I was in a very dissociative state driving to Anna’s. I kept oscillating between not being in my body to being right in it and crying… not a great combination while driving on motorways in the rain and pitch black during rush hour.
Normally when I press the buzzer, Anna clicks me in without saying anything. This time she clicked and said, ‘Hi, could you wait in the waiting area for a few minutes.’ So I went and sat on the seats at the bottom of the stairs. It was exactly the right time for the session to start and I’m her first client so I was a bit confused. I could hear animated voices upstairs then a young woman quickly skipped down the stairs and out the front door. A few seconds later Anna popped her head over the banister and gently said, ‘okay?’ so I came up to see her. Immediately my brain was like, ‘ohmygodthatwasherdaughter!’ She apologised and said she didn’t know what that was all about, someone got confused over appointment times or there was a mix up or something. I don’t know if it was a client who came at the wrong time or something. She had offered me that time as there was a cancelation, maybe the person decided to come anyway not thinking Anna would give the slot away. I guess I’ll never know. It actually amazes me how focused and present Anna is. She didn’t seem overly bothered or distracted by what had happened. I asked her if she was okay and she said she was fine then she waited a few breaths before asking me how I was.
Earlier in the day I had written how I didn’t know how I was going to answer that question. I wrote, ‘I think I’m depressed or numb or dissociated or tired. Exhausted maybe. Overwhelmed by all the things I’m juggling and so I’ve shut down. Or maybe I’m sad that I don’t feel any excitement for my life at the moment. There isn’t one thing that I can say really gives me a spark of joy when I think of it. There’s this murky sea of swirling grey inside my belly. Maybe it’s anger. Am I angry that she can’t read my mind when I don’t even know what it’s thinking? Am I angry that she left me over the holidays and didn’t really work too hard at finding out about the challenging bits? I want to go to bed. I don’t want to be at work. I don’t even really want to make the hour drive in the dark and rain and wind to get to my session later on this evening. I want to pause all of my responsibilities. I want to freeze life for a little bit. I want to rest and be still and find my footing. Everything seems a little too much right now. What am I going to say to Anna when she asks me how I am? I’ll probably just say I don’t know and then take it from there.’
So, when she asked me how I was I hesitated. I took a drink of water. I shifted around in my seat and looked at her then looked away. She said, ‘would you like me to sit beside you?’ I nodded. I felt about ten years old. She moved the chair beside me and I moodily stated that I didn’t like the table being so close to us. She said we could move it and she pulled it out then sat down.
I didn’t really look at her but I leaned on the arm of the chairs between us and started rambling, ‘I really hated work yesterday, I wasn’t enjoying it at all but today was a bit better because I had a classroom assistant helping me and it made me realise how isolating my job is, I’m really lonely and overwhelmed at work there’s just too much to do and I can never do it to a good level but she used to work with me a lot and she’s lovely and it just made everything flow better and I was able to enjoy bits of the day… but really I’m just not happy and I really feel so bad right now and it’s all been so nothingy and numb and dead inside for so long and I just feel so disconnected.’ Anna was nodding, I could see out the corner of my eye. She asked me how long I’d been feeling like this and I said, ‘since the holidays I think.’ She said, ‘is it just a disconnection between us or is…’ I interrupted, ‘no I feel connected to you today it’s just a disconnection from myself and life and everything. I’m hating everything just now.’
I said, ‘There is so much pressure.’ She asked me where the pressure is coming from and I said, ‘it’s all coming from inside me!’ she asked what I am putting myself under pressure about and I said, ‘everything! I need to be a perfect mother and perfect teacher and perfect friend, wife, person…’ she said, ‘do perfect people exist?’ and I got angry and said, ‘not perfect then! But just not this fucked up mess, not this needy up and down shitty person who feels overwhelmed by the tiniest things and is so fucking selfish she can’t just be a mum or whatever without overthinking everything and just overanalysing everything… I criticise myself but I’m also super critical of Adam. I pick him apart. Not all the time but sometimes. And my brain works on critical overdrive. It’s like all I can do is think of the arguments and it drives me mental. Even when I’m arguing with someone about something I feel very strongly about I can hear the counter argument to my own argument in my own head I just can’t stand being in my own head anymore I don’t have the energy anymore.’
