Trust That There Was a Reason

11.08.20 PART TWO

I suddenly got the sense I’d probably used half the session talking about how surprisingly well returning to work turned out to be and I realised I needed to dive into some of the more painful stuff so I said, ‘okay that’s enough delaying… let’s talk about the email!’ she laughed and asked me what I wanted to talk about. I told her about my interaction with my friend earlier in the day and how they had said that it sounded like some outdated beliefs and not my true voice. Linda asked how that sat with me and I used my hands to do a sort of ‘mind blown’ explosion at my head and she widened her eyes. I said, ‘yeah it’s exactly what was going on. They’re not my words.’ I then asked, ‘So, were you angry or annoyed at all when you read the email?’ Linda had a completely open expression and said, ‘Not at all. That didn’t come up for me at all when I read your email… oh and thanks for your birthday wishes by the way!’ I said, ‘yeah, you’re welcome, it looked like you were having a great time from what I saw. It’s a lovely photo.’ (then I totally cringed and wrinkled my nose. She said, ‘Thanks! Well it was lovely and warm and there was cake… what’s not to be happy about!’ I said, ‘do you think it’s weird or do you feel angry that I looked at your facebook page again?’ Linda looked thoughtful then in this really matter of fact tone she said, ‘Not at all. I just think I knew you’d look, yeah I definitely knew you would look to see if I had a new profile picture. I don’t mind that you looked, it makes sense to me, it’s like there’s a comfort there, a reminder of the connection. It was our first break. I knew you’d look Lucy and I’m okay with that.’ I found this really interesting. I wondered if she had carefully chosen a picture with the thought in mind that I in particular would see it. I talked about how I used to look at Anna’s photo to try desperately to feel the connection because I found it so hard to hold on to it with her. I pondered whether that was because of the maternal transference or because she unfortunately cancelled so many sessions that I always had this anxiety around whether we would actually see each other or not. I said, ‘I think Anna knows I still look at her profile picture and that’s why she’s kept her work photo up… I think when she changes it, that’s going to be a whole new grief. I really feel like she’s kept it up there to be consistent, it’ll be the last thing to go.’ Linda nodded and said she understood. I said, ‘do you feel frustrated with me bringing Anna up again?’ Linda said, ‘no, this is your work right here, this is what’s coming up for you so it’s really important you feel you can bring it to me… this is a very unusual situation you know, there’s a parallel relationship here, a duality to things. I obviously have my relationship with Anna and my relationship with you and it’s my job to hold that. I have to hold that. And I contain and hold it by maintaining the confidentiality and boundaries. That’s very important.’

At some point I said that looking at social media photos felt very painful and like it was almost self harmy… ‘it’s like looking in a window at something you really want to be a part of but you’re not allowed in the room.’ Linda said, ‘I wonder if the pain was already there? I wonder if instead of it being self harmy, perhaps it’s a soothing thing. Perhaps you’re self soothing by looking at the pictures?’ I thought about that and it really felt very true. She wondered if it was shame that made me accuse my behaviour of being like self harm. A fear that I could be judged or criticised. I said that was spot on and that I didn’t want her to think it was creepy. She said, ‘I don’t get any creepy vibes from you! I see it as you seeking connection and soothing… and I don’t see anything wrong in that. Lucy, you’re very open about how you feel and what you’re doing… it all makes sense to me.’

I started to question why I felt the need to send the email in the first place. I said, ‘I wrote loads of emails to you through the week and never sent them… I guess I knew that by the time our session came around I would want to focus on talking about work. Maybe the part of me that was struggling through the week feared all of that would be forgotten, that it wouldn’t be shared.’ Linda said that was all valid and true and then said, ‘but also, that was you on Sunday and this is you now and it’s important to see that you experienced that and you got through it and now you find yourself here, feeling differently.’ I laughed and said, ‘yeah you love bringing me back to the present moment!’ she said, ‘it’s important that you see that you did it, you got through it.’ Linda asked me what message I thought I wanted her to receive from the email. I said, ‘well Sunday had been so hard. There was a lot of grief coming up that hasn’t come up for weeks. It was really intense, like that primal howling type crying from the core of me. Adam and the kids were out and I was in the bath. I was fine, just relaxing in the bath and then I started to imagine a year or two from now what it would be like if she started her practice up again and I could have one final session. I was fantasising in my head telling her everything that I wanted to tell her and then all this grief poured out of me.’ Linda seemed to really understand this and didn’t seem phased by my crazy bath session. I said, ‘it was so visceral, just as powerful as it felt in the first couple of weeks and I felt like I was going crazy you know? Like I’d never stop feeling like that.’ Again it seemed like Linda really understood.

