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.’