Searching for an Anchor

So, it’s Tuesday again. And even when I’m not really sure of the days (due to some sort of lockdown haze), Monday evening always feels very heavy and emotionally charged. Then I remember it’s the eve of losing Anna and it makes sense. My body remembers and brings the panic and hopeless despair to the foreground.

I drove to Anna’s old office today. I’ve done it almost every Tuesday since the day she called me. I experience a physical pull to be closer to the place she held me. I’ve noticed that on the days I find myself deep in these young feelings I end up drawn to specific locations. Anna’s office. My childhood house (one of them). My old school. A park we sometimes went to. There’s something validating about returning to the place where it happened or where it was felt. Seeing the building or the land. It’s like I’m saying to a small part of me, ‘it was real, it happened, I was there, it exists and your feelings are real.’ Simultaneously I am saying, ‘you’re safe now, I’ve got you.’ It’s as if I find myself searching for an anchor for the pain. Usually when I’m struggling to make sense of the feelings or fully express them. In the absence of an internal sense of grounding it’s as if I go back ‘to the scene of the crime’ so to speak – I look for the pain and the memories and the validation in all the places it may have been lost.

Today, strangely, I couldn’t feel it. I sat staring at that locked door and couldn’t feel a connection to the grief. It can’t be summoned, just like if it’s there it can’t be squashed. What I did feel was an overall sense of calm and safety. Like a tiny glimmer of something new, something solid… like trust. Maybe slowly, through these actions and through my patient commitment to feeling and processing this grief, the younger parts of me are learning to trust they are safe with me… and maybe one day that means the anchor that I am searching for will be grounded inside me.

Processing Through Unsent Texts



I was sitting in the garden this morning and Reuben dragged the other chair right up beside me, he couldn’t get any closer. He sat up and said, ‘mummy, when I’m a big man taller than daddy will I still be your baby?’ I said, ’yes darling, you’ll always be my baby.’ He said he didn’t want to ever move out and live with a different family and I said he could stay with me as long as he wants and he’ll always be in my heart. It reminded me of when I’d drag the heavy chair up right beside you, Anna. And I’d ask you if you’ll ever leave. And you said unless ill health or death stops you being able to work with me you’re not going anywhere. And you told me you are always inside me and I am in you. That you’ll never forget me. Four misses you so much today. She’d give anything to drag the chair right up to you and sit close today.

Love as always xx



It is so hard to not text you.

I miss you so much. With every fibre of my being. I wish we could just go back to the way things were before. It was working so well. I miss your hugs and your gentle patience. I miss being seen by you. The grief is as present today as it was five weeks ago.

I just can’t believe you’re really gone and I’m really not going to see you again.

It’s breaking my heart all over again, when I didn’t think the pieces could be broken any further.

It hurts like hell.

I love you,

Lucy xx



Six weeks ago right now I had a terrifying sense that I was never going to see you again. In the morning I would receive your call telling me exactly that. I can remember your words so clearly.

I hope you know that my silence over the past 6 weeks represents my love for you, my respect for your boundaries and my desire to not make your life any harder than it already is. That I have not and can not forget you. I hope you know that I have wanted to text you every single day.

You are the biggest presence in my mind and heart. You’re everywhere.

The grief I feel for you has ripped my heart right open. There are no walls or hardened scars anymore, just an open wound letting all the love pour in and out.

Anna, you opened my heart to it all.

I love you,

Lucy xxx

An email to my ‘after Anna’ therapist.

Hi Linda,

I’ve been reflecting on a couple of things that were said yesterday and I just felt the need to share my thoughts with you. I know you said I could bring any leftover stuff to the next session and I will do that, I guess I also just wanted to get it down ‘on paper’.

I want to start by saying that I felt the session was really connecting and ‘real’ and I really appreciate you bringing your authentic self to the sessions. I really heard you when you said you want to get to know me. I actually loved that you said that.

I imagine it’s a very unusual situation to inherit a client from a colleague under these circumstances. Maybe it’s more commonplace for a client to come to you because they were unable to work well with the previous therapist or their work had ended on bad terms. In this situation you have inherited a client who didn’t want to leave her previous therapist and who didn’t choose to specifically work with you. I imagine you’ve never experienced it before.

It really fascinates me, hearing you share your experience of me. Anna never brought these things into my sessions so it’s intriguing to be given this insight by you. Over the past few months there have been a few things you’ve said that have made me wonder if it’s actually quite difficult to be my ‘after Anna’ therapist. Most recently, yesterday you said that you want me to notice you. Notice that I am now working with you. I wonder if you feel that you will never live up to Anna or maybe you feel that I will never let you. I want to say two things about that. The first is that you won’t. She was the first woman who ever earned my trust and the only person who knew me as fully as she did. I really felt loved by her and more importantly I let her love me. There is no way anyone can compare to that because the work I did with her was so unique and like you have said before the connection we had was precious. The second thing I want to say is that you don’t have to live up to anything. You are fulfilling a different and incredibly important role in my current reality. And I do see you, Linda. I do notice you. I have a huge amount of respect and gratitude for you. You are the only person to have witnessed the full force of my grief. You are the only one who has witnessed my tears. You have consistently come to our sessions ready to hear me and see the loss. Despite the depth of work I did with Anna, I always struggled to cry with her. Somehow, from the start, you made it clear that I was safe enough to cry with you and that those feelings were welcome. I am so grateful for that. To have the freedom to cry openly. You have created a safe space for me to process this grief and there have been many times over the past nearly 6 weeks where the only thing keeping me going was counting down the days until my next session with you. Knowing that you, Linda, understand and see me. I am incredibly grateful for that.

Another thing that crossed my mind was wondering if you were experiencing some sort of countertransference with this feeling of not being noticed by me. It really resonated with me hearing you say those words ‘I want you to notice me’ because I have felt that so many times. The only person I felt completely noticed and seen by was Anna. When I say I want you to know the whole back story it’s actually that I want to be fully known by you like I was fully known by her. My parents never noticed me and never wanted to know me. I have this deep need to be known fully and have all parts of me seen and accepted. I experienced so many parts of my self coming into being through Anna’s gaze and without her those parts of me feel suspended in space again… not noticed, not seen. Yesterday, those parts of me lit up when you articulated that it makes sense to you that my adult feels safe showing up to the sessions and that the child parts are peeking round the door trying to suss you out. I liked hearing you explain it and you made me feel understood. It helped those parts of me feel seen.

The root of this is with my mother – she just wanted any attention from anyone as long as the person sat quietly and listened and gave their full uninterrupted attention. It didn’t matter who they were. So, if I was there she’d offload to me, if she had someone else to talk at (be it a new best friend, a new boyfriend, some random person in the post office) then I was of no use to her anymore and I’d be rejected. Hearing you say that you want me to notice you reminded me of how my mum used to make me feel… you put words to the feeling that my inner child has been screaming all her life – I wish she would notice me. The only time I got any positive attention from her was when I was meeting her emotional needs. I wonder if there is some unconscious repeating of the pattern between us, that I am unconsciously showing you what I experienced and felt growing up.

One final important thing I want to make a note of is the idea of touch and motherly nurturing in the therapeutic relationship. I did not experience nurturing, safe touch as a child. There was a deficit there that Anna was really keen to explore. And she was very slow and patient and always checked in on how I was feeling. But allowing her to put her hand on my arm and comfort me physically, asking her for a hug and relaxing into the hug and really feeling her hold me – these aspects of our work were so healing. They reached places inside me I think are unreachable with words alone. I remember telling Anna that my mum told me I needed too many hugs – she would push me away, get up and walk out the room if I sat next to her. Anna said to me, ‘I think you can never have too many hugs’. The energy that I got from Anna was almost like she had to hold herself back from giving too much affection and overwhelming or scaring my avoidant/disorganised parts. But letting her love me like that has helped me love my kids more freely, and love myself. Her demonstrating how freely and easily she could love me without feeling like I was depleting her resources or making her feel uncomfortable or used has helped me see that I too have an abundance of love that I can offer myself and my children. It literally changed the way I parent them, for the better. It was a fundamental part of my therapy and not something that I would choose to go without.

I understand and hear you when you say you are not a huggy/touchy person. Not just in your work but it’s just who you are. I hear you and I respect that. I hear that it’s not a rejection of me, it’s just part of who you are. It doesn’t feel good to imagine that me asking you may have made you feel uncomfortable. At the moment it will probably be months before anything close to physical contact could happen due to the restrictions protecting us from the spread of the virus and so it’s irrelevant in the current situation. I am also very aware that I have felt your support and connection through a computer screen, which is amazing. But I know that when we are in a room together there will be parts of me that believe the space between us illustrates how unlovable and disgusting they are. No amount of words, logic or reason can get through to those very young parts.

It intrigues me, the idea that you’ve never had a client ask you if you will introduce touch/hugs in the therapeutic setting. Maybe you have been asked before and it’s always been a solid ‘no’ but when I asked you, you decided to go and reflect on it. Maybe all your other clients have met you in person and can sense from the way you feel in the room that it’s not going to be an option. I can’t be the only client who’s ever felt the need for it… especially in the world of trauma work.

I think what I’m saying Linda is that I feel really supported by you, I like you and I am glad it is you that I am working with. You have helped me and I trust that you will continue to help me. I also like it when you explicitly refer to the younger parts of me. However, I do wonder if there will always be a part of me that needs the mothering/touch side of the work and I respect that I most likely won’t get that from you. I am focusing on the here and now at the moment and I’m also aware that I won’t know about these things until I’ve sat in a room with you.

I need to learn how to precise my writing… thank you for reading this email, Linda.

I know we will talk about this on Wednesday.




*second email sent a couple of hours later*

I’m now thinking that when you said, ‘I want you to notice me,’ you might have meant, ‘I want you to see that I’m here supporting you’ or something like that. Because you said it in response to me saying that I feel like I’m just noticing you, noticing that we are doing therapy in its own right separate from the grieving Anna type therapy we’ve been mainly focusing on.

You know how you encouraged me to just notice what comes up for me post-session? To not analyse it and just notice it..! I’m clearly not very good at that 😂

Gonna try to turn my brain off now! I promise I won’t email you again.

See you Wed.
Take care.

You’re Scared That I’m Not Anna

I Want You to Notice Me

I said there were lots of things going around my mind. I’d planned on talking about things between me and Adam but now there was a lot of other stuff coming up for me. I told her I’d noticed that I didn’t talk about Anna at all on Wednesday and Linda asked me when I had noticed. I told her it came to me pretty much as soon as the video call ended and when I typed up the notes I’d reflected that I felt okay about it though I wanted to note that Anna was never far from my mind. Linda said, ‘The situation we talked about on Wednesday was very important to you and was a current thing happening in your life at that moment. Sometimes that will happen in therapy, other more historical things will be put to one side so you can focus on what is happening in the here and now. And we worked very deeply with what had come up and how it related to your relationship with your mum, so in a sense we did work on your deeper attachment stuff.’ I nodded and said that it was a very worthwhile session but it’s hard because there are so many things I want to cover and not enough time.’ She said, ‘I know you feel a sense of not having enough time to cover everything you want to work on. In those moments, all we can do is trust that what we do cover is all part of the process.’

At some point early on in the session I said I was annoyed at this pattern I was noticing of me talking too much in the sessions and that especially during the Wednesday session I talked for like 45 minutes and she spoke for about 5 minutes. I said, ‘I don’t know if it’s because Anna knew me better than you do and so I wouldn’t need to explain things so much for her to get it but I feel like I have to tell you the whole story and that uses up a lot of time. I wish I didn’t talk so much to give you a chance to actually do your job…’ Linda said, ‘this need to tell me the whole back story, I just wonder if I really need the whole back story?’ I said, ‘you do if I want the therapy to work!’ Linda said, ‘I’m holding that it’s true for you that I need the back story and I’m also holding my belief that I don’t need the whole back story for this to be therapeutic.’ I said, ‘but it’s bigger than that… I feel like you need to know me… and I’m nervous to say this… but it’s something about the difference between you and Anna or between counselling and therapy. I know it might just be an argument on semantics but for me counselling is a lighter, surface, specific thing and therapy is deeper and I want therapy. And… well I don’t know if it’s because you’ve been doing this full time for decades and you’re used to people coming and going or because you said you don’t write things down, there’s this sense of impermanence with you, like the work doesn’t impact you as much or doesn’t run as deep with you… whereas with Anna because she only had a handful of clients I feel like she dedicated more time to getting to know me more deeply and really knowing my life and how I process and what I need, maybe it was because I knew she wrote things down or because she was in advanced clinical training so she was dedicating more of herself to our sessions, investing more of herself in the relationship. Ironically, even though it ended up finishing anyway, the way she worked made me felt like there was more depth and it felt like it would be more long term… I don’t even know if I’m explaining this properly… I need more of you in the sessions but in order for that to happen I feel like you need to know more of me…’ I felt really uncomfortable saying all this and was shifting about and looking around a lot.

Linda took a minute to think about how she wanted to respond then said, ‘Our relationship is very important to me, Lucy. How we connect and communicate with each other is very important. I put as much effort and energy into you as I do all my clients you know, because it’s important… because I have to you know. You know… I have to.’ I noticed myself tighten up here and feel defensive. I know she meant, I have to treat you all the same in order for this work to work and because it’s ethical to do it that way. But two things came up for me, one was that my mum used to say, ‘I love you because I have to, but I don’t like you.’ And the other thing that came up was thinking, ‘even your clients you’ve worked with for years? Surely there is more for them than there is for me?’

