Today’s Reflections

Five minutes in to my session with Linda on Saturday and I still felt super activated. I told her my heart was pounding and I sensed my hypervigilance. I said, ‘I’m so anxious and nervous, really panicky and overwhelmed by the thought that Anna is definitely dead. Yesterday I was going over and over the scenario that you will be preparing to tell me that she died and it was just breaking my heart all day. It felt like absolute fact, you know? And I’d be the last to know… it’s just driving me insane.’ Linda said, ‘that sounds really awful, really so painful to be consumed by those thoughts.’ I nodded and started to feel a wall of shame rising. I said, ‘but that felt like a different part of me, today I’m just ashamed that I care that much about her.’ Linda said, ‘you know, I’m just thinking, I don’t think it would be a breach of boundaries for me to keep you up to date with Anna, I mean we text every day, I could, let me think… how do you feel about it? I could easily keep you updated on how she is doing.’ My heart was in my throat and I said, ‘yes please tell me’ and she said, ‘okay, well Anna’s alive, she is resting and she’s okay.’ I nodded and started to smile and say, ‘that’s good’ but I could feel my face changing and the emotion rising and then I was crying. I had my hand over my eyes and was properly crying. Right in front of her. Eventually Linda said, ‘what’s happening for you just now?’ and I said, while still crying and not looking up, ‘it’s such a relief, I’m just so relieved! I really believed she was dead.’ A bit later Linda talked to me about her observation that I tend to default to binary thinking, black and white thinking. We explored that for a bit and although I initially criticised myself calling it immature she offered me a reframe. She said, ‘it can be a really useful way of thinking, if our brains are trying to find order in chaos, it can be really comforting to look for boxes that we can put things in… there’s a sense of safety in making sense of the chaos by polarising it.’ I wondered aloud that perhaps it’s easier to imagine the pain of her dying than the grey area of her choosing to not end my suffering and text me back.

Today I have felt an ease that hasn’t settled inside me for a long time. I’ve been reflecting and it has helped soothe me. I’m so glad I wrote all of my sessions down. It means that despite the distance between Anna and I, despite not being able to speak to her, I can call on her wisdom and the comfort she’s gifted me. I can reread session notes and in my minds eye I can relive moments of her sitting with me, dedicating herself to me. I can be reminded of all the spaces inside myself we’ve been cultivating where self compassion and self acceptance are growing. She might not be here right now but the seeds we planted together are. They will never die, they will only grow and flourish. I must remember that distance physically does not equate to distance emotionally. There is a closeness there between us that time and space can not break. We have shared moments together. We have shared words, emotions, realisations, connectedness. She has the memories of those moments as do I. They don’t vanish from her mind and her heart just because there is a break in our time together. I have felt calmer today than I have for over a week. I’m grateful for this dampening of the heightened anxiety, panic and fear. I’m trying to soak it up while it lasts. We are under the same sky… and perhaps at points, we both look up at it together.

First session with Linda

In the absence of Anna…

I felt incredibly nervous. The attachment pain I’ve been experiencing since I had the text conversation with Anna about being unable to work with me just now due to illness has been unbearable. The worst pain ever. It has felt like the inside of my gut is on fire and there is a hollowed out cavity in the centre of me. I’ve been in shock, feeling the need to cry but not being able to… then sobbing.

I sat down for my first ever zoom session, with a complete stranger… she came on the screen and smiled and waved, said, ‘hi Lucy, nice to meet you… shame about the circumstances though.’ We had some light chat and then we explored getting to know each other.

This is a mixed up recollection of the session. It’s been harder to write it start to finish, maybe because I wasn’t feeling as settled as I do with Anna.

Linda said, ‘my training is different to Anna and you’ll find that I do work differently from what you’re used to but I did do a short Transactional Analysis course so I am familiar with that modality… I am person centred but not strictly traditional person centred so I won’t just sit here and nod while you talk…’ I laughed and said that was a good thing. She said, ‘I also really want to be honest and authentic… no bullshitting from me. You will bring your authentic self to the table, I can tell you are already committed to doing that, and I will bring my authentic self as well.’ I said I liked that.

Linda said, ‘Anna and I work at the centre together on a Saturday. So ordinarily I see her every week. I would also consider her to be a good friend as well as my colleague, Anna’s a bit older than me…’ I’ve no idea why she said that it was so unnecessary lol… maybe she was going to lead on to something else but I interrupted, ‘Can I just stop you there… I want you to know that because of my personal history it’s very important to me that you don’t tell me anything about your personal life or Anna’s personal life. I set that boundary with her in the first session and she has stuck to it which is amazing. I just… well very briefly… my mum and dad, in fact everyone I grew up around had no boundaries and I grew up not even knowing I was allowed to have boundaries and then the therapist I worked with 7 years ago, he wasn’t great with boundaries and unintentionally re-traumatised me by being very unboundaried and so now I know that firm boundaries is what I need and really hope that you can stick to that.’ She was smiling and nodding and thanked me for telling her. She said she also doesn’t disclose anything about her personal life and wouldn’t talk about Anna either. I was reassured by that.

Linda said, ‘So Lucy, obviously I don’t know anything about you at the moment… how would it feel to tell me a little about yourself and your life?’ I readjusted myself in my seat and laughed and said, ‘fuck I don’t even know where to start… okay… um… so I’m uh… I’m a teacher, primary teacher, I’m uhhhh I’m a mum I have two kids, Grace is 8 and Reuben is 4… uh they’re upstairs playing with Adam my husband right now, seeing as we’re not allowed out anymore! Um… so I started therapy 7 years ago with Paul. I worked with him for 3 years then he stopped working in Glasgow so I had to stop working with him, that was a massive abandonment right there, piled on top of all the other abandonment shite my parents gifted me… so uh, I’ve been working on that with Anna too… I’ve been working with Anna for 2 and a half years and the past 6 months I’d say have really been the deepest work I’ve ever done and I’ve really formed a very strong attachment with her… I know obviously we avoid the ‘dependence’ shit in therapy…’ she smiled and nodded, ‘…and I don’t think I am dependent on her, I can function in my life you know, everything isn’t falling apart, but a part of me had to form a strong attachment with her in order to work on the very deep and painful stuff and that part of me is really aching so much now that I’m having to go through this without her.’

I said, ‘The last time we spoke I asked her if she felt burdened by me and she said she didn’t, I asked her if she wished she didn’t have to work with me anymore and she said that we would get through this together and uh… well we’re not! And so that feels really shit.’ Linda said, ‘I’m wondering, do you feel like you’ve been betrayed by Anna? Is there a sense that you feel let down by her?’ I said, ‘It might be there, but I’m not aware of it right now, I just feel very sad and like I really want to go to her office and be with her and get a hug…’ Linda smiled. I thought at this point that the conversation was flowing easily, I felt accepted by her which was nice. She talked about building trust between us and that hopefully I’d be able to feel a connection and I said, ‘I do kind of feel a connection… and I think it helps that I know you know Anna, obviously no one else in my life knows her but you do, and I trust her, she trusts you enough to give me your details so I trust that… and I knew about you anyway, she had told me about you before… coz of my very sensitive abandonment issues I’d freaked out on a number of occasions that she was going to leave me, die or something, so she told me about the working will thing and that you were the person who would contact me if something happened and so uh… when we had these two sessions and I was freaking out about the virus she told me again about you and she prepared me that I might like to work with you if she is unable to. I had told Anna that I didn’t want you, I wanted her, but Anna had encouraged me to look compassionately at myself and to see that I shouldn’t turn away support that’s offered if it’s needed… and this feels kind of like a crisis so I uh… I thought I should at least try it.’ Linda said she didn’t realise I already knew about her and I joked that I’d already looked her up. She said that was fine and understandable. She said, ‘so you got in touch with me, begrudgingly?’ and laughed and I nodded.

I cant remember what Linda said about that, just lots of nodding. I said, ‘this feels scary and shit, it feels like I’m being handed over to you, I don’t want that… I want to go back to her… but it feels like she’s already dead…’ Linda said, ‘hmmm I understand it feels like that but this is not a handing over, it doesn’t feel like that to me, we have contracted to work together in the time where Anna is unable to work with you and when she is better you will continue working with her… that’s what it feels like for me…’ I was reassured by that. I said, ‘I really respect the therapeutic boundaries, they help me, I don’t want to know about her life but also its hard, she could have some pre-existing condition… I felt like she knew she was going to be ill the last two times we spoke, and I don’t even know if she has the virus it’s just so shit not knowing!’ I’m pretty sure she didn’t say much to that but she had a relaxed calm face. I didn’t feel like she was holding knowledge about something dark and awful.

I said, ‘och but you know this is what I hate and love about therapy… I love the boundaries but also its so hard… I was crying my heart out to Anna telling her how scared I am of all the changes happening coz of the pandemic and she was just sitting there with me in the feelings saying, ‘yeah it is scary’… and here I am telling you that I’m scared of Anna dying and you’re just sitting with me in those feelings you’re not telling me that Anna’s okay, or not… I mean, for all I know she could be in hospital on a ventilator, or she could be lying on her sofa relaxing watching tv getting herself better… and she is like the most important person in my life right now but you know this is where it hurts like hell that I am ‘just’ her client coz I really… she’s so important to me but I am not important to her, understandably you know, she cares about me on a professional level but nothing else, im at the bottom of the list, if something happened to her I would be the last to know… that’s really hard. Again she didn’t say much here but I felt that she was listening non judgementally and understanding what I was saying.

Linda said, ‘so considering what you have said about the attachment work you are doing with Anna, where do see us in that? Just so that we can establish a holding environment, let’s think about the parameters of this relationship, our attachment.’ I thought for a bit and sort of looked all around the room and had a thought but didn’t know if I should share it. Eventually I said, ‘fuck it why hold back… I don’t have months and months to fuck about with being shy and reluctant to share shit I have to make the most of these sessions now!’ Linda smiled and widened her eyes and said, ‘yes, under these circumstances that sounds like it makes a huge amount of sense, for you to get what you need from these sessions…’ I said, ‘okay so um… how do I see us? Well maybe if Anna is my therapy mum then you can be my therapy aunty… while she’s unable to see me?’ I laughed and said that sounded daft and she said, ‘I like the sound of that, therapy aunty, I can do that, yes.’ I smiled and felt sooooo good that she didn’t think that was an awful idea. I was afraid that she was going to think I’m way too attached to Anna and that I have totally misunderstood the whole therapy thing but she was on board with it all which made me feel really supported and so much calmer about everything.

