My Interview with Starts With Youth

“The overarching learning curve of my healing journey – “Expect the unexpected.” Learning about myself has literally felt like I’m meeting and getting to know someone I’ve never met before.”

CW: This interview contains some discussions about suicide and suicidal ideations that may be triggering to some readers.

Lucy King is a childhood trauma survivor, mother, teacher, and blogger. The birth of her first child 8 years ago became a catalyst for Lucy’s personal healing journey as she recognized the ways in which having her own children triggered her unhealed wounds and how those wounds impact her ability to meet her children’s emotional needs. Lucy openly shares details of her therapy sessions and processing on her blog and Instagram page as she continues her deep attachment work with her third therapist. Her writing has inspired many followers to begin their own therapeutic journey or to deepen their current work by braving more challenging topics in sessions due to her own uncensored authenticity. Lucy discusses how her personal experiences with childhood emotional abuse and neglect motivated a strong desire to break the cycle of intergenerational trauma and the ways in which she uses her adverse childhood experiences to inform her practice both as a parent and as a trauma-informed primary school teacher.

SWY: Starts With Youth believes that there is value in the ability to share one’s story and build a community. Would you be able to tell us a little bit about yourself and your experience with childhood abuse and trauma?

LK: From the outside, we were the perfect family. No one knew what life was like behind closed doors. Sadly as I write those words I can see I’ve repeated that aspect of my trauma all through my life by hiding the truth of my childhood and my healing journey from most of the world. I’m in my mid-thirties, I’m a mother and teacher and wife and I started therapy 7 years ago. I can count on one hand the number of people in my life who know the last part of that sentence. I blog about my recovery from childhood trauma anonymously. I hope that one day I will feel brave enough to be open with everyone in my life but I’m not there yet. I would tell every survivor that the shame is not theirs to carry, however I still hold onto a lot of the shame that was passed on to me. This journey is ongoing and progress is not linear. I am the result of generations of trauma that was passed down through both sides of my family. Familiar stories of our family history hold tales of wars, alcoholism, breakdowns, infidelity, prescription drug abuse, ‘untreated personality disorders’ (though I hate that term), sexual assaults… all behind the closed doors of very well spoken ‘middle class’ families. I have made a commitment to my children to break the chain, to limit the trauma they inherit.

My experience as a child was that I had no identity that wasn’t defined by how I could serve my parents. I was the product of an affair and as a result of my accidental conception, my parents decided to stay together then held me responsible for their unhappiness. Due to my parents’ own unhealed wounds, they were inconsistent, unreliable, selfish, narcissistic, emotionally volatile, and emotionally detached. I was emotionally abused by my mother daily and occasionally physically hurt by them both. My father was emotionally distant. They were both unable to meet my emotional needs. I was called names, humiliated, shamed. I was to blame for everything that went wrong in the family. For those of you familiar with narcissistic abuse terminology, I relate to the role of scapegoat. My parents found it difficult to settle into their roles as adults and we moved around the country numerous times as they both attempted to ‘find themselves’ and find secure jobs. We lived just above the poverty line and constantly on the outskirts of community. I struggled to make friends and retreated to my very vivid inner world as a way of coping. There were often explosive fights that I was dragged into and then would be forced into the role of a marriage counsellor. I was parentified by both parents and made responsible for their emotional wellbeing as well as the wellbeing of my younger brother. In my mid-teens, my parents finally separated and my mother had a series of toxic relationships that brought more chaos into my family home. I never felt safe or nurtured. I mostly felt like an unwanted burden.

SWY: What effect do these experiences have on you today? Physically, mentally, emotionally, or in any other way?

LK: In my teens and early twenties, I struggled with a range of reactive coping strategies. I self-harmed, drank, got high, and took risks. I didn’t value my life and was desperate to find a way to numb the emotional pain I was enduring. I attempted to end my life. I moved out of the ‘family home’ at 17 and moved in with my now-husband. Life became more stable, I started university and began to explore self-help books. I was still plagued by dissociation, disordered eating, deep depressive episodes, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive thoughts and behaviours, and chronic low self-esteem. I struggled with emotional and physical intimacy. I still struggle with perfectionism; I have a phobia that I will damage my children. I have panic and anxiety attacks, I experience emotional flashbacks, and during difficult periods, I suffer from intense nightmares. I struggle with toxic shame and low self-worth, I relate to disorganized/avoidant attachment patterns, so emotionally intimate relationships are very difficult for me. I overthink and analyze everything so I become mentally exhausted easily, which negatively impacts my ability to concentrate on work and other things. I still struggle with depression and anxiety. I am hypervigilant in relationships, and I struggle with asserting boundaries. Many of these things have become more manageable or have healed since starting therapy but quite a few of the issues I’ve listed are ongoing.

SWY: What are some methods you have found to be particularly effective in coping with trauma?

LK: My number one catalyst in my healing journey is therapy! I recognize that therapy is a privilege that not everyone has access to, it hasn’t been easy for me to get what I need and I felt badly let down by the limited support available for survivors of childhood trauma on the NHS here in the UK. We need far more than the 6 to 8 counselling sessions offered. I have paid for private therapy since I started in 2013. This hasn’t been easy and has at times been a difficult commitment to make financially. There were periods where I got into debt paying for my sessions. We forfeited new cars, holidays, other indulgences that our peers enjoyed because we always said my healing and my mental health was an investment for the whole family and a priority above other expenditures. It’s important to note that there are volunteer groups and many therapists offer sliding scales, so I’d encourage those who need support to not let financial constraints limit your access to therapy. It has been the single biggest vehicle for my healing and after a decade of attempting to heal through self-help books and motivational films, I can say with complete conviction that I could not have done this by myself.

My first therapist was a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist. He helped me work on the symptoms of my trauma, he educated me on what was happening in my mind and body, and he introduced me to mindfulness and compassion-based work. After three years working with him, I had my second child and took a year break from therapy. I then worked with my second therapist who’s modality was Transactional Analysis. She observed my tendency to intellectualize and worked on connecting me to my inner child, my feelings (that thing I was completely numb to all my life). We did an enormous amount of work together working twice a week for nearly two and a half years and the progress I made especially in the last year has been incredible. She taught me how to let love in and was the single most influential person in my life. That work has sadly come to an abrupt end as she’s had to close her practice due to illness, which has been a huge loss for me. I am currently in the very early stages of working with my third therapist who is a person-centered therapist. We are currently working on my grief around the loss of my much-loved therapist and the attachment pain that’s bringing up. I could talk at length about my experiences with therapy (as I do on my blog)… one key thing I’ve learned is that the relationship is the most important and most healing part of the whole process. Followed closely behind by the need for the therapist to be trauma-informed and in my opinion, they should be in their own therapy along with receiving regular supervision.

As I experienced developmental/attachment trauma from having caregivers who could not attune to me and did not have the capacity to meet my needs, I have struggled with feeling, tolerating, and regulating my emotions. It has been vital for me to work with a practitioner who understands this and has provided the safe, nurturing relationship within which I can learn how to co-regulate. The end goal of course is to be a self-regulating, self-sustaining person and the only way to reach that goal is to turn towards the pain and face it within a secure relationship.
“The end goal of course is to be a self-regulating, self-sustaining person and the only way to reach that goal is to turn towards the pain and face it within a secure relationship.”

Other methods I’ve found useful in my recovery from childhood trauma are –

Reading and researching – You are the expert of your experience but don’t rely on a professional to know everything about the psychological side of things. Knowledge is power. Learn about adverse childhood experiences, generational trauma, the mother wound, coping strategies, defense mechanisms, the nervous system, fight/flight response, somatic expressions of trauma, attachment theories, working with parts… the list is endless. Absorb as much information as you can so that you can cognitively understand what you went through and how much you make sense considering what you experienced. You are also in a far better position to know what you need when you understand what you’re experiencing.

Mindfulness, meditation, and yoga – I would consider myself in my infancy with these practices (though I have been using guided meditations for years) and I struggle to consistently turn to these methods in times of heightened stress. They do help me a lot though and I see them having a massively positive impact in the wider community of survivors. Reparenting yourself through fostering good sleep habits, regular movement, mindful eating, and learning about healthy boundaries all contribute to the healing process.

There are hundreds of amazing pages on Instagram. Search tags that relate to your particular trauma to find the support that relates to your needs. If you’re concerned about your privacy, you could create a separate account that’s anonymous so you can comment and interact on the pages without fear of someone in your family seeing. Keywords like ‘adult child of narcissist’, ‘recovery from childhood trauma’, ‘polyvagal theory’, ‘healing the inner child’ are really useful. I’ve spent hours and hours delving into anything from blogs and websites to samples of books available on amazon and psychological journals/papers for practitioners.

Finally, find a community of people who ‘get it’. Whether it’s group therapy, support groups online, friends. Blogging and Instagram have been a saviour for me in finding a group of amazing, inspirational survivors and therapists (many of which are wounded healers themselves) who are a constant source of experience, knowledge, guidance, and support for me. It is an incredible validation and affirming experience to be able to talk to people who have walked a similar path to you and helps to break down the belief that you’re alone in your experience.

SWY: Is there anything you have learned that surprised you or was unexpected throughout your healing process?

LK: Yeah, so many things. The overarching learning curve of my healing journey – “Expect the unexpected.” Learning about myself has literally felt like I’m meeting and getting to know someone I’ve never met before. Also, it takes time. You need to go slow and respect the pace of the most scared and vulnerable side of yourself… no one is moving forwards until the least trusting part of yourself feels safe. As my last therapist would say (when talking of my frightened inner child), ‘baby steps, think of how far she’s come and how small her feet are’. If like me, you’ve spent your life numb and detached then it’s going to feel a lot worse before anything gets better because these very painful, suppressed, young feelings will emerge and demand to be felt. People will attempt to remind you of your strength by saying things like, ‘you survived the trauma so you can survive the recovery’ but in my opinion, this is not how it feels. Often times through the trauma we dissociate and could in fact have been numb to it our whole childhoods. In complete contrast through the healing journey, we need to feel it all for the first time and it feels annihilating. But it is true that we are stronger than we think and we are all capable of healing. Lastly, one of the most surprising things for my most wounded parts is that healing within a relationship is powerful and life-changing. Attachment therapy relies on a very close and deep attachment between the therapist and client.

SWY: As a survivor of enduring childhood abuse, what would you say to others who may be currently living through similar experiences that you have had?

LK: For any children or young adults who may be reading this… What is happening to you is not your fault. No matter what anyone has told you. It is NEVER the child’s fault. You didn’t make this happen, you are not to blame and the shame you’re experiencing is not yours to carry. If you are a child and you are currently living through abuse or neglect I want you to know that you deserve to be loved and to be safe. You might never have spoken about what’s happening to you but one day you will meet someone who you know in your gut can be trusted with your story and they will help you. I would encourage you to try to get help and don’t ever stop trying. You are worth fighting for and there may be times when you feel like you’re the only one fighting for you but you have a whole community of survivors (including me) walking in front, beside, and behind you cheering you on. Never give up! I first went to my family doctor to talk about my feelings and my self-harm when I was fourteen years old and he told me I was selfish and attention-seeking. He also told me that if I wanted to kill myself, I was ‘cutting the wrong way’. Sadly you may be confronted by these types of people as you attempt to reach out but I want you to remember that they are the problem, not you. Keep trying to find someone who is trauma-informed, emotionally awakened, compassionate and kind.
“No matter what anyone has told you. It is NEVER the child’s fault. You didn’t make this happen, you are not to blame and the shame you’re experiencing is not yours to carry.”

For any adults who are struggling with the impact of their traumatic childhood and haven’t yet taken the first step, I want you to know that it may seem impossible but you will heal. You might feel that ‘it wasn’t that bad’ but the things you’re struggling with in your daily life are telling you otherwise. Trust your body, it remembers what you may have forgotten. Often childhood abuse and neglect are so insidious and covert that we don’t even really know if it happened the way we remember. We are gaslit and invalidated so much that we question our own feelings, opinions and memories. Trust that if any of what I have written resonates with you then you were not loved the way you deserved and you do deserve to heal. I attempted suicide three times since my teen years and there have been numerous other moments where I believed there was no hope for a better future. I want you to know that it is possible. It is ongoing, hard work but you deserve to be liberated from this pain you are carrying inside you. I will be in some form of therapy my whole life, I consider it my life’s work and I hope that the legacy of my commitment to my healing is the positive impact it will have on my children and other people I form close relationships with. They talk about the ripple effect in therapy, the impact of the work you do on yourself reaches far wider than we’ll ever know. If I can do it, you can do it.

SWY: You mentioned that you are a primary school teacher – What do you think schools are doing right and wrong in terms of educating children about abuse and trauma?

LK: Here in Scotland, we are working hard at becoming more trauma-informed within the education system. Over the past few years, many of our professional development opportunities have been about trauma and adverse childhood experiences. We have been spoken to by young adults sharing their experiences and letting us know what went right for them in school and what went wrong. We are also far more informed in terms of the support in the wider community and other associations relating to supporting our vulnerable children. There is definitely still a lot more that could be done and it’s hard to convert certain people who believe that they were treated a certain way when they were kids and they turned out alright… certain people find it very difficult to question and change their beliefs. But the clear message we have been receiving from the top is that all behaviour is communication, and it is our job as the adults to support the child any way they need. This is a very different message to the one being pushed when I was a child. It’s slow progress but I think we’re going in the right direction.

SWY: Has teaching had any benefits to you in terms of being able to heal from your experiences?

LK: If I’m honest, through the hardest struggles in my healing journey, I’ve questioned whether becoming a teacher was the right thing to do or not. It is a highly stressful, demanding job and the day to day responsibilities feel relentless and never-ending. I recall my last therapist told me it made perfect sense that I went into teaching even though it was never on my ‘what I want to be when I grow up’ list as a child. She pointed out that it has given me the structure and boundaries and discipline I craved growing up. The child within who still needs safety and security feels comfortable in this stable job.

Teaching has also given me a platform for me to ignite change. Both parenting and teaching have been the sources of my most powerful triggers. They challenge me to directly face my trauma on a daily basis. I’ve learned that we can’t and in fact, shouldn’t avoid our triggers. They are our greatest teachers. They show us where the pain is and where the healing needs to be focused. Many therapy sessions have centered on working through triggers that occurred in the classroom or in my current family home. I see the world through the eyes of the children in front of me but I also see it through the eyes of my inner child. Often the injustices I faced growing up feel powerfully present when I am providing love, nurturing, and support to the children in my care. I am two parts in those moments; the wise adult self who deeply cares about and has the capacity to love these children and the wounded child inside who is grieving her lost childhood and all these moments of love and nurturing she didn’t freely receive. I am still learning how to comfort and love myself the way I always needed.

Parenting and teaching have illuminated the power adults have and what a great responsibility it is to use that power for good. I started teacher training 18 years ago and became a parent 8 years ago. Over that time I have approached my role as a teacher and parent with the same passionate thirst for knowledge and growth as I did my therapeutic journey. I have read and researched childhood development, attachment theories, respectful parenting, restorative discipline… the list is endless. I became a teacher because my experience at school was almost as lonely and unsettling as my experience at home… I wanted to make a difference, even just to one child. I’ve learned that through doing this, I’ve been able to work on myself. My inner child is given permission to awaken and takes great joy in designing fun and exciting child-led learning experiences. I have not forgotten what it feels like to be a child.

What Do You Do With Your Anger?

As soon as we clicked on we both asked each other how we were doing and actually looking back neither of us answered we just laughed. I immediately spotted she was in a new room and mentioned it. Linda said this was the room we would work in when I come to sessions in person and that she’d relocated from the other room to make ‘preparations’… I didn’t ask but I’m sure she meant she was preparing for being back in that room, though maybe not as she said she wouldn’t be seeing clients face to face until September. Perhaps she’s seeing more high needs clients face to face earlier than that… I don’t know, I should have just asked but the conversation kept flowing. I said I liked the painting that was behind her head and she said it was the thing I’d be looking at when I attend sessions in person. I said, ‘ahh well I’ll come to hate it then!’ and she laughed a lot. I said, ‘not because I’ll hate being in session with you but because of all the hard things I’ll work on while staring at that painting!’ she smiled and said, ‘yeah I got that. I knew what you meant.’ That happens quite a lot, me checking to make sure she understands and her letting me know she got it. With Anna there were quite a few occasions when she didn’t get what I meant or hadn’t experienced something or been somewhere that I was talking about and so I’d need to explain myself but Linda seems to ‘get it’ quite frequently which is nice.

