I wanted to wrap my arms round her waist and nuzzle into her and breathe her in but I was never allowed to… I remember her pushing me away so many times… and listening to the song and imagining her singing it to me, I can hear her taking a breath the recording is that clear and it feels intimate and like… the only way I could get close to her…’ Anna said, ‘I know you described it as rubbing salt in the wound but I actually think it was a beautiful way to show that little girl that you were ready to hold her pain.’ I asked Anna if I could show her the lyrics instead of verbally telling her and she agreed so I looked them up online and gave her my phone. I sat for an agonising minute while she slowly read the lyrics and then I covered my face so I couldn’t see her reaction. I could hear her put the phone on the arm of the chair and from inside my top in a muffled voice I said, ‘this just seems so stupid, like I’m making this much bigger than it is I just can’t believe I’m telling you all this…’ She said, ‘it is a big deal, it’s very personal and very painful. I’m so honoured you’ve told me Lucy, thank you for sharing the song with me.’

Anna said, ‘it’s so sad that you were on your own with all of that, that you couldn’t get the hugs and love you needed, but what I’m hearing is that this little girl who was on her own with all of those overwhelming feelings had the creativity to find a way to be close to her mum, she found a way to hear the words she needed to hear… that’s incredible Lucy. And she’s waited a long time to have someone be there for her and now she has someone who can love her and hug her and listen and let her cry. This is hard, hard work you’re doing here. I get the very strong sense that you know there is a lot of grief work to be done and you are prepared to let it happen now which shows immense strength.’

We started to finish up. I still felt a bit in the thick of it. Anna asked me how I was and I said okay in an unconvincing tone. I did like her describing the fact that I listened to the song as a child as creative and I also liked the fact that she read the song lyrics. It was such a private, alone, shame inducing thing I used to do… this unlovable little kid listening to her mum singing on a mass produced record that anyone could buy and listen to… I felt like a loser… but Anna reframed it… that little kid was creative, she figured out a way to survive despite being deprived of the love she desperately needed. I need to try to hold on to that.

At the end I asked for a hug and she held me tightly and swayed from side to side gently. I love when she does that. We were hugging for a wee while like that then I thanked her and left. When I got home I unpacked Luna and Baby and noticed that Baby smelled of Anna’s perfume which made me feel so happy and connected to her and like it all really did happen… like at the end of the Snowman when James finds the scarf in his pocket. It is real.

Will the real Lucy King please stand up…

When I started working with Anna, right at the start, maybe even the very first session, I told her, ‘I need really strict boundaries, I need you to tell me nothing about your life, I need you to keep you out of this room, I don’t want to know about who you live with, I don’t want to know about your family, I don’t want to know where you live, don’t tell me how old you are, don’t tell me when your birthday is, don’t tell me where you work… nothing… tell me nothing.’

So, at the time I understood this desire to keep her out of my therapy as a way to get her to assert boundaries that were lacking with Paul (my previous therapist). He told me a lot about his life. I know what his wife did, the names and ages of his kids, where they went to school, he told me when his wife was pregnant and how the pregnancy was going, plans for the labour, he told me his work history, where he’s lived in his life, what made him want to be a therapist, things that annoy him about people in his life, things he’s worked on himself, what he still needs to work on, he told me about past girlfriends, about where he currently lives… the list goes on and on… and also, there was my stalking… I looked him up online, I found out his favourite band, I found his reviews on Amazon and therefore saw things he’d bought, I found out books he’d read, films he’d watched… I found out a lot!! I interpreted this as my preoccupied attachment style running rings around me. I thought, ‘this is my history playing itself out in the room… this is just how I love people, from a distance obsessively’… and it hurt. It was the worst pain I’d ever experienced. I wanted Paul to be my daddy and my lover at different points through our work together. I touched on the fact that I felt jealous of his daughter who was twenty years younger than me. Initially he worked on this with me, telling me it made sense I would feel like that. Then he started to appear a little defensive. He would say things like, ‘it’s my fault you’re feeling like this, I have created this dependence by having a lack of boundaries, I’m going to make some changes to fix this…’ it made me feel so much shame… this was a bad thing that was his ‘fault’ that needed to be fixed?? I never saw it as a fault, I saw it as part of the work. Any time I brought my feelings for him into the room he became increasingly tense and then said things like, ‘you’re pushing me outside my level of expertise’ and ‘I don’t deal with transference, lets just focus on your real life stuff’ and my personal favourite ‘it’s just transference, its not real’… phew… that stuff hurt like hell. But because of my personal attachment issues I allowed this shame and sense of wrongness to be piled onto my shoulders. I felt like clearly this was my fault and I was doing therapy wrong. Don’t get me wrong, Paul was an amazing therapist in many ways and these statements and examples have been plucked randomly out of context, but in this area he did not help me. In fact, he retraumatised me. It made me certain that my feelings were not welcome and so I tried my best to numb them and focus on impressing him with my ability to intellectualise.

