I am so exhausted and I have no idea how I feel about any of this… frustrated maybe? Confused? Angry? I don’t even know if I’m being completely unreasonable or not. Anyway… here’s today’s session.
I immediately felt very nervous and anxious at the start of the session and I had no idea why. I’ve had a great week, a lot of good things happened. Getting back to work went way better than I thought it would and my kids have started school again and seem really happy and confident… so all is good there! But this morning I felt some sadness deep inside me and wasn’t really sure what it was about. By the time I logged in to the session with Linda I was feeling very fuzzy and confused. I gave her a quick overview of my week and even showed her a photo of my kids skipping in to school happily on Friday. Then she asked what I wanted to focus on today and I told her my head was full of stuff and I didn’t really know what to focus on. I said, ‘this is where I start to panic because I really want this to be a perfect session and I’m already rambling and feel directionless.’ Linda said, ‘hmm perfect session – is that not an oxymoron!? Does that even exist?’ I said, ‘yeah well useful then, purposeful…’ Linda nodded.
I told her I was feeling weird and she said, ‘good weird or bad weird?’ and I told her I was feeling spacey and muddled and like there was too much going on in my head. On reflection, I wish she’d noticed how dissociated I was here and helped me ground myself or co-regulate. She wasn’t attuned to me and that led to a downward spiral… I said, ‘I feel very muddled and there is a lot of noise in my head,’ and she said, ‘is there something in the centre of all of that, something that we could focus on?’ I said, ‘I think there’s just been so much going on lately and I’m exhausted with it all.’ She then said, ‘I’m going to suggest something that’s maybe a bit out there but hear me out and if it doesn’t sound right then we can move on from it… do you need a break?’ I honestly didn’t even really know what she meant at first and I just stared at the screen for a bit then she said, ‘…from therapy.’ The white noise became louder in my head and then all I could hear was, ‘you’re too much for her, she is sick of you, she wants to stop working with you!’ I said, ‘NO! Nope… I don’t think that would help. Why did you ask that?’ Linda then said, ‘it is a lot, maybe you would like to go down to one session a week? You are the only one, I don’t have any other clients who do two sessions a week it is a huge amount of work for you, it IS exhausting, I couldn’t do it.’ I said, ‘I’m really aware of how defensive I’m feeling right now and the inner critic is screaming at me that I should be ashamed of myself, I’m too needy, you’re sick of me. God I’m so ashamed I can’t even look at you I just want to close the laptop and go away, this is horrible…’ Linda was wide eyed and said, ‘I’m not saying this to shame you, it’s just an observation that two sessions a week is a lot.’
After some awkward back and forth misunderstandings where we completely missed each other, eventually I said, ‘but therapy isn’t the thing that’s exhausting me!’ and she said, ‘oh… OH I totally misunderstood you because I thought you meant you were exhausted by the therapy.’ I said, ‘my life feels a lot… my life feels too much and I really struggle to process it all when I don’t have sessions,’ Linda said, ‘When we started working together, it was the start of the lockdown and you were on a break from Anna and you felt the need for two sessions a week. It is important to recognise where you are now though. You’re back to work, you have more going on, you’re out the other side of the crisis. Yes?’ I nodded. She continued, ‘and it’s important that when I feel something in the room, if I have a question, it’s important that I say it or ask it, it would be wrong for me to hold back for fear of how you might interpret it.’ This really annoyed me, in retrospect, because surely this space is for my therapeutic healing, Anna would think so carefully about what she said and it really helped. Surely Linda needs to be going slow and carefully thinking about what I need in the session not just saying the things that pop into her mind? But on the other hand maybe Anna was overprotective and maybe I need to toughen up, and not be so sensitive? Anyway, I said to Linda, ‘the thing is, I’ve had a lot of very adult sessions with you, more adult sessions than I probably ever had with Anna because she brought the younger stuff out in me… but there are a lot of younger feelings going on and so there are parts of me that still miss Anna so much every fucking day and it hurts so much, some weeks I feel fine and other weeks I feel like I could do with a session every day. Some weeks it feels like a lifetime between the sessions. When the attachment stuff is triggered it’s really hard to go even three days between sessions.’
