I Took the Road Less Travelled

A pause in my therapy sessions.

Since my last video session on Saturday with Anna something feels like it’s shifted inside me. The session itself felt very healing and was one of the most connecting, emotionally open conversations I’ve ever had. I felt we were both sincere and honest. No self consiousness, just a desire to connect, hear and be heard. It has flicked a switch inside me (though I imagine it’s probably less like a switch and more like a bolt on a screw that has been slowly turned tighter and tighter over the past two and a half years without me even noticing each individual turn… this kind of change doesn’t happen overnight or without a hell of a lot of effort). I’ve noticed that my obsessive tendency to be completely preoccupied with thoughts of Anna is not there anymore. It feels like our relationship doesn’t need me constantly watching over it anymore. As always with the ebb and flow of the recovery process I am aware that nothing is perminent. These observations are true of this moment.

My personal experience of disorganised/preoccupied/avoidant attachment has been a torturous game of walking a burning tightrope knowing I never felt safe where I came from or where I was going and I certainly wasn’t safe on the rope. I never felt safe inside myself but as long as I kept watching and worrying and thinking about Anna, then thoughts of her might keep me safe. The hypervigilance felt like an integral part of who I was. It’s like that terror I would feel as a new mother with my brand new fragile baby. I would watch her constantly for fear that she would suddenly be lost forever. Regardless of where we were and who we were with. My mind would trick me into thinking she could vanish into thin air if I didn’t keep my eyes on her all the time. ‘babies have been stollen from their cots in the night…’ it consumed me… anyway, back to Anna… My insecure attachment with Anna made my brain keep thoughts of her close all the time, for fear of it slipping away from me if I didn’t constantly watch over it.

I’m noticing a new reality where I leave Anna in the corner of my mind while I go about the day thinking about and concentrating on other things, with this felt sense that she hasn’t left me, she’s still there, just not in my line of vision at the moment. Hand on heart I don’t think I’ve ever, ever felt this before. I can feel her existence and my connection to her despite us being far apart, despite it being 9 weeks since I sat in the same room as her and the fact that I don’t know when I will speak to her again. I don’t feel a pang of empty aloneness as I remember her like I used to. If my mind does brush against her memories, thoughts of the blue heart stone she gave me come to mind and her perfume on my bears… her endless reassurance. The phone check ins. The encouraging words. The hugs. The layers and layers of evidence I have to support my belief that our care for each other is valid and real and impacts us both in a profound and positve way. Just because these things are not currently happening, doesn’t mean they didn’t happen. They did. It happened. It mattered. It was real and is still real. She holds me in mind and now I know what that means becaue I feel it deep inside. The sentence I am about to write would have broken me a few months ago, whereas right now I’m feeling content and actually pretty happy. For now my sessions are on hold and I don’t know when they will start up again. I will explain it all in this post.

Since our last session I’ve had a few moments of clarity that I am struggling to articulate clearly because they were a bit trippy. They’ve happened when my mind has been completely empty which I’m not sure has ever happened in my whole life. I’ll try to explain in imagery because analogies are my best friend! Imagine sitting in a hot car, gasping for breath, the sun is beating in and your skin feels hot to touch. The suffocating warm air surrounding you makes you feel light headed and clammy. You’ve been fiddling around with the aircon for a lifetime and just can’t figure it out. It’s letting in a slow trickle of lukewarm air and you’re feeling impatient. After what feels like a lifetime you sit back in total exhaustion, exasperated you throw your head back and right above you is a huge sun roof that you’d never noticed before. In an instant you reach up, flick the lock and slide the sunroof wide open. A rush of fresh air pours in and surrounds you in cool relief. This single moment of pure oxygen makes the journey you’re on feel so much more manageable. This is how things in my mind feel for me just now. Like I’ve been scrabbling around with my head down struggling at life, hot and bothered, forgetting to look up. I was so intently focused on the therapy that I often wasn’t even aware of everything else around me. I’m on this amazing journey and therapy is only a small part of that. It’s not a perfect analogy because if the air con is therapy then it should be working powerfully… however it is slow and often frustratingly uncomfortable so maybe the analogy does work! But what I mean is… life can be just as healing as sessions… I just needed a break from focusing my attention so intently on the sessions to lift my head and look around me. Therapy is a very important part of my life but it does not define me. The past couple of months have been a profound lesson for me in my own resilience and inner sense of safety.

The other day Adam let me have a couple of hours break upstairs while he played with the kids and took them for a bike ride. I laid on my back on the bed with my head tipped off the edge to see if it would release some pressure on my neck and I watched the blue sky out the window, upside down. Watched the few white fluffy clouds sailing by. I felt this overwhelming sense of belonging and connectedness with the whole world. It was really powerful and completely physical. It feels awkward and clumsy trying to put words to it. In this split second I felt this awareness of my heart beating in this body lying on a bed inside this house in a village nestled between rolling green hills on the edge of an island surrounded by a vast body of water on this great planet suspended in our mighty solar system purposefully spinning and hurtling through time and space in a universe almost entirely undiscovered. I felt my place in the universe. I felt myself connecting to all the other beating hearts and souls and in that moment I felt in my bones that everything is okay and right. It felt like peace.

There’s quite a lot going on at the moment. I just finished writing 20 reports about a group of wonderful children that I haven’t seen in nearly 6 weeks. Every time they send me a little video of themselves showing me what they’ve been working on it brings a tear to my eye. I am connected to these kids and their families, we are all important to each other and this virtual community we’ve set up is so special. I’m attempting to keep on top of the learning activities being sent home from Grace’s school and Reuben’s nursery. Trying to be mummy and teacher to them. Add to that two therapy sessions a week and all of the journaling and reading and blogging I do. On top of this I have badly hurt my neck. It’s this niggling ongoing ailment that I’ve struggled with on and off for a few years now. Issues with tension, pain, trapped nerve, weakness and tingling… from my neck, down my back, shoulder, arm and hand. It has become worse this week and I have very limited mobility now. I’ve organised a video consultation with my osteopath to help with some stretches and exercises. Also, the past couple of weeks as a family we’ve been struggling with conflict, anxiety and stress. I signed us up for weekly webinars to help us deal with these lockdown related issues which has definitely helped. I have carefully considered and laid down some boundaries with my extended family and friends around video calls to help prevent me from being burned out by the intensity of it all. I’ve been walking or running for about an hour every day and I’ve balanced our days more so there is a greater focus on play and creativity. There are 4 very strong personalities living under this roof and it can get very busy and heated. We have made a few modifications to make sure we all feel safe and calm. I’ve introduced family meetings where we all get a chance to feel heard and ask for what we need. These are things that my parents never considered doing. I am making changes. Breaking the chain.

I hadn’t prepared for my next session. I was just going to let it take it’s course… something I was never able to do just a few months ago. Then yesterday afternoon Anna text me, ‘Hi Lucy, I would like to call you. Could you give me a suitable time that is convenient to you please. Thanks Anna.’ I was in the middle of a zoom call to my mother as it’s her birthday and as soon as I read the message I knew Anna was going to cancel our session. I ended the zoom chat fairly rapidly and replied, ‘Any time is fine, I’m free now.’ A minute later she called me.

In the call Anna told me that she has taken unwell again and that she was very sorry but she was going to have to cancel our session which was meant to be in a few hours. I listened as she explained that she was gutted that it had happened again so soon after the last time. She said, ‘I’m really sorry that my health is impacting your therapy so much Lucy, I am absolutely gutted… and that’s coming from the heart.’ I said, ‘I feel that. I hear what you’re saying and I believe you.’ she said, ‘it’s really important that you know it is not you, it’s not your fault that I’m unwell.’ I said, ‘I know, thank you… thanks so much for calling me instead of texting!’ Anna said, ‘well I heard you when you told me it didn’t feel nice to have the session cancelled by text. I thought about it.’ I said, ‘I know it might not always be possible to phone when you’re ill but it really does make a difference, I really appreciate you listening to me.’ Anna said she had been in touch with Linda and she would be happy to work with me again. She didn’t have any time available tomorrow but could see me on Saturday. I said, ‘to be honest Anna I’m not sure that I’ll need it. This time feels completely different. We had such a connecting session on Saturday and I really believed everything you told me… I know it’s not my fault you’re ill, I know you won’t deliberately leave me… I don’t feel that desperate panicky abandonment pain I felt the last time.’ Anna said, ‘I’m really glad to hear that, you know the support is there if you feel you need it.’ I said, ‘yeah and that really means a lot. I know I can ask if I need the help. I’ll get in touch with Linda and let her know what I’m thinking… this really feels different… I really so appreciate you phoning. So are we looking at this being another few weeks?’ Anna said, ‘you’re welcome, I’m glad I phoned as well… yes I need to speak to my doctor but it will probably be another few weeks. Sorry Lucy I really am gutted. I’ll be in touch with you when I’m well enough to work again and if you still want to work with me we can arrange a session,’ I said, ‘Anna, none of this makes me want to stop working with you, I’m not going to stop working with you until it feels like we’ve done the work!’ She laughed and said, ‘well I can’t assume!’ I said, ‘well I’m telling you… we still have work to do!’ As I write this out I’m aware you can’t hear the tone. It didn’t feel like I was having to reassure her, it felt more like a bond, an agreement… like we were contracting to come back to each other. It felt nice.

We told each other to stay safe, rest up and look after ourselves and ended the call. And I actually felt okay. My world didn’t fall apart. I didn’t collapse on the floor in a heap. 5 weeks ago the worst case scenario happened. In my mind, she died and I had to deal with that grief with someone I didn’t know and cope with the abyss that my unanswered messages would float off into. Now it all feels very different. I know that Anna is suffering quite a lot with her asthma at the moment. I know she wishes she could continue working with me and that she plans on coming back to me. I have a powerful felt sense that this pause is okay… it’s meant to be here.

A few hours after the phone call I sent this:

Hi Anna,

Thank you so much for speaking to me on the phone. It feels so different to receiving that news in a text. I really appreciate you taking on board what I said.

I want to say (though I’m certain you know this) that the most important part of my therapy is specifically the relationship with you. Talking about and making sense of my life and thoughts and feelings is important but doing that within this long term relationship with you is what deepens the healing. It’s not like having a supply teacher who can pick up the syllabus where you left off. I will always come back to you until we decide together to work to an end and I’m no where near ready for that just now.

Whether I decide to work with Linda in this period or not, when you’re well enough to work with me again I’ll be there. Linda is like a puncture repair kit, you’re teaching me how to change the wheel. (Haha… these analogies make me laugh.)

Anyway, I hope you’re okay with me sending you the occasional update like I did before. You told me you liked receiving my texts so I’m choosing to believe that you were telling the truth. Keeping you up to date helps me maintain a connection with you.

I’m sending you a section of my journal from Saturday’s session because I want to share with you the impact it had on me.

Please look after yourself. I’ll be thinking of you,

Lucy x

Part of my journal entry from 25.04.20

By the end of the session I felt so hopeful about things between us. I am so grateful Anna reflected on things and was prepared to share her vulnerability with me. Her being open with me and sharing parts of herself has made me see that knowing ‘her’ more is not going to damage me. My boundary doesn’t need to be so rigid. I don’t need to protect myself from her. That boundary always belonged between me and my mother. I was so hurt by mum and her over sharing that I built a wall between myself and Anna to protect myself and I built a wall between myself and Grace to protect Grace. Anna sharing a part of her emotional experience with me did not make me feel violated, it actually made me feel closer to her. It deepened my trust in her. I am so guarded with Grace, hiding almost all of who I am for fear of hurting her. Maybe I can share more of myself with her, in a careful way, without damaging her. Maybe if I’m more open with Grace, it will help me feel more connected to her.

The effort Anna put in to help mend this – taking me to supervision and really reflecting on my experience of it all… It’s made me realise that the wellbeing and balance of a relationship is not the responsibility of just one person. I was trying to solve all the problems by myself and I can’t do that. I was spinning plates and analysing and over thinking it all by myself in the hope that I could present a finished solution to her. But there was no need because she is not playing games with me – she’s prioritising connection. It’s like being on a tandem bike pushing hard on the peddles thinking you have to do it all by yourself, then you look up and realise the other person just lost their footing but they’re just about to get started again. The thing that felt impossible when you were struggling to do it by yourself, now feels effortless with the help of the other person. Anna went away and thought about everything I’d said and adapted how she was handling things and it has changed my experience of things completely. I’m not doubting her care anymore. I no longer believe I’m too much for her. I don’t believe that her being ill was my fault.

Growing up, the people in my life were defensive, rigid and selfish. Family harmony was not as important as my parents getting what they wanted. They would choose to prioritise their own needs over mine and over the good of the relationship every time. It’s obvious to me that Anna prioritised our relationship. This is actually mind blowing for me.

I didn’t see it before but I now clearly see… there are two people here, one standing on each side of this glass wall and we are both making an effort to connect.

And Anna replied…

Thank you Lucy for your texts. I’m very touched by you sharing part of your journal with me, lovely to read. I was very tickled by your analogy, I’ll remember that one with fondness. If it helps to send updates that is fine.  Although I won’t reply, I will read them. I too am pleased that we spoke on the phone. I will hold you in mind. Take care. Anna

I sent her a blue heart as a reply.

I spent a night and morning considering the situation fully and then sent Linda the following email.

Hi Linda,

I hope you and your loved ones are well.

Anna let me know yesterday that you guys talked about her being unwell and she told me you’re happy to work with me again if needed.

I’ve had a think about it and for the time being I’ve decided to hold off. Thankfully Anna and I were able to have three very connecting sessions before she became ill again. We were able to do a lot of repairing. This time feels nothing like the last time.

If I feel myself needing support over the coming weeks then I’ll get in touch with you to see if you have any availability but right in this moment things feel secure and settled.

Thanks for making yourself available to me Linda, it means a lot to me.

Take care,


Linda replied…

HI Lucy,

Many thanks for your email. It does indeed sound like you are in a different headspace now, that’s great to hear.

Please take care of yourself and if you decide to return at some point in the future then don’t hesitate to get in touch.

All the best to you and your family.

Kind regards,


I then sent this text to Anna.

Hi Anna,

I wanted to let you know that I’ve sent Linda an email. I’ve thanked her for making herself available to me again and told her that for the time being I’ve decided to hold off. If I feel myself needing support over the coming weeks then I’ll get in touch with her to see if she has any availability but right in this moment things feel secure and settled.

It feels quite liberating to make the decision to take a side step off the conveyor belt of therapy for a short period. To focus my attention and energy on what’s right in front of me without always working so hard at looking deeply into everything.

I plan on spending a bit of time reflecting on my journey so far over the past two and a half years and I also want to look at where I’d like to take things in the future with you.

I’m well aware that I may wake up tomorrow in the depths of despair and change my mind and reach out for Linda but currently this decision feels right. It’s good to know that I can ask for support if needed.

I hope you’re able to rest well and that you’re being looked after. I’ll keep in touch with you.

Take care,
Lucy x

I feel really good about this decision. It feels like the fresh air is rushing in and I am secure in my decision to pause. Take a breath and let the sediment settle. Sometimes the spaces are just as impactful as the sessions.

Last night as I sat on my daughter’s floor as she fell asleep I came across the following poem I have always loved but had forgotten about.

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.

It moved me to tears as I read it. The thought of how it applies to my journey, the road I have taken. The different turns, the hidden and only half visible paths. The changes I’m making to mend the inherited motherwound and break the intergenerational trauma chain so that future generations aren’t so greatly impacted by past pain. Anna said to me recently, ‘not everyone chooses to do this work Lucy. For some people it’s enough to do a few sessions and then move on with their lives. You are doing deep work and the ripple affects will reach further than you will ever know.’

So there was a fork in the road and I chose to take the road less travelled. I thought very carefully before deciding to pause my theraputic work. I could easily have picked things up with Linda, it would actually be nice to see her again. But something is pulling me down a new road. For the time being… until Anna is well again.

Let’s see if it makes a difference.

‘…you have disarmed me…’

There are two people here, one standing on each side of this glass wall.

I was feeling quite numb this morning. I’ve spent the majority of the past four days processing what’s going on between me and Anna. Going over the conversations. Looking at it from different angles. Talking it through. Trying to figure out how I’m going to make myself feel what I need to feel so I can persuade her to believe me when I tell her that the 4 weeks without her were absolute hell. I have noticed how my mind is picking her apart, urging me to grind her down. I know I’m going to need to share all of this with her in order to break through the well worn patterns of my attachment issues and give a new pattern a chance to develop. But the apathy had swallowed me whole and I could no longer find a thread of any thoughts or feelings.

One minute to go, I quickly glanced over some old journal notes and then clicked to join the meeting. She appeared on the screen and couldn’t see me initially. I’m going to need to fiddle with the zoom settings coz that’s quite annoying. I fixed it and we both asked, ‘how you doing?’ at the same time and instantly laughed. She then asked me how I’d been since Tuesday and I said it had been a very heavy few days and that I had been doing a lot of reflecting. I told her that yesterday had felt better, probably because I knew I had a session today but Thursday in particular was very very difficult. I noticed myself drifting off as I tried to explain it to her so I sat straight on to the screen and said, ‘It’s important I say this out loud… I am making a commitment to work hard at connecting with you today, I need to focus on looking at you and work hard at feeling a connection, I need to talk TO you rather than talking to myself in front of you… I’ve noticed I’ve been doing this thing where I talk and reflect and present my already well processed thoughts to you as if I’m just filming a video with little regard for you sitting there. It’s important that I engage with you today otherwise I’ll leave the session feeling like you were never even there.’ Anna asked me if I would be able to bring awareness to the desire to do that when it happens, even if at the same time we hold the fact that I don’t want to stop doing it… ‘perhaps you could just let me know ‘I’m noticing that I’m reflecting and talking as if you are not here but it feels safer to do that right now’ do you think that would be possible?’ I nodded and said that would be really helpful. She said it made sense that I would want to protect myself, that it feels less vulnerable to talk as if she’s not there, that I don’t need her to help me. We came back to this later and talked a bit more about the way my dissociation keeps me separate from things that feel threatening and therefore keeps me feeling safe yet isolated. I told her with total certainty, ‘I really want the dissociation to stop getting in the way of connection!’ and she said, calmly, ‘it will when you feel safe.’