Back to Anna. I often forget that I have told her numerous times from the start that I want to know nothing about her. I forget it came from me and I say things like ‘Anna is very boundaried’ or ‘Anna works with the blank slate mentality’ or ‘Anna doesn’t bring any of her personal life into the room’ – when really I have no idea how she works when she hasn’t been given very strict instructions to never talk about her life I’m the room with me. She has only ever let a couple of things slip and each of those times I’ve brought it up with her as being a very painful experience. These have been minor. E.g. when she told me she couldn’t call me because she was in a car with her family all day driving to wherever they were going on holiday. Another time was when she said something about another client. Most of the time these slips make me feel intense jealousy, inadequacy and a fear of abandonment.

There was one time when she told me of a dream she had when she was a child. We were talking about a dream I had that left me feeling really emotional when I woke up and she was talking about how real dreams can feel. She never normally does this but on that occasion she related it to an experience she had herself. She said that when she was a child she never had a bike and really wanted a chopper. She had a dream that her friend had given her her bike and she was so excited only to wake up and realise it was all just a dream. I didn’t feel the same painful emotions as I did with the other disclosures. I guess because with this one it felt like her inner child sharing with my inner child. It felt intimate and special between us. It felt connecting.

During the phone session on Tuesday Anna told me that a number of her colleagues at the office had struggled to drive to work because of the weather and that was one reason she felt it necessary to not force either of us to meet at the therapy centre rather than just have a phone session. I found myself wanting to ask her what it actually is that she does for a day job. I have never, ever asked her a question about her life. I’m starting to notice a gentle curiosity. I am curious about how old she is. When her birthday is (so I can find out her star sign). I want to know what her day job is and how long she’s done it for. I would like to know what propelled her into training to become a therapist. I’ve wondered, I’ve fantasised about parts of her life and yes, I’ve looked her up online. But thankfully there is very little to find about her on the internet (compared to Paul at least). I have a slightly different attachment style with Anna than I did with Paul. More of my inner child is being worked on with Anna and I relate more to anxious avoidant/disorganised attachment descriptions. I think about her all the time, every day, I desperately want to be close to her but I’m also frightened by the idea of closeness. In fact on occasions the sense of close connection repulses me and simultaneously the sense of disconnection feels like it might kill me. It’s very contradictory and confusing.

One thing that has been amazing about working with Anna is that SHE DOES DEAL WITH TRANSFERENCE… woohoo! I mean, how can you be a therapist and NOT deal with transference? It’s basically just how past relationships have shaped how current relationships are played out. Also, she is happy to talk about our relationship in the room – THANK GOD! She is also wonderfully not defensive in the slightest. She doesn’t take anything I say personally, she sees it all as my shit that needs to be worked on. She is also very aware of her own shit and will not let it interfere with my work. She is also willing to reflect and adapt. She wants to help me in a way that works for me. She isn’t rigid in how she works, she will be flexible with me. I have so many examples of times I have tentatively told her something that didn’t work for me or didn’t feel right and she has heard me, talked it through, taken responsibility or apologised and made changes. She constantly asks me how I am experiencing her, whether the way we’re working is working for me. Also, when reflecting my need for boundaries and for her to not self disclose she has shown a huge amount of understanding. She has said to me, ‘its so important for you that I don’t talk about myself, you spent your whole life having your mum and other people dominating relationships, even Paul made sessions about himself… this hour is yours, it needs to be all about you!’ and I really understand this on a deep level. As a kid I listened to my mum talk about her life so much (including her childhood and teen years) that I find it hard to distinguish what are my real memories and what are her memories. Enmeshed doesn’t even come close to describing our relationship. I read a book recently which calls this type of relationship covert incest… it was an emotionally abusive relationship. I was used for her to get what she needed… and then Paul retraumatised me. Because it is built into the fibre of me to want to serve the needs of others I wilfully listened to him and talked about him because that felt like love to me. But an icky love.. like I was special but also something felt wrong about it.

