Boarding up the windows and doors

Third session with Linda.

We clicked on to the zoom session and I instantly asked her how she was without thinking. She told me she was good and asked me how I was. I faffed around with the screen and minimised the front facing view so I couldn’t see myself then sat back and sighed. I said I was very activated this morning, really angry and irritable. Needed to calm down.

I said, ‘I have so much I could talk about, so much so that I feel like I don’t want to choose any of it!’ she sort of knowingly smiled and nodded and said, ‘hmmm… yeah, I wonder if there’s anything that sticks out?’ I said, ‘anything that I think I could talk about gets batted away instantly for being not that important or not as bad as some people have it or a waste of your time…’ Linda said, ‘what does it matter how your experience compares to others, it’s your experience therefore it’s valid!’ I started to try to consider that and then I said I was overthinking it and needed to just start talking and see where it took me, she agreed.

I explained that I was finding it hard sharing this small space with my family 24/7 and not getting any time to myself. At one point she asked if I get no time to myself apart from when I’m asleep and I said that Adam and I do try to give each other breaks every so often but I tend to nap in my break and then I don’t feel like I’ve had the time… it tends to be the kind of mid afternoon sleeping you do when you’re depressed rather than when you’re tired. It’s an escape. I said that Reuben had been struggling this morning, ‘I hate this word because it’s just emotions but he was having a tantrum up until like one minute before this video call and it just makes me feel these massive feelings in my chest and it takes all of my strength to stay calm and be present with him and not scream at him to shut the fuck up and send him to his room.’ Linda said, ‘and is that how it always was, even before this..?’ I said, ‘well I think sometimes I can manage their emotions better than other times and right now things feel heightened. I mean, 4 was a hard age for me and so when Grace was four and now Reuben is four, I get triggered really easily by them. And you know I’ve tried to keep to the routines all day every day but today has to be different because I have this session so the kids have to go upstairs with Adam and I think they maybe find that unsettling. They don’t know what I’m doing, they just know I’m busy doing something important…’ Linda was listening and nodding and making ‘ahhh, I see’ type noises. She said, ‘So I’m just wondering out loud here. Two sessions a week… now, I know that’s what you were used to with Anna but I’m just wondering, this is different work we’re doing and maybe if the disruption is too much to the family, perhaps we could go down to one session a week. What are your thoughts?’ I said, ‘uhhhh… um… I feel like, this feels really rejecting like you’re saying you’re sick of me and you don’t want to see me this frequently, it’s already too much for you and you’d rather not work with me.’ She had a sort of dramatic shock ‘eeek’ facial expression and she said, ‘wow, this filter is there all the time isn’t it, these what I would call fantasies, they are made up in your head these interpretations of what people are saying… it’s there all the time isn’t it?’ I felt a wash of sadness and shame as I nodded. I welled up and explained, ‘I always needed to be able to read between the lines, to figure out what people really meant, so yeah… this is where my anxiety and hypervigilance is at it’s peak – when I’m trying to figure people out.’ She said, ‘I understand that and it made perfect sense for you back then. Is it serving you now?’ I said, ‘well no! It just gets in the way now, but it’s hard to make it stop.’ I had another short cry.

When I’d dried my eyes and sat straight up again Linda said, ‘I wonder what you would like me to do with your fantasies Lucy. I’ve noticed that this is an almost constant thing for you, the filer that you experience and hear people through… you move very quickly from reality to the fantasy. With some of my clients I do this (motioned reeling in a fishing line) and just as a reminder I will tell them to reel it in but I’m not sure that would be helpful for you.’ I said, ‘hmmm no I think I would find that rejecting.’ She said, ‘yeah, I wondered about that, so do you have an idea of what you’d like me to do?’ I joked, ‘is there a multiple choice?’ and she laughed and jokingly said, ‘option a)….’ I said, ‘I think just hearing me, not judging me, gently reminding me that it’s fantasy, maybe looking at why I’ve created that fantasy… just what we’re doing just now?’ she said, ‘okay that sounds good, it’s important that I check in with you like that. I want you to know that I was suggesting dropping a session a week out of care for you and your situation. If the sessions are causing stress amongst your family I wanted to remind you that we could move to one session a week because two can be a lot. If I wanted you to move to one session I would tell you straight, I don’t beat around the bush you get complete honesty with me. Okay? How does that sound?’ I said, ‘hmmm, yeah, I appreciate you saying that, it’s hard to believe.’ She said, ‘can a part of you hear what I’m saying?’ I said, ‘a part of me is reassured by what you’ve said. Another part of me doesn’t trust it.’ She nodded and said that was okay and made sense.