She then said she too had been reflecting a lot since Tuesday and she had some things she wanted to say to me. I immediately started to panic thinking she wanted to stop working with me, surprise surprise. She began, ‘what really stayed with me after our last session was this belief you were holding on to that it was your fault I was ill and even when I reassured you that it wasn’t your fault you didn’t believe me. I’ve thought a lot about this and I’ve decided it’s very important to clarify this with you.’ There were these agonizingly slow milliseconds where I was trying to read her blurry face on the screen and her crackly audio… I asked her to readjust her microphone because every time it brushes past her clothes it crackles and I can’t hear her. She moved it to her chest and propped it on the scoop of her top and I joked, ‘just stick the cable between your boobs,’ and she laughed and said, ‘we won’t dwell on this too long but I’d hazard a guess that my boobs are a bit lower than yours and they won’t hold this microphone up!’ it was this funny little giggle in the middle of this very intense conversation. This next sentence she said with a serious tone, ‘so, I want you to know that I have asthma.  A lot of the times I’ve had to cancel our sessions it’s been because of the asthma and this time this was also the case. And because of everything that’s been happening with covid19 I was quite worried. I wanted to make sure I was completely better before starting up our sessions again. It was important I didn’t come back and then go off again. Obviously the covid stuff is new to everyone, we are all stressed and anxious about it, scared about it. It was important I’d moved past all that before coming back to you. I did not want my stuff to impact you.’ I was sitting intently listening and watching her, feeling so relieved that she was reaching out to me and sharing this with me. It felt vulnerable and real.

I said, ‘one of my theories was that you had asthma. I said to Linda actually that I thought you might have had asthma or some sort of underlying health condition that would make this a very scary time for you… it’s amazing actually that she managed to listen to all my theories and not let on that she knew… she did ask me to look at why it was important and I said it was because my brain was trying to fill in all the unknowns, you know. It felt really unfair that I wasn’t allowed to know. Like, I know I’m not your family or whatever and that logically it makes sense that I would be the last to know if something happened to you but you’re so important to me, it hurts to know that.’ Anna said, ‘I was really pleased when you sent me the text saying that you’d asked Linda to tell you if I was still alive and she’d reassured you. I was so glad you were able to ask her. I said, ‘yeah well she kind of lead that one but I did ask her, I was just absolutely beside myself. I cant even really put into words Anna, it was the worst I’ve ever felt… very dark… suicidal thoughts and I just was out of options.’ Anna said she was glad that I looked after myself and that I’d asked Linda for clarification.

She continued with quite an intense expression, ‘Lucy, I really missed you when I was off. We’ve worked very closely together for the past 2 and a half years and I know you may find it hard to believe but this work is very important to me too and you are very important to me. I care very deeply about you and wanted to be there for you. I held you in mind throughout our time apart and especially during our usual session times I actively thought about you, hoping you were doing okay.’ She sort of paused and then made a very human looking face and said, ‘I actually felt quite jealous of Linda, that she was getting to work with you. In the last week before our first session back I worked on it in supervision, took you to supervision, and really focused on how I was feeling about it. The thoughts of whether you would choose to stop working with me and instead decide to work with Linda. But you know, I have seen you change beyond recognition… so much change… from the girl who walked in my office 2 and a half years ago who couldn’t tell me what she needed, it was like that for a very long time, and here we are in a moment of worldwide chaos and I am on the brink of abandoning you and you then reached to tell me you need to work with Linda in my absence. You figured out what you needed and you met that need – that is our work WORKING! That’s everything we’ve worked on together, coming together. That despite feeling very much that you couldn’t lean on anyone else in my absence, you took a leap and tried it out. That is massive and I am so so proud of you!’ I had silent tears rolling down my cheeks and I thanked her for being so honest with me. I said, ‘I cant believe you really think about me between session, thank you so much for telling me all of this you have completely disarmed me… I came to this session with so much resistance to opening up to you, all I had was anger, like this pain and sadness I felt would have to be turned into conflict and that you and I would have to battle through it to get to a point where one of us backs down. I spoke to my friend the other day and she reminded me that my feelings are valid no matter what the facts are but it’s really hard to believe that in my body when all I ever experienced was the opposite to that.’ Anna was listening and nodding and taking it all in, saying she understood.

I said, ‘this is amazing Anna, I mean obviously I don’t want you to feel jealous but you telling me about those feelings you were having and that you took it to supervision tells me that you did want me to come back to you and that you do want to work with me, you hoped I wouldn’t move on to Linda… it’s so good to hear that because I really felt like you would be glad to see the back of me.’ I said, ‘there wasn’t a single part of me that would choose to leave you right now. I only felt a resistance to coming back to you because I was so hurt. But I am really committed to this and I know there’s very deep stuff going on here. It’s triggering a massive amount of old unprocessed stuff from mum and dad that I need to unpick.’ Anna talked about how we have many different types of relationships and we behave differently in each of them. That just because I’m not her family or a friend doesn’t mean it isn’t a very important relationship. She had a powerful sincerity in her voice and I believed deep inside me that she was being very genuine.

I said, ‘talking about my raw and unprocessed feelings was never an option growing up. With my mum, if I was emotional, she would turn it into her emotion, she would become overwhelmed and I’d then have to make sure she was okay. So I learned to think very carefully about how I felt, like as if my problems and feelings were a lump of clay, I couldn’t go with it to her raw and unfinished and needing her help to fix it, instead what I’d do is figure it all out so that it was clear and articulate and processed… go with the clay already moulded. So, with my dad, he doesn’t believe in the value of emotions so with him it’s all reason and logic. He talks and argues his way round anyone’s feelings so there is no hope of feeling anything anymore. He works very hard on moving you into your intellect. So whenever I experience emotions it just feels like one way or another there’s going to be overthinking, conflict or numbing. There is this constant thinking and analysing then a battle inside me, to either come up with a very clever articulation of what’s going on with me so I can manipulate the other person to agree with and understand me. Or I numb and space away from any feelings because I know it’s hopeless, that no one will understand. So that’s what’s been going on for me.’ Anna talked about how that made so much sense and that she was really glad I was able to explain that to her. She wanted me to know that she would always work hard at hearing and understanding how I was feeling and that she believes me when I tell her how I feel. I felt this deep grief about how much I’ve missed this part of our work and I said to her, ‘I missed you so much when you were away… I really needed you. My brain immediately goes to cutting whenever I feel this much. Like on Thursday it was all I could think about. I was angry with you and just turning it all in on myself. I can’t regulate without you.’ Anna said, ‘I’m going to respectfully disagree with you on that on. What did you do on Thursday?’ I said I spoke to a friend and I watched some calming, regulating videos that helped soothe my breathing and I did some grounding exercises. I also read over some of the comforting things she’s told me in sessions before.’ Anna said, ‘what I would like you to do between now and the next session is think about all of the things you do that help you regulate your emotions when you’re on your own and write each of them down and put them in a box or jar or something. When we are triggered it’s really hard to find these ideas inside us but it may help for you to have them written down. What do you think?’ I really liked that idea and said I would do it. A bit later when I was talking about how overwhelmed I’ve been with Grace and her emotional needs Anna suggested I make a regulation box with her too. She also suggested that Adam and I spend some time talking to Grace about how we’re all feeling, to help give her some space to talk. She said that it’s hard enough for us adults to process our feelings but kids really need their parents to co-regulate.

I then said that during the time she was off I’d really struggled with Grace and really needed Anna. I had tried to talk to Linda and she had helped. I said, ‘I told Linda that she probably couldn’t help me because she didn’t have the back story and Linda had asked if she really needed the back story and maybe I could just give it a go.’ Anna smiled at this. I said, ‘it did help a bit but she doesn’t know the gravity behind these struggles… Anna, everything feels like it’s falling apart. I know this is where I go when I’m struggling but I really do know that I’m not meeting her needs right now. I screamed at her Anna, that’s what they did you know, I’m just like them!’ Anna said, ‘lets just pause there… first of all we are living through a worldwide pandemic, one that your parents were not experiencing when you were a child… you are under an enormous amount of stress and it’s understandable you’d be struggling… secondly, what did you do after you shouted at her?’ I told her I apologised and tried to mend things with her, that I listened to how she was feeling, told her I loved her and that it wasn’t her fault. Anna said, ‘exactly… and that is where the very important difference is between you and your parents.’ I said, ‘I know I’m failing her…’ and my voice faded. Anna gently said, ‘take your time Lucy,’ and I began to cry. I pulled my mic earpiece out so I wasn’t sobbing right in her ear and when I calmed and put it back in she quietly said, ‘are you scared?’ I said, ‘I’m terrified. But not about the virus. I’m scared this is all going to cause her permanent issues… there’s this big gap between us and I don’t know how I can mend it.’

I said, ‘this whole thing is giving me a window into why I am the way I am and what life was like for me as a kid and how confusing it all must have been for me… in the middle of it all when you were off I was really struggling with Grace, she was just up crying all night and it felt relentless. All day with her then all night too. And part of me wants so much to be there for her but another part of me… my cups empty! The only time it gets filled is with you and you weren’t there.’ Anna said, ‘I hear you. It’s important we work on ways for you to fill your cup when we’re unable to meet.’ I nodded and said, ‘One night I felt so alone with it all I uncharacteristically reached out on a family whatsapp group we have. In the group are my cousins, my brother and my dad. After a few messages and with my dad sending a generic, ‘you’re doing great’ I sent this message…

‘I’m not doing very well with the gentle / respectful parenting. End up with no patience left by the evening. I shouted at her. The message I’m giving her is, ‘you’re too much’. I don’t want her to feel that, ever. I want her to know she is unconditionally loved by us day and night but what I’m saying is, ‘I’ve had enough of you by the evening and you’re too much and I need a break from you’. It’s a really horrible message to give her but I’m done.’

My brother and cousins actually said some very sweet things. My brother private messaged me saying, ‘I want to reassure you with the strongest emphasis that you are not doing to your kids what mum and dad did to us. You cant see it coz you’re in it. these are two children who are very well adjusted. They show no signs (other than Grace’s understandable reaction to the lockdown) of having any issues remotely near like we did. You are a parent. Many times parents shout. Phillipa Perry even wrote in her book about shouting. The person you need to go easier on is yourself and that’s not a cliché. It’s a downwards spiral otherwise and you know that. The more you feel bad about not being perfect, the more stressed you will be, the less you’ll sleep. The more you’ll try to be perfect during the day with the kids thus creating a vacuum and an internal pressure to watch everything you say and do. Then when there’s a problem it will all come out. You are human and the big picture is that Grace knows she’s loved. You’re doing a great job with her. What you need to do is keep asserting boundaries and give yourself more time to be human.’ I was blown away by his thoughtful, considered and caring message. It really helped. Daniel and I are a team. We always have been. He gets it.

Then the next day my dad sent me this:
Something you said yesterday has stayed with me. About loving unconditionally. Loving unconditionally isn’t responding to someone’s every little whim. It’s responding to their needs. And one of the greatest needs is the need for self reliance. The ability to look after yourself, to respond to your own needs, to enjoy your own company. There’s no greater gift that giving someone the gift of self reliance instead of dependency.

He is trying. My dad’s done some work on himself and he is trying but he just doesn’t get it at all. I spent a lot of the day writing out this reply.

Morning dad.
Thanks for thinking about this and messaging me. I don’t feel that what you’ve said applies here. Grace is only 8, it’s unrealistic to expect her to be
self reliant. Even emotionally healthy adults need to co-regulate. It’s not emotionally healthy to be completely self contained, that’s a shutting down of emotional needs and leads to emotional numbing and avoidance. Healthy emotional processing involves expressing and having our need to be heard met. It’s not about meeting every whim. You can meet an emotional need to be heard and seen without bending to unrealistic requests. Love is an action. Love doesn’t scream in the face of another person. There’s a complete lack of love in telling a person ‘your emotional needs are too much for me’. This is deeply personal for me and something I swore I would never do. On this occasion I know undeniably that it’s not okay the way I responded to her and it can damage her and our relationship. But I’m working on it. It’s just very very hard right now.

In the end I didn’t send it because I realise that this is very close to the bone. I’m struggling with all of this because this is how I was parented. The reason I know how unlovable you feel when you’re being screamed at by your parent at night is because that happened to me. I refuse to think this is okay. It’s not okay!’

Anna said, ‘that’s a beautiful message you wrote and if you consider sending it to your child, what wonderful validation to her that she didn’t deserve to be treated the way she was and it wasn’t her fault. Your understanding about emotions and regulation is far deeper than your parents understanding.’ I said that we need to spend a lot of time on this and she said we can.

Anna said, ‘I just want to make another observation. I know you’ve drawn an analogy with me being your therapy mum and Linda being your therapy aunty and I want to just point out that your mum hurt you massively and then I hurt you… it’s just something to notice…’ I said, ‘except the important thing is that I believed you would hold space for me to tell you how I felt about it… I don’t think my mum has ever held space for me to share my feelings with her.’ I went back to what Anna had said about enjoying working with me and referred her to the phone call we’d had prior to her going off when I had told her I care a lot about her and she’d said she cares a lot about me too. I said, ‘you definitely did say that?’ and she nodded and I said, ‘coz my mind tears these things away from me, tells me I must have imagined it, that there’s no way you would have said that.’ Anna said, ‘oh right, uhu.’ In a very concerned voice and continued, ‘if that happens again I’d really invite you to ask me. Let me know that you’re questioning what was said and ask me.’ I said that I would and then said, ‘I just don’t get it though, why would you enjoy working with me? I bring the worst bits of myself to you, why would you like me when I’m a moany, relentless, miserable person when I see you?’ Anna said, ‘Why do you come to therapy? What is the drive to keep coming back?’ I said, ‘Because I want to heal.’ She said, ‘Why?’ and I said, ‘So that the parts of me that are hurt don’t hurt other people, so I don’t hurt my kids and so that I can feel freed from it all too.’ She said, ‘Yes and that desire to mend the parts of you that feel broken, the parts of you that are in pain, that is powerful and admirable. I feel very strongly that I am lucky to do this work with you. That part of you that want’s change and growth and to heal… that is what makes this work so special.’ I felt really moved by this and I don’t even know how to explain what I was feeling from her. Despite it being just a video call I felt very close to her, it just really felt so real and powerful. I really could feel her authenticity. She was being very real I almost forgot we weren’t in the same room.

All of a sudden it was time to finish up. Anna said, ‘okay so I’ll see you at 6 on Tuesday?’ I nodded. She said, ‘I was thinking about you saying you wished we could hug at the end of the session and I wondered, I know it’s not the same thing, maybe we could reach towards each other like this,’ she put her hand to the screen and I smiled and did it too… it felt a little awkward but also felt nice to know she’d been reflecting and wanted to suggest a way for us to hold that connection with each other. I held up Baby Panda that I’d been stroking off screen and told her I would also be cuddling my bears and she smiled. We waved and ended the call.

I am left feeling so much more hopeful about things between us. I am so grateful she reflected on things and was prepared to share her vulnerability with me. It’s made me realise that the wellbeing and balance of a relationship is not the responsibility of just one person. I was trying to solve all the problems by myself and I can’t do that. I was spinning plates and analysing and over thinking it all by myself in the hope that I could present a finished solution to her. But there was no need because she is not playing games with me. She’s prioritising connection. She went away and thought about it and adapted how she was handling things and it has changed everything. Growing up, the people in my life were defensive, rigid and selfish. They would choose to prioritise their own needs over mine and over thegood of the relationship. Anna prioritised our relationship. This is actually mind blowing for me. I didn’t see it before but I now clearly see… there are two people here, one standing on each side of this glass wall and we are both making an effort.

I Don’t Think We’ll Ever Get Past This.

Is it posible to repair this rupture?

I sent Anna this text just after our last video session.

Hi Anna,

It was so good to see you today. I genuinely felt that you were happy to be speaking to me which was so lovely and unexpected. I barely slept last night worrying about what it might be like to reconnect with you again, I was really upset at the thought that everything would feel different. Once again it’s like I forgot how nice you are! I think in the long run (although this has been so hard) it might actually strengthen our work together and our connection. Because I believe that you’re going to hold space for me to share my whole experience of it all which has the potential to be very healing.

It did feel different, I am sad that we can’t sit in the same room together and that you can’t sit next to me or give me a hug. But I’m so grateful that we are both able and willing to connect on video call. Thank you for coming back to me, Anna.

I hope this isn’t overstepping the mark but I have a couple of observations…

Would you be up for repositioning your device so that I have a better view of you? If you sit your laptop (or whatever it is) on a box or books or something so that it’s the same height as your face and if you were able to sit a little further away from the laptop so I can see more of you. Also if there was a way to bring more light to your face so that I can see you a bit clearer? With a lamp or you facing the window. I think it might help me feel your presence if I can see you better.

l’m sure you’ve done this already but you can set up a trial zoom session without inviting anyone. That way you can test out what it looks like for the recipient. You just click on ‘host a meeting’. You can see yourself on the screen and move things about in preparation. I did that before we spoke this morning.

Anyway, it’s up to you of course, do whatever feels comfortable for you, I just thought there’s no harm in asking and sharing my reflections on the experience. Even if you change none of that I’m obviously happier talking to you on video than not talking to you at all!

I wish the audio was as clear as it is on the phone because it was hard to hear you sometimes. I guess we’ll just have to play around with it and also just get used to it being different. I’m going to look online to see what the best settings are so that we get the most out of the sessions.

Hope the rest of your weekend is good. I hope you’re able to enjoy this lovely weather.

See you Tuesday.