Linda asked again how I was ‘today’ and I said I was nervous, as always. I said I was aware there were a number of things going on for me right now and I’m overthinking it all and very anxious that I won’t cover everything I need to talk about. I’m so familiar with this hyper-panicky state I get into – this swirling bubbling lava of obsessive thoughts telling me that I need to make this session exactly perfect. I said I was feeling really anxious about her going on holiday next week and she acknowledged that. Later we came back to this and she said it’s really important we talk about this more deeply on Saturday before her holiday. She said, ‘this ties in with going back to work though doesn’t it?’ and I said, ‘yes… and the fact that I don’t want to go back… I mean I’m 50/50 on not going back!’ she said, ‘yes, so you feel anxious about me going on holiday and you’re anxious about having to go back to work.’ I said, ‘I’m annoyed with you for taking next week as a holiday!’ she had a serious expression and said she knew that and then said, ‘timing’ and rolled her eyes with a smile. I said, ‘the thing is though, I feel pretty secure with you… with Anna and Paul the attachment was so painful, I guess I thought therapy always had to hurt because it hurt so much with them, the longing… the parent stuff. I guess maybe it was transference stuff that just doesn’t come up with you.’ Linda was nodding enthusiastically and said, ‘I think this is really important – in my experience, personal experience, therapy definitely doesn’t have to ‘always hurt’. I’ve used this term before… masochistic… it doesn’t need to hurt… some sessions you come out feeling like wow, so hard (she frowned with her head in her hands) and then other sessions you walk out kind of like…’ she mimicked a bright eyed, head held high kind of energy. I told her that I’ve definitely had those kinds of sessions before and that they weren’t all hugely intense but that just the nature of the attachment with Anna and Paul made it painful to be with them and then have to leave. Linda said, ‘and this ties in with what we’ve talked a lot about before, that this will be different… yes you are the same person but you have changed as we all do, and I am different and the way I work is different and so it could never be the same.’ There’s still a little flash of pain when I hear Linda say this, as if she’s ripping the child from the womb declaring, ‘you’re out here now! Life will never be the same again.’ It feels harsh and aggressive and premature. But then, it has been all of those things. And despite it being ten weeks since my work with Anna officially stopped and I moved on to Linda, it’s going to take some time to adjust to this.  

I told Linda again that I was frustrated because there are so many things going on for me just now but I need to find the most important thing to focus on. I said, ‘I imagine we should talk about Adam again because it’s still bothering me so much and things between us are hard but there are so many other things that my mind is going over. For example, yesterday it was 10 weeks since Anna stopped working with me and although I’ve been kind of feeling okay about her for a wee while, I think a young part of me expected her to have come back by now.’ Linda was listening and looked inquisitive like she was curious about what I was saying. I said, ‘It feels like there’s a deeper sense of acceptance of the situation now.’ I explained that it was as if a part of me had left a door open for Anna, expecting that when lockdown eased and everyone started to go back to work, she would come back to me. Slowly that door is closing. I said, ‘I don’t even know what it would be like to sit with her now. So much time has passed and I feel like a different person to the person I was back in February when we last sat together… almost as if I would be going backwards to go back to her.’ As I write that out it feels completely untrue but when I said it to Linda I felt absolutely certain that this was how I felt. I wonder if the part of me that wants to connect to Linda, can’t admit to her that I still want Anna back.

I explained to Linda, ‘you know how I said before that I feel like I wasted so much time with Anna…?’ she nodded, ‘well I think I realised what this is about… we had so many unfinished conversations… so many topics that I started but couldn’t continue, she would reassure me that we’d come back to them and I’m realising that unconsciously I believed that if we had all these unfinished topics, unresolved problems, that she would always know that I needed her and she’d never leave me. It’s like I unconsciously dragged things out because if I reached a point where we’d dealt with everything then we’d have to stop working together.’ Linda was slowly shaking her head and said she understood and she then talked about how therapy can’t be boxed off in a nice neat little package. She said, ‘therapy is really messy… any time you try to control it, a bit like when you try to control anything in life, it just does a big fuck you (she put both her middle fingers up when she said that) and does the complete opposite to what you wanted… therapy just has a mind of it’s own, you can never predict which direction it’s going to go in, I really believe it’s about trusting the process and allowing things to materialise spontaneously, trusting that whatever needs to be worked on will be worked on.’ I laughed and said, ‘well yeah… if I was to write a list of personality traits under my name, spontaneous would not be there… wouldn’t be on the sheet hahaha… and I know that control is an illusion but I work damn hard to control everything!’ we talked about my need to plan and reflect on what I will talk about in session, my desire to write all my notes out and how I worry that I will forget everything we’ve worked on and it will all have been for nothing. ‘What if I dissociate it all away..? At least if I have it written down I can revisit it, I have black and white evidence that it happened, I can read over it and that helps me process… I know there will come a point where I look back and think, ‘I can’t believe I used to write all my sessions down,’ but I’m not there yet.’ Linda said, ‘I guess it comes down to knowing that if we always do the same thing we’ll always get the same outcome, all we need to do is tweak something slightly to get a different outcome. Though I know those tiny tweaks are fucking hard to do.’ I laughed and we talked about how hard it is to make slight changes when our behaviours and thought patterns are so engrained.

When we were talking about therapy not needing to be painful all the time Linda said something about how not every session has to be filled with tears and I said, ‘well I never had those kinds of sessions prior to working with you anyway, I wasn’t able to cry.’ Linda said she remembers me saying that and I said, ‘I have also been reflecting on that because there was a very big barrier to me crying with Anna despite me really wanting to be able to cry with her. There were a few times when she made observations about me finding it hard to cry and there was this time where she said, ‘you’ve been working with me for a year and you still haven’t cried,’ and I think somewhere along the line in my head it became more about her achieving her work than about me feeling my feelings.’ Linda said, ‘wow that’s a powerful phrase… ‘achieving her work’?’ I said, ‘but I mean in a loving way not in a horrible way…’ Linda said she took it that way and I continued, ‘more like, therapists want their clients to heal and part of that for me was always going to be about me learning to feel my feelings and cry… I never deliberately resisted, I used to imagine her with me when I was crying at home… but in the session the wall would come up of the dissociative fog would descend. I felt like she would do a mini fist pump in her mind if I started crying in session and there was a part of me that was damned if I was going to let the session be about her achieving that.’ Linda found this amusing and said she understood. I said, ‘so with you, I didn’t have that history with you, you didn’t know I found it hard to cry… I didn’t have that narrative standing between us… and when I started with you I was so devastated that I couldn’t hold it back and so it just happened.’ Linda said, ‘yeah and I witnessed that, I witnessed you crying, you just letting it happen… you trusted the process and it just happened.’ We smiled at each other.

I said that I should probably talk about Adam and began to explain that I still felt a lot of anger and resentment about everything we’ve discussed the past few weeks. I said, ‘I’m frustrated that I am still having to work on this, I remember going over it with Paul 7 years ago! But Paul would always focus on the other persons feelings, he felt that it was really important for me to have compassion and understanding for the other person. So like I remember when I told Paul about this time when I was 8 and my dad kicked me (I immediately regretted saying this as soon as it was out and I started to drift away)… well anyway Paul said, ‘that sounds like a man who really struggles to manage his anger,’ and so I guess we worked on trying to understand why dad would do that, you know?’ Linda said, ‘that’s really horrendous Lucy, that must have been awful, your dad kicked you?’ I said, ‘well he was teaching me a lesson coz I hurt my brother and he wanted me to know how it felt and I uh….’ then things go blank and I remember Linda asking me a few times, ‘what’s going on for you just now Lucy?’ it was faint at first then more clear. I said I didn’t know and I was looking down at my hands. Eventually I told her I felt spacey and that I regretted bringing up that thing about my dad. She said, ‘about your dad kicking you? Why?’ in a really sympathetic tone and I said, ‘it’s that thing where I gloss over things very quickly when actually it’s a big deal but maybe if I talk about it really fast and don’t go deeply into it then I won’t ever have to feel the feelings but I can pretend I dealt with it.’ I was talking very fast and looking back I was quite hypervigilant. I was looking all around the room and felt very agitated. Linda said she completely understood and that we could always go back to it. She asked me what I had experienced as we were talking about it and I sort of waved my hands either side of my head and said, ‘it’s like wfhwfhwfhwfhwfh’ in my head and then I floated away.’ I motioned upwards like my head was fuzzy and full of white noise then I float out the top of my head. She nodded and asked how it was feeling now. I told her I felt a little more connected now.

I went back to talking about Paul and explained that Paul interpreted my relationship with Adam and specifically this issue by saying, ‘it’s like you’re in some sort of mother son dynamic with Adam where you catch him with is hand in the cookie jar and then scold him and nag him trying to get him to behave himself and so he does behave himself for a bit then he tries to sneak something else and you catch him and reprimand and so on.’ Linda said, ‘Did you find that helpful?’ and I laughed and said, ‘Nooo! Nope it didn’t help because once again it’s about me doing the work!’ Linda said, ‘the thing is we can never guess how other people are feeling, that’s mindreading… unless they’re in the room with us we really have no idea what’s going on for them you know? What I am interested in is what is going on for you. I want to know how you feel. I want to know how it felt for you in these moments.’ This happened very quickly but there was a fleeting awareness of feeling connected to her and feeling a bit scared of this… like being aware of her being caring, liking it and then wanting to turn away from it… then the fuzzy dissociation came on again… oh shit! Hello beginnings of painful and confusing attachment disordered games. I see you!

I told Linda that I remembered Anna helping me process the way I had dealt with Adam when he finally admitted the betrayal to me. I had worked so hard to not shame Adam because I didn’t want to force him back into hiding. I was so grateful to finally have the truth and I didn’t want him to regret telling me or decide to never be truthful with me again so I switched therapist-Lucy on. I was compassionate and understanding, I likened his behaviour to self-harm and explained to him that whatever he was trying to supress with his behaviour was not going to go away by ignoring it… just like me with self harm. ‘Anna had said, ‘because you are sensitive to shame and being shamed you assumed he would also feel ashamed and so you worked really hard to not intentionally shame him,’ and it made me think, ‘wow… so not everyone is so easily ashamed?’ You know, maybe he wasn’t ashamed… maybe I let him off the hook too easily… maybe it was my shame I was feeling and he actually just didn’t want to have the conversation because he didn’t want to have to stop the behaviour.’ I said, ‘it really still bothers me even though it hasn’t happened again in like 6 or 7 years. It’s not part of our current life but it still causes me so much trouble. I had a nightmare about it last night actually.’

I said, ‘I guess I’m realising how avoidant I am. I avoid conflict, avoid difficult conversations, avoid hurting people or being hurt, avoid intimacy, connection…’ Linda had a wide eyed nodding expression and I said, ‘but I always thought I was preoccupied but I guess I’m forgetting that it can be different with different people. And also I always assumed that it was this archaic thing that related back to childhood but actually being with Adam for nearly two decades has impacted me and maybe my attachment style is like this in response to the way he is with me.’ Linda said that it is really important to keep bringing us back to the present day and thinking about how things feel right now and I continued, ‘yeah so he is very needy and intense. I basically gave him a day off yesterday coz I took the kids to a friends house and when I came back I had stuff to do but he was like a yappy dog. He’d been lonely all day and wanted to talk to us all but I had 37 messages to catch up on my phone and I had to finalise the school uniform shop online and I just get so angry with him standing there wanting mindless chat… I don’t think he realises how much he hurt me, how angry I am still…’ I became aware that Linda was asking me what was happening with me and I said I felt not real. I suddenly started to feel really panicky or maybe I became aware of this underlying panic. I said I couldn’t come back and Linda said, ‘lets try to regulate your breathing then. Can you hear my breathing? Can you follow my breathing?’ and so we sat together, her doing intentional steady breaths and me with eyes darting round the room and with increasing consistency looking at her and looking away trying to follow her breaths. It felt very intimate and very caring and I felt very seen. Which was both soothing and terrifying. It did eventually work and I calmed down. There was some quiet and I found the thread of my thoughts and began talking and Linda interrupted me and said, ‘do you have a sense of what’s making you leave the session today?’ I said, ‘anger,’ and she nodded. She said, ‘what do you do with your anger, Lucy? When you feel angry what do you do?’ I thought for ages and ages and couldn’t think. Eventually I said, ‘I mean, other than stuff it right down? Ummm… well I guess I used to try to cut it out of me. And there have been times when the supressed anger has burst out of me as rage and I’ve shouted at the kids and then felt awful about it. Anna and I worked on that a lot and it hasn’t happened in a very long time.’ (In fact the last time it happened I worked on it with Linda in the first few weeks of lockdown). I said ‘what do people do with anger? I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with it…. I guess I start to dissociate as soon as I start to feel angry.’ I don’t remember her answering this but then we talked about the dissociation some more. Linda said, ‘I notice that you’ll be talking and then you’ll suddenly stop talking, that’s when I get a sense that somethings happened for you and you’ve left the room… is it okay that I ask you to focus on what you’re experiencing when that happens?’ I said that was fine, though I feel embarrassed by it, just because being so seen can feel so frightening.

I talked about how when Adam and I are having disagreements he will sort of bring up all these things he’s done that I should feel grateful for but he does it in a subtle way. We’ll be arguing and he’ll make me a cup of tea and ask if I want one or he’ll say he needs to go load the dishwasher. It’s annoying because I feel like saying, ‘one thing doesn’t negate the other, you can’t earn your right to be an arsehole by doing these nice things… that doesn’t make me feel loved!’ I explained that when we first got together it was actually how I felt loved, I really needed him to look after me and do the cooking and cleaning and all those other kinds of things and actually that was the only way that my mum showed any love but that isn’t enough anymore. I can do my own cooking and cleaning. Linda said, ‘what would make you feel loved, Lucy?’ I thought for a very long time, so long that I felt like I should making ‘ummm’ noises in case she thought we’d lost connection. I said, ‘I actually really don’t know how to answer that. I don’t know how I feel love. I think maybe that’s the problem… because anything I’m coming up with in my head right now like him listening to me or touching me or being held or whatever I’m just like ‘no thanks!’ I don’t want any of that from him. Being loved feels too vulnerable.’ Linda looked at me and nodded slowly.

She then gave me a ten minute warning and I said, ‘Jesus Christ!’ she laughed and I said, ‘it’s not long enough!’ she said, ‘it really isn’t.’ she thought for a bit and then said, ‘I wonder if you got a big piece of paper and wrote all your thoughts about Adam on it…’ she mimed big messy writing all over this imaginary sheet of paper. She said, ‘this is a very deep rooted issue for you, it really touches some very important and powerful issues and a couple of 50 minutes sessions a week aren’t enough to explore it all. I wonder if you were to write down your thoughts about Adam maybe they would be easier to organise and discuss in session?’ I nodded and said that I’d keep it in mind along with her suggestion to write a list of all the things I don’t like about him. I told her that whenever I sit down to do something like that, I dissociate. And I’ve found writing my session notes quite challenging and often find myself getting very spacey and it takes hours to write it down. The thing is I love Adam so much, there’s a block here on this one issue and this one tiny issue is taking up such a huge amount of space. I told Linda that Paul had asked me what percentage of me trusted Adam and I’d said 95%. He had thought this was a great thing and that most people say 60 or 70% but now I believe that what my answer told Paul that day was not how much I truly trusted him but how little I trusted my intuition. Only 5% of me could tune in to my gut feelings… those 5% were right.

Linda talked again about trusting the process and said that it’s really important to allow a slower pace when I find myself feeling disconnected. I said, ‘There is such a sense of urgency though. The thing with writing my notes and thinking about the therapy all through the week is that I want to work hard at this. You know the most annoying phrase for someone to say to me is, ‘it will be fine’… it’s never fine unless I make it fine! My dad and Adam will both say to me, ‘it’ll be fine,’ if I’m stressing about something which annoys me so much! It’s never fine unless I do everything in my power to make it fine!’ Linda smiled and said, ‘I wonder if we could rephrase it to, ‘it will be what it is.’ I said I much prefer that. She said, ‘yeah… it will be.’ I nodded. I said, ‘I don’t want to just float along in life clueless… to never think very hard about anything and never intentionally process the therapy… lose all the work I’ve done in the sessions because I haven’t typed up the notes or whatever and for it all to be for nothing you know?’ Linda smiled kindly and said, ‘I don’t experience you like that at all Lucy, just floating along carefree – all detached and passive.’ I laughed and said, ‘yeah that’s definitely not me!’

I felt very close to Linda today. There were a few times that she stopped me to check in with how I was feeling when she had noticed that I’d become disconnected/dissociated. A part of me absolutely loved this. I really appreciate how carefully she watches and listens and I do get a strong sense that she likes working with me and is keen to form a connection with me. There is obviously the other part of me that’s really confused by this. The part of me that doesn’t trust easily. The part that wonders why we have worked really hard to build a connection just before she goes on holiday. I talked this through a little with Linda and said to her that I cognitively know that she’s entitled to take breaks and I actually really want her to be well rested and taking care of herself but there is the young feeling of wanting constant connection. Like a child who goes off to explore a new room and every so often will come back to touch base with mumma. So yeah, there’s a slight panic that things may feel a little unstable when that consistent reassurance isn’t there. I also know on a very deep felt level that I can not only survive holidays but I can also survive longer breaks due to sickness (like what happened with Anna in March) and ultimately I can survive my main attachment figure dropping off the face of the planet. It is not easy or desirable on any level but it is survivable… and, like I explained to Linda, I want her to come back to me but if for whatever reason she doesn’t… I will just need to pick myself up, dust myself off and find myself another therapist.

Thank you for taking the risk

Linda said it was nice to see me and asked how our break had been and I said it was good to be away, that being out in nature was lovely and we enjoyed a couple of days of sun which was a treat. I told her I’d missed having our mid week session.

I said, ‘the break was nice but you know… we took us with us!’ I laughed and Linda had a sort of ‘I know what you mean’ expression. I said, ‘So we had the same old stuff going on only we didn’t have 4G and tv distracting us. So sandwiched between the nice nature trails and hikes up mountains there were moments of tension and disagreements.’ I noticed that Linda seemed really present and ‘with me’ through this session. A lot of enthusiastic nodding and agreeing. Encouraging me to think more deeply about certain subjects and be more gentle with myself.