She talked a bit about the words I’m using when talking about myself and something about how it’s understandable that I feel like this but I didn’t really take any of it in and then I just burst out with, ‘There’s just so much talking talking talking and thinking thinking thinking and so then there’s no feeling and now I’m just in so much pain and it hurts. I don’t know whats worse. The numbness or this agony. I don’t like it but there’s too much talking.’ She said, ‘too much talking and thinking.’ And as much as I know this mirroring is a strategy, it did work, it spoke to a small part of me who needed to hear the words back… I said, ‘I think I’m angry or overwhelmed or… I just, this is just, I’m talking over the feelings. I just hate this so much it hurts so much in here,’ I pushed the palm of my hand into my chest and squirmed myself away from her. She said, ‘where are you feeling the pain in your body?’ I told her my chest and agitation in my whole body. She said, ‘If the feelings had words what would they say?’ This took me forever to figure out then I finally said, ‘this is scary… I’m lonely… I’m alone.’ She made an understanding noise and said, ‘hmm and that is so painful. Holding on to all that loneliness.’
At one point, early on she said, ‘let’s just take this slowly then, let’s go slow today and not rush over the feelings.’ I felt so relieved when she said that because all the way up in the car I had been saying in my head over and over ‘I need to go slow’ and I was crying, so I’m really glad she managed to read my mind on that one.
She asked me if these feelings were connected, she said, ‘it feels like we are talking about two separate things here – work and home life.’ I said, ‘no it’s the same thing. It’s all in me.’ There was more silence and then I said in a very broken up sentence that I couldn’t describe it and it was so hard. I glanced at her and she was staring into space with a pensive look as if she was trying to think very carefully about what I was saying. She said, ‘they feel connected?’ and I closed my eyes kind of involuntarily and said, ‘I have an image of a tree with fruit on it. All the different bits of fruit are dying, they’re dropping off, everyone around is looking at the fruit not knowing why it’s all dying, coming up with different reasons for each piece of fruit.’ Anna said, ‘but what happens in Spring? New fruit grows.’ I said, ‘NO! No new fruit will grow on this tree. The roots are rotten. No one’s looking at the roots… this is my life, it’s like painting the roses red in Alice in Wonderland – I just stick fake fruit on now… it’s all for show so you don’t see the rot.’ I feel like she must have said something here but I was in the thick of this imagery and feeling very young so it all just felt like blackness in the room and white noise in my ears.
Eventually I said, ‘I told Adam the other day that I’m not happy. I’m not enjoying family life… I left the table and went upstairs coz I got upset. Anna asked, ‘Where has this come from? I don’t think I’ve heard you talk about not enjoying family life. You were talking about playing with the kids and spending time with them and having a laugh with them the last time we met…?’ I felt caught out, like she was trying to catch me in a lie or something. In my head I could hear, ‘I’m not lying! That was the truth but so is this!’ I said, ‘That part isn’t here today. Well… that’s… it isn’t making any sense in my head. I think if the kids are having fun that’s what I mean, but I don’t really… um well it’s, there are different parts of me. The part of me that was talking about that isn’t here right now.’ There was an excruciating silence and she said, ‘like you’ve drawn a picture in pencil and someone has come along and rubbed parts of the picture out?’ I nodded and looked at her. ‘Yes! It is there but it’s also not there. And I don’t know what’s mine and what’s not.’ She asked me what Adam said when I came back downstairs and I really struggled to even remember what I’d said to him. I thought for ages and she started asking something else so I screwed my eyes up and pressed my thumb and finger into my eye sockets to block it all out and try to remember. Eventually, ‘he said that I’m too hard on myself and it’s fine and this is just family life…’ She said, ‘Did that make you feel better?’ I shook my head and she asked me what I needed him to say. I tried to think about that question and then she started asking something else. It felt like she was behind the wheel of a stolen car and she had her foot down and was speeding too fast and everything was a blur and I couldn’t focus on any of the words in the sentences. I managed to get out, ‘I feel like my brain is working much slower than usual and I need more time to think about the answers to your questions.’ She said okay in a calm voice and then I told her I couldn’t even remember the conversation. Then finally I said, ‘I needed him to ask me what I don’t enjoy about family life, or why I find it hard, or what would make it feel better.’ She said something that made me feel like she understood but I can’t remember… I think I was very dissociated.
Anna said, ‘you have been feeling this disconnect since the holidays?’ I said, ‘I think it was harder to be away from the sessions than I thought and there were crap bits in the holiday too and…’ she said, ‘that’s perfectly normal, we think these times should be full of smiles and love and happiness but actually they’re usually very stressful with many difficult times. Did you have time to yourself over Christmas? Did you remember to ask Adam for some time to yourself?’ I nodded. She asked me what I thought I needed to help reduce the pressure and I said, ‘There isn’t a realistic thing we can do… We don’t get any help or any break. Our family can’t or won’t help. Yeah, we could get a babysitter every so often, that’s okay as a one off but we can’t afford it regularly and anyway the last time we talked about getting her the kids both said they don’t like her.’ Anna agreed it is hard when there’s no help and money worries are a big one. She said she admired how Adam and I take it in turns to give each other a break and time away from family life. She said it shows we respect each other’s needs.