Zoom session number 2

We connected and her visual popped up on the screen. Immediately I could see she had changed things up as per my message, I thanked her for moving things around but I felt weird about it, uncomfortable that I had to ask. She was sitting a bit further away from the screen and the lighting was better. Everything about it was so much better. I said I hoped she wasn’t offended by my message. She said she wasn’t offended but she wondered why I hadn’t felt able to tell her about the visual and audio problems during the session. I said, ‘I don’t think I was really that aware of it in the call, it was only in retrospect. I put the lack of feeling connected down to it being ages since we spoke and I assumed it would feel like this from now on, there will be a big gap between us because of all that’s happened… but when I was reflecting on it I realised that seeing and hearing you properly is really important for me to feel a connection.’ Anna said, ‘I was wondering if you are trying to recreate the space we have in the therapy room? With the distance we have between us when we’re sitting opposite each other?’ I said, ‘I can’t even put it into words, it just feels better seeing more of you, it feels like I’m sitting with a human being,’ she said, ‘instead of a floating head?’ and we laughed. Honestly, I’m feeling annoyed just typing this out, why is this so hard for me to explain and for her to understand? It’s really not that deep or complicated, I just wanted her to sit in a well lit room where I could see her… has she never had a video call with someone before? Has she never seen anyone’s home filmed videos on youtube? This is basic video call 101… make yourself seen and heard and make yourself comfortable! But then I knew she’d not be great at it. She is not technically minded and she is not visually self conscious. This is triggering me because I don’t want to see these weaknesses in her. I want to respect and have total faith in her. I know that my inner critic will take these details and weave a fucking magic carpet for me to ride away on. All of the reasons that she is incompetent and can’t help me.

Anna asked me what I wanted to focus on today and I said I didn’t know what to focus on. I said, ‘there is just so much and I think it’s going to take us weeks and weeks… and I don’t even know if it’s possible when we’re doing it this way, on video, it’s very weird and just doesn’t feel the same.’ She said she understood and said, ‘I am here, I’m listening and we will work on this for as long as you need. What feels important right now?’ I said, ‘I was really disappointed in the session on Saturday, I didn’t really connect to you. I wanted to. I was really glad to see you, like relieved that you were alive. But… I really wanted it to be more sort of… I imagined crying, I imagined this big moment when I saw you and it wasn’t like that and it feels like, why? Why would I cry with Linda and not you? I’ve got so much more with you I should be able to trust you enough to feel the feelings with you but I don’t feel anything, it’s all numb.’ Anna said, ‘why do you think that barrier might be up for you right now?’I said, ‘well I talked it out with myself this morning. I thought about crying with Linda so easily and how first of all it was right there, I didn’t have a choice, I was grieving you dying and the tears just kept coming. Also, I don’t have any attachment shit with her so there was nothing to lose. Also, hasn’t hurt me. It was easier to tell her how I felt about you because it wasn’t about her!’ Anna asked me what the fantasy was that I’d made up in my head about what would happen if I said it all to her. I said, ‘I feel that I will tell you how angry and upset and absolutely beside myself I’ve been feeling and you’’ listen and you’ll sit there and say you are sorry it was so hard for me and that it makes sense that I feel this way and I won’t believe you. You’ll say all the right words but I just don’t believe a word of it, it all just feels like bull shit. You’re just saying what needs to be said… client says x, therapist says y. It doesn’t really mean anything anymore. Maybe it never did.’ I can’t remember exactly what she said here but it was something about noticing that this is a pattern for me – not believing her, feeling that she’s just doing her job and that it’s not genuine care. I was reflecting on this on my walk this morning and I realised that this is a multi-layered belief from many many abandonments growing up. It comes from my mother never being sincere in here life. Saying anything just to get her own way. It comes from my dad saying anything to keep the peace as his temper rises hidden inside him then suddenly explodes unexpectedly, terrifyingly. My parents emotionally abandoned me numerous times and then physically turned their backs on me as soon as possible. The only people in my life who were safe, at school, my teachers who I really believed cared for me, who were there for me time and again and never turned me away when I went to them for help and support, the day school stopped that support stopped too. And I was left with nothing. They only cared because it was their job too. Just like my mum would say, ‘I don’t like you and I HAVE to love you because I’m your mother…’ people only ‘care’ when they HAVE to. And Anna doesn’t really care about me. The minute she is ill or something else happens she’s gone. I know it because it happens. And I’m not feeling sorry for myself I’m feeling very strong in my position that I am right, I shouldn’t let people in.

Back to the session. Anna said, ‘so if this is the therapy and the importance of therapy is in the reparative nature of the relationship, that you get to express a whole spectrum of emotions and we focus on working through it, then is there a way that you can safely begin to express how it was for you?’ I said, ‘I just feel like it’s a total waste of time and actually also it scares me because I think it’ll push you over the edge again.’ She said, ‘what do you think I might say to you.’ I said, ‘that you hear that I’m angry and feel like there’s no hope and that I’m right and it’s probably best to not continue working together.’ She responded really quickly with, ‘so, how likely is it that I will say that?’ I said, ‘really fucking likely actually coz it already happened and you were away for 4 fucking weeks!’ she nodded and again responded quickly with, ‘so the worst case scenario already happened.’ I looked away and said, ‘yeah it did. It really was the worst.’ She said, ‘and you survived.’ I said, ‘I survived, but WE might not.’ I started to feel a bit dissociative and took a drink of water and stretched and looked out the window.

I said, ‘It’s almost like it happened to someone else I can barely remember it. I had to look back over my journals to remind myself just how broken up I was by it all. I could barely function. I completely went into myself. I didn’t tell Adam I just got in the car. When I got your text I got in my car and drove to the loch. I sat there crying my fucking eyes out in the car, sobbed, it was the worst pain in my chest like total panic and fear. I got out and walked a bit and I could have walked right into the loch and never gone back to the car. I was physically shaking from it all, from the emotions. I felt completely beside myself and alone in these very dark empty feelings. I was certain you were dying and now looking back I can see it seems ridiculous that I went to such an extreme but…’ Anna interrupted and said, ‘no I don’t think so, this wasn’t some far fetched fantasy, it was a very real scenario, the virus, everything was moving very quickly and there is a possibility that people we are close to will die. It didn’t feel ridiculous to me, it’s a real concern.’ I said, ‘so in that case… I mean, I don’t even know if you had the fucking virus so if you didn’t then you could still get it and you could still die for it, so it isn’t even over with!’ Anna said, ‘yes uhu.’ I said, ‘so your response makes me think you didn’t have the virus… fuuuck this is going to drive me insane and I don’t even know if it’s a self imposed boundary or if it’s a boundary of yours and I cant even ask you… fuuuuck why is it so hard to ask the fucking question?’ she said, ‘because you don’t want to hear the answer.’ I took a big breath and I’m pretty sure I rolled my eyes. I told her I was feeling spacey and I shifted about and took a drink of water. I pulled Luna onto my lap and stroked my fingers into her thick fur. I’m thinking about this now and I don’t even know if how I feel about this is valid or not. I feel like she was wrong to hold this boundary. If she didn’t have the virus, yet she knew that I was going through this deep grief and panic, why wouldn’t she tell me she didn’t have the virus? As a friend said to me, these are completely unusual times and boundaries aren’t rules they are flexible and they change depending on the circumstances. These were not normal circumstances. She knew I was in crisis so much so that she remind me of our crisis arrangement… referring me to fucking a&e if I was suicidal. She knew I was going through hell. In the session I said to her, ‘you didn’t just have a cold, no one has a cold for 4 weeks… but if it wasn’t a virus then I assume it was a mental or emotional thing, that you weren’t coping with everything and then I cried down the phone at you twice and it was too much for you.’ She said in a firm voice, ‘you didn’t make me sick, Lucy!’ I said, ‘I don’t believe you.’ She said, ‘well you don’t have that power.’ I’m thinking in my head now… burnout happens! But burnout is not because of a clients needs it’s because of a therapists lack of boundaries… so that brings me to not knowing if I’m being unreasonable or not. Maybe she needed to maintain the boundary for herself. At some point she said that I really like boundaries, they help me feel safe. This is true but also it surely isn’t black and white. How does she decide when it is appropriate to bend the boundary and when she should hold it? I said to her, ‘I think we’re using the same word but it holds a different meaning for each of us. I’m hearing you say boudnaries as if it’s a caring and nice thing but when I talk about boundaries it feels punishing and withholding.’ I don’t remember what she said there. I feel like the video call makes it harder to take in what is being said or maybe I’m better at remembering when I am feeling safely connected to her and when I feel more guarded and protective it’s harder to absorb what she’s saying.

After I said I felt spacey Anna said, ‘is this reminding you of your mum?’ On reflection I know she asked me this because my mother is usually the one that triggers my dissociation. And just writing that made me have some sort of split second realisation that this… just this statement ‘my mother is the main trigger for my dissociation’ – what more proof do I need that she was abusive? I instinctively invalidate myself so much but my body tells me all that I need to know. I didn’t ever feel safe with her. So, Anna asking me if this reminded me of my mother angered me. I didn’t know it at the time but looking back I can see that it felt invalidating, as if she was saying, ‘your anger here is disproportionate to what is happening now so it must be transference from childhood’… I’m sure she wasn’t saying that but I will need to bring this up with her because what I said to her was, ‘it may be something to do with my mum but it doesn’t feel like that right now,’ when what I want to say now is, ‘this is fucked up, difficult and painful shit and I’m hurt and angry at you, your behaviour was the thing that hurt me even people without mother issues would find this painful, don’t blame it on my mother it was you!’

I said, ‘what it is bringing up is the really painful reality that this is your work. You are so fucking important to me but I am just your work. I mean you know so much about me, you know more about me than anyone else on this planet and I know fucking nothing about you and I’m not even entitled to information about why you have to stop working with me instead I just have to sit here wondering and worrying, asking Linda every few days if you’re alive. I mean you told me you were sick in a text… I don’t even deserve a fucking phone call to tell me that you’re dropping off the planet for god knows how long, instead you just send me a generic text because I’m not owed anything!’ at this point she moved or made a noise, I was ranting and not looking at her but she responded in some way. I think maybe she had thought that the texts were good and useful and boundaried and hadn’t considered that I’d want more than just a text. I can’t remember where this led but I went on to say that the two phone sessions were really hard. She said something about boundaries in the therapeutic relationship being important and I said it felt rejecting.

I said, ‘I was so upset in the phone sessions, I’ve never cried like that with you before. In fact I’ve never cried with anyone like that. Sobbing on the phone and in the last one, I don’t know it’s like I’ve enmeshed you and me and it feels like you were feeling what I was feeling and I don’t even know what is real and what is not. You just didn’t feel like the normal you and I felt like you were just as upset as I was and like it was too much for you. I believe that you already knew you were going to be off and you were preparing me for that, it was really intense but it felt like you couldn’t contain it all for me and you were struggling with everything that was going on and you thought to yourself, ‘I need to put up a barrier here between me and this girl because she is causing me to feel worse’ and that was it, no more contact.’ Anna thought for a moment with a sort of puzzled look on her face and then said, ‘I didn’t know I was going to be off, I was still working at that point.’ I said, ‘I’m sorry but I don’t believe you.’ Anna said, ‘Shall I tell you what my thoughts were on why I was telling you to prepare for me being ill?’ I nodded and she said, ‘The covid stuff just suddenly started ramping up very quickly and I wanted to make sure we had that conversation just in case anything happened. I was still working at that point I wasn’t ill I didn’t know I was going to be ill but a lot of people were getting ill and it was important that we had a plan in place. I’m sorry that I got sick right after that phone session, it wasn’t good timing, but I am really glad we had that conversation and we were able to talk about it being Linda. Then in your text you said that if it was going to be more than two weeks you would want to work with Linda. I felt it was good we’d had that talk.’ I said, ‘I didn’t feel I had a choice, I wasn’t able to cope by myself I don’t feel like I can fully express to you what it was like.’ Anna said, ‘it was important that I look after myself and it works both ways. Prior t the phone sessions you had to take a break from the sessions when you were ill. You were looking after yourself. A year ago you would have come to your sessions ill, you would never have cancelled 3 sessions.’ I said, ‘I wish I had come but I wasn’t well enough.’ I feel like it’s not the same thing, I told her what was wrong with me. I had a virus with a cough so I needed to stay in the house. It feels like she is using this against me. as if to say – you cancelled these session so I did it back to you… I don’t see the relevance in bringing it up. I hold my tongue too much with her I need to just say what’s on my mind because that is where the healing will happen.

We moved on and I said, ‘It was really weird working with Linda. I had to very quickly connect with her to get the most out of working with her. It was good and helpful but then I’d have moments of feeling really guilty talking about you. I didn’t want to betray your trust… most of the time I was just really sad and grieving, I wasn’t bitching about you and I’d ask her permission before talking about you…’ Anna smiled and said, ‘Lucy, it’s okay! It’s okay… you’re allowed to talk about how you feel. It really is okay.’ I said, ‘at one point Linda said that we were obviously doing very deep attachment work and that made me feel deep shame and…’ Anna said, ‘lets stay with that feeling of shame for a bit, do you know where the shame came from?’ I said, ‘well yeah that’s just therapy speak for you’re fucked up. Like when I’m writing reports and I’ll say something like, ’Dylan is energetic and very sociable,  when what I actually mean is he can’t sit still and won’t shut up’ Anna finished that sentence with me and smiled and said, ‘That’s not what she said though is it. You know about attachments, you’ve read about it.’ I nodded and said, ‘but it still means like oh you’re doing hard long deep work because you have massive issues…. God the inner critic is having a fucking field day with all this, telling me you and Linda think I’m intense and needy and no wonder you wanted a break from me.’ Anna said, ‘and what do we say to the inner critic?’ I paused for a bit and then said, ‘I’m feeling a compassionate response actually, I don’t want to tell her to fuck off.’ Anna said, ‘okay lets hear the compassion!’ I laughed and said, ‘right… um… well… okay maybe I would say, I know you’re trying to protect me, thank you for that, thank you for trying to keep me safe, I know you think you’re going to get hurt again but it’s not helping here. I want to try to connect to Anna…’ Anna was nodding and smiling and said, ‘yeah it makes sense that the protective parts are there, I really let you down.’ I said, ‘but I didn’t feel this walled up with Linda,’ and Anna said, ‘she was there for you when I wasn’t. She didn’t hurt you like I did. You talked to her about the wall between you and me, you boarded that wall up. That makes sense. I imagine you didn’t want to come back to me,’ I said, ‘yeah, I didn’t… I read your text telling me you were ready to start up your work again and actually I just felt like saying, ‘fucking good for you! NOW you’re ready? I’ve only had to wait 4 fucking weeks with no replies and now you’re ready? Great! Well maybe I don’t wanna come back…’ I told Linda I was in no rush to go back to you. I didn’t want you to come back before you were ready because actually things were working fine with us.’ There was a silence and I sort of glanced at her. She said, ‘so what made you come back?’ I felt a wave of something when she said that, like a sadness. I said, ‘because I like you and we have worked hard at this and I want to try to make it work and because I do have this overall perspective you know, I do know that this is my main core wound and that I need to work at this rupture with you I need to give you the chance to heal it with me.’

I said, ‘I don’t know if you remember our last session in the centre. It was February 29th and you were sitting beside me and I was talking to you about how I could never tell my mum anything because she would tell everyone and you said to me that you completely understood why it was so hard for that small part of me to trust you and then you said that you hoped she was listening as you told her that she could test you any way she wanted… and I remember thinking for ages, how could I possibly test that? We don’t know anyone mutual, how could I test that you won’t talk about me to people, that you won’t betray my trust? Then the universe threw this massive fucking curveball and I suddenly had Linda there in front of me who did know you. I asked her what you had told her about me and I don’t know if this is the truth but she told me that you hadn’t told her anything about me, I don’t know if that’s true but she said all you said was you asked would she work with a client of yours while you’re off and that was it.’ Anna said, ‘yes that’s right. That’s all I said. I told her I was sick and that I had a client who needed some support and asked if she could help, told her you were agreeable and said I wasn’t sure how long I’d be off. She said yes could work with you and that I could give you her email address so I told her your name and that you planned on getting in touch with her. She told me when you emailed her and that was it.’ I nodded and wasn’t quite sure how I felt about that. I think it’s one of those situations that feels like she can’t win because it almost feels rejecting if she didn’t ever ask Linda how I was’ but also I want her to be professional and not disclose anything. Maybe this is like what my friend was saying earlier about boundaries… they are flexible and responsive to the changing needs. Anna could ask if I was doing okay and Linda could say that I was coping with her support without going into details that breach my privacy and confidentiality. Maybe they did have that kind of interaction but it possibly doesn’t feel right to share that with me. or maybe I’m being very egotistical to imagine they wouldn’t have anything better to say than talk about me. Also, I don’t know what Anna meant by ‘agreeable’. Did she mean ‘in agreement?’ I told her that I found it easy to build trust very quickly with Linda, that it felt like I was starting off a few steps up the ladder because I knew that Anna knew and trusted her. I said, ‘I don’t know why I brought that up,’ and she said, ‘I think you do,’ I tried to retrace my steps and she said, ‘It shows trust, you could trust me and my judgement and through trusting me you could trust her…’ I said, ‘oh yeah I mean that’s absolutely the case and I did feel supported by you through Linda… coz she knew you and you had connected us.’ Anna was smiling and nodding and saying she was pleased about that.

At one point I told Anna that I’d discussed the texts with Linda and that we had this boundary where you wouldn’t reply. Linda had told me she doesn’t normally do that with clients but would I want to do that with her. I said, ‘…and I immediately said NO, no… I do not want to start the messages with you!’ and Anna laughed knowingly and I laughed too. She is right, I do like boundaries. It makes me feel safer when I know where I stand. I don’t want there to be the possibility that I can take things too far and push someone away. She asked me what was going on for me coz I think I was smiling and I said, ‘I like it when we laugh together, it reassures me that things might be okay between us… I may not know details of your life but the person that has sat in front of me for two and a half years, whatever makes a person who they are, the responses and the way you are with me, I do know that about you… maybe that’s what is meant when people say they feel a connection with someone.’ Anna said, ‘yes it’s knowing someone and connecting and being familiar.’

