11.08.20 PART ONE
I sent Linda the following email on Sunday evening.
I really hope you’ve had a great holiday and that you’re feeling well rested… I’m not gonna lie, I saw your new profile picture (because, as we’ve already discussed, I’m a masochist and still look at the social media of all three of my therapists, just to torture myself). In the least creepy way possible – happy belated birthday, looks like you had fun. In my defence, Anna used to say she was glad I could find a way to feel connected to her between sessions by looking at her photo, which took the weirdness and shame out of it, she said it wasn’t creepy at all… but there is something painful about the reminder that I am on the outside. I guess we’ll talk about that at some point because it feels important.
This break is the first pause in therapy that I’ve had since Anna closed her practice and there have been some very hard parts. I’ve tried my best to be present with the kids, to spend time with friends, to do stuff for me… but it’s all felt a bit like I’m just about keeping my head above water. I’ve missed you a lot actually and I’ve noticed that those feelings have pulled another few bricks from the wall that stands between me and all my grief. I miss Anna so much it physically hurts. I saw that she liked your new profile picture and it broke my fucking heart. Something about her being present in the virtual world but absent in mine. The thing is, she’s not dead… maybe I keep saying it’s like she died because it’s easier to imagine she didn’t voluntarily leave me. But she’s alive and very much part of other people’s lives but she has chosen to close the door on our connection and despite knowing she will have very valid reasons, it still makes no sense to me. I’d pay her whatever it took to just have one or two ending sessions with her. I desperately want to speak to her for a proper goodbye, not having closure makes losing her so much harder. I wonder if she ever thinks about me. She said she’d never forget me but I wonder if that’s just a thing therapists say to clients. I wonder if she knows I still think about her every day. That 12 weeks on it still hurts. I know I sound like a crazy obsessed ex or something but it’s just so hard to come to terms with the fact that this thing that was so powerful and real and important is now not there and I have no control over it at all. She is still alive and interacting with people, just not with me.
And I’m noticing my attachment/abandonment stuff is being triggered with you. I’m scared that if I keep bringing my grief to you you’re going to lose your patience with me, remind me I’m working with you now and that I should stop talking about Anna or maybe you’ll tell me that because you know Anna, me going on about it is making it too complicated for you and you’ll need to pass me on to someone else.
I have written a draft email to you every day this week, Linda. This break has brought so much to the surface and I waited and waited because I didn’t want to email you during your holiday. I know that this all needs to wait for a session but I’ve felt a very strong presence of young parts this week and the only way I felt able to placate those inconsolable feelings inside was to promise myself I could email you Sunday night. I hope that’s okay.
I’m now going to try to get enough sleep to make waking up at 6am possible. I‘m meeting my boss tomorrow to discuss a personal risk assessment for me. I’m going to take it a day at a time. I’m incredibly anxious about going in but one of the reasons I’m doing it is because my kids will be looking to me for reassurance that it’s safe and that we’re going to be alright. I need to be a good role model for them.
Looking forward to seeing you on Tuesday at 4.30pm.
I felt okay about sending it right up until this morning when I started to panic a bit. I ended up forwarding the email to a friend this afternoon, looking for some constructive feedback. Our exchange really helped bring me back to my adult. My friend asked me what I was worried about and I said it felt like I was being really arrogant and big headed – presuming Linda would want to hear from me and read all this crap outside my paid sessions. My friend said that it sounded like a part of me was holding on to these views about myself and interactions with others but that this version of me wasn’t their experience of me – that it sounded like some outdated beliefs.. Which kinda blew my mind in it’s accuracy. It wasn’t until they brought that reframe to my awareness that I was able to see the situation so clearly. They were right! Anna would have picked up on that too and said, ‘whose voice is that?’ and Linda would say, ‘that’s so unkind…’ It’s true, they are not my words. I never talk about other people like that. These are the views, beliefs and opinions I have held onto for decades that were drummed into me by small minded, wounded adults who projected their unhealed pain onto me. Into me.