I recently reflected on this very strong demand for boundaries that I made early on with Anna and had a bit of an epiphany. When I found things out about Paul I absorbed the information and made it about me. I found out the bands he’d loved since he was a teenager and bought a t-shirt with the band on the front to wear to therapy so he could see I liked them too. I bought the cds he had bought and listened to them over and over every minute of the day. I imagined teenage Paul listening to them 30 years ago. I bought the books he had bought and read them as if I was inside his head as he read them. I streetviewed the places he said he’d been to. I looked up the school his kids went to and read the whole website. I tried to enmesh myself… to find meaning in who I was… to find myself in the select crumbs of him I knew. I began to realise that I have done this my whole life. Changed my make up depending on the make up a particular friend wore. Adapted music choices to fit in with people. Picked up and dropped hobbies to try to mirror the people around me. I think people who know me might find this hard to believe because I appear to have a very strong sense of self and I think this is because largely these thoughts and feelings are internalised. I’m not a chameleon, I’m more of a kaleidoscope. I don’t change myself entirely to become a mirror image of them, what I have done is added to myself the things that other people present to me and focus completely on them and their likes rather than showing them my true self. Why..? Because I didn’t know who my true self was!!! You develop and grow your true self in childhood if you have the right loving, guiding, accepting environment. I didn’t, so my true self stayed in hiding. In fact she was never truly born in the first place.

So… when I started working with Anna, I guess in some strange unconscious wisdom, somewhere deep down inside, I knew that this time within this therapeutic relationship I wanted to find my authentic self. The ‘me’ that has never fully come into actuality. All of my life I had found myself in reflections of other people. This time I wanted to find me. And she has given me that space. Beautifully she has opened her arms to me willing me to find the seeds of myself amongst the rubble of broken pieces that other people forced into me. For the first time ever I’ve experienced someone respecting my boundaries. She has allowed me to fumble around in the pitch black wilderness of my soul attempting to find the bones of myself. So I can begin to build for the first time, my true self with no need to mirror myself against what I think she would like.

One of the reasons why I have never given Anna a gift (other than fearing the absolute carnage a rejection would cause) is that when I give gifts, my perfectionism goes into overdrive. I need to know about a person, know something very specific about them, then buy or make a gift that shows them I care, shows them I listened, shows them I know them. I want to give them something that says ‘I know who you are’. I’ve been reflecting on what I have given her… I have drawn her two Christmas cards, both of which had a drawing that related to the work we’re doing or something we talked about in session… I believed I couldn’t give her a gift because I don’t know anything about her… except I’m starting to realise that maybe what I can give to her is something of myself… she already knows about herself, she can already give herself things she likes, she has family, friends and loved ones who can give her things that are specific about her. But what does she not have anything else in her life like…? Me! Giving her my art is something only I can do. That’s special because it comes from the core of who I am.

So many times I have said that this journey feels like I am breaking. Now I realise, it is a breaking down of my hardened, brittle protective wall and a breaking down of all the versions of me that were built to serve others. The breaking down of all the many facets of mirror-me… the parts of me that were merged and mixed up with other peoples likes, dislikes, needs… breaking down my old beliefs in who I need to be for other people. That breaking is painful as fuck because those walls and mirrors kept me feeling safe. I could hide behind them. I could dissociate comfortably on autopilot while also being hyper-aroused in relationship. Watching and mirroring and not feeling.

So now… in this brand new type of relationship, where this amazing woman keeps herself out of the room by simultaneously having her fully present and dedicated self right there in front of or right next to me… it’s incredibly healing. She only bringing the parts of herself that can help and serve me… wow this is brand new! She is attachment focused, trauma informed, routinely works on herself in her own therapy and supervision… she does the work she expects others to do. So this is new for me… Aaaand it’s scary as fuck also because I don’t know how to make her love me if I can’t merge myself. I have to ‘be the real me’ whoever that is. I know for sure that she would say to me, ‘baby steps, Lucy… just like a baby learns to walk one shaky step at a time, go slow and purposefully with those baby steps towards finding the real Lucy.’

