Okay, I’m listening…

It was fucking brutal.

This morning I noticed that I felt fairly indifferent about the upcoming session. I felt good about my decision to send the email ‘using my voice’ as Anna would put it… I haven’t worked this hard for over two years just to have someone crap all over that in one session! If anything it felt like honouring the work Anna did with me to advocate for myself. Also, I’ve felt so massively supported by everyone commenting and sending me messages the past couple of days (and in fact through this whole thing) that I felt very confident in my position and secure in the knowledge that if the whole thing didn’t work out I’d have a beautiful group of amazing, empathic survivors and allies linking virtual arms in a circle around me ready to validate, love and support me on my search for a new therapist. I ended up going for a drive with my family the hour before the session. The first drive in nearly 3 months. It felt amazing to be out, like it was healing my mental health with each field we passed. We had the music up full and all four of us sang along like before lockdown, it was seriously so lovely. At one point I thought about how normal it felt and that maybe we will eventually be able to get to a place of feeling like life has settled again. Then a tiny wave of grief when I remembered there will be no Anna coming with me on that journey. That I will have to get used to life outside of lockdown without her… everyone else’s lives will slowly return to what they were before but for those of us who lost someone through this, we will carry the loss with us.

I logged on and we both said ‘hi’ in our usual way, in my head I’m wondering what she’s thinking. Linda asked me how I was and I said, ‘well to be honest, putting the email to one side I actually feel really good today. We went for a drive this morning for the first time in nearly 3 months and it was fucking medicinal! So good to get out and see something new you know.’ Linda was smiling and said she was so pleased it felt good to see some new stuff and do something different. I said, ‘and I decided to stop taking the diazepam and it might be a coincidence but I haven’t felt suicidal today or yesterday so I don’t know but maybe that was contributing to the really low feeling.’ Linda asked me when I stopped taking it and I said, ‘well on Wednesday I had three which is more than I’ve ever taken in a day before and after our session I crashed massively and could barely function I just felt like my whole system was shutting down you know and I think it was partly a nervous system response to the intensity of the session and not knowing how to deal with that but maybe also because of taking the meds so on Thursday I woke up feeling really grateful that I hadn’t acted on how I felt and decided to make some changes and one of those things was having a break from the diazepam to see if that helped…’ Linda said it sounded like I was in a really hard place on Wednesday and she was sorry to hear that.

So then we launched in to the email. I asked her if she’d read it and she said, ‘I read it once this morning. I was very busy yesterday and didn’t have the chance to read it any more times than once,’ I thanked her for reading it and said that I had assumed she wouldn’t read it and I was prepared but also shitting myself about having to read it to her in session. She said, ‘okay so you don’t need to shit yourself about it…’ I laughed and told her it was par for the course that I always feel like that anyway and I just push through the nerves and anxiety every session. She smiled then continued, ‘obviously there was a lot in the letter so, I know you mentioned reading it to me, you can if you want to do that or… I don’t know how you want to do this but it’s important that we cover everything you want to cover today… and also as you mentioned we will talk about the boundaries around that today as well because that’s also important.’ So straight off I noticed that she seemed calm and open to listening and relaxed. Which obviously felt great. She’d read it and she was willing to turn up and work on it. I thanked her for being willing to talk about this and said I understood it was important to go over the boundary.

I asked her what she felt about the email and Linda said, ‘I want to say that I got the very clear message in the letter that you did not feel understood by me on Wednesday and I want to share with you that as I read the letter I felt that I was not understood either. You know sometimes that happens where we completely miss each other, we just go off in different directions.’ I said, ‘I hear what you’re saying and that’s important but I do feel that… well this is my session and so it’s vitally important that I’m understood. This is meant to be benefiting me and it’s me who feels the massive impact if I’m not understood.’ She said, ‘while that’s true, there are two of us in this relationship and I need to feel understood and heard as well.’ She then said, ‘I’ve got to be honest with you Lucy I was horrified… fucking horrified when I read the email, honestly… fucking horrified.’ I felt a burst of panic in my chest and asked her to clarify what she meant by fucking horrified, ‘because to me it sounds like you’re angry with me.’ She thought for a bit and then said, ‘well I was just reading through it fucking horrified that this was your experience of the session and I was trying to think about how I had said things and what we’d discussed and my experience of the session was completely different from your experience… horrified… for me it’s the sense that my empathy had been completely misinterpreted as gaslighting.’ I said, ‘right…’ trying to take it in. She continued, ‘Sometimes we can be in such a dark place where we cant take in anyone’s care, you know? We could be in a space where nothing feels good and everything feels like a threat, perhaps the place you were in on Wednesday meant you weren’t able to take my empathy in. A really horrible hard place to be and I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to help.’

I thanked her and she looked quizzical and said, ‘hmmm that sounded a bit, I don’t know, flat… are you sure you were able to take that in?’ I said, ‘So… yes I am grateful for what you’ve said there, that you’re sorry. I’m uncomfortable with what you said before that.’ She asked, ‘Okay, which bit are you uncomfortable with?’ I thought for quite a while and then said, ‘…your empathy was interpreted as gaslighting… saying that to me IS gaslighting!’ She looked shocked. I said, ‘what you’re saying to me is that what you were doing was kind and nice and caring and the problem lies in how I interpreted it. I’m the one with the problem.’ She explained some more about how we can find ourselves in such a dark place that we can’t take in empathy. I said, ‘No… I know what empathy feels like, that did not feel like empathy.’ She sat back and looked right at the screen for a while as if she was really actually paying attention and she said, ‘Okay I’m listening to you Lucy, I hear you. It didn’t feel like empathy and that’s very important. And I am really sorry for that Lucy. I genuinely mean that. I’m sorry that my words made you feel worse.’ I couldn’t help but smile broadly with tears in my eyes and I thanked her. She said, ‘thank YOU for your honesty, you know Lucy, if it wasn’t for what happened with Anna we wouldn’t be working together and in therapy terms we really haven’t been working together for very long at all.’ I said this was out twelfth session and she continued, ‘yeah we really don’t know each other, I don’t know you and I’m listening and learning because I want to get to know you… so this is very important work. A very important conversation.’

I nodded and really felt so glad that we were both facing this conversation. It is important. I said to her that I was really glad to see that she was willing to hear me out and try to understand me. I said, ‘I think it’s important also that I say this… what you are describing as sensitivity is actually hyper vigilance. Which is a trauma response. To call it sensitivity is to say that this is some sort of character flaw. Whereas this is actually a survival strategy that makes perfect sense when you know my history. And yes I’m an adult now and no I’m not in any real threat but this relationship does in some ways mirror the parent child relationship, certainly to some parts of me, the parts that need to be healed, those parts struggle to trust. My trauma is interpersonal so your words and tone and mannerisms and facial expressions and body language… I’m interpreting it all, all the time. Minute details. Because that’s what I had to do as a child… and I get that I’m not a child any more but that is what I was exposed to every day of my life from birth so… like you’ve talked about neural pathways before, so those grooves that have been scored millions of times over these fundamental, developing years… they are pretty fucking deep… it’s going to take a shit load of work to really shake up and dig up all that deeply engrained stuff to then create new pathways of a new way of being in relationships.’ Linda was listening and nodding and saying sort of active listening noises and phrases. She said, ‘yeah this all makes a lot of sense and I’m taking it all in. It makes so much sense that you would be like that, yeah… it is a perfectly understandable response to the… yeah to the uh… to the trauma actually yes.’ And she had a really sort of deep feeling expression on her face, like she was seeing this part of me that she didn’t realise was there or something. Like it was sinking in for her. She told me again that she was grateful that I was willing to be so honest with her.

I said, ‘the thing is, you’ve met me in this really fucking strange time in my life and like, if you’d met me like a few months ago I was doing good. I was happy and life was going well. I was dealing with working through the childhood trauma stuff in my sessions but my daily life on the whole was going well. I had these things in my life that I’d carefully curated and sculpted and gathered around me that made my life feel full and fun and fulfilling.’ She was listening and repeating things like, ‘yeah you were happy,’ and ‘you had made this great life for yourself hmmm…’ I said, ‘and you know Anna and I had a really solid relationship so anything that came up in my life I would take it to her and she would help me work through it. Whether I was stressed with work or arguing with Adam or struggling with my perfectionism in parenting I would take it to Anna and she would tease it all out with me and help me process and figure out what was going on… life just ran so much more smoothly when I had her to talk things through with.’ Linda had that warm smile on her face that I recall noticing way back in the first few sessions whenever I would talk about Anna, like she was thinking fondly about Anna. I interrupted myself and said, ‘that right there…’ pointed at Linda and she widened her eyes and looked startled and like she was paying attention, ‘that version of you… that caring, kind Linda… I feel like she wasn’t with me on Wednesday and then I spent all my time thinking about how you probably have got sick of me and you don’t want to work with me and I couldn’t even remember this part of you and now I see it and I’m like struck by the fact that you’re here and you’re listening and I mean, of course you are this is what your whole job is about!’ Linda again was nodding and agreeing. I said, ‘anyway, back to what I was saying… It’s like in the movie Inside Out. You know how all the areas of the girl’s life are all suspended around in her mind and one by one they all start crumbling and dropping out the space they’re suspended in. That’s what is happening in my life…’ She said that was a powerful image and she said, ‘all the areas of your life have crumbled.’ I said, ‘yeah and like I said, if you had met me a few months ago I wasn’t like this, I wasn’t overly sensitive, I had a lot going on in my life, just like in the film… I’d worked really hard at getting to a great place… but all of a sudden everything in my world that brought me all this happiness and gave me a sense of identity and made me feel solid in who I am, all that has disintegrated in such a sudden and short space of time and not only that but I’m then having to try to cope with that by myself because the person I would have taken all that to has gone.’ I started to cry a little but kept talking. ‘So the island of my life where my marriage sits is crumbling because for the past 3 months I’ve had no one to process our disagreements with and the island of my relationship with my kids, especially Grace is crumbling because I have no one to help me iron out all of the tiny little ways that relationship triggers me daily. My ability to do my job… I mean my job has changed so much through this lockdown and the stress around that is immeasurable and yeah so that’s crumbling. My health, so I can’t go to the gym anymore I can’t go to my weight loss classes… I’ve been binge eating and not exercising… so that islands crumbling. And even my close relationship with my brother is crumbling. I don’t know how to deal with any of these issues by myself, we hadn’t really got that far yet. I processed everything with Anna. I used to take everything to her Linda. This is why I need two sessions a week. It’s a lot! Family life, in particular my relationship with Grace… for example at bedtime when I read Grace a story and cuddle up with her, it fuckin hurts so much because I never had that, my mum never read me bedtime stories and she never cuddled up with me… so I have these emotional flashbacks and reminders of pain from my childhood all the time and I would have taken it all to Anna and she’d have helped me process it so I could then go back to family life with a better understanding of things and the ability to repair with Grace. The past few months all of that has been piling up, un-worked-on, since the end of February I haven’t had that support… and so now it feels like I’m looking at this life that was once great, like I really felt like things were going great, and its all fucking crumbled before my eyes and then as if that isn’t bad enough I fucking lost her! The most important attachment figure in my life and the only person I trusted with all of this. She’s gone and I cant get her back and the grief of losing her… god. My life is chaos and I’m barely keeping my head above water and I am meant to then try to process the grief and then you know, I’m told that I’m sensitive… you know? Of course I’m fucking sensitive…’ Linda interrupted me and finished my sentence, ‘…your life has fallen apart and you’re deep in this very painful grief… this is trauma. It’s fucking traumatic!’ and I said, ‘yeah and I have to try to build a relationship with you in the middle of it all just so I can try to get some of this back on track, somehow.’ She said, ‘and yet here you are showing up!’ I said, ‘yeah what choice do I have really? This is about survival.’