So, the session began with Linda and I giving a knowing smile to each other. She asked me how I was and I said I was good but also a little nervous because of sending her the email, we both laughed. She said it had sounded like I’d had a hard week and I said I’d go back to that later then immediately launched into telling her about my return to work this week. I explained that I did go to work yesterday and today, that it wasn’t without difficulties but it was way better than I thought it would be and that I was actually quite proud of myself because of how well I handled it all. I explained that I’ve been far more open with my work about my mental health than ever before. I told Linda that I used be so frightened that they’d find stuff out about me, that it would make them lose respect for me or lose faith in my professionalism… but actually by sharing more of myself I’ve felt so supported and it’s really enriched my experience at work. I can’t even articulate how incredible it feels to share some of my mental health struggles and still be treated with care, respect and interest.
I don’t know what I expected yesterday. After 5 months away from all my colleagues. I think I imagined they had al; thoroughly enjoyed the lockdown, didn’t take the virus seriously and would be flippant about returning. That wasn’t the case at all. Almost everyone was behaving in ways I’d never experienced them behaving before and on reflection I can see now that they were anxious, possibly traumatised by what has been happening around us, uncomfortable, feeling unsafe… and while I am used to facing these hard things head on, feeling them, healing, carrying it inside me… many of them didn’t know what to do with their fear and anxiety or how to behave. I actually felt strong. I was very aware of this awesome network of support I have that many other people don’t have. I’m already in therapy, I know the drill… I know how to ask for help. Many other people don’t.
Another thing I noticed was how relaxed I felt in myself. No nerves the night before the first day, I slept fine, no nerves in the morning… this is so unlike me. I had actually got another prescription of the diazepam just in case I needed them to take the edge off the panic to enable me to get in the building but I didn’t need them. I actually felt secure and capable. I told Linda that I was far less self conscious than ever before. Usually on in-service days everyone turns up read to show off about their amazing holidays, parading their tanned skin and new clothes. I always feel this overwhelming shame and all my self hatred seems to seep out my pours as I feel exposed going to work without my ‘work clothes’ on, I overanalyse what I should wear and generally end up flustered and wishing I could quit. I said, ‘I realised yesterday as I walked into work in casual, comfortable clothes that I really didn’t care what anyone thought of me and that I actually value my own opinion above anyone else’s.. I’ve never ever felt that before. I just had this really powerful feeling that it makes no sense to care what other people think of me when they don’t know me. They don’t know the depths of my experiences, the things I’ve overcome, they don’t know me… I do know me and I know that I deserve to feel comfortable and safe, I deserve to be here…’ I then went on to detail all the ways I’d advocated for myself at work. I’d been able to articulate my discomfort at being all in the same room (albeit with an attempt at physical distancing) for the first time, I told everyone that I would prefer them not to hold doors open for me and that as much as I love them, I need to maintain the distancing to feel safe at my work. This then opened the forum for others to share that they also felt anxious about being back and then other people explained what they needed in order to feel safe. It was a really authentic and connecting conversation unlike any we’ve ever had in my workplace.