I said, ‘When I saw that Anna had liked your photo, that hurt so much.’ Linda said, ‘hmmm yeah…’ in a concerned tone then she encouraged me on. I said, ‘I really want her to be well and happy and to be living a good life you know and I’m glad that she’s still alive. Also, it’s hard to accept that she’s out there but isn’t coming back to me.’ With no judgment at all Linda said, ‘did you look at the likes to see if she’d liked it?’ I said, ‘yeah.’ Linda had a sympathetic tone and said, ‘hmmm, you were looking for her.’ I said, ‘I look for her everywhere. But then when I find her, it’s so painful. She’s gone from my life but not from other peoples.’ Linda asked me to go on and I said, ‘I feel like there might be some anger there… it’s not fair you know? I just don’t get it. I know that you have the full story so this may sound really insensitive but I don’t have the full story, all I know is that she has asthma and then the pandemic happened and then she made the sudden decision to close her practice and I really don’t get why! The amount of times I begged her not to leave me and she told me we wouldn’t stop working until I was ready and that we could have as many ending sessions as I needed, months of it if that’s what I wanted and all she gave me was a 14 minute phone call… why!?’ Linda said, ‘I wonder if there is a part of you that can trust that there was a reason. A very good reason. I wonder if you can trust that Anna gave you the time she was able to give you and that there is a damn good reason why she couldn’t give you the ending sessions you needed? Can you find a space inside yourself for that trust?’ I let that sink in and quietly the word ‘trust’ whispered out of my mouth as I looked out the window. I said, ‘I do trust her but also its hard to let go of the control, I want to ask you what the reason is you know? I can not imagine what the reason could be… also it makes me sad… it must be something so serious… she was such an amazing therapist and she worked so hard, she deserves to be happy.’ Linda was nodding and said, ‘it really is unfortunate.’

I said, ‘the boundaries are so fucking weird… the therapeutic relationship is like no other!’ she nodded and I went on, ‘I get why the boundaries are there but it’s so shit, I want you to tell her that I still think about her every day. You know? I want you to tell her that my silence is a symbol of how much I love her… I hope she knows that me not texting her has been the biggest expression of love and respect of her boundaries. It is because I love her that I have not texted her… I know it would put her in such an awkward position where she would have to in some way tell me not to contact her and I would never want to make this harder for her than it already is. Plus there would be no resolution for me. If I text her and she didn’t reply, which I know she wouldn’t, then I wouldn’t be able to wait til my next session to ask her if she was angry with me. There would be nowhere for me to go with it.’ Then Linda said something that surprised me. She said, ‘I know it feels like an eternity since you last spoke to her but actually not a lot of time has passed. Maybe in six months or a year you’ll feel differently and you will text her but I understand it doesn’t feel like a good idea now.’ This really confused me so I said, ‘Anna’s boundaries are really firm though. In her last email to me she said, ‘I’m really grateful for this final interaction’… she also said on the phone that I can’t text her anymore.’ Linda said, ‘oh I didn’t know she’d said that, I see why you feel it would be important to not text her then.’

I said, ‘I thought about texting her on the 16th of September. That’s our anniversary of starting work together. She brought the date to my attention both years and I remember so clearly last September she told me we’d been working together for two years on the 16th and I said, ‘wow I can’t believe you remember the date. But then maybe if it’s a significant day for you like a birthday or something maybe that’s why you remember it,’ and she said, ‘it’s a significant date because it’s the day I met you.’ I paused and felt a wave of sadness rise up. I took a deep breath and looked at Linda. She asked me what I was feeling and I said I wasn’t sure. I said, ‘I miss her a lot. I just want to ask her to come back to me.’ Then I panicked and told Linda I was sorry for still going on and on about Anna and that a few weeks ago Linda had pointed out that I was finally giving myself permission to do therapy with her and now I’m back to obsessing about Anna. Linda said, ‘this is therapy though, this is what’s coming up for you right now. This seems to be a very understandable stage to your grief.’ I nodded and said, ‘I hate that I have no control over any of it.’ She said, ‘I know.’