She explained, ‘I haven’t been doing this full time for all those years, I stopped counselling full time and joined the cops in 2001 until… oooh… 2015? Then started doing this full time again. And yeah, this is the way I work, over the years I’ve developed this unique way of working and it is mine, so it’s bound to be different from the way Anna works. But you know with Anna you have thiiiis much (she motioned a large length of time with her hands) and with me you have this much (she held her thumb and forefinger an inch apart) and so it really is hard to compare. And I get what you’re saying.’ I said, ‘and I think I’m angry that I dedicated so much time and effort and energy to ‘this much’ and now I’ve been thrown back to ‘this much’ (copying her size comparions). I said, ‘it really is not fair… and it’s all very well saying I should trust the process but I’m 37 in a couple of weeks you know and I’ve already dedicated 7 years of my life to this and it’s a massive commitment and how many thousands of pounds and thousands of hours am I going to waste on meandering around trusting the process? It needs to work!’ Linda said she heard me and she noted my sense of urgency and anger. She said, ‘the thing with therapy and trusting the process is that if you try to push it, it won’t work… I wonder if you can let yourself relax a bit?’ I think I rolled my eyes here or laughed sarcastically at this because she sort of raised her eyebrows and asked if I was feeling noncommittal about trying to relax. I said it wasn’t that easy.

I went back to talking about noticing that we hadn’t talked about Anna in the session on Wednesday and I said, ‘last Saturday you said to me that you recognised that it was really important that I talk about Anna as much as I need to until I don’t feel the need anymore and it brings up this analogy that Anna used a lot when I was worried she’d be sick of me bringing up the same thing over and over. She would say that it’s like a young kid tugging at the bottom of your top saying, ‘mummy, mummy, mummy…’ and they won’t stop until you finally turn and look and give your full attention. Finally, their need to be seen will settle and they wont need to keep saying it any more. You telling me I could talk about Anna as much as I wanted, it’s like you told this deep unconscious part of me that you heard me and it was okay, so that part quietened down and I didn’t need to go on about her as much.’ Linda was smiling and nodding in agreement then we both confirmed that even when she crops up again in session we must trust that that’s the process.

I said, ‘I just wish I hadn’t wasted so much of my time with her. I wish I’d known that my time with her was limited. I wouldn’t have wasted a single second of our time together.’ Linda leaned forwards and with a deeply sympathetic tone said, ‘oh Lucy but why would you tell yourself that? That’s just so unkind. In what way do you feel that you wasted your time together?’ I started to well up which took me by surprise and I told her to stop being so compassionate coz it was upsetting me then said, through the tears, ‘Two and a half years sounds like such a long time and yet I felt like we were only just beginning.’ I was struggling to speak because I kept getting caught up with the tears. I tried to breathe through it and continued, ‘in many ways, the deeper work had only just started… it now feels like I’m having to box it up and put it away, that it’s never going to get worked on. Because it was Anna who helped me get to those parts… I mean, I was so resistant to even admit there were younger parts of myself let alone see them with anything other than complete contempt, and now they’re out and I don’t know what to do with them!’ Linda asked, ‘does it feel like panic?’ I said, ‘it feels like an empty hopelessness… because with her I felt this hope for the first time in my whole life, that things could get better…’ more crying, ‘and now she’s gone… she’s taken that hope with her. Parts of me only just learning to trust her then she got up and walked out the room. Closed the door and left me alone. It feels like what was once an open and willing door has just been closed in my face and I don’t know if I’ll ever have that again.’

I talked about feeling angry that after all the work I put in with Anna I now feel like I’ve taken a few steps backwards through this whole thing. Linda asked me to clarify and I explained, ‘with Anna we were in such a good place and it was working so well and it would have continued that way. Effectively the very deep therapeutic work we were doing has been put on hold for the past 4 months and that’s not fair, it was going so well and now even though the sessions we are having have been worthwhile it still feels like. It feels like I was on a train with her, going on the right journey with a lot of certainty on this track and then someone has flicked the switch and we’ve been separated and her carriage is going in one direction and I’m going in another and now you and I are on another track taking a really long detour!’ Linda was nodding and agreeing as I was talking then laughed at the end and said, ‘hopefully the detour isn’t going to be that long!’ I said, ‘but it is though, I don’t even know if I’ll get back onto the track I was on before. Because I have all this same stuff that I’ve already worked on with Anna and I’m going to need to go over it again with you. If I hadn’t taken so long in the first place to trust her and get moving with things then two and a half years might have been enough.’ She said, ‘oh but Lucy you are being so hard on yourself, can you see that..? Yeah..? So, so hard on yourself.’ She had such a compassionate tone and it touched something inside and made the crying start. I said, ‘I just feel defeated, like… how long is it going to take?’ Linda said, ‘I know… how long is it going to take… I guess I would suggest that no one can ever know the answer to that, even if you were working with Anna still… and that’s where I fully believe that we should trust the process, yeah? There really is no right journey.’ I remember reading about client centred therapy and how one of the fundamental beliefs that underpins the whole modality is a trust in the therapeutic process. I feel kind of sceptical about this… it sort of feels like a cop out. I mean, I know what she means about trusting the process and I would guess that Paul and Anna also felt the same, but equally you have to put effort into that… you can’t just sit back and let things unfold and say you’re just trusting that the client will bring what they need and to trust the process. I guess I feel like I want her to work harder or something. It feels like when my husband or someone responds to my anxieties with ‘it will be fine’ NO IT WON’T! It is only ever fine if I put in the effort and get it right. Things don’t just accidentally work out. I have never had stuff fall into my lap like that I’ve had to work bloody hard for everything. It will NOT be fine and I WILL NOT just trust the process. Too much is at stake.

At some point Linda said, ‘it’s really important that I understand you and so I will ask you, I will check on what you mean, I wont just say I get it when I don’t. Do you trust me? Do you trust that I will let you know when I don’t understand something you’ve said?’ I said, ‘I trust that you won’t bull shit me but its more that you won’t understand the deeper meaning behind certain things just because you don’t know me that well or maybe I don’t trust that you’ll notice when you haven’t understood something… I just miss this deeper sense of being known.’ Linda said, ‘I’m just thinking… and this could be way off and you need to tell me if it doesn’t resonate with you. Could it be that the way we work together is going to be very different? Could it be that our work will not at all look like the way you worked with Anna?’ I said, ‘but that is exactly the case, it is very different and I don’t know what to do with that because the way I was working with Anna WAS WORKING and it was what I needed and I am scared because I don’t know if your way will work for me… I need what Anna was giving me, I know that I said all that bullshit about me being the driver and her being the navigator or me being the engine or whatever I said but she was the driving force behind it all, she was taking me on this road I’d never been on before and without her I’m completely lost. I’m scared that I can’t do this without her.’ Linda looked solemn and nodded, quietly she spoke, ‘you’re scared that I’m not Anna.’ And we just looked at each other for a while. I said, ‘You are not.’ Some more crying. ‘I believe we’ve done good work together and will continue to but the type of work she was doing with me… I need that.’

I said, ‘I don’t even know where all this came from today. I was so set on talking about Adam, I didn’t know I had all this going on.’ Linda said, ‘and that is therapy right there. Going with exactly what is in the room at that moment.’ I said, ‘part of me feels scared I think because I feel a deeper connection with you today and I don’t even know how to put this into words but it’s also like I’m noticing that it’s you here… like sometimes I could be talking out into the atmosphere and I feel like I’m on my own but today I’m noticing that you, Linda, is there listening and responding.’ Linda was thinking and took a while to speak then she said, ‘I would like to share my experience of that because I think that’s an interesting thing you’ve said, however it’s really important that you listen to me and tell me what you hear when I say this. I’m going to tell you what is coming up for me… I want you to notice me. I don’t mean that in a NOTICE ME type way, I mean, notice ME. This session between you and me, it’s important that you notice ME.’ I said, ‘have you felt that I haven’t noticed you in sessions?’ Linda said, ‘I think that’s what happens in grief, you are so focused on that person you’ve lost that you don’t notice others… and that’s a natural part of the grieving process and something that needs to be worked through by allowing you to focus on and talk about her as much as you need to.’ I really don’t know how I feel about this… have I been spoiled by Anna who fully understood my need for the sessions to be about me. Maybe Linda needs to feel important in the session, maybe she experiences a counter transference of the isolation that I feel… or what I felt and still feel with my mother – that she could be talking to anyone when she was offloading onto me. I might bring this back up with her another time because it seems important.

I said, ‘I feel like that’s actually true of my earlier sessions when I started with Anna as well… like maybe grief in general including grief around losses in childhood… maybe it just makes me talk and not connect… I used to talk about a brick wall between me and Anna. Like maybe it just doesn’t feel safe to make a connection with people when you’ve been so hurt in childhood, or maybe you’re so certain of rejection that you reject the other person first. Because, why would I connect to you, open up and trust? It took so long to do that with Anna and then she left me and the openness and connection and love and then the space she left behind generated more pain than I’ve ever felt in my whole life, why would I allow myself to walk down that road again?’ Linda was nodding and saying it made sense. I complained about having spoken so much again and I referred to exactly how many minutes we had left and she made a comment about me holding myself so tightly to the minutes counting down. I changed the view on the screen so I could no longer see the time. I forgot during the session but I’m remembering now how Anna used to turn the clock away from me so that I would no longer clock watch… she knew that about me!

Linda said, ‘Lucy I want to get to know you. I want to learn about you and get to know you and it’s about trusting you and trusting the process. That whatever needs to come up will bring itself to the session.’ I said, ‘but there’s too much fear and resistance… I know that I can cope with these sessions. For example happened on Wednesday, I can get a lot out of the sessions with you, my adult can come and talk and process day to day stuff but there were sessions with Anna where stuff came out that I didn’t even know was there and we had sessions where I’d be crouched, curled on the floor and she’d ask me how old I was and I’d say 3 or something… I didn’t even know the answer until it came out my mouth and she would ask me if she could put her hand on my arm and it was so grounding, it really tethered me to the room with her, made me so very aware that she was here and that I wasn’t on my own.’ Linda was smiling and nodding. I said, ‘Anna brought those younger parts of me out, very slowly and gently… without her I feel like they’re hiding and why would they come out again? Why would I ever let myself trust anyone again… why would I trust that you will stick around?’ there was a pause and then I said, ‘…but there’s another voice saying, ‘please don’t build a wall around me again! Please don’t shut me off from that connection… what I built with Anna was so beautiful and healing and it didn’t end when she went away… please don’t build a wall around me again.’ Linda said, ‘who are you speaking to when you’re asking them not to wall you off?’ I said, ‘my protective parts.’ More silence and then some more crying.

Eventually Linda said, ‘So I have a really strong image of a child peeking round a door you know, and maybe they’re looking saying, ‘who is this woman, she’s not Anna… she looks different, she’s younger, she doesn’t talk the same, I don’t trust her!’ and so they’re keeping themselves hidden. And that’s okay. It will take time… and so adult Lucy comes to the sessions because she can deal with it, she knows she is safe. And the child parts are watching. Adult Lucy can cope with this, the adult can deal with talking to me and the child parts will be watching… does this match with your experience?’ I said, ‘YES! Spot on. This reminds me of what it was like when I first started with Anna in fact for probably a year I didn’t trust her. In fact about 18 months ago I drew a picture of a child peeking round the corner, child peeking round behind my legs… I felt like Anna wasn’t right for me, that she didn’t get me. Then you know, couple of years later and I’ve fallen in love with her and that child wants to climb up onto her lap! I know what I needed because I got it from her… then it was taken from me and I may never get it again.’

I’m contemplating Linda’s remark about needing to feel noticed by me and I’ve been aware of her saying something similar a few other times. There was the time she said, ‘your work with Anna has ended and you’re working with me now’ and this was the same session she told me that grief was selfish and described grief stricken people as having some sort of tunnel vision, unable to see others or reach out for connection. I guess this was our first rupture because I felt the things she was saying were so invalidating and gaslighting. In our repair session she reflected on her words as being ‘fucking brutal’. I wonder if Linda has felt invisible in our sessions or like she can’t live up to what Anna was to me. I’m guessing it’s not normal for someone to take on a client that has worked with a really good therapist beforehand. I’m guessing that normally if someone comes to a new therapist with previous therapy experience they usually have moved on because they needed more from the therapist than the previous one was giving them… so maybe Linda has never experienced working with a client who talks a lot in a very adoring way about their last therapist. Perhaps she feels inadequate or frustrated that I am not a blank slate, I come with experience and a clear sense of what I need. I also didn’t choose to come to her. I get the sense that she’s taken this to her own therapy or her supervisor and she’s reflected on it and they’ve helped her see that this is going to be the work that we do. She said last Saturday that she’s realised that it’s very important for the work that she and I do together that she lets me talk as much as I want about Anna. Which felt like a bit of a u-turn, as if she had talked it through and seen a new side to the issue. And today she is now talking about her need to feel seen in our relationship.

I pointed out the time again because I checked my phone and I told her that I hate the 50 minutes thing. I said, ‘I know it’s how you work but it’s yet another thing I’ve lost. The full hour makes a difference.’ Linda thanked me for telling her and said she hears that it’s another thing I’m grieving. I said I felt annoyed that I didn’t focus on Adam today and that there’s all these things I wanted to talk about. That I still didn’t feel completely resolved with what I spoke to her about on Wednesday, there’s loads to try to process with Adam and my brother is moving up from London on Monday and I have a massive amount I want to talk about with that but can’t because she doesn’t know anything about him or our relationship. I told her I could say one sentence to Anna and she’d get it but it’s going to take many sessions for Linda to get it and I’m stressed about my change of job next year and I want to make the most of all the sessions. Linda said, ‘I guess what I want to say to you is that I notice you being very rigid and unforgiving of yourself… I don’t want you to hear the word rigid and hear it as a criticism, it’s just an observation. It’s making me think of lesson plans! You know it makes sense, that’s part of who you are and of the way you’ve lived for years, you have to know where you’re going as a teacher, but I wonder if you can let yourself have a little more freedom with this. Trust yourself. It doesn’t matter if we don’t know where the track will lead us… can you allow yourself to relax a little?’ I said, ‘The voice is saying it’s not enough, it’s not good enough, I need to be more.’ Linda asked whose voice that was and I said, ‘it’s the part of me that was created to make me better so that they’d like me… it’s me but it’s the part of me that was acceptable to them… my parents, I guess.’