I said, ‘I know I’ve said that the past 5 months have been the hardest 5 months of my adult life and that is true but also it really feels like something profound happened to me in this time, something within me has changed.’ Linda asked me to go on and I then gave two analogies. The first was, ‘if someone spends their whole life terrified of heights – can’t go anywhere near a cliff edge, hates glass lifts, won’t even go up tall buildings, living their life in fear… then maybe one day they bravely do a bungee jump or something and it sort of cures their fear because they feel powerful, they conquered it… other things in life suddenly become so much more manageable, obtainable. Well my biggest fear was Anna leaving me. And as much as it really pains me to say this, there were times when she felt more important to me than anyone in my life and I honestly had moments where I believed it would be more painful to lose her than to lose my own family members. I was obsessively preoccupied with looking for the tiniest clues that she was going to leave me. I panicked about everything… I was so scared to put a foot wrong in case it would be the one thing that tipped her over the edge. And my worst case scenario came true she did leave. But I do believe her that it’s not because of me. She said, ‘you were never too much for me’ and I believe her. All that time I wasted worrying about something I had made up in my own head. It was never really true. She was never thinking all those awful things I imagined. I don’t think she ever really felt anything but loving things towards me.’ Linda was nodding and smiling she said, ‘that sounds like an incredibly powerful realisation.’ I paused for a minute and nodded, agreeing with her. I said, ‘Losing Anna has taught me something about my resilience… and resilience doesn’t mean surviving life unscathed and charging onwards barely noticing the chaos at your sides… to me resilience means being completely broken apart by something, allowing your defences to crumble and your ego peeled back, feeling all of the ugly and beautiful feelings strip you of everything you thought was you… feeling it all so deeply that you can’t help but come home to who you really are… and then though you’ve been brought to your knees… you get up and you keeping on going.’ I realised I was rambling while staring out the window, I looked at Linda and she looked kind of moved. She held her hand to her chest and said, ‘this is massive Lucy! This is your process, your journey, and it’s huge!’ I said, ‘I spent my whole life numb, Linda. I was always so terrified to even feel the edges of anything. Slowly, slowly we worked on me feeling things, tiny things… Anna and I… it feels like every single bit of work I did with her led me up to being able to really feel the enormity of the grief I experienced when she left me. It put all my other anxieties and fears into perspective. Sort of like, ‘who gives a shit what clothes I wear or what my bloody academic diary looks like, I have been thrown into the depths of my heart and I know how I am worth so much more than anyone’s judgements’… I just felt a deep connection to all of our humanness, beneath the things we use to hide ourselves. That we are all so much more than all these things I used to worry about. None of it matters any more.’ We talked a bit more about this and Linda said it was interesting to hear the experience I had and to think about the level of anxiety I was experiencing beforehand. She talked about that part of me that needed soothing and the part of me that stepped into the supportive role, the part that was able to advocate for my needs at work.
At some point I moved onto my second (rather cringy) analogy, ‘you know how crème brulee has that brittle crisp layer on the top and you crack through it with a spoon to get into the soft creamy stuff underneath…? Well it feels like losing Anna, the actual trauma of losing her broke through this hard protective layer and I had no choice but to let all the pain and grief ooze out and be seen, witnessed… felt. You know? I mean, I’m Cancerian and well – that’s a crab eh… my hard shell… losing Anna broke open my shell and it exposed my soft, deep pain – years of it… I don’t know if that makes sense.’ Linda was smiling and nodding and she said, ‘yessss it really does make sense! It sounds like a period of transformation, evolving.’ I said that’s exactly what it felt like.
I told Linda all the about the meeting I’d had with my boss and the conversations I’d had with the teacher’s I’ll be working with this year. I’ve been able to organise my timetable so I’m working almost entirely outside whatever the weather. I’m so grateful that everyone has been so flexible and adaptable to my requests and I feel much safer. I told Linda that it felt empowering to be able to go out to work, to navigate a number of difficult situations and conversations… to have that aspect of my life back and then be able to come home and enjoy my family… have more of a balance. During the meeting with my boss she said to me she’d been aware how difficult it must have been to grieve Anna without a support network. That other members of staff have shared their losses and staff have rallied around them. She said, ‘if you need and want that support, I am here. I don’t want to force myself on you but I am always here, text, phone… just pop your head in… let me know if you need that sense of support and I’ll do my best to be there for you.’ She also said, ‘if you find yourself struggling for whatever reason, send for an adult and just tell them I’ve asked them to cover you and then you just go and get some space or whatever you need… even if you need to go home, we’ll cope. I’d much rather we help you deal with things one step at a time than you hide it all and really struggle until it becomes too much for you!’ I thanked her from the bottom of my heart for being so supportive. The whole experience was really beyond what I could have hoped for. Linda seemed really energised by all of this… she said ‘it’s really so clear here… you brought your authentic self to that meeting and you were met with respect and care.’ I told her that my boss had said to me, ‘you will probably find that people respect you more when you’re honest and open with them about these things, about what you need.’ I said, ‘so far that’s actually what I’ve found! It’s like I was only living a half life before, never really connecting with anyone.’ Linda said, ‘the only way to be truly accepted for who we are is to be completely authentic… total authenticity… it’s the only way.’