Emotional labour, violated boundaries and intense lockdown fatigue.

As soon as we clicked on I told Linda I needed to speak about Adam. I said it had been on the back-burner for a while now and it’s come to the point where it’s too important to not talk about it. So that’s what we spent the whole session looking at.

I told Linda that I didn’t know where to start and I just spoke about things as they randomly came into my head. I said, ‘I am just so sick of them all. I am so sick of having no space. I need personal space and there is none. Like for example I got some post through the door earlier and the three of them followed me from the door to the kitchen to watch me open it. I asked them to give me space, told them that it was nothing to concern them, the kids went away and Adam’s still there hovering over me waiting for me to open it. It’s not even anything private and I feel like I’m being petty and stupid I mean, nothing happens these days so of course they’re interested if someone gets post but I have had enough of having my every move scrutinised under the magnifying glass its so intense. I just want everyone to go away. Everything he does annoys me.’ Linda asked me if there was anything Adam does that I do like and I was too caught up in the annoyance of it all to find anything. I told her that of course there are things I love about him and that this is just a window in time. I know that I love him very much and that these things weren’t an issue a few weeks ago and they won’t be an issue forever but they’re very much in the foreground at the moment.

I said, ‘the main problem is really just that Adam doesn’t have anything in his life other than me. So all of his eggs are in my basket… he literally relies on me for every single interaction, every conversation… every thought that he wants to share, I’m the only person he can share it with. He has narrowed his life down so much over the years that it’s been reduced to just work and us. It’s not a conscious thing but it’s happened gradually over the years to the point where he now finds himself in a really bizarre situation of having no friends and nothing in his life and I guess he’s comfortable with it this way… and I enable him unintentionally, I make it so easy for him because I want life to be calm and happy, I want him to have a good life and for the kids to be happy, so I run around metaphorically making sure he says and does and understands… it’s fucking exhausting.’

I continued, ‘When I’m not emotionally in the right place like when I was in the thick of the grief 6 weeks ago, I shut down and the space between us has widened because he just doesn’t know how to meet my needs emotionally and when I’m struggling that much I don’t then want to have to teach him how to meet my needs, teach him what to say and how to say it.’ Linda asked me if I resented him for that and I said I did and that I was angry. I explained how I put so much effort into these things and he just goes along as if everything is fine and I have to sweep up behind him.

I said, ‘I think so carefully about everything I do and say. So much effort and hard work goes into the things I deem important, like you pointed out the other day, it really hurts when other people don’t put the same care into things that I do.’ Linda said, ‘yeah I really hear that, I can see there’s a direct link between the way Adam behaves and the way your parents behaved and that’s triggering much bigger feelings… not that it isn’t valid but it also has a deeper meaning for you.’ I nodded and agreed.

I explained that in a way it’s like Adam’s a child emotionally. Not that he doesn’t or can’t understand but that he hasn’t experienced what needs to be experienced for someone to mature in their emotional intelligence. She asked me to continue explaining and I said, ‘well if I think about my life and what has helped me grow and mature and change… it’s having multiple friendships come and go, all the things that go along with friendships, the subtle nuances in adapting and responding to each individual, the tiny disagreements and mending of misunderstandings, the deep conversations, the painful parts, the endings… it all helps you develop a richer and more broad understanding of communication and of yourself… then there’s all the different jobs I’ve had, working in retail where I had to communicate with a vast amount of people, going to university matured me, the depth of intellectual conversations I had at uni with a range of people from lecturers and professors to students… then there’s my job… dealing with difficult conversations with parents or confronting challenges with management or cooperating and working as part of a team or nurturing and being very careful and considerate with the kids I work with… then there’s therapy… the 7 years of work I’ve put in there. Getting to know myself and being deeply attached to the therapist, that all generates growth, the shedding of layers of yourself as you grow out of the skin that once restricted you. But he has had none of that. When I met hm he had a great group of friends and then a horrible situation between one of my toxic friends at the time and his friends kicked off and they made him choose between me or them… I think I told you about this…’ Linda said she remembers. I continued, ‘and then he had a great friend from work who we became really close with, him and his wife, and they had kids when we did and we used to see them all the time but then they moved back to Canada. And his work… he is on his own for the majority of the day not communicating with anyone. So he hasn’t had the rich and diverse situations in his life where he would learn and develop and grow. He’s still in the skin he was in back when I met him… maybe a little but of change and growth but not much. And then there’s the attachment stuff… when we met we were both literally fighting for our lives living with our mums. And we suddenly had each other and very quickly developed an incredibly tight bond based probably on co-dependency and enmeshment. And our anxious attachments suited each other, we both clung so tightly onto each other and we settles each others anxiety because we were both afraid of abandonment. But I don’t have those same needs anymore. I’m far more secure now. I don’t need constant reminders of his love. But he still needs that from me.’