We revisited the conversation we’d had last Saturday about Adam’s signs of dyslexia. Linda brought it up by thanking me for the email I’d sent her last weekend which was nice. I didn’t have any of my usual worries of, ‘oh is she just bringing that up because she’s actually annoyed that I emailed her’… I just took what she said face value. I’m noticing my interpersonal anxieties are far less triggered by Linda than they were by Paul or Anna and although I reckon part of that is definitely down to the fact that she’s only 12 years older than me and is gay (so doesn’t trigger immediate and obvious transference like Anna and Paul did), it’s also to do with her character which is very direct, open and straight forward. Paul was sometimes sarcastic in humour or would say things in an indirect way which would feel confusing and would trigger my familiar patterns of attempted mind reading. Anna always tried so hyper-carefully to be gentle and kind with me that sometimes I wondered if she was tiptoeing around topics… there doesn’t seem to be the same need for second guessing with Linda. I am aware that there’s time yet… it could all still come. And also I’m aware there’s been rapid growth through the grief. I feel like a broken record saying this repeatedly, but experiencing my ‘worst case scenario’ and witnessing my journey through the aftermath of losing Anna has afforded me the opportunity to learn about my resilience… it’s a strength we all are capable of but don’t know it’s there until sadly we are forced to fall back into it.

So back to the session, I told Linda that I’d done a lot of research and reading after last week and could definitely see signs of dyslexia in Grace and Adam. I had always suspected it but had forgotten about the information processing challenges associated with the ‘disorder’ – merely focusing on the reading and writing side of things. Having it brought to my attention that both Gracie and Adam will struggle with taking in big lists of information or focusing on one person when there is noise around them has reminded me to have patience for their need for order, a slower communication style and to keep a check on my unrealistic expectations in my relationships with them.

We talked about this for quite a while and then I said, ‘to be honest, I’m really reluctant to admit this…’ Linda told me to take my time and I continued, ‘I’m going to sound like a complete bitch but this just feels like more emotional labour… once again I’m the one doing all the reading and researching and understanding. I did talk to Adam about the dyslexia and he found it really interesting and agreed with me. He could see himself and Grace in what I was telling him and he was keen for me to find a questionnaire online for them both and to look into support at work that I can use to help Grace. And that’s good, I’m glad he wasn’t defensive or anything but this whole things is actually making me feel really angry. I’m the one who has to make the changes and organise assessments and basically be the teacher in my family… why can’t he do this?’ Linda said, ‘oooh Lucy it sounds like there’s a lot of anger there.’ I said, ‘Yeah I think I am angry because I’m tired of all this, I’m exhausted that it’s always me who is responsible for this shit…’ Linda encouraged me to continue talking about my feelings and I said that I just wished Adam was motivated to sort these things out for himself. She said she would encourage us to not go for an online questionnaire, that it needs to be a formal thing completed by a psychologist but they are very expensive. She repeated, ‘very expensive!’ and rolled her eyes. I imagined it’s something she has had to go through with her partner.

I talked about how frustrating it is to imagine that I just have to accept Adam as he is now and that this whole processing disorder thing is just a convenient excuse for him to never make an effort ever again. I said, ‘I brought up something similar to Paul years ago and said to him, ‘I know I can’t expect him to change’ and Paul had said, ‘woah why cant you expect him to change?’ and I’d said that I knew it was co-dependent to expect people to change and he’d said, ‘hmmm well no, you can’t change him but you can expect someone to make an effort just like you make an effort…’ and Anna was less direct than that, when I talked to her about Adam she’d say things from the empathy angle… she’d be like, ‘it’s not easy to watch someone that you know would benefit from therapy not taking the first step,’ and then she’d just encourage me to stop hassling him about it… and last weekend you said that his journey and him changing or not was down to him and not really anything to do with me.’ Linda was nodding and concentrating on my words then thought for a second and said, ‘I want to clarify because I feel like you heard a certain thing from me regarding what I said about Adam and change… what I said definitely comes with a caveat… so yeah you can’t force people to change but you are married to him so it’s perfectly reasonable to expect him to make an effort in the relationship… for you guys to talk about these things and agree together to work on something as a team.’ I said that sounded better, made more sense and sat well with me.

I said, ‘I feel like there’s two separate problems here… there’s him being a human being who has flaws and has good days and bad days and is easily aggravated by the kids and then there’s me, a perfectionist, who gets very triggered by people who are anything less than perfect around my kids and has very high standards for everyone around me… so it’s a difficult mix.’ Linda smiled and said, ‘ah yes well we are all flawed… I have MANY flaws!’ and she laughed and I said, ‘well yeah me too obviously and that’s my point, it is totally unrealistic for me to be so unforgiving… because some days things are great, yesterday was a really good day…’ Linda smiled and said she was glad to hear that, I continued, ‘I think the main problem is that he is not great at communicating… he just really struggles to explain himself and I find myself having to coach him through our conversations… he can’t explain what’s going on for him… so anyway, he was in a good mood yesterday and we were all relaxed and I liked him and we were all happy, then today for whatever reason he’s more irritable and losing his temper with the kids… and I seem to have such little tolerance for him having bad days, so I go from loving him and enjoying his company to hating him and not even wanting to be in the same room as him!’

Linda said, ‘wow Lucy, that’s a strong word! You hate him, wow!’ I said, ‘well I mean I don’t verbalise it I never tell him I feel like that but uh…’ Linda said, ‘but that’s a very powerful thing to keep inside you isn’t it, that’s huge.’ I said, ‘well maybe it’s not hate…’ I noticed a shift in her and felt that maybe she could see that I was feeling defensive about her big reaction to my word choice. She said, ‘okay sorry, no… I just mean I can tell this is a very big deal for you, it’s a strong feeling and that’s a lot to contain. I’m imagining what that feels like for you inside.’ I said, ‘yeah maybe it’s like a resentment or something… I can barely look at him sometimes. I hate this part of me actually but I find it really difficult to let go of things… I don’t want to be like this, like the kind of woman who becomes really bitter and holds on to every single mistake a person has ever made. I really want to elevate myself above that, to work on being more compassionate and forgiving… but it’s like part of my brain just will not let go of these things you know? So even when we’ve gone over an argument or a mistake or a wrong doing, it’s still inside me. Even if years pass, if ever he makes another mistake or is less than happy, less than perfect, it’s as if that part of me feels like, ‘don’t you dare slip, you owe me! You did this thing that really hurt me and you will always owe me because of it.’ Linda said, ‘do you know what this is about Lucy? What this resentment is really about?’ I nodded and suddenly felt flooded. My face flushed and I told her I wished she couldn’t see me. Eventually, while looking at my fidgeting hands, I said, ‘The thing is, it’s a big deal. Something big happened between us years ago and I find it hard to let go of it.’ Linda said, ‘have you spoken to him about it?’ I said, ‘yes, it came up initially when I was working with Paul and I worked on it again with Anna. Each time it came up I did talk to him about it. It reached a head again about a year ago and we went over it again… he thinks it’s resolved now and he would be totally blindsided if I suddenly brought it up AGAIN.’

Linda paused me and asked me how I was feeling. I said I wasn’t sure. I took a while to answer and I looked out the window. I said I felt numb… but not numb. In reality I think I was a bit spacey and still am actually as I type this. She asked me to stay connected to her. She encouraged me to look at her and work at staying connected to her. She said, ‘it feels very important that you work at staying connected with me while you talk about this. Even if you need to pause or stop talking, keep the connection.’ It felt like a really powerful moment of closeness between us. For some reason I felt the need to see her. I looked at her and she was looking right at me too. I breathed and did what she told me to – I worked on staying connected to her. After a while I quietly said, ‘We have such a long history, 19 years… so much has happened… I wish we could hit the refresh button and meet each other now with fresh eyes.’ Linda was nodding a lot as if she really understood this which intrigued me because I’ve never even thought it before that very moment. I said, ‘I just feel like there’s so much that clouds the relationship.’ Linda asked what exactly clouds the relationship and I said, ‘Well lots of things. All of the different people we have been over the years. The people we were when we met… I was a suicidal teenager when we met… and because of things we’ve experienced over the years together. I find it so hard to trust him. I can’t let go of any past mistakes.’ i felt totally defeated and let out a long sigh then said, ‘I know that it’s my problem. If only I could let go of my perfectionism and stop expecting too much from people then we could be happy… coz he is happy most of the time, he’s fine with things just the way they are. You said yourself, he is consistent, he hasn’t changed – it’s me who’s changed.’ Linda said, ‘oh Lucy,’ with such compassion in her voice that it touches something deep inside my chest, ‘that just sounds so unkind, such unkind things to say about yourself. There’s no blame, you’re not a problem.’

Linda asked what would happen if I was to let go of the things I’m hanging on to and I said, ‘I’d be made a fool of. I’ll get hurt again.’ Linda said, ‘that could happen anyway, couldn’t it… in any relationship?’ I said, ‘Well yeah, it could, and it did… I experienced that with Anna… she didn’t deliberately hurt me but you know by leaving she did.’ I felt a blanket of fog descend over me and said, ‘Let me think.’ I whispered to myself, ‘What would happen if I let go of the hurts I’m holding on to? I guess what happens when I decide to let go of the anxiety and hurt I notice a detached feeling…’ I said louder, ‘I detach. I think to myself – I can go back to behaving normally in the relationship but I just will never openly relax and lean into the relationship again.’ Linda said, ‘yeah that makes sense, so maybe there’s all this grey here between the black and the white.’ She spaced her hands out either side of the screen. She said, ‘so we have complete lack of trust here and we have complete blind trust here and maybe somewhere on this spectrum is a place you could feel safe?’ I let that settle for a bit and she asked how it felt for me. I said it felt a bit scary but something that I’d need to think about.

Linda said, ‘Have you ever written a list?’ I looked quizzically at her and she explained, ‘Just sat down and written a list of all the things you want Adam to change?’ I laughed and said, ‘and not give it to him?’ she said, ‘noooo, just for yourself, to give you clarity.’ I said, ‘hmmm that feels like an overwhelming task.’ She asked why and I said, ‘I just feel like there would then be a big list in black and white of all the reasons why the relationship should end.’ Linda said, ‘That’s a very big thing to carry inside you, Lucy.’ I said, ‘I know,’ I felt like I might cry but it didn’t come. I continued, ‘I am so scared of repeating the mistakes my parents made. I would never have had kids if I’d known I would bring them into a family that would end up separating.’ Linda had a lot of sympathy in her eyes and she told me she understood. I said, ‘The thing is, I love him so much. There’s really no need to worry about us splitting up, we are both so committed to making this work and also most of the time it is NOT hard work. We get on so well, we have such a laugh together and love each other intensely. But it’s where my brain goes. Like an intrusive thought on repeat. And I just can’t get past it.’ I was quiet for a bit and then said, ‘Then there is this thing that happened years ago. He really hurt me, Linda. It was a massive betrayal. He wasn’t unfaithful but it felt like it and then he denied it and lied about it for years.’

Linda asked what was going on for me right now and I said I felt shame. She sounded surprised and asked if I knew what that was about and I said, ‘I should know how to do this! I should know how to have a relationship with him. I’ve been with him for nearly two decades and struggle so much with emotional intimacy! Still? I think this is why therapy suits me, it’s a really avoidant way to be connected to someone, isn’t it!? I get to be emotionally vulnerable with you, which is really quite safe… and I pay you for that so I don’t feel guilty about it… then I can end the session and have distance between us for a few days before opening the wound again. I just hate being so closed off and shit at all this.’ I think I was drifting again because Linda asked me to stay connected to her once more.

There were a few minutes of quiet and I said, ‘this is very important and I’m trying to figure out if I can work on this with you without telling you what happened.’ Linda said, ‘is it important that you tell me this thing today?’ I said, ‘no, I guess not today… it is important and worth covering at some point but not urgently today I guess… I just don’t know. I doubt this is the most shocking thing you’ve ever heard, I don’t think you’d think it was that big of a deal actually… I’m just really embarrassed.’ Linda said, ‘I don’t want you to feel like you have to tell me… can you explain why you are ashamed when it’s not something you have done, can you answer that without telling me what it is?’ I tried to explain the role I played in what had happened and how I was afraid I could be unfairly judged. That my opinion on what happened could be interpreted as me being conservative and closed minded. Interestingly Linda didn’t do what Anna used to do which was constantly reassure me that she wasn’t judging me. I think that’s partly an experience thing. Linda trusts she can show me through her behaviour the lack of judgment whereas Anna felt the need to spell things out to me. Perhaps coming from an anxious place where she didn’t want anything to be misinterpreted by me.

Eventually I told Linda what had happened. The first time when we had only just started going out. Then again a few years later. And numerous times after that.

(I’m not going to write what happened here because it is deeply personal but I will say that it’s nothing illegal but something that would divide opinion. It’s something I feel very strongly about and something that goes against one of my most important values. I betrayed myself by allowing this thing to happen repeatedly and by silencing my gut instinct and ‘believing’ him as he lied time and again.)

I rattled through the explanation as Linda sat quietly listening and then she thanked me for telling her. She told me she was concerned with how Adam had protected his own ego by gaslighting me… basically denying the thing that I knew to be true, repeatedly for over a decade. I tried to justify his behaviour telling Linda that I understood that the shame Adam felt pushed him to probably even lie to himself about it and she said, ‘yes but there’s an element of him denying your experience.’ I said, ‘yeah I know… that’s exactly how I felt… thank you! It was crazy making. There have been some very dark moments. There have been times when I have tried so hard to move on… years where it’s been nowhere near the foreground but it’s always on the peripheral. It seems to be so over for him but still very important to me. The last time we spoke about it he told me we’d ‘put it to bed’ and that he’d apologised and that I shouldn’t need to bring it up again. I had been so furious with him and told him it wasn’t up to him to tell me whether we were over it or not, that he’d betrayed me… he lied to me, repeatedly for years! I have never lied to him. I have never betrayed him. I told him that I am the one who gets to tell him when we’re over it!’ Linda was so attentive, constantly checking in on any sensations in my body or any spaciness I was experiencing. I then said, ‘honesty is so important to me Linda, so so SO important! Honesty and openness… it’s the foundation of everything!’ Linda had a very serious expression on her face and she said, ‘I know, Lucy. I really do know that about you. I learned that about you very early on. Honesty and openness is very important to you… I hear you I really do see that in you!’ I paused and just looked at her. I wanted to know how she knew! When did she learn this? I’ll revisit that another time. It was so powerful.

As the session came to an end we reflected on how I had absorbed his shame. While he has disconnected from any of the feelings he once had and barely seems to remember what happened, I am left carrying this hurt and shame inside me. Just like I did with my mum.

Linda said, ‘it felt like there was a big risk for you in telling me this, thank you for taking that risk. Thank you for telling me this today.’ I said, ‘well actually thank you, because this has been the easiest of all three times I’ve talked about it so thanks for that… when I talked to Paul, he seemed to take it personally and sided with Adam… finding loads of excuses about why it was probably my fault. When I talked to Anna about it I sensed she was uncomfortable about the topic. Maybe the discomfort was mine because she was like a mum to me and it was totally cringey telling her but I thought she was a bit embarrassed to talk about it.’ Linda smiled and sort of rolled her eyes with a kind expression of fondness and said, ‘I’m so glad you felt it was easier to talk to me about this, thanks for telling me that Lucy that’s really good to hear.’ I said, ‘to be honest I feel like it would be hard to shock you. I’ve seen the kinds of things you deal with written on your website, this is fairly tame in contrast!’ Linda laughed and said, ‘well yeah, some people have tried!’ and we both laughed.

She then said, ‘really this all boils down to one person who has a lot of self awareness butting heads with another person who has very little self awareness… and how that can be balanced and negotiated.’ I nodded and she asked how I was feeling. I said I was annoyed that the session was over when I still had so much to talk about. She said I could bring it back as many times as I need to. And I know that I will.

There’s a Guilt in the Joy.

Loss and grief take you on such a strange journey. They’re so hard to process. You definitely can’t force it… which I guess is true for all emotions – you just need to ride them. But the thing is that grief and loss really don’t give you any warning and they completely take over when they arrive.

Sometimes it sort of creeps up on you during the least griefy moments. In the middle of utter joy or hilarity or passion – bang – remember you lost this thing and you’re meant to be devastated! I’m learning to let the joy and the grief live side by side in my heart. To not automatically silence the pain. But it’s hard because it feels counter intuitive. It’s like feeling heat and still placing your hand in the fire. The minute my heart feels the edge of the pain of the loss I flinch, my body tenses and I want to recoil away from it. It takes all of my strength to be curious and follow the sadness. To really look at it and embrace it.

I feel guilty when I’m caught up in joy then suddenly remember that Anna is out there somewhere very ill and shielding. Probably hasn’t been out of her house or maybe even out of one part of her house for over four months. That’s if she’s not in hospital. Or worse. I feel awful when I think of how her life was turned upside down and how she tried to keep it as normal as possible for me… setting up a little lookalike therapy room in a corner of her house for our Zoom sessions. With a tiny table and candle. My heart hurts for her. I wonder what her life is like now. Totally stripped of all the things that she’d built for herself in later years.

In my moments of triumph, though the pangs of guilt catch me off guard, I know she would have been cheering me on – encouraging me to lean into the joy. She would have told me, insisted in fact, ‘feel it Lucy, let go and allow yourself to feel loved, feel overjoyed, let Little Lucy play…’ and for fleeting moments I do. Then I suddenly remember I’ll never be able to tell her about these moments. And it brings such sadness and regret. I want to share all of this with Anna. I learned so much just by sharing my new found happiness with her. Letting myself believe in the good and learning through her that I was allowed to be happy and relaxed and loved.