I said, ‘when we were working together, Anna and I talked about what we would do if we met in public. We agreed that we’d just smile at each other. But now… well when the world goes back to normal and she’s allowed out, if I saw her my heart would burst I’d want to run up and hug her and talk to her and ask her how she is and thank her and tell her she’s still impacting my life. I’d want to tell her there’s not a single day that I don’t think about her!’ Linda was smiling and nodding and I said, ‘there are so many things I’d want to say to her, we didn’t have a proper goodbye, and now I’m wasting time going on about it here… I have this tiny 50 minute slot and I’m wasting time talking about how great work was and how much I miss Anna.’ Linda said, ‘I do not experience you as a person who wastes time, I think this is all really important. What happened at work was very powerful! And you haven’t been able to say these things to Anna so this is the perfect place to say it. It feels very important that you just say these things out loud. Very important.’ I nodded and agreed and she said, ‘I can hold this. Knowing Anna and working with you. I want you to know, all I can really say is, if you can try to make peace… trust that Anna could not give you any more than what she gave you and there was a damn good reason why she couldn’t give you the ending sessions you needed… that’s all I’ll say on that.’ I think I find it reassuring to hear Linda talk like this but also very curious. I can’t for the life of me imagine what could stop a person being able to have one hour phone conversation with someone. But I guess it could be anything.

Before we finished the call Linda asked me about the rest of the week and I told her the days my kids are back to school. My youngest is starting school tomorrow and my boss has kindly given me the morning off so I can be there with him. Linda said, ‘Wowww! I mean, this week is big!’ she put her hand on her chest and said, ‘so many big changes happening for you and your family just now… reconnecting with the outside world, facing fears, advocating for yourself, preparing your kids for going back. This is all very powerful and important stuff!’

She mentioned something about taking every few Saturday’s off as she’s wanting to phase out Saturdays and I suggested I change my therapy days. I said it didn’t need to be a Saturday and I could do Tue and Fri or something similar. We agreed to talk about it on Saturday. We actually finished a few minutes early but it felt like a natural ending. She always gives a smile and wave as we sign off which feels really sweet and connecting. Oooh the attachment/transference stuff is building!

The Only Way is Total Authenticity

11.08.20 PART ONE

I sent Linda the following email on Sunday evening.

Hi Linda,

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.

Take care,

Lucy

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.’

Part Two

11.08.20

Hi Anna,

It’s been twelve weeks since you phoned me to tell me you were closing your practice immediately. It feels like the world imploded in on itself and then you disappeared from my life. And now, after 5 months of lockdown, we’re trying to assemble some sort of normality and I am at my desk at work this morning as if nothing ever happened. Every Tuesday for at least two years I would carry this feeling inside me, ‘it’s okay coz I’m seeing Anna tonight’. I’m not seeing you tonight. This afternoon I have a session with Linda. The thing is… I wish it was you. Will I ever stop wishing she was you? I saw that you liked Linda’s most recent profile picture and it broke my heart in two. Everyone else in your life still gets to have your presence… everyone but me. If I didn’t love you so much I think the anger would set me on fire. It’s not fair.

Love Lucy x

A person can be one thing and another. All at the same time.

I’ve been mulling this over all day. I’m nearing the end of ‘Maybe You Should Talk to Someone’ and this line hopped out the page. ‘A person can be one thing and another. All at the same time.’ And of course I know this and I’ve read it and heard it in different ways many times before. But sometimes an idea or thought or feeling has to reach us at exactly the right moment to be felt on a body level, to be taken in. Absorbed. I can be more than one thing at once.
And so here it is.
I am a nurturing and loving maternal figure.
I am a vulnerable and insecure grown child.
I am proactive and energised and have the power to affect change.
I am lethargic and fatigued and life feels like a chaotic mess.
I have knowledge, qualifications and experience that enables me to excel in my profession.
I have unhealed wounds that demand for stillness, hiding and safety.
I can be generous, kind and thoughtful.
I have moments of selfishness, resentment and bitterness.
I can seek connection, ask for help, reach out to others.
I have moments of deep introversion, the need for complete isolation and a fear of being seen and known.
I can run a family and a household.
I have experienced the dark depths of depressive all day bed-dwelling.
I hold an unending well of gratitude for my children.
I lack patience and crave space.
I am creative.
I need inspiration.
I am fiercely independent.
I can’t bear emotional loneliness.
I love.
I hate.
I have experienced anxiety, panic, overdrive, hypersrousal.
I have experienced numb, flatness, teen dysthymia, post natal depression.
I overthink. I over-feel.
I go blank. I dissociate.
I can be both ready and not ready. Feel confident and have reservations.
Feel strong and need support.
All of the varied facets, the delicate and multidimensional parts of me… they all dwell inside me and make up the complex and ever evolving person I am each minute of the day.
Things that I accept and in fact admire in other people, I have a hard time accepting in myself.
I am on a journey… recovery focused.
Head facing forwards with one eye on the rear view mirror.
No idea what’s ahead of me but certain it’s the right way to go.