I said, ‘and another thing!’ and it must have been in a really animated way because she did a faux jump and face as if I had got her attention. It was kind of funny. I said, ‘this pandemic has shut down every area of my life, everything I did just for me. All the things that took me our of the house have all gone now… all I have is these sessions and so if anything I want more of them not less…’ she smiled and said, ‘yes that’s right we spoke of this last time I remember…’ and I said, ‘in fact I want to limit the contact I have with these three people I’m living with not the sessions!’ and she laughed. I talked about how I am just working so hard to meet everyone else’s needs and even as I look around the room it’s all for other people, there’s nothing there for me. I said, ‘but now I feel really selfish and needy like why do I deserve this time? You know I’m so fucking stressed with all the virus stuff and all the restrictions and I’m sitting here talking to another human being who is also living on this planet, also stressed about it all!’ she said, ‘but just because we’re all experiencing it doesn’t mean you don’t deserve the time to talk and feel. That’s the voice again telling you that you don’t deserve relief from your suffering and support.’ I said, ‘It makes up like 90% of my brain… I mean we’ve been working a lot with the inner critic and Anna would point out when the voice crops up and I remember I got kind of angry with Anna at one point where I was like, ‘it’s not a fucking inner critic though is it? I mean it’s me, it’s my voice… there’s no space between me and the voice! You know, I can’t even separate it from me… so for you to tell me to reel it in or stop that train of thought it’s like you’re telling ME to stop… you know? Then I’d be left with nothing.’ Linda said, ‘wow yes that really makes sense and I can see how that would feel so rejecting. So slow it down and look at what the voice is saying and how you’re feeling, explore how you feel underneath what the voice is saying… how does that sound?’ I nodded.

Linda asked me if it was always this way in my mind. I said, ‘this world in my head, when I was a kid it was the best place to be, it was amazing… so detailed and full and I could be or do anything I wanted you know, in the absence of good stuff in my real life I went inside and I loved!’ She was smiling and nodding but in a kind of sad way, like she knew that this coping strategy was because I didn’t have what I needed when I was a kid. I went on, ‘but then at some point I started to lose control of it, I could no longer master what was happening in the world in my head and bad things would happen or bad thoughts and it was horrible… I guess that’s when the depression and anxiety started, in my early teens… but yeah, it’s there all the time… it’s the fullest aspect of my whole life, all the thoughts in my head.’ She said, ‘well yeah I’m hearing that voice loud and clear today, yeah and it’s really persistent and just constantly there… I hear it. Do you find it exhausting, to constantly interpret people and situations through this filter or does it just feel normalized?’ I said, ‘it is exhausting…’ I tailed off and started to tear up. ‘It’s exhausting but it’s also my normal… I don’t know how to just be without it.’

She said, ‘I guess the key would be kindness. Accept kindness from other people, be kind to yourself, be kind to others.’ At the ‘be kind to yourself’ part I lifted the corner of my mouth and said, ‘do I have to’ and she laughed and said, ‘well, yep… I think, give it a go!’ We talked about how that would look, for me to try to look for the kindness and not let the sound of the inner critic be the loudest voice. I said that I found it hard to believe in kindness, that it always feels like the person is probably after something or isn’t being genuine. I said that I imagine she is annoyed with having to work with me. She said, ‘You know, for me though Lucy, one thing that has really stuck with me this week after talking to you, is the ‘therapy mum and therapy aunt’ thing. That just really sat here (hand on chest) all week… you know, it really felt right for me and was such a great way to describe it, I’m totally on board with that – therapy aunt, I can do that! That really sits nicely with me. I can play that role, I can be Lucy’s therapy aunt.’ I was smiling and thanked her then said, ‘even that is tainted by the filter though, after our session I text Anna to let her know we’d had a session because it felt like I was cheating on her with you,’ we both shared a laugh, ‘and I told her about the therapy mum and aunt comment and you know, the boundary… so she didn’t reply and so I just imagined that she’d be raging with me, really angry that I was insisting on still texting her and she’d be thinking, ‘for fuck sake Lucy you have Linda, now leave me the fuck alone…’ and I also imagined her being really angry at you for telling me that she wasn’t dead and breaking a boundary and I thought I’d dropped you in it and that you would say that because you guys know each other and because of the way I was behaving that we wouldn’t be able to work together anymore and I’d have to find someone else…’ She looked really concerned and was gently shaking her head.

Linda said, ‘One great thing is that when all this is over you guys are going to have so much great work to do together in that room.’ I started to cry and said, ‘I just feel like I’m never going to be in that room again, it feels like I’m never going to see her again!’ Linda asked why I felt that was true and I said, ‘maybe the thought that she is dead is less painful than imagining her sitting there in her livingroom having a cuppa, feeling fine, deliberately not texting me back! You know, I don’t even know what is wrong with her. She could be on a ventilator in a hospital bed or she could have something wrong with her that’s an ongoing thing that’s kept her off before or she could be stressed and need time away from work… I just don’t know and I know I don’t deserve to know either!’ Linda said, ‘why is the urge there to know? What would that bring you?’ I said, ‘peace from all the fantasies of what it might be? But she can’t win though, because if she text me back I’d feel like she had breached a boundary and if she doesn’t text back she’s abandoning me… she can’t fucking win! It’s my perfectionism, no one reaches the bar.’ Linda said, ‘Can anyone win with you? Does anyone ever come close?’ I said, ‘Nope! Well… Anna comes the closest.’ Linda smiled. I said, ‘Because she is willing to listen to me. To apologise. The first genuine heartfelt apology I ever received was from her. That was powerful.’ Linda said, ‘wow that sounds very powerful.’ I said, ‘she is willing to self reflect and non judgementally look at the situation. Paul was defensive. He always turned stuff around to be my problem but she always takes on the problem like we are a team in it together.’

