‘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?’