06.08.20

‘Know all the theories, master all the techniques, but as you touch a human soul, be just another human soul.’ C.G. Jung

Hi Anna,

I’ve been so tempted to just phone you from another number so I can hear your voice. Fuck it hurts like hell sometimes. We drove past where you live today and my heart silently broke again. It’s selfish, I know, but you were so good for me… we were a perfect client/therapist fit and I want you back. You were doing such valuable, powerful work with me, with the young parts of me. I don’t know how to do that work without you. You helped me in ways I will never be able to articulate and I don’t know how to continue that work without you. And in four days I go back to work. I wonder if, when you saw the news that schools are going back, you thought of me and wondered how I was feeling about it all. I still dream of bumping into you one day and bursting into tears in your arms. I miss you I miss you I miss you I miss you I miss you. Please come back.

Love Lucy xxx

Use Your Voice

As I shared in the last blog post processing Saturday’s last session, I’ve been very anxious about going back to work next week. It feels too soon. Dangerous. I felt that we were underprepared and I was very panicky about the prospect of going into a building with hundreds of people after spending 5 months with no one but my family. We’ve stuck to the rules rigidly through the lockdown. I haven’t gone into peoples homes. I haven’t even visited local attractions as the restrictions have eased. We’ve intentionally been super careful. So going back to work next week full time all of a sudden definitely didn’t feel safe. Linda helped me clarify how I was feeling. Powerless. Powerless and like I was fighting the system. And her phrase ‘there are too many variables’ kept going round my head.

I went over every one of my concerns with Linda on Saturday and processed and wrote about it in my journal and blogged here. I received quite a few messages from people sharing very similar experiences which filled me with the sort of confidence that only validation can give you. Technically the validation should come from inside but in the absence of self belief, external validation is pretty powerful. I felt like what I was feeling made sense. That I had every right to feel concerned.

This afternoon I decided to phone my boss because I realised nothing is going to change if I don’t do something about it… I needed to express my concerns and ask for help. I was incredibly anxious, like pre-session nerves x 1000! I said I wanted the call to be confidential (like the one I had with her a few months ago when Anna stopped working with me and I pretty much had a break down). My boss agreed and said she was pleased I’d called. I explained that my mental health has suffered tremendously through lockdown, that I was still suffering from the grief of losing Anna and that though reluctant to admit it, I am very uncomfortable with the idea of returning to work. I listed all my concerns (that I wrote about in the last blog post) and she listened carefully to each point and was incredibly validating. I asked many questions, all of which she answered. She gave me solutions to almost all of my main concerns. She told me we will be given PPE (provided by the council – masks and visors, gloves and hand sanitiser). She said that many other staff have also requested support as they too are anxious about the return.

My boss told me that she will spend some time going over the new risk assessment with me, she also offered for us to create our own confidential risk assessment just for me to ensure they are meeting my specific needs. She has given me my own room so I will have space for my own belongings and won’t need to use other peoples classrooms. That means I can be in charge of the cleanliness of my workspace, have the windows open all the time, clean the kids hands before entering my room, have it set up to ensure distancing where possible. She reassured me that I won’t need to move around the building which will limit the amount of people I come in contact with, she told me I can wear a mask at all times if I wish. Lastly she told me she’d support me whatever I decided to do. Even if I choose to have the doctor sign me off. She was very receptive, non judgmental and empathic. She suggested I go away and read the documents she’s sent me including a draft risk assessment and I’ve to email with all my questions and concerns which she will either answer or commit to finding answers for me.

I was so relieved I burst into tears when I got off the phone, I was physically shaking. I hardly slept last night from worrying about all of this and imagining her being angry with me for being so difficult. I can’t actually believe how well it went. I could never have had this kind of conversation at work a year ago. It was hard, excruciating actually. Even a few minutes in when I could hear she was receptive and not angry with me I was still so nervous and imagined her losing her tempter but I just kept coming back to this feeling in my core that I am right to feel anxious, that my feelings are valid, that I deserve to have someone sticking up for me… even if I’m a lone voice I am still worthy!

This is me using the voice that Anna helped me cultivate. This is what she was talking about in our last phone call (eleven weeks ago today) when she said we ‘built strong foundations together that will never disappear.’ She said, ‘I will always be inside you,’ and I really felt that today. I really could feel her rooting for me through that call. I felt her calm, assertive presence. She’d have been so proud of me. I realised this afternoon as I processed the call that this is what it’s all about. Healing and progress and ‘living a content, healthy life’ doesn’t mean always feeling happy and balanced. It means having difficult conversations, it means putting your needs first, vouching for myself. Healing means knowing where your boundaries lie, stating them and protecting them!