Anna was the mother I always longed for and I’d only just begun learning to let her love in. I really wish I could tell her all the ways that her love is still shaping my life and all the reasons why I wish she was still here. I want to share my little victories and my colossal heartbreaks. I strain inside myself to find her words of wisdom when I really need her support… ‘what would Anna say right now?’ I think to myself. And I do have to think very very hard. I place myself in that room in my mind and I try very hard to formulate the words to express to her what I’m going through and then I listen, so intently, as if to hear the quiet whisper of a ghost whistling through a valley… sometimes I hear her, other times it’s just silence. I wrap my arms around myself, pretending she’s holding me. 🌿 there are little parts of me not quite ready to let her go… even though it’s been 9.5 weeks since she let me go 🖤

‘Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.’ Maya Angelou.

I told Linda that I felt it would be a good idea to talk about how things have been going between me and Adam. I said that after the last session on Saturday things felt so much better, I felt closer to him, we talked about some deeper stuff and I felt good about us again. But the past few days have been hard going again and I can’t get to the bottom of it.

I said that Adam’s job is facing a lot of changes and the business is being restructured. All staff will need to have a consultation in the next couple of weeks and there will be redundancies. I said to Linda, ‘if it’s based on performance then he will be fine, as long as his job is still necessary in this climate… he is the most hard working, loyal, reliable person. He’s had less than a week off sick in 16 years. He puts everything into his work. I was trying to tell him all the things he could tell his boss when they have the meeting. That he has experience in customer care, call centre work, office admin, warehouse experience… he would be willing to fulfil other roles in the company and within reason he could be flexible. But he was getting annoyed with me, saying I was bombarding him with information and ended up asking me if I would go full time so he could stop working!’ I said to Linda that it really annoys me when he says this because it’s not something I want to do. Being part time really helps balance things for me, it helps my mental health. I earn more than him working three days a week than he does working 5 days a week and my job is very stressful. He gets to come home and not think about his job but I never really switch off fully from my job and there is a lot of preparation to do that I bring home. Linda said, ‘is this linked to the imbalance of emotional labour that you feel, do you think?’ and I said, ‘without a doubt, absolutely!’ I said, ‘it feels like I’m always the one who has to help us get better, help us achieve more, I carry the weight of being the main ‘bread-winner’ because I need to stay in this job for us to continue with the life we’re used to, I am the one who propels us forwards while he doesn’t ever make any changes. I went back to full time work after I had Grace and it was so hard to find balance. I have made loads of changes over the years to improve our situation. He’s been talking about looking for a better job for 16 years.’ I said, ‘Adam said to me the other day that he was listening to a podcast I sent him recently and he said he’s realised that he is depressed and actually he’s been depressed his whole life, even as a child. In my head I was thinking, ‘I know, we’ve talked loads about this!’ so I said to him in an understanding way, ‘I know… I want you to know that you don’t have to suffer Adam, you can make changes. Maybe therapy or you could speak to a doctor about medication…’ and Linda said, ‘yes… only it might actually be very difficult for him to make a change.’

I said, ‘there’s this quote that I love… it’s about doing better when you know better… och what is it?’ She said she didn’t know it and I thought for a bit and couldn’t remember so eventually I looked it up on my phone and read it out to her, ‘Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.’ Maya Angelou. She said, ‘oh yeah Maya Angelou.’ I said, ‘I really love that quote and I feel like I try to live my life by it. It started when I had kids… I wanted to learn everything I could about how I could do a better job than my parents did…’ I looked up at her and she had this smile on her face she sometimes does which kind of portrays a sense of understanding but also like ‘you’re on the cusp so something’ type expression. I continued, ‘So, I can see how that directly feeds into my perfectionism… like nothing but the best is good enough and then you have to work hard at doing better than your best. But I really feel like, what’s the point in life if we don’t live it with this mentality? What actually is the point in life if all we ever do is stay the same? If you never learn anything from your life then what is the actual point of life? Surely the whole reason we’re here is to learn and grow and develop and keep getting better and better?’

Linda said, ‘Hmmm…’ she was smiling and told me it really intrigued her that I was saying this, she said she liked that she was getting to know me better. She said, ‘Not everyone is capable of that, Lucy. You are very focused on change and improvement. Adam talks about it, but doesn’t make the changes, is that fair to say?’ I said, ‘yeah when we talk about these things he will say that he gets it but he won’t ever actively do anything to change things. Or he will make a small change, maybe to his attitude, but it will be short lived. So for example say he is short tempered or grumpy, I’ll then tell him I don’t like how he spoke to me and he’ll apologise and he’ll be very affectionate with me but I’m still annoyed coz you know, when you say sorry that means you’ll never do it again! Why say sorry at all if you’re just going to repeat the same mistake it over and over… that’s abusive… that’s what my mum would do!’ Linda said, ‘okay, okay Lucy come back to this present moment and focus on this situation with Adam just now, does that sound alright? To just stay here and focus on the adult situation between you and Adam… yes?’ I nodded and laughed. She said, ‘So, you value change. Adam, over the past nearly 19 years has consistently stayed the same, he has consistently shown you that he is unable to make the changes, yes?’ I just silently looked at her and sighed, defeated. She said, ‘so… it’s that old thing of, ‘we can’t expect other people to change unless they want to change,’ isn’t it?’ I said, ‘fuck!’ and she said, ‘haha yes, quote unquote… fuck!’ I said, ‘fuck sake… okay so how do I learn to accept this part of him then?’ she said, ‘okay so Adam behaves in a certain way or says or does a certain thing and it hurts your feelings or makes you feel bad. He then apologises but you don’t feel like it’s a real apology?’ I said, ‘well ‘sorry’ means, ‘I’m not going to do that thing again,’ so if you repeatedly have to go round this cycle of doing a thing, apologising then doing the thing again and then apologising… I’d surely be a fucking idiot to keep believing his apology, clearly it’s not genuine?’ Linda said, ‘so this is actually really interesting because it’s telling me a lot about you and your values… so you value change highly, you also value intention… you value honesty… you believe that an apology means you’re promising to never make the same mistake again… so an apology is for the future?’ At this point I was looking all round the room and frowning and she sort of leaned right in as if she was getting more interested in the conversation and said, ‘is that anger? Are you feeling angry about this, Lucy?’ I said, ‘no… I think I’m confused… this is all making me think very hard… so… does saying you’re sorry NOT mean you’ll never do it again?’ she thought about it and I said, ‘I actually remember the first time I heard it… I was 8 years old and in class. I saw a boy being told off for something serious, actually he was being humiliated by the teacher and he said he was sorry and the teacher was really exasperated and said to him, ‘when you say you’re sorry it means you must never do it again or else the apology is meaningless,’ and so I guess I really took that in, it really shaped my belief around what sorry means… probably because I never wanted to make the same mistake as that boy and be humiliated in front of the class.’ Linda said, ‘okay, so it’s about control in that case… and any forgiveness is conditional on future behaviour?’ I took a while to answer and she asked what was going on for me, I told her I was letting all this sink in because it was really shaking up something that I thought I strongly believed in. She was making me question something I thought was a core belief, something I thought I was completely right on. She told me it’s not about being right or wrong but it’s important to be curious about our beliefs and how they impact our relationships.

I said, ‘I know it’s important that we focus on the here and now but I can’t ignore the fact that my mum would do really horrible things or put me in really awful situations then later she would practically have an emotional breakdown over it, crying and apologising profusely and I would tell her it was fine and that I forgive her but then she’d do it over and over again… what’s happening with Adam feels like an abusive cycle you know?’ Linda had a very compassionate expression on her face and she quietly said, ‘it feels abusive, I really do get that and it makes total sense that you would want to protect yourself from being hurt repeatedly like you were as a child. From where I’m sitting, tell me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like something different is going on here. It sounds like Adam is not being abusive, that something is limiting his ability to make the changes, does that feel right? When he apologises does he sound or seem dismissive or does he appear to be being authentic and heartfelt?’ I said, ‘I know he’s not deliberately being abusive… he absolutely is genuinely sorry when he does something that annoys or hurts me especially when we’ve previously talked about it and he’s forgotten… he’s so lovely, Linda. He is kind and loving and never says anything to deliberately hurt me and he’s transparent and consistent and trustworthy and predictable… he’s all the things my mother wasn’t!’ Linda was smiling and nodding enthusiastically, I continued, ‘so I just need to be the bigger person, yet again…? I have to be the one who understands and makes exceptions…?’ Linda said, ‘I hear your very valid anger and resentment around that, I really do.’ I said, ‘but it just really feels very important that if someone says sorry then they also mean that they will never hurt you again in the same way… that’s what I mean when I say it!’ Linda said, ‘thank you… yes… that’s what it means to YOU. That’s very important.’

Linda looked thoughtful and said, ‘so… I’m just going to run something by you and I’m very aware that this is my stuff so I want you to really think carefully about whether this resonates with you and feel free to bat it out the court if it doesn’t sound right.’ I nodded. She said, ‘There are many reasons why a person might repeatedly make the same mistake, yet still be sorry for their behaviour. Many reasons why it might be hard for someone to make changes or be unable to understand things from your perspective. It could be the way someone’s brain works, it could be specific conditions…’ I was nodding and only really half following her and then she said, ‘I live with a person who is dyslexic and they process things very differently. There is a difficulty with taking in new information sometimes, a slower learning process, it’s harder for them to make changes or process information. So a person might really be listening intently but dyslexia impacts how the person processes information, how they take in and remember information.’ I said, ‘wow… so… wow… I have always thought Adam is probably dyslexic.’ Her eyes widened and she asked me to explain what I meant when I said I thought he was dyslexic. I said, ‘he wasn’t diagnosed but I think that’s because of the limitations at his school. He was in a small learning support group in primary school and in secondary school he had a scribe for exams. He got the highest distinction for music but failed almost all of his other exams. He’s intelligent, very creative and very musically minded but has massive things standing in his way… and you know as a teacher I just notice things like he never reads anything, he’s never read a book as an adult. He won’t send texts that are more than a few words. When I send him a long text he gets very quickly overwhelmed, immediately. He asks me to help him write emails or texts.’ Linda was knowingly nodding throughout that and said, ‘yeah so you know what you’re looking for. Well, dyslexia isn’t just about the written word, it’s about processing. You process by writing and reading whereas he might find that a struggle. You can follow a conversation and pick up on things quickly, move with the flow rapidly but he might not pick everything up. When you guys talk about stuff, it might be very important to him but still he’s unable to recall it at a later date, especially if he feels stressed.’ I said, ‘fucking hell this is really blowing my mind. Our brains work completely differently and I’ve been treating him as if he is the same as me and just deliberately not making any effort… fuck! I feel so awful… it’s like forcing a child to hold a pencil and write when they absolutely can’t do it rather than giving them a programme of work on the laptop that would support them in doing the task. Oh I really feel so much compassion for him now… I feel like I could cry.’ Linda said that she could hear that and she knows that Adam and I love each other very much and we are willing to work hard in the relationship. I said, ‘but I feel so ashamed though because this part of me that just wants better and better… like I need to be a better person and I need him to be better too.’ She said, ‘the most important thing there though is that you are aware of that part of you. All you can do is bring awareness. If you had these thoughts and you weren’t aware of them and where they come from then they would get in the way of your relationships but you are aware of that part of you that always wants better.’

I said, ‘oh my god I have so much to go away and read and think about now!’ and she said, ‘yeah, I know you’ll find a lot of information to help you understand this and we can talk more about it. You may even want to talk to Adam about it?’ I said, ‘yeah I definitely will talk to Adam… I actually can’t believe this!’ she said, ‘so it sits well here then?’ she put both hands on the centre of her chest and said, ‘it feels right?’ I said, ‘yeah absolutely… you know because the past 7 years have been so heavily focused on therapy for me, I see everyone through some sort of attachment style/trauma response lens. But this has expanded my way of thinking about and viewing people… like maybe not everyone’s behaviours and thoughts and values are completely impacted by their childhood. Maybe neurodiversity and loads of other things are impacting them too. Of course I know this but I had turned my attention away from all of this and focused on such a small aspect of what makes a person who they are… it’s made me really quick to anger with Adam because I’ve seen his ‘quirks’ as something that could be fixed if only he would go to therapy!’

This is making me think about the session last Saturday when we talked about Adam and how it’s as if I am running ahead, speeding through my healing journey while he is standing still. And I had this amazing Tarot reading a few days ago that aligns with all this. It explored a significant relationship in my life. As she explained our parallel paths within our relationship she said I was operating at a higher frequency to this other soul, possibly because I had lived previous lives where I’d learned the lessons that this person was now facing. She said that I am very focused on my life’s purpose and on making changes to myself, personal development and growth. She said only I would know, gut intuition, if it was my life’s purpose to stay and help this soul with their life’s purpose, or stride ahead and reach a more enlightened state. And I keep seeing repeated symbols of choice. Reaching a fork in the road and having to decide which lane to choose. It’s becoming clearer to me that both roads may actually take me to the same place. But one road is slower, meandering and laboured as I help Adam come with me while the other road is more direct (but not without it’s rocky terrain). I am committed to Adam and I absolutely want to take him with me. Maybe this means going over things a few times, being more patient, having compassion… and when I put it like that, I’m not going to get to my goal by not being those things! Maybe one of the reasons we found each other in this life is for him to teach me to slow down, to be more present and mindful, to be more accepting and to learn to let go of my perfectionism.

I feel like I’ve been blinkered… so focused on childhood psychology and adult trauma survivor stuff that I forgot to lift my head and see the world of complexities that make us all who we are. I seemed to have narrowed my view field down to the belief that the only internal thing that could stop someone from realising their full potential was effort. That if only he wanted to change, he could but he chose not to… which I interpreted as him not loving me enough. Now I am reminded of the need to expand my view point and have compassion and understanding. And that forgiveness shouldn’t be conditional.

Don’t compromise yourself to make other people love you.

As an adult child of a narcissist and a codependent compromising myself kind of comes quite naturally to me… doing anything and everything to make my parents happy, to make them be nice to me. Watching them closely. Figuring them out. The hyper-vigilance woven through every fibre of my child brain. If they were in a bad mood, what had I done wrong? If they were angry, how could I make them happy again? Are they angry…? What is it they’re trying to passive aggressively express to me? This pattern repeats as an adult. Or at least it did until I started unraveling it.

Don’t compromise yourself to make other people love you. Don’t do things you don’t want to do just because the other person will make your life easier if you do it. Don’t let other people hurt you, take you for granted, make fun of you, talk about you behind your back, make you feel inadequate or stupid. Don’t compromise yourself to make others love you. If you do, it’s not really you that they love… it’s your coping strategies and anxious attachment style, the people pleasing. The crippling low self worth and hole in your chest that you need to fill, desperately.

This isn’t about shaming or judging the intense desire to do anything and everything just to make people like/love us. I know because it’s in me. I remember when Anna first taught me about self abandonment. We worked a lot on this over the years and she really helped me understand that you really need to know yourself very well to know when you’re self abandoning. When you’ve had a lifetime of keeping the other person happy and calm, you don’t ever learn how to tune in to your own feelings. It’s that question I’ve struggled so much with in therapy, ‘what do you need?’ What do I need?? I need for you to like me? I need for you to not leave me…? I need to be different? Should I be more like you? What do you think I need? These are all self abandonments. Constantly seeking the other person to make us feel worthy. Looking for ways to be liked, admired, adored, needed, wanted. Looking for ways to be noticed by others so that they tell us the things we need to hear because we can’t feel it inside ourselves… social media and blogging could be a version of this. Depending on how much we feel it defines us. How much we feel we need it. What happens inside us when we don’t get the responses we’re expecting? What happens when we’re questioned or challenged? Is it uncomfortable? Too uncomfortable? Does it feel like a personal attack? Does it feel like a rejection? Is it easy to take feedback that disagrees with our message? Can we have a conversation around these disagreements or do we ignore, delete, shut down? Does positive encouragement and praise feel genuine and congruent? Can we take that in? What happens when we don’t have the feedback we feel we need…?

Anna helped me reflect on all of this. On the need to be secure in my own sense of self… and the reasons why that goal often feels impossible. As a child I wasn’t reflected back, not in a positive way. If ever I was given praise or felt manipulative or sarcastic or had jealous undertones. Or it was taken from me… ‘you get your creativity from me’… that kind of thing. Experiencing this emotional deprivation, this invisibility in my childhood led to me looking for positive affirmation and validation externally. Always. From teachers. From friends. From my parents… still!?? From my therapists. From strangers. I wrote before about one of the many gifts Anna gave me, by keeping herself out of the room she allowed me to find myself. I could no longer use my tried and tested tool to make her like me because I had no idea what she wanted me to be. Although as if by magic, that’s exactly what happened because I guess all she ever wanted was for me to be myself. I learned who I was while sitting in front of her session after session. What I valued, what I liked and didn’t like, what made me feel good, what scared the shit out of me, what made me feel worthy. Where a boundary needed to be installed or firmed up, where I could learn to be more flexible, where the woundings were.