Linda said, ‘Yeah you mentioned the attachment/transference stuff in your email last week. I was wondering if it feels different to you because I’m so much younger that Paul and Anna… well I know I’m not that young anymore… as you well know!’ she laughed and I smiled because she was referring to her profile picture that is of her holding a cake with a ‘50’ candle on it. She said something about the age thing being ‘her shit’ that she’s happy to own and I said to her that I’ve noticed she’s brought it up a few times. I don’t know what the big deal is with the age thing – Anna is 55 and Linda is 50, it’s really not that much of a difference to me… but she obviously feels way younger than Anna. And Paul was in his late 50’s when I started working with him. To me they’re all the generation above me and all about the same age but she talks about it as if she feels like she is in the same generation as me. Maybe her partner is in her early 40’s and so it makes Linda feel closer to my age than to Anna’s age. I said to her, ‘the age thing never really comes up for me but you’ve mentioned it a few times… I guess the dad stuff really kicked in big time with Paul.’ There was a long gap and I muttered something about it being very painful. I said, ‘With Anna I felt very young and a lot of maternal transference happened in that relationship but I’m not sure it’s to do with age… she’d have been very young to have been my mother. But I did tell her once that I felt really uncomfortable with the power imbalance in the relationship and I remember her saying to me, ‘what power imbalance? You are a professional too., you’re a teacher.’ And I said to her, ‘not in this room I’m not! Most of the time I feel like a child in this room with you.’ And Anna spent a lot of time connecting to that child and apologising for missing her… well with you I feel like there are some parts of me that are very young. So, you are really old compared to those parts… just like I am really old compared to those parts… well my body age is.’ She was sort of laughing but I get the feeling the age thing is a personal sore point for her. I might revisit this at some point.
This is where things start to feel really disheartening because it’s like she really doesn’t understand transference. I remember Paul saying that I was experiencing maternal transference with him… it doesn’t matter the gender, age or sexuality of the therapist – we project what we need to project… whatever is unhealed. Linda seems to be a very lateral thinker and doesn’t seem to understand that it wouldn’t matter if she was the same age as me. The transference is going to play out regardless. Linda said, ‘I guess I have mentioned it a few times and I was the first to mention the age thing in regards to the parts of you when I asked you how old you felt…’ (I was amazed she remembered this – it was way back in like the 3rd or 4th session when I was still working with Anna… this made me feel a bit reassured that she is paying attention). I said, ‘this attachment shit doesn’t get triggered in any other relationship, it’s just in therapy! In my other relationships, if anything I’m more stand off-ish. I interpret Adams attention and love as him being needy. If friends come on too strong I tend to question their motives. I don’t trust easily. I keep people at a distance. But with you and Paul and Anna I am totally preoccupied and want more and more.’ Linda asked if I had a sense of why there was a difference and I said, ‘because parts of me feel they NEED you to survive and I feel inadequate, it’s not equal. Whereas I tend to feel quite strong and capable in other relationships. Not all of the time but most of the time.’ We talked quite a bit about this and looked at specific relationships and friendships.
I was starting to get quite agitated and angry. I said, ‘it’s this fucking attachment shit! I just feel so fucked up. I wish I was the kind of person who can accept the love and care and kindness that is offered to me. But when people are nice and loving to me it pushes me away, I can’t take it in. I don’t trust it. Anna would be sitting right beside me with her hand on my arm asking me if I could feel the connection and I couldn’t fucking feel it. Because it was too terrifying… and because every tiny little crumb of a rupture or misstatement that you hand me will be turned into a huge boulder that I will add to this wall between us. When I was working with Anna it would take me weeks to come back to her with these issues… I’d write it in an email and because she wouldn’t let me email her I’d have to read it out in session and it was excruciating and she’d try to mend and repair the rupture. So, I guess there’s progress there because now I’m able to do it as it’s happening.’ Linda acknowledged the progress and I continued, ‘but I just hate the way my brain works, it believes that you will hurt me and can’t be trusted so any tiny little thing will be taken as strong evidence to support this fact and I will never be able to let it go. I will always remember the tiny little ways you hurt me and it will drive me mad. I hate it.’ Linda was quiet and just had a sympathetic expression which annoyed me because what I wanted was insights and in-depth curious exploration.
I started to feel emotional in an angry way and in a sort of sarcastic tone I said, ‘D’you know when I realised how connected I felt to Anna? When she fucking left me! It wasn’t until she’d left me that I could feel the love and care. How fucked up is that. It’s like a fucking kick in the teeth. She would hand it all to me on a plate, session after session and I could barely look at her. It wasn’t until she was gone that I was able to tell her in an email that I loved her. And I know that if I’d said it to her in a session she would have been so kind and caring and sweet about it and not shamed me or anything, in fact she’d have been so proud of me… but I couldn’t do it. When people are right there in front of me it’s too much, the minute I lose them I can’t bear to live without them.’ Linda had that smile on her face as if she’s thinking fondly of Anna and I just sat there thinking how much I miss her.