I have been nursing a weary broken heart the past few days as Linda’s break has brought my grief for Anna to the surface but through that pain I am here taking another step. It hurts like hell but no one else is gonna do this for me. Anna shared the meme below on her twitter account at the start of last month (yes I still occasionally check that she’s still alive by looking at her social media accounts). The message on this little square made me think deeply about the things we value and how we can choose to self support or self abandon. I feel so much better about going back to work next week knowing I have clearly expressed myself. I feel confident that I can state my feelings if my personal boundaries are crossed when we do go back and I feel that I will be supported.

Emerging from Lockdown on the Eve of a Therapy Break

I told Linda that I was feeling good today. I said I really wanted to spend the session talking about how I feel about going back to work and that I hadn’t really thought much further than that. She asked if she could suggest that we focus first on how I feel today, right now then we could relate it back to how I have felt in the past. She said, ‘rather than focusing on how you have felt in the past and relating it to how you feel now, does that sound okay?’ I sort of laughed and agreed and looking back I think I folded my arms. She asked me what came up for me and I said, ‘well I think it always pisses me off a bit when you say that coz I spent so long avoiding talking about the past and Anna really worked hard at getting me to talk about the past and I know it’s not the same as this but a lot of the time I think it’s really important that we do talk about childhood stuff.’ She seemed really keen that I understand her, she explained that she absolutely didn’t mean that we should avoid talking about childhood stuff, she agreed that’s really important and reiterated, ‘I’m really glad you asked that Lucy because you misunderstood me. We are talking about you as an adult dealing with returning to work, so I think it would be a good idea to focus on how you feel right now… today… how do you feel about going back to work?’

I said, ‘yeah it is really important to clarify that so I’m glad you said all that. How do I feel about going back to work? I don’t want to go back. At all.’ Linda asked me why I didn’t want to go back and basically I spent the rest of the session meandering through the many reasons why I don’t want to go back.

I told Linda that the General Teaching Council and the union have been trying to come to some sort of working agreement that fits around the governments plans to open schools from Monday 10th August which is a week early. I told her that my work is back different days to my kids which is annoying. I then went off on a bit of a tangent to let her know that Adam found out today that he isn’t being made redundant which is fantastic news. I told her this was great because we want to move house and I didn’t want to add ‘new job’ to the list of stressors. She asked where we were moving to and I explained we’d be staying local but wanted to move to a bigger house, ‘but that’s another topic for another time,’ and we both smiled. I ranted a few other things quite quickly and Linda threw her hands up and said, ‘woah that’s a lot… that’s a lot going on.’ And my heart started racing and then I felt floaty. I said ‘it is a lot, it’s such a lot, and I feel weird now that you’ve said that… I think… the thing is it is such a lot and there’s so much more as well and it all feels too much for me and I never know how to focus on any of it.’ Linda acknowledged my overwhelm and reassured me we would focus on things as and when they came up and that today was for focusing on work.

I explained the main points:

  • We’re expected to maintain a 2 metre physical distance from other adults and children
  • Children don’t need to distance from each other
  • Teachers will have to teach at a 2 metre distance from the kids
  • There may or may not be Perspex shields at the teachers desk
  • We are responsible for maintaining good hand hygiene in our classrooms
  • We are responsible for keeping our classrooms clean through the day
  • We will have a full class of children up to 33 kids with any additional staff needed
  • We should keep the rooms well ventilated, windows open
  • If we’re unable to physically distance or we are in a poorly ventilated room we should wear a mask
  • Children will not be wearing masks
  • It is all down to the individual, none of the above will be ‘policed’
  • Don’t mark jotters or touch anything within 72 hours

It took me a long time to work through all these points and as each one came up I felt very uncomfortable and spacey and would give a reason why the specific point is problematic. I told Linda that the management haven’t been very forthcoming with instructions as it’s the summer holidays still, that often we are expected to hit the ground running when we go back after the summer and that this seems to be no different. We will have an in-service day but that in itself is stressing me out because usually it’s a classroom with on average 40 staff all sitting next to each other for 6 hours.

I told Linda that I will be going into a pupil support role when I go back so I will be in contact with over 300 children each week. I will not have my own classroom and I will have to go into multiple classrooms each day. I will have to trust my colleagues – that they are maintaining cleanliness and hygiene. I will have to accept their room as it is, ‘I can’t exactly stride into their classroom, open the windows, hand gel all the kids and begin bleaching all the surfaces!’ I won’t have my own classroom so there’s nowhere to keep my belongings with the certainty that no one will touch them. The staffroom and kitchen are too small to use within the regulations and the toilets are communal. I know that to avoid conflict the rules will be left to interpretation and down to the individual. It makes no sense for me to be the only person wearing a mask, that doesn’t protect me from everyone else and will just make people think I’m a weirdo.