The right people will love you when you are true to yourself. All my life I’ve been playing games trying to bend and contort myself to make people like me but I never felt their love or actually I never felt like I deserved it… it was incongruent. What did they love? Who was this person they loved? It certainly didn’t feel like me. It has taken me years to even begin to scratch the surface on this one. What do I need in relationships? Acceptance. Trust. Clear communication. Personal space. An attentive listener. Validation. Equality. Balance. Respect. Shared joy. Forgiveness. Authenticity. Congruence. Generosity… (and many more). When we constantly squash our own needs, wants, desires – when we ignore that voice inside – we betray ourselves and we unconsciously build up a huge store of resentment and suppressed anger. The anger can pop up in unexpected places (often times at someone that didn’t really deserve it) or at ourselves. That’s been a common theme in my sessions. Tales of all the ways I betray myself and let others betray me. Repeating the abuse. Betraying myself like I was betrayed. Violating my boundaries like they were violated in childhood. So we find ourselves doing very thing for the other person and nothing for ourselves. We martyr ourselves… ‘after everything I’ve done for him he still doesn’t x,y,z.’ If we are not happy doing something we shouldn’t do it. Boundaries! If one of our core beliefs is that we are not as worthy as the other person, we will be stuck in this never ending cycle of trying to please the person enough to make them tell us how worthy we are. We’ll let them betray our boundaries time and again in the hope that will make us worthy… but it never does. It’s quite likely the other person doesn’t even know what’s going on. The only person who is responsible for expressing and demanding respect of my boundaries is me. No shaming here though. It makes sense I would find that fucking hard. That poor little girl who had to dissociate every single feeling away to let other people do what they wanted so that she’d feel a little bit loved… a toxic, fake love.

The only certainty in this life is that my relationship with myself is the longest one I’ll ever have. So the loyalty and love has to begin here. I must not allow myself to push a boundary of mine, to lie to myself, to break my own trust after I’ve made a promise to myself. I’m getting better at drawing a line when I reach my limit of boundary pushing, by others and by myself. When the invalidation, imbalance, jealousy, selfishness, judgement becomes loud I’m able to notice and take a step back. By tuning in to what my body has been telling me all along… ‘these things don’t feel good and I deserve better.’ I don’t have to wait for others to tell me I deserve better… I do already. Only when we really feel this in the core of ourselves, can any outside validation and affirmation touch us. I’ve noticed that in the 2 sessions with Linda… her reassurance, validation and affirmations are going in! And when something doesn’t feel right? I tell her. Slowly slowly learning to have healthy relationships that no longer repeat the patterns of my childhood abuse.

Making and Maintaining Connection

(Apologies this post is long but it was the best session I’ve ever had with Linda and actually may be one of the most profoundly impactful sessions I’ve ever had so I wanted to write as much of it down as possible).

I told Linda that I was feeling good today but that the past few days had been very very hard and although I’m feeling fine today, it would be a good idea to explore what the past few days have been about. I said that I wasn’t even sure why I felt so different today but that it happens quite a lot, feeling awful for a day or a few days and then feeling fine on session day. She asked if I had an idea of why that might happen and I said, ‘It might be a protective thing, avoiding going to the very painful place. So like I can feel my heart pounding right now as I say this as if my mind is saying ‘talk about this’ and my body is saying ‘don’t go near this’ you know?’ She said she totally understood. Then I said, ‘or it could be that I feel okay today because it’s session day, so I know I’m going to be able to connect with someone who gets it… it could be both of those things… or neither!’ I laughed and she laughed and said, ‘yeah I know exactly what you mean Lucy, if we focus on the present moment we could talk about how you’re feeling fine today but then you’d be missing what happened the past few days. Hmmm… so you feel like focusing on the past few days?’ I said, ‘yeah but it’s like talking about a different person, it’s really hard to connect to what was going on for me… especially yesterday I can barely remember what it was like.’ Linda said, ‘okay, would it help if we just go over what you do remember and build on it from there?’ I agreed.

Linda said, ‘so on Wednesday we were talking about Adam and the emotional labour you were putting into the relationship and we talked about Anna…’ I said, ‘so after our session I was in a really dark place, very very sad… lots of crying and just feeling all the grief. I guess I thought I was feeling better about Anna and then it reminded me about all of the pain and the fact that she’s really gone… so yeah the stuff about Adam is really so important to me and I wanted to try to inject what we had been working on into my real life… so I had a couple of big conversations with Adam. We went for a walk and I said to Adam that what happened with Anna was the hardest thing that has ever happened to me, I feel like a broken record coz I’ve said that so many times to you but I haven’t said it to him. I told him that I felt as if this really hard thing happened and he wasn’t in my support toolbox, like he just wasn’t there, but I explained that it’s not really his fault or mine it’s just the way the relationship has developed… I just don’t know how to ask for support and actually don’t even want it, it makes my skin crawl to imagine him being there for me I feel really disgusting and sick to think about being vulnerable with him…’ Linda asked me if I knew what that feeling was about and I said, ‘the thing is Adams a really lovely guy, he’s so so lovely, this isn’t about him but I just can’t figure out what it is about, it’s something psychological, maybe I’m transferring or projecting stuff about my mum onto him I don’t know…’ I continued to explain the conversation, I said, ‘thing is, you know we can never really fully get into things because our conversations are always sandwiched in between the kids interrupting us so we were on a walk and the kids were running off exploring the woods and we’d squeeze in a bit of the chat then one of them would run back to us so the conversation would be put on hold… but anyway, he said to me that he just hoped that Anna would change his mind and come back to me and I was like ‘you and me both mate but it doesn’t look like that’s happening but what is happening right now is that I’m living with this grief and you’re not seeing it.’ I told Adam that I find it really hard to open up to him and he told me he understands that my feelings run deep and that it takes me a while to process things…’ Linda said, ‘what is the fear, Lucy? What is the fear that comes up for you when you imagine being vulnerable with Adam?’ she said I didn’t need to answer if I didn’t want to. That’s something that Anna used to say to me, that there was no pressure to answer them. It really appeals to my avoidant parts, that there’s no pressure and that they’re not violating my privacy. Anyway, I was struggling to find an answer and I repeated under my breath, ‘what am I afraid of?’ I eventually wondered out loud that maybe if I let him see the real me then he will hate me and leave me but then I said ,’but that doesn’t feel exactly right…’ I said, ‘I just remember how overtly emotional my mum was, like hysterical at times…’ Linda was nodding enthusiastically and I continued, ‘and I just remember the pressure to try to make her happy and be there for her, support her… all of my childhood memories are consumed by her Linda, whenever I think about anything it’s as if there’s this giant cardboard cut out of her in front of every memory and whenever I talked about anything as a kid she would tell me something about her life, if I talked about a friend she would talk about one of her friends, if I talked about something I was learning at school she would talk about something she was learning about at school, so my memories became so enmeshed with her memories and there are points where I don’t even know what are my memories and what are hers…’ Linda encouraged me to say more about that and I said, ‘so it feels like I’m scared that if I am vulnerable with Adam, I’ll be being just like her, but I know I’m not like her,’ Linda said, ‘no, you’re nothing like her,’ and I said, ‘but it feels like I’m standing on a cliff edge and if I start to cry I’ll be taking one tiny step forwards but I will plunge into the depths of hysteria and there’s no way back and I’ll be just like her.’

I then started talking about what was going on for me yesterday. I said, ‘I was just so separate and disconnected from them yesterday and these horrible feelings that I hate… I just didn’t want to be around them, the kids and Adam… I mean I must have said a maximum of 50 words all day, out loud. I was just very much in my head all day. I spent a few hours up here, I slept a bit. I sat in the garden listening to music on my headphones. I stayed away from them.’ Linda asked me what I had needed and I told her in needed to be by myself. I said, ‘thing is, I didn’t feel like I do now, it’s hard to even put into words how I felt yesterday, just so empty and like I didn’t want to have to talk to them or do anything, I couldn’t do anything and I feel so awful about that because I’m not being a good mum when I’m like that, it’s like I’m not even there. And that’s not what I want to be, but I don’t feel like I have a choice it’s not a conscious decision to go offline it just happens.

I remember, I mean I’ve had this happen before, this mood or whatever you call it. It comes along every so often and it happened twice in session, this part of me showed up in session with Anna. It was a very stark marked difference to my other sessions. I was very moody and irritable and angry and couldn’t look at her, couldn’t make eye contact and had myself curled up in a ball on my chair and I remember saying to Anna how tight and coiled up I felt and she asked me what it would be like to relax my legs and body and put my feet on the floor and I refused to do it and snapped at her that I didn’t want to. She had smiled and laughed. Later when I was reflecting on it with her I told her I felt teenagery and she had said, ‘yeah I got that’…’ Linda smiled and nodded. She said, ‘so this part that was around for you yesterday, do you know what age you were feeling?’ I said, ‘Fourteen.’ Straight away. Then continued, ‘yeah I got that feeling very strongly towards the evening as I started to feel a bit more like me again, that Fourteen was around, the thoughts of feeling like they would be better off without me and that I should just kill myself, the self harm urges… Anna always said to me to remember the things I can do with the energy when those urges surface – I can draw or write or walk or go out in nature or listen to music or talk to a friend, if the urge to cut is there, so I drew. And what I drew was very teenagery.’ Linda said, ‘and, this might just be me so tell me if it doesn’t resonate but I wonder if, I wonder… does that part know how to parent herself?’ I said, ‘no! exactly, and she doesn’t want to parent these kids either, she isn’t a parent or a wife…’ Linda said, ‘she really needs to be parented doesn’t she.’ I started to feel a lump in my throat and the tears were welling up. I noticed a split second tightening, a ‘don’t cry’ and then I relaxed and let the feelings happen. Through tears I said, ‘yeah she needs a parent and I know that I’m meant to be able to do that for myself but when I’m in that space I just cant do it, I don’t have a connection to this part of me that can mother. Linda said, ‘so would it be fair to say when you are in that space, there is no connection between the different parts? A complete disconnect?’ I said, ‘yeah. Its like… well if I think about the analogies I’ve shared before… well there’s the corridor with the doors… but there’s another analogy that I’ve used before with Anna, so it’s like I’m a bus and different parts of me drive the bus and then everyone else is just along for the ride. So yesterday Fourteen had taken the wheel and no one else has a say, you now?’ Linda was really looking right at me and nodding a lot and she said, ‘and there’s no warning, there’s no discussion about who takes the wheel it just happens!’ and I was like, wow she fucking gets it! I was staring out the window and then Linda said, ‘Lucy, what’s happening for you right now?’ and I was like, ‘uhhhhmmmm…. uh… I guess I’m feeling a bit spacey.’ And she said, ‘okay yes, hmmm… are there any parts around for you today?’ I was so grateful to her for asking. I told her that I felt fuzzy and that maybe because we were talking about her, Fourteen was around.

Then someone knocked on the front door and I had to leap off the bed and run downstairs and answer it because Adam and the kids were out at the park and I was waiting for a deliver. When I got back Linda asked if everything was okay and I explained. My heart was pounding and I had to calm myself a bit. I said I couldn’t remember what I was talking about and she said, ‘the parts that are around just now.’ I said, ‘when I’m in the space I was in yesterday, I take myself away from Adam and the kids because there isn’t a single part of me that wants to engage with them, you know? There are these feelings of like ‘god get away from me, it’s always about you and your needs’ when I’m in that mood and with the kids and I hate feeling like that, they’re my kids for god sake! But when I’m in that space they don’t feel like my kids and he doesn’t feel like my husband, they’re just these people I have to live with and I hate it I want them all to go away.’ Linda said, ‘so, yeah, that makes a lot of sense, so you’re feeling what, is it resentful or the kids? Resentful and begrudging..?’ I said, ‘I think it’s jealousy.’ she said, in the most compassionate tone, ‘jealousy.’ And I felt my heart breaking. I said, ‘you know, I really want to do what’s right for the kids and I work so hard at it, so when I’m feeling that horrible numb spacey way, disconnected, I go into robotic mode. Anna and I worked a lot on this in the early days because I didn’t know how to play with the kids. You have to be so present with children, they demand it of you… but being present with them just totally broke my heart so I would play with them but I’d dissociate and go through the motions in a really robotic way so I could get through playing with them without it hurting. So Anna encouraged me to do it a bit at a time, really slowly drip feeding… and I would play for a little and be present and then I’d have to leave the room because I’d burst into tears.’ I started to cry while I was talking and said, ‘I don’t remember ever playing, as a kid… I don’t remember the carefree joy that I see in my kids, and I want them to be carefree, I want them to be joyous… but there’s this painful longing and jealousy, so I shut off to it all.’

Linda said, ‘could you let them hug you, when you’re feeling like that?’ I said, ‘the kids?’ and she nodded and said ‘uhu’ and I felt myself snap into the teen feelings and said angrily, ‘no, fucking hell no, I could never let them do that…’ she said, ‘why not?’ and I said, ‘because I remember what that feels like and I never want to make them feel like that,’ I started sobbing, head down with my hands over my face. Linda made a sound that felt like complete attunement and said, ‘oh Lucy… you are not your mum. You are not your mum.’ I said, ‘If I cry like this with them and make them comfort me than I would be just like her, I never want to make them feel responsible for my feelings.’ I cried for a couple of minutes. I can’t explain just how miraculous it feels to me that I am actually crying in a session with a therapist I have never even sat in the same room as. Considering how hard it has always been for me to cry. When I first started therapy with Paul I never cried. Then when I started with Anna I cried but always silently and always by myself, shrouded in shame. Now I am actually crying while someone is watching me on a computer screen and she can hear me crying through the microphone which is right by my mouth going right into her ears… all of this crosses my mind fleetingly as it’s happening. I eventually calmed down and complained about the fact that today of all days I decided to wear mascara that is not waterproof. I said, ‘When Adam hugs me I completely numb out, I just can’t let myself feel any of it. I leave myself. I want to feel it but I can’t. I so strongly feel that I don’t want to cross the line and be too demanding, too emotional, too needy… so I shut it all down and be nothing. And… god it’s the last thing I want. I’m so desperate to be nothing like my mother that I…’ I started crying again, ‘I’m so frightened of fucking up my kids that I create this distance between us, in case I pollute them or something just by being near me, just by knowing me, I’m so determined to not fuck them up when that’s actually what I am doing… by creating so much space between us I am hurting them. I imagine when the kids look back on their memories of this time they’ll barely even remember me being here.’ At this point I was sobbing into tissue and I’d taken my right ear piece out so the microphone wasn’t right by my sniffing nose. She was saying things like, ‘they want to know you, Lucy. They want to be close to their mummy. They want to know who their mummy is.’ While still crying I looked up and said, ‘I don’t even know who I am.’ She had this agonisingly compassionate expression on her face and the sympathetic lips pressed together smile she does where her eyebrows go up in the middle. She said, ‘oh Lucy, you do know yourself… I think after 7 years of therapy you know yourself very very well.’ On reflection now I’m thinking that parts of me are known well, some parts are unexplored. I think maybe that’s what I was meaning.

I said, ‘I’ve really failed them, Linda, I’ve really neglected them…’ Linda said, ‘Lucy, I do want to remind you that the past few months have been anything but normal, the past few months have been very hard… all being together for such an intense and long period of time.’ I said, ‘it really has been so hard. But I just feel like if I look back on this time in a few years or like say when Reuben’s going to high school I’ll look back at this time and think, ‘what a fucking waste of time that you will never get back, you had months with those kids and what did you do, you obsessed about some fucking therapist that you weren’t even working with any more and you moped about depressed ignoring everyone!? You know?’ Linda said, ‘hmmm… firstly, that’s very unkind Lucy, a very unkind thing to say to yourself…’ I started to well up, again. She continued, ‘and secondly, you have never experienced anything like this before, you have been surviving any way you can.’ I said, ‘I have spent so much of the past few months shutting myself away from the kids, I’m going to look back and really regret that I didn’t make the most of this time we have. I hear how some of my friends have talked about this time in lockdown, they talked about how it’s been such an amazing gift to have all this time together.’ Linda said, ‘this may be my shit, my cynical part but when I hear people talking like that I just think, ‘aye right… really? Loved every minute of this have you?’ haha.’ I said, ‘My friend Chloe, she left teaching a few years ago to be a stay at home mum and she’s been talking about how much fun she’s had with her kids, she’s been doing loads of home baking, she’s made home cooked meals every day, she’s done crafts with the kids every day and just loving every minute of her time with them. They’ll look back on this time as the happiest memories.’ Linda said, ‘she isn’t going through what you’re going through though. Is she having to fight through what you are? Is she in therapy?’ I shook my head and stared out the window. There was some quiet and then Linda asked me what had come up for me in that moment. I said, ‘I think… it’s not fair…’ I started to cry again… ‘it’s not fair that I have to fight this battle before I even consider doing normal parenting things. I do all the stuff Chloe does but I do it very sporadically, I do crafts, I bake, I make home cooked meals but it’s every so often not every day… it’s not fair that I’ve had all of this to deal with it makes life so much harder.’ Linda was really empathetic and said, ‘it really is not fair and it makes sense that every day things are so much harder for you because you are having to deal with therapy and losing Anna and everything else you’re dealing with. Lucy, you are using this comparison to shame and hurt yourself, you are weaponizing the comparison, aren’t you?’ I said it was true and told her that I felt very strongly that that’s the type of mum I want to be but I just can’t do it.