It was quiet for a moment. Maybe even a full minute which is quite a long time when you’re being watched on a screen. In this quiet stillness I sort of calmly asked, ‘When I was crying on the phone to you… did you feel overwhelmed by me?’ She said, ‘I felt very moved Lucy.’ I said, ‘I upset you?’ and she said, ‘no, I was moved and honoured, knowing how hard it has been for you to share your feelings, that you were sharing your feelings with me. I’m really sorry that the last phone session felt unsettling for you, that must have made it feel even harder for you to then deal with me going off.’ I shrugged and sort of curled the corner of my top lip. I said, ‘I do feel pretty fragmented. Part of me wants to just say it’s all fine and to forget it. Another part of me can barely look at you she’s so angry, she just wants to tell you to fuck off. Like why would I ever trust you again? It feels like it’s all gone to shit and it can’t be repaired. I will never trust you again. Maybe I never did. There’s all this confusing noise in my mind… one part of me saying what’s the point of talking about all of this you’re never going to believe her again just fucking cut and run, then there’s another part that feels like my life’s fucking turned upside down and I need to be talking about the very real shit show that family life is right now. Gracie’s lost the plot Anna and I do not know how to parent her. Everything’s blown out the water and I need to work on that in therapy!’ I was aware we only had ten minutes to go. Anna said, ‘What’s the important thing here? I’m not saying Gracie’s not important, she is, but what is the really important thing right now?’ I said, ‘that we mend this? But then I think maybe we can just deal with all the family stuff without mending things between us because you’re still a good therapist and I can still get that worked on. Coz I feel like I’m having to waste my fucking precious therapy time dealing with this rupture that wasn’t even my fault, I didn’t cause this and now I’m having to spend my time working on it.’ She said, ‘can you think of a reason why it might be worthwhile to deal with it?’ and I said, ‘Yeah coz this IS the work I mean THIS IS IT! This is the core of it all. The pain of this. It’s all attachment stuff… its lacking trust. It’s wanting to walk away when things go wrong. It’s believing nothing will work out, we will never move past this, I will never forget and I can never trust you again.’ She nodded and said that it absolutely was the work and it was testament to my strength and determination that I did go back to her and that I am prepared to do very difficult work to get to where I want to be.

In the last couple of minutes I shared my analogy with Anna that I had explored with Linda about the therapeutic journey being like a car. Before this break I believed her to be the engine and that I would break down if she wasn’t there but through this ordeal I have begun to see that she is a guide, a co-pilot and I am the driver. She said it was a really good analogy and that she was glad that I learned through this that I am in charge of my own healing. That she wished it hadn’t been this way but was glad that at least I was able to see how resilient I am and capable of pushing through, asking for help, looking for solutions and hoping for repair.

At the end I said I wished I could have a hug and she smiled and said, ‘I know.’ I said, ‘do you think we’ll ever be int hat room again… she asks with 60 seconds to go!?’ and Anna said, ‘I hope so but who knows what will happen… businesses are being affected by this too.’ I said, ‘but if they go bust will we have to stop working together?’ she said, ‘there are other therapy businesses.’ I thought for split second she meant I could find another therapist and she said, ‘I would just go and rent a room from somewhere else.’ I nodded and smiled and said, ‘I just wish everything would go back to normal I hate the uncertainty… anyway… thank you Anna… see you Saturday.’

A Reunion…

…we found our way back to each other.

Yesterday I met with Anna on video call. I hadn’t seen her in 7 weeks and our last phone session was 4 weeks ago. That is the longest I’ve gone without talking to her in two and a half years. The night before our session I was crying in bed. Big silent tears rolling down my cheeks and pooling in my ears imagining seeing her face again for the first time after going through the very real grief of believing she was dying or dead. I placed my hand on my chest in an attempt to comfort that small part of me and whispered to her, ‘you can show Anna these tears, you will be able to tell her what it’s been like and how much it has hurt’.

As I write this I am aware of the many kind souls who have checked in on me since yesterday morning, curious to know how the session went. I feel like I want to give you an account of this spectacular reunion full of tears and relief. Like crashing waves against rocks. What actually happened was more like a tentative reaching out towards each other. Like the lapping froth of a tide that’s moving so slowly, you barely notice. I was very nervous all morning running up to this session and by the time I’d organised Adam and the kids upstairs and out of the way and sat down to my laptop, all of the pain and grief and panic seemed to belong to someone else. I was just glad to be reconnecting with Anna. I imagined her feeling nervous about what it was going to be like to speak to me. Not only will she be holding the awareness that this has been very hard for me but also, on a technical level, I know she isn’t confident with doing video calls. My attention was turned towards her rather than turned inwards. This is a familiar coping strategy which keeps me in my adult.

I’m trying to encapsulate what the first few seconds of the video call was like. I expected I would burst into tears at seeing her but that didn’t happen. My video wasn’t coming through for her so I could see her ‘waiting face’ but she couldn’t see me. I faffed with it and tentatively said hello. I knew she wasn’t going to be very good at setting herself up for the call and I was right. The visual was kind of dark… not great lighting. Most of the light was coming from the screen she was viewing me on. Whatever devise she was using (let’s say it was a laptop) was on a surface that was about her shoulder hight (so awkwardly high) but with the screen tilted back so that it was viewing up at her. So she was kind of peering down into this high up camera…. it didn’t look comfortable, she didn’t look relaxed and grounded like she always does in sessions. It looked awkward and as if she didn’t know what she was doing. I hate that feeling. All of this in three seconds. Or maybe even one second.

I still have an inkling that her other clients have stopped working with her and it’s just me left. I can’t remember if I’ve blogged about that before. Anna has a day job and does her therapy job one evening and one morning a week. I think she only ever had 6 or 7 clients max and over the last few months she’s made a few slots available to me that previous had clients in them. Then judging by the last few texts before we stopped I get the impression she was offering the option to other clients for them to pause their work with her until the lockdown is lifted. Basically, for a number of reasons I feel that I am now her only client. That brings up some interesting feelings that I might explore here later. Also, Anna has her supervision sessions over the phone so, this could be the first time she’s done a zoom call with anyone. She did say to me in our last phone session that it’s lucky I knew how to use technology confidently before all this happened because ‘some of us are scrabbling around trying to sort this all out in a panic’… she isn’t confident with any of this.

She was in a corner of a room with the edge of a cupboard or wardrobe on one side and a door behind the other half of the visual. The audio wasn’t great and I kept hearing the kind of interference you get when the microphone is trying to limit outside noise as if someone had the tv on in the other room. Again, all of this in the first few seconds. I was pleased to be talking to her but there was an underlying discomfort. I want to feel that she knows what she’s doing. I think it’s about feeling safe with her because if I sense a need in her my caretaking instinct pops up and I immediately become ‘capable, able, helping, empowering’ Lucy. I want to teach her how to do things better so that it makes me feel safe. FUCK. Wow. Okay… I just took a minute, hand on my chest as I let that sink in and the tears came. Wow. I did that all my life. Trying to fix my mother so she could love me the way I needed to be loved. Oh that poor little girl who tried so hard, in vein. She never received the love she was looking for from the person she so desperately tried to empower.

Back to the session. The audio was jumpy, the visual wasn’t that great, but she was there and I was there. I was initially a bit awkward (because of the very quick overall impression I got while clicking on) and she said, ‘hi Lucy, it’s really so lovely to see you, ooh I’ve really missed you!’ and I could barely take it in. I just kept saying, ‘yeah’ quietly and nodding. I took a big breath and said, ‘I’ve really fucking missed you too… it’s so good to see your face. I haven’t sat with you for 7 weeks Anna… it’s been a long time.’ She agreed and said, ‘and I am so sorry for that Lucy, I’m so sorry I haven’t been there for you. I have wanted to be there. I never forgot about you, I held you in mind.’ I said, ‘I really wish I could feel that holding…’ She asked me how I’ve been and I said, ‘I actually don’t even know where to start, this is so weird and everything has gone out my mind… so… are you okay now?’ She smiled and nodded and said she was fine now and thanked me for asking. I didn’t ask her what was wrong with her. I don’t know if she will ever tell me. I told her I wished I was sitting in a room with her. She said she wished that too.

Anna talked about how we can set things up before the sessions so that it feels like a session. Though it annoyed me a bit when she said this because I felt like I’d done more setting up than she had… at least she could see me clearly! Anyway, she suggested I light a candle like she does and that I take some time before the session to relax into things. I told her I missed driving to the session, I missed being in my car. I talked about other things that I miss that have gone from my life because of the lockdown. I shared some of the thoughts I’d explored in my last blog post, about the lockdown being retraumatising to me. I told her how it felt like it did when I was a child and especially when I was a teenager and the only safe space (school) ended and I was left with nothing. I told her that I was plunged into these emotional flashbacks and then just when I needed her the most, she was gone. She said, ‘I am hearing you Lucy, I hear that everything was stripped from your life and it felt very familiar to you. Then I left you alone in it. I’m so sorry I wasn’t there for you.’ I just nodded and told her it didn’t really feel real. I said, ‘I was able to talk a lot about that with Linda.’

I thanked her for encouraging me to work with Linda and she said, ‘I was so proud of you that you took a leap and sought the help you needed…’ I told her I felt like I was cheating on her with Linda, I said, ‘it felt like I was betraying you, I wanted it to be you, not her but I had to dive into working with her because I really thought I was never going to see you again. I really believed that you were either dead or dying.’ Anna said, ‘that must have been so devastating.’ I just nodded and kept talking. My guess is I wasn’t ready to share just how awful it had been because it didn’t really feel like anything anymore. I sort of felt over it all. I said, ‘…yeah so I guess that’s why I sent you the texts because I wanted to give you a window into what we were doing, I wanted you to know I was still anchored to you but buoyed by her in the interim.’ Anna nodded enthusiastically and said, ‘I got that, yeah I got that… I was really pleased to get your texts.’ I said, ‘really though? Coz I just imagined you lying there getting really angry with me thinking, ‘for fuck sake Lucy stop texting me, can you not give me a break!’ either that or I imagined you were dead and one of your relatives would keep seeing my messages flashing up on your screen… but I find it so hard to believe that you were happy to read my messages.’ She said, ‘that must have been so hard to have been alone with those feeling. I was really happy to read your messages, really. And when you told me that Linda had entered into our analogy of the glass wall! I was so moved by that. I was so glad that you weren’t alone in your analogies… I know it works for us but I was really grateful that Linda was able to step into that with you and it must have been so comforting to have a visual for how we were protecting our connection through distance by temporarily boarding up the glass doors.’ I really felt that she meant this. She was very sincere and I got this feeling that she really fucking cares. It makes me feel a bit uncomfortable to imagine her caring deeply about me, this must be the ever present remnants of my disorganised attachment… ‘don’t get too close!’ It’s like my inner critic is saying, ‘wow she’s a weirdo for liking you, get away from her!’

I said, ‘I’ve been reflecting about this boundary of mine, the one I imposed right at the start about not knowing anything about your life…’ Anna nodded and smiled. I spontaneously laughed as I said, ‘you know I learned more about Louse in 6 sessions than I’ve learned about you in 2 and a half years. Not everyone is good at holding that boundary!’ she laughed and I said, ‘I never really gave you the chance to show me how you would normally work because I was so firm with that boundary immediately. You may be completely different with other clients. I always thought it was you who was walled up behind this boundary of being a blank slate, when really it was me who made that happen.’ She was smiling and nodding and I realised that actually, Anna is a soft and gentle person. She has never been this harsh and unforgiving, easily angered and unpredictable dragon I imagined… that is pure transference. These imaginings fill me with dread and fear. If I take a moment to imagine what I must have endured as a child, for this to be what I expect from a person who has only ever shown me kindness. That’s very sad. I said, ‘in the first session Linda was telling me that she isn’t TA trained but that she had been on a day course and she kept checking in with me which was really sweet. She also would ask me, ‘what would Anna do or say here that helps,’ which was also nice.’ Anna said, ‘aw that’s lovely,’ I said, ‘she told me that you guys work at the centre together and then she said that you were a bit older than her… I don’t know why she told me that,’ we both laughed and Anna laughed a lot. I got the feeling that they have the kind of friendship where they can take the piss out of each other which is nice. I said, ‘so that’s where I stopped her and explained the boundary and asked her to not tell me any more… she still proceeded to tell me where she lives, that she has cats, that she worked with the police before becoming a therapist… honestly! Haha.’ Anna laughed. I continued, ‘she’s got on her website how old she is so then it makes it easier to work out how old you are!’ Anna said, ‘do you want to know how old I am?’ I thought a lot and then said, ‘you know, part of me does! This self harm obsessed part of me desperately wants to know everything about you… but no, I know this is what I need right now. I need to not let any of this be about you. You give me your age and then I have a ballpark for how old your kids could be and I can imagine what era you grew up in and stories in my mind about your life and I just can’t let myself go down the road of feeding that obsessive preoccupied part of me.’ Anna said, ‘that’s okay, it makes sense, it’s not important, you don’t need to know about Linda’s cats or how old I am, this is your therapy and your session and it’s not about us, it’s not about me.’ I said, ‘I’ve reflected about this and written about it. I’ve talked to other people online about their experiences and some feel that it’s unnecessary for me to have this very firm boundary. Some are happy to know bits and pieces of their therapist’s lives. But I just really feel that for me it would be too painful. Maybe at some point I will be able to let a little of that in but right now I know I need to keep this boundary.’ She said, ‘for you it makes perfect sense and I respect that.’

I continued, ‘with my mum, I had to bend and mould myself to her needs. I liked what she liked, I believed what she believed… hated what she hated. I had to be what she wanted me to be, to keep the peace and to make her like me. Then with Paul, it was the same. He told me the music he liked and I bought it and listened to it and made myself know it by heart. He told me where he’d lived and holidayed and I researched the places and looked them up on street view to the point where I felt I’d been there myself. I tried to make myself a version of him to try to make him like me. And then with you, you let me have this boundary. And it took a long time, but by giving me this space, you allowed me to find myself. Not a version of me that was likeable to you. Just me. A ‘me’ that I didn’t even know was in here. So, it has been very powerful, having this space to be me with no knowledge of what you like and don’t like, no knowledge of what your beliefs are.’ Anna said, ‘it has been a very important part of your work. Enforcing that boundary and upholding it. You have had your boundaries violated in so many ways, it was vital that I respect this.’ We just sat with that for a bit.

I said, ‘I can’t even begin to tell you what the past few weeks have been like, it feels like it’s been a year or more. It’s been so hard. Things in the family have been hard… things with Grace, oh my god that’s been hard. She has found this lockdown so challenging. Nights with her up screaming and shouting that she hates herself, Anna, it’s been heart breaking and I couldn’t be there for her. I screamed back, it’s been awful. I tried to mend it but I feel like we are in the middle of this very hard time and it’s impossible to see how it can be made to feel better…’ Anna said, ‘you said you couldn’t be there for her but I’d encourage you to think about the bigger picture here. This has been a very unsettling time and you lost all normal life and you lost me, it makes sense that you’d find it hard to hold space for her.’ I said, ‘Yeah I talked to Linda about this, though that was hard coz she doesn’t know me like you do and I didn’t want her to think I was a horrific person, she asked me how old I felt at the time of shouting at Grace and I told her I felt about 8 and she said it made sense that I found it hard to support Grace, how could I mother her when I felt like a child myself. That really helped me understand what was going on for me, but I still need to work on it you know, it’s still happening!’ Anna seemed pleased that I had talked this through with Linda and she talked a bit about how these are unsettling times for us all and that the four of us spending all our time together was bound to bring certain things up. She talked about the importance of scheduling in time for breaks and exercise. She talked about giving my mind a break when I physically take a break. That when I’m having a bath for example, I need to let my mind switch off and take a break from the constant conversations in my head. I laughed and said it wasn’t so easy for me and said she knew that and that’s why it’s important.

I said, ‘I’m trying to remember what it was like… well in the first couple of sessions I was really struggling with thinking that it was all my fault, that you were off because I had broken you… I told Linda that my adult knew it wasn’t possible for me to hurt you just because I cried down the phone for two sessions but my child really felt like she’d been too much for you. But then Linda reflected that back to me and asked if I thought it really was my child or perhaps my inner critic… which obviously she was right.’ Anna looked sort of concerned and sad and said, ‘I knew that’s where you’d go. That’s your biggest fear, that you will be too much for me and you will break me,’ I nodded and told her I still feel like that’s what happened. I said, ‘Linda pointed out my tendency to polarise… to go to black and white thinking. I was going over and over these thoughts I was having about you. I’d said to Linda that I imagined you either had the virus and you were at deaths door, in hospital on a ventilator and I would be the last to know when you died… oh my god Anna it was horrendous I had the worst nightmares about you dying… then I would go to this other extreme imagining you lying on the sofa just kind of taking a break from things, choosing to not be there for me, glancing at your phone looking disinterested at my random texts… and Linda would be like, ‘hmmm are those the only two options?’ haha but then the more I explored it the only logical solution I came up with was that you had a breakdown and I had caused it. I was too much for you, too fucking needy and emotionally unstable and you couldn’t handle it and it triggered something in you so you had to stop working with me.’ Anna said, ‘hmm and what helped?’ This is one of those times when I think to myself – that’s really not a helpful statement Anna – but what I sense is happening is that she doesn’t know where to take it, she doesn’t want to tell me things I’m not directly asking her, she’s going slow and gentle and she’s just sussing things out, making a connection again. I think she will reflect on what we’ve covered today and she will have more to say about it over the coming weeks. I answered her question. I told her it helped to be able to tell Linda how I was feeling and just have her accept that. But also that it helped that Linda got me to reflect on whether it mattered why Anna was ill. Also I said, ‘but you know Anna, really nothing helped! Not really… time just passed and then here we are.’ Anna said, ‘I wonder if you would have felt differently if we hadn’t been going through a pandemic at the time of me having to go off?’ I said, ‘absolutely! It would have been hard but it wouldn’t have felt annihilating like it did! But I think we need more time to explore that one!’ She said, ‘we will make the time.’

