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.