Linda asked, ‘What comes up for you when you talk about that situation with him, when you stack it all up like that, all of what you’ve learned and experienced, all of your growth and what you have next to him and his lack of growth?’ I said, ‘so many things… I guess the main thing I feel is compassion. I’m sad for him. I wish things were different. I am also maybe frustrated because it’s of his own doing, not deliberately but he’s also not doing anything deliberate to change the situation. I work so hard to make improvements and he just wishes it were different and does nothing. I sent him a podcast of Brene Brown this morning, she was talking to this guy, a doctor or psychologist or something about loneliness and connection. They were saying that even if your relationship is perfect it can’t be all you have, you need other connections, other strong attachments, you need a community. He listened to the podcase, he’s always really keen to learn… I do love that about him… he listened and he asked me if I was trying to analyse whether he was lonely and I told him NO… I KNOW he is lonely… I was trying to encourage him to reflect on what’s going on in his life and how totally it is that he feels dissatisfied. I told him it’s a pressure for me to be all he is.’ Linda asked what he said and I told her, ‘he’ll say things like, so do you want me to stop talking to you then?’

I said, ‘he wants physical intimacy, so I’ll walk into the kitchen and he’s there and he’ll lean against the unit and open his arms and tell me to come for a hug and I just don’t want to, I mean I do but I’m stiff and I can feel that I’m not relaxing into the hug. I don’t want him kissing me. I’m annoyed about the emotional intimacy stuff and all the effort and time and energy I have to put into things that it makes me not want to top him up. He constantly asks for reassurance, asks if I still love him, asks if I think he’s fat coz he’s put on like ten pounds in the lockdown, asks if I’m still attracted to him and I do reassure him, I tell him I love him and that I fancy him but there’s a pressure there… I don’t want to have to reassure him every fucking day!’

I said, ‘it’s the emotional load I’m bearing…’ Linda said, ‘emotional labour?’ and I said, ‘yeah! I have to put so much emotional labour into the relationship. Teaching him how to be a parent and how to be a good partner. So much work and effort for me. I mean, I talked to Anna about this and obviously I’m keen for Adam to start therapy and he has shown increasing interest there but she told me to back off… but how can I?’ the analogy that just popped into my mind is imagine you could drive and you decided to teach your partner how to drive… it’s a passing over of knowledge and skills… but I guess growth and therapy is different. I said to Linda, ‘Adam asked me to help him find a therapist but it’s his journey, I need to let him be the soul master of his therapeutic journey, I cant risk taking over and it being about me… I don’t want him getting more into it and resenting me for forcing him down this road. But I have found a couple of therapists… I guess it’s about talking to him about it and seeing if he’s ready to take the step.’ Linda agreed that it’s important for me to step back but also seemed keen on the idea of me giving him a gentle nudge. I said that him starting therapy would probably trigger my insecurities because I’ve spent the past nearly 19 years having his undivided attention.

Linda asked me what would happen if I stopped trying so hard, stopped helping him. I said I felt like I would explode. Life would fall apart and what am I meant to do, just watch it all fall apart? I said, ‘it is threaded through every single fibre of our lives… I’m the one who makes all the effort. If I stop everything stops. Adam comes to me to sort everything. He will walk past the kids to me to tell me that I need to tell the kids to tidy up or get off the ipads or whatever. If they’re playing in the garden and he thinks they’re getting too noisy he’ll come and tell me that the kids need to come in now.’ Linda said, ‘Wow! He gives away his power all the time to you… why do you think he does that?’ I said, ‘to be honest it’s probably my fault. My perfectionism and high expectations of us both mean he is bound to fail. I will always find something he could have done differently, done better… it seriously must be exhausting to be in a relationship with me. Why would he bother doing it himself when I’m just going to tell him he did it wrong!?’