At one point I said, ‘I don’t want to take your kindness in, I don’t want to believe that you are being genuine when you say you thought of me or that it’s nice to see me. I mean, I can hear you and I can see that you’re being genuine, I believe it in this logical part of my brain but there’s a block here at my throat and I feel none of it in my body.’ Anna said, ‘yes, that block has been there before, why do you think it’s there now?’ I said, ‘because I don’t want to believe it and be made a fool of.’ She said, ‘yes, you don’t want to be fooled into trusting me and then have me hurt you again.’ I looked puzzled and she said, ‘I really let you down. You needed me and I left you. That hurt a lot. You don’t want to be hurt again. You’re protecting yourself.’ I said, ‘I think it’s going to take a while for me to really open up to you about that.’ Anna asked me what ‘that’ meant and I said, ‘the past few weeks… and my pain… um, well the anger really, the anger.’ She nodded and smiled and said we could take all the time needed to work through it. I said, ‘I completely lost you from inside myself. There were points where I couldn’t feel any remnants of you at all… I said that in a text. I’m sorry for inundating you with texts!’ She said, ‘you didn’t send that many texts, just a couple!’ I nodded and said, ‘there were points where I felt like we never actually ever met… it was like I’d made you up. None of it felt real.’ Anna asked me what I had done to help me and I said, ‘I read over old session notes and really tried to absorb the words I’d written about our time together and how connecting and real it all was.’ Anna said, ‘well done for doing that. Well done for finding a way to feel the connection again! That was a really good idea.’

I said, ‘we had six sessions, me and Linda… and the first couple of sessions I cried so much.’ Anna said, ‘yeah I sensed in your text that the crying took you by surprise?’ I said, ‘well yeah I mean, I never found it easy, you know that, but it was right there in my throat all the time, like this living hell in me, this living grief… and the only person I could process it with was her and then when she told me you were okay the relief was immense. You know I could never have talked so freely with her had this happened a year ago…’ Anna nodded and said, ‘what helped Lucy? What helped the grief?’ I said, ‘talking about it and letting myself feel it… I felt it massively. It feels far away from me now but it engulfed me you know? And I felt weird talking to Linda about it… she didn’t really process any of the grief or anger with me she just gave me the space to talk about it and kept saying things like ‘isn’t it wonderful that you’re going to have so much to work on with Anna when you guys start working together again’ and then that would make another wave come because I really felt that I would never see you again. Linda never went into it with me she kept referring me back to the fact that I could take it to you.’ Anna said, ‘she held space for you, I’m glad she held space for you.’

At some point in all that Anna said, ‘it was a little weird for me too, knowing you were speaking to Linda, but it’s your therapy and I was glad… I trust her you know, I knew I could trust her with you, it was important that you had someone, I didn’t want you to feel alone in all of that. I knew it would be very difficult for you and it was so good you had someone. So, it was weird for me but also I was glad.’ I smiled and said it was interesting and reassuring to hear her say that. It felt like there’s this shared sacred bond there that felt like it should be protected. But that we momentarily let someone else in, just in this crisis, and now we’re working at patching up the damage.

I said, ‘I was thinking of texting you before this session. I was going to tell you that I was feeling a whole world of different things and I needed us to go slow and gentle… but then I realised I could just say it to you in the call… and I think it’s going to take us weeks to work through this but I do believe we will.’ Anna smiled and said she was proud of me for how able I am now to express my feelings and needs. How frightened I used to be to speak my mind and that has got easier.

I said, ‘It’s been interesting to work with someone different. I prefer the way you work. I like how you look deeply into stuff, you analyse with me and you turn me towards my emotions. Also, you know me… Linda kept dropping these bombs with like 60 seconds to go!  And by the way 50 minutes is so not as good as 60 minutes! So, yeah in one of the sessions she said she’d noticed a pattern of what I do when there are gaps… I had told her about the time when I first started working with you and you went on holiday so I arranged for a skype session in that time with Paul to have some sort of closure with him and then the past few weeks you weren’t available to me so I filled the gap with Linda. I guess she was trying to get me to look at why the gaps were so uncomfortable or what was it about the gaps that made them seem intolerable to experience on my own. I told her I felt defensive about this.’ Anna said, ‘good! Well done you!’ and I continued, ‘I said that there were reasons… for one, Paul never gave me the chance to end things properly with him and it felt like the right time to do it because I knew I had your support. And this ‘gap’ did not feel like a gap to me it felt like an ending. Obviously Linda knew what was wrong with you so maybe it was clear to her that I would eventually go back to you but for me, I really felt like I was never going to see you again and I needed to somehow adjust to working with someone else and process the grief with her, so it didn’t feel like a gap I was filling it felt like a transition, reluctantly!’ Anna said she understood and I don’t think we explored that much further.

The last ten minutes were spent having a laugh about me cutting my hair and all of the baking and eating I’ve been doing. She asked if I wanted to put dates in the diary and I laughed and said, ‘is it not the same every week?’ we agreed on that and I said, ‘okay then, that’s us… time up… thank you for this. I’m so glad we’re speaking again.’ She said, ‘me too Lucy, enjoy the rest of your day, speak to you Tuesday.’ And I closed the meeting window.

So that was that. I feel like it’s going to take some time to build up the trust and connection again but I’m okay with that. It won’t feel exactly the same as sitting with her but I am so grateful that we can both do video calls. I sent her a text last night thanking her for coming back to me and then (as politely as possible) giving her suggestions for how to reorganise her laptop and seating arrangement so I can see her better. I hesitated before sending it to her. I didn’t want to seem bossy and controlling. But then thought – why not!? I need to be able to see her properly and I need to relax into the session knowing she is comfortable and not sitting awkwardly. My brother said to me, ‘this is a service you’re paying for, it’s totally fine for you to ask her to make some modifications so that it suits you better!’ a friend said to me, ‘she’s always asking you if what she’s doing or saying is working for you so she will welcome this feedback.’ So yeah… she hasn’t and won’t reply but I will see on Tuesday if she took my advice!

Before Tuesdays Session I’m now going to read over my journal notes from the past few weeks in an attempt to tune myself in to how difficult it all was. I need to bring it to the surface to be able to work on it with Anna. Also, interestingly, I’ve had a desire to email Linda and thank her again. To let her know that I’ve reconnected with Anna and that the work she did with me helped so much. I won’t be doing that but I’m noticing the desire. This attachment stuff is so complex and confusing sometimes!

Reflections During Lockdown

On the eve of my reconnection with Anna.

I have been reflecting on how I’ve experienced the past month. How the virus and it’s impact on the world has changed my current way of living and how Anna’s absence in all of this has affected me.

I’ve been thinking about our collective experience of the pandemic. How some may have gone into their well rehearsed freeze response, shutting down emotional responses and feeling safe in their familiar coping strategies. Some may feel the panic rising – a more hyperareousal than hypo. Some may respond with resourcefulness and productivity, masking their feelings. However it is interpreted by our reptilian brain… the unconsious instincts we may be unaware of as we walk through empty towns and are faced with masked people who cross the street to avoid us. The fear of contracting or passing on this virus that has led us to wash our hands til they bleed red raw. It made me think about some of psychoanalyst Carl Jung’s work that I read years ago when I first became interested in different theories of psychology and the human brain.

The collective unconscious is sometimes called the objective psyche. It refers to the idea that a segment of the deepest unconscious mind is genetically inherited and is not shaped by personal experience. Jung believed that the collective unconscious was an inherited collection of knowledge and images that every human being has at birth. People are unaware of the items contained in their collective unconscious. However, at times of personal crisis, the psyche may open a door to the collective unconscious. The images contained in the unconscious are frequently manifested in dreams.

It makes me think of intergenerational trauma and intergenerational wisdom. The mothers, grandmothers and great grandmothers of our families passing down their traumas and their truths. The wars and famines, the tribes and rituals. Birthing their babies in caves lit by fire and howling at the moon. All experiences, emotional imprints, woven into the fibres of our being, our cells and the deepest parts of our brains. An intrinsic knowing that things can feel very right and they can feel very wrong. No matter our individual experiences, we know in our guts, our collective unconscious, what feels safe and what feels unsettling, dangerous.

The current scenes of the pandemic frequenting our tv screens, flooding our various social media feeds have a deep impact to those really paying attention. Our experiences when we leave the house have an affect on us all, both consciously and unconsciously. Our natural instincts are to protect ourselves and to fear the unknown. The invisible threat. It fires up our collective unconscious. There is a deeper impact than we’re aware of currently. Something only time will show.

For many of us, our lives have been turned upside down. If, like me, you grew up in chaos and uncertainty, subjected to emotional neglect and abuse then this ‘new normal’ may have an even deeper sense of impending doom. If, like me, you have fought hard to establish a sense of calm and composure in your adult life, if you’ve dedicated years of your life to building foundations and walls and connections and bonds and bridges and you have delicately and carefully, painstakingly built a life for yourself that feels safe and healthy and beautiful… then this ‘new normal’ feels devastating. It feels like someone has lit a match and burned down the precious world you made for yourself by yourself. The extensive, detailed and varied tapestry of your life that you so carefully laboured over is now singed and shrivelling at the edges and reduced down to a single patch. In an instant. Violently and while your hands were tied behind your back. It felt like all control and freedom was taken from us. It is an assault on all the senses.

For nearly two decades my days have been full, my mind has been busy. I have worked hard not only to build my career but also the other roles in my life – I have built a family and a home (a family home unlike any I lived in as a child). I have grown as a mother, a wife, a friend, a client. I have worked tirelessly at my journey through therapy – focusing purposefully on the goal of recovery. I have dedicated time and energy to building my fitness levels. Focused on fuelling my body and moving my body with a more mindful and loving effort than was ever demonstrated to me as a child. Overnight, many of these purposeful activities and freedoms were taken from me (as they were taken from everyone) and I found myself imprisoned in a forced lockdown. Restricted and forbidden to extend beyond these new limitations.

These forced restrictions were retraumatising for me. They felt like the stuck, alone, isolated, suffocating years of my youth. This is personal to my lived experience as a child. All of the joyful and purposeful things I had enthusiastically and sometimes bravely cultivated in my life as an adult were no longer allowed. I could no longer get in my car and drive to the gym to take part in a class that made me feel alive and fully in my body, part of a group of people all with a shared goal. This felt like I was plunged back to my childhood with a mother who wouldn’t let me join clubs or learn skills I was interested in. A mother who would ‘teach’ me to drive while she was drunk and needed a lift home. A mother who refused to pay for professional driving lessons. It took me years and three failed tests, all paid for by myself, before I finally passed my driving test and gained that desperately needed freedom. The lockdown meant that I could no longer go out for a meal with friends which felt reminiscent of my childhood when we never went for meals out. As an adult this has always felt like a luxury I gifted myself and a pleasure I gladly gave my children. I could no longer take my kids to the park or cinema or museum. Something I could count on one hand the amount of times we did when I was a child. I would pass the parks and longingly watch the other happy children as they played. Thanks to the lockdown I can’t hop on the train and stop in at a wee independent shop or walk to the cafe and sit in the corner journaling and enjoying a cappuccino made my someone else. I am no longer able to go and get my nails done or have my hair cut. A luxury I was never allowed as a child. I would have to endure my mother hacking at my hair whenever she felt like it just as she would hack at my fingernails until they bled at the quick. I would dissociate from the pain of these nail cuttings so much that I now feel close to passing out when I have to cut my own children’s nails. The lockdown dictates that I can no longer sit with my therapist and allow my soul to be filled up with her attunement and presence. An active listening and authentic caring that I never experienced growing up.

I am fully aware that these things that have been temporarily taken from me during this period of quarantine are all indulgent privileges. However they are all also significant triumphs in the new life I was forging for myself, post childhood trauma. Gifts I worked hard to be able to provide for myself. I am attempting to validate my personal experience, while also holding the truth that the very real warriors of this war against the virus are of course our keyworkers. There are always, always others worse off than us. I am holding this awareness as well. This experience has undeniably highlighted my privileges. The wealth of things I had introduced to my life that I now long for are the very things some people have never had the luxury of experiencing. I know this deeply because that was me. I was so very grateful for these things because I didn’t always have them and I’d worked hard to get them. I didn’t take them for granted but now I feel a deepened awareness of how much I had to lose.

I am still privileged now. My home is small but it’s safe and I have a garden. I love the people I live with and they don’t cause me harm. For this I am beyond grateful. I have technology and the internet that allows me to access a community online that keeps me from feeling completely isolated. I am able to afford therapy still, grateful that video sessions exist. I live in a rural village where the little shops are fully stocked with fresh produce and the rolling fields and single tracks always welcome my need to get outside. I am grateful that although our household income is being reduced, we will financially stay afloat. We have access to credit if we need it and we will be able to pay that back in time. It’s not ideal, it’s not part of my plan. But it’s better than it might have been for us ten years ago, twenty years ago… in childhood. I wouldn’t have survived this in childhood.

There is still this panic rising. Less frequently than when the lockdown was first established. This terror at the forced changes. The emotional flashbacks to times when I was locked in a room alone. To a time when I was refused access to friends. To a time when even school was taken from me and I no longer had my safe place and safe people. To a time when my only comfort was food. This lockdown has brought me to a very dark corner in a hidden room in the back of my mind that I have as yet not explored. The grief and overwhelm I’ve experienced was locked away for over twenty years. And I had to re-experience all of this without my attachment figure. Instead I had an emergency replacement that I had to attune to – learn to trust – very quickly – in emotional chaos. Thank god for Linda. She was the exact thing that I needed in the absence of Anna.

Just weeks before the lockdown Anna and I had a few of our most exposing, emotionally vulnerable and connecting sessions. We opened a space that had been locked away for a lifetime. My child was learning to trust her, to be seen by her, to love her and feel loved by her. On the one hand this feels like the worst timing ever. Just as we start to uncover the delicate core wound, this worldwide crisis happens and I can no longer sit with my safe person in our safe place. However, I am also grateful this has happened now, if it had to happen at all. My child has had a taste of her care and connection. Luna, smothered in Anna’s perfume, keeps that small part of me comforted and reassures her that the connection is real and strong and meaningful. I’m grateful that happened, even though it was just moments before this separation.

So, this collective unconscious… this deeper knowing that things just aren’t quite right just now. The awareness that so many of us are misplaced, put in danger, imprisoned (in many cases with an abuser), at risk, alone and isolated… Anna is experiencing it too. It connects us. It connects all of us. As I stand on my doorstep every Thursday evening and clap with my children, I glance over the road and up and down the street and I see my neighbours at their doors and windows clapping and smiling. I hear a trumpet proudly blasting out a triumphant tune. I hear a saxophone in the distance. I hear bagpipes and even a violin. I hear wooden spoons on pots and someone turns their stereo up loud so that Caledonia fills the air. There is a sense of community in this shared chaos. It moves me. I have a deep love for this place that has adopted me as one of its own. I feel at home here. Something I never felt as a child. We never stood still long enough for me to lay roots. On a deeper level the Thursday evening applaud for our keyworkers unsettles me to my core. It feels like we are in the eye of the tornado, while those on the frontline are caught in the twisting force of the storm as it wipes out tens of thousands of souls that were alive and well a few weeks ago.

There is of course a sense of luxury at all this time we have now suddenly gained. Time to bake and make crafts with my kids. Time to learn how to play an instrument. Time to sleep in til mid day and stay up til midnight of we choose. Time to watch more tv than necessary. Time to make home cooked meals every day and eat it as a family. Time to run and play and cycle. Time to write and draw. The very nature of my preoccupation with regret tells me I will look back on this pandemic (if I’m lucky enough to survive it) and wish I’d made more use of all this time. Enjoyed it more, not been so in my head.

I have a video session with Anna tomorrow morning. I noticed she’s already sent me the zoom link. I sat and studied that email, each letter she typed while sitting in her house thinking of me as she set up our meeting. She said she’s looking forward to seeing me. I can’t figure out how I feel. I can’t articulate it. Every emotion on the entire spectrum is swirling inside me like oil in a puddle. So much has happened since I last spoke to her four weeks ago. A friend said to me, ‘I’m hoping for you that it’s going to feel like going home. That familiarity that makes you feel so comfortable and at ease.’ This beautifully reframed things for me in my mind. I may fear her rejection and anger. I may fear my own anger. I may question our connection and her dedication to me, but it may also feel like a familiar coming home to a person who has been there for me consistently for years. Another friend reassured me that, ‘all the words in the world aren’t enough’ to express how I’ve felt in Anna’s absence. Yet also I am reminded that there is time. I can go slowly and gently. She has agreed to twice a week sessions for however long I need. There is no rush and if I know anything about Anna I know that she will welcome a slow pace and a gentle approach. So I need to trust myself and trust her.

Thank you and goodbye

Hi Linda,

I wanted to let you know that I’ve decided I won’t need a session on Wednesday. As you rightly pointed out, I don’t make decisions lightly, I’ve thought carefully about this and took what you said on board encouraging me to think about what feels good and right for me. Despite the fact that I would enjoy chatting to you again, I don’t really need another session.

Yesterday’s session felt like a gentle, natural ending. We had time to reflect on what brought me to you and go over some of the things we worked through in our sessions. I felt there was a relaxed energy to the session and I was grateful that we agreed the door wasn’t completely closing. We will most likely see each other at some point at the centre, if not for a one off session in person then certainly by chance in passing. 

I think it’s a good idea for me to have a bit of space this week to rest before turning my attention back to the work Anna and I will be doing together. I’m really looking forward to seeing her again and I feel better prepared for the ‘unboarding’ of the windows thanks to you giving me space to express and unravel my thoughts and feelings in real-time as it was happening. Linda, you really helped me feel supported through the loss and grief I was experiencing a few weeks ago. I’m very grateful for that. You also helped me work through and process what was going on with Grace which had a really positive impact on how family life feels right now.