*I want to add a wee note here to say that this is just what I need… not what everyone needs. We are all on our own very unique journeys that are as specific and different as our fingertips. If your therapist shares parts of themself with you that doesn’t mean I think they are abusing you, only you will know what feels right. I am just speaking from my personal experience so please don’t think I’m judging you, your journey or your therapist if what you experience is something different. Also, Paul helped me enormously, so even though this part of his theraputic style wasn’t right for me in the end, we still healed massive aspects of the pain I brought to him. I will be forever grateful to him for what he did for me. This is all one massive learning curve and actually, his failing in this area has helped me learn something about myself. So even that was worth it!*

It feels like I’m slowly coming out of hiding

...and there’s someone that’s been waiting patiently for me, on the other side of this wall.

I sent Anna a text asking for an additional session or phone call as I was unable to go to my session at the weekend due to being away. I said, ‘I’m sorry to ask you for more time. I can’t even put into words why I feel the need for more support. Sat here for fifteen minutes typing and deleting… it’s just really hard, this work we’re doing right now.’

She replied offering me a half hour phone call and an additional session. She said, ‘I understand Lucy.  It is hard work and if you feel you need extra support right now that’s ok. You’ve asked for what you need, which I know isn’t easy.’

We had the phone check in which was really helpful. I was so touched that she had given it to me in the first place but also had a mixture of confused emotions about her not charging me for the call as it was a long one. In the five mins before the call I was so anxious that I visited the toilet three times. The prearranged time appeared on my screen and my immediate thought was ‘she’s forgotten, she’s not going to call… that’s fine. Anxiety be gone!’ One minute later and her face popped up on my screen. It was the first thing we talked about – my anxiety and my belief that she will forget we’d arranged a call. Anna talked to me about how I had to get used to disappointment as a child. I learned to predict it. People just didn’t come through for me. So of course I expect it in this attachment. I told her, ‘I feel bad coz I’m not really in crisis so I feel you’ll be angry with me for wasting your time.’ She said, ‘I feel bad,’ is a child speaking. And expecting her to be angry with me… that’s the part of me that doesn’t believe people can genuinely care and that perhaps she’d be pleased for me that I’m doing well. She also said, ‘and I know part of the reason you’re doing well is because you knew we’d arranged this call… it’s like when a kid is on stage searching for their mummy. As soon as the child spots her the child can relax and say their lines… you just needed to touch base to know I’m here, you needed support and THAT’S OKAY!’ I started to cry but not audibly, ‘it makes me upset and I don’t know why.’ She said, ‘I think you do know why but your child finds it hard to articulate. My care and my kindness is hard to take in, it’s hard to trust.’

I said, ‘when we have a session, if you’re pissed off with me or feel bogged down by me you can sit there and think, ‘at least I’m getting paid for this,’ but you’re not charging me for this call so it’s like, I’m confused, why offer it to me? What’s in it for you?’ She told me she’d had her supervision tonight and that she knew she’d have this time available. She said, ‘I know you and I trust that you will ask for what you need. I thought, ‘what would help Lucy feel supported right now?’ I wanted you to feel our connection through this break.’ The call did just that. It really carried me over the session break until the second half of the long weekend when I started to feel overwhelmed by family life.

We had arranged a 90 minute session for the Tuesday after the break and just prior to that Anna text me saying, ‘Hi Lucy. I’m just checking in with you re our appt tomorrow. It’s looking like the weather is going to be the same as today. Driving was tricky and I’m conscious you have a long journey, in the dark home and need to be safe. I wondered how you’d feel about a phone session instead of travelling through? If you would like a phone session you may want just the hour. We can always reschedule a longer session at another time. Let me know what you think. Thanks. Anna.’

I didn’t want to cancel the face to face but eventually after much umming and aahhing from me through a few texts she made the decision for me that we would just do a phone call. The snow hasn’t been particularly bad where I am but it’s quite a long drive and the weather is very changeable.