I reflected on what Linda had said to me the other day about me being very prepared, planned, organised, methodical, considered… lesson plans and teachery. I said, ‘It’s not like I was one of these kids that knew all along she wanted to be a teacher and so the side of me that has become more and more teachery is actually a side of me I dislike… it’s organised but is it also controlling? I’ve got high standards but am I also unforgiving? And so… being in an intimate relationship, I mean it’s like he’s an employee or a kid in my class, I’m practically giving him two stars and a wish on his interactions with the kids, ‘oh I noticed you did this and that but have you thought about doing this differently?’and we talk every night reflectively, I will bring things up that happened with the kids and I’ll share stuff I’ve read and tell him how I want to do things differently…’ Linda said it sounds so much like my parents, that Adam is not living consciously just like they weren’t’ living consciously and that is a very important element for me. I said, ‘the only massive difference is that Adam isn’t defensive. He is willing to listen and learn and change whereas my parents were very defensive and never wanted to change… but again the onus is on me to help him learn and change because there is no one else, and I guess up until now I’ve been doing such a good job of that I’ve made it totally unnecessary for him to look for it anywhere else.’

Linda said, ‘I’m listening to you explain things and I get this image of you, it feels like you are running and progressing and you’ve been doing that all your life, like all your life nothing has been wasted, not a single minute, you’ve worked bloody hard to make sure every experience you’ve had has been for something, you’ve used it to grow and improve and change and adapt… and you’ve been picking up speed especially over the past few years you have been running fast in your therapy journey and I just have this image of him and he’s stayed in the same place.’ I said, ‘yeah… and I feel like this is not what I signed up for, but then he could easily feel that too, he has stayed the same I’m the one who has changed and maybe he liked things the way they were but then I feel like I have improved my life is so much better than it used to be and I want him to come with me, I love him, I feel like we were holding hands and now its harder to stretch back and keep holding on but I’m determined to not leave him behind I want him to come with me.’

Linda said, ‘I just want to say that no one is coming out of this lockdown the same as they were when they went in. especially intimate relationships. They have all been under pressure and those of us who are reflective and deep thinkers will have been doing a lot of learning and growing through the past few months. There is a lot of learning that will need to take place in relationships to get us all back on track… for everyone.’ I said, ‘I’m good at learning but then I’m gonna have to teach him!’ Linda said, ‘Yes and that’s not what you signed up for when you went into the relationship. You’re not his therapist or life coach, you wanted to be his life partner, it needs to be equal.’ I said, ‘I think it’s actually really important to see how much I have changed. The enmeshed, codependent, ‘two halves of one whole’ thing we had when we were teenagers isn’t what I want any more. I want autonomy and choice and freedom and a love that feels safe enough and strong enough to move away and come back freely… he needs constant attention and affection and stimulation whereas I feel confident in our love without having to see him and be near him all the time.’

Linda said, ‘I want to just mention something and if it doesn’t fit where you’re at just bat it away okay?’ I nodded and listened. She said, ‘do you have much going on in your life at the moment other than him?’ I said, ‘well no… but not through any decision of mine, the lockdown has reduced my busy and full life down to these four walls and these three people.’ She said, ‘and have you been connecting with friends and other people as much as you would normally?’ I said, ‘well no actually. There are some people who have been on the same wavelength as me through the grief and intensity of all of this but some people haven’t and so a distance has grown between me and them. And then I haven’t seen colleagues, I haven’t gone to the gym… I haven’t had my usual social events… everything has gone.’ Linda said, ‘So the lockdown has made you have the same life as him. I wonder if that’s magnifying things for you. I wonder if you are feeling the isolation and pain and loneliness for the both of you. And because you didn’t choose this life, it feels intolerable…’ I sat thinking for a while and she asked if that made sense. I said it did and she said, ‘is it landing? Will it go in?’ I said, ‘this is a lot, I’m letting it settle… I think on the one hand it is that I am carrying the weight of the isolation and loneliness for both of us and on the other hand also my newly formed ‘narrowed down’ life is meaning there are no longer the same distractions for me, I am having to face what has been here all along but was easier to bear because I had balance. With no balance it is harder to be okay with this.’  