A bit later Linda said, ‘so while your therapy mum is…’ and I interrupted and said, ‘oh my god please don’t tell Anna I said that haha!’ and she said, ‘that’s actually a really good point that you’ve brought up about confidentiality, so anything that you say to me is absolutely just between you and me, I will not repeat it to Anna or anyone. The only time I would consider breaching that agreement is if there was a safety concern with you or a vulnerable person. You can tell Anna anything you want about what we’ve talked about but I wont repeat any of it to her and she is the same.’ I said, ‘so yeah, what did she tell you about me prior to me emailing you?’ Linda looked thoughtful and said, ‘she didn’t really say anything, which was why I was surprised you knew about me beforehand, she basically said ‘can you work with my client’ and then she said ‘can I give her your contact details’ and that was it really… she can’t and wouldn’t tell me anything about you.’

I said, ‘this is so amazing by the way, seriously crazy… so basically the last face to face session me and Anna had was on the 29th of February because then I got a cold and couldn’t come to my sessions and then the social distancing stuff happened but yeah in that session we talked about something to do with my mum that I’ve never talked about before. I told Anna about how my mum betrayed my trust over and over and it just led me to feel that I can’t ever trust anyone. I always felt like there was a web of people behind Anna that would know everything I told her… I mean if you said to my mum, please don’t tell anyone this, it would be the first thing she’d do, so I could never fully relax into a sense of trust with anyone…’ Linda was nodding and had a serious, listening expression. She said she understood and I continued, ‘so at the start, Anna would audio record her sessions you know for her training,’ Linda said yes and I continued, ‘and she would take notes… and basically over the first year or maybe 18 months I could not figure out why it was so hard to trust her… then one day she forgot her audio recorder and I felt this amazing connection for the first time ever, then the next day she had the recorder back and I realised that was it… so anyway, over our time together I’ve asked her to not record our sessions and not write her notes in my session and she has changed both those things… so… I sort of tied all this together in the last face to face session and Anna told me she totally understood now. She said to me that if my child feels she wants to test her in any way at all, to test that she can trust her, she can do that… that Anna welcomes my child to test her… and I didn’t know how I could do that, I reflected on it, I journal and write a lot about my sessions, and I thought – how on earth would I test that? It’s not like we have mutual friends that I could tell her something and see if it got back to me – but then here is this moment right here… and wow… I’m realising, I do trust her! I really do!’ Linda said something about that being really great, that she was glad we were able to establish that.

At some point we talked about how I feel about Anna. There was a noise and I asked what it was because it sounded like someone moving around in the room and Linda told me it was her cats, that they’re brother and sister and they were play fighting (it’s interesting how therapists interpret the ‘no info about your personal life’ so differently)…. Linda said that in the room she normally works from there’s a poster behind her that says ‘boundaries are my best friend’ and I was like ‘me too!’ I told her that boundaries used to feel really punishing to me and she looked concerned and confused. I said that with Paul I experienced really painful transference because of all the stuff he told me about his life. I said that he talked about his kids and his wife and where he lived and his work history and when his wife was pregnant he told me about that too and I wanted to hear it all but it was also incredibly painful. Linda looked kind of bemused and pissed off. I said that I did a lot of really amazing work with Paul but that he probably didn’t have the knowledge or experience that Anna has about all that. He was used to doing like 20 CBT sessions with clients and I worked with him for the longest he’d ever had a client. When I told him I was jealous of his kids he got defensive and said that he didn’t work with transference even though as I pointed out to him, it was in the room so we kind of had to deal with it. Linda said she couldn’t believe it and was so sorry that was my first experience of therapy. I said that Paul then stated that it was his fault he was too loose with the boundaries and needed to tighten everything up but that just felt like he was punishing me, taking away things that I really liked. Whereas with Anna and her consistent reliable boundaries I said, ‘the way she does boundaries it just feels like the most loving thing you can ever do for someone, to hold boundaries, to respect another persons boundaries and be firm in your own, you know?’ Linda had a smile as if she was pleased to be hearing nice things about Anna.

I told Linda that I spent almost all of my sessions with Paul outside my window of tolerance because I was always on the edge of not knowing what would happen, whether I would trigger a defensive response, whether he was going to suddenly have to end the session because another client turned up… it was unsettling but I didn’t know any different. Now I know how safe and holding sessions can feel I can see it wasn’t helpful a lot of the time. Louise said, ‘I want to let you know that I’m experiencing a big feeling of anger and disgust, disappointment that this was your first experience of therapy.’ she apologisedfor that being my experience and I said I felt like I wanted to defend Paul, that a lot of good came out of the work too, but that I’m very glad I’m now working with Anna.

At one point I started to feel myself numbing and getting a little spacey. I had told myself before the session that I was going to be upfront with her about that in the session because I need her to know what’s going on. In the session she actually said that she is going to rely on me to tell her what is going on for me. So as a result of me sharing a lot of stuff about myself I felt flighty and said, ‘I just want to let you know that it’s possible I’ll get dissociative in sessions, it’s something that happens to me, I’m way better at noticing it and doing something about it myself now whereas in the early days Anna would have to check in with me and help ground me but I just feel its important to let you know, because I just felt it happening and I caught it and was able to put my feet on the ground and bring myself back.’ Linda thanked me for telling her and said, ‘can you tell me a little more about your experience with disassociation?’ (annoyed me she called it that for some reason)… I said, ‘um so at the start I experience spaceyness and floaty and uh…’ Linda said, ‘and is there something I can do or anything I will notice and can encourage you to do to help you before you completely leave yourself?’ I liked that she asked that. I said, ‘Anna would check in with me, she would remind me to put my feet on the floor or look around the room at things or take a drink of water or look at her… I used to not really understand what was happening, in fact I was so ashamed I couldn’t even say the word, I’d just say I felt weird. But we’ve worked on it quite a lot.’ Linda thanked me for telling her and said we could work together on that.

Linda said, ‘so how have you felt about telling me all of this?’ I said, ‘it’s weird coz I feel okay but I know that in like twenty minutes (she does a 50 minute therapy hour… eye roll!)… the screen is going to be black and you’ll be gone and I’ll be left sitting here.’ Linda nodded and asked me what thought’s I’d be left with. I said, ‘the worry is that I’m left with a lot of residual feelings so it’s really important that I feel things in the session… and I’ll probably panic that I’ve said too much, shared too much!’ Linda said, ‘what is the fantasy about saying too much?’ I said, ‘that I’m just like my mother! And that you’re going to think I’m a fucking weirdo!’ Linda responded with a shocked, wow what the hell type face, she said, ‘am I right in thinking that voice is there all the time? The critical voice..?’ I said, ‘Yeah… I didn’t realise everyone didn’t have this going on you know? I remember when I really got into this with Anna and she pointed out how often the inner critic pops up and there cam ethis point when Anna was getting me to speak nicely to myself and I was like, ‘do other people really talk to themselves like that..?’ and she nodded and I was like, mind blown you know, that people actually speak nicely to themselves in their heads.. wow!?’ Linda did the same sort of expression Anna had done, pressed her lips together and raised eyebrows and nodded. I feel reassured that she is noticing similar things as Anna, I feel safe in this.

I said, ‘you know Anna being ill, its triggering a lot of my attachment shit you know… I feel like shes left me… there’s this fucking gaping hole here,’ I put my hand on my chest. I realised then that she doesn’t know me very well so I continued, ‘you know, obviously Anna is a transactional analysist and she focuses a lot of the adult, parent, child model and you know… I guess you would say that my adult is really capable, high functioning, you know despite the chaos at the moment my life is calm and orderly, I’m teaching my class remotely through video lessons and I’m educating my kids at home… it’s all very structured and going smoothly and… but then there’s my child, she is frightened and you know, she’s been hurt badly and I’ve only really just started listening to her, accepting she’s even there… the last two phone sessions I had with Anna I cried my heart out telling her how much I missed her and she was sad too I could hear and she told me she felt emotional and well, my child feels like she was too much for Anna, I broke her… that Anna has been struggling with all this pandemic stuff too and I pushed her over the edge and made her ill and now she can’t work with me anymore.’

Linda said, ‘hmmm, I’m not an expert on TA but to me that doesn’t sound like the child, that sounds like the inner critic…’ I said, ‘ahhh you’re right! See I don’t even notice it!’ She continued, ‘so I’d like to ask, I don’t know if Anna spoke about the technical side of therapy… I’m inclined to talk about neural pathways here…’ she did a motion with her hand and briefly explained about the repeated patterns created. I said, ‘ah yeah… so, Anna has joked before that I could qualify for a degree in psychology the amount of books I’ve read. When I started working with her I had bookshelves filled with books. I’ve read all the major therapy books, the ones that are for psychologists and therapists and… well she spent a good year or more getting me to stop intellectualising and…’ Linda said, ‘ahhhh yesss, okay okay I understand,’ lots of nodding. I said, ‘so I was totally numb and just dead from the neck down when it comes to feelings and she has been working with me on connecting to my self, my body, my emotions, to not think my way through everything, to slow down and feel…’ Linda said, ‘okay that’s all really important information, really good to know, thank you. So shall we follow that same route?’ I said that was a good idea and said although I do know a fair bit about what’s going on in the background, neural pathways etc, it’s good to not talk too much about all of that because it keeps me in my head. I said, ‘it’s a bit like driving a car, I know all the theory and have the knowledge but that can go on in the background, I don’t think it’s useful talking about it a lot.’ She said she understood and was happy to work that way. I wonder what she thought of me saying all of this. If she was frustrated that I didn’t just bend to her will. I wonder if it feels weird for her to pick up half way through like this.

Linda asked, ‘how do you envisage this panning out? Do you feel that you will end things with Anna and work with me or do you want to work with Anna again when she is better and end things with me?’ I felt kind of freaked out by that and said I definitely wanted to go back to working with Anna but that Linda would be a great support in the break. She was happy with that and said it was just really important to clarify where we stand with each other. While reflecting on this I think that she will potentially be really helpful in the future if I’m allowed to have that back up support through holidays and sickness.

She asked me, so would you like to do weekly, twice weekly..? I explained how I’ve been doing it with Anna and said I would like to do that but also kind of play it by ear. Linda asked if we usually plan in advance and I said, ‘yeah haha she lets me plan as far in advance as she can bear to alleviate my fear of abandonment haha…’ Linda laughed and we agreed to see each other on zoom this Saturday for another session. She asked if we usually plan what we will talk about and I said I used to over plan and over analyse every session, ‘it was a control thing, I would plan and write notes and almost script and rehearse it but over the years Anna has taught me to relax a bit, to trust that whatever comes up is meant to come up, to slow down and just focus on the feelings and…’ Linda said, ‘slow down and trust the process.’ I agreed.

We talked a bit about the between session contact and I explained the boundaries we’ve sorted for that. Linda said, ‘Are you hoping to continue that method of working with me? Where you are able to send texts.. I don’t normally work with clients that way but was wondering what you were hoping for…?’ I said, ‘no, I think it’s really important to not start that… it took me months and months to find a good way of working with Anna and I just don’t have that time here. Let’s just stick to emails and sessions.’ She said she was fine with that.