So… phone session…

Anna asked me how I felt about the session being a phone call instead of face to face. I told her that I understood it was sensible. I said there was a stubborn annoyed feeling inside me wishing I could still see her face to face and a sadness as I started to feel younger waves of disappointment and sensed there was a part of me that felt rejected… I said, ‘I would have come out in three feet of snow and hurricane!’ She said, ‘yes I know, it’s important that we both stay safe though.’ I said, ‘so are you not at the office?’ she said, ‘no, I’m home.’ I said, ‘oh wow, that’s interesting.’ There was a pause and she said, ‘why’s that interesting?’ I said, ‘I think I’d imagined that you had just told me to not come out, that you didn’t want to see me but everyone else was going to be at their session tonight.’ She said, ‘you were the only client I had tonight Lucy, so it was just you and me going out to the centre… I know that you’re really keen on having a 90 minute session again… my reasoning behind having the phone session as just an hour is that it can be less holding than face to face and I have a sense that you’re feeling the need for longer so you can go further into your feelings and I’d like to be there with you in the room when that happens. Does that make sense?’ I said it did and that we were on the same wavelength… I agreed with her.

Anna asked, ‘do you know what you’d like to get out of this session tonight?’ I said that I wanted to talk about the long weekend away. She asked me if we’d had a nice time and I said that for the most part I had. There were some great moments, a lot of outdoor time in the wild elements… storms, sleet, wind… I described it as exhilarating. I said, ‘but there were moments when I was very upset, it felt like I got overwhelmed by too much time with the kids and I was really very sad, crying. I mean I remember it happening but it feels like I’m talking about someone else just now I don’t feel like I’m that person at the moment, I feel totally fine just now.’

She asked me what the thoughts were around the sadness and I said it was the idea that they deserve a better mum, that I’m not good enough… ‘all the times I ask them for peace, all the times I tell them ‘off you go into another room, I’ll be through in a minute,’ constantly pushing them away. Anna said, ‘can you remind yourself of the moments you had with the family over the weekend that were fun and enjoyable?’ I said, ‘but I don’t really feel like I’m explaining it properly I don’t know how to articulate it… it’s like I’m behind a sheet of glass the whole time, I can see them all fully embracing it all and I think in my head, this is fun, they will remember this, we’re creating happy memories for them, this is good… but I’m not fully there… I take photos of it all and mini video clips to record all the ‘fun’ we’re having… then there will be a moment when I go stand at the waters edge and the wind is wild and blowing my hair and scarf around and the waves are crashing and it feels just as wild as the waves and wind inside my chest and I can barely contain the emotions so I block it out again and turn and return to Adam and the kids, taking the photos and absorbing myself in the idea of what they might remember from the day in years to come as they look back at the photos… hoping I’m giving them a happy childhood.’ Anna asked, ‘did you feel like you were able to let a little bit of the emotion out as you stood by the water?’ I said, ‘no… I couldn’t, it felt like a huge body of water being held by a weak, bursting damn… it would have been too much.’ She said she understood and she talked about ways I can plan in time where I would be able to feel my feelings. She suggested going to the coast or a walk on the hills where I like going with the family but just going by myself and screaming and crying. She joked that no one would be around coz this weather keeps everyone indoors. She said, ‘I know that even when you let yourself feel things in the house, you will always be on guard expecting the kids to burst into the room… you don’t have the complete freedom you need… I know that there is a fear there. It’s overwhelming. I know that it feels like once you start crying you might never stop. But you’re not that small child anymore, you’re an adult now. You’re not a little kid all alone in her room crying and crying with the door shut and the covers pulled over her head feeling like she might cry forever more all by herself. You are not in that room anymore. You have the power and control to allow yourself five minutes, half an hour, an hour to feel and cry… then regain yourself and get on with your adult life.’ I started to feel my throat burn… chest tighten.

