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.

7 thoughts on “A creative way to get comfort…

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