There was a moment of quiet and then Linda said, ‘I want to make an observation but this may not be the right time, can you let me know if this doesn’t land for you, is that okay?’ I said it was and she said, ‘all of this… it’s about connection, for you. It is all feeling connected and staying connected.’ I looked at her and looked away and said, ‘it hurts to be connected to people, it makes me connect to myself and that’s painful…’ I started to cry and through the tears, while not looking at her I said, ‘this is mortifying.’ There was a moment of me quietly crying and her not talking then she said, ‘why are you mortified, Lucy?’ I said, ‘crying in front of you.’ Linda said, ‘you’ve cried with me before.’ I said, ‘but not about this stuff, not like this… crying about Anna is different to crying about me.’ Linda said, ‘I know.’ I cried some more and Linda gently said, ‘I see you Lucy. I see you crying and I’m staying with you, I’m still connected to you.’ That felt so fucking powerful, it was amazing. I whispered, ‘thank you,’ and then drifted back to looking out the window. Linda asked what was going on for me and I told her I felt spacey. I then quite quickly said, ‘there must be something glaringly obvious about me that you therapists can spot, you are noticing it… Paul and Anna and you all have pointed it out to me, that connection is a big thing for me, Anna used to come back to it repeatedly in sessions and she would ask me how the connection felt, she’d say ‘do you feel me in the room with you, how does the connection feel…’ you know?’ Linda was kind of wide eyed and looking intrigued and I said, ‘I mean I guess you guys sit with so many different people so it must be really obvious to you when someone has a particular pattern so for me it’s connection…’ I felt energised and focused and Linda said very directly, ‘You’re moved into your head, Lucy. I just want to bring your awareness to that. There was a very obvious shift there, you’ve moved into your head. Is it okay that I’m pointing that out to you? I just noticed it very acutely, you disconnected in that moment and moved into your head.’ I wasn’t expecting her to say that and I felt myself searching her face. Eventually I said, ‘it’s the shame… the shame pushes me to disconnect. All the emotions feel overwhelming but shame is unbearable.’ Linda asked me what I was ashamed about and I said, ‘…how difficult is it to stay connected to people? What kind of weirdo can’t stay connected to themselves or others? I’m ashamed that I’m so broken.’ And the tears came again. Linda met my critical voice with compassion and then said, ‘I just want to go back to something you were talking about earlier. I’m going to ask you something but feel free to bat it out the court if it doesn’t sit right… is that okay?’ I nodded and she asked, ‘when you were in the woods with Adam, and you guys were talking, what did you need from him?’ This has got to be the hardest question ever in therapy… what do I need. It’s still so hard despite being asked to analyse and dive into this question many times over the years. I said, ‘When I’m feeling like that, really low, my gut reaction is to always ask for space. To ask Adam to take the kids and give me peace.’ Linda was nodding, it was the sort of ‘keep going’ type nodding. I said, ‘but it’s almost like, it’s like I’m repeating a pattern or something when I do that because then I get further into the isolation. Like I’m saying, ‘I’m in this awful mood and it’s unbearable and I’m too much for everyone and you all need to leave me along… or I need to be on my own…’ like a punishment or…?’ Linda said, ‘so your gut instinct is to ask for space but what do you think you really need?’ I said, ‘for him to be there for me? To be with me? To not be on my own?’ Linda said, ‘and what is the fear, if you were to ask him for help, what might happen?’ I said, ‘that he wont get it, he wont attune to me, he wont know how bad it feels for me or it will get too much for him and he’ll send me away to be by myself…’ Linda said, ‘just like when you were little and you were too much and they’d send you to your room to be by yourself. You’re frightened that Adam will send you to your room, punish you for feeling.’ At this point I cried so hard, like it was pouring out of the centre of my chest. Linda quietly said, ‘I’m here Lucy.’ Which felt painful and beautiful. Like being hugged through a screen… by a person doesn’t do hugs! I could really feel her support. After I calmed down I said, ‘so when I feel down, I punish myself by sending myself to my room to be alone, preempting that I will be sent away into isolation if I reach out for help. I reject myself before anyone else can reject me.’ Linda was nodding.

At some point when I was talking about being afraid to let the kids know me, Linda said, ‘my dad died twenty years ago, I don’t have any memories of him. I didn’t like him very much but that’s another story entirely but my point is, it doesn’t have to be one thing or the other, there is a grey area, the kids don’t have to know all of you or none of you, they can know parts of you, bits and pieces.’ I didn’t really understand what she meant by the comparison to her dad but I do agree with her on the binary thinking trap that I keep falling into. I’m so scared to be so extremely like my mum where she had no filter and was overpowering with her presence that I am diluting myself to the extreme so as to almost white wash myself out of their memories. But I can be somewhere in the middle.

I can’t remember how we got onto this but I said, ‘there’s something so heartbreaking about kids and how they have no inhibitions, no self consciousness… the other day a memory popped up on facebook from two years ago when we were fruit picking and Reuben was 2 yeas old. He’s in the background of the photo, totally oblivious to the fact that anyone can see him. I’m taking a photo of Grace who is smiling for the camera and he’s on his tiptoes in the background reaching a berry high up. I could cry my eyes out at that photo… the fact that he is just very present and he’s focused solely on picking that fruit… I don’t even know how to describe it.’ Linda was smiling and nodding and said she knew exactly what I meant and so I continued, ‘my kids love stripping down to their pants and dancing round the livingroom to music and they have absolutely no self awareness or self consciousness at all, they just enjoy the music and like bask in this safe, innocent, joyful loving environment, you know? They’re thriving. And I want them to thrive. I want them to be innocent and joyful and it’s so beautiful but it makes me ache inside. I don’t remember ever being like that, so carefree. I always knew, even when I was tiny, that I needed to be careful how I behaved around mum, that I shouldn’t be naked around her, I should look a certain way. I was always thinking about what I needed to behave like for her to not be mean to me… but I guess that can be saved for another time!’ I’d noticed we had 2 minutes to go. Linda smiled and said it was nice to hear about the kids and also that she understood what I was sharing about my childhood.

Linda said, ‘How are you feeling now? Do you feel connected?’ I said, ‘to you or to myself?’ and she said, ‘hmmm… both!’ and I thought, I looked at her and checked in with myself and said, ‘yeah, actually I do feel connected, I feel okay!’ we smiled at each other and I said, ‘thank you so much for this Linda, I’ve never been able to do that before, I’ve never talked and cried about my childhood like this, this has been really powerful, making the connections between…’ I interrupted myself and laughed and said, ‘well I don’t need to precise the session in the last twenty seconds… it was all really useful and important and I’m really glad this is what we talked about today.’ She did a sort of laugh smile and said, ‘you’re welcome, I’m really glad. It did feel very important and I feel connected to you too.’

I have felt so good since the video call ended. Emotional but also kind of euphoric. I feel hopeful and like we’re on the right track. I really felt like Linda was confident in the way she navigated me through this session. It felt deeply connecting. I am so grateful to her for tuning in so specifically to the parts work, to Fourteen. I’m also astounded at how I was able to move into the emotions and stay with them. I never ever thought it was possible for me to cry in front of someone like this, let alone cry about my childhood and to connect so deeply to the pain of it. And to be able to do this on a video call with a therapist I didn’t choose to work with and have never met in person. I am just so grateful that this work is working. So profoundly grateful to Linda and to myself for sticking at this when really all I wanted to do at times was give up and walk away from it all.

This afternoon has been such a joy. I have felt so much more connected to Adam. We played with the kids for a couple of hours in the garden and they both had fun on their roller skates. We listened to music and danced around a bit and I felt comfortable and safe with them all. We cooked dinner together and ate it as a family and laughed and chatted. I spent a few minutes looking around the table and really soaking it all up, taking it all in. I thought to myself, ‘they want me to be here, they want to know their mummy… I feel connected to them and it feels safe and I feel full of love.’

Anger Builds a Wall

Barra Cottage – Ron Lawson

I slept in. Massively! It was just after 11am when Adam came in with coffee and opened the curtains. Let the sun stream in. It’s beyond a joke, I don’t know what the hell is going on with me and sleep right now. Since Anna stopped working with me my will to be routined and disciplined has just disintegrated. I stay up until sometimes 3am and then sleep poorly and then can’t wake up when the kids get up (which is usually 7am). It’s so unlike me. I’ve been reflecting on what is up with me. I’m not depressed… I’ve thought a lot about it. Depression and grief masquerade as the same thing… similar symptoms. Makes you wonder if depression is just unprocessed grief. I need to talk to Linda about this but I’m certain it’s grief mixed with needing time by myself (hence staying up late when everyone’s asleep) and then a reluctance to spend time with Adam and the kids (hence sleeping in). To be honest this is completely bizarre for me. The only time I remember being like this was when I was a teenager. I tried so hard at the start of this pandemic to be Superhuman and I think I burned myself out. ‘Lockdown fatigue’ Linda called it… but all my adult life I’ve worked so hard at making sure everyone is okay and especially in recent years working harder than ever trying to do everything perfectly for the kids and then I guess I just hit a brick wall. Losing Anna was like losing my lifeline and I just collapsed. I couldn’t do any of it for anyone anymore. And now I’m doing none of it. I feel like I’m barely making any effort with anyone or anything. I’m not eating properly, not doing any of the good things I know I should be doing. It’s so hard.

The session was at 12 noon. I told Linda I’d only been awake for an hour. We made some chit chat about it being cold for July and I had a cardi on that she pointed out and she told me she’d turned the heating on… the usual Scottish weather banter. Then she asked how I’d been since the last session. I said I could remember the jist of what we’d talked about but not the details. I told her that my birthday had been the best I’d ever had and explained what had happened. One of the things I told her which I haven’t journaled about yet is the conversation I had with Adam a few weeks ago. I told him that I wanted him to involve the kids in choosing and buying me birthday presents because it’s a lovely thing for the kids to experience. I told Linda that he doesn’t really do presents, hadn’t ever really got me anything for my birthday before and she was like, ‘woahhh what? What do you mean he doesn’t do presents?’ I said, ‘well I think I’ve always just told him that I can buy myself anything I want and to not bother… I think he’s probably worried he’d get me a shit gift.’ Linda said, ‘what exactly is a shit gift?’ I thought for a bit then said, ‘a present that shows you don’t know the person at all.’ She nodded and I explained, ‘a few weeks ago Adam asked me if I wanted him to get me something or do something for my birthday and I said that actually I did want that. He asked me what I wanted and I told him that what I really wanted was for him to choose something. He said he was really struggling with that and asked me for help. I asked him to tell me three things he knows about me and he said, ‘you’re my wife, you’re a mum and you’re a teacher’ and I was so disappointed and angry, I was like ‘those are just roles I play in my life they’re not who I am!!!’ Eventually I coaxed it out of him, coached him through realising some things about me… that I love astrology, the moon, crystals, beautiful crafts, drawing, psychology, aromatherapy, illustration, make up. Anyway, even after that conversation a week later he asked me to go over it again with him and I refused, I told him to think about it.’ Linda was listening and smiling occasionally. I continued, ‘So then comes my birthday and you know he really pulled it off! He tried very very hard. He painted a beautiful painting for me that’s a copy of a painting I love of a little white cottage on a Scottish Island. He gave me a crystal and some aromatherapy oils and a phone cover with the moon cycle on it and made my favourite meals on my birthday… so yeah he really did try. He asked, he listened and he tried. But of course there’s the part of me that’s annoyed that after 19 years I have to do any of that at all. But maybe I haven’t been forthcoming enough. I’m very self protective and closed off.’ We talked a lot about that and Linda said she was glad my birthday was so lovely. I told her that I really believe that by allowing myself to feel all the grief I’ve been able to let all the other feelings be felt. That I really felt loved on my birthday. She was so pleased to hear that.

We talked about other things that escape me right now. I told her that Adam didn’t really understand my grief and that he would say things to me that made me realise he didn’t get it, which hurts and makes me feel like he doesn’t love me. Linda asked if I keep myself from reaching out to him because I don’t want him to fail and I said, ‘yes, because failing means he hasn’t tried, which means he doesn’t really care.’ I told her that I tried to explain to Adam that Anna leaving is worse than if my mum had died because she was such a powerful force of good in my life and I saw her so often and loved her so much… that losing my mum would be no real loss. Linda said, ‘I remember you saying that to me and it really stayed with me, I really felt it and I know it’s true, I hear you.’ At one point I said, ‘I miss her so much still Linda, I think about her every day. She’s still the first thing I think about when I wake up and I think about her before I fall asleep and you know she’s everywhere. I scroll down my messages a bit and there is her thread of texts and if I look at my calls list, 19th of May there’s her name, the last time she’ll ever call me… and when I pay for my sessions with you on my digital banking, her name is there in the list of payees… there she is. I carry her with me all the time, and not in a morbid way either, she’s this ‘what would Anna say’ idea in my mind, this voice or sense of support inside me… there’s good along with the grief.’ Linda was smiling and nodding and agreeing. I could feel her supporting me and that she understood but she didn’t take me deeper into the feelings.

She asked specifically about how I was after the last session and I said it triggered a big conversation with Adam about me and the emotional labour I feel I am doing. She asked what would happen with Adam and what would it feel like for me if I just stopped carrying all the emotional labour. I said it would be like watching a car crash happen and she reacted in a really massive way saying things like, ‘Oh my god Lucy, a car crash!!’ I said, ‘wow the way you’ve reacted makes me feel like that analogy was a bit much,’ she said, ‘well it’s really a very powerful analogy,’ I said, ‘well let me think of a better one… it’s slower than a car crash, maybe it’s like watching someone drown… slowly… why would you watch someone drown when you know you can help them?’ I told Linda about the time I walked in on Adam preparing his work clothes for the next day and how he jokingly tied a noose round his neck with his belt and how I had pleaded with him to never joke about that. It sparked a very serious conversation about how he had in fact considered taking his life at points, mostly when Grace was a baby. I said to Linda, ‘I know I’m not responsible for his healing and his mental health but I love him and don’t want to lose him, or leave him behind.’ She recalled the analogy of me running ahead and him staying standing still. As I’m typing this I had a thought… I don’t want to leave him behind, do I really need to move so fast? What am I running from? I know that I think I’m running towards some sort of ‘healing goal’… but what am I running from? Surely I’d rather get to the ‘finish line’ later but with him, rather than sooner but without him?

I told her that everything has changed since Anna left. That everything was fine before. I said, ‘my relationship with Adam was really great before,’ she said, ‘and how do you gauge that, Lucy? How do you gauge that your relationship was so much better before?’ I said, ‘hmmm… how do I gauge it? Well… I mean the first thing that comes to mind is uh… how much is too much information?’ she didn’t respond so I said, ‘right well… I mean… how do I gauge that my relationship was great before… a lot of really great sex… to be honest… all the time, every day usually… really great sex. And uh… then that all just stopped.’ Linda said, ‘okay so what is it like now?’ I said, ‘I don’t want it now, it’s like… what happened with Anna was the most painful thing that’s ever happened to me as an adult and he was completely absent from my care circle, you know? He just didn’t know how to support me and I mean, he would have done whatever I asked him to do but I just didn’t have it in me to coach him through that! I was in the worst pain I didn’t then want to have to teach him how to help me… so a wall grew between us.’ Linda said, ‘yeah and we’ve talked about your anger, anger is a great wall, it gets in the way of things, when you’re angry with him you’re obviously not going to want to have sex with him.’ I said, ‘the sex was the best part of our relationship. I’m really not great with emotional intimacy but I can do physical intimacy. We’re really great together. Going from having a lot of physical loving and affection and lots of sex to nothing for so long, well I mean I think we’ve had sex three times in the past 7 weeks which is a marked difference you know. Now h’s saying things like, ‘do you still love me, are you still attracted to me, don’t you fancy me anymore… which is driving me nuts! And the week Anna dieeee… ooh my god that was a Freudian slip!’ Linda said, ‘oooh wow yes!’ and I said, ‘it really was like she died though!’ and Linda said, ‘yes I know, one minute she’s there and then she just vanished, gone.’ We sat with that for a minute then I said, ‘When she called and finished with me, I didn’t want to do anything that brought me back to my body, I was in this fog… and then I was on the meds, the Diazepam killed my sex drive I think and the propranolol made it really hard to eh… to climax… so it was just this foggy, loveless, joyless mess… and then I just shut off to it, pushed him away… there was no desire in me to be physically close to him… then when it was my birthday we did end up doing it coz I think I just didn’t want to fight it anymore. But I didn’t want to do it. And I felt gross and yuck… I hated myself for having sex with him when i didn’t want to because it just, it’s horrible. I hate feeling like this but I don’t know how to move past it. How can I move past this?’ Linda said, ‘hmmm I guess it’s about drawing your attention to the anger, which you are doing, and talking about it, and working with that… that’s what is standing in your way, that’s the wall between you and Adam.’ We talked a bit more about that. I said I felt really embarrassed and that it was cringey to talk about this.

Then she said, ‘what has happened in the past when you’ve been emotionally vulnerable with Adam, when you’ve cried with him?’ I said, ‘I haven’t really… I mean I’ve been upset about certain things like when our cats died or when a relative died but I’ve not gone to him for support in those moments I just dealt with it myself or went to Anna. That’s not true I have cried with him in the dark, silently… I imagine you have a very different view of me because I seemingly have easily opened up to you and cried with you but that’s not what I’ve ever been like before.’ She said, ‘I know, you made a conscious decision to feel it in our sessions and express it and be open with me, I know that, and it’s helped you grieve and process. What would happen if you did go to him?’ I said, ‘I don’t think he’d do or say what I need… he doesn’t know how.’