Working with you has made me reflect on my previously held assumption that for something to hold meaning and be important it has to last for a very long time and be forever remembered. We only had 6 sessions and there is a pull for me to drag it out for longer as if to make the length of time mirror the impact felt. But in that short space of time we did significant work and the impact of that will stay with me. In this space and time, it mattered. I have a tendency to be overly sentimental but I guess it makes sense that this has felt like a big deal to me considering it’s only in recent years that I really experienced this level of attunement and careful listening. It is important to me. 

My biggest take away from this whole experience is in learning that I am the driver and Anna is my guide. I always held the belief that she was the engine and I would break down without her. Through momentarily losing her I’ve been given an opportunity to learn that my personal growth needn’t ground to a halt if she is no longer available. I am able to look after myself, I knew that I didn’t want to do it alone and I was able to ask for and accept support from someone else. I’m glad I was able to learn this about myself.

Anyway, this is my characteristically brief (!) way of expressing my thanks to you for being there for me. I never was very good at being succinct.

Thank you for rising to the challenge of being my therapy aunty!

I hope you and those close to you stay well and safe over the next few months. 

Take care,


This is Not a Closed Door

Session number 6 with Linda.

I accidentally closed all my tabs just before the session and had to log in again so it was 3 minutes after the start time when I finally logged on, annoyingly. I explained that to her and we had a bit of a laugh about it.

I felt really calm and not anxious at all prior to the session. I said to Linda, ‘I’m actually feeling really great just now.’ She smiled and raised her eyebrows and said that was really good. I said, ‘yeah I went for a run this morning and it’s such glorious weather… it felt so good to get out and move my body!’ Linda seemed really pleased to hear this. I explained that I also think part of my low mood was down to my cycle. Now that I am half way through my period I feel more human. The past few days I was very low and sluggish and just felt fat and horrible. I feel much better today. Linda asked me if this was a pattern I’d noticed before about my cycle and I said it’s taken me a while to notice a pattern and that it’s changed since having my kids but there definitely is an impact hormonally. She acknowledged this and talked about turning my attention towards this with compassion while also not invalidating the feelings I was experiencing.

I said I forgot last session that I’d wanted to thank her. I explained that since our session last Saturday things have felt very different at home. I told her that after things reaching a climax with Grace (with us shouting at each other every night and her being very upset) and me working through it with Linda, I was then able to talk to Adam about it and come up with a plan. ‘We slowed things down, I took things down a few gears and really started to enjoy a slower way of being. I asked Grace what she needed from me and she said she wanted me to sit with her at night. So since then I’ve been sitting with her while she falls asleep, which is only taking about fifteen to twenty minutes (a lot less time than it took when we were locking horns) and things feel much more peaceful and happy now so I really just wanted to tell you that and thank you, it was a very important session.’ Linda thanked me for telling her. She said it was lovely to hear that I’d asked Grace what she wanted and she pointed out that even screaming and shouting is communication, we never lost each other through all of that we just struggled to receive the messages.

I referred to our last session when Linda suggested we could use our remaining time together to work to an end. I said, ‘What exactly does working to an end look like? I mean, I can’t imagine being able to work to an end when you’ve only had 6 sessions?’ Linda said, ‘well… you’ve sort of been doing it all along Lucy, you have always seen this as a short term thing that will eventually end with you going back to Anna and you have been revisiting things each session. Also things like updating me on how things went with Grace last weekend, that kind of thing is what we do when we work to an end.’ I said, ‘oh well I do that all the time, I’m constantly feeding back how it’s been, reflecting and thinking about the journey and the process so far.’ She nodded and said, ‘you do this sort of thing in your work with Anna. Yeah… and I know it might feel odd to you that we only had 8 or 7 sessions but everyone is looking for different things from therapy and you had a very specific reason to come to me. There are a few people who just have one or two sessions and that’s all they need, there are some who have hundreds and then the vast majority have 6 to 12 sessions… so this is what I’m used to, although this has been very different in that you always knew you’d be going back to Anna… of course people work for longer if there is deep trauma work needing to be done, like what you’re doing with Anna.’ I nodded and said that all made sense. Linda said, ‘the thing about working to an end really is about revisiting anything necessary and making sure that nothing is left unsaid.’ This really struck me because it feels like such an important thing for me to observe in many of my significant relationships. All of these things left unsaid. I said, ‘that’s what I did in my last phone call with Anna, in this panicked way. I really sensed that she was going to get ill and cancel our next session and I really did believe she was going to die so I spent the whole phone session scrambling for words to express everything I ever wanted to say to her. You know like when you are at a loved ones funeral and you just really wish you could tell them how much they meant to you… so I did that with Anna, told her how much I liked her, told her how grateful I was for all the work she’d done on herself to be able to help me with my work, I went on and on telling her all these things because I didn’t want her to die not knowing how much she had impacted me.’ Linda said, ‘I really hear you, that you thought she was going to die.’

At some point Linda said, ‘You will have a lot to cover when you start back up again with Anna,’ and I laughed and said that I really hoped she was ready. I said, ‘I’ve been tempted to text her and ask her if she’s ready for me to be full on or if she needs to be eased into it!’ Linda laughed and said, ‘she will want to hear all about your experience, she will want to work on all of this with you I’m sure of it.’ we smiled at each other. I really wonder whether they’ve talked about any of this. I mean, I know there are professional boundaries and that there is the code of confidentiality but they are friends and colleagues, they text each other daily. Ordinarily they work in the same building at the same times on the same days and they have had wee chats over coffee between clients… surely little bits come out. I realise this is going to sound kind of full of myself as if the world revolves around me but I’m thinking, imagine Anna coming out of a particularly difficult session with me and standing in the kitchen making a cup of tea and in walks Linda. Maybe Anna mentions her previous client, no names, just that they’re working on some very deep attachment stuff, that this client draws as a way of expressing herself and the work is challenging (or whatever)… then a few months later I’m sitting with Linda and telling her that I’ve been drawing to help me in sessions with Anna because the work we’re doing is really hard attachment stuff. It’s not completely outwith the realms of possibility. I wonder, does Anna text Linda and ask how I’m getting on? ‘Is my client going to give me a hard time when we get back to work on the 18th?’ haha… I doubt it but it does make me wonder. Judging by the chats I’ve had with Linda it sounds like this is a very unique situation. I don’t think she has ever done this for one of Anna’s clients before. That in itself might make it a tempting conversation. Maybe not though, I’m sure they have plenty to talk about besides me! Anyway, back to the session…

I said, ‘I have thought a lot about these two sessions… you know why is it important to me to have these two sessions? Do I really need two? Did I really need this one? No… I didn’t… I said this to you in the first or second session, my life is good, I have lots going on and I’m stable and you know, functioning… it’s just when deep feelings are triggered they destabilise me. I find it very difficult to cope with big feelings by myself and I don’t have anyone in my life that I talk to like this… I noticed a defensiveness when you said what you said about the gaps and I was annoyed you brought it up in the last 5 minutes of the session…’ she nodded and listened, ‘… but I was able to process it and figure things out, I wanted to try to soothe myself and find a compassionate way to understand my motives behind filling the gap. I thought that Anna would say to me, ‘of course you feel overwhelmed by these feelings, you’ve only just started feeling them. You’ve been numb all your life and now you’re feeling. It makes sense you would want someone you trust to be with you while you feel them to help you feel safe.’ Linda had a kind smile on her face and she said, ‘and can you hear her voice when she says that and see her face in your mind?’ I said I could. I said, ‘I was finding it very hard to feel her, I do find it hard to keep feeling a connection with people when it’s been a while you know it’s like they fade into the distance like ghosts or something…’ Linda nodded and said, ‘and despite feeling like this, you were still able to hear her words of encouragement, she never really left you.’ I nodded and said I was glad I was able to bring her back to me, open the door inside again. Linda said, ‘my therapist has this thing he says to me, he says, ‘are you going to be able to keep me in mind Linda…’ I think that’s a lovely phrase, keep in mind… don’t you?’ I said, ‘yeah it is lovely, I used to hate it… Anna would say she was holding me in mind and I’d be like ‘well what good does that do me? I can’t feel when you’re holding me in mind!’ and I think there needs to be some trust there, to really trust and believe that the person isn’t just saying it you know? For so long I thought Anna would dread our sessions and be burdened by my incessant neediness and hate hearing from me you know, not want to think about me… but yeah it’s about trusting her for her word I guess. If she says she holds me in mind then that’s what she is doing. and I hold her in mind.’ Linda said, ‘it definitely is about trust and although your trust in Anna might have been tested recently I think you are noticing some aspects of the trust that are intact and feel very secure.’ I nodded.

Linda said, ‘Lucy, the thing that was very clear to me from the start was that you were looking after yourself. You were going through a very difficult time, it was a very frightening and upsetting time for you and you knew that you needed support. So that can only be a good thing. I’m glad you set this up and that you were able to get the support you needed.’ I got the sense that she was trying to tell me that there was no need to feel defensive about her asking me to look at the reason why I feel the need to fill the gaps. I said, ‘yeah, I don’t know if you would have a different opinion but for me, I feel like it’s easy to forget that there’s this very deep well of attachment trauma that is still there and is triggered massively by Anna and other things like abandonment stuff… I was starting to invalidate myself you know, I was thinking I’ve only worked with you for a couple of weeks why is it so hard for me to let this thing go, why can’t I just end it with you? But it has been meaningful for me!’ she said, ‘I’m really glad to hear that,’ I continued, ‘and you know, you’ve seen me in this tiny slice of time in my life and you don’t know what has gone before but it’s never been easy for me to just let someone in like that I’ve always been very protective and closed off so I guess this feels like a wee sign of progress, I was able to let you in enough for you to be able to help me.’ she said, ‘yes I really got a sense of that Lucy, that you were working very hard to make the very most of these sessions in a very difficult time.’

I said, ‘Do you have any thoughts on what would be the right thing to do for these two sessions?’ She looked curiously at me and said, ‘do I have any thoughts on it… hmmm?’ with a questioning tone. She said, ‘well let me think… well one thing I’ve learned about you is that you think very carefully about decisions you need to make… you weigh things up, you consider all the options, mull it over, you’re not the sort of person who is just going to say ‘right, that’s great, Anna’s coming back so I’m just gonna say bye now!’ I laughed and said, ‘uh huh… this is nuts, it’s reminding me of the couple of times I’ve been to a psychic, which is a bit of a blast, and you sit there having told them nothing about yourself and your life and they tell you all these things about yourself… but obviously you’re not psychic haha you’ve just been listening! But I’m sitting here mind blown like ‘fuuuck sake! Shit how does she know this about me, wow!’ hahaha!’ Linda laughed a lot and said, ‘well yeah, it’s my job you know, to listen and make sense of you, Lucy.’ She has this rather melodic, lilting way of speaking. She is from the East End of Glasgow and has a very strong accent. To me it sounds raw and authentic and real. She draws out some words with a gentle upturn in the middle and downwards tone on some of the endings, ‘well yeaaaaaah, it’s my joooob you knowww, to liiiisten and make sense of you Lucyaaa.’ I could sit and listen to her talk all day actually. I really love it. I wish I knew her in real life actually because she seems like such a decent human being, I need so many more people like that in my life. She continued, ‘…and also I wonder if you’re trying to make the ‘right’ decision, whatever that is you know… the right decision, not wanting to make any mistakes… but I’d encourage you to think that maybe there are no right or wrong decisions, I would encourage you to think about what feels safe for you. Does that sound accurate?’ I nodded. I really liked that. I like that there is this unspoken knowing between us. She knows there is far more going on for me than we have ever spoken about. She knows that she is holding space in this tiny window of a much bigger picture. Way back in the first session I had said to her that I felt there was no way this could work because she didn’t have the back story. This afternoon I said to her, ‘it turns out you really didn’t need the back story!’ she smiled and nodded and said, ‘yeah, no need for the whole back story… we met each other on the same level, we met here,’ she put her hands straight, palms down fingers pointing at each other horizontally in front of her face as if to signify this moment in time that we were on the same plane, meeting each other in sync.

I said, ‘I can’t actually believe it’s only been a couple of weeks it seems ridiculous now that I got so carried away with imagining Anna would die… I genuinely thought I was never going to see her ever again… it’s actually quite funny now, looking back.’ Linda said, ‘there wasn’t anything funny about it in my experience, Lucy.’ She had a straight face and I almost felt like I was being told off. But I understand she was just showing me how seriously she took it all and how much she believed what I had been feeling. She said, ‘What struck me when we started our work, was the fear. There was a lot of panic and fear in you. Whatever age this triggered, there was huge fear in her.’ I replied without even thinking. Just spoke the words, ‘there is this deep unmet need in me from years and years of… um well abuse and neglect and well Anna and I have been working very slowly gently picking away at these tiny little bits of it all and it felt like we had just exposed the edges of the core of it, deep inside me, you know?’ I had my closed fist on my heart and continued, ‘I was always so closed off but we’d opened it up and then all this shit happened and she left me in the middle of it and it triggered this massive trauma response in me, it felt like when my dad left and when my mum abandoned me emotionally so many times, every time, and it felt like when school ended and I no longer had this safe space to go to anymore and I couldn’t get support from the teachers who had always been the thing keeping me alive and I just remember this powerful black hole swallowing me up… the day after the last day of school I slipped off the edge of any kind of hope and I would sleep and sleep and just hid myself away. I didn’t have my safe space anymore and I had no control or rhythm to my life it was just well… just abusive and neglectful and… this crisis, having my work stop, not being allowed out, being kept away from things that keep me going, keep my rhythm… it triggered all of the same feelings from twenty years ago.’ Linda had a very compassionate expression and said, ‘I can understand that. It triggered a very painful memory and the emotions that were reawakened… it’s understandable you were frightened.’ She had used an analogy earlier that she said some other clients had been using, that this lockdown feels a bit like the week between Christmas and New Year where you don’t really know what to do with yourself and there’s too much food around. She referred back to that and said, ‘that analogy doesn’t really fit with your experience of the lockdown. Your experience has been retraumatising.’ I nodded. Felt very seen.

I said, ‘I may have been able to cope with this interim period without Anna and without you, Linda. I may have got through it, but I didn’t want to. I will no longer force myself to do everything alone. I don’t want to feel these overwhelming feelings alone anymore. It’s incredibly powerful to feel seen and even just to have someone sitting there looking at me while I am feeling the feelings in my body is incredible… I mean, when you say my name it just feels so fucking like WOW, I’ve said that to Anna… just really feeling like this person is here with me, completely present and here now. It’s very important that I provide that for myself, having never had it when I was a child.’ Linda said, ‘it is so powerful, you’re right. I completely understand how important it was for you to look after yourself and to make sure you had a supportive presence while going through this. I’m really so glad you did that.’

I joked that I had ten minutes left to decide if I wanted this to be our last session and Linda said she didn’t want me to feel under pressure to decide, that it wasn’t fair or necessary for me to do that. She said, ‘I want you to think about what feels safe and good for you… not what the right thing to do is or the best thing, what feels safe and good for you. There’s no rush, you don’t have to decide just now. Give yourself the time you need, your session time is ringfenced – no one else will be in that space – so I just want to encourage you to see how you feel and let me know on Tuesday.’ I said that felt good and I appreciated it. I said, ‘you won’t be offended if I say no or disappointed if I say I do want it?’ Linda said, ‘no I wont feel offended or disappointed, I just want you to decide what feels good for you… even if you just want to save the £45 that’s fine by me, or give yourself some space before your session with Anna on Saturday… whatever you decide is fine by me.’

She then said, ‘I was trying to think if I’ve ever seen you before at the centre and I have, I’ve seen the back of you many times.’ We laughed, she continued, ‘I have that big front room and I’ve seen you go into Anna’s room before… we will see each other in passing in the centre, we are not saying goodbye never see you again… this is not a closed door. We will bump into each other I’m sure.’ I said, ‘that’s funny you remember me from those fleeting moments. I loved that front room, we were in that room for the first session when you guys moved to that building. It’s such a nice room I was gutted when Anna chose the back room! I really want the sofa in that big room coz I want to sit next to her in our sessions but she just drags the chair round beside me instead… I’ve told her I’ll buy a bloody sofa for that room!’ Linda laughed. I said, ‘I know I said this to you in the first or second session and it now seems a bit silly but I do feel like it might be nice, when the world all goes back to normal, to have a face to face session with you, to sit in your company. Would you be okay with that still?’ Linda nodded enthusiastically and said, ‘yes I’m absolutely okay with that, that sounds great.’

We then ended the session, she said, ‘look after yourself, take care and I’ll hear from you soon.’

So, at the moment I’m considering not having another session with Linda. I’m considering carefully composing an email to her thanking her for everything she did for me in the short time we worked together and leaving the door open for a random face to face session at some point when (and if) the world goes back to normal. This felt like a nice way to end our work and in fact the last fifteen minutes was quite sparse in terms of talking. We didn’t have a huge amount to cover. I don’t feel I will have a lot to talk about on Wednesday that isn’t just a rehash of all of this. Which is a bit of a waste of energy and £45! I will think about it and email her in the next day or two.

There’s Something About the Gaps

Session number 5 with Linda

I really felt good about things yesterday, everything I wrote out in the last post made a lot of sense to me. Then I struggled to get to sleep last night and my thoughts turned to Anna and how much I have missed her and that although I have coped with this rollercoaster so far, I’m anxious about what might lay ahead for us. I even had thoughts of stopping working with her and choosing to only work with Linda. This morning I woke up very tired and agitated and emotional. My period came this afternoon and I instantly felt the agitation, irritability and tension ease off so that was definitely a lot to do with it but also, all this therapy stuff has been a lot lately! I really feel like I’ve been through it.

So I clicked in to my zoom session and Linda immediately thanked me for my email and for paying. She confirmed that she’s happy to hold as many sessions as I want before I move back to Anna. I told her I felt very very nervous. I actually felt sick. I’d had an upset tummy all morning. She asked me what I thought that was about and I said, ‘getting the message from Anna has stirred things up… I mean this feeling is familiar to me… I always feel like this before sessions with Anna.’ Linda asked if I had a sense of what that was about and I said I always just thought it was my attachment stuff being triggered… feeling close to people, feeling like they matter is so risky it makes me nervous, panicky, anxious.’ She nodded as if that is a thing and said that it makes sense and she asked me why I thought this was happening today. I said, ‘maybe because I know we’re going to have to say goodbye and I actually feel kind of sad about that.’ She nodded.

