‘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.

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

  1. Thank you so much for sharing all of this. This was another amazing session! And another confirmation that you are with the right therapist for you. This touched me deeply and gave me pause. I just read this again to my husband. My husband is so loving and caring toward me. We have a very loving relationship. But this made me wonder if we have some of these same dynamics in our relationship. I am a lot like you, in that I have a very high value system and I expect a lot from myself. My husband has ADD, and you made me wonder how this makes him process information. After reading your post to my husband, we had the start of a very emotional conversation which we will continue over the next few days. You have given me/us a lot to think about. I feel the exact same way that you do about apologies! Thank you Lucy! This sounds like the beginning of something meaningful for you and Adam.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Aw wow, Blue this has really touched me. I’m so so glad that you have started such a powerful conversation with your husband. Last night didn’t seem like the right timing for us so I’ll will talk to Adam over the next few days. It’s really so amazing when your therapist is able to just say a few things that open your mind so much and get you to view things so differently. I feel really grateful! 💛

      Liked by 1 person

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