Thank you for Tolerating Me

I immediately told Linda that I feel nervous about the email. That I read it over directly before the session and feel like it really could have waited until now. Linda said that it seems to be a really important part of my process, to get my thoughts down on the page. She said it makes sense but what interests her is that I actually send it. I don’t write and then keep it. I talked about all the ways that has played out through my time in therapy. I explained that with Paul I would email him after every session and he said he didn’t mind me doing that, he called it a cathartic process. He never brought up anything I wrote and probably expected me to bring it up but I interpreted his lack of initiating as reluctance to talk about whatever I had mentioned in the email. With Anna she made it really clear very early on that she didn’t want me sending big long emails. She didn’t want me emailing session content that should be focused on in the session which made a lot of sense to me but I found it really hard. I explained to Linda, ‘so in the beginning I would type it up and pass it over to her in session and she would read it then we’d talk about it. After a while of doing that, one day she suggested that I read the letter out loud to her in the session. And then after a while of doing that one day she stopped me from unfolding the bit of paper. I remember so clearly Anna saying, ‘I bet you’ve read that piece of paper over many times and you know it off by heart, how about you put it down on the table and just tell me…’ from then on I didn’t need to type up these notes in preparation for the sessions.’ I reflected to Linda that the few times I have sent her an email it’s been about stuff to do with our relationship and how we interact with and understand each other. I said, ‘actually it’s almost as if I was trying to reassure you, the last email…’ Linda said, ‘yes I got that,’

I said, ‘so how did you feel…? Did anything come up for you when reading the email?’ Linda laughed and said it was a long email. I asked specifically if it was hard to be my ‘after Anna’ therapist. She thought for a bit and said, ‘well you were absolutely spot on with one thing, you very accurately pointed out that it is a very unusual experience, what’s happened to you, what’s brought you to me. I have taken this to supervision you know because it is a brand new experience for me and thankfully doesn’t happen all the time and I don’t mean anything insulting in saying that. It’s very uncommon, usually death or very ill health and sadly it has happened to you.’ I nodded and she asked what came up for me when she said that. I said, ‘well the egotistical part of me is thinking, ‘at least you probably wont forget me in a hurry, it makes me unique!’ but yeah… I guess overall I just really like your transparency, it feels nice that you are honest… also though… there is this sense that you are burdened by me, you didn’t choose to work with me… it’s this thing that has come up for me with you, Anna and Paul actually. So, I just think it’s so weird that clients get to shop around for their therapist but therapists don’t get to choose who they work with, you just get lumbered with whoever walks through your door. You know, it must be so shit when you start to realise that you really hate this person sitting in front of you and this long road stretches out in front of you…’ Linda had a calm, gentle smile on her face and she was slowly shaking her head. She said, ‘Lucy, we do choose! Of course we do! I’ve had the situation a number of times when I have stopped work with someone. Maybe there’s a conflict of interest or I know something about the person that could contaminate the work or in couples therapy maybe I feel that one or both of them need individual therapy so I send them away for that…’ I said, ‘yeah so I just keep imagining that I’m going to come to a session and you’re going to say to me this is not worth your time and effort and you’re going to finish with me.’ Linda said, ‘oh sorry, no, what I mean is, that’s in the first session… you make a mutual decision in the first session to work together or not.’ I said, ‘yeah so our first session was under the premise of being temporary until Anna came back to me…’ Linda said, ‘yes and then we had another first session, beginning our work together after Anna closed her practice. I already knew you and was happy to work with you again.’ I smiled and told her how good it is to hear that. I told her again that I really liked it when she said that she wanted to get to know me.