I know from social media that many of my colleagues haven’t been as careful as me through the lockdown and they have been out for big group meals, and events together. I, in contrast, have been very careful. I have stayed in my house, gone for walks outside, met a friend in her garden and maintained distance, attended osteopath appointments wearing a mask where they have been in full PPE, had one hairdresser appointment with masks. I have not been in anyone’s house, I have not met up with large groups, I haven’t even been in shops. I am now in the position where I have been super careful and I’m going to have to suddenly be in a building with over 300 people having no idea what the past 5 months have been like for them or how careful they have been. It just doesn’t feel safe and it doesn’t feel fair.

There were so many points where I felt very spacey and in one of those moments I said, ‘I don’t know what this feeling is but it’s horrible and it starts in my chest and creeps through my whole body and makes me feel spacey and floaty and it’s what leads to the dissociation and numb feeling… like now I uh… it’s this, I lose my train of thought!’ There was a quiet moment and Linda said, ‘is it powerlessness?’ and I just sat there looking at her. ‘Exactly that,’ I finally said, ‘powerless… I feel like I have no choice, this is all happening to me regardless of how I feel about it. Shit I hate feeling so powerless.’ This felt like such a massive breakthrough in this tiny millisecond moment. It’s a feeling of powerlessness that pushes me to dissociation. Wow. I mean, obviously! But also, wow.

I said, ‘Linda, I don’t know how to teach while maintaining a two metre distance. I can’t teach without constantly formatively assessing the kids work, it’s no use waiting 72 hours and you can’t do all of this verbally with 30 kids… I don’t know how to do my job to a high standard with all these restrictions in place and that makes me not want to even try… and a Perspex shield around the desk? In my 18 years experience since I first set foot in a classroom as a student I have never taught from my desk! I only ever sit down at my desk at the end of the day to mark and plan… the shield is useless!’

Linda asked what communication I’ve had from my work and I told her nothing. I told her that because it’s the summer we won’t hear much until the first day back. I told her that I felt it might be wise to speak to my boss next week but I’m very anxious about having a confrontation. I said, ‘if I wasn’t worried about what she thought of me I’d tell her that I really want her to be more prescriptive with the rules so that all staff know what’s expected of them. I want her to say that it’s our duty to maintain all of these safety guidelines in order to keep everyone safe. But she won’t do that because they are ‘just guidelines’ and because she won’t want to butt up against people and put the management under pressure to enforce the rules. So it would be pointless for me to say this… if I was the head teacher I would have a list of expectations that I wanted everyone to follow like a ‘one out one in’ rule for the toilets, wear a mask at all times if in an unventilated room or unable to maintain the physical distancing (and the school should provide the masks!)…’

I stopped and sighed and Linda said, ‘there are just too many variables… you’re really up against the system.’ I said, ‘yeah… fucking hell that’s how I’ve always felt. I hate it. Every year I grapple with the idea of leaving teaching but what could I do with a teaching degree!?’ Linda said, ‘loads of things! I always think of teaching and social work and other similar qualifications as being really transferable.’ I said, ‘I thought they were really restrictive. It’s basically a degree to be a teacher.’ Linda said, ‘yeah but the skills and knowledge are very sought after in loads of different jobs. You have an honours degree and years of experience… think of all the skills you’ve built up.’ I said, ‘well that’s for another time because I really can’t see me doing this for the next 30 years until I’m finally allowed to retire!’ Linda said, ‘yeah, my sister was a teacher for 30 years I have a bit of an insight into the job, just a little…’ I said, ‘oh sorry for patronising you with the over explanations then,’ she said, ‘you didn’t patronise me at all, my sister took early retirement and I think she’d admit she’s very relieved she doesn’t have to teach through this pandemic. The thing is Lucy let’s be realistic here, none of us have a fucking clue what we’re doing. None of us has a fucking clue. We are literally making this up as we go along and it’s very strange and scary and unknown. Tomorrow I will be going on two planes… wearing a mask the entire time, just so I can go and sit in my friends garden for 5 days and you know I think, well that’s going to be an interesting experience, I’ve never done that before! And the other day I went to a restaurant and could barely understand what they were saying because of the mask… so yeah, and that’s NOTHING like going to work in a classroom… I get it. We haven’t got a fucking clue how to do this, the whole world over!’