I said, ‘I want to talk about the last two phone sessions I had with Anna but it feels like I would be betraying her to talk about her.’ Linda asked me why it would feel like that and I said, ‘well because I care a lot about her, it feels wrong to talk negatively of her, you know she could be really ill and I’m just gonna sit here and talk about what didn’t work for me in a session?’ I think Linda just encouraged me to keep talking and I said, ‘so… is she still alive by the way?’ Linda nodded and said she was still alive. I said, ‘the last two phone sessions I had with her… is it okay to talk about them?’ Linda said I could. I said, ‘when we have face to face sessions Anna is so amazing at holding the space for me and on the odd occasions we’ve had to have phone sessions they’ve felt just like face to face sessions but these two were different. I was crying a lot more than I ever have with her, properly sobbing…’ Linda interrupted me and said, ‘who were you crying for?’ and I thought and said, ‘well I was saying ‘I miss you so much’ – it felt like very young feelings, like I just wanted to be with her and sit next to her and get a hug from her… and I could hear she was upset, she was sniffing and blowing her nose and saying that we are all finding it hard and we are all panicked… it just didn’t feel like she was focusing on me, it felt like I was talking to Anna the person not Anna the therapist. She said things like she talked about a mindfulness exercise that her supervisor gave her which made me think, wow she must be needing this right now, and she told me she is trying to enjoy being woken by the birds at 4 in the morning instead of being annoyed by it, it just felt like she was sharing more of her own experience… we were both in the fear and sadness rather than her meeting me at mine. And in the last one she spent half of it preparing me as if she knew she was going to be ill. She kept saying that I shouldn’t turn away support if I need it and it’s offered to me, she talked about you again and she said that if she was ill or a family member of hers was ill she wouldn’t tell me what it was she would just let me know she wouldn’t be able to do the session and that I should seek support if I need it… like she knew! I hate this feeling because there’s stuff going on behind the scenes and I don’t know about it and it makes me feel like it’s very serious and that I will never see her again. Maybe she is suffering mentally and if that’s the case it could be months before I see her.’

Linda listened intently and there were points where I was emotional. She then said, ‘so the two phone calls you had were quite unsettling for you, she wasn’t her usual self, she wasn’t able to contain things for you.’ I nodded and said I felt awful because she is an amazing therapist and I don’t want to be bitching about her. Linda reassured me that these feelings were mind and valid and only showed how much I cared about Anna and the connection we’ve built.

I said, ‘In sessions when I’ve been really dissociated, Anna has observed that when I lose connection with myself I lose her too, I can’t feel her, it’s like she’s not in the room. But I’m noticing now that it works the other way too and right now I can’t feel her. I’ve lost her and so I have no connection with myself either. I used to have conversations with her in my head all the time and maybe the last 6 months or a year her voice in my head has been very supportive and encouraging. But recently I haven’t been able to feel her inside me at all, the conversations have all stopped. When we started working together we had this analogy of a wall. Like at first it was a brick wall between me and her and we couldn’t see through it or over it and it was like I was alone in the room. Then the wall became a blind that I could roll up and down whenever I wanted. More recently it’s been like a glass wall and Anna suggested it was glass doors. She said it was nice we could see each other and that I could choose when I want to open the doors. But now it feels like the wall is back. It really feels like I’m never going to see her again and that our time together is over.’ Linda said, ‘ah yes, I don’t know if you’ve seen the news today… the pictures of all the pubs in Glasgow and all around Scotland boarded up…?’ I started to smile as I could see where she was going. She continued, ‘so obviously because of the pandemic, all these places are shut down at the moment and they need to be protected and made safe, so they’ve used chip bard to cover all the glass windows and doors and it’s quite striking to see these places that I am so familiar with, all boarded up. And one day when all this is over, the boards will easily be prized off with crowbars…’ I said, ‘I’m really loving this analogy. I love when you therapists really leap into the imagery with me. She said, ‘well I’m happy to talk in images and it’s a very striking one… perhaps you and Anna have hammered a temporary chipboard covering over your glass doors, for security and protection, and when you reconnect and when you are ready you can get a crowbar and prize those boards off. How does that sound?’ I was smiling widely and said I loved the sound of that. That it felt reassuring to think of it as temporary and a form of protecting our work and connection rather than something separating us.

Just before ending the session we sorted a regular time each Wednesday and Saturday and then I said, ‘so you’re really okay with me having two sessions a week?’ She smiled and nodded and said, ‘yes, YES Lucy I am more than happy for you to have two sessions a week. Did you hear that?’ She said that in a gentle tone with a smile and I smiled and told her I heard her.