I talked a bit more about feeling like people must be burdened by my needs, my emotions. I wondered aloud about my mum’s inability to see or tolerate me. I said I felt grateful that Linda was tolerating me and she said she absolutely hates the word tolerate so much she wants to scrunch it up and throw it out the window. This took me on a tangent recalling an exam I failed at Uni (failed because of my controversial opinions at the time and reluctance to comply) where we had to discuss the place of religious education in non-denominational schools. My stance was that there was no place for it if it stayed as it was. The Scottish education system has changed since then but at the time R.E. was not equally and fairly/non-judgmentally taught in my opinion. More time was dedicated to Christianity than the 5 other religions we taught. I talked about one of the terms used in the curriculum which was to ‘encourage tolerance’. I told Linda that I hated this word because it seemed to me to be the bare minimum you could do for another human being… it insinuated a deep level of mistrust and distain that you were ‘good enough’ to disguise with tolerance. She completely agreed and then went on to say how it would be impossible to foster a therapeutic relationship if all she could manage was tolerance for me. She said, ‘The tree most important, core elements of Person Centred therapy are congruence, empathy and unconditional positive regard (UPR)… there are 7 elements but these are the 3 most important ones and without them, the therapy wouldn’t work. So there isn’t tolerance… there’s unconditional positive regard… that’s such an important distinction.’

I said, ‘I actually really can feel that from you… the unconditional positive regard, it really is actually such a powerful feeling when you let it in. When I worked with Paul I constantly worried about being too much for him. He taught me about unconditional positive regard but I constantly questioned it. Then with Anna it wasn’t until the last couple of sessions where it finally clicked and I could clearly see that she wasn’t just tolerating me, I wasn’t a burden to her, she actually liked working with me… I felt her love, but it was too late by then. I wasted all that time with her worrying thinking she dreaded every session…’ Linda made a really sympathetic noise and said how sad it was that I felt like that. I said, ‘so I do feel actually that you are uhhh…’ Linda said, ‘…not bull shitting you!? I laughed and said, ‘yes! Exactly!’ I went into a bit of a monologue about my mum and how everything had to be focused on her. Linda made a comment that my mum was very consistent in the fact that everything had to be focused on her. I recalled the scene in Mary Poppins that I’ve talked about in therapy before (but frustratingly I can’t remember which therapist I spoke to about it!). I told her that I used to watch the film over and over and how it comforted me. I said, ‘there’s a scene where Mary Poppins is talking to Jane and Michael, preparing them for the next day when they’re going to visit their dads work in the city and she’s talking about the lady who feeds the birds. Jane says that her father goes past that place every day and must have seen the lady and Mary Poppins says that many grown ups can’t see past their own nose… and I remember thinking when I was a child, that was my parents! They couldn’t see me, I could be in complete emotional turmoil and they wouldn’t notice…’ Linda said, ‘wow… you even noticed that as a kid!’ I explained that I found my place by doing what was needed of me and if I can’t find a way to be needed then the relationship feels very insecure. ‘So, with us… I can’t please you and be of use to you by meeting your emotional needs, so what do I do..? I be a good client, I pay on time, I don’t go a second over time, I don’t arrive or log in a second before my time, I don’t ask for too much, I keep checking that I’m not being too much, I make sure you don’t feel burdened by me…’ Linda was smiling and nodding and we talked about it her commitment to our work. I told her that I felt it, I felt that she was committed and she said, ‘and am I right in thinking that although you’ve said you do trust that I’m not burdened by you, and that I am committed to working with you, it’s something that we will need to revisit… many time’s, as many times as you need…?’ I said, ‘well yeah coz it’s like a room full of people, so one person believes you! But everyone needs to be on board!’ She nodded and smiled and said that made perfect sense.

I said, ‘I think one of the really important things I wanted to get across to you in the email actually was that I really appreciate you and that I want you to know I am grateful for these sessions…’ Linda said, ‘I really do get that message from you Lucy, loud and clear, from the way you behave and speak and everything you’re doing and saying, it is absolutely categorically, unquestionably clear to me that you value these sessions and that you’re grateful I’m here with you. Not a doubt in my mind. I want to make that very clear to you that I really get that very strong message from you. I know you appreciate this.’ I was smiling broadly and told her it was so good to hear her saying all that. It’s really important to me. I said, ‘I think one of the worst things, most painful things ever is to not feel seen or appreciated. It’s so important to me that you do know that I see you, Linda and that I see you trying to connect to me.’