I said, ‘Yeah, it’s so unknown. I have been so grateful to be living in Scotland through this. I feel like Nicola Sturgeon has done an incredible job of managing this really fucking horrific situation and when I look at some other leaders around the world and how much they’ve messed it all up… all the deaths and all the people with lasting illness… it’s terrifying. I have felt, with so much uncertainty, I’ve felt like she has given us a lot of clarity. I’ve watched every one of her briefings and it’s helped to see that there’s an intelligent, empathic person at the head of our government making decisions based on the safety of the human beings in this country…’ Linda said, ‘yes absolutely, but now Nicola has decided schools should go back..?’ and I said, ‘well yeah exactly… so this is the first move she’s made that I’m not happy about. Schools can go back, millions of children and adults returning to buildings without the same safety restrictions in place that we see in other workplaces… and before gyms, offices and other things opening. How is that safe? The past 5 months none of us have had a cold or a stomach bug or viral infection or anything, that’s usually unheard of. Because we pick up all sorts from the school! But I get that she has a lot to balance. She has to think about the attainment gap that will have widened beyond comprehension through the lockdown, the kids who are living at risk of violence, abuse, the kids living in severe poverty who don’t have enough to eat one day to the next. I get that she has all that to consider and of course that’s important to me too. School is the safest place for so many. I get that. And it’s selfish, I know it’s selfish, but me and my family, we are safe where we are. The minute I send my kids into their school and I walk into mine that’s us putting ourselves at the biggest risk we’ve made since March. I am so uncomfortable with it.’

Linda talked a bit about these issues with me. I explained to her that whenever we go back after the summer holidays there’s the awkward ‘first conversations’ you have with everyone where they ask you where you went and what you did with your summer. Almost all of my colleagues are better off than me because they’re either younger than me, childless and have higher disposable income than me or they’re older than me and their husbands all have much better jobs than mine. They go on a couple of holidays abroad in the summer or they spend their whole summer in their second home in Spain or wherever and I just hate all the competitive/comparison chat. So when we go back this time round there will be people who have gone away in the last couple of weeks… one of them is holidaying in Blackpool right now… why would you go somewhere that has higher figures than here? It’s so risky. And anyway… most of them will say they’ve loved the lockdown, it’s been a slower pace or they’ve learned how to play the trombone or ride a unicycle or whatever and all this quality family time or they’ve put a new kitchen in and landscaped their garden… and me? I’ve barely survived. This has been the hardest 5 months of my adult life.’ I sort of paused, lost my place and Linda said back to me, ‘This has been the hardest 5 months of your adult life. I mean, wow.’ And of course my brain used it’s inner critic filter and translated her very caring tone into some sort of mocking, sarcasm. I said, ‘well… I mean I know you probably think that sounds completely over the top and like I’m exaggerating but…’ Linda said, ‘no, I don’t think you’re exaggerating. That’s me empathising with you Lucy, it has been the hardest 5 months of your adult life I mean, of course going back to work is going to feel so hard after everything you’ve been through and what you’ve lost.’ It felt weird to hear her say it like that, I wanted to make her say Anna’s name. I wondered if she’d hoped I was over it. Or maybe she just didn’t want to go deeply into it before her holiday. I’m aware I was starting to become hypervigilant.

I  continued, ‘When we go back to work everyone’s going to be asking how we all are and what the lockdown was like. What do I say when they ask me? Do I lie? I’m shit at lying. But I can’t tell them the truth… we have a work whatsapp group and one of my colleagues let us know a couple of months ago that she lost her dad. She’d been nursing him in the final stage of his cancer, her mum died last year and so she sent this message and we all replied with messages of love and condolences. And I know this is selfish, I’m making this about me, but I couldn’t put a message on the group chat when Anna di…left. It’s like it was a secret relationship and I couldn’t rally a community of love around me you know? I had to do all of that here in my video sessions with you.’ Linda said, ‘I know. Could you have taken that community of love and support in? If you’d had it would you have been able to take it in?’ I said, ‘probably not to be honest. I wouldn’t have put a message on the group chat. I mean, my grandpa died at the end of the year and I didn’t put a post in the group chat. It’s just not my style I guess.’ Linda said, ‘I mean, it is what people do. They put posts on social media… group chats,’ I said, ‘yeah I don’t really do that.’