I said, ‘the thing is, when we were teenagers neither of us knew anything about co-dependency or boundaries or whatever…’ Linda said, ‘yeah 19 years is a long time and of course things have changed,’ I said, ‘but I’m not sure he has changed, not the core of him, he still kind of lives with the premise that we complete each other or whatever… there is no boundary between us for him but I don’t feel like that anymore.’ I then gave Linda two examples. One was a time when Adam was looking for something and he started to open my bedside table to search for the item. I can’t even remember what he was looking for but I know it wasn’t in the drawer. I didn’t want him rummaging through my drawer. There isn’t even anything particularly private in there and there’s nothing he doesn’t know about but I just hate the feeling of him going through my stuff. Despite me explicitly saying ‘NO, I don’t want you going through my stuff’ he proceeded, in a light-hearted ‘what’s the problem’ type way, to tip the contents of the drawer on the bed, sweep through it, see the thing wasn’t there, stuff it all back in and push the drawer back in… while I swallowed my rage. Another example was when I gave him my phone to show him photos from the day we had at the beach. When it got to the last photo I said, ‘that’s the last one’ and reached my hand out but he continued to swipe and saw the picture I’d made from the photo of the heart shaped stone on the beach that I’d edited for the post about missing Anna. I didn’t want him to see that picture. My page is anonymous even to him, he doesn’t know the name of the blog and I don’t want him to see the content. I was so angry with him for continuing to swipe despite me saying that was the last photo. He just chuckled and passed the phone back to me (after looking at the picture) and I sat not speaking to him for the rest of the evening with my headphones in. later I said to him,  ‘I don’t share the intimate personal things about my emotional life with you because you don’t respect them, you don’t treat it with care and delicacy, you are not careful with hwo you speak to me and it hurts so I build a wall between us to protect myself. If you want me to share more with you then you need to be more emotionally open and caring with me.’ He apologised and asked what he could do that is more helpful. I said to Linda, ‘its not that he is deliberately hurting me its just that he really doesn’t get it.’ She said, ‘yeah it’s like he doesn’t see, doesn’t notice…’ I said, ‘yeah but it just feels so violating.’ She said ‘violating’ at the same time as me.

I said, ‘I actually cant stand it. I would never do that! I would never just rummage through someone’s stuff. I wouldn’t do it to Adam or my kids, it’s really not okay!’ I felt a lot of the teen hurt and anger rising and I could sense Linda looking closely at me though I wasn’t looking at her. I repeated, ‘I just don’t like it when people do something when you ask them not to.’ Linda said, ‘and that’s something your mum would do.’ I said, ‘yeah and I said that to Adam at a later date. I told him that respecting my privacy is really important. I had no privacy growing up. She would go through my room, she’d look under my bed, I remember coming home from school and she would have gutted my room and she would keep things of mine, she’d take my magazines and whatever she wanted. She’d read my diary… there was no privacy, I didn’t even know that you were allowed to feel safe and protected from the invasion of other people you know?’ Linda was shaking her head and sighing as I explained what my mum was like. She talked about how the violation feels so similar and that’s why it is having such a strong impact on me.

She said, ‘I can hear from what you’re saying and from your big sighs that you are very frustrated and angry about this. His behaviour is reminding you of your parents and that is really important to notice. He’s not understanding or seeing your boundaries.’ I explained that if I try to assert boundaries, he interprets it as me not loving him.’ I checked my phone just off screen and Linda said, ‘did you just check the time?’ I laughed and said ,’yes you didn’t give me a ten minute warning!’ she said, ‘sorry you’re right I didn’t, 5 minutes to go!’ I said it was fine and she asked how I felt. I told her it felt like we had just scratched the surface. Linda assured me that if it still felt important on Saturday we could revisit it.

There’s a lot going on for me as I process all of this. I am not at all comfortable with Adam’s behaviour reminding me of my mum. I don’t like noticing the feelings of having my boundaries violated. I also am confused about my feelings on the actual way Linda works. She does a lot of listening and repeating. I really feel like she does listen very closely and she helps make connections but when I did this kind of work with Anna she would blow my mind with her insights, no exaggeration it was like she had these golden nuggets that would propel my relational growth… Linda just doesn’t offer this kind of depth. But does her more laid back approach allow me to formulate my own understanding of things? It’s a bit like talking to a friend… though some friends offer me huge insights, way more than Linda. It is reminiscent of this idea that I am always the one who has to work very hard… even within the therapy with Linda, she is taking a back seat and I am doing the lion’s share of the work. With Anna I felt like she worked so hard to help me. But then I wonder if Linda will be able to play a bigger role in these conversations as our work deepens and she gets to know me better. Who knows. But I am emotionally exhausted. I feel a lot of tearful energy in my chest and down my arms. It’s been an intense session and a long day processing it all.