I said, ‘earlier this afternoon… I had extra time with the kids because I wasn’t coming out tonight to the session which was nice and Grace had asked me to spend some time one to one with her and I don’t know why I find it so hard to give it to her, she shouldn’t have to ask! And we were sitting in the livingroom while Adam made the dinner, the kids were watching tv and I was scrolling Instagram being a shit mum and Reuben grabbed the Guess Who game and dragged the coffee table over to me, set the game up and asked me to play with him… I mean he’s four years old…’ Anna said, ‘aw that’s lovely’ and I said, ‘no it’s heartbreaking, it’s so so sad…’ Anna shared her observations with me about how my children know in their hearts that I will meet their needs, she said, ‘we often talk in pictures Lucy, you couldn’t get a clearer image of secure trust, that he knew for certain that mummy would without a question play with him… he didn’t tentatively ask you with his head down expecting rejection, he dragged the bloody table over to you and set the game up… and Grace asked you for time, she knows that if she wants time with you she can ask for it, that’s beautiful!’ she was saying all of this and I was silently crying. There was silence when she stopped talking and then she quietly asked, ‘what is this bringing up for you?’ I sniffed and took a few reflex shallow breaths and said, ‘it’s really upsetting, I’m feeling really sad about it.’ she said, ‘I know. Could you put into words the feeling?’ I said, ‘he’s such a tiny, fragile little thing… it’s making me feel the way I felt about the children I worked with who were put into care and taken away from the school… um… um… I feel sad for them…’ spacey spacey… slight awareness that I need to ground. I took my socks off and placed my feet on the cold laminate floor… ‘um… I feel sad coz he’s such a tiny trusting beautiful wee child and he is so full of this faith in me and… I’m realising that I’m not sad for him, I’m sad for me…’ I tailed off and cried again. She quietly said, ‘yes, I know… and it’s so sad and so painful, because he trusts that mummy will play with him, and you never had that, you didn’t have someone playing with you, you knew you couldn’t ask…’ I cried a bit more. I told her, ‘I’m not enough for them, they deserve better than me… It’s like I have this extra bit in my brain that’s gone wrong… I want to cut that part of my brain out that overthinks and procrastinates and dwells and the over feeling and over analysing, that’s the part of me that stops me being the mum they deserve…’

I said, ‘when we were in the car driving up, Grace was taking photos with this old iphone of mine that we gave her so she could use it for music and the camera… looking at the photos she took was really interesting, it reminded me of the photos me and Daniel used to take when we were kids on road trips – photos we’d taken on disposable cameras of each other, of the blurry view out the window, the backs of my mum and dads heads… Grace’s photos were exactly the same except I’m the mum in her photos… I don’t feel like I’m the mum in this family a lot of the time, the idea of being the mum in this family makes me want to hide, scream, run away… not always but sometimes…’

Anna talked a bit about the fact that of course I need a break every so often and that when families are on holiday together it is hard to all be together. She said, ‘usually when you’re home you’ll be hoovering or cooking dinner or something and they don’t have all your attention all the time but when you’re away you’re not doing as much of that so they see an opening and they want to talk and play with you all the time.’ I said, ‘you have this idea of what I’m like at home but I’m not like that… I want to be like that, I have an idea of this perfect mum and I want to be like that but I’m not.’ She said, ‘perhaps the idea of perfection is so high and unobtainable that the only way is down, you’re setting yourself up to fail…’ I said, ‘I don’t think I mean perfect because this is a very low expectation I have, I think it’s… it’s present… I should be more present and I’m not and they deserve me to be.’ Anna said, ‘okay…’ in a very understanding tone then said, ‘so can you describe what you feel you should be like to me?’ I said, ‘okay… um… well if you were to study the activities of every member in the house without knowing who each person was, you wouldn’t know I’m the mum… I should be cooking the dinner, cleaning the house, washing up, making the kids beds, cleaning and tidying their rooms every day, folding and putting away their clothes, setting up activities for them, sitting doing homework with them… but instead I just sit scrolling on my phone. I think my phone protects me from engaging with them, it stops them from coming near me when I’m busy on my phone or laptop… but I shouldn’t be doing that… it’s ridiculous coz my mum was a fucking mess but she was really very good at keeping a house and she could tidy a room perfectly in five minutes and I’m not like that and I wish I was but then I also can’t be arsed!’ (I just want to add here that it’s a day later and I’m reading this back thinking… this is not 100% true! I mean it felt true when I said it but I do do all those things, not all the time but I do clean and tidy and organise and play… this is a very split/parts type thing I think because here are massively conflicting opinions and beliefs inside me about this.)