I said, ‘I had convinced myself that this session wasn’t going to happen. I was quite relieved to receive your email with the link. It’s hard for me to determine the inner critic sometimes you know it’s not like she comes through with this like witchy voice in my head luring me into the dark side of hating myself… it sounds very logical, like a rational thought process – Linda doesn’t understand me, she thinks I’m some sort of overly emotional, hyper sensitive, easily triggered irrational person and nothing I do or say will help her change her mind. But I can see and hear now that you have come to this session open and willing to hear me out and I do want to continue this you know, I was kinda frightened by all of this, I was looking at other therapists online thinking it was going to be too triggering to work with you because you didn’t get it. But I do want to continue to work with you…’ Linda said, ‘you do want to continue, good, I want to work with you too.’

I said, ‘You know, maybe 6 months down the line I could talk reflectively about my sensitivity around the words people use but one week after losing Anna and you know, I’m feeling all this grief and you’re telling me I’m sensitive and that I’m easily triggered. It was too soon. I think I just need someone to sit with me in this, understanding and caring. It feels very delicate and painful.’

She said, ‘I hear you. It felt too soon. This is on me you know Lucy, this isn’t yours it’s mine… generally as a rule I work with quite fast paced clients (she specialises in working with armed forces short term treatment) so we maybe do 6 to 8 sessions and I am a fast person by nature and so I’m used to moving quickly… I need to be mindful of that, I am going too fast for you.’ I said, ‘oh that just makes me feel like shit though because I want to be able to process things quickly. I want to be one of those people who is just like in and out after 6 sessions you know, I feel like I’m broken and I really feel so ashamed that it’s taking me this long.’ Linda said, ‘Hmmm no but there’s no shame in that. It takes as long as it takes and their situation is different – they are working on different things, you are dealing with trauma and that will understandably take time. What I said to you on Wednesday felt brutal and it was too soon.’ I sort of laughed and said, ‘yeah well anyway so…’ and I started to talk about something else and then Linda said, ‘no hold on let’s stay with that because it feels like you’re trying to brush that to one side but it’s important that you hear what I said. So I replied, ‘hmmm okay well, it sounds like you’re saying that I felt like it was brutal because I’m sensitive but anyone else would have been able to take it… and this is a lose lose situation for me because by pointing this out I am showing how sensitive I am, which is the twisted nature of gaslighting… whichever way you look at it, it’s my fault that it hurt.’ Linda spoke a little firmer and said, ‘I want you to hear me,’ she put her hand on her heart and said, ‘I am taking responsibility for this. What I said on Wednesday was fucking brutal and I’m so sorry that it hurt you and made you feel unheard and misunderstood. I want to work hard at getting to know you and understanding you. It takes time to get to know someone and I want to do that with you…’ I said, ‘I feel that. I can feel that. Thank you. It was brutal and it was too fast.’

I said, ‘I’ve always wanted things to go faster. Why would anyone want to stay in this much pain for any longer than they need to you know? To be honest a similar thing happened when Anna and I worked together in the early days. Things moved too quickly and it was pretty retraumatising for me actually until we settled into a better rhythm… this isn’t as extreme as that, there has been some progress over the years! And actually, in the last phone call I had with her she said to me to remember to be patient, that the temptation is there to rush through this work because it’s hard and painful but pace is really important for me and I need to remember to go slow, baby steps… she specifically told me to be patient and go slow.’ Linda smiled a sort of sad smile and said, ‘this is really important, Anna knew you and that’s really important advice. I’m hearing you that we need to go slow. I will work on that.’ I thanked her.

I said, ‘I’ve said this before but this is such a good example of this… so there are really different parts of me. So there’s this really capable, coping adult part that is seemingly confident and is articulate and reasonable and can be rational and logical but there are these other parts that can’t cope with that, they feel much younger and they don’t have the words to describe what they’re feeling and they carry the really hard emotions and you know… they ARE younger because they’ve been trapped in a space and time and all of the pain has been frozen at whatever age I was and then when it’s triggered it does feel young and the pain is overwhelming and that’s when it needs to be sort of drip fed to me and really carefully controlled so I don’t go too far and actually, you know the times when I’ve been crying and maybe you’d say it was an example of me being sensitive but if Anna was here she would be saying, ‘noooo don’t tell her she’s being sensitive, she’s doing so well, this is amazing, she’s feeling, she’s crying, she’s sitting with it, this is such great progress!’ honestly she would be so proud of me for expressing my feelings, so fucking proud of me for crying as much as I’ve cried and not doing it only by myself and the fact that I’ve been advocating for myself… she’d love all that! So yeah, its these child parts that are holding the emotions that need very slow, patient, nurturing kid gloves you know?’

I then explained further why the interpersonal stuff is really painful. I gave a couple of examples of what my mum was like and how flippant she was with what she would say to me. I said a number of times in the session that words are really important to me because words are all I had and Linda said, ‘I’m hearing that loud and clear. Words are really important to you.’ I said, ‘and this is something Anna learned as well as the timing thing, I guess learning the hard way but hitting a sore point and having to repair it you know… so there was a time when she said something about the fact that I, ‘still haven’t cried’ with her and it really jarred me and I wrote to her about it and we worked through it and she said she knew instantly that it was a clumsy and hurtful thing to say and wasn’t how she’d intended it and she regretted the phrasing… that kind of apology and repair is so meaningful to me it really means so much.’ I continued, ‘I need you to remember that this is really hard for me, to hold on so tightly to the words people say… I overanalyse everything and to be given the space to explore why something has impacted me is so healing.’ She said a few things about how she understood why it was important and that she will remember how important words are to me.

I spent some time talking about the situation with my brother (I wrote about this in my instagram stories this week – basically I told him how I’ve been feeling recently and he overreacted with a bunch of helplines and interventions then gave me the silent treatment when I told him how unhelpful and codependent he was being, that I just wanted love and understanding, not to be fixed… that it was his desire to alleviate his own worry and concern that had fueled his jump to action and not a desire to give me what I needed which was connection and compassion). I talked about how the misattunement strangely mirrored the situation with Linda and that his lack of attuned support this week has hurt so much because I feel so misunderstood. And that’s a sore point because it reminds me of what I’m grieving. That I’ve lost Anna who knew me so well. I said, ‘and when I talk about Anna and the things I’m missing, I’m not comparing the two of you, I’m purely grieving the loss of this person in my life who knew me better than anyone. I could say just a few words to her about something and she would immediately know how that thing would have impacted me because we’d worked together for so long. I miss that. It’s not that I don’t value what I have here with you but I miss that relationship that I’d invested so much time and effort into. And it’s hard to have to overly explain everything to try to help you understand what I’m trying to say or how I’m feeling, it requires energy that I just don’t have… I just want to be understood and empathised with you know? And I guess that’s what hurt with Daniel too. I wanted him to just know what I needed.’ Linda reflected on the situation as I explained it all to her about him overreacting to what I’d shared with him and that he really can only ever see me as a mother figure and therefore just needed me to be okay.

I said, ‘I really do value your willingness to thrash all of this out you know… and I do like people being honest and open with me and I try to be like that too. I know the email is kind of a side step round and not all that direct a way to communicate but it was a way for me to feel heard. It’s like I imagine people will have very rigid thoughts and beliefs and nothing I do or say will make them change their mind so I need to give myself time to explain myself perfectly before I give them the space to read through my thoughts. I get that it’s important to bring these things directly to you but this is our first rupture I suppose (she smiled at that bit) and I had no idea how you were going to respond, I just felt that it was really important and I couldn’t let it go.’ She said she was glad that I’d brought it to her. I said, ‘so is the boundary could you please not send emails between sessions?’ she said, ‘um, no, it doesn’t have to be as strict as that, you can send emails but maybe not ones like that because it’s far more safe when it is brought to the session, this is the only safe way to deal with it – in session, in real time, within this containment, you know?’ I nodded and said I understood and that was talked about at length with Anna and I do agree. I didn’t feel told off at all, it felt like a really calm and mutually clear conversation.

I said, ‘so, 90 seconds to go… over the next few sessions I want to cover a few things. It’s important I talk about my self harm urges and the things that have happened recently and also I want to talk about all the things I’m missing from working with Anna. I want to be able to talk about these things without you thinking I want it from you, I just need space to grieve losing these things you know like phone check ins and texting between sessions I really miss these things and want to talk about it.’ She said, ‘okay you have a list of things to cover,’ I laughed and said there was plenty to keep us busy. We confirmed the time for Wednesday and we both thanked each other for being open and honest. She really made a point to thank me… then there’s that awkward three seconds where you’ve said goodbye and you’re both still visible trying to find the ‘leave meeting’ button. Hate it!

Anyway, so one thing I’ve noticed is that there is this need to make use of every last minute of a 50 minute session. And I thought it wasn’t possible but it really is! I needed longer with Anna and there will probably be times when we delve into some of the trauma work that I will need longer and hopefully she will let me have double sessions if necessary. But there was a point in the early days with Anna where I wouldn’t open up until I was about 40 minutes into the session then we’d have ten minutes or even 5 minutes of very deep and painful work and then fifteen minutes of grounding. I can feel the difference, I don’t feel ashamed of the need to launch straight into the work as soon as we’ve said hi and to make full use of the entire session. I also have the gift of hindsight. Now with two long term, deep attachment therapy relationships under my belt, I know how important it is to be transparent, honest and open from the very start… to speak my mind and tell the therapist exactly how I feel about the way she is being with me and state exactly what I need about the service she’s providing while I’m not knee deep in the transference and deep attachment which makes it ever so slightly more complicated and difficult to be my vulnerable self! (Also… my god how proud Anna would be to hear that I am fighting to have my needs met. Jeez that was a hell of a lot of work right there. Hours and hours of ‘what do you need?’ ‘I don’t have any needs’ – ‘I don’t know what my needs are’ – ‘you can’t help me’ – ‘I don’t deserve to have needs’ – ‘you should know what I need’… shit!)