We wound down the chat and she said it was nice to meet me under these unprecedented times. I said I was grateful to her for allowing me to work with her just now.  

So all in all it feels sooooo good that I was able to do that. So good to talk to someone who knows Anna. So good to feel a connection to Anna through Linda. I feel supported and cared for and like there is going to be someone there for me in this gap until Anna is able to work with me again.

I sent Anna a text directly after the session saying, ‘Hi Anna, I hope you’re doing okay. I know you wont reply to this. I just wanted to let you know that I found it really helpful talking to Linda this morning. Just knowing that she knows you helped me feel more connected to you. We have a session arranged for Saturday. We’ve contracted to work together until you’re able to pick up the sessions with me again. Thank you for suggesting I do this. In your absence it will help to have her there. Take care of yourself. Thinking of you a lot, Lucy.’

I don't want you!

I took Anna’s advice and emailed her ‘living will’ or ‘working will’ colleague… I can’t rememeber the name… the person suggested to support Anna’s clients if she is unable through illness or death. Anna had said I should take support when offered if needed.

I emailed,

Hi Linda, Anna gave me your email address. Not sure what to say in this email… I’m finding it difficult not being able to speak to her just now. She suggested getting in touch with you. Regards, Lucy.

She replied first thing in the morning…

Good morning Lucy, Many thanks for your email. I’m sorry to hear your counselling is being affected by the impact of the pandemic.  I’m currently well and offering sessions via Zoom or phone to clients, so we could certainly have a initial discussion to clarify how support for you just now might look.  If you would like to go ahead with this, I have a session available tomorrow morning at 10am or on Saturday afternoon at 4pm. I would also honour the fee already agreed with Anna. I look forward to hearing from you. Stay safe and well. Kind regards, Linda

Thank you for replying so quickly Linda, I really appreciate it. I would like to accept your offer of a session at 10am tomorrow. Please let me know your bank details. I can transfer the money in the morning. Ordinarily I would pay 24 hours before a session but I’m unable to do that just now. I hope that’s okay. Best wishes, Lucy

HI Lucy, You are very welcome. Please send me a Zoom link around 9.50am tomorrow and we can get connected for the session. If you’re not signed up for Zoom I can send you the link, whichever way suits. Take care and I look forward to meeting you tomorrow. Linda

Hi Linda, I don’t have a Zoom account as Anna and I were going to have our first Zoom session tonight. We had only done phone sessions since stopping face to face. Do I need to download something for it? 
I’m feeling very anxious about speaking to you. It’s taken me a long time and a lot of hard work to build trust with Anna and I’m completely devastated at not being able to speak to her just now. 
I’m also concerned about how my husband and kids are going to stay out of the way for the session. I guess we’ll just need to see how it goes. 

HI Lucy, Thank you for being honest with me about this, we’ll take our time and get to know each other in these unprecedented circumstances. I’m sorry you are feeling devastated. You don’t need to download anything, I’ll send you a link tomorrow, just click on it and open any dialogue boxes it says to open. If I could encourage you to go with it, Zoom is pretty straightforward. if after tomorrow you prefer to use the phone then we can switch to that. Speak to you tomorrow. Linda

Okay Linda, thank you. I appreciate everything you’ve said. I’ll be there tomorrow morning. If for some reason it doesn’t work or the internet fails us or we can’t connect, my phone number is _____________.

So there it is. I feel like having the session tomorrow, even giving this other therapist a pseudonym, feels too much like I’m giving her a perminent feature in my life. I don’t want her, I want ANNA.

Now what?

So Anna cancelled my session… here are our messages over the past two days.

Hi Lucy. I wanted to let you know that I’m not going to be able to make our Zoom session tomorrow, as I’ve been feeling unwell. Once I’ve spoken to the doctor and understood how best to treat my symptoms and have an idea of how long it will take to recover, I’ll be in touch to rearrange.
Please do not worry, I am taking care of my health, and will keep you updated on my recovery in order to reschedule our session as soon as I’m able. In the meanwhile, if you are feeling distressed in anyway, please use our pre-agreed crisis management plan (speak to a member of your family / friend you trust; let me know if you wish Linda, my colleague, to contact you. There’s also Samaritans, book a GPs appointment; if you are for any reason feeling suicidal – take yourself immediately to A&E.) Anna.

Hi Anna, I’m really sorry to hear you’re feeling unwell. I hope that you are able to continue taking care of yourself and that you recover quickly. I want you to know that I will be fine. I’m not suicidal or having any self destructive thoughts at all. All I feel is care and concern for you, gratitude for all the work we’ve done so far and hope that we will be able to continue working together soon. Of course I’m worried about you but I think that’s understandable considering how much you mean to me. If you feel that you’ll be out of action for more than two weeks then yes I’d like Linda to get in touch with me. Please look after yourself Anna and know that I’m thinking about you and sending lots of healing vibes your way. Xx

Hi Lucy. I’m not sure at this stage how long I will be off but will let you know if it is longer than 2 weeks. Thank you for good wishes. Anna

Anna are you going to be okay? I’m actually really upset. It feels like you’re going to die. I don’t know why it feels so massive to me inside. I’m not going to hurt myself I’ll be fine that way but I just feel so much panic about all of this. I really want you to be okay.

I’m looking after myself Lucy, please don’t worry. Will be in touch when I’m able to resume sessions. Anna

Okay, thank you. I really hope to hear from you soon. In the meantime I think it would be a good idea for Linda to call me. This is all feeling pretty massive. I don’t even know what good it would do, I don’t trust anyone but you. I don’t want her, I want you, but I’m taking heed of your advice to accept help when it’s offered.
Take care, speak soon, Lucy x

I understand Lucy. Email her and she will get in touch with you tomorrow.

I emailed her… reluctantly. I hope she’s nice. And I hope you’re able to speak to me soon. Look after yourself.
Sending you a virtual hug. Lucy.

Hi Anna, I know you won’t reply to this. I really hope you’re doing okay. I wanted you to know that I’ve been in touch with Louise this morning and we’re going to have a session on Zoom tomorrow at 10am. It feels very weird arranging that with her as if I’m transitioning from you to her and I don’t want that. I really hope this is just to get me over the period of time you need to recover and that you and I will resume work together soon. I’m thinking a lot about you. Take care, Lucy.


I feel like you’re dying

I immediately apologised for the very long text I’d sent her a few days ago and she said it was alright and that she understood. I said my anxiety had been through the roof and I was really struggling but I’m feeling a bit better now. In my text I’d told her I was so scared she was going to die and that I could hardly handle not seeing her. We discussed the boundaries around texting and she explained, as gently as possible, why she will maintain the boundaries we set. She explained, ‘if we were to get into the habit of texting every day or every other day and you became use to that and something happened to me, not just me being sick but also perhaps a family member of mine being sick and me being unable to respond to your messages, it would make it harder for you to manage and you would then experience a new abandonment on top of whatever else you’re dealing with. It’s important that we stick to the sessions for our main communication. Then you can hear my tone of voice and you know exactly my meaning by whatever I am saying. I have never asked you to stop texting me but I will maintain the boundary of not replying so that you continue to know how strong and resilient and well resourced you are.’ I said, ‘it’s not that you don’t ever want to hear from me and you hate getting texts from me?’ and said, ‘noooo…. No, it’s that it’s really important you don’t rely on my replies because I can’t always guarantee they’ll be there.’ I had this deep down heavy feeling inside me, like a doom feeling… I felt that she sounded low. I asked her if she was okay and she said she was. I just really sensed something from her, an anxiety maybe. Perhaps she was worried.

I told Anna that Grace had come home from school with a short story that her teacher had given them. I told her I’d read the story to my kids after dinner and it made me cry. I just sat reading it while crying and both the kids came and hugged me. Anna reassured me that it’s okay that I showed my emotions to the kids and that this is a very strange and unusual situation and we all feel overwhelmed by it. I asked her if I could read the story to her and she said she’d like to hear it so I read it…

‘The Big Problem can’t be solved with super strength or super speed. The big problem will only stop growing if all the new Superheroes use their Stay Home Superpower to stay at home. In fact, if all the new Stay Home Superheroes work together the Big Problem will get smaller and smaller and smaller every single day until it goes away!’ mummy explained.

‘But staying home is a boring superpower!’ said William in a grump.

‘Boring? No way! You have the superpower to make this fun! And staying home is how YOU can help to save the whole world – there is nothing more powerful than that!’

Just staying home and having fun could save the whole world? And he would be a real-life superhero? William started to feel excited. He started to feel powerful too! He couldn’t wait to tell all his friends that they could turn into Stay Home Superheroes just like him.

William got to work quickly, using his Superhero creativity to think of all the fun things he could do at home. He made a long list with his mummy and daddy; pillow forts and cooking and games and dancing and puppet shows and singing and movies and MORE! Even better, Willian found out he could still play in the garden and go outside too, as long as he stayed away from all the superheroes who lived in different houses. They could wave to each other and wink, because they all knew the special job they were doing!

Willian did miss playing with his friends and going swimming and to the park. But then he remembered how important his new Superhero job was. He was helping to save the whole world and that made him feel so good inside. He was very proud of himself. Then he fired up his superpowers ready to find something fun to do. Willian the Stay Home Superhero and all his superhero friends worked hard together to help save the world, all without leaving their homes. And now you know, you can be a superhero too!

She sounded moved and my voice was shaky too. She said it was a lovely way to describe the situation to children.

I spent the next ten minutes telling Anna about all the practical things I’ve been doing to try to help me feel a little more in control of all of this. I told her I’d made a mind map of what my life will look like over the next few months and included all the things I need to remember. She told me she was so proud of me and that she was glad I was able to support myself like that. I told her about the gratitude list I made and that I have a planner for the week so that I can make video sessions and sort resources for teaching my class online while also teaching my own kids at home. I said I felt really fortunate that I have everything I need to be able to do that, not just the physical resources but also the ability within myself and knowledge and confidence that I can do it. I’m so grateful for all of that. I told her I set the livingroom up so that half of it is a classroom and that I am ready to start on Monday. She talked to me about going easy on myself and that if the kids are resistant it’s okay to take breaks and spend a lot of time outside. She said, ‘and if you find yourself struggling, this is what a supervisor said to me… you can just find a couple of minutes to sit at peace, let your eyelids fall heavy until they close and focus in on your breathing. If it is fast then try to slow it down, if that feels comfortable, and just sit there in that moment, tell yourself you are safe and that there is nothing that has to be done right then.’ I thought about Anna being told that by a supervisor and wondered how anxious and overwhelmed she has been feeling about all of this.