There were lots of quiet moments and I was feeling very raw and vulnerable but also was aware that Linda and I were connecting on a deeper level than before. Maybe seeing each other properly. I started to feel this pull inside me to have a hug from her… but not from her… I wanted Anna. I said, ‘This has felt like a really connecting session which is making me feel sad because at the end of a session like this Anna would give me a hug and it felt so grounding. It really helped with the connection. Because connecting with her would be scary sometimes and I’d often leave feeling certain that she hated me or was disgusted by me. But after we started hugging then I could always call the memory of that hug up in my mind and it would shut the inner critic up, ‘things are fine between us because she hugged me’.

Linda was smiling and I looked away and said, ‘Putting the stuff about the virus to one side. If things go back to some sort of normal and we’re allowed closer than 6 feet apart, is that something you would do? Like putting a hand on my arm or something… is touch part of the way you work?’ I could tell immediately that her gut response was no but she was thinking. She said, ‘Hmmm…. So, I’m not a touchy person Lucy. Not a huggy person. Not just in my work but in life in general. I’m just not a touchy person. But I’m willing to think about it and reflect on it and talk to you about it later.’ I said, ‘I might not even want it… we’ve never even sat in a room together… but it’s important that I know if it’s a possibility or not but the touch was really important in my sessions with Anna and there’s some transference stuff coming up for me right now, hearing you say you’re not a touchy person because you know my mum wasn’t a touchy person with me but she was with everyone else and it is bringing up a lot of stuff for me from my childhood… hugs not being allowed.’ She said, ‘yeah, I hear that and I will think about it. Does it help to hear that I’m not a huggy person even… well in all areas of my life? Not just work?’ I said, ‘I wish I’d started talking about this 50 minutes ago.’ Linda asked why and I said, ‘because this is another grief… that’s a big loss… you know?’ she nodded and said, ‘me not being a touchy huggy person is something that I work on in my own therapy.’ We said some more about that and then I noticed we had two minutes left.

Linda said, ‘I think you’ve brought a lot of important stuff to the session today. Be kind to yourself for the rest of the day. Be kind. I’d like you to notice what comes up for you after the session today. Don’t try to analyse it or overthink it or question it, just notice. You’ve talked a lot about Anna so expect things to come up.’ She put her hand over her chest to signify that I might find the grief come quite a lot

I just can’t stop thinking about Anna saying to me, ‘you can never have too many hugs’ and I think I just really need that. I need that energy from a therapist. Someone who is overflowing with it. Someone who has an abundance of it. More love and hugs than anyone could ever need. The energy I got from Anna was that she almost had to hold herself back from giving me too much and overwhelming my avoidant self, scaring the disorganised, untrusting parts. Anna was having to hold herself back from willing me to ask her for hugs for months. I need someone who is saying, ‘I am willing to give you anything you think will help you in this therapeutic relationship’ (obviously within ethical reason). Not someone who has to go away and think about possibly introducing touch in a session… so has she never done touch before in a session? I feel like with Linda I’m having to constantly reach out and tease these things out of her. Maybe when clients start working with Linda in the room they can tell she isn’t a touchy huggy person and so it’s never come up… I don’t understand how she can have experience working with trauma and never have come up against this before. I really miss Anna so much. I’m scared I’m never going to have anything like that again.

I have been absolutely exhausted all afternoon. My friend pointed out to me that I tend to fall asleep after really hard sessions and she noted that sleep is an extreme freeze response. Which makes so much sense to me. Also I remember reading that sleep is considered a less final option of escape than killing yourself but with a similar outcome – you can shut off from whatever emotional pain is so excruciating it’s making you want to end things. I often have to fight this strong pull to sleep straight after sessions (on the odd occasion the sensation has been there during sessions) and things like arguments, prolonged negativity and conflict in a relationship… just another thing to add to the list of things I’ll eventually explore in therapy.

This was our 20th session. Things feel so uncertain and I feel very much like I’m walking, stumbling through a thick forest at night. I’m feeling frightened and lost. I will keep working with Linda but I don’t know for how long. It feels like she’s only around when the sun comes up and then she’s gone again when I need her the most. I think its important to see how I feel with her in the room. But I don’t know if she is right for me long term, for the deep stuff. I just wish I could turn back time.

Another Love

I was absolutely exhausted after this session… if these notes don’t make sense then I apologise.

Linda asked me how I was doing and I said, ‘that’s going to take about 50 minutes to figure out!’ and she said, ‘yessss… that’s why we’re here!’ I asked how she was and she said she was good and was hoping the nice weather stuck around.

I told her I’d felt sad after the last session. That I had come to the session on Wednesday intending on showing her my drawing of the corridor and doors but had chickened out. She said. ‘Oh wow! I didn’t know that was there for you, I didn’t realise you even had the folder there.’ I said, ‘yeah well it’s sitting here right now.’ She asked if I wanted to show her and I said, ‘nooo!’ in a cringy/annoyed with myself way and joked about flashing it on the screen. I said, ‘this is the annoying bit about having different conflicting thoughts inside… there’s this really confident, strong part of me that’s like, ‘just show her, for fuck sake, why now? You’ve been through a hell of a lot worse and you showed Anna some really fucking hard ones… just show her!’ but there are really frightened, vulnerable feelings around you know, that imagine rejection or humiliation.’ Linda said, ‘hmmm well to me it just feels like when someone brings a journal to the session you know, it’s no different, journal notes, drawings…’ I said, ‘yeah I guess the difference for me is the connotations attached to me sharing something personal and creative within this type of relationship… if we had met in another context I’d probably not hesitate, I’d just show you. Although I doubt I’d be talking about this kind of stuff with you, but anyway because this is a sort of well…. whatever this is, it triggers very emotionally heavy stuff. So like I would never have shared stuff I’d drawn with my mum, she would have ripped it to shreds… not literally but she was so critical. In minute ways that slowly picked me apart. I learned to never have any of my drawings facing out of my art folder at school because they’d draw unwanted attention form her. I would keep everything hidden and private. So it’s a big deal to show you something I’ve drawn.’ Linda was saying things while I was talking like, ‘hmmm that’s horrible,’ and stuff like that – referring to mums comments. She then said, ‘okay, well I will trust you that you will bring the drawings to me whenever you want to share them, how does that sound?’ I said that was a good idea.

When I talked about parts of me feeling different things Linda said, ‘I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before but this is what in Person Centred therapy is called Configurations of Self… it’s called a variety of different things in different modalities but yeah, we all have different parts of the self and that’s what you’re describing here… but you know, you are here, Lucy!’ I wrote down ‘configurations of self’ for future googling and said, ‘so I am here… and what does that say about me?’ she said ‘you are here and you keep coming back, twice a week. You could just cancel but you keep coming, that shows me that despite many conflicting parts, the strongest part of you wants to be here. The strongest part of you wants to heal, wants to work on this.’ I liked this. It reminded me of Anna telling me she admired how hard I worked in therapy and that she was in awe of how dedicated I am to my healing journey. It’s incredible to feel like not only am I welcome to ‘keep coming back’ but actually by doing that I am viewed in a positive light… considering I spent most of my life feeling like I’m too intense, too much, and getting the clear message from my mum in my early years that I should dumb everything right down (I realise now that she had such a fragile ego and weak sense of self that she was threatened by me and my individuation).

I said, ‘I’ve been missing Anna a lot recently.’ She said empathically, ‘yeah, I know.’ I said, ‘last night I was listening to music while cooking dinner and I had these great 90’s songs playing and you know how music can be so emotive?’ she said, ‘yeah absolutely, what tunes were you listening to?’ I laughed and said I don’t even know what they’re called but could sing them but I wont… then I said… ‘oh like, What is Love, Rhythm is a Dancer, All that she Wants that kind of dance pop stuff… stuff I was never allowed to listen to growing up.’ I then went off on a ramble talking about how mum was stuck in her youth in her mind, that through a slow and agonising process of emotional blackmail we were all squashed into a box that suited her. I couldn’t express any likes or dislikes that were different to her. If I played music from my generation she would say it was just noise, it would be subjected to endless degrading and criticism. It wasn’t worth it. And what did I want more than anything? For her to like me. So I like what she liked. I played all her old records. I told her I wished I’d lived in her generation. I explained to Linda, ‘when the music was playing while I was making the dinner, in a split second I experienced this intense emotional flashback to the 90s, to my childhood or early teens, to this all encompassing sense of not being a real person, having no identity, not being real and worthy of my own opinions and preferences, I was an empty shell or rather like a mirror for her or something… as long as I could make her feel like she was this special, unique, worship-able, most amazing person then things would be okay…’ I felt like I wasn’t making any sense and I sat with my head in my hands for a bit muttering that I didn’t know how to phrase it. I think Linda said something encouraging here and then I continued, ‘basically I had to mould myself into something that would be acceptable to her… something not too threatening, something that makes her feel good for herself. I didn’t have a sense of myself. And I would tie myself in fucking knots trying to figure her out. I’d overthink and analyse everything. I’d have to think ‘if I say this how is she going to interpret it?’ everything I said had to be considered through a filter of what she might think… THAT’S WHY I AM THE WAY I AM!’ Linda smiled with widened eyes and was nodding saying it made sense. She said, ‘God its just rules rules rules!’ I said, ‘yeah but not in a clear, concise, reasonable way. It was like second guessing all the time, feeling your way in the dark, total guess work!’ She said, ‘oh no, yeah, absolutely… it made no sense!’ I was nodding.

I continued, ‘wow… went off on a tangent… so yeah the song came on and it reminded me of all this music that I loved at the time but wasn’t allowed to listen to, then the split second sense of being an empty non-person then smashed right up beside that scary, lonely emptiness was this calming, soothing sense of, ‘it’s okay because I can take this to Anna and she will help me.’ Because you know, for the past two and a half years I have kept myself going through really hard things by reassuring myself that I can take it to Anna – then immediately a wave of grief hits me when I remember that no I can’t take it to Anna because she’s gone now. And I have to push all of that down because you know I’m making the fucking dinner!’ Linda said, ‘yeah the momentary forgetting and remembering is very painful when we’re grieving a loss of someone so special to us, that moment of remembering that it’s not Anna, it’s me that you’re taking it to.’ I felt like she hadn’t quite understood that the loss was more than that so I continued, ‘yeah but the thing is, I cant take these things to you. I mean I can talk about it. I could probably tell you most things right now. But it wouldn’t be therapeutic because I wouldn’t be feeling it deeply… thing is, this is session number 18 and really there’s no comparison between session number 18 and session number hundred and thirty odd or whatever we were on. The deep ‘knowing’ I got from Anna that you just can’t give me yet, not because of an inadequacy in you but because of time and experience, because of the depth of the relationship. So there’s a really huge loss there because, well (started to cry) there is a lot in me that I wanted to take to her and now it all has to wait… for how long you know?’

She said some reassuring words and I calmed down and said, ‘I take notes for every session, Anna actually joked that I probably made better notes than her.’ Linda laughed. ‘and so I looked back at session number 17 with Anna and session number 17 with Paul. Comparing them with our last session. And the same thing was coming up…. oooh this feels very vulnerable and exposing (she raised her eyebrows and I continued) so uh… same stuff… this sense that uhhh… this person doesn’t understand me, they cant help me, this isn’t going to work, that kind of thing.’ Linda said, ‘so that’s interesting. That tells us an interesting thing about your process doesn’t it? That shows us that you are consistent and you have a reliable process.’ I must have looked like I was questioning her because she asked if I agreed with her and I said, ‘doesn’t it mean I haven’t made any progress?’ she said, ‘noooo Lucy! Plenty of progress within a consistent process.’ I feel like I want someone to explain to me what process actually means. It’s one of those words I’ve used frequently but then think it has so many subtle nuances, are we talking about the same thing? Is it just that I work things through in a similar way through all my therapeutic relationships? We talked about pace and I said it annoyed me that I cant skip all this delaying and resistance and just jump in with both feet and trust.

I said, ‘I was chatting to my friend on the phone this morning and she’d asked how I was doing and I told her I was really missing Anna and just stuck in these feelings of it not being fair, that there’s this denial where I keep hoping I’ll suddenly get a text from her saying she’s starting up again and then at the end of the message I had apologised that it was the same shit different day kind of thing. She had replied saying, it’s only been 4 weeks and even if in 6 months I’m still saying I miss Anna, it will makes sense to her and that this was my first real secure attachment and it is a massive loss and of course it feels unfair and that she is surprised I’ve been doing so well considering what a huge grief it is.’ Linda was nodding and saying she’s glad I have such an understanding friend who really gets it then I said, ‘but theres a big part of me that’s scared that people are sick of me talking about this and they’re going to say enough, that I need to talk about something other than Anna,’ Linda said, ‘and there’s a part of you that’s worried that I want you to stop talking about Anna.’ I said, ‘yes! And I feel this thing that’s so familiar to me… like you are holding back your true feelings while you build up a ball of anger and resentment against me because I talk about Anna so much…. and I’m really hoping and I’m actually guessing that you definitely don’t feel like that?’ I looked at her and she said,’ I definitely don’t feel like that and actually Lucy, I don’t think I ever felt like that about any of my clients or in any of my relationships,’ I said, ‘yeah, I don’t get a passive aggressive vibe from you. Both my parents and husband are passive aggressive. But I don’t get that sense from you… I really prefer, upfront you know, honesty.’ She said, ‘I’m sure I’ve said this before but I think its really important that when things come up for me I will say them and vice versa. It’s really important that we don’t hold back.’