What’s happening here with Linda feels like very important work and something a friend was talking through with me earlier really resonates. It’s the idea that having to stop working with your therapist prematurely and moving on to a new therapist can feel like you’re going back to the beginning again but you’re not, its about starting from where you are now with fresh eyes. And I actually said this to Linda, that of course I wish all of this had never happened, but having lost Anna and having to go into detail explaining myself, feeling this grief, revisiting things, working through getting to know myself through a new person, it has propelled me onto a new road of learning and growth that I wouldn’t have experienced had I still been working with Anna. And its not that I was stuck with her, I do believe we were doing amazing work and would have continued with that. But this situation has broken open a box of potential growth that wouldn’t have been triggered within my work with Anna. So for that, I’m grateful.

Laying it all on the line

What have I got to lose?

Hi Linda,

I really need to say some things about the last session and if you decide you’d rather wait until the session before reading it then I’ll read it to you at the start of the session but it feels very important to me that you understand how I feel about a few things you said. I understand that you are straight talking and I really value your authenticity but along with that direct nature this relationship still needs to be therapeutic for me. My experience of you on the whole is that you have been very supportive and compassionate in previous sessions so I believe you’ll appreciate me being honest about this and you’ll be willing to discuss it with me.

I want to preface this by saying that all of what I’m about to explain boils down to my attachment trauma, childhood abuse and neglect. And I think that when I’ve been asking you if you are prepared to work with me long term and that this could get intense etc, what I should have been saying specifically is, ‘I was doing deep attachment work with Anna around early developmental trauma that was often intensely emotional and pre-verbal and that work was ended prematurely and I want to continue it somehow… is it within your remit (albeit through a different modality) to work on that with me? It is very slow and delicate work and takes time and patience and a lot of compassion. If not then please can you help me deal with the grief of losing Anna and support me until I find a therapist who can focus on the more in depth long term recovery from childhood trauma.’ I know that on one of your websites you do list trauma as something that you can help with but I understand that complex trauma is a specific issue and I think we just need to be upfront about whether it will work out with us long term or not.

In the last session, I feel like you were taking quite a harsh stance with me as if you had lost your patience with my grief and wanted me to draw a line and move on. I am grieving the loss of Anna, my therapy mum and the person I was most deeply attached to who knew all the sides to me that no one else knows. On Wednesday, when I recalled a session to you that was really meaningful because I wanted to share one of the things I’m grieving losing you responded by telling me, ‘that’s finished now, it’s over, your work with Anna has finished and you’re working with me now and I work differently to Anna.’ If I had come to you because I’d lost my sister who was my best friend and confidante and I was recalling how much I loved talking to her and that no one knew me like she did, would you have said to me, ‘that’s finished now, she’s gone, you can’t have that anymore’? I really need to explore the grief that I’m feeling, I need to go into all the details of everything I miss without you reminding me of the obvious fact that she is gone. I’m not going to be able to heal from this loss by being forced into accepting it. I need to be allowed to reminisce and grieve all the things I’m missing and be given the space to explore that in detail. I know I’m working with you now but I need to talk about everything that I miss about working with Anna.

When I say that something has hurt my feelings or that it’s made me feel defensive, I’ve noticed that you respond by pointing out that I am easily and frequently triggered and that I’m sensitive. Rather than making an observation that in your opinion I am sensitive, it would be more helpful to explore what it is that’s hurt my feelings and how I have interpreted it in my mind. Maybe exploring the life experiences that have lead me to believe that people will inevitably be criticising me and look at the role my inner critic plays. Telling me I’m sensitive feels like gaslighting, that I am overreacting and that my feelings aren’t justified. I grew up with a really insensitive mother who would mock and humiliate and criticise me then call me overly sensitive for being hurt by what she’d said. So being called sensitive is a personal trigger for me. Pointing out that I am constantly bombarded by triggers also feels like gaslighting. I think you’re trying to show me that you see that it must be hard for me to experience life like that but what it feels like is that you’re saying there’s something wrong with me and the way I interpret people. Of course life would feel easier if I didn’t take everything so personally but it’s not just going to magically disappear. Again, it would be helpful to look at how my system is reacting to these perceived triggers and find a way to tend to the parts of me that are still responding as if they’re in threat. Pointing out to me that I find it hard to tolerate hard emotions also feels like you are telling me that I am the problem. Finding it difficult to tolerate emotions is what attachment trauma is all about… no one was there to coregulate with me so I would daydream and dissociate or self harm. I don’t have a baseline pre trauma that I can go back to… there was no caring, supportive other to help me. I literally learned how to feel the feelings the past couple of years with Anna in a very drip fed, carefully controlled way… Anna would call it baby steps. And what’s happened now is this grief has burst the dam and made me feel all of the abandonment pain all at once, more emotional pain than I’ve ever felt before and so no, I don’t know how to tolerate or process it by myself.

I also don’t understand where the therapeutic value is in telling someone a week after they’ve lost someone significant to them that loss and bereavement is selfish. I know that’s an accurate statement but how does it help me in that moment? When I am still cycling through shock and I’m crying because my session is the only window of time in my life where I get privacy and space to be fully seen and to express the feelings (because every other minute of my life is taken up by tending to my kids needs) I don’t need to be told that I’m selfish, I need to be told that you understand and that the way I’m feeling makes perfect sense.

You have met me in this bizarre moment in time which looks nothing like my normal life. You have met me in crisis, in lockdown, during a worldwide pandemic in the midst of losing my therapist. You’ve experienced me as someone who cries a lot and gets overwhelmed very quickly and wants to opt out of life. Anna worked with me for two and a half years and never experienced me like this. Had you met me three months ago you would have met someone who was enjoying life, seeing friends a couple of times a week, going to the gym three or four times a week, teaching, working hard at being a good parent, maintaining a weight loss and fitness journey and on top of this was exploring self development and healing from childhood trauma with her therapist. I was able to analyse myself and was not overly sensitive because I had built resilience with Anna. Within a couple of months my whole life as I knew it has fallen apart. It’s like you’ve walked into a warzone, the bombs fell the week before and devastated the local area. A woman is standing among the wreck of her home picking amongst what’s left. She has lost her closest loved one and as you talk to her a bit she cries and finds it hard to take any observations on board or constructive criticisms and so you call her sensitive and note that loss is selfish. I feel like I’m living in the most difficult time of my life right now and on top of that I’ve lost the one person that would help me deal with and process it all. I think it makes sense that I would be feeling emotionally raw and needing a sensitive and compassionate supporter.

This email might be more evidence for you that I’m sensitive and have a filter that alters what people say because you didn’t mean any of it the way that I have interpreted it… but surely that is where the work is? Also, it’s not about you feeling understood, it’s about me feeling understood. This email might be an example of how things can get intense with me and something that you’re up for working with. Or it might make you decide you are not prepared to change how you work for me. I have looked up person centred therapy and it might be that it’s just not the right modality for me. It is really important that we lay that all out on the table and figure it out now before I get deeper into the attachment. I do hope that even if you feel you can’t work with the deeper attachment stuff, that you will still help me deal with the loss of Anna and not terminate our work immediately. I’ve found you really helpful the past couple of months and what I have written here is specific to the deeper work and it’s very important to me. I’m also aware that this may prompt an important conversation about the boundaries of between session contact. And I guess that’s also an important thing to iron out if we are to continue working together. It is another things I am grieving the loss of… I don’t expect you to work the way Anna worked but I do need to grieve the things I’m missing.

I hope all of this makes sense.

Speak to you tomorrow.


No silver linings, but perhaps there is still hope

‘The ocean is wild and over your head and the boat beneath you is sinking.’

Last night I stayed up until 3am. I was curled on the sofa crying feeling the weight of this grief heavy on my chest. You know when you stand barefoot on the sand near the lapping waves of the shore and when you step away, your footprint fills rapidly with water? That’s what this loss feels like. She’s evacuated herself from me and the pain has flooded into the space she’s left behind. Sometimes it feels like it’s drowning me. I ache to feel her presence. I’m left with reminders everywhere. Every time I walk into my bedroom I see Luna and remember when Anna held her in session, she stroked her fur, talked to her and made her talk back. Anna’s perfume is on my make up stand. Sometimes I spray it on my belly so that I can smell her when I move but oh my god the pain is excruciating. Her blue heart is sitting on my side table. This tiny glass symbol of a connection more powerful than anything I’ve ever felt before. Two folders on my desktop, one entitled ‘Anna Sessions’ that holds nearly 200 documents and one named, ‘Linda Sessions’ that contains just over ten. Going from session number 126 to session number 1. It breaks my heart. When Anna phoned me last Tuesday I took a screen shot of her calling me before I answered, I knew it would be the last time I’d see her name flash on my screen. When I go into my messages, there is a thread of hundreds of texts between us. And a space at the bottom waiting for me to break the boundary and text her. Just a few buttons away from bursting into her life again. But I won’t. A final expression of my love to her, I will respect her wishes and never contact her again. I’ve noticed her photo and bio has been taken down from some of the sites she was on. Like it never happened. Like she was never there.

Last night I was reminded of the session where for the first time I pulled Luna out of my bag and onto my lap for comfort. I sat cross legged on the chair holding Luna with my head resting on her head, face covered. Anna came and sat beside me and held my arm, stroking her thumb back and forth and we just sat there in silence with me feeling feelings and her sitting with me in it. There were no words and there are no words really to describe how powerfully therapeutic that moment was. At one point I whispered that I hated how I was feeling and she said she knew. I miss that. And I’m scared I will never have that again. What if Linda doesn’t know how to do that type of therapy?

