…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!