I said, ‘There is a familiar reluctance, like I used to feel with my mum and dad when they were together but especially after the split up, that I had to be very careful what I say to each of them… and I’m aware that I talk very fondly about Anna and I know I hold her in high regard and I just don’t want it to feel that by default when I’m saying I loved these things about Anna and miss it, that I’m saying I don’t get all this great stuff from you… I don’t even know if I’m making sense!’ She said, ‘I don’t know if this is my stuff but I wonder how it impacts things that I know Anna. Because obviously I know who you’re talking about. So I wonder if that’s something to note.’ I wish I’d asked her to explain this further and let me know what she was happy to tell me about her experience of listening to me talk about her friend and ex-colleague. I didn’t though, what I said was, ‘I feel its largely a positive thing that you know her. I have thought sometimes when I say something positive and you smile it is heart warming to me because I feel like maybe you’re fond of her too and it makes me feel closer to her to know that you can imagine in your mind who we’re talking about.’ Linda was smiling and nodding and I explained that when I talked about Paul I was often curious as to whether Anna knew him or had brushed shoulders with him at some point but I found it so hard to ask her questions. So it’s kind of cool that I know Linda knows her.  

Linda said, ‘I actually have thought about this and I believe it is very very important within and for our relationship that you talk as much as you want to talk about Anna. I feel you should talk about her whenever the need comes up, until one day you won’t. It’s happening for you right now so it’s vital that you talk about it and don’t leave that one very important aspect of your life out of this relationship.’ I had a huge smile on my face and I thanked her for saying all that. I said it was really good to hear because I did feel that I should talk as much as I want to about her.

I said, ‘When I started working with you and I described Anna as my therapy mum and suggested you could be my therapy aunty, I have realised that at the time I thought that sat well with you because of the attachment I had with Anna at the time, you were quite happy not stepping into her shoes at that point because it was temporary and so you were happy being one step away from the attachment because that position was already filled. So, when she stopped working with me and I realised I was actually properly moving on to you, I desperately wanted to figure out if you were up for the job of working on this deep attachment shit. But now I realise that actually the denial and avoidance of the grief has made me almost panicky and want to hurry up and replace that very deep loving attachment I had with Anna you know in a sort of ‘hurry up and fill this painful hole with another love so I don’t feel the agony of what she has taken away;’ and actually when I get little glimpses of what’s beyond that wall of avoidance I see that probably the analogy of a therapy aunty sits really well for you regardless of whether Anna is here or not because that’s not the way you work. That’s not your energy. What I got from Anna was this very mothering, nurturing, deeply loving connection with my inner children and I mean, we’ve only been working together for a couple of months so it could change and grow and maybe I’m wrong but I’m thinking you don’t work like that and by holding on to this idea that I can create with you what I had with Anna is holding me back from the full force of the grief. I need to grieve what I have lost rather than try to replace it with a carbon copy.’ Linda said, ‘This is true, these are very real losses.’ She paused and looked like she was thinking then said, ‘Also, this might be my stuff coming up but I do think its important just to highlight that there are other ways to nurture that aren’t mothering, you can be nurturing and not mothering.’ I feel like this is going to be an area that we may but up against each other from time to time because I am curious about how willing and how able she is to nurture without having the maternal aspect. I said, ‘the thing is though, young parts of me, especially Four, she really needed the mothering… and I know I’ve made progress and I do wonder if it’s not needed so much anymore because I have managed to internalise her a bit and I am more able to be nurturing towards myself, but the therapy stopped before I was ready to let it go, there’s still a lot in me that needs that mothering.’ She was listening and saying that it made sense.

I said, ‘In the garden this morning, Reuben dragged the other chair all the way up to me so the arm of his chair was right up next to the arm of my chair, he couldn’t have got any closer. And he said to me, ‘mummy when I’m a big man, taller than daddy, will I still be your baby?’ this is like a wee routine we have and so then I said like I always say, ‘even when you’re a big tall man you will still be my baby, you’re always in my heart.’ And it reminded me of the sessions with Anna, after months of building up the courage I asked her if I could sit next to her and she said of course I could and so gradually I got closer and closer over the sessions to the point where I would drag the chair right over to her, it was so close that there weren’t any space for our legs any more and I’d have to sit cross legged and it really felt like it was Four. I felt her excitement and her love for Anna. She just loved when Anna welcomed and accepted her intense need for closeness.’ Linda said, ‘what you had with Anna was very precious and special… very precious.’ I nodded and said it really was and started to cry.

I said, ‘During our last phone call Anna said to me that this wasn’t the ending I deserved and that she was sorry I wasn’t able to have the ending I needed. She told me not to let the ending stop when the call ended, to not just close the door and she said, ‘take this to Linda and work on the ending that we would have done, with her.’ Linda said, ‘wow, I’m not sure you’ve told me that before… that’s exactly what you’ve been doing. I know you listened to Anna really carefully but you obviously really listened to her advice there and you have been doing exactly that.’ I nodded and felt really glad that she seemed totally on board with that.

I told Linda I had a question to ask her and I umm’d and ahhh’d and got annoyed with myself then blurted out that I didn’t want an answer straight away but basically when we eventually are allowed back in the therapy centre, I would like to be allowed to go in Anna’s old room. I said, ‘I feel like it will be like healing or you know a sort of physical closure type thing for the younger parts of me to actually see that she’s not there. I know this sounds a bit torturous but I was thinking even if I could rent the room from the company for the hour before our first session so I can sit in the room by myself and just be there and feel the force of her not being there and cry and just feel it all.’ Linda said, ‘okay yeah, let me check that out then, there isn’t anyone in that room yet… everything is in the planning stages right now but I will investigate and get back to you on that one.’ I thanked her then said I had another question. ‘

I said, ‘So as you know Anna did the full hour and I mean, I respect that it’s your personal decision and boundary to do 50 minutes, I do just want to verbalise that there is a difference, I do feel the loss of the ten minutes. We used to spend that time grounding and reconnecting with the present moment and without it I sometimes feel a bit in limbo or sort of hanging in this weird space after a session. I mean, I’m coping with it now but we’re not going very deeply into things yet. Also, sometimes when we did very deep stuff we would do 90 minute sessions and it meant that the panicky part of me that stressed about time could relax a bit. Even if I rambled or was hesitant for 20 minutes or got very dissociated and lost half an hour of the session I would still have made some use of the time together. I don’t want you to give me an immediate answer, I don’t want you to say no that’s not how I work, I’d like you to go away and think about it… I know that the work we’re doing is different and not going to be the same. At the moment I can’t envisage how we would do the very deep work in just 50 minutes. So I wondered if you would consider doing longer sessions.’ Linda asked me how often I would do that with Anna and I said it was probably no more than ten times in the two and a half years we worked together and that the two sessions a week really helped me hold the difficult stuff. She said, ‘Thank you for telling me all of that and explaining it to me. I will go away and think about it and I’ll take it to supervision and see what comes up for me. I’ll let you know what I think.’ I felt good about the way she responded to me but now I’m writing it out it feels kind of awkward and weird. So it must have been something about her open facial expression or something that gave me the impression it was okay to ask. It felt adult and reasonable to ask about this part of our work.

At some point in the session I showed her a photo on my phone of the kids playing in the garden. I cant even remember why now but I showed her Grace wearing these tiny shorts she’s had since she was about 3 that she loves and keeps wearing despite them not covering her bum. I talked about how comfortable Grace is with her body and that even at 8 I knew not to be naked in front of my mum, not to wear revealing clothes, not to be visible actually. That she would pick me apart. I told her how mum called me all sorts of names and made me feel like I was shameful, that there was something wrong with me.

Her cats kept meowing and snoring and purring… not sure how I feel about them being in the room with her when she does her sessions. I wonder if they stay in the therapy room when she is holding her face to face sessions at home. Surely I’m not jealous of the attention her cats are getting during my session time? She did refer to one as her daughter in the session… oh the weird and wonderful ways of my psyche. Will I ever fully know myself?

I’ve been contemplating the purpose of therapy recently. I said to my friend this morning that it was hard to balance the notion that in order to fully trust Linda I need to feel a sense of permanence and longevity in the relationship but that running alongside that is the very real knowing that nothing is a given, everything is temporary, people can’t promise to stay with us and the only thing we can rely on is the consistency of our own presence. I actually presented this dilemma to Linda and I think this might be where she told me that my strongest part kept bringing me back to therapy. That she admires that I have kept trying and that I have adapted to three different styles in therapy. I was struggling with feeling confused about how I could possibly do the work in therapy without imagining the long term attachment goals. My friend reminded me of the time Anna was ill and I had to do it without her the first time… I realised then that she was my guide but I am the vehicle. She said that she doesn’t believe that the purpose of therapy is to heal us completely within this one perfect relationship and that I’m living proof of that in a sense because my healing and my life didn’t ground to a halt when Anna stopped working with me or when Paul stopped working with me. I could easily and understandably have dropped into a spiral of helplessness, depression and self harm but I chose to take those steps forwards. I’m making a note of that here because I think it’s important for me to remember this part of my journey. When I feel like I’m on my knees. When I feel like I can’t trust anyone. When I feel the weight of the ‘not fair’ feelings that two of my therapists stopped working with me before I was ready to stop and I had it SO GOOD with Anna. The bargaining I do in my head when it sinks in that I really lost this thing that was so good for me. But I have to think about who walked me into her office in the first place. And who’s dialed me in to my sessions with Linda. And who is sitting here processing and typing up these notes. Weirdly, amazingly, there is some sort of power in being thrown into this worst case scenario. I have learned about myself that I can cope with this thing that I thought would kill me. It felt like it was killing me, but here I still am. I would go back to her in a heartbeat, don’t get me wrong… but also alongside that is an acknowledgement that I am surviving without her. And actually, on reflection, I am never without her because I have internalised enough of her that I benefit from our work continuously. That is the purpose of therapy in fact, to internalise her – achieve autonomy and self-actualisation.

Channeling my Inner Anna

Something interesting happened tonight with my daughter and I shared it with my friend who had quite a powerful emotional response to it as I recalled what happened. We talked about it and I realised it was actually really important to make a note of this kind of parenting learning curve/triumph… so here it is.

Therapy had been hard, as I wrote about earlier, and after I wrote out my notes, played a cars game with my son, painted both kids nails and had dinner I was still feeling kind of activated so I decided to go for a drive. It was beautiful weather this evening so I drove through the empty back roads enjoying the scenery and felt myself slowly relaxing. There’s something about driving that seems to ground me. I don’t know if it’s the physical act of having to coordinate all my limbs and my mind… whatever it is, I love driving, I love being in the car.

When I got home the kids were in my neighbours garden playing. She is in her 50’s and has been very kind and sweet with my kids through the lockdown. She usually works abroad for most of the year but because of the pandemic she has been ‘stuck’ at home which has been a blessing for us. She has played ball games over the fence with my kids, baked them cookies, given them water pistols and all sorts of other things. This week we’ve allowed the children to play in her garden while keeping distance and they’ve loved it. My neighbour says she really enjoys their company and that they make living alone more bearable.

So the kids were in Vera’s garden and as I walked in my husband spoke to me under his breath that they’d all been setting up Vera’s new gazebo that had just arrived. In all the excitement Gracie had cut the box open and sliced through a part of the tent covering of the gazebo and there’s now a 12 inch gash in the top of it. I spoke to Vera over the fence asking how I could help as she tried to tape the hole up with the only tape she had. I browsed on my phone for gaffa tape and replacement gazebo tents to go over the frame… all coming back at around £150. I was pretty annoyed. To be honest I was mostly annoyed that Vera had turned her back and let an 8 year old loose with scissors… of course she cut through the fabric, kids don’t know how to cut through the tape of a box. But I was also annoyed with Grace for being so slap-dash and annoyed with Adam for being so passive! Vera doesn’t have kids and isn’t aware of how you can not turn your back for a second. She seemed really chilled about the whole thing and I didn’t make a fuss either. I said we would sort it later and I went in to run a bath for the kids.

Gracie started crying, she was still in Vera’s garden. Part of me wanted to see how this would play out. Vera started saying things like, ‘don’t cry, its okay… you’re fine, why are you crying…?’ in a cheerful, light way. Eventually I text Vera with a few links to some options online offering again to pay for it and then called the kids in for their bath.

Reuben got in the bath but Grace was hysterically crying. Sobbing, scrunched up face, repeatedly rubbing her face and curling over holding her tummy. I sat next to her. I noticed inside my body a discomfort. I felt emotionally disconnected from her and the urge to tell her to stop crying and be quiet and get over it was very strong. I stayed with her in silence. I concentrated on my breathing and channelled my inner Anna. Literally thought the words, ‘what would Anna do in this moment?’

Grace cried and cried, to the point where her face was screwed up and red as if she was crying but no tears were coming any more. And still she was holding her tummy as if she was in pain. It was a lot of loud, messy crying. I’m sitting there feeling very uncomfortable, numb, wanting to get away from her. Thinking, ‘not only did you break the tent thing that I’m now going to have to spend £150 on fixing but now you’re making this all about you by crying and making me comfort you, when you were the one who did it!’ I am aware from working on similar triggers in therapy before that in these re-enactments, Grace has become my mother. I remind myself that Grace is 8 years old and she’s not a narcissist. She is feeling genuine, real, valid emotions and it is my job to guide and support her through it. These moments are here to solidify our relationship, if I let them.