I have this recurring image in my mind when I think about what I went through with Anna the past couple of months. I can picture the Titanic slowly sinking and some of it’s passengers still don’t know the chaos and catastrophe that’s happening below deck. The third class floor is flooding and a mother, desperate to save her baby, begs a kind looking stranger in a lifeboat to save her child. Already knee deep in sea water, she wraps the infant in her only shawl and leans over the side of the sinking ship’s railings, passing her baby to the stranger she watches as the lifeboat is rowed away from the wreck before she is sucked under. There is a, ‘go on without me’ feeling to all this. ‘I can’t go any further with you but please don’t stop here with me, keep going.’ Anna could easily have told me she wasn’t going to be able to work for the foreseeable future but that we could take a break until she is well again. I would have waited for her but it would have been a different type of torture. My life on hold. My healing on pause. An anxious, preoccupied worrying of what might be happening. An uneasy anticipation. A dance like the one we’ve been in since the beginning of March. Anna told me she was jealous of Linda for getting to work with me and she could have easily held on to the possession of me, knowing how high I hold her and that I was hanging on her every word. But she has never let her ego control my therapy, she did what was best for me in letting me go. She told me a few weeks ago, ‘I’m sorry that my ill health has disrupted your therapy so much,’ and in her final email to me she said, ‘it is really important that you carry on with your own therapy journey, as there is no guarantee if or when I would return.’ She never let it be about her needs.

It reminds me of what I have read in gentle parenting books. That it is the most loving way to guide a child – to never force your own need to be needed onto them… to encourage autonomy and self sufficiency. That doesn’t mean forcing your child to be independent before they are ready because that is abandonment. What it means is not forcing your help and support onto a child when they are capable of doing it themselves. Anna understood that my therapy was never about her, she never encouraged dependence but for as long as she could be there for me, she met my needs and she shone a light on my own ability to do the same for myself.

It was always so much more than just the hour I spent with her. Building a relationship with Anna enriched my life. She gave me complete freedom to explore myself and reflected such a kind and hopeful version of what she saw in me back to me. I don’t now if Linda can do this work with me long term. It has been a blessing to have her here to carry me as I float from the wreckage but I don’t know if I can stay in her boat. Perhaps she will navigate me to a place where I feel I can stand in the waters and wade to a new shore. I can see now that the most significant relationship we have is with ourselves. I love Anna wholeheartedly and there are still moments where I feel like I can’t go on without her, but the end goal for all of this work is my healing. I didn’t walk into her office in September 2017 so that I could find a 52 year old woman to fall in love with, I walked in there because I needed help with my recovery. And she did help me. She helped me more than I can ever express, evidence of it is all around me. Last night I was googling ways to kill myself easily and was desperately searching helplines to call. This morning I helped my children release butterflies that we have watched grow from tiny caterpillars over the past month. If that isn’t a beautiful analogy of painful transformation I don’t know what is. There are days where the motionless chrysalis hangs there looking completely lifeless. Then, through patience and perseverance, this crumpled and tired looking butterfly emerges. It clings, wings flickering and shaking for quite a while, adjusting. And the first few times it flies, it smacks around it’s net home and lands on the ground on it’s back. No transformation is without pain, nothing worth fighting for is easy or without risk of ‘failure’. I do feel as if this ending could be a catalyst for further growth, taking me down a road I may not have traveled had she stayed by my side for the next few years. I am being forced to adapt. This is testing my resources and it’s shining a blinding light on my resilience. An ability to cope with something that I thought would break me. And strength does not stand on the top of a mountain arms stretched high bellowing like a warrior. Strength crawls through the white heat of the fire, eyes stinging and throat burning, not knowing how much further she can go. Strength keeps swimming when drowning feels like an easier option. Strength feels like longing to end your life and yet taking another breath.

I find the analogy of silver linings difficult in times like this. It is too soon to look for reasons why this might have happened and any bright sides just sound like toxic positivity and invalidation. I don’t want to be told that this will all work out in the end. But I do know that I am resilient enough to make the best out of this situation. Because I have done that my whole damn life. We evolve and change. I don’t have the same needs as I did 3 years ago. I needed Anna to love me like a mother loves her children, I’m not sure what my needs are now because they are drenched in the immediate need to tend to the grief. But Anna reminded me to be patient, that this journey takes time and that it isn’t always apparent where we are going but we just need to have faith, take the first baby step. I refuse to believe ‘everything happens for a reason’ but I will trust the process.

A huge part of my healing has been in learning to love wholeheartedly and speak the truth in full knowledge that I may suffer great loss. That the risk it took to connect to Anna despite knowing there was a chance it could hurt, was worth it a million times over. That the pain and fear of speaking up brought relief of equal proportions. It is agony to have had this love and have it leave, but she has left me with so much more than I had before I met her.

It is terrifying to let someone see you but it is torture to never be seen.

Still standing, still breathing, still functioning. Still alive.

Some time spent looking back and some looking forward.

I had another session with Linda. It was our tenth session, but to be honest it feels like we are so much further in. I think it’s because my defences have been down from the start or maybe I always felt that Linda could be trusted because Anna trusted her… maybe it’s because I came to her in crisis and could only deal with what was right in front of me and saw her as my key for survival. Whatever the reason, I dived straight into the deep end with Linda from day one and skipped the months of delay tactics and dancing around the pain that had happened with Anna in the early days. It has fast tracked me to this really raw and authentic connection that I am actually surprised I feel especially considering we’ve only met on zoom so far. But I am not going to invalidate myself on this one, I know I can feel it, it’s real and she said she feels it too.

I did a lot of what Linda called ‘reviewing’ today. I asked if that was ‘a thing’ in grief work and she said, ‘it’s what you’re doing, so it’s a thing for you… I’m sure it is part of the grief work but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that it’s what you need to do right now.’ I was retracing my steps. Making sense. I have felt so much more grounded today, the difference is amazing from how I felt the past few days. I told Linda I was worried that I’d dissociated all the pain away and that at least on Wednesday I was feeling. She assured me that these feelings are not polarized. She said, ‘you were in crisis on Wednesday and that is my word, you don’t have to use it if it doesn’t fit for you but it’s just my understanding of your experience, and it makes sense, but it’s not good for us, not natural to stay in that state long term. Your nervous system has settled and you are adjusting, you’re being afforded a break from the intensity of the shock. That doesn’t mean you’re numb it just means you’re somewhere in the middle.’ That felt so reassuring.

I went over things again. That somewhere inside me I knew what was coming. I knew back in March. Before the lockdown Anna stopped seeing clients in her office and I just felt in my gut that I would never sit with her again. The two phone sessions we had unsettled me. I know I already wrote about that but I can now see that my gut feeling was valid. In hindsight I imagine she was probably grappling with the idea that she may find it very difficult to cope with the logistics of the virus for a long time let alone deal with her own anxiety about being in such a high risk group. To be honest her experience of this whole thing must be terrifying for her and her family. She didn’t let me into her experience of this in an overt way but Anna and I have worked so closely with each other for the past couple of years that I know her and I am (by the nature of my relational hypervigilance) tuned in to the wellbeing of important attachment figures in my life. I just knew something was there. I felt that she was preparing me for an ending. Even if she wasn’t consciously aware of it. I had a number of clues that led me to believe I was her only long term client and perhaps the only one that was still working with her through the lockdown (she counselled part time around her non-therapy related day job and only ever had a handful of clients). In those two phone sessions we did a lot of reflecting on my progress. She did a lot of reminding me of my strengths. She told me again about her colleague who would be the one who would contact me should anything happen to her… reminded me that her name was Linda.

Then I had the 6 sessions with Linda because Anna was ill. As Linda articulated, I came to her ‘preparing for loss’ and worked through a process of preparatory grief through those sessions. Very open and honest in my fear and pain. Still both Anna and Linda maintained this was just temporary until Anna was well enough to pick things up again. I believe that was true for them both. Neither of them intended this to happen. However, Anna knew what I didn’t – her asthma had deteriorated and she no longer felt that she could control or predict it. It was becoming increasingly more difficult to imagine her being able to hold space for clients. Perhaps she had thought she could hold out for me (knowing how much I needed her due to the attachment work we were dealing with) but in the end maybe it wasn’t viable anymore. I had 3 sessions with Anna and these had a reconnecting and ‘ending’ feel to them. She was the most real and raw I have ever experienced her. Making it unmistakably clear to me that she cares deeply about me, that her being ill was not and has never been my fault, reinforcing all of my strengths and building me up… letting me know that I was the one all along who did all the work and got me to where I am. I have an image of a mother on her knees in front of her little 4 year old kid on the morning of her first day at school – straightening her tie, jacket zipped up, backpack on, socks pulled up, ‘you can do this, little one, you’ve got this! I believe in you… look how much you’ve grown! You’re my big grown up girl… I know it’s scary but I’ll watch you all the way to the gate… go get ‘em.’ And then she sent me off to Linda.

I asked Linda how she would feel about working with me on a more long term basis. I laughed and said it felt like I was asking her to marry me, I felt nervous… I put on a silly serious voice and joked, ‘can you, Linda, commit to me, Lucy, for long term therapy for as long as I need it?’ She laughed and asked if I remembered asking her that in our last session. I told her I didn’t remember (and was actually kind of bemused by this), she said, ‘that makes sense, that’s the crisis mode, you’re not actually meant to remember things in that state, it’s a defence mechanism… that’s okay… well I told you on Wednesday and I still feel it, I am happy to work with you, as far as I’m concerned we are working together now.’ I said, ‘but it was always just going to be short term… I mean… the longer I work with you the more chance there is that I’ll get very attached to you… you know I lost my therapy mum… I’m an orphan now… there’s a part of me that’s desperate to be adopted!’ Linda smiled and said, ‘I’m happy to do that work with you.’ I said, ‘it can get pretty intense with me you know…’ she said, ‘hmmm, interesting, I’m okay with intense Lucy, I can do intense… I can do this!’ with a big strong smile. I smiled back and took a massive deep breath. A little later I asked again if she was up for the challenge of working with me on the deeper stuff (when she asked if I wanted to continue doing twice a week) and she said, ‘Lucy, you’re not too much for me either. I’m okay with this.’ That made me smile.

I told Louse that Anna had replied to my email and I read the reply to her. I talked to her about how I’d declared my love to Anna in my email and Linda said, ‘yeah, love in the therapy room is very real. When it’s there you really feel it, its intense and powerful and real for both of you in the room. I’ve felt it before. I can only imagine what it feels like for you.’ I nodded and told her, ‘it’s the most I’ve ever loved anyone.’ Linda said, ‘wow.’ In a really genuine and active listening kind of way. I said, ‘it’s through loving her that I have grown so much. And I also said in my email to her that I feel like therapy is the act of love. Everything the therapist does feels like love.’ Linda was nodding and smiling enthusiastically. I continued, ‘I never trusted women before. I chose a male therapist to start with for a reason, that was 7 years ago and I grew enough in that work to feel safe enough in myself to try working with a woman but it was very scary… my mum hurt me deeply and Anna was the first woman I ever trusted. I never let myself get close to women before, which is sad really, I missed out on this community of amazing women.’ Linda said, ‘Anna opened that door for you.’