This topic went on for a bit and I talked some more about how I’d hoped the pain and longing for Anna wasn’t going to be such a powerful force anymore. I knew it would come back from time to time, the ebb and flow of grief, but I hoped it wouldn’t hurt as much as this, or at least I’d hoped it would only crop up when I had time to feel it… not in the run up to going back to work. There is something beside the sadness and longing, it’s a panicky feeling… like I want to get her back, I want to get my life back. My pre-lockdown life, I want it back. At one point I stopped and couldn’t regain my train of thought. I um’d for a while and Linda said, ‘what was it you were just going to say?’  I paused for a bit and said, ‘I’m too ashamed to say it.’ She said, ‘oh why are you ashamed Lucy?’ I told her I felt like I should be over this by now. I said, ‘I was going to say that life feels like it has been frozen through the lockdown, everything has been paused and I guess it’s been easy to sort of imagine that my sessions with Anna were paused temporarily too… but as the restrictions lift and everything goes back to normal, when I go back to work… well, the last time I was at work I had her. She was part of my week, you know? And it’s going to be so obvious when I go back to work. The last time I was teaching, she was a big part of my life and now when I go back to teaching she’s not going to be there. I just feel like I should be over this by now like you’ll be thinking ‘here we go again, still not over Anna!’ but it does still hurt, I do still miss her.’ Linda said, ‘of course you do Lucy. I don’t have any judgments over how long it’s going to take you, you know? It takes what it takes and this is how you’re feeling right now and that’s valid and important and real. The thing is Lucy… the deal is, the feelings come up and they have to be felt or they’re not going anywhere. There really is no use denying that the feelings are there, pushing them down, they’re only going to crop up again at some point down the line. Best to let them come up and be felt.’ And as if by magic the tears came. Just a little and I sort of breathed myself back to a calmer state. I had no idea what the time was and didn’t want to cry my eyes out two minutes before the end. As it happens we had about fifteen minutes left.

Anyway, we made our way back to talking about the fear of the virus, ‘the logical part of my brain knows the facts. I know that it is very rare to develop a severe case of covid, I know that most people have very mild symptoms. But then I read about the people who were healthy and got covid in February/March and are still bed bound with ME symptoms, post viral fatigue, lung disease, organ failure… these cases exist. People who can’t work anymore. Dying from covid isn’t the only thing to worry about… I don’t want to get it. I don’t want Adam to be ill or the kids. Very few kids have had it really bad but they have still had symptoms and there are loads of weird ways the virus is impacting kids.’ I started to feel the panic rising again. This is really the first time I’ve explored my feelings about the virus in therapy because the whole lockdown was really focused on Anna being ill, leaving, coming back and then leaving for good. My worries about the virus itself always seemed way down the list. Also, when we were all locked indoors it wasn’t at the forefront of my mind. I knew I was keeping safe. Linda asked me if I had any underlying health conditions and I told her I don’t. It feels so self obsessed to be stressing about this. There are people who have continued to work on the front line through this whole thing. But as Linda said, that’s part of the problem. I have been safely hidden away since March so to come out of that hiding feels very unsettling.

I glanced at my phone and noticed the time and felt this massive disappointment that THIS was what I’d spent my last 50 minutes with Linda talking about. I said, ‘This just seems so pointless, I can’t believe I wasted my session on this!’ Linda said, ‘Why does it feel pointless, Lucy? Why do you feel like you’ve wasted your session?’ I thought for a bit then said, ‘Why am I talking to you about any of this? You have no control over any of it… you can’t change or fix any of it for me.’ Linda was nodding a lot and said, ‘And neither do you… and I think that’s part of the problem… none of us do.’ I nodded and felt very sad. Linda said, ‘you may not be able to control any of this but you can control how you respond to it.’

Linda said, ‘it’s a horrible situation to be in, I’m not going to sit here and say ‘oh its fine, just you float on in there, carefree…’ you know? At the end of the day, working in a school and being asked to go back into that building in the middle of a pandemic is really crap. It’s fucking crap, I’m not gonna lie. The important thing is that you do what’s right for you. Whatever you decide it needs to be what feels right for you.’

She asked how I was feeling and I said I was going to miss her next week. She reassured me that we have a session on Tue 11th (we’re changing our session days because of my work). I told her I had a couple of things booked in during my session times to get me through, ‘which was a little tool that Anna gifted me… maybe avoidance but it’s a good one.’ Linda said, ‘nothing wrong with using a displacement activity to get you through. Listen Lucy I want you to use this week to really tune in to how you feel.’ I said, ‘I’ll make you guess at the start of the session, you can guess whether I’ve decided to go in to work or not!’ we laughed and I said, ‘that’s if you come back!’ Linda said, ‘what do you think is going to happen?’ I smiled and shrugged and she said, ‘you think I’m going to decide to not come back?’ I said, ‘well it would fit with my experience… my therapists have a habit of leaving and not coming back.’ And with a playful firm voice she said, ‘Lucy! I am going to sit in the warm sun for 5 days. I will look after myself.’ I said, ‘and you’re gonna be on four planes!’ she said, ‘yes and there will be four plane journeys… I’ll wear my mask from the minute I enter the airport to the moment I arrive at my friends house.’ I said, ‘I do hope you have a lovely, relaxing time… please look after yourself.’ She said, ‘you too Lucy, whatever you decide to do. See you Tue 11th.’ And we said goodbye. I sat for about twenty minutes breathing and trying to feel.