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:
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,
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.
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.
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.
I then sent this text to 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.
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.