We covered quite a lot in this session. I told her I’d looked her up online and saw the photo of her cats on facebook and she laughed and showed me one of her cats that was sitting beside her. She said, ‘you’ll have checked out my crazy taste in music then!’ and I said, ‘you know, I feel like I might compare you and Anna quite a lot over the next wee while and I hope that’s okay but this right here… I like this… you seem really laid back, like when I told you about the blog you were just chilled about it. There was something uptight about Anna, and I don’t want to criticise her, I really hope it goes without saying that I think she was an incredible therapist and she helped me so much, but I did sense her anxieties sometimes and she was kind of wary about stuff like my blogging and the whole facebook thing.’ Linda was nodding and listening and making agreeing sounds. I said, ‘I know there’s only 5 years between you but you definitely seem more in touch with like relevant stuff and she was maybe a bit disconnected from it, Anna was worried because she knows how private I am as a person and she didn’t want me to put myself at risk of having my privacy violated by putting stuff out there but I feel like you get it and you trust that I know what I’m doing.’

Later I talked about how I could sense a difference in their experience as well. I noted that Linda has over 20 years experience working full time as a therapist and Anna had 8 years experience working one and two days a week around her day job. Again I reiterated that Anna was a really great therapist but there were some things where I felt like I was witnessing her learning on the job, witnessing her newness… like all the note taking and then adapting how she worked because of feedback I’d given her. I told Linda that I could tell she was really sure of herself and her ability to do the job, that it felt nice and safe. I said that maybe I was projecting and it’s only been a few days since the shock of her finishing our work so I am taking everything that’s coming up for me as part of the grieving process, part of the transition process… but it’s all also worth noticing.

I said, ‘you know how we can have different attachment styles with different people…’ she said, ‘uhhu,’ and nodded and smiled. I said, ‘well with Paul, I just fell so hard for him. He was like thirty years older than me and had young kids and I wanted him to be my dad so much, I loved him so much. I knew about his kids and who they were and it hurt like hell… you know, it felt so real, this desire for me to be his daughter. Pure agony, but because he said he didn’t work with transference and I was pushing him further than his capabilities I had to swallow all that and not talk about it. I related to stuff I read about preoccupied attachment with him. Then with Anna, I wanted her to be my mum and she really got it and was ready to work with it. But with her my disorganized attachment was massively triggered you know.. this push pull stuff.. I wanted her to know me and see me but it was terrifying and I tried to hide from her and push her away. That meant our work has been very slow. It had to be. She never told me about her family but in my head I imagined she is married with older kids… and it ached so much, the longing for her to mother me. And we worked a lot on that pain. And with you, because I know your life situation is so different from them, coz I know you’re not married with kids it doesn’t trigger me in the same way… but maybe it’ll all happen over time…’ Linda was nodding and said, ‘yeah, it’s just me, my partner and my fur babies… but yeah I get what you’re saying, it might be also that you have different needs now.’ I said, ‘yes I also have that feeling… I am very different to the girl who walked into Anna’s office in 2017. Maybe it doesn’t need to be a mother daughter type attachment I form… the word mentor comes to mind. I don’t know, I’ll find out in time but right now it feels different.’ Linda said it was really interesting the observations I was making and that it was important to keep talking about it. I said, ‘there are lots of different parts of me and I’m sure you’ll meet them all over time, the more we work together. Yeah, so I guess I wont always come across as this confident and secure…’ Linda said that made sense and she understood and was glad I could share that with her. Linda said, ‘I just want to say here, that I’m hearing how resilient you are in all this. You started therapy 7 years ago with a CBT psychotherapist and then you endured that relationship ending before you were ready. You then had the bravery 3 years ago to try again and you challenged yourself to work with a woman because you knew that the healing opportunity lay there and she was a Transactional Analysis and then that ended abruptly before you were ready for it to finish and now you are here, further along down the road of your therapy journey, with a Person Centred therapist… I guess I just want to have that said, that I see that you are so adaptable. Three modalities, three very different therapists all with different styles. I’ll just leave that there.’ I thanked her for saying that and then I thanked her from my heart for stepping in and working with me like this. I told her how hard it would have been to try to cope with the loss of Anna by myself.

I asked her, ‘do we not need to do some sort of intake session? Like, you only know my name!’ Linda explained that she knows Anna takes a lot of notes and does an intake form but she doesn’t work like that. She said, ‘its all completely verbal for me, I don’t write it down… I have a very good memory and all I need is your name.’ I said, ‘but what if a client dies then they just wouldn’t come to a session and you’d never know what happened?’ she said, ‘well that’s a really good point. That did actually happen very recently.’ I said, ‘to you?’ and she said, ‘yes, it happened recently to me and it was difficult because, you know you can’t tell people who you are…’ I said, ‘wow that must be really hard… well Adam knows I’m in therapy and if anything happened he would tell you.’ She said she appreciated that. She then told me she works in the centre on Saturdays and was curious how I felt about being there without Anna. We talked a bit about how I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to do it. She then told me she works from her home on Wednesdays and I joked that if anything was going to trigger transference attachment shit, going to her house sure would. I asked her if it felt weird to have clients in her house and did she always feel safe and she said the therapy room is separate from the rest of the flat and she does feel safe.

The session ended fairly abruptly bang on 50 minutes. This all feels very new and different and like I am stepping out and testing for solid ground. But I feel secure as I do it. There are now fleeting moments where I am filled up with the grief but on the whole I feel okay. And right now I think I’m going to leave the overthinking and the self doubting to one side and just focus on the fact that four days after my therapist stopped working with me I am still standing, still breathing, still functioning. Still alive.

You have to feel it to heal it

The day after we said goodbye
…sharing my grief with Linda.

I already had a session with Linda for the Wednesday. Anna knew this which is why I think she chose Tuesday to let me know the news. She knew I would have some support.

I stayed up almost the whole of Tuesday night writing the email to Anna and sent it at 11.30am. I was sure my session with Linda was 2pm but noticed an email with a zoom link a few minutes to 12 and suddenly realised I had messed the timings up. I was a total mess. I hadn’t showered. I’d fallen asleep at 4am and woken a few hours later and immediately started crying again. I phoned the doctor and sobbed down the phone at her that my therapist had died and I needed something to help me function. She got the prescription to me later that afternoon.

These are my notes that I quickly typed on my phone after my session before falling asleep.


This grief is the worst emotional pain I have ever felt. I got the time wrong for the session. To be honest I didn’t even know what day it was this morning. I quickly clicked on to the session and had to text Adam to ask him to bring me water and the headphones for my laptop and tissues. I told Linda I’d got confused with the time and sorry I was late (by five minutes) and she said that was completely understandable considering what was going on for me. Fucking hell it’s such a relief to not have to explain everything to her. She’d spoken to Anna. She knew and she was ready to hold space for me.

She has a really kind voice. She said, ‘how you doing Lucy?’ in such a grounded tone. I said I was completely shit and started to cry. I didn’t even hide my face I openly cried. Tears soaking my face. She made some compassionate noises. I said, ‘I miss her so much I don’t think I can survive this.’ Linda said, ‘I know. It’s massive. Lucy, I really am so sorry this has happened. It really is so hard and just so shit.’

I told her Anna had text me in the morning and I knew in my heart that she was going to tell me goodbye. I cant believe its over just like that. Such an open and beautiful connection… now walled up. ‘it’s not fair… she has all the power. She can just walk away. This is agony for me.’ Linda gently said, ‘I don’t think it was easy for her to walk away Lucy.’

Linda sort of took a breath and seemed to want to say something important, she said, ‘I just want to say that I think it’s amazing you’re here talking to me right now. Lucy, it happened 24 hours ago and you’re here talking to me. I just think that’s amazing, that’s the progress right there I mean, wow!’ I said, ‘I don’t feel like I have a choice, you’re the only person in my life that I can talk to about this, no one else understands. Adam doesn’t get it. I can’t even, there are no words…’ (more crying). Linda said, ‘You’ve said that a few times and it’s really struck me that you feel you don’t have the sort of relationship with Adam that you can be vulnerable and emotional with him. I’m sorry you can’t reach out to him… I’m glad you’re talking to me.’

I told her, ‘I’m sad because there was so much I wanted to do and work on with Anna… it’s not fair.’ Linda said, ‘I know, it’s not fair.’ I said, ‘I had things that we were going to go back to you know, like things where I had started it and then we would say we’ll come back to it another time, drawings that I had wanted to show her but never did, memories that I’d started and couldn’t finish… fuck.’ I had a catalogue of topics we’d shelved flashing through my mind like the flickering scenes of an old black and white film. One after the other. Waves of grief followed.

I said, ‘I feel like she’s doing this so she can stop working with me… she is saying she’s closing then in a few months when I’ve attached to someone else she’ll start afresh and she’ll tell me it’s a conflict of interest and she can’t work with me any more.’ Linda had her head slightly bowed slowly shaking her head, ‘She has stopped working Lucy, she’s not working any more. It’s not you.’

I kept saying, ‘I don’t understand why.’

I whispered, ‘I hope she knew how important she was to me. How much I love her.’ Linda left some space then quietly said with certainty, ‘She knew how much she meant to you Lucy and you mean so much to her too.’

I said, ‘and now you’re stuck with me… you never chose to work with you and you said it was short term and…’ Linda said, ‘Yes you’ve mentioned that a few time’s… saying things like ‘when I work with another therapist’ and obviously in your email you said about feeling like I’m stuck with you. That’s not coming up for me at all Lucy. I don’t feel stuck with you at all. We’re working together and if you think about it and you want to continue working with me then I’m okay with that.’ I said, ‘It’s because I don’t want you to feel burdened by me. Stuck with me. Like you didn’t choose to work with me and you said last session this is short term and now I have nowhere else to go. It’s like my mum dying, only that would be less of a loss… she was my therapy mum and I don’t have her any more…’

There were lots of moments of me crying whenever it came up.

I said, ‘I knew this was going to happen. I’m really intuitive I know that sounds stupid but when Paul’s wife was pregnant, I knew before he told me, I had a dream about it, I don’t know, I’m not saying I’m psychic but I maybe pick up on things… and I knew, I knew in March that I would never sit with Anna again. I just felt it…’ I cried some more and she quietly repeated back to me, ‘you knew… and Lucy it doesn’t sound stupid, you can trust your intuition, you had a strong feeling this would happen.’