Again, I’m noticing all this happening in my body and mind. A very strong desire to get up and leave her. I put my hand on her back and asked her, ‘what do you feel in your body?’ she snapped at me, ‘I don’t know!’ and then started angrily crying. I felt annoyed and almost put out like, ‘here I am trying to support you and you don’t even have the decency to answer my question?’ – I know, from previous work with Anna that this is my child responding again… so I breathe. She leaned in to me and I put my arm around her sitting in silence. I was staring off into space struggling to know what to do or even find the emotional energy to engage with her. I was thinking, ‘I’m really not good at this, I’m failing her!’

Eventually we started talking.

I asked Grace what she was thinking and she said, ‘Vera said it’s fine but I’m worried that she’s angry with me and only saying that it’s fine to not hurt my feelings.’ I was thinking, ‘wow that’s really such a mature and accurate feeling. So, I said to her, ‘I really understand that feeling, I’ve felt that before.’ I said, ‘lets imagine she is annoyed that it happened, because you know it’s a new thing that she just bought and it just arrived and now it’s broken, it would make sense if she was annoyed about that. So imagine that she is annoyed a little bit.’ I pinched my fingers together to signify the little bit of annoyance. I said, ‘why do you think she would hide that annoyance from you?’ Grace said she didn’t know and I said, ‘I wonder if she would hide the annoyance because she cares a lot about you and doesn’t want you to be more upset because she knows that you’re worried and you made a mistake… so maybe actually she might be a bit annoyed but she also knows that it’s a mistake and you didn’t mean it and that you feel bad… and she cares about you and she knows that you are more important than the gazebo so she’s protecting you from feeling more bad than you already feel’ Grace was listening and looking at me and nodding and crying some more.

I said, ‘do you feel like you’ve got a sore tummy?’ and she nodded. I asked if she knew what the feeling was and she shook her head. I said, ‘does it feel like guilt?’ and she started sobbing. I said, ‘it makes total sense to me that you’re feeling guilty because you did something that you think is bad and wrong. Remember you didn’t do it deliberately, you were very quick to open that box with the scissors and really its best to leave these things for a grown up. If Vera had opened the box and cut the fabric then it would have been her mistake… but it happened, it was an accident. That feeling you’ve got in your tummy of regret and guilt shows me that you’re a human being and that you want to do the right thing and that you care. These are human feelings that we all feel when we do something wrong and we regret it, even when we didn’t mean to do it. So I want you to know that it makes sense to me that you’re feeling as you are and it would be strange if you didn’t feel like that because then I would wonder why you didn’t care about Vera and her gazebo. Does that make sense?’ she nodded.

I wanted to get the message across that people can be angry or annoyed and still love or like the person. The gut instinct was to say ‘no she’s not angry’ but that creates more fear as if anger is the worst thing in the world. I wanted her to get the sense that she and the relationships she forms are more resilient than this kind of accident. That she’s a good kind nice person and it doesn’t change how Vera views her and that she will still welcome her into the garden. I also said, ‘she might not be angry, we don’t know how people feel without asking them and then it’s up to us if we want to believe them or not. Does Vera seem like the sort of person who can’t tell people how she feels?’ Grace shook her head. I said, ‘She seems to be very open and find it easy to say how she’s feeling so let’s believe her when she says she’s not angry.’

I later talked to Vera about all this and she said she was genuinely not angry, that it was her fault for not getting up quickly enough when the kids had the scissors. She said since her niece died when she was 5 of cancer, she realised that none of those material things are of any significance and there are far more important things in life. I later explained this in child friendly words to Grace which helped her have a bigger perspective.

Later I explained to her, ‘good relationships aren’t fragile,’ I asked if she understood what I meant and she said she didn’t so I elaborated, ‘imagine you had a glass vase and you dropped it and it smashed and it could never be fixed – that’s fragile… but now imagine you have a wooden pot or a metal bucket and you drop it and it dents… the dent will be there as a reminder that something happened to it but it is still strong and in one piece, it’s not fragile. That’s what good relationships are like. You might always remember that this thing happened between you and Vera but your relationship won’t be damaged or shattered by this one accident. You haven’t broken your friendship with Vera. Does that make sense?’ Grace nodded and took lots of deep breaths and we had a very big hug and then she seemed more ready to move on with the evening.

I sat with her while she had a bath, because she asked me to. I washed her hair, put it in pleats and read her a bedtime story. She went to bed happily and fell asleep quickly. I sat down with Adam later on in the evening and went over what had happened. I told him that I felt like I redeemed myself despite being triggered by Grace’s strong feelings. I wanted to help her tune in to her body and notice her feelings. I also wanted to teach her that she is worthy of care and connection even when she makes mistakes. Adam and I both felt quite moved by what had happened and talked about how no one had ever helped us understand our feelings. My mum would have shouted at me, punished me, sent me to my room or cried intensely demanding I comfort her.

This is the kind of moment I wish I could share with Anna… this is her work in action… her mothering transmuted into my mothering. The ripple effect of the therapy.

Grief and Depression

‘In grief, depression is a way for nature to keep us protected by shutting down the nervous system so that we can adapt to something we feel we cannot handle.’ Elisabeth Kuber-Ross & David Kessler

Today’s session was hard going. A lot of feelings came up for me and I struggled to feel Linda’s care which makes me sad because I felt it from her in the last session. I think I was disappointed that she didn’t bring up the article I’d sent her in email but maybe she was waiting for me to bring it up. I didn’t remember in time and also felt a lot of hesitance around sharing too much vulnerability around everything I’d talked about in the last session. I had my art folder beside me intending on showing Linda the drawing of the corridor and it stayed closed beside me the whole time. There was a strong sense of self protection and guardedness today.

Linda started the session by saying, ‘Good news, the centre is talking about reopening and we’re in the process of figuring out all the protocol to make that happen.’ I said, ‘oh wow… hmmm that’s going to be weird. Aren’t we going to have lots of weird rules like having to stay far away from each other?’ she said that’s true but they’re looking at how to open in the safest way and it will probably be in July. I said it would be really hard to be back there. I didn’t tell her this but I’ve had this recurring fantasy of going back into the building and being allowed time in Anna’s office to sit by myself and cry and just let it digest and process – the idea that she’s really gone. I feel like sitting in the room without Anna would help gain some sort of deeper sense on a somatic level that she’s gone, almost like showing the younger parts of me that she’s physically not there. But I know that wouldn’t be possible under the new circumstances. They will undoubtably have to have deep cleans between clients and wouldn’t want me to just go into a room, sit in a chair and potentially contaminate a room for no reason. I also can’t imagine how they’ll figure out toilets and even the buzzer at the door. I’ll mention all this to Linda at some point because I think it’s important.

We focused in on the session and I said I felt nervous and talked about how I had been struggling with the inner critic this week. I explained that because we talked about more intense stuff last session and she had said, ‘this is big’ my mind had twisted those words to mean, ‘this is too much for me’ and it was a pleasant surprise to actually see her on the screen, that she did come back. ‘Yes I came back, Lucy.’ She said with a smile. She asked, ‘Is it familiar to you? This feeling that I’m not going to want to keep working with you?’ I said, ‘yes I’ve felt it all through.’ Linda said, ‘all through working with Paul and all through working with Anna?’ I said, ‘yeah which is pretty ridiculous, I’d have hoped it would be something that would subside after all this work!’ I thought for a bit and then said, ‘actually it did change when I was working with Anna, I did start to believe that she wasn’t going to leave me… then she actually did!’ I laughed loudly and Linda had a sad expression on her face. I was quiet for a bit and then said, ‘Wednesdays are hard because they’re the day after Tuesday which has unintentionally become this anniversary of the end of our work because of the phone call.’ Linda nodded and said she understood.

I said I spent most of the past few days reading and researching stuff to do with childhood emotional neglect and abuse. I showed her the two books I’ve been reading and said I spent all day Monday and most of Tuesday reading. I explained that I did that through all of my work with Paul and at the start of working with Anna. I said, ‘Anna worked really hard to get me to stop doing that. She would say to me, ‘you don’t need to do my job for me, Lucy, trust me, I will do that part of the work, you stick to your job… which is just to turn up.’ Linda was smiling and nodding and I could tell she was pleased to hear what Anna had said to me. She asked, ‘other than intellectualising and taking you out of your feelings, what else does reading the books give you?’ I said, ‘validation! It’s so amazing to read me on the page… I grew up thinking my life had been fine you know? I always believed that because I wasn’t sexually abused or whatever that I had nothing to complain about and that I was making a big deal out of nothing but reading these books it makes me realise that what I experienced is very impactful and that these really subtle ways of not having my emotional needs met are a big deal.’ Linda said, ‘yes.. and sometimes not so subtle but actually very obvious examples of emotional abuse and neglect. I often talk to my clients about CEN, many of them aren’t aware it was an issue for them. The group that I work with at the volunteer unit is different because they are all sexual abuse survivors but my other clients, the private clients, there are levels of CEN running throughout all of them. People don’t realise how prevalent it is you know? And in many ways childhood emotional neglect and abuse has far more profound and long lasting damage on a person than something physically abusive like sexual assault, depending on lots of other factors. Because with the emotional abuse and neglect there is no making sense of it.’

I said, ‘I know that the message you’re trying to get across is that you understand and it makes sense and maybe you’re trying to validate me but it doesn’t feel like that.’ She said, ‘can you describe what came up for you? What did it feel like?’ I really struggled to put it into words and she said it didn’t have to make sense. I eventually explained that it reminded me of the feeling of being generic and not special… that everyone deals with this kind of stuff and it’s no big deal. She ensured that was not what she had going on for her and we talked about how it brought up memories of my mum making me feel like I’m nothing special and that she did the things she had to do because she’s a mum but nothing more than that. And that she resented the bare minimum. I then said, ‘I don’t think I like hearing about your other clients.’ She tilted her head and said, ‘oh, can you say more about that?’ and I explained that it’s hard to be reminded that this is her job. That she does this for a number of people and it’s just her job. Linda said, ‘you are my client Lucy, you are my client. That is an important relationship.’ I made a sceptical noise and she continued, ‘So what does it feel like to be told you’re held in mind? Does that have any impact on you?’ I said, ‘hmmm I mean, I remember saying to Anna… getting annoyed with her actually and saying, ‘what does that even mean? I can’t feel when you’re holding me in mind!’ you know? It doesn’t impact me… what does it even mean? And anyway I don’t expect you to hold me in mind, I felt it more from Anna towards the end because we had a very close connection and it was really deep work we were doing but I’ve only just started with you, I could easily not turn up to a session and you’d be like ‘no loss’ you know?’ Linda looked kind of quizzical or concerned and said, ‘hmmm you are my client Lucy, I hold you in mind. When I’m flicking through my diary and I see ‘Lucy’ on the page I think about you, you know… as an example. I don’t see your name and roll my eyes and quickly flick onwards… I hold you in mind.’

I don’t really know how I felt about this. I think it’s a different holding to the one Anna meant. I imagined Anna fondly thinking about me from time to time or wondering about something I’d said or looking into training to help further our work but Linda’s example is thinking of me when she flicks through her diary? But also, like I said to Linda, obviously she’s not spending every waking moment thinking of me, that would be really unhealthy. I wouldn’t want a therapist who had a preoccupation with her clients. I want her to have a life independent of her work and I think it would actually really concern me to have a therapist intentionally reach for me first. I think the thing that I’m missing is that Anna and I really clicked. We got each other. We had a few sessions where we both were in a fit of giggles. There were real bonding moments between us. These early sessions with Linda seem to serve as a reminder of what I’ve lost. I can hear Linda attempting to reach me and reassure me, and I actually feel like I could get on well with her, but I don’t feel the same level of investment from her and I don’t know if that’s because it’s only been 16 sessions or if it’s because she doesn’t work the same way Anna works.

At one point Linda pondered out loud if I was struggling to put things into words and struggling to make sense of my feelings because I spent the past few days reading and staying in my head in a very clinical theoretical way. I said it might be the case but also it’s just an ongoing struggle of mine.

I talked a lot about how much I’m missing Anna. That I really wish she was well and that her life was on track… not just because I miss her and want her back but also because she deserves happiness and wellness. I said that she’s such a lovely person and amazing therapist and it’s such a massive loss to not have her practicing anymore. Linda was agreeing. I said, ‘I know that Anna made a deliberate decision to only tell me what she told me but I’m left wondering what went wrong. I just don’t get it. I know she has asthma but I don’t understand why that would mean she had to completely stop practicing. Why couldn’t she just have taken a few months off then come back… and it feels really selfish and stupid that I’m sitting here moaning, ‘oh I miss my therapist so much why did she leave me,’ when you know the truth and you’re having to hold the facts. You know the probably very serious reasons why Anna had to stop working and you have to put up with listening to me moaning like this.’ Linda said, ‘that was very unkind, the way you mocked yourself there, really so unkind… what you’re going through is so hard, and I know, trust me I know how hard the boundaries are. It is hard not knowing why she had to close her practice, I get it. And you missing her is valid and real and painful and I know, I can see it’s coming in waves for you.’ I started to cry and covered my face and she was saying, ‘I see you are very sad, Lucy. I know it’s very much there for you today.’