I don’t think I’m remembering this in the right order but at one point she said to me, ‘Are you afraid to let people in?’ I sat silently… I hate when I do this but it’s like my brain is working in slow motion or walking through a swamp or something. Everything feels laborious and like an impossible task. I eventually said, ‘Well yes, obviously!’ She said, ‘What do you think might happen if you let people get close to you?’ I said, ‘it just feels safer to be by myself. I like being by myself, I just hate people, I’m so much happier when I’m by myself then no one can hurt me.’ (I don’t really know where all this came from because I have a lot of very close friends and I keep important people very close to me… obviously a part of me hates that though!) Anna said, ‘I have an image of you with your headphones in…’ I said, ‘Yes, I love that it feels so much safer. People don’t want me around anyway. They don’t need me there, there better off without me…’ Anna questioned if I really thought that was true and I said, ‘hmmm well maybe it’s me, maybe I don’t want to be there.’
She asked, ‘when was the last time you remember having fun with the kids, laughing, getting mucky, being silly?’ I told her about the games I was playing with my son on Thursday but all the while I was thinking that I wasn’t genuinely enjoying that time I just know he was enjoying it and I was faking it. I said, ‘that was like 4 days ago… 6 days? 5…?’ (I literally couldn’t even count at this point!) I continued, ‘it’s the OCD stuff… my intrusive thoughts tell me I’m neglectful and I’m fucking up my kids so I do x, y, z to ensure I don’t fuck them up as much as I might if I don’t do those things… or worse, if I don’t do all those things they might grow to hate me.’
I then sank into a very dark place and began ranting, I was practically resting my head right down at Anna’s elbow on the arm of the chairs. I said, ‘It’s not good enough, I’m so shit at this, I should never have had kids, I’m horrible, I resent the time I spend with them, I hate that part of me…’ She interrupted me loudly and said, ‘Okay, let’s pause there, it’s important to not criticise any part of…’ and I interrupted her and said, ‘NO! NO… no pausing, I’m not going to pause, it’s how I feel, don’t tell me that I can’t say how I feel. Don’t tell me to not share this. I do hate that part of me. I hate the part of me that stands on the landing and shouts at Adam, ‘is it any wonder that I hate being here for bedtimes!’ knowing full well the kids can hear me. That’s unacceptable. It’s not okay to say that, it’s fucking hurtful and mean. That’s the sort of thing my mum and dad would say to me and it hurts like hell and I know you’ll tell me that it’s okay because I always go back and apologise but that’s not fucking good enough!’ She was repeating, ‘okay,’ in a very gentle and understanding tone then she said, ‘What would your son say that he likes about you?’ I thought for a while and then said he likes it when I tell him made up stories at bed time. She asked how often I do that and I told her every night and she sounded moved and said, ‘every night, imagine that, every night mummy tells him made up stories, you’re not just reading him a book but he gets to listen to you making up stories. That’s such a lovely, special thing.’ I said, ‘no it’s not, because sometimes I make them really short or repetitive and sometimes I’m sitting there not wanting to be there, I’m sitting in their rooms playing with them or reading stories or whatever and I’m not even really there in my head.’
She said, ‘where would you rather be?’ and this total agony washed up inside me. I was just thinking dead. I said, ‘nowhere, I’m not happy anywhere, I want to be gone. They’d be better off without me.’ She asked me what I needed and I looked at her and immediately looked away and said I needed to not look at her because it hurts too much. She said okay softly as I covered my face with my bundled up scarf and I was just breathing very deliberately and deeply to try to get control of things again. She started speaking but I didn’t hear her. I started to cry. I cry very quietly so to her it probably looks like I’ve stopped breathing then I take big breaths then there are sniffs… but it’s not loud sobbing. My mum was a loud sobber. It used to frighten me. Her cage of a body heaving with these massive howling, aching sobs like there was a wild animal ravaging her from the inside out. I did everything within my power to make those howls stop but I never could. So, I cry silently because I always have. Because I never wanted to draw attention to myself, I never wanted to let people know I was hurting, it wasn’t safe to show weakness. So, with Anna beside me, when the first sharp inhale happened she gradually tailed off what she was saying. I heard her start to shift in her seat and she asked me if she could move closer to me. I nodded. She asked if she could place her hand on my arm, I nodded. Her hand was so warm. It always feels so warm. I sit there freezing, literally and psychologically. Like I’m shutting down. I get jittery and instinctively want to cover myself and curl in a ball. I cried and cried like that. I had so much pain in my heart and it was slowly bubbling over in quiet moments of release with small rest periods where the crying would stop but I’d still be covering my face and could easily have fallen asleep there. At one point she said, ‘let it all out, Lucy.’ In the most compassionate tone I’ve ever heard. I swallowed and held my breath and gulped it down. This is the only way I know how, I felt like saying. This IS me letting it out. Like pushing lumps of porridge through a sieve. It reluctantly oozes out of the tiny gaps in my walls of resistance.