I then said, ‘I’ve been thinking… why was I holding back all those times? I want to be with you so much right now and I can’t be… all the times I sat in that room with you and desperately wanted to have a hug or have you sit beside me or ask you to hold my hand and I didn’t, I didn’t ask for what I wanted and now all that time was wasted and I cant ever get it back!’ Anna said, ‘okay Lucy, slow down, take a breath, I would invite you to think back on those moments with compassion. We moved at the right pace for you. When you were ready you asked me for a hug, when you wanted me to sit beside you, you asked for that… we had to go at the right pace for you… we’re all doing this looking back thing at the moment and it’s far more helpful to look back with compassion than criticism.’ Her voice was so full of care it just made me crumble. I was crying as she was talking and then just burst out with, ‘I miss you so much Anna it hurts so much, I feel sick in my tummy and my chest hurts and I just want a hug so much…’ she sounded emotional and said, ‘I know Lucy, I know this is so hard.’ I really feel like she was emotionally struggling with this too. I’m fairly certain, from my investigatory skills, that I am her only client at the moment (this is not her day job)… and on the one hand that makes our bond feel very strong and very special and on the other hand it feels fragile and as if I might be a total burden for her.

At one point she told me that the name of her colleague who would phone me if something happened to her. She’s called Linda. I said, ‘I don’t want to talk to Linda I want to talk to you!’ Anna said, ‘I know Lucy and I’m not judging you for saying that but what I would say is that if you need it, don’t turn away the support. Take the help when it is offered to you.’ I was crying really heavily by that point, not the usual silent weeping… I was sobbing and saying, ‘I don’t want you to die, I’m not going to cope with this I could cope with anyone else dying because I’d have you to help me through but if you die no one would understand and I would be the last to know coz I’m not even a friend let alone family, all the important people in your life would know and I wouldn’t and I’d just have to deal with it by myself and I just really only want to work with you, its you as a person Anna I really like YOU!’ She said, ‘oh Lucy, I really like you too… and it works both ways. I know that you have said that working with me has helped you so much and that you have grown and learned as I’ve supported you, but also I have learned so much from working with you…’ she paused and there was a moment where I thought she was really tearing up, she sort of sniffed and mumbled over her words as she continued, ‘you have made me a better therapist, working with you… you know we don’t get given a manual when we become a therapist and we have to adapt and change and grow and learn as we work and working with you has really impacted me… in a great way, so I want to thank you for that! I feel honoured to have worked with you and all that you have shared with me.’ I sat there soaking up her words, really taking them in… no inner critic, no sceptical voice over in the back of my mind… just me and Anna sharing openly and honestly how much we have impacted each others lives. It was incredibly powerful.

She continued, ‘can I share something with you?’ I said she could and she said, ‘I bought myself headphones so I can continue my day job from home and you are the first person I’ve used them with and I can hear you right in my ears and, well… it feels very intimate, and I can picture our room in my mind and I can imagine sitting beside you and it feels very close and connected…’ I said I really liked the sound of that then I cried again and said, ‘I want to drive to your office… I love that drive, I want to do it so much and I want to sit in my car waiting for our time, I used to feel so nervous before a session, now I desperately want to just be there waiting to see you and I want to walk up those steps and walk in your room and hug you so much. God it hurts so much.’ I cried and cried and I guess she just sat and listened. She blew her nose a few times so I’m deducing from that that she was also feeling emotional. She didn’t reassure me. She didn’t say, ‘we will see each other again,’ she didn’t fill me with hope and optimism, she just sat with me in the grief of the moment.

I said, ‘do you feel burdened by me? do you wish you didn’t have to work with me through this?’ she said, ‘no. absolutely not. Not at all. This is a very scary and strange experience that none of us have lived through before and we are going to work through this together.’ I said, ‘don’t you wish you could just cut it all right back and focus on you and your family?’ she said, ‘no, I have this space for you, you don’t need to worry about me…’ I interrupted and said, ‘but you’re a human being dealing with all this too, you have to worry about food shortages and money worries and you or your family getting sick and you don’t need me being ME hassling you through it all.’ She said, ‘Lucy, I have my supervisor, she supports me, she supports a lot of people and I have people in my life I can talk to and lean on, you don’t need to worry about me… I told you this on Saturday.’ I said, ‘aye, it’s not that easy!’ and she said, ‘I know it’s not easy but it is important that you hear me… you don’t need to worry about burdening me I am okay.’

I said I was really frustrated and sad that I can’t just keep seeing her and I’m scared. I told her the kids have been scared and upset and crying and I am scared. It keeps washing over me in waves. This intense feeling that I am losing Anna. I thought about how when you’re standing at someone’s funeral you just wish you could tell them how much they meant to you and all the things you held behind your wall. So I said, ‘Anna, I just really want to say this to you, I’ve thought this a lot when we’ve sat together in sessions, I get the sense that… well I imagine most therapists have had to face a huge amount of difficulties in their lives, maybe in childhood or maybe at other points, I just get this feeling, I’ve had it a lot when we’ve been working together that you really understand on a deeply personal level a lot of the stuff I’ve worked on with you and well… I just feel like you have been through stuff, I can tell you have had your own struggles and you’ve worked really hard on yourself and that is just so fucking inspirational, you’ve turned whatever shit you went through into this amazing beautiful thing, you are helping people like me and I just, there aren’t the words Anna, thank you so much for it all, thank you for all the work you did on yourself that led to you being able to help me the way you have done.’ There was quite a long silence and I thought that maybe the phone had cut off and I’d have to say it all again. Then quietly she spoke, ‘oh Lucy… mmm… that really touched a nerve, thank you… that really means a great deal to me thank you.’ I said, ‘well it’s really true. I feel so lucky to have found you.’

We moved around a couple of lighter topics. We talked about the kids drawing out hopscotch numbers on the path in the garden and she said she called it ‘pots’ when she was a kid. We arranged that my weekly sessions would be Tuesday evenings as it’s easier to get peace when the kids are in bed. We said that Saturday’s would be a ‘play it by ear’ type thing. As it stands I can still afford sessions and if Adam loses his job hopefully the government is going to help with wages and rent. We shall see.

I have been riding the waves of grief since then, since the last phone session actually. It feels like I am preparing for her death. I think it’s going to be really good to have a video session with her on Tuesday because I need to see her face. I need to see if she looks as concerned and anxious as I have imagined in my head. I feel like she is preparing for death… maybe she has to do that. Maybe she can’t fill me with false hope because therapists are meant to be realistic and sit with the feelings. Maybe she has underlying health conditions and genuinely doesn’t feel she will survive this virus. Maybe I’m projecting.

Currently I am scared and confused and feeling every part of my attachment wound activated.


‘I know you very well.’

I actually don’t even know how to write this. Where to begin…

My last session was on the 29th of February. After that I came down with a cold and had to cancel a session, then I had to cancel my second session that week because I hadn’t fully recovered. Then I started to feel a bit better but Anna messaged to say that in light of the rapidly developing covid19 virus, the centre in which she works restricted the building so that anyone with any cold or cough symptoms should not come in. Even though I felt fine I still had a bit of a cough, so that was another two sessions in the second week I missed. Rather than asking for a phone session I took another week’s break to fully recover. I have no idea what made me do this! I wish I hadn’t because then came the message I was dreading in response to a message I sent her telling her I felt better now.

Hi Lucy. Glad you are feeling better. I am going to be sending this text to clients and realise you may wish to speak to me directly. We can have a phone session tomorrow and discuss if that’s ok. I want to emphasise that I will be in contact with you through phone/Skype etc. I will be here to support you just differently during this health crisis. I am not disappearing.
Message starts here.
I need to let you know that due to the current public health situation due to CoVid 19, that I have decided not to see clients in person until things settle down. Instead I am offering, Skype/Phone call or whatsapp video. This is for safety of clients and to keep me available to work with you. If this does not suit you I understand. If you want to leave it until it settles down that is ok. Please let me know what you decide. If you wish to call me to discuss please let me know. Thanks. Anna.

I was totally devastated. I knew it was coming but it still hit me hard. I replied with a crying emoji (I never use emojis in messages with Anna)… I then said, ‘I feel like I’m never going to see you again’ and she replied immediately (which she never normally does), ‘You can still see me but remotely until this settles. I know this is not the same.’ I told her I missed her so much and wished I could have a hug. She said, ‘I know, its such a difficult time Lucy. I’ll speak to you at 7.30 tomorrow. Take care.’ I thanked her for saying that she’s not disappearing and told her that it was an overwhelming fear I have that everything we’ve worked so hard to create, the closeness and connection, is all going to be lost.

So there it is, my last face to face session… Feb 29th. The extra day in this leap year. I sat next to her and told her I liked being able to smell that she was near me. When we hugged I buried my face in her shoulder as if I knew it would be the last time I’d see her.

I’ve been sitting here reflecting on my therapy journey and where it was heading and I’m buried deep in this fog. I’ve taken so much for granted. I had a life that was really quite alright actually. A good strong loving relationship with my husband. Healthy, happy, well adjusted children… we all have our health. We both have jobs, mine is really secure and pays well. I have friends. I have a good social life. I have a nice home. I am safe. There has never been any real threat to my wellbeing, my life. Over the last few years I have been sitting in therapy picking apart every seam, scratching and digging in at the deepest most hidden strands of potential imperfection… I’ve been peeling back the layers of daily goodness to find fractions of past hurts. Now nothing is the same as it was before, how can the work I’ve been doing in therapy continue down the path it was going? How can I sit and talk about how my mummy never hugged me enough thirty years ago when today, right now we are all experiencing this world wide pandemic? My husband is going out every day risking catching this virus because he needs to keep working. Schools have been closed and the old, infirm and vulnerable have been told to self isolate, the young fit and able are out on the front line. This is a war. And soon we will all be told to imprison ourselves. Complete lock down. I can feel the panic rising. All of the freedoms that have afforded me some space and lightness in my mental health have been taken from me (from us all) and now I am caged. But how can I complain about this? There are so many worse off than me. Now I understand, therapy is a privilege.

Therapy by phone is strangely connecting. I can feel her right by me. I cried. I told her I missed her. She told me she was right there with me, that she could hear how upset I was. She told me. ‘I know you Lucy. I can hear in your voice how you’re feeling. I can hear when you pause or catch your breath. I can hear the slight changes. I know when something comes up for you and I’m here with you in it. I may not be able to see you but I am here with you in every way I can be.’

As a child I wrote love letters to my mum all the time. I’d leave them for her all around the house. Endless words of adoration that fell on deaf ears. Over time that affectionate little girl began to shut down. It became too vulnerable to express positive feelings and risk rejection. With Anna’s help that little girl is slowly learning to trust again. Slowly learning that with this person, with Anna, my feelings are welcome… even the loving ones.