As I’m writing this I feel increasingly frustrated with how little I get back from Linda. Anna would have so much to say here and she’d help lead me deeper inside myself. I know in my heart that Linda can not help me like Anna could. I’m thinking either her style of therapy just isn’t made for that kind of introspection or perhaps she hasn’t gone that deep before so doesn’t see it is possible. I said to her, ‘I feel like you and I are so different. I imagine… and I’m making assumptions here… that you are not a procrastinator. I don’t get that vibe from you. Maybe you were at one point or maybe not but I feel like you come across as someone who lives for the moment and you don’t overthink or over analyse… whereas I do over analyse and I overthink things and I have tonnes of therapy books… you should see my bookshelves – my collection would rival most therapists.’ She interrupted and said, ‘I don’t doubt it, I can only imagine!’ she then said, ‘But why is all that important? We don’t need to be the same to be able to work together, in fact it’s probably better if we’re not. Why does it matter if I’m a different person to you? I mean, of course we’re different.’ I didn’t really know how to respond. I was felt completely depleted and couldn’t explain myself anymore. I said, ‘I feel so ashamed.’
I couldn’t get over the feeling of disconnect and tried to explain that I still felt uneasy about her leaping to assumptions that I should take a therapy break or go down to one session a week. I said, ‘I feel it’s important to say here that I will let you know if I want to take a break or go down to one session a week. With Anna, before the lockdown, we were doing the Tuesdays fortnightly and then every Saturday we had our weekly sessions. But then stuff just felt so unmanageable in the lockdown that it made sense to go to twice a week. Anna and I would always have twice a week sessions in the holidays. I feel really defensive and like I need to justify… like… do you think it’s weird that I want to have two sessions a week?’ she said she didn’t think it was weird and that’s not why she’d asked and that it had been important to ask because she thought I meant I was exhausted by the sessions. I said, ‘God this is excruciating I don’t know why I’m finding this so hard, it’s just horrible I can hardly stand it… there are so many thoughts and feelings and parts of me wanting to close this conversation down, parts of me feeling really exposed, a part of me saying who gives a fuck what anyone thinks I’m paying for the sessions and it’s prearranged and I can have it if I want… but that’s a very quiet voice right now.’ Linda agreed with that quite voice and I said, ‘maybe it’s coz it’s actually really hard to advocate for myself and figure out what I need and then get that need met and I’ve tried to do that and you’re telling me I should have a break from therapy which is the very last thing I want.’ Linda said, ‘I hear you. I hear that’s how you feel. Do you hear me when I say that I was asking because the question popped up in my mind and I’m not trying to get you to stop working with me, can you hear that? Can you move past the critical, defensive filter and hear me?’ I said, ‘mmm’ and nodded once and she looked questioning and said, ‘that didn’t sound very convincing.’ I said, ‘well I feel like you have a defensive tone now.’ Linda said, ‘it’s just really so important. And I know this is uncomfortable but I’m really glad we’re talking about this because it’s helping me get to know you. And I want to know you. I want to understand you. I really want to get to know you Lucy so I’m glad we are looking at this.’ I said, ‘I just have a really sensitive radar for possible rejection and you suggesting I have a break from therapy when that’s not previously been on my mind at all, that’s something that will be hard for me to look past. My brain really easily builds these walls.’
At some point I said, ‘I feel panicky like don’t take these sessions away from me, please don’t take this away from me you know, this panic is really powerful.’ and she said in a firm voice, ‘no one is taking anything away from you Lucy.’ I got a frustrated, impatient tone from her. I can imagine how Anna would deal with this. She would have soothed me, she’d adjust her tone as if she was speaking to a child and it would have felt connecting and supportive. I feel like Linda just doesn’t get that she’s not talking to just adult Lucy.
We went on to talk about my husband and other relationships. At the end of the session Linda asked me how I was feeling and I said I felt a million different things and that there wasn’t enough time to go over it all. We ran over by a couple of minutes as we put in some date changes and then ended the session. And I fell apart.
I’ve typed up this email that I might send tomorrow… I don’t even know if I’m making sense any more!
I’m guessing you’ll be half expecting an email from me after yesterday’s session… I’ve been in two minds about sending this because I know we’ll talk about it on Tuesday but I’ve slept on it and it still feels very important to get this out there.
Yesterday’s session was really hard, I felt a big divide between us and that we were struggling to understand each other. Sometimes I feel like we’re a team and you are on my side but I didn’t feel that yesterday. As soon as I closed the laptop I burst into tears. (After years of not being able to cry, it still feels very strange to me that I’m able to cry at all, let alone have the emotions so close to the surface like they’ve been for the past 5 months.) I found it really hard to articulate what was going on for me yesterday and that led to a lot of misunderstandings which feels really frustrating and scary actually because it felt like you weren’t really seeing me. I wasn’t ready for the session to end. I could have done with another twenty minutes to resolve things. That’s a perfect example of when a longer session would be useful for me because it felt rushed and unfinished.