At one point I said, ‘I just feel like I’m cycling back and forth you know so some moments I just feel like I can’t cope with this, I just don’t know how to get through this and like my go to in my head is to think about dying, like I just can’t see any way out of this… then other moments I think, yeah I’m totally fine, maybe I don’t need therapy ever again I can just focus on my life and family and you know… everything’s great! Then it hits me in my chest and I can’t breathe for crying and I want to end it all…’ Linda said that was a perfectly understandable response to the shock and that it makes sense I feel like that.

I said, ‘She held the hope. Knowing I had Anna made me feel like there was always hope. I would think of her whenever I had something overwhelming happen or I was really struggling I would think – it’s okay, I can get through the next couple of days and I will take this to Anna… and now I don’t have that I feel like I’ve lost all the hope and I don’t know what to do anymore. Having her made me feel like I was worthy and good… like if I felt shit about myself I could say to myself, it’s okay coz Anna said I are okay or Anna said I’m a good person so I must be… you know, Anna said I’m a good mum or whatever… now I don’t have her I just feel like I’m a piece of crap. Just this shitty useless….not okay thing.’ Linda said, ‘and just listen to how you’re talking about yourself I mean god Lucy, it’s just so cruel, so unkind… I’m really so aware that actually, YOU were the one that held the hope. You held on for each session and you’re holding the hope right now. You’ve brought yourself to this session and you are bringing all of your feelings here, hoping that it will help… that takes real strength.’

I told her that the kids had noticed something was wrong so I told them that my friend Anna wasn’t well and I was never going to be able to see her again and I was sad about that. Gracie said she was sad for me and they both hugged me and then Reuben gave me his top and said it was his Reuben top to make me feel better because mummy tops always make him feel better. I started to cry and my whole body felt like it was crying. Linda said, ‘Aww that’s just so sweet, because he loves you, they love you, you’re their mummy.’ And I was sobbing and saying, ‘I don’t want it, I don’t want them, I don’t want any of that… I just want her, it makes me want to not be alive anymore. I can’t stand this I want to end it. I can’t sleep, I haven’t eaten since our phone call… nothing feels right in my body I don’t want to keep going.’

There was some quiet and Linda said, ‘Please don’t do that Lucy. Please don’t hurt yourself.’ It stole my breathe and I looked up and just started at her face and she was looking at me in this silent care. She said it again and I said I wouldn’t do anything permanent. I said, ‘I don’t think anyones ever said that to me before… Anna would ask me if I can look after myself between now and the next session.’ Linda said, ‘to be fair I have said that before too, I just felt compelled in that moment to ask you not to hurt yourself.’ I said, ‘it’s not the right time for this, 4 minutes to go… but I already… well it’s been hard to to avoid old coping strategies and I have since the last time I saw you.’ Linda said, ‘alright, okay. You’ve self harmed.’ I sort of laughed and said, ‘much more succinctly expressed…’ she said, ‘well you know I don’t beat around the bush Lucy, I say it as it is.’ I nodded and said, ‘normally I’m pretty straight talking, the shame steals that from me.’ She said, ‘if you want to we can talk about the self harm next time.’ I nodded and said that would be good.

She checked that I can make 11.30 on Saturday because she has more birthdays this weekend and I said that was fine. She said, ‘Okay, look after yourself, please Lucy. And go eat something. Your body needs fuel okay, like a car. You can’t do anything without fuel… it’s the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs you know, basic needs… look after yourself alright?’

I clicked off and got into the shower. Crying the whole time. I imagined never being able to stop crying.

I fell asleep for hours then got up in the late afternoon, went down stairs and had some toast, collected my prescription and let the meds ease it all.

… and so it must end.

One final goodbye.

cont. from the previous two posts.

After my call ended with Anna there was this deafening silence. This physical aching. A vacuum where hope and love used to be. The worst pain. I couldn’t even think any thoughts I was swimming in this physical agony. I could only imagine one way to deal with it and that was to end my life. I wanted to die. I think for the very fortunate people who have not experienced developmental trauma or attachment trauma… those who have never needed to form an attachment to a therapist, may find it unfathomable, the pain I was in. But for those of us unfortunate enough to be carrying with them this motherwound that their therapist is lovingly guiding them through the healing of, you all will understand. This was my worst case scenario. I learned to love through this woman. The most powerful and beautiful attachment I have ever felt, gone. I don’t remember the few hours that followed but I’m told I text my husband to tell him, ‘Anna has had to stop working with clients and I will never see her again. I’m going for a shower. Please don’t talk to me about it. I can’t.’ I then silently howled on the floor of the shower for an unknown amount of time. For the past year or so I have had this little routine in the shower, where I draw a heart on the glass and smile thinking of the blue heart crystal Anna gave me as a gift, a tiny transitional object that meant the world to me and kept me connected to her between sessions. On Tuesday, I couldn’t bring myself to draw the heart. I just cried and cried on my knees under the heat of the water. ‘I should never have let myself love her. I should never have opened my heart to this. I knew she would leave me. Everyone leaves.’ At some point I must have got out the shower, dried myself, walked downstairs and past my kids and out the door. I got in my car for the first time in two months and I text my husband to tell him I was going for a drive and I promised I would come home.

I drove the forty minute journey I know by heart and parked up outside Anna’s office. I sat in my car and cried for over two hours. I emailed Linda and asked her to be gentle with me in my session with her the next day. I told her, ‘This morning I spoke to Anna. I’m sure she’ll have spoken to you too. I can’t even bring myself to write it out. I’m in my car outside the office, I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing. I just wanted to feel closer to her even though she’s not here and will never be here again. I can’t face going home. I know you probably feel lumbered with me now. I won’t make you work with me long term if you don’t want to but please just help me get through this grief. I don’t think I can cope with this on my own.’

At some point I made my way home. I phoned the doctor and cried down the phone at her that my therapist had died and I needed something for the grief. I couldn’t bear having to explain what had happened and I needed her to know what I was going through. It didn’t feel like a lie. To me she had died. My doctor got the prescription to me two hours later which was amazing. I spent the rest of the day in a haze. That night I stayed up until 4am writing the following email to Anna. I got up again at 7 and proof read it over and over through tear filled eyes until finally sending it at 11.30am. Half an hour before my session with Linda. I text her to let her know to look for the email and asked if she could please reply so I would know she’d read it. I then stated that I understood I must not message her again. Another fracture to my weary shattered heart.

Hi Anna,

There are some things that I would have told you if we’d had more time to work to an end and if I’d had more time to process the news. I feel like I just presented you with a stunned silence and tears for most of the call… there was so much more I wanted to say to you. After two and a half years of deep attachment work, how could we possibly say all we needed to say in under fifteen minutes. I know how you work and I know that you’d hoped to be able to let me have the ending I wanted – the fact that this brief ending was all we had tells me that you have had no choice.

As soon as I read your text, I knew in the pit of my stomach what you were going to say. I almost wanted to ignore the text just to delay you telling me the inevitable. I knew that the minute the call started it would be the beginning of the end. And as you were speaking, I didn’t know what to say to you. I wanted to beg you to change your mind. I wanted to tell you I’d wait for you. I wanted to ask you why we can’t just do phone sessions, I don’t need to ever sit in a room with you again, I’ll take phone calls over zero contact. But I could hear in your voice and in the words you were saying that this has been an impossible decision for you. And I know from the work we’ve done together that the last thing you wanted to do was stop working with me abruptly like this. So, I know it must be serious and difficult and I didn’t want to make it any more difficult for you.

I’ve been grieving since our phone call as I am sure you will understand and perhaps this is a grieving process for you too. The end of an era for you, not just with me but your counselling career in general. I am so sorry that you have been put in this position where you’ve had to stop. You are an amazing therapist and it’s a real loss that you’ve had to step back. I really hope that something happens soon to make it safe again for you. You deserve to be well and to be doing the job you love. I realise I only know you in the context of therapist but you are an amazing therapist and it’s clear to me that you were meant to be sitting in that chair.

After our call I got in the car and drove to the office. I parked up at the end of the street and cried for nearly two hours. I know you weren’t there and you’ll likely never be back there but the place connects us and I needed to feel closer to you. I imagined you sitting beside me telling me, ‘I know it doesn’t feel like it but it’s really so good that you’re feeling the feelings and letting them out… I’m proud of you, well done… did you hear that Lucy..? Well done!’

I want you to know that the impact you’ve had on me is immeasurable. You said on the phone that we’ve built the foundations together and that’s true, but it’s foundations that my whole family stand on, not just me. You showed me how to mother my kids by mothering me. I don’t know how you feel about love in the therapy room, you never seemed to bat an eyelid when I told you how much I loved Paul. I’ve thought so much about this recently, what is love and is it real when it occurs in the therapy room. It had been on the tip of my tongue in session with you so many times in the last few months, to tell you that I love you, but I was always too afraid, too ashamed. It is really clear to me now though that me loving you is the work. There is nothing more vulnerable and trusting than to love someone and there is nothing shameful about it either. Of course I love you, the way you’ve treated me week after week.. 126 sessions, several phone calls, hundreds of texts, the hugs, a blue heart crystal and perfume for Luna, Baby and Suki… how could I not love you. Since the phone call yesterday I’ve been so floored by the grief of losing you that I’ve had moments of wishing I’d never let you in, because of the loss I’m feeling now. But then I look around at my life and I can see that loving you and letting you in has brought colours into my life that were not there before. And whatever we call it… unconditional positive regard, deep care, therapeutic holding… the way you treated me was loving. Your kindness and patience and care. The way you respected and understood my defences. The way you thought carefully about what I needed, the way you listened, the way you offered heartfelt apology if you missed something or unintentionally hurt me… that is a form of love. It is the verb – to love… love in action. You showed me how I deserved to be treated and as you said on the phone, that doesn’t just disappear. It’s changed something in me permanently. I will carry that inside me forever. You have given me an example of how to treat myself. It impacts how I treat Gracie, Reuben and Adam. And I often see you in the way they treat each other now too. The impact of your therapeutic love will reach far beyond our awareness.

I’m obviously familiar with the grief and longing for a childhood lost; something in the past you will never be able to change or get back. I’m familiar with the grief of losing someone you love. Now I’m noticing that grief is about the future too. The plans I’d made and the way I thought things would unfold. There is a grief for all the sessions I wanted to have with you. So many things that I planned on taking to you in time. Memories I held on to that I thought I’d get to ‘one day’… so many drawings in my folder that I still wanted to share with you. So many things I foolishly held back on, thinking we had all the time in the world. And I know you would say that patience is important and timing is everything and we went at the pace that was right for me… and not to regret going slow or holding back because that is what I needed at the time. But maybe also I could learn through this to not let fear hold me back from getting what I need when it is right in front of me… all those hugs I didn’t ask for. Maybe I could learn to not be complacent and not assume things will always be as they are.