On the 8th of March I wrote to Anna. ‘Today is International Women’s Day. I’ve seen many posts online from people celebrating and thanking their mothers for giving them a great role model. You’re not my mother but you have been the greatest female influence in my life so far. Through your consistent actions, you have shown me that I deserve kindness and that I am worthy. Thank you for helping me see that all of my parts deserve respect and patience, especially those parts that hide behind walls. Thank you for being gentle with the fear and careful with the shame, it’s teaching me to be gentle and careful with myself. Thank you for never turning away from me. It’s helping me support the parts that instinctively want to self abandon. You are guiding me in this complex dance. With each step I am learning that it’s safe to turn inwards and it’s safe to feel. I’m learning I can trust my intuition and trust certain people with my vulnerability. In just 2.5 years you have given me more genuine attention, care and support than my own mother has given me in 37 years. Along with this you have never intentionally hurt, belittled, shamed or abandoned me. Most importantly you are teaching me through modelling your own lack of defensiveness and your willingness to reflect and adapt, that relationships are not about being right and fighting your corner at all costs they are about being open and staying connected. When I look inside myself to find examples of the woman I hope to become, I find your voice… guiding me towards my true self.’ She replied. ‘Thank you so much Lucy for your beautiful text. I was very moved and touched by your kind words and I feel privileged to be working with you. I look forward to seeing you when you have recovered.’

When we spoke she told me how moved she was by my words. I thanked her for being there for me and for accepting me in all the ways that she has done. She thanked me for sharing my journey with her.

I told her I was frightened, that I felt like she was dying. She just let me sit in that fear and grief. I sobbed and sobbed and she just told me she understood. She told me, ‘the issue is that we want control and we have very little… the key is to accept that this is our new normal. It’s the wishing and wanting it to be different that causes us all pain. We are all panicking, we are all worried. Just finding a level of acceptance can help bring some calm.’ I told her that Grace was crying on Monday night about all this. Fearful of what she has been hearing in school about the virus and I was on the brink of tears myself because of the text Anna had sent me. Grace needed my reassurance and amazingly I found that as I reassured her, I reassured myself. I relayed this to Anna and I could hear her smiling. I told her what I’d told Grace… I said, ‘try to imagine that the virus is a bit like rain. We don’t have any control over it, it’s here. But we can control how we manage it. When it rains, we can wear a hood and we can use an umbrella to protect us from the cold and wet. We can also control some aspects of the impact this virus is having on us… we can cough into a tissue and bin it, we can wash our hands very well, we can stay away from people and stay inside…’ Anna said, ‘that’s beautiful! And yes… your adult was reassuring your daughter and your child!’

I told Anna, ‘I’m so sad. I miss being near you. We worked so hard to be close and feel connected and it took me so long to trust you and I just don’t see how we can work as deeply as we have been when you’re not beside me…’ She said, ‘… I know it’s not the same Lucy. I’m sad about that. I was going to say that we would work together to reconnect but I do feel a close connection to you tonight, do you feel that too?’ I said I did. She said, ‘I’m not beside you right now but I am listening, it’s not the same, but I’ve not left you. I’m still here. We will get through this together.’

I told Anna, ‘how can I lean on you about this when you are also facing reduced pay, panic buying, isolation, possible illness…?’ Anna said, ‘this isn’t about my experience. It’s about yours. People who experience war or famine are amongst hundreds of thousands of people in the same position but their individual experience is still traumatic and impactful. This is your therapy. Your fear and grief and sadness and shock and all the other things you’re experiencing are real and valid and this is the space where you can bring it all… and remember you don’t need to look after me. I have my therapist and my supervisor, i have people I can rely on to support me, you don’t need to worry about me.’

I didn’t leave the conversation feeling reassured, I left it feeling very connected and deep in grief. This is this generations mass trauma. This is it. We will be reading psychological papers on the impact of this in twenty years time. This is a world war. This will play a part in the chain of generational trauma. The hunger and panic and fear and death… this will impact all of us. All ages. But our children are at a crucial developmental stage. We need to be talking about this NOW. Don’t do what was done to us by leaving the trauma unresolved. We must feel what we’re’re feeling. Talk about it. Let our kids feel what they’re feeling and talk about it. This needs to be processed in real time for it to not linger and live and fester inside us.

Reach out. Talk. Connect.


Some of this was uploaded a couple of post ago.

I made a point of asking for a hug as soon as I went in which she gave me. The room smelled lovely. I imagined maybe she’d sprayed her perfume before my session. I’m the first client on Saturday morning so I’ve often been curious about how she preps before her working morning and wondered if I’m at the front of her mind being her first session.

I sat down and we smiled at each other. I told her, ‘so the perfume… the past few days I’ve felt so connected and secure and like sure of things… and I’ve slept better than I’ve ever slept! And every time I walk into my bedroom I can smell it and it’s just felt so nice.’ She was smiling and said, ‘I was wondering how it had gone with the perfume,’ I talked a bit more about it and then I started to doubt things, she had a straight face and I paused and felt unsettled and said, ‘are you annoyed?’ she looked surprised and said, ‘no, not at all, I’m just listening.’ I said, ‘now it all feels different… like I shouldn’t have talked about it coz it doesn’t feel as good anymore…’ Anna said, ‘can you say more about that?’ I said, ‘it just always feels really risky to talk about good things, meaningful things…’ she was making loud agreeing noises. I said, ‘the perfume thing has been so meaningful, there were no critical thoughts about it… I just felt really connected to you all the time, I’ve been amazed when I think about it. I really sent that text, you really read it and put the perfume in your bag, you were really actually okay with me spraying it on the bears! Like, wow! Nothing else has felt that secure… with other things like the blue heart stone which I do still carry with me and is very meaningful, the inner critic has a field day with that one.’ She asked me what the inner critic says about it and I was like, ‘wow we’re really just launching into this?’ Anna checked I was okay with that and asked if I had something else I’d planned on talking about. I said I had thought of something but changed my mind so I was fine with this. She said, ‘these are very important topics – this is what we are here for – to work with the inner critic, take her power… for as long as the voice stays inside it controls you and destroys things… if you talk about it you take the power back.’ I was nodding and taking my shoes off and getting comfy, spread my scarf over my knees… ‘okay…’ big breath… ‘I just don’t want to hurt your feelings or make you feel bad, I don’t want to criticise this nice thing you did.’ Anna said, ‘remember we talked about this at the end of the last session, you don’t need to worry about me, I’m okay, don’t worry about hurting me, please.’

So I began, ‘well… right from the start when you pulled the wee bag out your pocket the voice piped up saying it’s just a technique, just a therapy trick, ‘how many other clients have had a stone out that bag, it doesn’t mean anything, it’s just a token gesture, there’s nothing special about this, you’re making this a bigger thing than it really is, she doesn’t give a shit about this…’ you know, just making it really like clinical and cold and formal.’ Anna said, ‘and that’s happened before hasn’t it, that feeling…’ I nodded and told her that the perfume didn’t feel like that. It felt genuine, ‘but now I’ve talked about it I feel like I’ve spoiled it…’ Anna said, ‘yeah it feels like if you say it out loud it might be ridiculed or belittled…’ I was like YES! But then I started feeling fuzzy and I said ‘I’m just so sick of the critical voice and I want the wall to go away.’ Anna nodded and said, ‘but I hope that what you took from that part of the session about the glass wall that…’ I interrupted and smiled widely and said to her, ‘you beautifully reframed it Anna, that it’s good it’s glass because we can see each other and maybe it’s actually a glass door that can be opened if I want…’ she smiled and nodded. I said, ‘and yeah I remember when I first started talking about the wall, it was brick. Then it was a blind that could be put up and down… so yeah it is better now… but I still wish it wasn’t there because it stops me from feeling connected to people in my life like with the kids… everyone’ Anna asked me how the connection felt right now and I couldn’t figure it out. She encouraged me to take my time and then I eventually said, ‘it’s not that strong. I know you’re there but I don’t really feel it. I know I said last time that it’s a bit like you’re a figment of my imagination… I think I just always feel alone even when people are with me…’ she asked me what would help the connection and I said, ‘I really want a hug but then I just think that’s weird…’ she asked what hugging does that helps me and I said, ‘it really calms me down and the touch and closeness feels comforting and it really helps that I can smell you… I don’t know I feel like that sounds weird but it does help… it also helps when I look at you but that’s hard sometimes.’ Anna asked me if I feel more connected to her when she sits beside me and I said, ‘yes, I really like when you sit beside me but then I also have this stupid inner critic going on about how you probably hate sitting next to me and maybe it hurts your back having to sit there and turn to face me and maybe you like sitting where you are now…’ she said, ‘you don’t need to care for me, I’m okay… I do wonder though because when I sit beside you, you can’t see me, I wonder if that impacts your connection?’ I said, ‘actually I think it helps because it’s not so intense, I can sense you’re there without feeling the intensity of being so visible and I can choose to look at you if I want to,’ she said, ‘shall I come over then?’ I nodded.

She pushed the chair next to mine and sat down and I said, ‘I can smell you.’ I closed my eyes and said, ‘it really is so comforting… I don’t know, that’s fucking bizarre I mean that’s not normal to tell someone you like being able to smell them!’ I laughed and she didn’t. She said, ‘let’s think about what you just said there,’ I said, ‘hmmm that I’m a fucking weirdo..?’ she said, ‘smell is so important. You just told me that you have felt really settled and calm this week and that smelling the perfume on Luna has helped you sleep well and feel secure in our connection. A lot of this work we’re doing is preverbal… there are no words for so much of it. Smell is so important and if that very small preverbal part of you needs to smell me to feel like she is not alone and that she is safe then that’s a really good thing. It’s not for us to question and pull it apart or criticise it and so what if Jimmy down the road wouldn’t understand why you hold a stuffed panda for comfort or why you feel more settled when you smell me, who cares what anyone else thinks, we are doing deep healing work here and this is just you and me here and everything and anything that works to help you through this is a good thing… is this making sense?’ I was actually looking intently at her in her eyes and felt very very acutely present and was so aware of the truth in what she was saying. Usually when she says stuff like this I feel shamey and I can hear the inner critic having a field day but it was just quiet listening in my head which was amazing. For the first time it was just complete attention and presence in that moment with her.

I said, ‘Sometimes I imagine there’s this really horrible angry side to you that I’ve not met yet and it’s only a matter of time before I do something that’s going to trigger it and you’ll terrify me with it… I can imagine your face as clear as day in my minds eye, angry and twisted…’ Anna looked really intrigued and smiled and said, ‘and that’s what you experienced with your mum and dad?’ I said, ‘yup…’ she said, ‘so you would feel that everything was fine and then suddenly rage or shaming or verbal attack or…’ I said, ‘yeah I never knew what was coming.’ She said, ‘so what would you do to protect yourself?’ I said, ‘I never let on how I was feeling, I just would be very careful what I was saying and if everything went bad I just would go inside myself or hide in my room…’ Anna said, ‘so it makes complete sense that you would expect that from me, that you’d be careful about what you say to me and you’d be watching me very closely like you must have had to watch your parents, studied their faces and behaviours to try to predict an outburst.’

