...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.