Anna, for the past two and a half years you have held hope for me. Whenever something came up that felt overwhelming I would feel calmed with the knowledge that I could take it to you and we’d work on it together. I am really sad and angry that through no fault of either of us, we won’t get to continue the work the way we both planned and it feels like I have lost my hope. On the one hand I can hold the knowledge that when Paul stopped working with me I didn’t feel anything. In contrast, I am feeling it all right now… that in itself is very painful evidence of progress. But on the other hand, I feel like I can’t go on without you and I’ve lost any strength I had.

I will work on the raw edges of this grief with Linda and see how things settle between us. She is very different to you and for a few reasons I’m not sure if her style of therapy is right for me. I also don’t know if I could face walking into the building without you being there to greet me with your smile and arms open wide. I know I should continue in therapy but it will take years to build up the trust again with someone new. I will remember what you’ve said. That I am not too much. That you are proud of me and how I bring more than 100% to my healing work. That I impacted you. That you felt privileged to work with me. That you are not rejecting me. That you will always be with me and that you will not forget me. I’m typing this through tears Anna, I am not ready for this to end. I wish I could find two full PPE uniforms for us both and hug you one last time!

I wish I’d met you in a different capacity, so that I could still see you. It’s really hard grieving the loss of you knowing that other people get to see you and spend time with you. But if I had met you as a work acquaintance or neighbour I would never have experienced the side to you that I did. I am grateful that I was privileged enough to meet that part of you.

As you know, I have written out every session we ever had, in detail. (I actually used to imagine that we’d one day write a book together.) Having it all written out is such a powerful, physical reminder of what we experienced together. I am so glad I can revisit your words. I can be reminded of the laughs we had, the analogies, the terrified words spoken for the first time and being met with compassion and understanding… the quiet, gentle moments of me feeling and you witnessing, containing, comforting. I remember probably over two years ago, the session when I told you that as a small child trapped in an argument filled car on a long journey I would stare out the window and imagine the rolling hills were like blankets and I’d lie out there in my mind imagining God holding me, and you repeated it back to me and I felt the pain of it all in my flesh and bones for the first time ever. I remember the session with your cards and I chose the bear coming out of her cave. And you said the bear was me… she is strong, protective, with a kind face. I think that was the first time I felt truly seen by you. Maybe by anyone. Anna, thank you so much for encouraging me to draw again. From that very first drawing of the Mumma Bear and her cub that turned into a cushion that is beside me right now to the near hundred drawings that followed. Drawing has been a catalyst in building my relationship with my child and deepening my healing journey. It started as the only way I could process and share my thoughts with you and it will always be a deeply special thing between us both. I remember the time you asked me if I’d ever imagined hugging you (because my nail technician had hugged me) and it threw me into a shame spiral that you very carefully coaxed me out of… and then finally months later I braved asking you… you looked overjoyed that I’d asked and unquestionably opened your arms to me. I’ve never been held by anyone the way you held me Anna. And sometimes at the end of a really intense session when you would very subtly rock from side to side (I don’t even know if you were aware that you were doing it), that 60 seconds of holding and swaying was like you were reaching back in time and scooping baby Lucy out of her cot and soothing her. I wanted to hold on longer and longer with each hug. Remember the session when we both had the giggles about the mac n cheese on the floor. And the time you came and sat on the floor next to me and told me it wasn’t my fault and that you were sorry for what had happened to me. All the times you let me drag that chair right up beside you so there wasn’t even any room for our legs anymore. And the time you sat beside me and told me, ‘you don’t need to hurt yourself for me to know how much pain you’re in, I believe you when you tell me how you feel.’ That was fucking powerful Anna and I have repeated those words to myself hundreds of times the past couple of months. All the times you’ve told me I’m a good mum when I have struggled so hard to believe it. Generously offering me reduced rates, gladly allowing me two sessions a week… everything Anna. I remember all of it. Every smile. Every gentle hand on my arm. All the sessions you watched me so carefully and the times where you would respectfully look down when I asked you to not look at me. I remember your tear-filled eyes as you showed me that you feel for me, that you were feeling with me. I remember every single session, every text and phone call. From the first, to the last.  

If we’d had time to work to an end the way we both wanted, I would have given you a tiny Luna Panda as a parting gift. I would have drawn you a picture that in some way represented all the growth and progress I’d made, thanks to you. I would have made you a card and written some words of gratitude inside… maybe thrown an analogy in there too! I would have hugged you and thanked you and probably cried while hugging you which is something I wished I had been able to do during many sessions. I would have told you how thankful I am that I walked into your office on the 16th of September 2017. Thankful that I am not numb anymore and that I have a voice.

Please look after yourself and if you find a way in the near future to continue your practice, please contact me so we can have some sessions to work to an end together the way we’d both hoped. I want to beg you to change your mind, Anna. I want to suggest that we just have a break of how ever many weeks or months you need, with me not contacting you and then when you start back up again I want to work with you again. I’d never build a relationship up with another therapist in a few months like the deep connection we have made over the past two and a half years. I’d stop with them and go back to you in a heartbeat. The pandemic won’t last forever, surely there is a way to keep our work going. I haven’t eaten since you called and I’ve cried almost non stop. I really wish there was another way, I’m struggling to make sense of any of this because you said we would get through this together. I’m left wondering if someone has pushed you into this… how can it be ending like this when I know you didn’t want it to end this way? A brief phone call with no warning just doesn’t feel right as a way of ending things, I’m sure you must feel that way too. If you feel able in the next few days or weeks please could you let me have even just one phone call to try to process an end with you. I was blindsided by your call yesterday and can’t believe it’s going to end like that. I want to hold on to everything we’ve worked on but there are moments where all I have is questions and It’s unbearable to imagine never talking to you again.

That being said, I want the main message in this email to be of massive gratitude. I want you to know that I will never forget you. One day when the kids are adults, I imagine telling them who Anna really was. The woman that mummy visited every week for two and a half years… and how she changed my life and theirs. 

Thank you.
Love Lucy x

I then had my session with Linda at 12 noon which I will write about in another post.

At 6.36pm I received this…

Hi Lucy

I want to thank you for your email which touched my heart and I will treasure it forever. Your words mean so much to me and I want to thank you for sharing your thoughts. It is unfortunate, yet it was necessary, that our ending had to be by phone yesterday.  I am grateful to have this final contact by receiving your email today and my reply to you.

Please be reassured that no one has ‘forced me” into ending my practice. I cannot say when or even if I will return. I will commit to you to let you know, if I do start back counselling. However, it is really important Lucy that you carry on with your own therapy journey, as there is no guarantee if, or when, I would return.

Please know that I also will never forget you.  It has been a huge privilege to work with you and I have learned so much from you.

I will be closing my email account down now, so please know that I will not be able to receive or send any further emails.

I wish you well on your continued journey and growth.

Love Anna

The beginning of the end Part 2

(see part 1 here)

On Tuesday 19th May I wrote a text for Anna in my notes that I planned to send that evening during our missed session time. In it I explained, ‘…texting you twice a week feels like a lot but the reality is that I think about talking to you hundreds of times a day and limiting it to just two texts a week is actually really hard. I feel a lot of shame around this longing for you but in my defense, my therapy isn’t finished yet. I still need support…and I miss the sound of your voice and the way you make me feel.’ I never got to finish or send the text because I received a message from Anna at half ten in the morning asking if she could phone me. As soon as I read her text I knew in the pit of my stomach what she was going to say. I almost wanted to ignore the text just to delay the inevitable. I knew that the minute the call started it would be the beginning of the end. And as she was speaking, I didn’t know what to say to her. I could hear in her voice and in the words she was saying that it was breaking her heart just like it was breaking mine.

She sounded ill and tired and emotional. She said, ‘I’m calling you today, Lucy, because as you know I am in a very high risk category and I have to do what is right for my health. So, I’ve made the very difficult decision to stop practicing as a therapist and not work with clients anymore.’ I felt the panic rising and I sat silently listening with tears slowly streaming down my cheeks. I wanted to beg her to change her mind, it didn’t feel real. Doesn’t she know I can’t live without her. That I don’t know how to mother without her mothering me. That I have so many more things I needed to talk to her about and process with her. WITH HER. Instead I just made listening noises, saying, ‘okay…’ quietly… and listened some more.

Anna explained that with things the way they were she wasn’t able to meet clients and it wasn’t fair to keep things going. I wanted to tell her that I would wait as long as it took but something silenced me. I just listened to her. She told me that I am strong and she reminded me of the toolbox I have made, things like mindfulness, meditation, journaling, drawing and that I am now able to ask for help. She said, ‘I will hold you in mind Lucy. I will always remember you. Little things like how we both love talking in analogies, every time I explain something in an analogy it makes me think of you and I smile. And when you’re working with another therapist. If they don’t get the analogies – you’re creative, you’ll find another way to be seen and heard, you’ll find a way with another therapist. You have a voice now. When you started working with me you didn’t have a voice and now you do. I want you to use that voice. Use that voice to get what you need out of the sessions and out of your therapy.’ She said, ‘this is not how I wanted things to end Lucy and I’m so sorry you’re not getting the ending that you wanted. You didn’t get it with Paul and now you’re not getting it with me.’ I couldn’t really speak because I was crying. She said, ‘don’t let this be the end of your process, this is an ending with me but it’s not the end for you – take this to Linda. Don’t just draw a line or put a lid on the box of our work, be honest with how you feel about us ending like this and talk it through with Linda, all of your feelings, don’t just leave it here…’ I said, ‘I wouldn’t be able to do that anyway…’ and I started to cry heavily.

It started to sink in and I felt like the air had been pulled from my lungs. I said, ‘So this is the last time I’ll speak to you and I’m never going to see you again?’ She said, ‘Yes that’s right. I’m closing the practice and won’t be counselling anymore. You will notice my details come off the psychology sites, I’m not going to be working with any clients. I am not rejecting you Lucy, I wish it could be different but there is no other way. I am making a decision for the good of my health.’ She sort of hesitated and there was a break in us talking then she said, ‘Lucy, I never planned any of this. This has been the hardest decision to make and one that I have thought very carefully about, Lucy this is coming from the heart, I am so sorry we are having to end this way… Please know that this is not your fault.’ I told her that I could hear it was hard for her too.