I had calmed down a bit and asked her for a tissue, even though we both had the same distance to reach for it I wanted her to give it to me. I felt stuck, frozen to the spot, but also I wanted to ask her for something and have her give it to me. There is so much shame in crying for me. SO much shame. I don’t feel it about other people when they cry but I am flooded with the shame when I cry. It feels like a dirty, bad, horrible thing I should keep secret. I kept my face covered and turned away from her to dry my eyes and blow my nose. I lay back round still with my face hidden but closer to her and she started talking about how natural it is for me to feel overwhelmed by family life sometimes but I just became overwhelmed again and started to cry again. She put her hand back on me, it’s like being plugged into a battery charger… the heat of her hand gives me this life energy. After that wave of crying subsided Anna said, ‘is there anything that your child part needs from me or wants to ask for just now?’ I nodded and said, ‘I want a hug.’ She asked if I wanted a sitting down hug or a standing up hug and I said, ‘I wish you had a sofa!’ I don’t know how a sitting down hug would work. I told her I couldn’t be bothered standing up but I did eventually and we stood facing each other and I put my arms round her waist as she wrapped her arms firmly around my back. She rocked gently from side to side which felt so soothing and she quietly said, ‘I want that little girl to know that I am so proud of her. I know that was very hard and it hurt so much but she stayed with it and was very brave. I want her to know that I am glad she’s here and that I could be here with her… can she hear me?’ I nodded and whispered thank you. She said, ‘you are so very welcome’.
When I was sitting back down I said that I really do believe the kids would be better off without me. I said, ‘I know I might not feel like this tomorrow and that you will say they need me but it really feels very true to me right now.’ She said, ‘I know, the feelings are valid and real. This is why it’s so important that you do what you’re doing. Well done for staying with the feelings and talking through them. The thoughts need to be brought into the light and dissected or they will grow and eat you up inside. You are doing the best thing by talking about it all. And you’re not going to like this… but this is one of the main differences between you and your mum… you talk about this with me, you’re not burdening your kids with it like your mum did.’
I said, ‘I know that I cycle round these same things over and over, it must drive you crazy. It’s just you say all these positive things but I know the truth. I know that I shouted at my kids last night and yes I went in and apologised later but I shouldn’t be doing it in the first place and then going back in just feels so fucking desperate, pathetic, like I’m this attachment wounded freak going back to her pleading… ‘do you still like me?’ it’s so needy, I just feel like I’m going to pollute her with my attachment shit you know?’ Anna said, ‘Because you’re in pain Lucy. Your child is talking to her child. Your child sees what she never had and it hurts and she lashes out then she realises it’s not her fault that’s she has what you never had so she apologises to make things right.’ That made me feel like I could cry again. She asked if that sounded accurate and I nodded. She said, ‘when you were younger bedtimes were not good.’ I said no and angrily recalled how empty and hollow and alone bedtimes were. She said, ‘and that’s so fucking shit. You deserved so much more. It hurts like hell.’ We sat for a minute with this thought and this heaviness and then she said quietly, ‘I think we will leave that there for now, if that feels okay. We have ten minutes left.’ I nodded.
We talked a little about the weather and then Anna said, ‘How did it feel to that small part of you, to have me sitting with you through that?’ I said it felt okay. Driving away I thought about how terrifying it felt. Total blind panic when I felt the crying bubbling up. It was okay in the fact that I want her to be there and I actually wanted her to hold me when I cried but there was also terror there and I wanted her to not be there or I wanted to not be there.
She then said something about tomorrow being an easier day for me at work and I nodded and said, ‘Wow! You have such an amazing memory.’ She said, ‘Hmmm sometimes…’ and I said, ‘Well you listen, really carefully… and that is so meaningful to me.’ She kind of had like wet eyes (I wish there was a better way to describe it… she looked moved?) and said, ‘it is so very meaningful to me that you notice that.’ We looked at each other for a bit. I was sitting cross legged facing her playing with my scarf on the arm of the sofa. I sort of exhaled very loudly and said, ‘that was so fucking hard.’ And she said, ‘yes and you stayed with it. Well done. Look after yourself over the next few days. Go home tonight and cuddle up with Luna… or Adam if he’s lucky! Just relax and be kind to yourself.’
She then said, ‘is there anything your child would like to check with me before you go? Anything she’d like to ask me that she might worry about before we next see each other?’ I studied her face trying to read her mind to decipher what she might mean and I turned inwards as much as possible to see if there were any unresolved fears. I smiled eventually and said, ‘no… actually… I think I know we’re okay!’ She smiled and nodded. We hugged again and said goodbye.