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.’

3 thoughts on “There’s Something About the Gaps

  1. LovingSummer

    Wow Lucy. As I’m reading this, I’m wishing you could have two therapists – one once a week so you’d still have two sessions!

    But one thing stands out to me… where you said, ‘I miss Anna’s responses.’

    Ps: By the way, I can’t believe how Paul said that about endings to you. I mean, I do believe YOU but I am shaking my head at a therapist saying that. I know he had his good points but that is shocking! Obviously it’s his work that needs doing but you’d think he might see that. No wonder you feel shaky at breaks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha yeah I had considered keeping two therapists! That’s funny. But I felt Linda taking a step back yesterday, how that Anna is definitely coming back. I guess it could get confusing to have two different opinions all the time. But I’ll remember her for long breaks.
      Yeah Paul definitely had a lot to learn, despite his extensive experience. He didn’t believe in any therapy that based itself in Freudian beliefs. So Transactional Analysis would be one of those. Although he had a range of different training experiences, he was fundamentally a CBT practitioner and was into quick fix type stuff. I think usually he worked with clients for 10 to 20 sessions and they didn’t form an attachment. He told me he was out his depths with me and that I pushed him to question himself on many occasions. I needed the attachment, and way longer than 20 sessions! In the end I’m glad that came to an end because Anna is far better for what I need. But at the time it was devastating. Yeah… breaks and endings are a big struggle for me 🙈

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ha yeah I had considered keeping two therapists! That’s funny. But I felt Linda taking a step back yesterday, how that Anna is definitely coming back. I guess it could get confusing to have two different opinions all the time. But I’ll remember her for long breaks.

    Yeah Paul definitely had a lot to learn, despite his extensive experience. He didn’t believe in any therapy that based itself in Freudian beliefs. So Transactional Analysis would be one of those. Although he had a range of different training experiences, he was fundamentally a CBT practitioner and was into quick fix type stuff. I think usually he worked with clients for 10 to 20 sessions and they didn’t form an attachment. He told me he was out his depths with me and that I pushed him to question himself on many occasions. I needed the attachment, and way longer than 20 sessions! In the end I’m glad that came to an end because Anna is far better for what I need. But at the time it was devastating. Yeah… breaks and endings are a big struggle for me 🙈

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