I said, ‘I went back to Anna’s office yesterday, as seems to be my crazy masochistic habit on a Tuesday… actually no it’s not crazy that was unkind.’ Just as I was saying that Linda simultaneously said, ‘that’s an unkind thing to say about yourself…’ we smiled and I continued, ‘it seems to help my grieving, being closer to the office and being by myself and away from the watchful eyes of my kids… but yesterday the grief and heaviness wasn’t there. It felt different and it wasn’t numb either. It felt like all of this grieving and how I’ve been honouring the loss and pain and really leaning into it, I’ve been loyal to the process and cried when I need to and followed the road to Anna’s when I felt the pull and anyway yesterday it really felt like a settled and trusting feeling in my chest as if I’m starting to feel safe in here… just something I noticed.’ Linda talked a bit about that but didn’t really add to what I’d said.

I checked the time on my phone and then we both laughed about that because I’d changed the view on the zoom window but was still clock watching. I told her that Anna used to turn the clock away because of my habit of stressing about time, ‘it’s hard for me to really get a sense of passing time in my body, for all I know 5 minutes could have passed or 35 minutes and I don’t want to launch into something hard when I only have two minutes left!’ Linda said, ‘yeah I really get it, you’re keeping yourself safe.’ I said, ‘that reminds me actually because Anna used to tell me to let her hold the time in the session and she would give me like a ten minute warning at the end of the session so I’d know not to go too deeply into anything or at least I would have a choice and that was really helpful.’ We agreed that Linda would do that too, 5 or 10 minute warning towards the end of the session.

Linda then said, ‘So that reminds me actually and I just wanted to check with you… when you ask me a direct question that I need to go and think about, how do you want me to deal with that? Do you want me to wait until you bring it up again or do you want me to give you the answer as soon as I’ve got one?’ I said, ‘Yes… I want you to just bring it up whenever you have the answer, I won’t badger you for an answer when you might not have had time to think about it. I want you to bring it up when you have something to say about whatever it is.’ Linda said, ‘okay… so you asked me three questions and I’ve got answers to two of them.’ I started to get really unnecessarily nervous. There’s something really scary about hearing ‘no’ or even expecting it. Which is weird because I don’t feel entitled to ‘yes’ but it’s a sense of rejection or something. Anyway, she continued, ‘I have reflected on the hour and a half session. I thought carefully about it and talked it through in supervision and this is my stuff Lucy, I’m owning this… but my overall feeling is I just don’t think I could do that. Not just with you but with anyone, my initial thought on 90 minute sessions is ‘ahh I couldn’t do that!’ I would be exhausted, I’d need an espresso or something to get me through and I want to be at my best for you. I just don’t think I could sit that long with anyone. But could you maybe go away and think about how you would feel about something slightly different… I know it seems a bit pedantic but what about an hour or an hour and ten minutes? I don’t know if something like that would be doable for you? Would it be helpful?’ I said, ‘Oh yeah absolutely! I think when I reflected on the fact that Anna would sometimes do 90 minute sessions with me I was just talking about how 50 minutes just isn’t long enough for the very deep things. Anna would say she didn’t want to send a child driving home, you know… it’s just an analogy but I guess coz it was all new to me, going to those places inside me and I can’t contain it by myself so it needs to be really slow and sort of drip fed and then only a small amount and come back out of it and help me ground in the present moment so it feels safe to go out to the real world again, you know? So I’d actually thought about how even 60 minutes or 70 minutes would be better than 50 minutes and it wouldn’t be every session just every so often… and I actually can’t see it happening in the video sessions and I get that it might be different with you than it was with Anna but I just feel that 50 minutes is very short… maybe when we’re finally allowed to meet in person and we can see how things feel between us we might want to plan you know like the last Saturday in the month is gonna be a long one or whatever.’ We talked this over and Linda was happy to be flexible and plan slightly longer sessions in which felt amazing so it wasn’t a straight ‘no’, she was willing to meet me half way. She brought up the ‘last Sat of every month’ thing and I laughed and said that obviously it wasn’t possible to plan these things in advance and that maybe we could contract it together if we sense something coming up and we could plan the time in and she would charge me and it would all be arranged in advance. I was the one saying all this, I think she is not as uptight as me!

