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.