At some point I said, ‘I just wish it would all go back to the way it was before.’ She said, ‘hmmm, yeah, and sadly it can’t go back to the way it was before, but what we can do is keep moving forwards, things can change and the future can be different to how it feels now, can’t it?’ I nodded slowly and looked out the window. She asked how I was feeling in this moment and I couldn’t really think, I felt a bit spacey. I told her I was sad and embarrassed. I said, ‘I’m so ashamed and I hate this part of me and I think about all the stuff I’ve read about narcissists and how they withhold love and sex to punish their partners and I don’t want to be like that I don’t want to be like her at all I don’t want to be like my mum but then I think I’m not doing it to punish him I’m doing it because I need to protect myself.’ Linda said, ‘I think the key is to bring awareness to that, yeah? To just bring awareness to it. I know a part of you thinks you might be like your mum and you absolutely don’t want to be like her. And I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, you are not your mum Lucy, yeah? You are not your mum. I know you are frightened that you might be like her but you are not.’ She did this really beautiful warm smile she sometimes does that really feels very caring. It was nice.

There was a bit of quiet at the end and I said I felt overwhelmed. I said, ‘this is all a lot.’ She said, ‘and I’ve noticed that today, just like on Saturday, you stuck with one subject, you didn’t jump around from one subject to another, you’ve stayed with Adam and Anna. I wonder if that’s why you’re really feeling it today.’ I said that was an interesting observation. I felt very floaty. It was 12.50 and she asked me what I was doing this weekend. I talked about the kids for a minute then we ended the video call. Oh and as we were ending the call I thanked her as I always do, except I started to call her Anna! I said, ‘okay, thanks AaaaI’ll see you Wednesday…’ She may have noticed… it was fairly noticeable! I was so embarrassed. The whole things was very overwhelming and just too much for me.

I’ve spent the afternoon typing and crying and looking at Anna’s texts and emails. I just can’t believe she’s really gone from my life. I didn’t even know this grief was around for me today but it has been massively present. There aren’t the words to adequately express how painful and how lacking any power I feel. I am not allowed to talk to her any more. I can’t reach out to her. She is still alive yet she is dead to my life. It’s hit me like a train again today. I ache and long for her. I really need a cuddle from her so much. I find myself fantasising about her texting me telling me she’s suddenly fine and is starting up her practice again. I just can’t believe she’s gone.

Birthday Reflections

Crossroads, Intentions and Schemas

I’m at some sort of therapeutic cross roads right now. Who knows what is further down the road for me. I don’t know if Linda will be right for me long term… this has caused a huge amount of heart ache and uncertainty over the past couple of months, on top of the grief I’ve been going through, but I realised more recently that there really isn’t a desperate need to make any urgent decisions about that. I know that working with her right now is what I need to do. And I think that’s one of the most powerful things I’ve learned through all of this… that we really don’t know what is going to happen in the future, tomorrow or in years to come, but we have this moment right now. That’s all we have. So, in this moment, I need Linda and I’m grateful I have her.

It’s been 7 weeks since Anna called me to end our work and every single day of those 7 weeks I have woken up thinking about her and gone to sleep thinking about her. She is everywhere, all day. But not always in a painful way. Quite often she accompanies me in moments where I need encouragement or a sense of safety. She coaches me from the sidelines in my mind. I don’t remember her and feel the loss and abandonment, I remember her and feel her love. She broke my heart wide open when she left and in doing so she let me experience everything. All the feelings. I gave myself permission to experience and become absorbed in the uncensored and all consuming expression of grief as a way of loving her from a distance. In doing this I have learned something I never would have discovered had she not gone. That to feel anything, we have to feel everything. I wholeheartedly believe this to be true. I have read and been told that you can’t numb one feeling or ‘just the bad feelings’ – if you numb them then you numb them all. The minute I decided to feel the grief, though it felt like it might kill me, it awakened me to the love.

This ‘crossroads’ which isn’t really a crossroads, it’s more of a change or a side step or a new fork in the road… whatever it is, it has made me reflect and in doing so I’ve revisited some of my old session notes. My friend reminded me how important it is to look back, to draw parallels and build self awareness which can help with feelings of stuckness in therapy. It’s like we’re staring at a wall so long we can’t even see the room we’re in anymore, we have to turn around and view things from all sorts of different angles… I’ve been thinking about my journey and what my life looks like now – what progress have I made, what more do I want to focus on, what keeps coming up for me, what am I avoiding?

I remember being so fascinated when Paul presented me with the results to my Schema questionnaire back in 2013. It was the first step towards knowing myself on a deeper level and realising that the way I was made sense and was a familiar pattern for people who had similar experiences to me. It was a major catalyst in what would be a long lasting hunger to learn and understand the psychology behind childhood trauma and it’s impacts.

I’ve been thinking quite a lot about intention. The fact that if we want change there needs to be a deep realisation that something HAS to change, then the intention to make the changes, then I guess maybe the courage to ask for help, trust that the help will in fact be available… then we have to take the leap. We have to make the step outside the comfort zone, we have to MAKE THE CHANGE. This has been going round and round in my mind for a while now, this idea of making the change. Not doing the same thing I’ve always done. I did that with Linda and it has made so much difference to how the therapy feels. I decided from the first session to drop my guard because if I was going to get anything out of our sessions I needed to come to them uncensored and lacking all defences. Anna would call them the games people play being a Transactional Analysist. The way I approached therapy with both Paul and Anna with fear and the assumption I would be hurt and shamed. With Linda I feel like I marched into the early sessions with no intention of absorbing any shame, I just wanted to talk openly about how I was feeling and I trusted that I’d be able to ensure my own safety and get my needs met.

Along the lines of thinking about schemas, I’m reflecting on how my birthday felt yesterday. It was distinctly different to any other birthday and I think the biggest shift has been in noticing my repeating patterns and making a conscious decision to choose a different route. Birthdays were always very disappointing for me as a child and quite often filled with guilt, shame and loneliness. I learned that I was a burden and that I didn’t deserve to have what I wanted or even ask for anything. I must make myself small and not have needs. In my twenties I partied and drank my way through my birthdays with various nights out and house parties that were a lot of fun but always ended with me feeling very empty or desperately grief stricken… lots of drunk crying. In my thirties birthdays have been quieter yet still disappointing. Under the guise of being focused on my children.

The past two years I worked on birthdays with Anna and she helped me see the patterns. One cycle I was repeating was based around the belief that I am not worthy of attention or love. That I must not ask for anything or have needs. Just as I was taught as a child. I would proclaim that I didn’t want a fuss and tell people not to get me anything then I would end up disappointed with the empty non event that my birthday would be. Martyrdom. As a result I’d feel guilty for feeling disappointed when actually it was what I asked for in the first place. People aren’t psychic. We can’t expect them to guess what we really mean. I was repeating the abuse I’d experienced because it felt comfortable. It confirmed my core belief that I am not worthy of positive attention, that people feel burdened by me and that in order to be lovable I must never ask for anything and never expect anything. This year I committed to making the changes that Anna instigated. I had honest conversations with the people close to me about what would make me happy. Then I made a conscious decision to let the love in. To let people attend to me. To receive with open gratitude. And to connect with any inner children that were present. I did just that and I had the best birthday I’ve ever had. I’ll share some of the notes I wrote to my inner children in another post. But I want to explore the schemas more here just now.

“There are 18 Early Maladaptive Schemas which are core themes that we repeat through our lives. The most basic concept in Schema Therapy is an Early Maladaptive Schema – “broad, pervasive themes regarding oneself and one’s relationship with others, developed during childhood and elaborated throughout one’s lifetime, and dysfunctional to a significant degree.”

Early Maladaptive Schemas began with something that was done to us by our families or by other children, which damaged us in some way. We might have been abandoned, criticized, overprotected, emotionally or physically abused, excluded or deprived.

Schemas fight to stay alive. We distort our view of the events in our lives in order to maintain the validity of our schemas. Schemas may remain dormant until they are activated. Schemas are like tsunamis. They remain dormant until an earthquake erupts under the surface to trigger your schema(s) and then you behave in ways that are extreme or inappropriate for the situation. 

My core schemas are. UNRELENTING STANDARDS / HYPERCRITICALNESS, ABANDONMENT /  INSTABILITY, EMOTIONAL DEPRIVATION (I’ll copy them all in at the end.) Once we know what our main schemas are (there are books and maybe even websites with questionnaires to help us figure out what we need to focus on) then we can work at repairing those areas. There is so much power in knowing ourselves. SO much strength in being able to focus on the areas we want to change.”

“Schema Domains
We have grouped these 18 schemas into 5 broad developmental categories of schemas that we call schema domains. Each of the five domains represents an important component of a child’s core needs. Schemas interfere with the child’s attempts to get the core needs met within each domain.

(Expectation that one’s needs for security, safety, stability, nurturance, empathy, sharing of feelings, acceptance, and respect will not be met in a predictable manner. Typical family origin is detached, cold, rejecting, withholding, lonely, explosive, unpredictable, or abusive.)

The perceived instability or unreliability of those available for support and connection.
Involves the sense that significant others will not be able to continue providing emotional support, connection, strength, or practical protection because they are emotionally unstable and unpredictable (e.g., angry outbursts), unreliable, or erratically present; because they will die imminently; or because they will abandon the patient in favor of someone better.

The expectation that others will hurt, abuse, humiliate, cheat, lie, manipulate, or take advantage. Usually involves the perception that the harm is intentional or the result of unjustified and extreme negligence. May include the sense that one always ends up being cheated relative to others or “getting the short end of the stick.”

Expectation that one’s desire for a normal degree of emotional support will not be adequately met by others. The three major forms of deprivation are:
A. Deprivation of Nurturance: Absence of attention, affection, warmth, or companionship.
B. Deprivation of Empathy: Absence of understanding, listening, self-disclosure, or mutual sharing of feelings from others.
C. Deprivation of Protection: Absence of strength, direction, or guidance from others.

The feeling that one is defective, bad, unwanted, inferior, or invalid in important respects; or that one would be unlovable to significant others if exposed. May involve hypersensitivity to criticism, rejection, and blame; self-consciousness, comparisons, and insecurity around others; or a sense of shame regarding one’s perceived flaws. These flaws may be private (e.g., selfishness, angry impulses, unacceptable sexual desires) or public (e.g., undesirable physical appearance, social awkwardness)

The feeling that one is isolated from the rest of the world, different from other people, and/or not part of any group or community.

(Expectations about oneself and the environment that interfere with one’s perceived ability to separate, survive, function independently, or perform successfully. Typical family origin is enmeshed, undermining of child’s confidence, overprotective, or failing to reinforce child for performing competently outside the family.)

Belief that one is unable to handle one’s everyday responsibilities in a competent manner, without considerable help from others (e.g., take care of oneself, solve daily problems, exercise good judgment, tackle new tasks, make good decisions). Often presents as helplessness.

Exaggerated fear that imminent catastrophe will strike at any time and that one will be unable to prevent it. Fears focus on one or more of the following: (A) Medical Catastrophes: e.g., heart attacks, AIDS; (B) Emotional Catastrophes: e.g., going crazy; (C) External Catastrophes: e.g., elevators collapsing, victimized by criminals, airplane crashes, earthquakes.

Excessive emotional involvement and closeness with one or more significant others (often parents), at the expense of full individuation or normal social development. Often involves the belief that at least one of the enmeshed individuals cannot survive or be happy without the constant support of the other. May also include feelings of being smothered by, or fused with, others OR insufficient individual identity. Often experienced as a feeling of emptiness and floundering, having no direction, or in extreme cases questioning one’s existence.

The belief that one has failed, will inevitably fail, or is fundamentally inadequate relative to one’s peers, in areas of achievement (school, career, sports, etc.). Often involves beliefs that one is stupid, inept, untalented, ignorant, lower in status, less successful than others, etc.

(Deficiency in internal limits, responsibility to others, or long-term goal-orientation. Leads to difficulty respecting the rights of others, cooperating with others, making commitments, or setting and meeting realistic personal goals. Typical family origin is characterized by permissiveness, overindulgence, lack of direction, or a sense of superiority — rather than appropriate confrontation, discipline, and limits in relation to taking responsibility, cooperating in a reciprocal manner, and setting goals. In some cases, child may not have been pushed to tolerate normal levels of discomfort, or may not have been given adequate supervision, direction, or guidance.)

The belief that one is superior to other people; entitled to special rights and privileges; or not bound by the rules of reciprocity that guide normal social interaction. Often involves insistence that one should be able to do or have whatever one wants, regardless of what is realistic, what others consider reasonable, or the cost to others; OR an exaggerated focus on superiority (e.g., being among the most successful, famous, wealthy) — in order to achieve power or control (not primarily for attention or approval). Sometimes includes excessive competitiveness toward, or domination of, others: asserting one’s power, forcing one’s point of view, or controlling the behavior of others in line with one’s own desires — without empathy or concern for others’ needs or feelings.

Pervasive difficulty or refusal to exercise sufficient self-control and frustration tolerance to achieve one’s personal goals, or to restrain the excessive expression of one’s emotions and impulses. In its milder form, patient presents with an exaggerated emphasis on discomfort-avoidance: avoiding pain, conflict, confrontation, responsibility, or overexertion — at the expense of personal fulfillment, commitment, or integrity.

(An excessive focus on the desires, feelings, and responses of others, at the expense of one’s own needs — in order to gain love and approval, maintain one’s sense of connection, or avoid retaliation. Usually involves suppression and lack of awareness regarding one’s own anger and natural inclinations. Typical family origin is based on conditional acceptance: children must suppress important aspects of themselves in order to gain love, attention, and approval. In many such families, the parents’ emotional needs and desires — or social acceptance and status — are valued more than the unique needs and feelings of each child.)

Excessive surrendering of control to others because one feels coerced — usually to avoid anger, retaliation, or abandonment. The two major forms of subjugation are:
A. Subjugation of Needs: Suppression of one’s preferences, decisions, and desires.
B. Subjugation of Emotions: Suppression of emotional expression, especially anger.
Usually involves the perception that one’s own desires, opinions, and feelings are not valid or important to others. Frequently presents as excessive compliance, combined with hypersensitivity to feeling trapped. Generally leads to a build up of anger, manifested in maladaptive symptoms (e.g., passive-aggressive behavior, uncontrolled outbursts of temper, psychosomatic symptoms, withdrawal of affection, “acting out”, substance abuse).

Excessive focus on voluntarily meeting the needs of others in daily situations, at the expense of one’s own gratification. The most common reasons are: to prevent causing pain to others; to avoid guilt from feeling selfish; or to maintain the connection with others perceived as needy. Often results from an acute sensitivity to the pain of others. Sometimes leads to a sense that one’s own needs are not being adequately met and to resentment of those who are taken care of. (Overlaps with concept of codependency.)

Excessive emphasis on gaining approval, recognition, or attention from other people, or fitting in, at the expense of developing a secure and true sense of self. One’s sense of esteem is dependent primarily on the reactions of others rather than on one’s own natural inclinations. Sometimes includes an overemphasis on status, appearance, social acceptance, money, or achievement — as means of gaining approval, admiration, or attention (not primarily for power or control). Frequently results in major life decisions that are inauthentic or unsatisfying; or in hypersensitivity to rejection.

(Excessive emphasis on suppressing one’s spontaneous feelings, impulses, and choices OR on meeting rigid, internalized rules and expectations about performance and ethical behavior — often at the expense of happiness, self-expression, relaxation, close relationships, or health. Typical family origin is grim, demanding, and sometimes punitive: performance, duty, perfectionism, following rules, hiding emotions, and avoiding mistakes predominate over pleasure, joy, and relaxation. There is usually an undercurrent of pessimism and worry — that things could fall apart if one fails to be vigilant and careful at all times.)

A pervasive, lifelong focus on the negative aspects of life (pain, death, loss, disappointment, conflict, guilt, resentment, unsolved problems, potential mistakes, betrayal, things that could go wrong, etc.) while minimizing or neglecting the positive or optimistic aspects. Usually includes an exaggerated expectation — in a wide range of work, financial, or interpersonal situations — that things will eventually go seriously wrong, or that aspects of one’s life that seem to be going well will ultimately fall apart. Usually involves an inordinate fear of making mistakes that might lead to: financial collapse, loss, humiliation, or being trapped in a bad situation. Because potential negative outcomes are exaggerated, these patients are frequently characterized by chronic worry, vigilance, complaining, or indecision.

The excessive inhibition of spontaneous action, feeling, or communication — usually to avoid disapproval by others, feelings of shame, or losing control of one’s impulses. The most common areas of inhibition involve: (a) inhibition of anger & aggression; (b) inhibition of positive impulses (e.g., joy, affection, sexual excitement, play); (c) difficulty expressing vulnerability or communicating freely about one’s feelings, needs, etc.; or (d) excessive emphasis on rationality while disregarding emotions.

The underlying belief that one must strive to meet very high internalized standards of behavior and performance, usually to avoid criticism. Typically results in feelings of pressure or difficulty slowing down; and in hypercriticalness toward oneself and others. Must involve significant impairment in: pleasure, relaxation, health, self-esteem, sense of accomplishment, or satisfying relationships
Unrelenting standards typically present as: (a) perfectionism, inordinate attention to detail, or an underestimate of how good one’s own performance is relative to the norm; (b) rigid rules and &qout;shoulds&qout; in many areas of life, including unrealistically high moral, ethical, cultural, or religious precepts; or (c) preoccupation with time and efficiency, so that more can be accomplished.

