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.