Thank you for Tolerating Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Searching for an Anchor

So, it’s Tuesday again. And even when I’m not really sure of the days (due to some sort of lockdown haze), Monday evening always feels very heavy and emotionally charged. Then I remember it’s the eve of losing Anna and it makes sense. My body remembers and brings the panic and hopeless despair to the foreground.

I drove to Anna’s old office today. I’ve done it almost every Tuesday since the day she called me. I experience a physical pull to be closer to the place she held me. I’ve noticed that on the days I find myself deep in these young feelings I end up drawn to specific locations. Anna’s office. My childhood house (one of them). My old school. A park we sometimes went to. There’s something validating about returning to the place where it happened or where it was felt. Seeing the building or the land. It’s like I’m saying to a small part of me, ‘it was real, it happened, I was there, it exists and your feelings are real.’ Simultaneously I am saying, ‘you’re safe now, I’ve got you.’ It’s as if I find myself searching for an anchor for the pain. Usually when I’m struggling to make sense of the feelings or fully express them. In the absence of an internal sense of grounding it’s as if I go back ‘to the scene of the crime’ so to speak – I look for the pain and the memories and the validation in all the places it may have been lost.

Today, strangely, I couldn’t feel it. I sat staring at that locked door and couldn’t feel a connection to the grief. It can’t be summoned, just like if it’s there it can’t be squashed. What I did feel was an overall sense of calm and safety. Like a tiny glimmer of something new, something solid… like trust. Maybe slowly, through these actions and through my patient commitment to feeling and processing this grief, the younger parts of me are learning to trust they are safe with me… and maybe one day that means the anchor that I am searching for will be grounded inside me.

Processing Through Unsent Texts

20.06.20

Anna,

I was sitting in the garden this morning and Reuben dragged the other chair right up beside me, he couldn’t get any closer. He sat up and said, ‘mummy, when I’m a big man taller than daddy will I still be your baby?’ I said, ’yes darling, you’ll always be my baby.’ He said he didn’t want to ever move out and live with a different family and I said he could stay with me as long as he wants and he’ll always be in my heart. It reminded me of when I’d drag the heavy chair up right beside you, Anna. And I’d ask you if you’ll ever leave. And you said unless ill health or death stops you being able to work with me you’re not going anywhere. And you told me you are always inside me and I am in you. That you’ll never forget me. Four misses you so much today. She’d give anything to drag the chair right up to you and sit close today.

Love as always xx

27.06.20

Anna,

It is so hard to not text you.

I miss you so much. With every fibre of my being. I wish we could just go back to the way things were before. It was working so well. I miss your hugs and your gentle patience. I miss being seen by you. The grief is as present today as it was five weeks ago.

I just can’t believe you’re really gone and I’m really not going to see you again.

It’s breaking my heart all over again, when I didn’t think the pieces could be broken any further.

It hurts like hell.

I love you,

Lucy xx

29.06.20

Anna,

Six weeks ago right now I had a terrifying sense that I was never going to see you again. In the morning I would receive your call telling me exactly that. I can remember your words so clearly.

I hope you know that my silence over the past 6 weeks represents my love for you, my respect for your boundaries and my desire to not make your life any harder than it already is. That I have not and can not forget you. I hope you know that I have wanted to text you every single day.

You are the biggest presence in my mind and heart. You’re everywhere.

The grief I feel for you has ripped my heart right open. There are no walls or hardened scars anymore, just an open wound letting all the love pour in and out.

Anna, you opened my heart to it all.

I love you,

Lucy xxx

An email to my ‘after Anna’ therapist.

Hi Linda,

I’ve been reflecting on a couple of things that were said yesterday and I just felt the need to share my thoughts with you. I know you said I could bring any leftover stuff to the next session and I will do that, I guess I also just wanted to get it down ‘on paper’.

I want to start by saying that I felt the session was really connecting and ‘real’ and I really appreciate you bringing your authentic self to the sessions. I really heard you when you said you want to get to know me. I actually loved that you said that.

I imagine it’s a very unusual situation to inherit a client from a colleague under these circumstances. Maybe it’s more commonplace for a client to come to you because they were unable to work well with the previous therapist or their work had ended on bad terms. In this situation you have inherited a client who didn’t want to leave her previous therapist and who didn’t choose to specifically work with you. I imagine you’ve never experienced it before.