The belief that people should be harshly punished for making mistakes. Involves the tendency to be angry, intolerant, punitive, and impatient with those people (including oneself) who do not meet one’s expectations or standards. Usually includes difficulty forgiving mistakes in oneself or others, because of a reluctance to consider extenuating circumstances, allow for human imperfection, or empathize with feelings.”

Schema Therapy – Jeffrey Young, Ph.D

Emotional labour, violated boundaries and intense lockdown fatigue.

As soon as we clicked on I told Linda I needed to speak about Adam. I said it had been on the back-burner for a while now and it’s come to the point where it’s too important to not talk about it. So that’s what we spent the whole session looking at.

I told Linda that I didn’t know where to start and I just spoke about things as they randomly came into my head. I said, ‘I am just so sick of them all. I am so sick of having no space. I need personal space and there is none. Like for example I got some post through the door earlier and the three of them followed me from the door to the kitchen to watch me open it. I asked them to give me space, told them that it was nothing to concern them, the kids went away and Adam’s still there hovering over me waiting for me to open it. It’s not even anything private and I feel like I’m being petty and stupid I mean, nothing happens these days so of course they’re interested if someone gets post but I have had enough of having my every move scrutinised under the magnifying glass its so intense. I just want everyone to go away. Everything he does annoys me.’ Linda asked me if there was anything Adam does that I do like and I was too caught up in the annoyance of it all to find anything. I told her that of course there are things I love about him and that this is just a window in time. I know that I love him very much and that these things weren’t an issue a few weeks ago and they won’t be an issue forever but they’re very much in the foreground at the moment.

I said, ‘the main problem is really just that Adam doesn’t have anything in his life other than me. So all of his eggs are in my basket… he literally relies on me for every single interaction, every conversation… every thought that he wants to share, I’m the only person he can share it with. He has narrowed his life down so much over the years that it’s been reduced to just work and us. It’s not a conscious thing but it’s happened gradually over the years to the point where he now finds himself in a really bizarre situation of having no friends and nothing in his life and I guess he’s comfortable with it this way… and I enable him unintentionally, I make it so easy for him because I want life to be calm and happy, I want him to have a good life and for the kids to be happy, so I run around metaphorically making sure he says and does and understands… it’s fucking exhausting.’

I continued, ‘When I’m not emotionally in the right place like when I was in the thick of the grief 6 weeks ago, I shut down and the space between us has widened because he just doesn’t know how to meet my needs emotionally and when I’m struggling that much I don’t then want to have to teach him how to meet my needs, teach him what to say and how to say it.’ Linda asked me if I resented him for that and I said I did and that I was angry. I explained how I put so much effort into these things and he just goes along as if everything is fine and I have to sweep up behind him.

I said, ‘I think so carefully about everything I do and say. So much effort and hard work goes into the things I deem important, like you pointed out the other day, it really hurts when other people don’t put the same care into things that I do.’ Linda said, ‘yeah I really hear that, I can see there’s a direct link between the way Adam behaves and the way your parents behaved and that’s triggering much bigger feelings… not that it isn’t valid but it also has a deeper meaning for you.’ I nodded and agreed.

I explained that in a way it’s like Adam’s a child emotionally. Not that he doesn’t or can’t understand but that he hasn’t experienced what needs to be experienced for someone to mature in their emotional intelligence. She asked me to continue explaining and I said, ‘well if I think about my life and what has helped me grow and mature and change… it’s having multiple friendships come and go, all the things that go along with friendships, the subtle nuances in adapting and responding to each individual, the tiny disagreements and mending of misunderstandings, the deep conversations, the painful parts, the endings… it all helps you develop a richer and more broad understanding of communication and of yourself… then there’s all the different jobs I’ve had, working in retail where I had to communicate with a vast amount of people, going to university matured me, the depth of intellectual conversations I had at uni with a range of people from lecturers and professors to students… then there’s my job… dealing with difficult conversations with parents or confronting challenges with management or cooperating and working as part of a team or nurturing and being very careful and considerate with the kids I work with… then there’s therapy… the 7 years of work I’ve put in there. Getting to know myself and being deeply attached to the therapist, that all generates growth, the shedding of layers of yourself as you grow out of the skin that once restricted you. But he has had none of that. When I met hm he had a great group of friends and then a horrible situation between one of my toxic friends at the time and his friends kicked off and they made him choose between me or them… I think I told you about this…’ Linda said she remembers. I continued, ‘and then he had a great friend from work who we became really close with, him and his wife, and they had kids when we did and we used to see them all the time but then they moved back to Canada. And his work… he is on his own for the majority of the day not communicating with anyone. So he hasn’t had the rich and diverse situations in his life where he would learn and develop and grow. He’s still in the skin he was in back when I met him… maybe a little but of change and growth but not much. And then there’s the attachment stuff… when we met we were both literally fighting for our lives living with our mums. And we suddenly had each other and very quickly developed an incredibly tight bond based probably on co-dependency and enmeshment. And our anxious attachments suited each other, we both clung so tightly onto each other and we settles each others anxiety because we were both afraid of abandonment. But I don’t have those same needs anymore. I’m far more secure now. I don’t need constant reminders of his love. But he still needs that from me.’

Linda asked, ‘What comes up for you when you talk about that situation with him, when you stack it all up like that, all of what you’ve learned and experienced, all of your growth and what you have next to him and his lack of growth?’ I said, ‘so many things… I guess the main thing I feel is compassion. I’m sad for him. I wish things were different. I am also maybe frustrated because it’s of his own doing, not deliberately but he’s also not doing anything deliberate to change the situation. I work so hard to make improvements and he just wishes it were different and does nothing. I sent him a podcast of Brene Brown this morning, she was talking to this guy, a doctor or psychologist or something about loneliness and connection. They were saying that even if your relationship is perfect it can’t be all you have, you need other connections, other strong attachments, you need a community. He listened to the podcase, he’s always really keen to learn… I do love that about him… he listened and he asked me if I was trying to analyse whether he was lonely and I told him NO… I KNOW he is lonely… I was trying to encourage him to reflect on what’s going on in his life and how totally it is that he feels dissatisfied. I told him it’s a pressure for me to be all he is.’ Linda asked what he said and I told her, ‘he’ll say things like, so do you want me to stop talking to you then?’

I said, ‘he wants physical intimacy, so I’ll walk into the kitchen and he’s there and he’ll lean against the unit and open his arms and tell me to come for a hug and I just don’t want to, I mean I do but I’m stiff and I can feel that I’m not relaxing into the hug. I don’t want him kissing me. I’m annoyed about the emotional intimacy stuff and all the effort and time and energy I have to put into things that it makes me not want to top him up. He constantly asks for reassurance, asks if I still love him, asks if I think he’s fat coz he’s put on like ten pounds in the lockdown, asks if I’m still attracted to him and I do reassure him, I tell him I love him and that I fancy him but there’s a pressure there… I don’t want to have to reassure him every fucking day!’

I said, ‘it’s the emotional load I’m bearing…’ Linda said, ‘emotional labour?’ and I said, ‘yeah! I have to put so much emotional labour into the relationship. Teaching him how to be a parent and how to be a good partner. So much work and effort for me. I mean, I talked to Anna about this and obviously I’m keen for Adam to start therapy and he has shown increasing interest there but she told me to back off… but how can I?’ the analogy that just popped into my mind is imagine you could drive and you decided to teach your partner how to drive… it’s a passing over of knowledge and skills… but I guess growth and therapy is different. I said to Linda, ‘Adam asked me to help him find a therapist but it’s his journey, I need to let him be the soul master of his therapeutic journey, I cant risk taking over and it being about me… I don’t want him getting more into it and resenting me for forcing him down this road. But I have found a couple of therapists… I guess it’s about talking to him about it and seeing if he’s ready to take the step.’ Linda agreed that it’s important for me to step back but also seemed keen on the idea of me giving him a gentle nudge. I said that him starting therapy would probably trigger my insecurities because I’ve spent the past nearly 19 years having his undivided attention.

Linda asked me what would happen if I stopped trying so hard, stopped helping him. I said I felt like I would explode. Life would fall apart and what am I meant to do, just watch it all fall apart? I said, ‘it is threaded through every single fibre of our lives… I’m the one who makes all the effort. If I stop everything stops. Adam comes to me to sort everything. He will walk past the kids to me to tell me that I need to tell the kids to tidy up or get off the ipads or whatever. If they’re playing in the garden and he thinks they’re getting too noisy he’ll come and tell me that the kids need to come in now.’ Linda said, ‘Wow! He gives away his power all the time to you… why do you think he does that?’ I said, ‘to be honest it’s probably my fault. My perfectionism and high expectations of us both mean he is bound to fail. I will always find something he could have done differently, done better… it seriously must be exhausting to be in a relationship with me. Why would he bother doing it himself when I’m just going to tell him he did it wrong!?’

I reflected on what Linda had said to me the other day about me being very prepared, planned, organised, methodical, considered… lesson plans and teachery. I said, ‘It’s not like I was one of these kids that knew all along she wanted to be a teacher and so the side of me that has become more and more teachery is actually a side of me I dislike… it’s organised but is it also controlling? I’ve got high standards but am I also unforgiving? And so… being in an intimate relationship, I mean it’s like he’s an employee or a kid in my class, I’m practically giving him two stars and a wish on his interactions with the kids, ‘oh I noticed you did this and that but have you thought about doing this differently?’and we talk every night reflectively, I will bring things up that happened with the kids and I’ll share stuff I’ve read and tell him how I want to do things differently…’ Linda said it sounds so much like my parents, that Adam is not living consciously just like they weren’t’ living consciously and that is a very important element for me. I said, ‘the only massive difference is that Adam isn’t defensive. He is willing to listen and learn and change whereas my parents were very defensive and never wanted to change… but again the onus is on me to help him learn and change because there is no one else, and I guess up until now I’ve been doing such a good job of that I’ve made it totally unnecessary for him to look for it anywhere else.’

Linda said, ‘I’m listening to you explain things and I get this image of you, it feels like you are running and progressing and you’ve been doing that all your life, like all your life nothing has been wasted, not a single minute, you’ve worked bloody hard to make sure every experience you’ve had has been for something, you’ve used it to grow and improve and change and adapt… and you’ve been picking up speed especially over the past few years you have been running fast in your therapy journey and I just have this image of him and he’s stayed in the same place.’ I said, ‘yeah… and I feel like this is not what I signed up for, but then he could easily feel that too, he has stayed the same I’m the one who has changed and maybe he liked things the way they were but then I feel like I have improved my life is so much better than it used to be and I want him to come with me, I love him, I feel like we were holding hands and now its harder to stretch back and keep holding on but I’m determined to not leave him behind I want him to come with me.’

Linda said, ‘I just want to say that no one is coming out of this lockdown the same as they were when they went in. especially intimate relationships. They have all been under pressure and those of us who are reflective and deep thinkers will have been doing a lot of learning and growing through the past few months. There is a lot of learning that will need to take place in relationships to get us all back on track… for everyone.’ I said, ‘I’m good at learning but then I’m gonna have to teach him!’ Linda said, ‘Yes and that’s not what you signed up for when you went into the relationship. You’re not his therapist or life coach, you wanted to be his life partner, it needs to be equal.’ I said, ‘I think it’s actually really important to see how much I have changed. The enmeshed, codependent, ‘two halves of one whole’ thing we had when we were teenagers isn’t what I want any more. I want autonomy and choice and freedom and a love that feels safe enough and strong enough to move away and come back freely… he needs constant attention and affection and stimulation whereas I feel confident in our love without having to see him and be near him all the time.’

Linda said, ‘I want to just mention something and if it doesn’t fit where you’re at just bat it away okay?’ I nodded and listened. She said, ‘do you have much going on in your life at the moment other than him?’ I said, ‘well no… but not through any decision of mine, the lockdown has reduced my busy and full life down to these four walls and these three people.’ She said, ‘and have you been connecting with friends and other people as much as you would normally?’ I said, ‘well no actually. There are some people who have been on the same wavelength as me through the grief and intensity of all of this but some people haven’t and so a distance has grown between me and them. And then I haven’t seen colleagues, I haven’t gone to the gym… I haven’t had my usual social events… everything has gone.’ Linda said, ‘So the lockdown has made you have the same life as him. I wonder if that’s magnifying things for you. I wonder if you are feeling the isolation and pain and loneliness for the both of you. And because you didn’t choose this life, it feels intolerable…’ I sat thinking for a while and she asked if that made sense. I said it did and she said, ‘is it landing? Will it go in?’ I said, ‘this is a lot, I’m letting it settle… I think on the one hand it is that I am carrying the weight of the isolation and loneliness for both of us and on the other hand also my newly formed ‘narrowed down’ life is meaning there are no longer the same distractions for me, I am having to face what has been here all along but was easier to bear because I had balance. With no balance it is harder to be okay with this.’  

I said, ‘the thing is, when we were teenagers neither of us knew anything about co-dependency or boundaries or whatever…’ Linda said, ‘yeah 19 years is a long time and of course things have changed,’ I said, ‘but I’m not sure he has changed, not the core of him, he still kind of lives with the premise that we complete each other or whatever… there is no boundary between us for him but I don’t feel like that anymore.’ I then gave Linda two examples. One was a time when Adam was looking for something and he started to open my bedside table to search for the item. I can’t even remember what he was looking for but I know it wasn’t in the drawer. I didn’t want him rummaging through my drawer. There isn’t even anything particularly private in there and there’s nothing he doesn’t know about but I just hate the feeling of him going through my stuff. Despite me explicitly saying ‘NO, I don’t want you going through my stuff’ he proceeded, in a light-hearted ‘what’s the problem’ type way, to tip the contents of the drawer on the bed, sweep through it, see the thing wasn’t there, stuff it all back in and push the drawer back in… while I swallowed my rage. Another example was when I gave him my phone to show him photos from the day we had at the beach. When it got to the last photo I said, ‘that’s the last one’ and reached my hand out but he continued to swipe and saw the picture I’d made from the photo of the heart shaped stone on the beach that I’d edited for the post about missing Anna. I didn’t want him to see that picture. My page is anonymous even to him, he doesn’t know the name of the blog and I don’t want him to see the content. I was so angry with him for continuing to swipe despite me saying that was the last photo. He just chuckled and passed the phone back to me (after looking at the picture) and I sat not speaking to him for the rest of the evening with my headphones in. later I said to him,  ‘I don’t share the intimate personal things about my emotional life with you because you don’t respect them, you don’t treat it with care and delicacy, you are not careful with hwo you speak to me and it hurts so I build a wall between us to protect myself. If you want me to share more with you then you need to be more emotionally open and caring with me.’ He apologised and asked what he could do that is more helpful. I said to Linda, ‘its not that he is deliberately hurting me its just that he really doesn’t get it.’ She said, ‘yeah it’s like he doesn’t see, doesn’t notice…’ I said, ‘yeah but it just feels so violating.’ She said ‘violating’ at the same time as me.

I said, ‘I actually cant stand it. I would never do that! I would never just rummage through someone’s stuff. I wouldn’t do it to Adam or my kids, it’s really not okay!’ I felt a lot of the teen hurt and anger rising and I could sense Linda looking closely at me though I wasn’t looking at her. I repeated, ‘I just don’t like it when people do something when you ask them not to.’ Linda said, ‘and that’s something your mum would do.’ I said, ‘yeah and I said that to Adam at a later date. I told him that respecting my privacy is really important. I had no privacy growing up. She would go through my room, she’d look under my bed, I remember coming home from school and she would have gutted my room and she would keep things of mine, she’d take my magazines and whatever she wanted. She’d read my diary… there was no privacy, I didn’t even know that you were allowed to feel safe and protected from the invasion of other people you know?’ Linda was shaking her head and sighing as I explained what my mum was like. She talked about how the violation feels so similar and that’s why it is having such a strong impact on me.

She said, ‘I can hear from what you’re saying and from your big sighs that you are very frustrated and angry about this. His behaviour is reminding you of your parents and that is really important to notice. He’s not understanding or seeing your boundaries.’ I explained that if I try to assert boundaries, he interprets it as me not loving him.’ I checked my phone just off screen and Linda said, ‘did you just check the time?’ I laughed and said ,’yes you didn’t give me a ten minute warning!’ she said, ‘sorry you’re right I didn’t, 5 minutes to go!’ I said it was fine and she asked how I felt. I told her it felt like we had just scratched the surface. Linda assured me that if it still felt important on Saturday we could revisit it.

There’s a lot going on for me as I process all of this. I am not at all comfortable with Adam’s behaviour reminding me of my mum. I don’t like noticing the feelings of having my boundaries violated. I also am confused about my feelings on the actual way Linda works. She does a lot of listening and repeating. I really feel like she does listen very closely and she helps make connections but when I did this kind of work with Anna she would blow my mind with her insights, no exaggeration it was like she had these golden nuggets that would propel my relational growth… Linda just doesn’t offer this kind of depth. But does her more laid back approach allow me to formulate my own understanding of things? It’s a bit like talking to a friend… though some friends offer me huge insights, way more than Linda. It is reminiscent of this idea that I am always the one who has to work very hard… even within the therapy with Linda, she is taking a back seat and I am doing the lion’s share of the work. With Anna I felt like she worked so hard to help me. But then I wonder if Linda will be able to play a bigger role in these conversations as our work deepens and she gets to know me better. Who knows. But I am emotionally exhausted. I feel a lot of tearful energy in my chest and down my arms. It’s been an intense session and a long day processing it all.