She then went on to answer my second question which was about the possibility of me spending time in Anna’s room. She explained that she did ask and it was a flat no. she said they’d made it clear that me renting the room or being allowed access to the room by myself was just not possible. I asked if it was an insurance thing and she said yes sort of. She explained that there’s some political stuff going on with the actual company that owns the buildings and rents the rooms out. She explained that they want people to start using the rooms from today. I said, ‘wow!’ she said ‘I know!’ We talked about how irresponsible and out with the realms of the government guidelines it is and I agreed with her hesitation about meeting in the rooms so early on in phase two of the lockdown. I said it was irresponsible and she agreed. I said, ‘so I can’t sit in a room with my dad but I can sit with my therapist? That’s a bit nuts!’ she said she was uncomfortable with how they’re doing things and they’re being quite heavy handed. They are now charging the therapists full price for the rental of the rooms and not deep cleaning between clients which they should be doing. She isn’t comfortable sitting with a client until September at the earliest which I completely understand and agree with. In my opinion nothing is worth the risk of spreading the virus unnecessarily. I told Linda that I had feared she would say to me she’d decided to never meet clients face to face again and she assured me that wasn’t going to happen but that she’d rather err on the side of caution which I completely agree with. Linda then explained that from January they’re going to be putting a minimum rental on the rooms which means she will need to use the room longer than she wants to or be charged regardless of whether she’s using it or not. She said from January she won’t be there anymore. I said, ‘this might be too personal but why not just have all the sessions at your flat? I know you use the room in your flat for some of the week… why rent a room at all?’ Linda said, ‘well exactly, that’s one of my options, I’m exploring it in supervision. I just felt it would be good to let you in on this as it’s a big change. I am looking at another building as well.’

Linda said, ‘How do you feel about all of this?’ I took a few minutes and then said, ‘I actually feel okay about it. I thought I’d feel really panicky at the thought of never going back there but especially after sitting yesterday looking at the closed door and feeling more peaceful, I think maybe it will help me be able to let it go. Like moving on with a new chapter. I think it was going to be very painful to be in that building and walk past her door. But I feel in a way like it’s easier to move on from the grief if I’m not constantly reminded of the building and the space we occupied within it. Everything you’ve said I agree with. It makes me so sad to see and hear how some companies and governments are putting money first beyond the safety of the people. Opening up places before it’s safe. I saw that in England they’re threatening to fine parents who decide to not send their kids to school when they reopen and I’ve seen it being discussed that it might be that if people refuse the vaccine they won’t be allowed to have full time education… I mean, that’s like living in some sort of dictatorship! I don’t know if I would want us to use a vaccine that’s only been on the market a few months, with absolutely no long term testing. It could make the kids infertile or something… and I’m not anti-vax but I am anti-knee jerk… I would need to do some research… but anyway…. don’t know why I brought that up… I just agree with what you’ve said and think it’s a good idea to be cautious.’ Linda said she would be able to tell me on Saturday whether she will be using the old office or not.

I said, ‘there’s something so nice about being involved in your thoughts on this. It feels like it did when Anna moved from the old office to the new one. She brought me with her. Like, when Paul moved his practice he didn’t take me with him and you know when dad left he didn’t take me with him… and they even used to go on holidays without me… but anyway, so when Anna said she was moving to this new office she was so excited about the new room and she printed a map off for me and hand wrote directions and it just felt so nice that we were going together… and this feels like that. You’re telling me about this change but you’re taking me with you. I like that feeling.’

Linda didn’t mention the third question which I realised as soon as I logged off was to do with touch and hugs in therapy. I’m quite happy for her to take her time and think as much as possible about that one and maybe work with me for a few months and meet me in person before she commits to an answer. I get the impression she won’t have a solid answer for it right now anyway.