I told her, ‘my mother could make a best friend from a stranger in the first five minutes of meeting them at the check out queue and it used to be mortifying to me. A new best friend every few days. She would tell them every detail of her life and mine, I hated it. I think from a very young age I decided to keep myself closed off and never let people in. So it’s weird to me that I let you in so quickly. But I worked really hard to learn how to let Anna in and then I guess I really felt like I needed to let you in to help me get through this and now I’ve let you in and I feel a connection with you and it feels a bit shit that I have to stop. I feel so stupid that it all happened so quickly, I mean its like four 50 minute sessions for god sake I don’t want to be like her but also it is so unlike me.’ I finally took a breath and Linda said, ‘can you allow yourself to find an alternative reason why you let me in?’ I thought for a while then said, ‘maybe because that part of me that was so protective and closed off knew that in order to get what I needed from our session I would need to open up? And maybe also something I wrote about yesterday comes to mind, that I am learning I can trust myself… I think, you can’t trust other people if you can’t trust yourself and maybe now I am getting better at listening to my gut instinct, I really felt like I could trust you… Anna wouldn’t recommend someone she doesn’t trust but also I really just felt it when we talked, and you said it, there’s no bullshit with you, and I experienced that… so maybe I just knew deep down that we could do the work safely together.’

Linda is a person centred therapist and I really notice a difference between her and Anna in these kinds of moments. Linda sits and listens. She affirms and nods and smiles and frowns and empathises and always, always turns my attention to what I think, rarely shares her own observations. Anna asks a lot more analytical questions and frequently shares insights. One reason for this could be that Linda knows we don’t have the time for deep work, that’s not her purpose with me, another reason could be their different training methods. I miss Anna’s responses.

Linda referred to my email and asked me about the mixed feelings I was having about going back to work with Anna. I said I hate having so many contradictory feelings. I said, ‘why can’t I just feel one damn thing at a time!?’ I started and didn’t finish about 8 different ideas/sentences. I said, ‘I don’t know how you therapists follow this kind of chat it must be so confusing!’ She said, ‘does it feel confusing to you?’ I nodded and said I hate not knowing the one thing I should be feeling. Linda said, ‘you can’t feel multiple things at once?’ in an inquisitive way and I said, ‘it’s funny because I wrote about this on my blog… that it makes perfect sense to hold more than one feeling about something.’ We laughed at the irony of me not being able to accept that right now and I said, ‘I can preach it though!’ she laughed and reminded me that we can now something cognitively and still not fully feel it. She said, ‘this is what therapy is all about… that out there we can’t show our unrefined muddled thoughts and our mixed feelings but in here you can bring all of that, all of that is welcome here.’ I said, ‘if you keep being like that it’s going to be even harder to stop working with you.’ she did that sort of straight lipped smile like she understands its tough.

I said, ‘well… okay let’s try to articulate this then… I mean okay so logically and sensibly I know that it is absolutely right that if Anna is not well she should take time off and that it’s professionally right to look after herself if she feels she can’t hold space for me… I’m grateful to her for that…’ Linda said, ‘buuuut…?’ I laughed and said, ‘can I be totally uncensored… keeping in mind everything I just said?’ she said, ‘of course, please do!’ I said, ‘first of all I really appreciate that this might be weird for you coz she’s your colleague and friend but you’re definitely okay with me talking about her?’ she nodded. I said, ‘I know you won’t tell me what’s been wrong with her and I definitely don’t want you to, I almost don’t want to look at you when I’m talking because I don’t want to see your response,’ she smiled and I continued, ‘so… I’m angry with her, I’m angry that she just left at the peak of this thing when I was in some sort of fucking crisis, the whole world was in crisis and she said we would get through it together and then she quit on me and then she didn’t reply to any of my messages even though she knew I was really struggling. Then when I chooses she’s just gonna drop a text as if it’s the most casual thing like ‘oh I’m ready to work with you again’ I mean, I know it’s only been a couple of weeks but actually I haven’t sat with her since the end of February and it feels like it’s been a fucking year. After having two sessions a week to not seeing her for over a month and those two phone sessions and… but then the sensible side comes in and, you know initially I was certain she had the virus and she was going to die. I know the difference between an attachment wound trigger and a real life worry and you know, she got ill at the start of the lockdown, I genuinely thought she was going to die I was fucking devastated, I really felt like I was never ever going to see her again and I feel like I grieved and really just tried to make the most of working it through with you.’ I paused and Linda said, ‘I know, you did believe she was going to die. That was the sense I got of it all, that you were preparing for a loss that didn’t happen in the end.’ I said, ‘was it really necessary for her to let me believe that!? But then I think, I’ve thought a lot about this and I don’t think she did have the virus, I think maybe she was struggling emotionally or mentally. I’ve kept in mind what you said questioning why it is important to me – what was wrong with her… and I know I may never learn why she was off… but well, if she was off coz she was struggling, I mean I get that – the whole world is falling apart and her life will have been turned upside down. But it doesn’t help that we had these two phone sessions where I sobbed my heart out for the first time with her and it was just too much for her and she then got ill. Like I broke her, I was too much for her and she couldn’t cope with me anymore. So I guess that’s some of the stuff I’ve been thinking.’ I stretched and took a big staggered breath in and out.

Linda smiled and nodded and said, ‘phhhfff yes, you guys are gonna have so much work to do together… and you will get through it together. You will bring this to her and you will work through it together because she is your therapist.’ I felt weird and lost my focus. Reflecting back on it I think I felt a slight rejection or shame. Like she wasn’t willing to go into this with me but also in hindsight, she couldn’t really go into it… it is work I need to do with Anna. She continued, ‘but I want to say that all of your feelings are valid and everything you’ve said makes sense to me and thank you for sharing it with me.’

I said my tummy was going nuts again and she said, ‘What is the feeling in your belly telling you?’ I squeezed my arms around me and said, ‘it’s a fear, a part of me is frightened at the thought of seeing her again.’ Linda asked what the fear was and I said, ‘What if it’s not the same as it used to be? What if she’s changed and I don’t feel a connection anymore? What if I can sense she doesn’t really want to work with me anymore?’ Linda smiled in a knowing way and nodded. I said I was afraid that she wasn’t going to be well enough to cope with me. I said, ‘I don’t want her to rush back, I actually want to tell her to give it a few months, I wanna text and say no rush Anna, Linda and I are doing fine just now… don’t come back until you are totally ready! You know, if I get the tiny glimpse that she’s not fully okay it’s going to make me hold back, I won’t be able to talk about half the stuff I need to talk about, I won’t be able to talk about the pandemic or how I’ve felt these past two weeks… I don’t want to know her weaknesses… like you appear really strong and stable and grounded to me and like even the tiny details I know about your life like the fact you have cats, I don’t even know if Anna has pets and I don’t want to know!’ Linda asked, ‘what would it be like to know something about Anna’s life?’ I said, ‘maybe it would hurt, she would become human to me and I don’t want her to be human…’ Linda said, ‘you don’t want her to be human, yet.’

She asked me how I felt about doing zoom sessions with Anna and I said I hoped someone had practiced it with her coz I don’t want her to not know how to work it, it would be awkward… I just don’t want to see any flaws… I don’t want her to trigger my need to take care or it will stop me ever reaching out for her, it will stop me being honest about my experience.’

There was a pause… I can’t remember what Linda said, she does say more than I am writing but I find it hard to remember exactly what she says which is weird because I remember what Anna says very clearly. Anyway, I said, I’m not sleeping at the moment. I didn’t get to sleep until close to 3am last night… and that’s with me lying there from half 10.’ She asked what was going on for me and I said I’ve just been so agitated like my whole body is full of this agitated anxious energy. She talked about the need to encourage myself to switch off. She asked what helps with the agitation and I said that self harm was always a good go to but I don’t do that anymore. She asked if there was any alterative to self harm and I said the gym worked, though not at 3am, but I am eating so much more at the moment and I’m not moving enough and I have all this energy. She encouraged me to think of ways I could move more, go for a run, workout at home. We talked about my drawing and writing and that I do try mindfulness techniques but I struggle because they often make me cry and I don’t want to cry in the middle of the night.

At one point we talked about what I might like to focus on in the remaining couple of sessions we have left and I got the pain back in my tummy. I talked about Paul and how I never had a proper ending with him. That he just stopped working in Glasgow when I was on maternity leave and we were on what I understood to be a break. I expected to start up our work again but then I found out he’d moved cities, I said, ‘so a bit further down the line I started working with Anna and she had a prearranged holiday about a month in to us working together and in that fortnight I got back in touch with Paul and asked for a final session on Skype as a bit of closure. It had been over a year since I’d seen him last. In the skype session he told me he thought that having sessions where you work to an ending was contrived and didn’t mirror real life… that relationships and friendships end abruptly all the time. But I actually think he avoided endings, he wasn’t even very good at ending each session I often would end it sometimes up to forty minutes after the end of my time. I said, ‘So maybe what we are doing here will give me the chance to experience a therapeutic ending.’ She said that sounded like a good idea and that we could definitely focus on that over the next couple of sessions.

Linda looked intrigued and then asked if she could share an observation. I nodded her on. She said, ‘there is an interesting theme that I’m noticing, about how you respond to gaps. Something about the gaps… I get a sense of panic?’ I was completely silenced and felt flooded with shame. She continued, ‘so what is it about the gaps for you..?’ we had 6 minutes to go. This is something that Anna would never do. She wouldn’t throw that kind of observation at me within the last ten minutes. But Linda works to the 50 minute rule so you really feel sort of rushed to squeeze it all in. Plus she doesn’t know me like Anna does. I said, ‘I feel really ashamed now.’ Linda looked shocked and confused. I said, ‘you haven’t shamed me…’ (why do I always feel like I have to relieve them of any responsibility?) I went on, ‘What an idiot I was for feeling proud of myself, oh my god, I feel like a fool for thinking I had done a good thing by seeking your support when Anna couldn’t be there for me. When really I was just plugging a gap because the thought of sitting in a space, alone with my feelings, was so intolerable I would rather share it with a fucking stranger!? And years ago, after getting a taste of Anna’s support just a few sessions in, the space she left when she went on holiday created such a painful vacuum that I went back to a therapist who had abandoned me! Wow!’

She looked concerned and sort of raised her eyebrows in the centre. She said, ‘I wonder if you can see that you were looking after yourself, you weren’t weak. It was self care. You reached out for support when you needed it which is always a good thing. But it’s important to look with curiosity at our habitual behaviours, to find our core beliefs and to question them and maybe be curious about how we might have responded in a different way – that can help us grow… so in pointing out what I noticed about your response to the gaps, I wonder if you can get a sense of why the gaps feel intolerable for you, and look at that with compassion?’

I said, ‘yeah… because the gaps were always intolerable. The gaps when I was a little kid… a teenager… when I was left alone with it all, I could hardly bear it… and now we have two minutes left! I feel like you’ve taken hold of this perfectly settled snow globe I was holding and you’ve shaken it all up so it’s wild and confusing in there…’ Linda smiled and said, ‘yeah and you’re left thinking where the hell did all this snow come from?’ I was like, ‘yep and I can’t see a thing!’ She said, ‘maybe that’s what therapy is all about Lucy, maybe if you could just let it ‘combobulate’ by itself and not try to control or make sense of it, just let it be there and it will settle on it’s own, ready for you to pick it up again with Anna.’ She must have noticed me drift a bit and with about 30 seconds to go she asked what that was bringing up for me and I just said, ‘lots to think about! Thanks Linda, I’ll see you on Saturday… you still okay with that?’ and she said in a very real and meaningful tone, ‘of course Lucy, look forward to seeing you on Saturday.’

Don’t Look Back in Anger

Yesterday afternoon it dawned on me that I hadn’t text Anna after my session with Linda on Saturday. It was the first time I hadn’t immediately wanted to reach out to her and let her know what we’d worked on and that I hoped she was doing okay. In fact I hadn’t really thought much about her for a few days and I was beginning to notice a shift away from talking to and working things out with Anna in my mind… now it’s Linda’s voice.

Then I got a text in the early evening from Anna. She was letting me know she’s starting up sessions again next Saturday. I sat with the message for a bit and noticed the feelings that came up for me. I replied telling her how pleased I was to hear from her and that, to my surprise, I was experiencing very mixed feelings about moving back from Linda to her. She told me she understood and that it was important to take my time and to work on this together with Linda.

The more I think about it, the more my mixed feelings make perfect sense. I have missed Anna so much and I’m delighted she is safe and well. But I really believed that I was never going to see her again so I put all of my energy into forming a meaningful connection with Linda. I needed to quickly process my grief and abandonment pain with effectively a stranger… and I managed to do that.

Later on in the evening I emailed Linda explaining things to her. I’m sure Anna had already been in touch with her. I wanted to let her know that I plan on untangling all of my thoughts and feelings with her in our next few sessions and that much to my surprise, I’m not in any rush to finish working with her.

I did a lot of processing last night. Straight away I sensed some anger towards Anna. The anger was saying that she disappeared when she explicitly said she wouldn’t, at a time when I needed her the most. She knew I was struggling with fears of her dying and she kept silent. I sent her texts that she ignored, when at other time’s she has broken our texting boundary to reply to me when I’ve been in deep distress. My mind explored the darkest possibilities day and night as I had fantasies of her lying in a hospital bed with tubes down her throat and a machine helping her breath. At night I woke crying from nightmares of me standing on the periphery of her funeral. Unable to express my complicated grief with anyone. I haven’t sat in Anna’s company since February 29th and the first few weeks of her absence (including the emotionally destabilising phone sessions we had) were really hard for me. I was in a state of shock and suffered a great deal with emotional flashbacks to times in my childhood when I was abandoned.

It felt like a crisis moment. Even in Anna’s final text to me, when she referred me to A&E if I felt at all suicidal, I sensed this shared crisis. We are experiencing a worldwide crisis, a trauma… one that I desperately needed help to get through. In the absence of Anna, Linda showed up for me… the day after I reached out to her. Exactly when I needed someone. Linda and I were able to form a trusting and deep working relationship in a very short space of time. I’m very grateful to her for stepping into my space and meeting me where I was. She could easily have put the bare minimum effort in but I sensed a really authentic care in her. She really meant it when she said she was up for being my therapy aunt, in the absence of my therapy mum. It felt like there was this intimate ‘knowing’ between us. Just because we both knew Anna. We had both talked to her. We could both picture her in our minds. This helped me drop some defences straight away. I think also, I have learned how to trust myself and my judgement of others. I could tell Linda was one of the good ones.

I’ve had many theories of why Anna was off and I know I may never be privy to the truth. There is a professional boundary there and it’s not within my control to decide what I do and don’t know about Anna’s personal life. Just like my children don’t get to dictate to me what I do and don’t tell them about my adult life. I decide because I know what’s best for them. Anna has a wealth of experience, training, supervision that I don’t have access to. I have some understanding of psychology and therapeutic strategies and the complexities of the human brain but she is the therapist. She is the professional. Part of the therapeutic process is a certain letting go of control on the clients part and allowing the therapist to do her job. Anyway… my theories on why she was off have helped me gain a certain perspective. Initially I just assumed it was the virus. All of the worst case scenarios cropped up. But in time as I processed things with Linda and by myself I started to get a sense that perhaps Anna had been struggling mentally/emotionally. As the virus crept ever closer to Scotland and in the early days of lockdown, we had these two phone sessions where I could hear Anna’s professionalism slipping. I started to hear her insecurities and fears seeping into our conversations. I noticed tiny changes in her responses to me. We cried together in a shared grief and fear of what was happening in our world. The focus wasn’t as acutely on me and my needs. Linda helped me articulate that this felt deeply unsettling. I’ve never experienced Anna being unable to hold and contain me. Her shit was bleeding into my sessions. It was very very subtle and I couldn’t put my finger on it until recently. It would be so understandable if Anna struggled with the impact of this pandemic. On her and her family. And it is the most caring and professional thing for her to do, in the awareness that she couldn’t be fully present for me in this time, to encourage me to seek help from Linda and take some time to look after herself.

I now feel very strongly that the only way Anna was able to show up for me was by connecting me to her friend and colleague who she trusts. She never left me, she supported me through Linda during a time where she was unable to hold space for me. Much like I organise trusted childcare for my children when I go to work. And even when I’m away from them, I think about them often. The coming weeks will hold some interesting work. I am feeling really strong at the moment, I survived what I’d imagined to be the worst case scenario… my therapist took time off with no idea of how long she would be away from me during a time of extreme stress and intense need for support. My belief was always that Anna held this special magic key to my healing, that all of our wonderful work was down to her. But the past few weeks have shown me that actually within this partnership, I hold the key. The therapist is the guide, like a copilot. But I’m the driver. I’ve learned so much about myself over the 7 years that I’ve been in therapy and specifically the two and a half years I’ve worked with Anna. I know what I need now and I know how to navigate therapy to help me get to where I want to be. There is a lot less anxiety around losing Anna now that I’ve experienced fully believing I had lost her. There’s a healthy level of sadness at the thought of it and a hope that our therapeutic relationship will not end prematurely. But I now have faith in my own ability to seek help if that were to happen.

The past few weeks have been extremely difficult and also held a huge amount of potential for growth. I feel like I’m heading towards some deep work with Anna as I plan on bringing my authentic feelings and thoughts about this experience. I’m not fearful of this work like I would have been in the past because I’ve noticed this resilience inside me that I wasn’t fully aware of before.

Untangling the Mess in My Mind

Session number four with Linda

This is not very well written. My head was a jumbled mix and that’s coming through in my writing.