I wanted her to hug me so much but I just sat looking at every detail of her. Her hands, the stitching on her jeans. She said, ‘you didn’t have anyone paying attention to you and how you were feeling… and I know that with Grace you will listen to her. You see if she is sad and you say ‘you look sad; and you’d let her speak.’ We talked more about that and I shared an example of exactly that happening earlier in the week.

I then started talking about my mother. I told Anna about how my mum has no boundaries. That with her there’s a fine line between having a normal conversation and one that involves way too much oversharing and feels very uncomfortable or one where I am meeting her emotional needs.

I said, ‘and when I was younger, whenever I talked to her, opened up about anything, she would always go and tell other people. There was nothing that was ever just between the two of us. So I don’t even know what it feels like to just have an intimate conversation and just feel like there’s the two of us, it always felt like there was this large network of people behind her… any time I talked to her I had to consider, would I want to share this with the whole world? And so I just found myself frozen in this place where I deeply needed to talk or connect but couldn’t because I didn’t want what she offered. I am such a private person,’ Anna interrupted and said, ‘understandably!’ I continued, ‘and she betrayed me every single time. Even if I said to her ‘please don’t tell anybody this’ that would be the first thing she would do… I’d hear her on the phone or she’d tell her friends or my dad or whatever…’ I took an enormous breath and then continued, ‘so with you, especially in the first like year or maybe two or maybe still a bit now, whenever I tell you anything I’m constantly imagining how you would go and tell someone else… even if it’s just your supervisor or your therapist or training events or whatever, I’m so aware of this sense that it’s not just you and me… and I know you are so not like her in any way but it’s just that nothing feels private… I think that’s what the tape recorder was about, and your note taking, it felt like that was a portal to everyone in the world, like anyone could listen to this…’ Anna said, ‘okay yes I really understand that, hmm I really understand that Lucy okay… so how does it feel that I’m using our work in the case study?’ I said, ‘yeah I’ve thought about it and it feels okay, it’s different, it feels like a considered, careful thing… I know you’re not like her but talking is more like gossipy, writing it in your paper is professional and still feels like it’s between you and me…’ she nodded and looked like she really wanted to know if I was definitely okay with it. She sat in thought for a bit.

I said, ‘it’s weird, I didn’t plan on talking about this…’ she said, ‘that’s exactly what you wanted, sessions where you didn’t plan what you were going to talk about and you didn’t even plan to not plan this it just happened.’ I made a wow expression. I said, ‘the perfume thing directly relates to mum. She was always going out at night and used to give my brother one of her tops with her perfume on it to help him sleep and I really longed for that but I wouldn’t ask so I would sneak it, I’d take it from her drawer you know, like having to steal these crumbs of love from her…’ Anna said, ‘why wouldn’t she give you a top?’ I said ‘I just don’t think she saw me as a child. I don’t think I ever asked, maybe I knew she’d say no and the rejection was too painful.’ Anna talked about this innate sense I had that she wouldn’t give me what I needed, that this comes from learning these lessons very early on, ‘it’s a preverbal knowing’. She said, ‘despite knowing that she would turn you away, you still craved the closeness. No wonder you have these moments of frozen stuckness when you want to be close to me and also you don’t. You want connection but you anticipate rejection. You learned to find ways to feel connected from a safe distance.’ I said, ‘Exactly! I had a lot of nightmares but I knew I couldn’t wake her. I would crawl silently into their bedroom and go to sleep under her side of the bed.’ Anna said, ‘oh Lucy,’ in a heartfelt way, ‘Did you ever wake her? Would you have wanted her to let you in her bed?’ I started to say, ‘I think yes but also no, um it felt weird to be close to her,’ Anna asked me to explain ‘weird’ further and I started to feel floaty. I told her I felt spacey and she encouraged me to ground myself. I put my head in my hands and tried to breath, took a drink of water. Told her I didn’t have words for it. Told her it felt yucky and that I didn’t want her to touch me. ‘I didn’t want to feel our bodies touching. It never felt like a motherly touch, it felt bad inside. She didn’t know how to touch me the way a mother touches her child.’ Anna asked if I had a sense of what it felt like to imagine being in her bed next to her body and I whispered, ‘not safe…’ We sat for a moment and I started to feel spacey. I closed my eyes and continued, ‘I didn’t want to feel her body. I didn’t want her to feel me. It felt sexual or something… I don’t even know… I think because she didn’t even want to sit next to me in the day time let alone have me in bed with her. There was no closeness… she didn’t hold my hand… there just wasn’t a safe intimacy with her…’

Anna said, ‘So earlier you described it as a sexual feeling shall we go back, to that can you explain that further?’ I felt myself flush with shame and my heart pound. I couldn’t look at her and I said, ‘I don’t even know why I used that word it just came out… um it just felt too close… she made things weird… she would sometimes… um well when I hug my kids I know to not touch them in certain places I just will maybe put my hand on their backs or something. I don’t know. There aren’t even words it just didn’t feel safe I don’t like it I don’t like it.’ Anna said, ‘Perhaps it’s because she talked to you about sex and her sex life with your dad and others, maybe it put those images in your head and because you were so young and it wasn’t age appropriate it confused things in your mind?’ I nodded and thought about it. We talked a bit more about this and at one point I said I could hear the voice daying that I was making a big deal out of nothing. Anna said, ‘hmmm and what do we say to that voice?’ and I said, ‘fuck off.’ And laughed. She said, ‘good, well done… a little louder?’ and I said louder, ‘FUCK OFF!’ we both laughed.

At one point we were talking about something that happened between myself, a friend and my mother. I couldn’t continue with the memory. I described it as if I was watching an old VHS that suddenly got jammed in the machine and now it was just grey and black fuzzy lines and white noise. I let out a gasp of frustration and told her I was really angry with myself. She asked me to stay with the feeling that was behind the anger. So I sat there in it. I fumbled and scrambled around for ways to describe what it felt like. Anna reminded me, ‘it doesn’t need to be sentences, it doesn’t need to make sense. Anything that comes up for you – words, senses. And so a garbled mess tumbled out. ‘its like humiliated but from inside me… shame? Like I’m rotten inside? Dirty… I’m ashamed… but.., but why am I ashamed?’ Anna said, ‘yes, it was never your shame to hold… earlier you described her as shameless. She was shameless Lucy because she made you carry it all. That’s the blackness inside you, it’s her shame.’ I said, ‘but I had to, it was the only way I could make her love me.’ Anna said, ‘she betrayed you massively Lucy. You were a child. You had no choice. It was not your fault. What you did and how you adapted was exactly what you needed to do to survive.’ There was quite a lot of quiet and we were coming to the end of the session and Anna said with a really peaceful open expression, ‘I am so proud of that young part who just told me all of that, I want her to listen as I say this… I understand. I know that it felt scary and she had to stop. That’s okay. I’m glad she stopped when it started to feel unsafe. It’s okay that she don’t trust me. I’m not going to force her to do anything she doesn’t want to do and I’m not going to try make her trust me. You will keep bringing her here and I will be here with you, I’m not going anywhere. Slowly I believe she will feel like she can trust me but I’m in no rush. And if she feels like she wants to test me – THATS OKAY! I really want her to hear that. It’s okay for her to test me in any way she feels she wants to!’ It seriously felt amazing to hear that.

Anna told me to remember to use my pandas in the days after the session. She said she felt that what was brought up today might be quite intense for me. She told me that if I have thoughts about her judging me for what I told her that I have to bat those thoughts away, that they’re the inner critic trying to drive a wedge between us. She told me that she was proud of me. She said, ‘you might find that different needs are met by each of your pandas… so you have Luna, Baby and Suki,’ she looked at me and I smiled, it’s so cool she remembers their names and makes a point of calling them by their names even when I am too ashamed to. She continued, ‘so you may find that you can keep Suki in your handbag for when you’re at work and if you’re not able to take her out, just putting your hand in your bag and feeling him might be enough to settle you, maybe the smell of my perfume on your hand would help…’ (I already do this, it blows my mind how she knows me and it makes me wonder if she has experienced this process from where I’m sitting)… ‘you might find that Baby is there for those pre-verbal moments when there are no words… maybe Luna is there for every day connection, for bedtime… you’ll really get to know yourself through getting to know them…’ I said that was exactly what I’ve been experiencing. I said, ‘when I come home from work, Luna and Baby are sitting on the wee chair in my room and I smile when I see them, it’s like they are my inner child and I am actually glad to see her…’ Anna said, ‘which is so great to hear because not long ago you didn’t want anything to do with her, you didn’t even want her in this room.’ I nodded and said, ‘I feel so bad about that, how rejecting and punishing I was of her… when she’d done nothing wrong.’ Anna pressed her lips together and nodded with sad eyes. She said, ‘that was very important to feel and work through and it might come back now and then but you are feeling something for her you’ve never felt before, your heart is opening to her… it’s very powerful. You are doing so well Lucy. I know how hard this is.’

I thought about the fact that I feel a responsibility for my inner child/ren now and that makes it very hard to imagine ever hurting myself again because it would be like inflicting pain onto a child which I could never do… and just now I’m thinking, that’s what I do when I let the inner critic win, I’m letting someone viciously bully this defenceless child. But there’s a shakiness in admitting this outloud. I didn’t tell Anna of that thought because I’m frightened of what my mother used to say… ‘pride before a fall’… I don’t want to foolishly say I can’t imagine ever self harming again only to then have the floor fall from beneath me as I’m triggered into hurting myself again. I guess that is the not linear part of healing.

While we were hugging (and I properly had my face buried in that space between her shoulder and her neck) she said, ‘you’re doing so well Lucy.’ I said, ‘thank you so much for letting me have these hugs.’ She said, ‘you’re so welcome Lucy.’

Fascinating article about the attachment theory in the theraputic relationship

Why therapy works is still up for debate. But, when it does, it’s methods mimic the attachment dynamics of good parenting.’

During a random online browse this morning of my therapists public twitter account I found this article she shared… it so accurately describes how we work together. So amazing to read this and imagine that all the attachment stuff I panic about so much, she is comfortable with and actually wants to encourage… I don’t know what the rules are for sharing parts of a blog post so hopefully this is allowed… I just found the whole thing mindblowing and would encourage you (if you’re interested in the clinet therapist relationship) to read the original article.

Link –

I’ve included some of my favourite passages from the blog post… (PLEASE READ THE WHOLE ARTICLE IT’S AMAZING!)

‘What happens between client and therapist goes beyond mere talking, and goes deeper than clinical treatment. The relationship is both greater and more primal, and it compares with the developmental strides that play out between mother and baby, and that help to turn a diapered mess into a normal, healthy person. I am referring to attachment. To push the analogy further, what if, attachment theory asks, therapy gives you the chance to reach back and repair your earliest emotional bonds, correcting, as you do, the noxious mechanics of your mental afflictions?’