It really fascinates me, hearing you share your experience of me. Anna never brought these things into my sessions so it’s intriguing to be given this insight by you. Over the past few months there have been a few things you’ve said that have made me wonder if it’s actually quite difficult to be my ‘after Anna’ therapist. Most recently, yesterday you said that you want me to notice you. Notice that I am now working with you. I wonder if you feel that you will never live up to Anna or maybe you feel that I will never let you. I want to say two things about that. The first is that you won’t. She was the first woman who ever earned my trust and the only person who knew me as fully as she did. I really felt loved by her and more importantly I let her love me. There is no way anyone can compare to that because the work I did with her was so unique and like you have said before the connection we had was precious. The second thing I want to say is that you don’t have to live up to anything. You are fulfilling a different and incredibly important role in my current reality. And I do see you, Linda. I do notice you. I have a huge amount of respect and gratitude for you. You are the only person to have witnessed the full force of my grief. You are the only one who has witnessed my tears. You have consistently come to our sessions ready to hear me and see the loss. Despite the depth of work I did with Anna, I always struggled to cry with her. Somehow, from the start, you made it clear that I was safe enough to cry with you and that those feelings were welcome. I am so grateful for that. To have the freedom to cry openly. You have created a safe space for me to process this grief and there have been many times over the past nearly 6 weeks where the only thing keeping me going was counting down the days until my next session with you. Knowing that you, Linda, understand and see me. I am incredibly grateful for that.

Another thing that crossed my mind was wondering if you were experiencing some sort of countertransference with this feeling of not being noticed by me. It really resonated with me hearing you say those words ‘I want you to notice me’ because I have felt that so many times. The only person I felt completely noticed and seen by was Anna. When I say I want you to know the whole back story it’s actually that I want to be fully known by you like I was fully known by her. My parents never noticed me and never wanted to know me. I have this deep need to be known fully and have all parts of me seen and accepted. I experienced so many parts of my self coming into being through Anna’s gaze and without her those parts of me feel suspended in space again… not noticed, not seen. Yesterday, those parts of me lit up when you articulated that it makes sense to you that my adult feels safe showing up to the sessions and that the child parts are peeking round the door trying to suss you out. I liked hearing you explain it and you made me feel understood. It helped those parts of me feel seen.

The root of this is with my mother – she just wanted any attention from anyone as long as the person sat quietly and listened and gave their full uninterrupted attention. It didn’t matter who they were. So, if I was there she’d offload to me, if she had someone else to talk at (be it a new best friend, a new boyfriend, some random person in the post office) then I was of no use to her anymore and I’d be rejected. Hearing you say that you want me to notice you reminded me of how my mum used to make me feel… you put words to the feeling that my inner child has been screaming all her life – I wish she would notice me. The only time I got any positive attention from her was when I was meeting her emotional needs. I wonder if there is some unconscious repeating of the pattern between us, that I am unconsciously showing you what I experienced and felt growing up.

One final important thing I want to make a note of is the idea of touch and motherly nurturing in the therapeutic relationship. I did not experience nurturing, safe touch as a child. There was a deficit there that Anna was really keen to explore. And she was very slow and patient and always checked in on how I was feeling. But allowing her to put her hand on my arm and comfort me physically, asking her for a hug and relaxing into the hug and really feeling her hold me – these aspects of our work were so healing. They reached places inside me I think are unreachable with words alone. I remember telling Anna that my mum told me I needed too many hugs – she would push me away, get up and walk out the room if I sat next to her. Anna said to me, ‘I think you can never have too many hugs’. The energy that I got from Anna was almost like she had to hold herself back from giving too much affection and overwhelming or scaring my avoidant/disorganised parts. But letting her love me like that has helped me love my kids more freely, and love myself. Her demonstrating how freely and easily she could love me without feeling like I was depleting her resources or making her feel uncomfortable or used has helped me see that I too have an abundance of love that I can offer myself and my children. It literally changed the way I parent them, for the better. It was a fundamental part of my therapy and not something that I would choose to go without.