I said that I regretted all the texts I sent Anna. I explained, ‘when we had the first 6 sessions after the first time Anna was ill I sent her messages in our usual session times. I didn’t want her to feel like I was emotionally blackmailing her so I was really careful about how I worded them. I wanted her to know that I missed her but also that I was doing okay and that you and I were making use of the time… but ultimately that I wanted her to come back to me.’ I started to cry, ‘when she said she was well again and ready to work with me I sent her a text saying I had mixed feelings about going back to work with her and I feel so guilty for saying that. What a cruel and unkind thing to say to her! And she was so lovely and told me that she understood and to take my time and she’d be there when I was ready. Also I told her I’d cried with you, I thought she would be proud of me. In the three sessions Anna and I had before she stopped again she told me that she’d sensed I was surprised that I was able to cry with you and I think she was surprised too. And you know that she said she had taken this to supervision because she’d never had to hand a client on to someone else before and that she’d experienced feeling jealousy around the whole thing. That’s the first time I really fully believed that she wanted to work with me. For two and a half years I imagined that she would gladly pass me on to the first person that came along and in that moment I realised actually she really wanted to get me back from you.’ Linda was listening and nodding. I continued, ‘Then I made up this fantasy in my head that she had gone to supervision and said that she couldn’t believe I cried openly with you in the first session when we’d worked so hard at me doing that with her and that her supervisor had told her ‘that shows the work you’ve done with her, you enabled her to be able to do that,’ coz she kept saying to me that was our work working… and I feel like maybe I went too far showing her I was working well with you, maybe it made it easier for her to leave me. She thought I was better off with you… I should never have told her I had mixed feelings about going back to her, I would always have come back to her.’ Linda said, ‘Lucy you were going through a very very difficult time in those six sessions and trying to make sense of what was happening. It was very hard for you. People say all sorts of things in these kinds of situations. It was such a hard time and you spent most of it in shock.’

I said, ‘you know I’m really glad and grateful to be working with you, this feels like I shouldn’t be saying all this to you like when I was a kid and was never allowed to say something good about mum to dad or the other way round…’ Linda said, ‘I know, I know you are grateful to be working with me.’ I said, ‘but I miss her so much. A part of me keeps imagining that we might bump into each other at some point or maybe she’ll get in touch with me and tell me that she’s fine now and that we can start back up again.’ Linda was nodding. I continued, ‘but it wouldn’t be the same and now I wonder if I would go back to her. A few weeks ago I wouldn’t have hesitated but now I wonder if I’d just ask her for a couple of finishing sessions and then keep working with you.’ Linda asked what was going on for me and I said, ‘I feel like this grief has changed me.’ She asked in what way and I said, ‘I had never felt anything so intensely in my whole life. It’s not that I hadn’t experienced things that should have made me feel those things but this is the first time I’ve been fully awake and felt the feelings for real you know? And I feel like it would be very hard to work normally again with her after her leaving because it triggered such intense feelings in me.’ I’m reflecting on this and it feels like I was on the edge of feeling let down by Anna, angry perhaps.

I reminded her of the analogy I’d used of the image of the girls mind in Inside Out and how I felt like all aspects of my life are crumbling, ‘I know I’m projecting but I feel like that’s also what happened to Anna and it’s devastating. I wish there was something I could do to put everything back to the way it was before. Everyone’s talking about us coming out of the lockdown and life going back to normal but it’s not going to be normal for me because she’s not going to be there with me. And it’s not going to be normal for her because she’s lost her career. I have to come out of this lockdown and watch everyone else going back to their sessions and back to seeing relatives and work and I am not going to ever see Anna again. It’s not fair.’ I started to cry again and Linda reiterated that she could see how hard this was for me and that it really isn’t fair. She asked if her bringing up the fact that the centre is going to be opening had triggered this and I said, ‘it’s inside me always but you mentioning it has brought it to the session.’

I spent a bit of time crying, pulled my knees up to my chest. After I calmed down I said, ‘I read that grief and depression look really similar and that the depression in grief serves a purpose of slowing us down.’ Linda nodded and said yup. I said, ‘yeah coz that’s what it feels like. Like I’m just coasting in life. I feel like I’m just being dragged along but I’m not actually doing anything of any use or purpose just now. I’m not central to anything here I’m just being pulled along by the tide.’ I turned the laptop round and showed Linda the huge pile of laundry on the bed and told her that everything feels out of control. ‘There is constant laundry, the house is a tip, it all needs to be tidied and I can’t find the energy, my sleep is fucked I was still awake at 3 last night and I got up at 11 today and have been doing that most mornings for at least a month. There just isn’t anything to get up for and I was never like that before and I feel so neglectful but thank god Adam is there, he gets up with the kids and he cooks and cleans…’ I took a breath and continued my rant, ‘and 2019 was such a healthy year for me I really got my life back on track… I uh… so body image stuff is a really sensitive subject for me and I couldn’t even talk about it for like a year with Anna but anyway we did slowly start talking about. I was very overweight when I started working with Anna, I was probably close to — stone actually and so ashamed of myself, ashamed of what I looked like and my body hurt all the time and something clicked at the start of 2019 and it’s like this hole that I’d been filling up with food, Anna had spent over a year filling that hole up with all the things it always needed like care and attention and being seen. So I didn’t need to eat like I used to anymore. I joined a healthy eating group and the gym and got so healthy and I lost over – stone and I dropped 6 dress sizes and I felt really great. I felt so good about myself. Then the lockdown happened and the groups all stopped and the gym shut down and slowly everything disappeared and then Anna was gone but food was there. And so I ate and ate. And I binged to the point of it hurting. Which I hate myself for. I had stopped doing all that. And so I’ve put on weight and gone up a dress size and I’m sore all over again because I’m drinking so much tea and diet coke and my skin is really bad and I just feel worthless and gross and I can’t face going back to work if my smaller clothes don’t fit me and I don’t feel mentally well enough for work anyway… it’s all so much.’

It felt like I had just purged all of the issues that were on my mind and then I looked at the screen. Linda said, ‘thank you for bringing this to the session I had no idea you were going through this, especially the sleep and the eating, I think that’s really important. Please do bring it up again and we can work on finding a way to support you through this. It sounds like you had got to a place of really caring for yourself and your body and eating more mindfully and it’s been harder to do that through the lockdown.’ I said yeah and then she went on, ‘did the support groups not continue virtually?’ I said, ‘yes but I just panic cancelled everything, it felt like such a ridiculous privilege to be paying for a calorie counting app basically when I didn’t even know what kind of food we’d be able to get hold of you know?’ I talked about how hard it was to get fresh fruit and veg at the start of lockdown and I laughed a lot recalling all the weird meals we ended up eating like tinned stuff with Smash, things I’d never eaten before. Linda asked if we were back to eating normally again and I said we sort of are but I’m too afraid to go to the shops so we get the food delivered and then I only really get a couple of days with fresh salad and then it’s back to stuffing myself with biscuits and chocolate. I struggled to make eye contact through most of that. It feels so exposing.

I said that Anna’s care and attention motivated me to do well in my life and make better choices and without her every area of my life has deteriorated. I wanted to please her and without her, what’s the point. I said, ‘it’s like all these threads are unravelling and it’s too hard for me to get a hold of any one thread so I just shut down and want to sleep all the time. ‘I don’t really spend much quality time with the kids… well that’s not true I did a jigsaw with Reuben this morning but I feel very detached doing it. Maybe this is linked to the feelings I have about you just playing the role of therapist but not actually feeling it… I behave and act like the mother my kids need but I don’t feel it.’ Linda said, ‘you’re feeling detached?’ I nodded. I’m reflecting on this and it’s definitely just a part of me that feels like that. Another part of me watched a film with the kids last night, played at the beach with them yesterday, baked with them the other day… so there’s something about this part of me that’s grieving and feels out of control and can’t feel a connection with the kids or anyone. That part needs intense care and can’t bear to take on any responsibilities.

As the session wound up Linda asked me how I was feeling… with one minute to go! I said I wasn’t sure and that I’d be fine. I then said I was probably going to cry as soon as I shut the laptop and that it had been a lot. She said, ‘Be kind to yourself, Lucy. Be kind to yourself this week. You have been through an awful lot and it is hard. I know this is hard… okay? So I’ll see you on Saturday?’

4 weeks of unsent texts

26th May

Anna, It’s been a whole week since you phoned me to tell me you’re closing your practice and we will never see each other again. I wonder if you’re thinking about me right now. I wonder if it’s crossed your mind that it’s been exactly a week. I wish I could text you, I miss speaking to you so much. I wonder if you ever ask Linda how I’m doing. I know you’re not meant to but I still wonder… I really hope you’re okay and that your health is improving. I hope you’re happy and calm and enjoying some parts of your days. I had a dream last night that life was back to normal and that we bumped into you at a garden centre. In the dream my kids called out your name and ran up and hugged you. We hugged and cried and it was amazing. The pain of not having you in my life any more is unbearable. I love you, Lucy.

27th May

To Anna, I dreamed about you again last night. My nights are filled with you, as are my days. In my dream we had two ending phone sessions ahead of us. The second last session was minutes away and I’d busied myself getting everything organised and I was sitting waiting for your call. The minutes ticked over and you didn’t call. Then with horror I realised I’d got the time wrong, it was meant to be 3 hours before but we’d been out and you hadn’t text or called to check why we’d not had our session. I phoned you and begged, cried down the phone asking you to let me have it at another time but you gently and kindly told me no, that it was best to leave it. That it was a good sign that for the first time in two and a half years I’d forgotten the session time. You said it meant I was moving on. I was crying so hard telling you I’d never move on and that I never wanted any of this. Crying at you that we now only had one more session left. It was agony. Then I woke up and was faced with the reality which is so much worse. We have no more sessions left and will never again. I’m speaking to Linda in two hours. I wish it was you. Love Lucy x

27th May

To Anna, Linda doesn’t understand me like you do. Having to explain something to her takes so much more time and effort and words than the few I’d need to say to you. And even when I manage that, she doesn’t respond with anywhere near half the empathy and connection that you did. I know now what I had with you. There was never a wall, Anna. I felt your care. My session today was just a painful reminder of what I’ve lost. I don’t know how to live my life without you. I don’t know how to be a mum and wife without being able to process things with you. I hate my life without you in it. I wish I could bring you back. Missing you so much today. Love Lucy.

27th May

Anna, It’s amazing how human kindness and connection helps us heal. I feel you in the care of others. I think it’s because I learned to take it in by first taking in your care. I woke up crying today. Then I felt very misunderstood in my session with Linda. Because she’s not you. I took a higher dose of meds than I’m used to and I fell asleep. Woke up suicidal and had a blurry check in phone call from my GP. I left my home tonight feeling desperately hopeless. I left the kids in the bath and husband at the sink and drove away. Could have taken one of two roads. Ended up at my friends house sitting at the end of her garden, many metres away from her. I cried and talked and she listened and she cared. She told me I’m too hard on myself and she told me that my grief makes sense (even to someone who has never been in therapy). I felt her support. I’m writing up my session notes and I can see through a more balanced lens that there were some helpful parts. Life feels more hopeful in this moment and my missing you not so blinding. Love Lucy x

27th May

Anna, When I got home tonight it was late but the kids were still up. I haven’t been out at bedtime for over two months and I can tell they’ve developed an anxiety over me leaving. Hopefully short lived. I went into Gracie’s room and kissed her goodnight. She was delighted to see me and hugged me so tightly. She excitedly told me all about the games they played while I was out. Then I went in to see Reuben and his lip quivered and with outstretched arms he said, ‘I missed you so much mumma the words are just too sad to say.’ Then he whispered in my ear when I was hugging him, ‘you are my favourite person in the whole world and it was sore to have bedtime with no you,’ I’m so glad I chose to come home. I need to remember that they need me, in whatever state I’m in. Lucy.

28th May

Anna, When I went to bed last night I felt okay. I woke up crying this morning. I want to contact Linda but also I don’t because even if she agreed to between session contact I don’t think she can help me. She’s not you. I want to text you and beg you to change your mind. I want to tell you that all I need is a phone call every couple of weeks. I feel like my life source has been ripped from me and I don’t know how to breathe. Last night I dreamed I was carrying this really big baby. Heavy, with rolls and rolls making it hard to keep hold of. People were asking me to do normal every day things but it was impossible to do anything with the burden of this huge baby on my hip. I fell to my knees trying to pick something up off the floor, managed to stop the baby from hitting the ground and I snapped at the person who’d demanded I do it saying of course I couldn’t help like I normally would coz I have my hands full with this huge baby. I feel like you pulled these parts out into the light and then left me with them. I don’t know how to live my life without you helping me care for them. Please come back to me. Lucy.