‘The way to treat these problems, say attachment theorists, is in and through a new relationship. On this view, the good therapist becomes a temporary attachment figure, assuming the functions of a nurturing mother, repairing lost trust, restoring security, and instilling two of the key skills engendered by a normal childhood: the regulation of emotions and a healthy intimacy.

‘This pattern of empathising, then re-framing and de-shaming looks uncannily like the mirroring-and-soothing exchanges between mother and infant in the first years of life. Spend any amount of time around a newborn and you’ll see that, when baby cries, mum swoops in, picks him up and then scrunches her face in an exaggerated imitation of his distress. According to Peter Fonagy, a psychopathology researcher at University College London, who has long studied children and young people, the mother’s amplified reflection forms a key part of the child’s developing a sense of self and emotional control. ‘Anxiety, for example, is for the infant a confusing mixture of physical changes, ideas and behaviours,’ he told me. ‘When the mother reflects, or mirrors, the child’s anxiety, he now “knows” what he’s feeling.’

‘After a while, clients internalise the warmth and understanding of their therapist, turning it into an internal resource to draw on for strength and support. A new, compassionate voice flickers into life, silencing that of the inner critic – itself an echo of insensitive earlier attachment figures. But this transformation doesn’t come easy. As the poet W H Auden wrote in The Age of Anxiety (1947): ‘We would rather be ruined than changed …’ It is the therapist’s job, as a secure base and safe haven, to guide clients as they journey into unfamiliar waters, helping them stay hopeful and to persist through the pain, sadness, anger, fear, anxiety and despair they might need to face.’

Once again, the process mirrors good caregiving early in life. Long before speech, mother and infant communicate with each other via nonverbal cues – facial expression, mutual gaze, vocal nuance, gesture and touch. In the squeeze of his fist, in the batting of an eyelash, the sensitive mother ‘reads’ her child’s emotional states and responds appropriately through her own body.

‘The good practitioner subconsciously tunes in to those emotions left unsaid, to the internal states the client might not even be aware of. Moment by moment, the therapist adjusts her own body language in response to her client’s internal rhythms, engaging them in a kind of dance in which both partners mutually influence and synchronise themselves to each other.

Make a change

Reflecting on my own generational trauma and how it impacted my self-worth

I was listening to a podcast this morning as I emptied the dishwasher… or maybe it was a story on Instagram… oh wait, it was a song… Demi Lovato – ‘I love me’. (I’m leaving that meandering sentence in to show my random train of thought!) So, in her song, Demi sings, ‘Flippin’ through all of these magazines, Tellin’ me who I’m supposed to be…’ and it made me think about this very early self care rule I made. Mid-twenties, I actually made a decision for myself, pre-therapy, that did me good (this surprises me as most of the things I did back then were fairly self-destructive). Actually, it possibly started (definitely intensified) when I had my daughter and became obsessed with creating a world around her that would only ever empower her rather than strip her of her natural worth.

Let’s go back to the start… as a child I was surrounded by women who were obsessed with looks and body image. The first thing they would say about someone was a judgement on what they looked like. They would be super critical of other women (especially their appearance) and they were always hyper critical of themselves. These women were my mother, her few friends, her sisters, her mother. They taught me that in order to feel a sense of belonging with them I must pick apart other women and I must hate myself. I can now see as an adult that my dad also is very focused on appearances, diet, weight management… being judgey of people. I was surrounded by it all my life.

My mother has always been obsessed with low level tv shows… she loves soaps where everyone is miserable and going from one chaotic disaster to the next, cheating on each other and drinking too much… talent shows where people are pulled apart by critical judges… programmes that tell you how to dress or what your house should look like. I don’t know what else to call them other than low level tv shows. They are low effort. They aren’t documentaries, they aren’t films, they aren’t juicy 6 part dramas, they’re not mysteries… they don’t get you thinking, they don’t expand your mind, they demand nothing from you. You don’t have to engage your analytical mind when watching this low level stuff. It fills your head with mindless entertainment. It’s a bit like junk food. If you’re an adult and you choose to watch this stuff, great… that’s your choice. I have been known to watch a few myself. However, there are certain things I will now never watch. For example I put myself on a Hollyoaks ban about ten years ago when I realised it was becoming addictive and wasn’t making me very happy. I wont watch things like love island or Big Brother (is that even still on..?)

My mother had about 5 soaps she watched every evening and therefore we all were subjected to these soaps. I would sit with an anxious ball of nerves in my stomach as I was subjected to families screaming and shouting at each other, bludgeoning each other with irons, mindlessly drinking too much alcohol, having sex, cheating on each other, burning down houses. It was a horrible focal point in the centre of our lives. Something I will never subject my kids (or myself) to ever.  

I want to say here that I don’t want anyone reading this to feel a judgement from me. There’s nothing wrong with watching stuff on tv to zone out or get an easy laugh or feel validated for the shitty things that happen in life. I get it! I struggle to do it myself because of my history with these kinds of tv shows but I do get it. But the thing is, if you’re an adult you have a more experienced understanding of life and the fact that this stuff on tv isn’t real. You can be one step back from what’s going on. As a kid, I was in the thick of this. I knew these people’s names, they were as much my family as the people sitting in the livingroom watching it with me. It was toxic.

Then there’s the other stuff she’d watch (and make us watch). Fashion programmes informing us that if you had wide hips you shouldn’t wear vertical stripes, if you are large breasted never wear a round neck, always v-neck… if you have short legs don’t wear ¾ length trousers and never wear strappy sandals with a strap around the ankle.. it’ll make you look like you have cankles. If you are short and overweight don’t wear a top that stops at your waist because it will cut you in half. Wear longer tunic style tops to skim your thighs and cover your bum. Wear a polo-neck to hide double chins. Wear large patterns if you’re overweight, small detailed patterns if you’re thin… always wear magic underwear that holds your stomach in and accentuates your breasts and… FUCKOFFFFFFF!!!!!! Fuck off!!! I feel the emotions rising in me as I write all this out. I feel like I could write another 10’000 words on all of the shitty restrictive fucked up rules I learned as a child stating what I should wear to make my body less offensive to others. FUCK OFF! My mother lapped this stuff up! I CAN NOT STAND IT. It’s so fucking oppressive and small minded. People should wear whatever the fuck they want to wear. I want to go back in time 25 years and scream in her face, ‘turn that fucking tv off and have a unique thought! For the love of humanity push against this bullshit!’ It didn’t end there though. There were home design tv-shows she obsessed over that told us our house was kinda shit and so she would redecorate something EVERY.FUCKING.WEEKEND… diet programmes that proclaimed we were whatever we ate! BULL SHIT! She put me on a fucking shakes diet in my early teens (not that it matters but I wasn’t even overweight!).

Then there were all the magazines she would buy. Home magazines that told you how to make a small room look big, a newbuild have character, a dark room seem lighter, a cold room look warmer… magazines that told us what to wear, how to use make up to erase every unique quality on our faces… here’s how to cover your freckles, here’s how to make your eyes look bigger, here are the perfect hair styles for your shape face… WHY ARE WE CONSTANTLY TRYING TO BE THE SAME? White-washing our differences. I feel like a lot of people who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s will relate to this. It was so damaging.

So, from a very early age I learned that there was a very specific set of rules to live your life by. A specific way to behave and present myself so that I wouldn’t be completely rejected by my ‘tribe’. These wounded, small minded women who were living life blinkered, never daring to think outside the small life view they were being offered. I needed them to keep me in their circle. I needed it for survival. But deep in my core I was opposed to everything they spouted. And in the tentative moments of testing as a teen when I couldn’t take it anymore and would fight back, I was massively rejected, criticised, ridiculed, screamed and shouted at… it was very clear to me that disagreeing or looking for a different way to be was not acceptable. When I read descriptions of narcissistic and histrionic personality disorders, I see my mother. I know she is insecure, hates herself, has a very shaky sense of who she is, needs constant external validation, has a childhood shrouded in trauma… carries the trauma of her parents who both fought in the second world war and had their own unseen trauma wounds. But she chose to stay blind. I know some people may feel that she did the best she could and perhaps all I need to do is heal some more and then I’ll be able to see that too, ut right now this is where I’m at… she was selfish… she chose to stay stuck. She chose to pour her trauma into me. She chose to spend hours and hours and hours of my youth telling me all the ways her parents fucked her up while never EVER considering how she was fucking me up. She didn’t ever truly see me. I was an extension of her, something that could be of use to her. And when I chose to stop being of use to her, all hell would unfurl.

Anyway, I digress… in my late teens and early twenties when I was attempting to navigate the world of adulthood living with my now husband, my life was a mix of her shit and my shit. I bought 3 or 4 magazines a week – let it pollute me, I watched hours of tv every day, I let her use me as her unpaid therapist on the phone endlessly… but also there were splinters of my uniqueness that attempted to break off and grow shoots and bloom… I listened to music that I liked without having her judge me, I went to uni, studied child psychology and worked towards an honours degree in education. I read self help books and watched films about the law of attraction and documentaries about game changers through history. I spent time journaling and hoping for change, with one leg still tethered to the ball and chain of my past. Then I had my daughter and I was plunged into this black sea of post partum depression and anxiety, held face down in the murky waters until I couldn’t stand it anymore and I took myself to therapy. Though we couldn’t afford it, we couldn’t afford for me not to!

Bit by bit the shitty things that clung to me from my childhood have slowly fallen away. I no longer watch any soaps, ever. It’s a rule in our house – we just never put them on. We also don’t watch critical judges rip apart peoples dreams on talent shows (when the kids are in the room)… on the odd occasion we may watch them but we’re not avid followers of anything. We never EVER watch anything on tv that tells us we have to look or behave in a way that will make us more liked by others. I never buy fashion/beauty magazines. I don’t let anything in the house that threatens to destroy my kids sense of self. My mum had no boundaries, she encouraged me to have no boundaries as well… it encouraged me to kick back, build a wall and have a rock solid, impenetrable boundary that kept everyone out. I’m learning how to be more flexible, slowly.

As I’m writing this I’m thinking so may thoughts so quickly…

– my grandmas generation had magazines and books (and society) telling her all the ways to be a good little wife and keep her husband happy

– my mums generation had magazines and society telling her how to be beautiful and attract a mate

– they both received the message that they had their uses to men but that men were more important than women… oh and that differences should be feared.

There were so many shit things being told to women over the years and although I still believe that doesn’t excuse them from the fact that they let it impact them and so many didn’t try to make a change, it is making me think, my mum and her mum were possibly the norm. It was unusual to have a woman stick her head above the parapet and say, ‘I refuse to conform’. I’m angry and sad that my mother didn’t have the inner strength and determination to give me a life that cradled me in nurturing acceptance and fostered self-love but instead perpetuated the shit she and generations before her had to endure. Oh what I may have become, had I been gifted what I needed. But it ends here. IT FUCKING ENDS HERE! For my children and my inner child/ren.