I understand and hear you when you say you are not a huggy/touchy person. Not just in your work but it’s just who you are. I hear you and I respect that. I hear that it’s not a rejection of me, it’s just part of who you are. It doesn’t feel good to imagine that me asking you may have made you feel uncomfortable. At the moment it will probably be months before anything close to physical contact could happen due to the restrictions protecting us from the spread of the virus and so it’s irrelevant in the current situation. I am also very aware that I have felt your support and connection through a computer screen, which is amazing. But I know that when we are in a room together there will be parts of me that believe the space between us illustrates how unlovable and disgusting they are. No amount of words, logic or reason can get through to those very young parts.

It intrigues me, the idea that you’ve never had a client ask you if you will introduce touch/hugs in the therapeutic setting. Maybe you have been asked before and it’s always been a solid ‘no’ but when I asked you, you decided to go and reflect on it. Maybe all your other clients have met you in person and can sense from the way you feel in the room that it’s not going to be an option. I can’t be the only client who’s ever felt the need for it… especially in the world of trauma work.

I think what I’m saying Linda is that I feel really supported by you, I like you and I am glad it is you that I am working with. You have helped me and I trust that you will continue to help me. I also like it when you explicitly refer to the younger parts of me. However, I do wonder if there will always be a part of me that needs the mothering/touch side of the work and I respect that I most likely won’t get that from you. I am focusing on the here and now at the moment and I’m also aware that I won’t know about these things until I’ve sat in a room with you.

I need to learn how to precise my writing… thank you for reading this email, Linda.

I know we will talk about this on Wednesday.

Thanks,

Lucy

****************

*second email sent a couple of hours later*

I’m now thinking that when you said, ‘I want you to notice me,’ you might have meant, ‘I want you to see that I’m here supporting you’ or something like that. Because you said it in response to me saying that I feel like I’m just noticing you, noticing that we are doing therapy in its own right separate from the grieving Anna type therapy we’ve been mainly focusing on.

You know how you encouraged me to just notice what comes up for me post-session? To not analyse it and just notice it..! I’m clearly not very good at that 😂

Gonna try to turn my brain off now! I promise I won’t email you again.

See you Wed.
Take care.

You’re Scared That I’m Not Anna

I Want You to Notice Me

I said there were lots of things going around my mind. I’d planned on talking about things between me and Adam but now there was a lot of other stuff coming up for me. I told her I’d noticed that I didn’t talk about Anna at all on Wednesday and Linda asked me when I had noticed. I told her it came to me pretty much as soon as the video call ended and when I typed up the notes I’d reflected that I felt okay about it though I wanted to note that Anna was never far from my mind. Linda said, ‘The situation we talked about on Wednesday was very important to you and was a current thing happening in your life at that moment. Sometimes that will happen in therapy, other more historical things will be put to one side so you can focus on what is happening in the here and now. And we worked very deeply with what had come up and how it related to your relationship with your mum, so in a sense we did work on your deeper attachment stuff.’ I nodded and said that it was a very worthwhile session but it’s hard because there are so many things I want to cover and not enough time.’ She said, ‘I know you feel a sense of not having enough time to cover everything you want to work on. In those moments, all we can do is trust that what we do cover is all part of the process.’

At some point early on in the session I said I was annoyed at this pattern I was noticing of me talking too much in the sessions and that especially during the Wednesday session I talked for like 45 minutes and she spoke for about 5 minutes. I said, ‘I don’t know if it’s because Anna knew me better than you do and so I wouldn’t need to explain things so much for her to get it but I feel like I have to tell you the whole story and that uses up a lot of time. I wish I didn’t talk so much to give you a chance to actually do your job…’ Linda said, ‘this need to tell me the whole back story, I just wonder if I really need the whole back story?’ I said, ‘you do if I want the therapy to work!’ Linda said, ‘I’m holding that it’s true for you that I need the back story and I’m also holding my belief that I don’t need the whole back story for this to be therapeutic.’ I said, ‘but it’s bigger than that… I feel like you need to know me… and I’m nervous to say this… but it’s something about the difference between you and Anna or between counselling and therapy. I know it might just be an argument on semantics but for me counselling is a lighter, surface, specific thing and therapy is deeper and I want therapy. And… well I don’t know if it’s because you’ve been doing this full time for decades and you’re used to people coming and going or because you said you don’t write things down, there’s this sense of impermanence with you, like the work doesn’t impact you as much or doesn’t run as deep with you… whereas with Anna because she only had a handful of clients I feel like she dedicated more time to getting to know me more deeply and really knowing my life and how I process and what I need, maybe it was because I knew she wrote things down or because she was in advanced clinical training so she was dedicating more of herself to our sessions, investing more of herself in the relationship. Ironically, even though it ended up finishing anyway, the way she worked made me felt like there was more depth and it felt like it would be more long term… I don’t even know if I’m explaining this properly… I need more of you in the sessions but in order for that to happen I feel like you need to know more of me…’ I felt really uncomfortable saying all this and was shifting about and looking around a lot.