Back to the call…

Anna said, ‘I wonder if…’ (she paused as if she was thinking about the benefit of asking me this question then continued), ‘I wonder if a part of you wants to be the exact opposite to your mum? You don’t want to be anything like her, you’re frightened to be like her and fuck your kids up…’ I agreed completely and said that I do want to have those qualities just not the other ones… mum was always cleaning and tidying and never sat on her bum, I don’t want to be that extreme but I’m being just as avoidant of family life by sitting on my phone all the time. Anna said, ‘it sounds to me like you’re trying your best to be part of the family, present for them unlike your mum who was always in another room tidying and cleaning, but it triggers big emotions for you so you go on your phone because it provides that bubble where you can be reading and writing and intellectualising rather than feeling.’ She continued talking but I spoke over her, ‘fucking hell that’s it. Fuck. Sake…. Shit… hold on… so I do want to spend time with my kids but then I start to connect to them and I start feeling my feelings and it hurts so I distract myself with my phone. Being online, writing and reading helps build a wall between me and the feelings OHMYGOD that’s the Thursday morning thing! That’s the Thursday morning emotional overwhelm we were talking about the other day! Because on a Thursday morning I do all the housework that’s been building up over the week and I plonk Reuben in front of the tv and I load the dishwasher and tidy the bedrooms and clean and the feelings overwhelm me and sometimes I’m doing all the cleaning and tidying with tears streaming down my face in the other room with a door separating me and Reuben and I feel like such a shit mum coz I should be playing with him but I’m not!’ I started crying again. Silently-ish. After I took a deep breath Anna said, ‘I know that it hurts. Well done for feeling it.’

I said, ‘its way easier to cry when you can’t see me!’ She said, ‘mmm… I can hear you. And that’s okay. I’m glad to be sitting with you in this.’ She went on, ‘anyone could say, I could, Adam could… that of course you are enough for your kids, that you are a good mum, but it won’t make a difference until you believe it yourself.’ She talked about the pressure I’m putting on myself by using words like ‘should’ and ‘perfect’. She said, ‘when we have time to think a lot, that’s when our inner critic becomes bigger… what you’re doing here is you’re talking and sharing and feeling it so that it can’t grow arms and legs inside your head, you are working on it here which is a very strong things to do… and I don’t want you to beat yourself up for what you’ve realised about what you’re doing with your phone – it’s actually incredibly creative, what an amazingly creative way to help you be in the same room as your kids without crying your eyes out. Well done!’ I smiled at her unending ability to turn everything into a positive!

She told me we had fifteen minutes left and said, ‘I hope you’ve found this helpful, I know it’s not the same as face to face but…’ I interrupted and said, ‘yeah I know, I want my hug!’ Anna said, ‘I had that thought about half an hour ago, wondered if you could feel my hand on your arm…’ I smiled and said, ‘aw… I was holding Luna.’ She said that was lovely and then I said, ‘actually… so I decided to not take Luna with me on holiday. Actually I hugged her goodbye and tucked her into bed before leaving. But halfway there I regretted it and wished I’d brought her.’ She made an ‘oh no’ type sound and I said, ‘so I promised myself that I’d go to shopping and see if they had any stuffed toys… so the day we arrived I walked into the first shop and there was a baby Luna sitting there in the middle of this display of cuddly toys.’ Anna said, ‘what! You’re joking! Of all the shops in the whole of Scotland you walk into that one and find Baby Luna! That’s amazing.’ I told her I bought her which she loved. I said, ‘I’ve cuddled Luna going to sleep every night since I got her, I didn’t want to not have something to cuddle… I was quite proud of myself for meeting that need and I thought you’d like it…’ Anna said, ‘I do like it very much, I like that you supported yourself, you met that need. That’s’ lovely… I’m looking forward to meeting Baby Luna!’

Reflecting on this session… I think that’s the third phone session we’ve had in the last 2.5 years though we’ve had check in phone calls as well. Calls always feel slightly different to a face to face session but Anna does her best to keep me feeling connected throughout. When we’re in the room together there are more opportunities for long silences because so much of the experience of therapy is communicated through facial expressions and body language. On the phone, the fact she can’t see me means I have to be more explicit about how I’m experiencing things. I have to tell her rather than show her that I’m struggling or upset or confused or overwhelmed. This kind of pushes me outside my comfort zone a bit and also makes me look after myself more. When we’re face to face the younger parts of me want to act out and have her notice whereas on the phone I have to step in and speak up for those parts. It’s an interesting thing to observe and I’ll probably talk about it when I see her next.