She had this deep gravity in her voice as she said, ‘I want you to listen very carefully… I want you to know that you are not too much Lucy, you are NOT too much and you were never too much. And if you are ever working with a therapist and you start to feel like you’re too much I want you to know that THAT is the work. That’s where the work is. Tell them. Tell the therapist everything that you’re thinking and feeling. Because you are not and you will never be too much, Lucy.’ There was some silence and then she said, ‘You know, because our work is ending, unfortunately that means…’ I interrupted and said through tears, ‘I know. I can’t message you again. I know I can’t message you if you’re no longer my therapist.’ She made agreeing noises. I took a breath and said, ‘I’m going to have so many things I want to say to you… as soon as you go I’m going to think of them all… Anna, I want you to know… (crying) I want you to know that you changed my life Anna, working with you has changed me. I want you to know that… and I’m thankful. So thankful for all your patience and your care. And I’m so sorry that you’re ill and that this has happened and that you’ve had to make this decision. Shit this is so awful.’ I cried a little more here. She told me she was so grateful for my words and she knew how hard this is and that it was hard for her too.

Anna’s voice was cracking. She sounded ill and emotional. She said, ‘If you remember nothing else from this phone call Lucy, I want you to remember that this is not me rejecting you. I am doing this for my health, not because of you. I am so very proud of you Lucy. And I want your child to hear this, I am so so proud of her. She’s done so well through all of this. I’ve watched you grow so much in two and a half years. Working with you… it’s a two way thing, I learned a lot from working with you and I know you can only ever have 100% but you always gave 100 plus percent… you’ve amazed me… it’s been inspirational to watch, you gave your all, every session, week in week out and between sessions.’

She continued, ‘Remember Lucy, be patient. This deep work takes time. I know you want to rush through it sometimes but be patient. It’s like building a house. We built strong foundations together. That doesn’t just disappear, it’s there inside you forever now. And I am always with you. Everything I’ve said and the patience I was able to give you. It doesn’t go away. It’s always with you. And you are with me. I want you to know that you changed my life too Lucy. Working with you changed me. It has been a privilege to work with you and watch you grow. I care deeply about you Lucy and I will never forget you.’

We told each other to take care and that was it. Goodbye. Forever.

And as the call ended, my heart was ripped out. The waves of grief kept punching me in the gut and drowning me all at once. I was just thinking, ‘how do I even get off this bed and walk downstairs to my family… my beloved therapist who I adore and who has been more of a mother to me than my own ever was is now gone forever. The only woman I ever learned to trust… my worst nightmare has come true… I hope she knows that I love her.’

The beginning of the end Part 1

I posted for the last time on Instagram and my blog on the 9th May. At that point Anna had let me know that she was taking another break from sessions, she was ill with her asthma shortly after the last episode and needed to look after her health. I hadn’t sat in a room with her since February 29th. We’d had a few phone and video sessions then I had 6 sessions with Linda before going back to Anna again. In that time we were able to have three sessions which felt collectively very connecting and left me feeling emotionally close to Anna, secure in our attachment. I was feeling strong and present and wanted to spend some time living mindfully, focusing on the present moment. I didn’t feel the need to go back to Linda but I did contact her and she made it clear that if ever I wanted to get in touch with her that I should, without hesitation.

The 25th of April was my last video session with Anna. Since then I have sent her a text during each missed session time. I shared with her what I was doing to keep on top of things and I let her know of times I had been reminded of my growth. At some point into the second week I began to struggle with missing her. I reached out to Anna and she sent me a beautiful text in which she said, ‘It’s been lovely to hear how you’re looking after yourself. It’s okay Lucy, we are okay, hold on to that.’ Shortly after that I arranged for a session with Linda. I realised I was trying to push through life during a pandemic with a lot of stressors I wasn’t accustomed to without the support I usually would have in far less stressful times… it had began to feel punishing, why struggle alone when the help was there? Although unable to articulate it back then, I was aware of a sense that the support would be needed. I am constantly reminded to not underestimate the power of intuition.

Linda and I had two sessions that week where we confirmed that we would work together short term until Anna was well enough to start up again. Though I had this same ache in the very centre of my belly telling me I would never sit with Anna again. In the first session on the 13th May Linda was keen to understand why the change of heart. I wasn’t able to articulate what exactly had changed, I just felt the need to reconnect with her. The session saw me quickly rattling through some sort of blow by blow account of my early traumas in a very disconnected way. Linda kept reminding me to take my time as she noted that I was sharing one massive thing after another with no emotional expression. ‘Hello dissociation!’ I joked. She shared with me that it felt almost like a warning to her – this is what you’re dealing, with, are you up for it? I told her that’s exactly what I did when I started working with Anna and she said it made sense but to remember that she is there in the interim, until Anna returns.

The next session on the 16th I was very much in my feelings. We spent some time connecting to the discomfort in my chest and the pain in my throat. We focused in on what the sensations were telling me. That the ache in my chest was attachment pain – longing, and the pain in my throat was unexpressed grief and the need to keep it all down and not let it show. I spoke about anticipating the loss of Anna and Linda reassured me that Anna was not leaving me, though she understood that the fear was very real and valid. I was cycling through a lot of very negative self talk. I could feel Linda was connecting to my pain, she was empathising and her tone and words were very compassionate. But she was very direct with me and said a few things that were hard to hear.

At one point Linda told me it must be so painful to constantly hear these very cruel and unforgiving criticisms that I aim at myself constantly and that she can tell that I rarely get a break from the filter in my mind that distorts everything she is saying to me. At one point she told me, ‘it feels like there are 3 people in this session, me, you and your inner critic… it’s frustrating for me that she keeps getting in the way of your therapy… I wonder what it would feel like to have her step outside the door?’ I was aware of two very powerful responses to this. One voice of gratitude, ‘wow, she does actually want to reach me?’ and the other voice of anger, ‘how dare she feel that after 8 sessions she will be entitled to reach me without the protector being present!’ I decided to shelve that response for another day and quietly responded, ‘…actually there are 4 of us here… you, me, my inner critic and my child… there’s a very young part of me here and she’s the reason I keep dragging myself to these sessions. She needs this intense, caring gaze from a therapist.’ Linda immediately softened and said in a really clear and firm voice, ‘and I want her to know that she is always welcome here. Your child is always welcome with me, Lucy.’

There was another poignant moment where Linda addressed one of my self-criticisms. She said, ‘it really struck me when you said you feel like you’re ‘textbook’, I want you to know Lucy that there is nothing textbook about you. Nothing.’ She linked this to something I had said earlier (directed by the inner critic), that this all feels like a game… that therapists just say and do what they think needs to be said and done for the client to ‘heal’. She said, ‘it actually triggered a response here for me…’ (she put her hand on the centre of her chest)… ‘this is not a game for me, Lucy. This is very real. I could not do this job if I was faking, I could easily go get another job far less taxing… I’ve had plenty other jobs that were way easier than this… I choose to do this because it is the most real job I think I could ever do… and not a game at all!’ I really believed her, I could see and feel her sincerity.

As I reflected on the session I was aware of a sense of frustration and disappointed that Linda seemed to have completely misunderstood the fundamental basics of the nervous system – that my inner critic/protective part is an automatic response that my system has perfected over the years in response to perceived threat and not in any way a conscious decision. I wrote an email to her that I didn’t send but committed to talking to her about it the next time we met. I sent her a shorter email telling her that I’d had a kickback from the previous session and it was important to talk about it next time.

Despite this misalignment, my overall feeling of the session was that of connection and holding. I can feel deeply that Linda is a very sincere and grounded person who has a really clear sense of herself. I began to feel a deep awareness inside myself that I have begun investing a lot in this relationship… I didn’t know back then however just how much I was going to need it.

(see part 2 here)

…before I go…

I am going to take a break from this page and my blog. It might only last a few days or it might be a few weeks. I’m going to continue interacting for the next 24 hours and then I’ll remove the apps from my phone so I’m not tempted. I need a break from the technology, the distraction, the constant pulling me away from my life and my feelings. I’m okay, I feel strong and clear headed but I’m also holding a lot of pain missing Anna more than ever. I’m going to have a session with Linda this week to help me unpack some things that have come up this week.

Before I go I want you to know… I’ve received many messages since my last post from people telling me that my page helps them make sense of themselves and they’ll miss me. They’ve said that what I write helps them feel less alone. I want you to know that you are not alone in your experiences. I’ve had the privilege of receiving hundreds of messages over the past year from people sharing their experiences and struggles and therapy journeys and I can tell you, WE ARE ALL THE SAME. Deep down, we all want to be seen and heard and loved for who we are. We’re all carrying deep pain and a longing for connection. I want you to know that however you are feeling makes total sense. Your coping strategies and defences make total sense. If I could give one piece of advice to those of you struggling with various things in therapy, I would encourage you to say that exact thing to your therapist. Tell them what’s not working. Tell them how you feel. Write it down, whisper it if you need to. Text it to them while they’re sat in front of you. Try any way to communicate your thoughts and needs… your therapist should meet this honest authenticity with total respect, safety, attunement and care. Anna has always gently encouraged me to share every thought and feeling and I believe that is the key to the progress I’ve made.
If you look at the pages I follow you’ll find some incredible therapy related accounts that you may not already be aware of. I really enjoy the connections I’ve made on here and the genuine friendships fostered. I really care about you all.

I’ll be around until this time tomorrow. 💙🌱🌸🌿🐼

Digital detox

On the 4th of May I was reminded by my WordPress account that I started this blog and insta page a year ago on that date.

It made me reflect a lot on the journey I’ve been on. Not just the past year that I’ve shared but I also looked back on the past two and a half years with Anna. I read over some session notes I made since the first meeting we had. I then looked at notes I made from sessions with my first therapist which started in Feb 2013. It made me reflect even further back to my teen years when I started looking into self help off the back of a very brief interaction with a child psychologist.

My life has changed beyond recognition since then. And even in the past 12 months things have changed so much. My daily life is different, my mental health has improved. My self awareness has grown. My needs are different. But also… it made me wonder what I’m looking for… and what do I get here that I could be getting in my ‘real life’ if this wasn’t here. My avoidant tendencies quite enjoy the anonymous intimacy of the page but I could do with pushing myself to step outside the comfort zone a bit with the people I live with… namely my husband.

I’m considering taking a step back from the social media side of my therapy journey for a while. I’ve been thinking about these plates Anna is always talking about that I’m spinning and the gears Linda encouraged me to move down. My life is busy and somewhat stressful and very full. And the people in front of me need my full attention when often I am pulled by the bright lights and neat little squares of Instagram. I’m curious to see what happens when I take away the distraction and self medication of the screen. I’ll probably still keep my private pages going though I might take a break from that as well. In the past when I’ve had a digital detox, only good things came from it. I’m feeling the need for another.

I know there are a number of people who talk to me regularly on my Instagram page so I’ll give notice before I make any decisions to disable the account but I guess I’m just sharing my thoughts here. I think my family would benefit from me spending less time online and quite possibly I would too!