At one point when I was talking about my childhood I talked about how the days dragged and were so boring and depressing, punctuated by explosive, raging arguments and emotional upset. Mum was obsessed with home improvements so we would spend many weekends running crazy in B&Q while my mum chose wallpaper and paint for yet another new look in the livingroom. My bedroom never got redecorated but I would hazard a guess that she redecorated her room and the livingroom and kitchen over ten times a year. It was insane. The woman who had no money for her kids to have a new school uniform or shoes yet bought Laura Ashley wallpaper and fucking Farrow and Ball paint! I said, ‘she never asked us what we wanted to do, we never EVER did stuff we wanted to do. We never got a choice over what we ate, where we went… no choice ever. Whereas I always check to see what the kids and Adam want to do. I was thinking about how you made the analogy in the last session about me and lesson plans and yeah, I do like being organised and in control and sorted you know, I like things feeling sorted. I don’t like just leaving stuff to chance, so when we plan a holiday I plan activities and day trips and cafes and all sorts. And even at the weekends I’ll ask the kids what they want to do, I ask them what they’d like me to add to the food shop… you know they are part of the family and they are separate wee individuals I want them to live their lives fully… I couldn’t I wasn’t allowed to do that.’ Linda said, ‘oh wow it’s just hit me… you put so much effort into everything! You work hard at everything! Wow. Yeah its just become so clear to me, you put so much work into everything!’ I said, ‘yeah… yep I do. Parenting is like a full time job…’ Linda interrupted and said, ‘and this, you treat your therapy like a full time job and then there’s your actual job!’ She then went on to ponder the idea of easing off the pressure I put myself under. I said, ‘but I don’t think it’s a conscious decision, this need to work very hard and put in the maximum effort… it’s that I don’t want to fuck up. I don’t want to be like her. My mum never tried. I don’t think she ever considered my feelings on anything, for a second.’ Linda said, ‘I know. I know.’ In a very kind way. I said, ‘I don’t really know how it would look like for me to step off the treadmill and relax.’

I said, ‘I’m feeling a deeper connection with you today. Well, I mean I felt it in the last session too, I said it in the email.’ Linda said, ‘yeah, you did.’ I continued, ‘I actually felt a connection from the first couple of sessions. I felt that there was a lack of a defensive wall on my part, like I was ready to just launch right in and I felt like we got each other!’ Linda was just smiling, I continued, ‘and I feel like there’s been a deeper connection or a younger connection brewing the past couple of sessions and it feels nice… nice and scary!’ Linda said, ‘good!’ while I was saying nice and then, ‘hmmm I understand.’ When I said scary.

Just before we finished Linda said something that she had said in the previous session which feels like it’s very important to her. She said, ‘Oh, another thing you mentioned in your email was the type of work you did with Anna. You talked quite a lot about the work you did with Anna and it could be that we do very different work together. That over here is the work you did with Anna and then over here is the work you do with me.’ I said I heard her and she said, ‘yes you hear me but have you just deflected it?’ I said, ‘no it’s definitely interesting. I have noticed that I could talk about the same thing with all three of you and end up coming at it from three very different angles and get three different things out of it. So yeah, I get what you’re saying!’ Linda said that was interesting and reminded me that anything that comes up for me I can write it down and then it’s up to me if I send it to her or wait until the next session to bring it up.

I felt like we did a lot of ironing out of practicalities today. Talking about the length of sessions and location. But actually all of that is important in itself and led on to important conversations. It’s the weird type of session where you wonder if you actually got your money’s worth out of the therapy. But it’s like a grain of sand in the brick that will eventually make the relationship a bit more secure that will then be built into the wall of the main body of the healing work. And that is important. Its small, vital steps. Linda talks about trusting the process a lot. She talked about it today actually, that we can’t always know why something comes up in a session or where we’re going with it but it is all important. Maybe part of my healing journey will be learning to trust the process, let go of this constricting pressure to always do my best and out perform myself. Linda seems really laid back and relaxed, maybe she’s the right person to teach me how to chill out a bit!?