29th May

Anna, I don’t think Linda can help me. She’s not all the things that you are. You’re endlessly compassionate, you always seek to understand, you’re reflective and open to feedback. You believe in me and you see my inner child. Your only aim was to make sure we focused on me and we met my needs. Every area of my life feels like it’s pulled tight and fraying in the middle because it doesn’t have you working with me to patch the broken threads. Every area of my life is suffering because I’ve lost you. I think I’m going to need to find another therapist and it’s impossible to imagine finding someone as good as you. I really wish you could give me a list of names to work through. I’m so tired and struggling to believe it could get better. I really wish you’d come back to me. Love Lucy

31st May

Anna, I had a really important session with Linda yesterday. I told her how her words had made me feel and I actually think she listened. She apologised and it felt real. I held an image of you in my mind the whole time trying to conjure up the faith you always had in me to be able to use my voice. She seems to be willing to reflect on how she is with me and learn and be flexible which is good. That’s something I always loved about you. I told her you’d have been proud of me. And I told her you’d said we should go slow. I’ve been thinking about you a lot today, I saw that your picture is no longer on the website. I really hope you’re okay and that life is being kind to you. I keep imagining a time in the future when we might accidentally bump into each other. Miss you. Love Lucy xx

1st June

Anna, It’s half one in the morning and the grief has hit me for the first time in two days. Waves of it. It’s just so fucking unfair. All of this. Things were going so well with us and I still had so much I wanted to take to you. So many unfinished threads. I thought about all the times you told me to remember your face when I’m missing you and struggling to feel a connection. To remember the emotion in your eyes, that it can’t be faked. You told me you think of me often and that you care deeply about me. I wonder if you’ve grieved losing me. Do you still think about me sometimes? Do you know how much this is hurting me? I just want you to come back. It’s torture to look at old session notes. I wish I’d known how limited our time was. I’d never have held back. So much wasted time. I love you and I really wish you could hold me right now. Goodnight. Lucy xx

2nd June

To Anna, I remembered today the session when you told me you’d been to the cinema to see Rocketman at the weekend. You told me the film reminded you of me and that you’d told the friend you were with, ‘I’m doing this work with a client of mine… this is the work I do!’ You said to me, ‘the end scene – that’s what we’re aiming for,’ then you wouldn’t say any more and I’d have to go watch it. So I did, that night. I’m sorry I wasted so much time resisting. I’ll never know what amazing work you would have done with me if I’d just embraced my child. I’ll never find out what ‘the mirror exercise’ involves. In your absence Anna, I’m trying to nurture her as I imagine you would. I hope you know the impact you’ve had on me will last a lifetime. Love Lucy x

11th June

Hi Anna, I still think about you every day. Driven to your old office many times and sat staring at that door imagining you greeting me with your warm smile. In my darkest moments I’ve been amazed at how I’m able to call you up in my heart and seek comfort from all of the love and kindness you poured into me. I’ve been caring for this wounded child of mine who has been so broken by you leaving. My heart aches for you. I hope you’re not feeling isolated and that you’re not very ill. I only want health and happiness for you, I wish there was something I could do to help you. Last night I had a lovely dream about you, we were texting each other and you were sending kisses at the end of your messages. It helped me feel connected to you. I hope you know I’d come back to you in a heartbeat. I wish there was a way. Love Lucy xxxx

16th June

Hi Anna, I’m wearing your perfume today. The pain feels less like a knife edge and it’s feeling safer to let these parts of you back into the foreground again. Luna is still hiding in my wardrobe, she brings waves of grief that I can’t always allow myself to express. I’ve been thinking about the days that led up to the phone call. How you will have deliberated the decision. I wonder when you knew. I text you the Saturday before, did you know then? You will have spoken to Linda. I wonder if you cried as you told her. I imagine you taking it to your therapist and supervisor. I wonder about the details that I’m not privy to. I wonder why it was not an option to take a break and come back when the lockdown is lifted. I wonder what’s going on for you. I still miss you and love you and grieve you every day. I’m doing the work but I wish it was with you. Love as always, Lucy x

Progress is Not Linear

Progress is not linear… and that is the point! It would be so shallow and delicate if we weren’t to go over it a thousand times. Like mending a hole in a sock. One stitch won’t be strong enough. So we go over and over to ensure the hole is closed. In therapy we repeat and retrace. We learn something new each time. We go back and forth retracing our steps to go deeper into the pain.

Over the past 4 weeks I’ve seriously contemplated suicide. I counted up my meds and googled to see how much is needed to kill a person. I considered all the ways I could die without being a burden on my family. But couldn’t come up with any idea that wouldn’t just hand this pain and grief over to my kids and husband. So I carried it inside me like a lead weight. Thinking about self harm every day. Tightening the bolts around my heart swearing I’d never let Linda in because that’s where I went wrong with Anna. I let her in and then she hurt me. But then I realised – this locking myself away is familiar, I’ve been here before. I had to protect myself from those who were meant to love me and care for me. And Anna has helped me learn how to open up and trust… and I know she’d never have chosen to leave. She taught me how to love with a trusting heart and let love in and the pain of losing her almost made me turn my back on that connectedness, turn my back on any future love. In noticing that my reflex to turn and run had kicked in, I began to lean into the pain.

The steps of progress I made with Anna deserve to be set in stone as I forge forwards with Linda. I don’t need to have them washed away like the tide along the shore as if it never happened. It did happen and it was life changing. And this grief has been life changing. The grief has been as powerful as the love. And though I’m able to go about my day now without the pain of the loss overwhelming me, it’s still there all the time. She’s everywhere. I still have multiple conversations with her in my mind every day.

Progress is not linear but we need to keep our eyes open and our minds aware. As we circle over the same issues we need to learn that this is familiar ground but it’s traveled on with new learning. So I am learning once again how to make a connection, form an attachment, let someone know me. And this time I’m doing it with a little more openness than before and more faith in my ability to make myself heard and to be understood.

I may feel like I’m going round in circles, but I’m viewing this familiar ground from a much higher vantage point than before.

A Session That Mirrors My Fragmented Mind

Wow… that was a lot!

Linda asked how I felt and I said I was very nervous again. She asked what I wanted to focus on today and I said, ‘shall we start with the nervousness?’ She nodded and I told her I’d been reflecting on the pre session nerves and anxiety yesterday and I got a bit muddled trying to explain it. I took a big deep break and said that didn’t have a nice clear, coherent, succinct paragraph in my mind but wanted to share my thoughts. She laughed and said, ‘you absolutely do not need a nice clear, coherent, succinct paragraph Lucy… just go for it.’ So I explained that I feel like my anxiety is linked to my abandonment fears. That Anna unintentionally triggered the abandonment pain by having to cancel session so often. I said, ‘I fully trust and believe that she cancelled for legitimate reasons and believed her when she said they were unavoidable you know, but that aside they did still impact me you know… and it’s hard for me to talk about this because there’s lots of noise… lots of different ideas about it in my head and uh… I can hear the critical voice saying the sessions shouldn’t mean so much to me and the problem is that I gave so much importance to each of the sessions when it’s only like one hour a week or whatever and it shouldn’t be such a big loss to me but it really is a big loss, the sessions are important to me, it is important.’ Linda had a furrowed brow and was nodding and agreeing. I continued to explain how painful it would be when Anna would cancel the sessions sometimes as short notice as on the day of the session and how disappointing and dysregulating that would be. I said, ‘paying for the session the day before gives me some sense of security but then there were a couple of times a few months ago when things really started to become challenging for Anna she actually had to refund me the payment so even that didn’t secure things, you know? And when I get the link through from you for the zoom session it feels connecting but then that could be cancelled… and I really do get that nothing is guaranteed and anything can happen to get in the way of the sessions but it’s this fear that it’s all just going to be taken away from me so that’s probably where the anxiety comes from.’

Linda said, ‘I’m listening to everything you’re telling me and I can hear how hard it felt when the sessions were cancelled and you know, we’ve not had very many sessions at all so there’s bound to be a big part of you that doesn’t trust that I’ll be there. You don’t know me that well yet, you don’t know if I’m just going to randomly cancel a session.’ I was nodding and thinking and said, ‘yeah and I can feel a pull to detach and not rely on you too much… it feels better to keep a distance. It took so long for me to trust Anna, like probably close to two years to fully trust her to the level I did and it’s my fault that I got so hurt by her leaving you know, there’s a very strong pull to make sure that doesn’t happen again and…’ Linda interrupted and said, ‘I just want to go back to you saying it was your fault that you got hurt can you elaborate with that?’ I said, ‘well if I hadn’t let her in it wouldn’t have hurt, it would have been like water off a duck’s back you know but I trusted her and it hurt!’ Linda had a really sympathetic expression on her face and said she understood and it made so much sense to her that I’d feel like that. She said she felt like there was a lot going on for me today and made an observation that I seem to moving quickly through things. I agreed and said that sometimes that happens when I have a session. It’s like there’s this flurry of many different things that want to be expressed or work on.

I explained, ‘Well, there is a lot going on inside me, it’s like a room of people. Way back at the start when Anna and I first started working together I drew a picture to help her understand what it’s like inside my mind…’ I cracked a joke about doing a Blue Peter style, ‘here’s one I made earlier’ reveal and said that it would probably help to show her the picture but my art folder is downstairs. I explained that the drawing shows a corridor with doors running down each side and it helped me explore lots of different things in my sessions but one thing we focused on was the idea that there were memories behind the doors or parts of me trapped at a certain age that were hidden behind the doors and they were separated and I didn’t have access to them. So a lot of the work we did was very slow, sometimes non verbal work trying to coax open the doors and I guess one by one a lot of them opened up and were sort of half open and not necessarily all worked on but then it’s like they all came out finally and that’s when she fucked off! So now it’s really noisy in there and I don’t know what to do with them all. It took me so long to trust her and I finally did and then she left me holding all this!’

Linda looked sad and said, ‘I can imagine that feels so abandoning and it sounds very busy and overwhelming in there, do you feel that they are all still out in the corridor screaming and shouting or maybe just a few, or one or two now?’ I loved that she was entertaining this analogy because it fits so perfectly with how I’m feeling. I said, ‘I think they were all out for a couple of weeks but I guess maybe some went back in their rooms and like there’s this teen… I’ve been feeling almost like regressed the past week or so, very teenagery feelings and there’s anger and frustration there and slammed doors and like ‘fuck her for leaving just when I felt I could trust her!’ that kind of thing you know and there’s…’ I paused and felt lots of different feelings come to the surface and then told her it was confusing because there’s lots of noise right now and one loud voice saying, ‘You’re gonna think I’m a lunatic if I tell you this…’ Linda smiled and said, ‘I absolutely will not think you’re a lunatic, just go for it Lucy!’ So I said, ‘right well around January/February time we did so much deep work with Four, you know the part of me that’s like well my four year old self but I still find it hard to own it so for now she’s still just Four. It took a lot of gentle patience from Anna to coax Four out and to begin with I didn’t want her anywhere near me but Anna welcomed her and I got to the point where I could imagine Four sitting on Anna’s lap and you know it took probably two years to get to that point where Four trusted her enough to come out and then Anna leaving her feels like my parents just turning their backs and walking away.’ I felt very present and connected to Linda as I explained this which is not how I usually feel when I talk about this stuff but I was aware of this safe feeling which was very grounding. ‘So she’s making a lot of noise, I’m aware of this constant crying inside me, constant… she only wanted Anna. I never knew how to show her any care and I always wanted to push her away but I could accept Anna loving her and I used to have this recurring vision of Four climbing up on Anna’s lap or being held by Anna and that would feel really comforting and now the image I have is Anna’s empty chair you know and it’s breaking her heart… but it’s not just Four that’s around, there are parts that think ‘let’s just get on with this’ and some parts that want to lie in the foetal position and be held,’ I noticed Linda do her really reassuring sweet smile she does sometimes when I talk about these vulnerable young feelings. I continued, ‘some parts want to tell you to fuck off and that they don’t believe anyone can be trusted and I was stupid to let Anna in and you know… lots of conflict.’

Linda said, ‘You know… what you’re talking about, I just want to say that I appreciate that this is.. woah I mean this is big, big stuff you know, it’s, these things are massive big things I really know that… and the corridor and all those doors and how you feel about them, that’s a lot, that’s a big deal and I’m really grateful to you for sharing it with me. You’re sharing your experience with me, your process and it’s big! I want to say that if you wanted to share them with me, your drawings that would be absolutely fine if you felt it would help you express how you’re feeling and you wanted to show me I’d be happy with that.’ That made me smile and I thanked her. I was aware of a part of me that felt like it was a private, special thing between me and Anna but I also feel like I would like to share with her. I talked about how I’ve packed these things away and packed away the Panda that I bought through Anna’s encouragement and how it hurts too much to look at it. I told Linda that when I look at the blue heart she gave me to help me feel more connected to her now feels meaningless because what am I connected to? Something that’s dead and gone and won’t come back? I am aware of a part of me that clings to the hope that I will eventually see Anna again at some point but I know that’s unlikely and it hurts too much. I explained that she knew I used to look at her photo to help me feel supported in the gaps but even that hurts too much now and so I’ve lost that too. I told Linda that I’ve lost so much more than just sessions.

I said, ‘this coming Tuesday it will be 4 weeks since the phone call. That’s the longest we’ve ever not talked.’ Linda said she had thought that would be the case, that we won’t have gone this long without talking. I said, ‘even when we had holidays it was only ever just under two weeks break. She would see me on the Saturday either side of her holiday. And when I went on holiday she would let me have phone calls or texts so I could stay connected to her… you know when the young parts were activated I’d find it really hard to believe that she would remember me, sometimes it even felt like I made her up and our sessions never happened. So the texts or calls, which were always very boundaried (which I loved that she did that for me) they helped ease the panic… but I’ve lost that too… and that’s’ what the blue heart crystal was you know like object permanence stuff. I remember one phone call during a holiday break I think, I told her it felt like all the doors had been flung open and I didn’t know what to do with all these really intense feelings that had burst out of them and Anna gently suggested that we ask everyone to go back in their rooms and pull their doors over until we’re able to meet again and then she can help me with them. That has really helped me even more recently, helped me to find a way to calm things down in my mind.’ I looked at Linda and she was smiling and nodding. She paused me here and asked how I was doing, asked what was coming up for me. I had my arms crossed and I had to really work at focusing in on my feelings. I said that I felt panicky and had a pain in my chest and tummy. She made an observation about how I am managing to talk about these things and sitting with the feelings. I did feel present.