This house is filled with body positivity, which means my husband and I accept ourselves and our children the way they are. We’re very careful about making statements about other people’s bodies at all because even a compliment says, ‘I’m judging you… you may have passed now but you could easily fail my standards.’ It said, ‘I have the authority to judge your appearance’… I don’t like that message. What I prefer is, ‘wow I love the outfit you’ve put together, the colours are so much fun.’ Or ‘you look like you’re really enjoying the beat of this song, the way you’re moving your body makes me want to dance too!’ or ‘you’re so strong the way you are running shows me how much energy you have.’ I have bought books by people (mostly amazing body positive women on social media) who endorse self-acceptance and self-love. That show amazing photographs of real bodies… a variety of different shapes, sizes, colours, genders and sexualities. I want my kids to know that self-expression is welcome in this house. Autonomy is welcome in this house. Self-love is celebrated. Non judgemental acceptance of others is the way we do things in this house. We’re not perfect but I feel like I started this whole parenting journey with the following rules – let them be who they are, nurture their unique humanness, do no harm, own your mistakes, evolve.  

So back to the start of the post. There are certain ways I protect myself from further pain and distress and hopefully these boundaries also provide a safe environment for my children to grow up feeling whole and acceptable…

  1. I never watch stuff on tv that is designed to pick apart our humanness
  2. I never buy fashion/beauty/fitness magazines
  3. I don’t let people talk to or near me/my kids about unrealistic beauty standards, diets, body shaming
  4. I don’t watch or let my kids watch violent, aggressive, critical or mindless tv shows
  5. We don’t watch tv shows that demonize certain food groups or celebrate drastic weight loss through extreme diet or excessive exercise

I’m starting to imagine people thinking I’m super controlling and censoring too much… hellow inner critic… but my kids are only 8 and 4 so they’re still young. I also think that we can and should critically decide what exactly we want to feed our brains with. We don’t need to let it all in, we shouldn’t in fact. And children are impressionable, they believe everything they hear and see and experience. They think, ‘oh this is the way life is done around here’ and they learn to supress their intuition and conform. It’s not black and white though. I do wear make-up, my kids both love playing around with make-up and nail varnish. My daughter says she wants to be a hairdresser when she grows up… this is all fine but I watch how I’m talking about these things. I never say, ‘I need to put make up on,’ I say I like it because it’s a creative, arty way to express myself. I never verbalise judgements about my own body or anyone else’s… I actually think this has had a very positive impact on my own sense of self-worth. I won’t criticise myself in front of my kids because I want to model self-love therefore… I am actually actively being kinder to myself than I was prior to having kids. My kids know I eat more mindfully these days. The intention is to lose some weight but they don’t need to be privy to this information. It makes my toes curl when I hear women telling their kids, ‘oh I’m too fat I can’t have that chocolate…’ I tell my kids that I want the food I eat now to make my body and mind feel healthier, stronger, have more energy. They know I go to the gym. I tell them it’s because exercise makes me feel good. I love moving my body, I like the sense of achievement I feel afterwards. I am careful about how I describe things to my kids. My mother was unconscious, unfiltered, knee-jerk, unconsidered… in everything she did and said. I try very hard to not be like that. Possibly to the other extreme… Anna is in fact working with me on developing a more instinctive way of being where I don’t overthink everything. Before I even became pregnant, I read books on how to be a gentle, respectful parent. I knew I wanted to do things differently. It became an obsession, a way for my perfectionism and OCD to take a grip. It’s taking years to tease out the unnecessary bids for control from the healthy, ‘okay’ ways of being and thinking.

I remember at 6 years old trying to hide my body from the scrutinising eyes of my mother. Feeling deep shame at the thought of anyone seeing me. My daughter is 8 and openly proclaims that she loves herself. She exudes confidence and a sense that there is no shame in being different… that our differences are what make us all so beautiful. I’m starting to feel uncomfortable now at the thought that I am coming across as a know all…hello again inner critic! I don’t mean to sound as if I think I’m amazing, I am not perfect! I make mistakes. And I’m sure I will encounter moments when my kids question their worth… what I’m working through here in this post however is the idea that I believe it is our duty as adults, with the children of the world watching us, to treat them the way we needed to be treated, to teach them about good things, to instil positive qualities, to model love and acceptance. We can look back and think, ‘wow… that hurt, I wish they hadn’t fucked me up so much…’ but that’s not the end of the sentence… we must finish that sentence with, ‘…now I know what hurt me, I am going to work hard at healing that wound so that I don’t unconsciously hurt those around me.’ And it’s not just the responsibility of people with children… I believe it’s everyone’s job. We all influence the kids around us and the child within us is also deserving of healing.

These days we are surrounded by messages of body positivity, tolerance, acceptance, love. Thankfully, the smallest minorities now finally have a platform, a voice. We are duty bound to listen. To question our prejudices, to look at what our discomfort tells us about our unhealed wounds. There really is no excuse. It is our responsibility as intelligent, resourceful, capable, curious, evolving human beings. We are not here to stay stuck and repeat. We are here to change and grow and flourish and enhance.

Shame, connection and coming home…

Three excerpts from the session on Sat 29th Feb.

I said, ‘the perfume thing blows my mind. That I just needed to ask once and you gladly gave it to me… it directly relates to my mum. I know that. She was always going out at night and used to give my brother one of her tops with her perfume on to help him sleep. I really longed for that but I would just sneak it, I’d take it from her drawer you know, like having to steal these crumbs of connection from her…’ Anna said, ‘why wouldn’t she give you a top?’ I said ‘I just don’t think she saw me as a child. Maybe I never asked, maybe I knew she’d say no and the rejection was too painful.’ Anna talked about this innate sense I had that she wouldn’t give me what I needed, that this comes from learning these lessons very early on, ‘it’s a preverbal knowing,’ she said, ‘despite knowing that she would turn you away, you still craved the closeness. No wonder you have these moments of frozen stuckness when you want to be close to me. You want connection but you anticipate rejection. You learned to find ways to feel connected from a safe distance.’ I said, ‘Exactly! I had a lot of nightmares but I knew I couldn’t wake her. I would crawl silently into their bedroom and go to sleep under her side of the bed. I remember it was very cold but I could hear her breathing and smell her.’ Anna said, ‘oh Lucy,’ in a heartfelt way, ‘Did you ever wake her? Would you have wanted her to let you in her bed?’ I started to say, ‘I think yes but also no, um it felt weird to be close to her,’ Anna asked me to explain ‘weird’ further and I started to feel floaty. I told her I felt spacey and she encouraged me to ground myself. I put my head in my hands and tried to breath, took a drink of water. Told her I didn’t have words for it. Told her it felt yucky and that I didn’t want her to touch me. ‘I didn’t want to feel our bodies touching. It never felt like a motherly touch, it felt bad. She didn’t know how to touch me the way a mother touches her child.’ Anna asked if I had a sense of what it felt like to imagine being in her bed next to her body and I whispered, ‘not safe…’ and I was gone again. I started to feel anchored to the room when I felt Anna’s hand on my arm. That felt safe.

I couldn’t continue with the memory we’d unintentionally fallen into. I described it as if I was watching an old VHS that suddenly got jammed in the machine and now it was just grey and black fuzzy lines and white noise. I let out a gasp of frustration and told her I was really angry with myself. She asked me to stay with the feeling that was behind the anger. So I sat there in it. I fumbled and scrambled around for ways to describe what it felt like. Anna reminded me, ‘it doesn’t need to be sentences, it doesn’t need to make sense. Anything that comes up for you – words, senses.’ And so a garbled mess tumbled out. ‘its like humiliated but from inside me… shame? Like I’m rotten inside? Dirty… I’m ashamed… but… but why am I ashamed?’ Anna said, ‘yes, it was never your shame to hold, earlier you described her as shameless. She was shameless Lucy because she made you carry it all. That’s the blackness inside you, it’s her shame. Talking about it is how we get it out.’ I said, ‘but I had to, it was the only way I could make her love me.’ Anna said, ‘she betrayed you massively Lucy. You were a child. You had no choice. It was not your fault. What you did and how you adapted was exactly what you needed to do to survive.’ There was quite a lot of quiet and we were coming to the end of the session which filled me with sadness. Anna said with a really peaceful open expression, ‘I am so proud of that young part who just told me all of that. I want her to listen as I say this… I understand. I know that it felt scary and she had to stop telling me her memory. That’s okay. I’m glad she stopped when it started to feel unsafe. It’s okay that she doesn’t trust me. I’m not going to force her to do anything she doesn’t want to do and I’m not going to try to make her trust me. You keep bringing her here and I will keep being here with you. I’m not going anywhere. I want to earn her trust. Slowly I believe she will feel like she can trust me but I’m in no rush. And if she feels like she wants to test me – THATS OKAY! I really want her to hear that. It’s okay for her to test me in any way she feels she wants to! That’s how she will learn she can trust me.’

Anna said, ‘you might find that different needs are met by each of your pandas, so you have Luna, Baby and Suki,’ she looked at me and I smiled, it’s so cool she makes a point of calling them by their names even when I am too ashamed to. She continued, ‘maybe Suki stays in your handbag for when you’re at work and if you’re not able to take her out, just putting your hand in your bag and feeling him or smelling my perfume on your hand would help…’ (I already do this which blows my mind and makes me wonder if she has experienced this process from where I’m sitting). ‘You might find that Baby is there for those pre-verbal moments when there are no words, maybe Luna is there for every day connection, for bedtime, you’ll really get to know yourself through getting to know them…’ I said that was exactly what I’ve been experiencing. I said, ‘when I come home from work and they’re sitting on the wee chair in my room… I smile when I see them, it feels like I’m coming home to my inner child and I am actually glad to see her…’ Anna said, ‘which is so great to hear, not long ago you didn’t want anything to do with her, you didn’t even want her in this room.’ I nodded, ‘I feel so bad about that, how rejecting and punishing I was of her… when she’d done nothing wrong.’ Anna pressed her lips together and nodded with sad eyes. She said, ‘that was very important to feel and work through and it might come back now and then but you are feeling something for her you’ve never felt before, your heart is opening to her. You’re doing so well. I know how hard this is.’ I thought about the fact that I feel a responsibility for my inner child/ren now and that makes it very hard to imagine ever hurting myself again because it would be like inflicting pain onto a child and just now I’m thinking, that’s what I do when I let the inner critic win, I’m letting someone viciously bully this defenceless child. But there’s a shakiness in admitting that. I’m frightened of what my mother used to say, ‘pride before a fall’… I don’t want to foolishly say I can’t imagine ever self harming again only to find myself triggered into hurting myself. I guess that is the not linear part of healing.