This is the first time I’ve properly cried on the phone with Anna and had her acknowledge it. In hindsight I notice that I wanted her to know I was crying. I realise that despite me always crying silently and covering my face in front of her, I’m not completely hiding the expression of emotions… the body language tells her I’m distressed. On the phone there was just silence and I felt a need to break her stream of talking to let her know I’d become overwhelmed. When my voice quivered and my breath jumped as it does when I’m crying, I was glad that she noticed and stopped talking. I could hear her sitting there with me on the other end of the phone. When she told me she could hear me crying there was a tiny twinge of shame and then something more self soothing washed over me when I realised that actually it really was okay that she was listening to me cry.

It feels like I’m slowly coming out of hiding and there’s someone that’s been waiting patiently for me, on the other side of this wall.

Some notes from my session 01.02.20

She said, ‘what your mum did was cruel and not loving at all. I’m so sorry Lucy, so sorry that you had to go through that… what a brave and strong little girl you were to withstand that, to not show her any emotions until you knew you were safely away from her. Of course you’re worried I will hurt you and of course you hide your feelings from me… you’re very good at looking after yourself.’ I said, ‘but I just feel like you’re being dramatic, it’s not that bad…’ I tailed off saying, ‘I don’t even know why I told you…’ Anna interrupted, ‘I don’t think you really believe that. I think you know. It shouldn’t have happened, you didn’t deserve it… it’s amazing the love and care you show your children – the exact opposite to what you received.’ I whispered, ‘It’s not fair…. but that sounds so entitled… why do I deserve anything better..?’ Anna said, ‘I don’t think it’s entitled to want to have parents who love you. I think it’s a given that when you have children, you choose to have them, it’s then your responsibility to look after them, make decisions in their favour, care for them and love them, feed them, clothe them, be kind to them… every child deserves to be loved.’ She continued but I’d started to drift further away as I lowered my face into my hands and everything around me faded into the fog. Waves rising in my chest. I held my breath. At some point she slowed to a silence and we sat there for a while with me not breathing. She asked if I’d like her to put her hand on my arm and she gently told me we had 5 minutes left. She said, ‘I think, Lucy, that actually those two words are perfect. I think they beautifully sum this whole thing up. Not fair. And the adult can stick the ‘f’ word in the middle… it’s not fair and I think you’re very brave to come here and trust me with this…’

I told Anna of the realisation I’d had after reading Carolyn Spring’s blog post about responding to emotional pain with self harm. (When I mentioned it I noticed an expression on Anna’s face, initially my frightened child interpreted it as anger but I actually think she was just thinking, it was quite a blank expression. I know from my internet browsing that Anna follows Carolyn Spring’s facebook page and so she is aware of her work. I wonder if she was thinking about how it might relate to the work she’s doing with me. I told her that through all of that crying I had been desperate to hurt myself. Then I realised that if I had hurt myself I would have been punishing that little girl for trusting me with her feelings. That it’s taken her a very long time to trust me enough to cry like that and what I really want is to bring that pain to a session and cry with Anna from the core of my child. If I were to self harm it would push my child away again, hurt her for being hurt… I was rambling through my thoughts and looking all around the room trying to formulate sentences to build a sense of what I had learned over those two days. I finally looked at Anna and she was kind of red in the face and had tears in her eyes… probably the most emotional I’ve ever seen her. She said, ‘oh Lucy it’s so wonderful hearing you talk about your child like that, looking after her, really so lovely…’ her voice cracked, ‘she so deserves to be loved and looked after.’ She smiled through her tears and nodded me on. I was hesitant, told her that it really hurts to see emotion on her face because it makes me so acutely aware of what I might be feeling underneath it all and also it hurts because I wish someone had attuned to me like that when I was little. She said she knows how painful that is. She asked me if I’m able to take it in, how she was being with me. I covered my face and said, ‘yeah a little.’ She said, ‘good… Lucy, when you are away from me and your small part struggles to feel connected to me, I want you to remember my face, remember the emotion you can see here. This cant be faked, this is real. I wouldn’t feel like this if I wished I wasn’t working with you.’