There was a moment of quiet and then I felt a wave of grief. I told Linda, ‘Tuesdays are really hard because that’s the day she called me.’ She nodded. I continued, ‘I’ve been to her office the past few Tuesdays which I feel sounds a bit mad but it really helps me. I can’t express my emotions here you know there’s no privacy but when I go there I can fully cry or whatever I need… stare into space if I want to and I don’t care if anyone sees me or walks past the car, no one knows me there…’ Linda said it made sense. I said, ‘She said she would never leave me. I remember her saying it so many times. That unless ill health or death took her she wasn’t going anywhere and then that actually happened! It’s still there inside me it still hurts so much,’ Linda made that familiar compassionate sound and repeated back to me that it still hurts and it’s still very much there inside me. I then ranted a bit about how disappointing it is to have all of these things I had planned to talk about and never got around to. ‘So many things I still wanted to work on with her… unfinished sessions, sessions when I was sitting on the floor struggling to get the words out and she said she would hold it for me and there was no rush and we’d come back to it and now we never will! Anna knew me so well that there were things that I could say with just one sentence and she would totally get it. I just, I’m annoyed that I didn’t just go for it and cover everything with Anna. I shouldn’t have held back I should have just gone for it!’ Linda looked questioningly at me and said, ‘Can you find space for the notion that maybe you did make the most of the time you had with Anna? That in those 2 and a half years you worked on what you were ready to work on with her in the time that you had?’ I nodded and felt really sad and said, ‘I just wish I’d had more time. I thought I’d have years and years…’ I then said, ‘but I am really grateful that you are here… I’m really grateful for you and I also really wish she hadn’t left.’ Linda said, ‘I hear you and I really get that, I can feel that you’re grateful to have me here with you and I also feel your longing for Anna… it can absolutely be both of those things and a whole lot in between!’ I said (again) that Anna had always impressed the importance of going slowly. I told her about the time Anna talked about my little part and how small her feet are, ‘she’d say that we needed to take baby steps and that made me cry… with my head in my jumper.’ I rolled my eyes and shook my head and said, ‘I’m so sad that I couldn’t just express myself you know, struggled so much to cry openly with her and then the dam burst after she left and I couldn’t contain it anymore and cried so much with you and I just wish I could have done it with her!’ Linda pointed out that that was another understandably painful loss.

I said again that I felt like it sounded mad and she said, ‘I don’t think you sound mad and I don’t think you’re a lunatic, Lucy. The way I work is that if you were to say something to me that didn’t quite make sense to me or I couldn’t get my head around it I would say that.. I wouldn’t say, ‘that makes no sense’ but I would ask you to explain further. I’d say I wasn’t following you because you know it’s important that I understand you.’ That felt really reassuring and I said, ‘so does that mean everything I’ve said to you has made sense so far?’ she said, ‘Yes, absolutely so much sense Lucy, all of it.’ I said, ‘right, wow, okay that’s cool.’ She said I sounded surprised and I said, ‘I really think it’s important for me to hear you verbalise things like that because if you don’t share your experience of me then my inner critic goes wild filling in the blanks coming up with all sorts of things you might be thinking of me.’ She said that made sense and she was happy to regularly let me know what she was thinking.

I said, ‘wow I feel like I went off on a massive tangent I don’t know why I talked about all that…’ She said, ‘One thing I have noticed is that you do work very fast…’ she pondered, ‘is that the right wording Linda? Fast…?’ I made an hhmmm noise and she continued, ‘I don’t know if it’s because of all the work you did with Anna or if it’s something else but yeah… you move through from one thing to another. It’s like there’s just such a lot going on.’ I said, ‘yeah maybe that gives you an idea of what it’s like in here, it’s very busy, lots going on. I guess that’s the fragmented part of my experience.’ Linda asked, ‘Would it help to ask you at the start of the session whether you have one thing you want to focus on or if you want to do a broad ranging session where you cover lots of different things?’ I said, ‘I’m not sure I could know that at the start of a session, I don’t always know what I’m going to feel like through a session, but I really like you checking in with me through the session, I like when you check in with what’s going on in my body and slowing me down that way.’ She said that was good to know.

I then said I find it fascinating to think of the quote that says there’s a different version of us existing in the minds of everyone who knows us and I said that it really intrigues me to think about what she might think of me and then if Anna and her were to talk about me (which I know they won’t) then they might be surprised to hear each other’s opinions of me and Paul would have had a different opinion and then the version of me that I know is different still. We talked about that for a bit. Then Linda said that I was letting her in to my process a lot today. She said, ‘I’m interested about the fact that you’re sharing this with me today… you know…. like, why today?’ I had a think and then said, ‘I felt very connected to you last session and understood by you, maybe that’s made it feel safer to let you in. Made me want to go a little deeper with you?’ She looked really pleased about that and wanted to hear more. I told her that a couple of things in particular helped me feel the connection. ‘Firstly, you recapping at the end of the session about your understanding of why I appear to be giving an overview to you has silenced the inner critic… it was really great to hear that you understood me, you understood that I was sort of giving you my backstory before learning if I can trust you with the deeper stuff.’ When I worked with Paul I gave him the big overview and then if I revisited anything he’d say that we already covered that so I felt like I couldn’t go back to things more than once. In contrast, with Anna, she really encouraged me. She said even if I needed to talk about something a hundred times it was okay.’ Linda was nodding enthusiastically and smiling as if she liked hearing how well Anna handled it. I said that Anna would talk about it being like a spiral that we would circle round and round and maybe the same topic would be talked about many times but on a deeper or different level every time. I said, ‘Maybe I wanted to suss out if you were like Paul or Anna… so you don’t mind talking about things more than once?’ Linda said, ‘Not at all. Not. At. All!’ I said, ‘that’s really good to hear… my friend said it was like watching someone draw a picture… like if you watched me draw the corridors picture, you’d see me sketch the entire thing out first and only when you had the big picture would I then go back in and focus on details, shade, add highlights you know… deepen things after you’ve got the big picture.’ She liked that way of looking at it.

Then I continued, ‘and another thing you said that has stayed with me and I’ve reflected a lot on the past few days was that you’d read about the impact of joy on the effects of developmental trauma.’ She sort of finished this sentence with me and I continued, ‘I thought about how amazing it is actually that my system in some way tried to balance things out… you know my brother and I got on so well we used to have these intense hysterical moments, we had so much fun and my mum always hated it and sometimes she’d even take offense to us laughing and she’d tell us to stop laughing at her even if we weren’t at all.’ I looked at Linda at this point and she looked like she totally got what I was saying, ‘and sometimes she’d say she doesn’t have a sense of humour and she’d want us to calm down and go away. But yeah, Daniel and I laughed a lot through our childhood and then in high school I had this friend I would laugh with ‘til tears were streaming down our faces. I remember looking round thinking no one else is laughing like this, you know… it’s as if there were these intensely dark, lonely, awful times and then the polar opposite to that was this connected hilarious laughter as if my body knew how to balance things so that I wasn’t too badly damaged by what was happening at home…’ She said, ‘you know that kind of laughter which feels totally out of control, where you laugh so hard your belly hurts coz you’re using muscles you never knew you had and you don’t even know if you’re laughing or crying?’ I nodded and she went on, ‘I was thinking about this the other daym I maybe have a laugh like that maybe once a year and it’s cathartic, it feels cleansing and healing and I was wondering – when was the last time you laughed like that?’ I told her it was probably a few months ago on the phone to Daniel or maybe the last time he was here. I laugh like that with him a lot. I said, ‘and another thing that I was reflecting on about the developmental trauma stuff is that there is a lot of joy and laughter in this house and so even if I fuck up with my kids, maybe the fact that I laugh a lot with them, maybe that will help balance things out.’ Linda said, ‘yes and I remember you saying you laughed so much with Adam when you first met him and you still have a good laugh with him, I mean that’s a very special, powerful thing – worth it’s weight in gold don’t you think!?’ I agreed and said I feel really lucky in my relationship that we get on so well nearly 19 years on.

I said, ‘it reminds me of what I’ve read about the somatic processing of trauma, it feels like a very primal thing that type of laughing… I think it’s Peter Levine who talks about this… there are videos of him on youtube… one in particular he works with his young guy who experienced PTSD symptoms as a result of being in combat, Iraq or something and this guy has quite a pronounced twitch and Peter Levine talks about this being the body’s attempt to discharge the stress and trauma stored in it – that it is important for him to get to the point where he follows through with the reflex that his body is trying to process… the twitch is an unfinished response – whether it’s pushing or lashing out or screaming… he talks about animals in the wild and how they do that naturally. So he explains that if an animal is chased or attacked and it gets away from the predator then the animal will stomp or run or shake as a physical way of discharging the energy so it doesn’t get stored in the body and he talks about how humans aren’t as good at doing that and often after trauma we hold ourselves tight and still and tense so it ends up getting stored and comes out as body pains and mental health issues… anyway it interests me and I have a lot of pain in my body and I developed a twitch in my early teens… I’d planned on talking to Anna about it one day but never got around to it.’ There was more of a back and forth conversation than this continuous block of talking that I’ve described here. She was agreeing and responding to bits throughout it.

Linda said, ‘I just want to say, I’ve noticed that you are very dedicated to this work. When you say that you’ve been reflecting or preparing for a session I just want to say that hearing you say that really stands out to me, I don’t hear that sort of thing often… I mean when I go to my own therapy often I just sit down and talk I don’t necessarily know what I’m going to talk about and I don’t often hear it from clients that they’re spending this much time thinking about their sessions.’ I said, ‘It will probably be a sign of progress when I am able to just sit down without over preparing but right now this is where I’m at.’ She said, ‘But there is something very admirable about the preparation and reflection you do, you’re taking this work very seriously and I see that, you know?’ I said, ‘thank you for saying that, it’s really nice to hear actually. Anna said I gave more than a hundred percent to this work and it was a huge privilege to witness and walk with me on this journey… which you know, is lovely to hear… and I’d never have been able to take that compliment or kind observation in a few years ago I’d have deflected it immediately! I think this level of deep thinking and researching and reflecting is something I really value. I think that’s why I liked hearing you say you were reading about developmental trauma. I admire it. Anna asked me if she could use our work to help form a case study for her exam and I used to like that too… to think that she was reflecting and reading stuff that might impact me you know?’ Linda said, ‘Yeah I really get that. And actually, I don’t normally do this but I’ve been doing a lot of research recently and wondered how you would feel if I was to share some of the things I find if I think it might be helpful or relevant to you?’ I said I’d love that and I told her I was reading a really amazing article about developmental trauma that I’d thought about sharing with her but didn’t want to do it without asking and she told me to send the link to her. I explained that it was like reading me on a page… the emotional neglect, the dissociation, all of it… so I sent it to her just after the session. I’m really intrigued by all this, I never did anything like this with Anna and it feels interesting to be exploring a different version of ‘staying connected’ between sessions. (The article I’m referring to can be found here).

Around this time I said, ‘I know I dedicate a lot of my time each day to the therapy stuff and I know this is probably going to sound like a hyperbole but it really feels like this is my life’s work, this is what I’m meant to do… if all I manage through all of this work is to break the chain in some way or put up a protective wall between me and the kids so the impacts of my trauma don’t impact them in an acute way then it has all been worth it. Plus I’m in a lot less pain than I was when I started with Paul, although it’s very much like this (motioned up and down) and I’m really fascinated by the stuff I read, the mind and psychology – it all interests me.’

I said, ‘One good thing about working with someone new is that you are meeting me with fresh eyes now. You’re not as tentative or careful as Anna was because she had experienced a very different version of me and I guess she always held that version of me inside her. Anna was very cautious with me I think because when I started working with her I was really reactive and would self-harm between sessions because of things that had come up in sessions. I sensed her anxiety around that or her fear maybe, that she didn’t want to push me too far… and it felt loving, and caring, but also it sometimes felt like I wanted to tell her she didn’t need to handle me with kid gloves.’ We talked about how much has changed over the years.

I said, ‘so I actually had three dreams last night. I have very vivid dreams and last night I dreamt about all three of you… one dream about Paul, one about Anna and one about you.’ I laughed and so did she, she seemed interested in what they were about. I said, ‘in the dream about Paul he came to my house… he was standing there at the stairs and I was showing him all around my house and he’d just come from driving by my childhood homes and he told me he could sense my energy there… the dream about Anna, I bumped into her at the garden centre and we hugged and both cried and then we decided that it would be okay to text each other and so we were texting and she was putting kisses at the end of her messages which felt lovely. The dream about you we were having a phone session and Grace kept interrupting the session so you let me have an extra ten minutes at the end of the session which I was really grateful for and the you suddenly had to end the call when you realised your next client was waiting.’ I laughed and she smiled and I said, ‘I guess the dream is all about boundaries… haha… Paul coming to my actual house! Anyway… you know, also… you are all alive and present inside me. This relationship, these relationships have all been so important to me. It’s all about repainting myself. I said this already but I feel sort of regressed sometimes, this week I felt very teenagery and I was never allowed to be a teenager and I think a lot of this researching, reading, preparing and reflecting along with the sessions is an opportunity for me to receive or give myself the kind of attention and care that was lacking when I was a kid. Children need this very intense, caring focus and I didn’t have that. So I guess there are parts of me trying to constantly construct that around me. Maybe that’s what it’s all about.’

Bang on 50 minutes I said, ‘can I just ask, what days do you work?’ she said, ‘Monday to Saturday at the moment.’ And I said, ‘woah you work six days a week!’ and she said, ‘yes but I don’t have more than 4 clients a day and often don’t have as many as 4 and it was a different schedule before lockdown.’ I said, ‘at some point when things go back to some sort of normal we’ll need to talk about changing the Wednesday session because I’ll be working.’ She said that was fine and then asked me what I was doing this weekend. I laughed and asked what a weekend was and said, ‘do the weeks ever actually end..?’ I said we would probably do this new jigsaw I bought the kids and maybe go for a rainy walk to the river to see the fish. We said goodbye until Wednesday.

I feel really good about this work right now. I feel like Linda is making an effort to understand and reach me. I also feel like she is not only accepting what I say but also understanding it which feels amazing.