I was really struggling at the start of the session. I think I said I was muddled or spacey or didn’t know what I was feeling or that there was a lot going on. On reflection I can see that I was quite dissociative – not firmly in an adult head space. When I feel like that, I don’t have the words to describe how I’m feeling and I really need help with grounding, I just don’t have the ability to articulate it at the time. When the protective parts showed up by turning everything you said into a criticism, that’s when I need some co-regulation before I can feel safe enough to move past the filter and see and hear you again. I think it was our very first session when I told you that I sometimes struggle with dissociation and you asked me what I find useful/helpful and what you could do in those moments. When you experience me as struggling to articulate what’s going on in my head or explain how I’m feeling, when I say I feel numb or weird or spacey could you please check in with me. That might be a sign that I’m feeling disconnected or it might be that there are other parts of me around. It’s helpful if you ask if I am aware of any other parts being around or what age I feel. Those kinds of questions make me feel seen and less likely to feel ashamed or defensive. You have done all that before. I don’t know if I did or said something yesterday to make you not want to help me go deeper but on reflection I feel that you were different with me than you’ve been in other sessions. I think because we’ve had a run of very adult sessions, my behaviour yesterday came across as me being difficult or something. Remember the session when you said it felt like there were three people in my session; you, me and my inner critic and I said my child was there too. You said, ‘your child is always welcome here with me.’ But sometimes when I feel the presence of younger parts, I feel they are not actually welcome. Because they come out as sensitive to perceived rejection/criticism, hypervigilant, untrusting, reading into things, feeling confused and muddled, not having the words for how they’re feeling, needing a lot of reassurance. I really need you to be patient and gentle with me when this all comes up, otherwise the protective parts kick in and build a wall between us. I feel like I’m rambling, I hope this all makes sense Linda. Basically if you notice the presence of the inner critic you can be sure younger parts are around.
I want to try to further explain what came up for me when I said that I felt exhausted and you suggested I might want to have a break from therapy. I know I told you that it felt really rejecting but I think the underlying thing that triggered me is that it feels like you don’t really know me. When I clumsily tried to explain to you that I think we are very different people you misunderstood me and assumed I meant we would have to be the same in order for the therapy to work but that’s not what I meant at all. What I meant was, when you made the assumption that my exhaustion came from therapy it sounded to me like we view and experience therapy in a very different way and you were assuming it felt the same to me as it does to you. You said none of my other clients have two sessions a week and neither do I (which felt shaming). I’ve tried to think about why someone might find therapy exhausting and it makes me wonder if therapy is this isolated 50 minute slot in their/your week where you think deeply and look closely at things in a healthy, balanced way and for the rest of your week you are present in your life and not preoccupied or overthinking about stuff. However, for me, therapy is the one or two 50 minute slots in my week where for once someone else helps me carry the burden of all of the deep thoughts and worries that I’ve been struggling with every minute of every day of the week by myself. So for you and all your clients who don’t need as many sessions as me, perhaps therapy feels exhausting and hard work because it is that one concentrated time in the week when they confront these difficult things… but for me therapy is that one tiny moment in my week where I get to lighten this load I’m carrying by myself all day every day. The regular sessions I have with you feel restorative, supportive – like the water stops every few miles on the exhausting marathon of my life.
A similar thing happened with Anna once. I was freaking out imagining Anna wanted to stop working with me. She was trying to illustrate that I was the one with the power. She said, ‘you could decide to just not turn up one session and never come back, or you could fire me. It’s up to you how long or how frequently we work together.’ That caused a rupture that we had to work on in the next couple of sessions. I explained to her it felt like she didn’t know me. If she knew me she’d know that I was in it for the long haul, that I am committed to the therapy, that I am reliable and wouldn’t just not show up, that the ending was really important to me because I didn’t get an ending with Paul so I wouldn’t ‘fire’ her before having the ending sessions I so desperately wanted to be able to have. Plus I wouldn’t fire her anyway because she meant so much more to me than that. I could never have just left her. I was angry that she’d made assumptions about me that were so different to who I really am. This situation feels really similar to that.
Anyway, I could go on and on about this. I’ve read it over so many times and it’s not making any sense to me anymore. For some reason this is all very very important to me and I don’t really know why. I think it’s much deeper than all of this. I’m hoping we can explore it on Tuesday.
Thanks for reading this,