I clicked on the zoom link and Linda appeared in view and asked me how I was. I hesitated and said, ‘I’m okay right in this moment, but I was absolutely not okay last night or yesterday.’ She looked concerned and asked me what happened. I immediately launched in and said, ‘this is so weird… I mean, therapy chat is weird anyway in that we just jump right in to the deep stuff but this is even more weird just because we’ve spoken three times and here I am about to talk to you about something deeply personal, but I need to talk about this and if it were Anna I would just talk about it, it’s hard because you don’t know me like she does you don’t have the back story… and I feel like I want to tell you some things first like, for example Anna believes I have a phobia of fucking my kids up, she thinks it’s a deep fear, that I’m going to traumatise them like I was traumatised… she thinks I’m a good mum… but well, yesterday and last night was the worst ever and I really need to talk about it, I want your insights.’ Linda said, ‘okay well firstly I want to hold what you’ve just said, that this is indeed unusual and that I admire you making the most of these sessions in this time. And yeah, I’m not sure that I really need a back story… just go for it.’

So I explained with growing shame that the past three nights Grace has been up screaming and shouting and crying way past her bedtime. I said, ‘Grace is usually a happy, confident, outgoing kid… if she was in the room with us she’d be right up to you chatting away asking you questions and telling you about herself. She has this thing where she says, ‘four people in this house love me’ then she counts through all of us and includes herself. She loves her friends, loves school, throws herself into everything she does…’ Linda was smiling and listening. I said, ‘Wednesday night it started. We did the usual bedtime routine…’ Linda asked lots of questions to get an idea of what things are like for us normally. I told her we read the kids stories, we give them baths, we play quiet games upstairs, we take it in turns to sit with them and then we go downstairs and they fall asleep in their own bedrooms. It’s mostly calm, sometimes with a wake up here and there but that’s always easily resolved. ‘On Wednesday night almost as soon as we got downstairs she started banging then shouting out, we went up to her but pretty much immediately I was angered by her. I hate to admit this because it completely lacks empathy but I wanted her to shut up and go to sleep, to just be good like she always is.’ I said, ‘this is not how I want to parent. I mean, ten years ago when I decided I wanted to have kids at some point I started reading the books… gentle parenting, respectful parenting, positive parenting, the power of validation for children, love languages in childhood… any book I could read about how to not fuck up your kids… everything I do is to try to make sure I don’t pass this on to them and basically everything I’ve ever feared happened the past few nights.’ With a weighty compassion in her voice Linda said, ‘hmm, tell me what happened.’

I was really activated. I told her my chest felt full of feelings, I said I didn’t know what the emotions were but my body felt full of very heavy feelings similar to what I felt last night. I was starting to get spacey. I explained, ‘all of the stuff I’ve been trying to do to be a good parent and meet all her needs and not mess things up for her went out the window and me and Adam both lost it with her. She was screaming and shouting and we were screaming and shouting back at her… so Wednesday and Thursday night were both like this after trying so hard on Thursday to help her emotionally, to try to help her feel better. I mean Wednesday night I was so angry, shouting at her to get back to bed and stop being so difficult… I swore I would never say that to her, ever! And even as I sat on her bed trying to be calm I was still speaking so angrily to her telling her I was disappointed she was still doing this. I was saying ‘why are you doing this!’ and she was sobbing saying she didn’t know what was wrong with her… I just couldn’t be rational and caring and kind. I was just angry. It was horrible. At one point she was saying ‘why am I even alive, I hate myself, what is wrong with me’ – I mean, fucking hell… it was horrific.’ Linda was making very supportive sounds and she said, ‘what do you think she needed in that moment?’ I said, ‘she needed to be held, she needed to be told she is loved, that I understand and that I’m here… but I couldn’t even be there for myself let alone her it was too much for me. Last night it was happening again and I think Adam and I were just at the end of our patience. The evenings are the only two hours we get to ourselves and he was shouting at her and telling her he didn’t want to spend another minute in her room. I am so angry with him.’ Linda said, ‘What do you want to say to him?’ I said, ‘I’m so angry with you, you let me down, you let Gracie down, you really fucked up, I don’t think I can forgive you for doing all of that…’ Linda said, ‘what do you want from him?’ I said, ‘I want him to feel as shit as I do about it all,’ she said, ‘you want him to share the shit!’ and we smiled and I nodded. I said, ‘I feel horrific about it all, I want him to really feel the gravity of this.’ Linda was nodding and I really felt her non judgemental presence while I was explaining all of this. I continued, ‘I know I sound like a total therapy snob but I said to him that he’s 7 year behind me in terms of understanding emotions and our childhoods and how it can impact our ability to bring our kids up in an emotionally healthy way… he hasn’t done all the work I have you know and so when we have moments like this it is so stark that he isn’t on the same page as me. He was saying her behaviour is unacceptable whereas I see it as her struggling emotionally, he said Grace is coming between us and playing us off each other but I see it as her desperately trying to get her needs met.’ Later Linda came back to this. She said, ‘you described yourself as a therapy snob but I don’t see it as that, I see it as you are more sensitive than Adam, you are sensitive to Grace’s emotions when he isn’t.’ I am constantly amazed with how therapists are able to reframe things so beautifully. When all I can see is the critical view of what I have done or who I am, they find a positive. It’s amazing!

Linda asked me what Grace was saying and I told her, ‘she doesn’t want us to die, she wants her life to go back to the way it was before, her tummy was sore, nothing felt right… and you know after three hours of all this I did eventually calm down and I held her. I got into bed with her and stroked her hair. I told her it made sense to me that she was feeling like that. I explained that her tummy was sore because she was worried and anxious. I told her we were doing everything we could to keep her safe. I told her about people she knows who have had the virus and survived. I reminded her that both he kids and I had the flu last winter and although we felt awful we got through it… I told her I was sorry for shouting at her… she was saying she was sorry she’d let me down!’ Linda made a sort of sad, ‘oh’ sound and I said, ‘it’s just awful! I told her she hadn’t let us down, that she was feeling big feelings and that it’s up to us to help her deal with that and not just escalate things and we shouldn’t have been screaming and shouting back at her.’ Linda said, ‘you sound to me like you’re in shock. Does that sound right?’ I thought about it and said that maybe I was. Linda said, ‘it sounds like you surprised yourself and that it’s not how you normally do things… you are shocked with how things escalated.’ I nodded and said I was deeply disapointed in myself.

I said, ‘I remember having massive horrible feelings like that when I was wee and I had to feel them silently. I bundled them up inside me and hid them. And I hid. I hid under my covers or under my bed…. and you know… no one read me a fucking bedtime story, no one was tucking me in at night, its awful but part of me is like ‘it’s never fucking enough!’ and I feel really fucking horrific saying that, but I give my kids everything and it’s never enough!’ Linda said, ‘in what way is it never enough?’ and I said, ‘well even though we did all this work on her feelings and lots of family together time and loads of other stuff the day still ended with her screaming her head off…’

Linda said softly, ‘you know that image of Grace screaming and shouting at the top of the stairs is very poigniant to me, she was scared. Very scared. That makes perfect sense to me. We’re all scared, I’m scared too, I feel like her screaming at the top of her lungs makes sense, you know?’ I said, ‘fuck. I know.’ I felt the tears stinging. She said, ‘and how wonderful is it that she felt that scared feeling inside her and she screamed out for you, knowing you’d come. When you were little, no one came… you couldn’t scream out so you hid the scared feelings and you hid yourself. Isn’t that right?’ I nodded. I whispered, ‘but I stood at the bottom of the stairs and shouted at her to get to her bed, so loudly that my throat hurt this morning.’ Linda asked me how I was feeling about it all now and I said I was deeply ashamed and still very angry. She said, ‘hmmm it’s probably too soon.’ I said, ‘too soon for what?’ and she said, ‘not enough time has passed, you’ve not processed it yet… there is no expectation for that either… but yeah, it’s too soon.’ I said, ‘it does take me a very long time to discharge my feelings. It’s like everyone got up this morning feeling fine and Adam was all happy and chipper and I was still furious. I told him the only thing that’s changed for me is thepassing of time. I was still just as angry as I was 12 hours before.’

Linda said, ‘Lucy, how old did you feel when you were shouting at Grace?’ I thought about it, I put my hand on my chest and said, ‘I think about the same age as her, 8.’ Linda gently enquired, ‘oh, and how could a little 8 year old, you, how could that little girl know how to cope with Grace’s big feelings? She was so very scared too… you are scared.’ I looked at her and her eyebrows were swooped in and her whole face looked attuned and caring. I felt like I wanted to slam the laptop shut, I felt so exposed, she could fully see me and my emotional experience. I managed a small nod.

I said, ‘when I was 8,’ I’d literally only said those four words and Linda said, ‘uh huuuu,’ in an interested tone… I fucking love active listening, its seriously like a drug to me I love it! I continued, ‘we had already moved house loads of times and I’d moved schools a couple times and I didn’t have any friends, Grace has loads of friends you know which is really great, but anyway, so at that age my mum was going out a lot singing in a band and she was having an affair which she would tell me all about, graphically… (I wish I’d looked at Linda when I was saying this but I couldn’t)… and well some nights she’d stay out really late and my dad would worry so he would go looking for her and he would tell me to look after Daniel and not get out of bed and then he’d leave. So we would be on our own and I’d be terrified and all this panic and fear would overwhelm me but I had to be grown up and… you know I was good. I was a good kid. And I didn’t always think that but we’ve really unpicked it, Anna and I, they tried to make me feel like I was the problem, that I was difficult, but I really wasn’t. I was a good kid. And I still didn’t get what I wanted… it was so hard.’ Linda said, ‘it sounds like you had to hold a lot, far more than you should have at that age.’

I said, ‘I cried myself to sleep last night again, I felt so awful about it all… it’s the damn perfectionism, I know it is but I can’t do anything about it… it feels really true inside me. Like, I’ve used this analogy before with Anna when talking about my own childhood but it feels like if Grace’s life was this big huge canvas, a beautiful painting, perfect, and I’m coming along and burning holes in it, permanently scarring it, you know?’ I was looking down and then looked at the screen and Linda’s face was full of concern and sadness. I said, ‘well that’s how it feels anyway, like I can see her whole life spanning ahead of her and everything I do or say I plan so carefully… I imagine in a split second, whether this thing is going to be something that builds her up, encourages her, makes her feel confident and loved and worthy or whether it is going to be a thing that in thirty years has her sitting in a therapists office sobbing, the thing that has made her have an insecure attachment style, the reason why she always goes for partners who hurt her, the reason she doesn’t believe she deserves happiness… I cant help my brain from expanding to this bigger picture where my tiny actions have massive consequences.’ Linda said that sounded exhausting, that I couldn’t possibly be solely responsible for all of that, that Grace would forget these small things in time. I interrupted her, ‘but I didn’t forget, I never forgot! I remember everything they did and everything they said… it massively impacted me!’ Linda said, ‘Lucy, I know I don’t know a lot about you but from the little I do know, I’m going to guess that what you experienced was a lot worse than what your kids are experiencing.’ I nodded and she continued, ‘Lucy, I want to share an observation but if it doesn’t fit you, I would invite you to tell me that it doesn’t fit.’ She paused and looked like she was really thinking about whether it was helpful to share this. She then said, ‘So, do correct me if I’m wrong. I think it’s important to say that you are not your parents, you are you and Grace is not you, she is Grace. You are very worried you’ll see any likeness in yourself to them and the thing is, you will. There will be things that you do that they did. There will be similarities but you are not them. You are very different to them.’ I said, ‘I know this is true but I hate it, I don’t want there to be any similarities… if I am the same as them, how can I be angry with them for what they did, if I am hurt and angry at them for shouting at me how can I then shout at my kids and forgive myself?’ Linda smiled knowingly as if this is some sort of next layer in the recovery process but annoyingly we didn’t explore that further. I went on to say that my parents never came back to repair things, they never helped me make sense of my feelings or what had happened. That although I am very angry and disappointed in myself for the things I’ve done like shouting at her, at least I know that I try to mend things with her any way possible. Linda said, ‘I would encourage you to think about the fact that we have never lived through something like this before, this is all unchartered territory. There is a worldwide pandemic. The whole world is in a state of shock and panic. No one knows how to get through this, we are all just learning and trying to take things a step at a time. You and Adam will be experiencing all sorts of emotions because of this pandemic and then you are having to parent and hold your kids emotions… this is a very hard time right now and I think you could afford yourself some compassion for this… you are parenting while under extreme stress right now, your parents weren’t.’ I said, ‘well actually they were under stress, they fucking hated each other, they never had any money, dad was always going from one job to another, my mum was having affairs… it was very stressful…’ Linda said, ‘nothing compared to this.’ That felt very validating. This is fucking hard. Parenting during this pandemic, it feels near impossible to get it right.

Linda said, ‘earlier when you were talking about how no one read you a bedtime story, you sounded angry.’ I said, ‘I guess so.’ She said, ‘I think that 8 year old inside you is still holding on to a lot of anger for the things she didn’t get. And she has every right to be angry, it’s not fair.’ I felt that burning feeling again, I think it is shame but under the shame is anger and a sort of powerful sense of being seen and understood. But I guess being seen was always quite dangerous so the shame pops up trying to encourage me to hide. Linda said, ‘what do you need?’ I said, ‘oh my god that’s always the hardest question!’ I said, ‘I can’t have what I want right now because I want a hug but not from anyone in this house.’ She gave me a knowing smile. She said, ‘the 8 year old inside you, what does she need?’ I said, ‘to be told that it wasn’t her fault, that she did deserve to have bedtime stories… to have someone sit with her and help her make sense of her big feelings instead of crying by herself?’ Linda nodded and smiled.

Linda said, ‘you know Lucy you are just so hard on yourself. You hold yourself to an impossible standard.’ I said, ‘hmm yeah you’re not the first person to say this to me.’ she said, ‘no one could reach the standards you set yourself. I’m going to use a car analogy because I love driving and it fits well here… imagine the gears of a car. I wonder what would happen if you went down a few gears, from 6 to 5 to around 3 or 4.’ I said, ‘I would have a breakdown.’ She smiled and said, ‘no, the car would still work, you wouldn’t break down, actually the lower gears work harder, you have more control in those gears.’ I said, ‘hmmm yeah I’m going to think about that one for a bit coz I don’t know what that would look like.’

I said, ‘I was telling Adam that I know Grace will test us. We’ve spent a lot of time trying to mend this and apologise and now she is going to test that we really are sorry. She will be up again tonight and we need to both be patient and meet her fear with compassion and understanding… I understand testing in relationships because I have experienced it and processed it with Anna but Adam hasn’t experienced that so he just sees it as her being difficult.’ Linda talked about how I will need to really talk it through with Adam so that I am sure we are both aware of what we want to do. That we can support each other through it.

I said, ‘have you seen that illustration online of the therapeutic relationship where there’s the client and therapist and above the client is a speech bubble with lots of tangled wool and above the therapists head there’s like three or four neatly wound balls?’ she nodded. I said, ‘that’s what I feel this session has been like, everything was very confused and now I feel like I have these separate balls of wool that I can see a bit clearer… one of Grace being scared and how it’s good that she was sharing her fear with us by screaming and shouting, one is of me at 8 years old having to hold my fear by myself and you know I haven’t really worked on ‘8’ with Anna much so that is all raw and unprocessed. Then there’s me also feeling scared and responding from that place because of this pandemic and the stress we’re all under. There’s me being hard on myself and the perfectionism… yeah this has all been really helpful thank you!’ she said she was glad it was helpful and I said, ‘actually I think I’m going to draw about this… I’ve not told you this but when I started working with Anna I could hardly talk in sessions I found it so hard to open up so she encouraged me to draw. I would draw and bring the drawings to the session and we would work on that and now I have a big folder full of these therapy drawings, I’m going to draw this because it feels big.’ Linda was nodding through all of this and smiling. She said, ‘wow that’s amazing, great!’ We sort of ended things here, I thanked her again and we said we’d speak on Wednesday.

I am actually quite taken by the fact that this therapeutic relationship is really working. I feel a connection with Linda that took months to build with Anna and Paul. I think this has happened for a number of reasons. Firstly I have worked very hard with Anna, building trust between each other but also building trust within myself… I know I can trust my judgement now. I can trust how things feel within a relationship and things feel good here. I’m not second guessing her all the time wondering what she’s thinking (this may also be because she isn’t triggering my attachment wound… shes my therapy aunt afterall not my therapy mum… although also, maybe… just maaayyybbeeee my mother wound is healing? Secondly, Anna recommended Linda, she trusts her therefore Linda and I were able to begin our therapeutic relationship one step up on the stairway of trust and familiarity. Thirdly, we are living in a very strange and unchartered time just now. I desperately need support and in the absence of Anna I have to leap into the support being offered to me by Linda. It doesn’t make sense to hold back, I want to get my needs met so I am giving my all here. Fourthly, hopefully, this will be short term and Anna will be back working with me at some point. So I know I don’t have the luxury of time to slowly build up trust with Linda, I need to just make the most of these sessions. And I’m learning that this can work, I’m learning it’s possible to get a lot from a therapist even if they know very little about you, I’m learning that I can trust my instincts, I’m learning that (most) people in the helping fields genuinely do care and that you can feel that care from these people even if you hardly know them and even if you haven’t sat in a room with them. That leads me on to my fifthly…. I think only having video sessions with Linda has really helped me be at ease with her. I don’t need to worry about all the things that make me feel physically self conscious when I’m sitting in a room with someone. It is just about our facial expressions and our words. I feel like there is a lot more that I want to unpack around this but I’m tired and can’t think it through with any depth so I’m going to have a break and come back to it later. For now, these are my thoughts.

I’m always so amazed with how much a therapy session helps me. I really love therapy so much. I mean it’s painful and hard but it really moves mountains in me. Saturday afternoon I felt so good, way better than I’d felt the previous few days. And Saturday night my husband and I had a plan. We were united. We were patient and calm. It all went so smoothly. I sat with Grace until she fell asleep. No screaming, no shouting, just me parenting with gentle love the way I always wanted to.