Linda took a minute to think about how she wanted to respond then said, ‘Our relationship is very important to me, Lucy. How we connect and communicate with each other is very important. I put as much effort and energy into you as I do all my clients you know, because it’s important… because I have to you know. You know… I have to.’ I noticed myself tighten up here and feel defensive. I know she meant, I have to treat you all the same in order for this work to work and because it’s ethical to do it that way. But two things came up for me, one was that my mum used to say, ‘I love you because I have to, but I don’t like you.’ And the other thing that came up was thinking, ‘even your clients you’ve worked with for years? Surely there is more for them than there is for me?’

She explained, ‘I haven’t been doing this full time for all those years, I stopped counselling full time and joined the cops in 2001 until… oooh… 2015? Then started doing this full time again. And yeah, this is the way I work, over the years I’ve developed this unique way of working and it is mine, so it’s bound to be different from the way Anna works. But you know with Anna you have thiiiis much (she motioned a large length of time with her hands) and with me you have this much (she held her thumb and forefinger an inch apart) and so it really is hard to compare. And I get what you’re saying.’ I said, ‘and I think I’m angry that I dedicated so much time and effort and energy to ‘this much’ and now I’ve been thrown back to ‘this much’ (copying her size comparions). I said, ‘it really is not fair… and it’s all very well saying I should trust the process but I’m 37 in a couple of weeks you know and I’ve already dedicated 7 years of my life to this and it’s a massive commitment and how many thousands of pounds and thousands of hours am I going to waste on meandering around trusting the process? It needs to work!’ Linda said she heard me and she noted my sense of urgency and anger. She said, ‘the thing with therapy and trusting the process is that if you try to push it, it won’t work… I wonder if you can let yourself relax a bit?’ I think I rolled my eyes here or laughed sarcastically at this because she sort of raised her eyebrows and asked if I was feeling noncommittal about trying to relax. I said it wasn’t that easy.

I went back to talking about noticing that we hadn’t talked about Anna in the session on Wednesday and I said, ‘last Saturday you said to me that you recognised that it was really important that I talk about Anna as much as I need to until I don’t feel the need anymore and it brings up this analogy that Anna used a lot when I was worried she’d be sick of me bringing up the same thing over and over. She would say that it’s like a young kid tugging at the bottom of your top saying, ‘mummy, mummy, mummy…’ and they won’t stop until you finally turn and look and give your full attention. Finally, their need to be seen will settle and they wont need to keep saying it any more. You telling me I could talk about Anna as much as I wanted, it’s like you told this deep unconscious part of me that you heard me and it was okay, so that part quietened down and I didn’t need to go on about her as much.’ Linda was smiling and nodding in agreement then we both confirmed that even when she crops up again in session we must trust that that’s the process.

I said, ‘I just wish I hadn’t wasted so much of my time with her. I wish I’d known that my time with her was limited. I wouldn’t have wasted a single second of our time together.’ Linda leaned forwards and with a deeply sympathetic tone said, ‘oh Lucy but why would you tell yourself that? That’s just so unkind. In what way do you feel that you wasted your time together?’ I started to well up which took me by surprise and I told her to stop being so compassionate coz it was upsetting me then said, through the tears, ‘Two and a half years sounds like such a long time and yet I felt like we were only just beginning.’ I was struggling to speak because I kept getting caught up with the tears. I tried to breathe through it and continued, ‘in many ways, the deeper work had only just started… it now feels like I’m having to box it up and put it away, that it’s never going to get worked on. Because it was Anna who helped me get to those parts… I mean, I was so resistant to even admit there were younger parts of myself let alone see them with anything other than complete contempt, and now they’re out and I don’t know what to do with them!’ Linda asked, ‘does it feel like panic?’ I said, ‘it feels like an empty hopelessness… because with her I felt this hope for the first time in my whole life, that things could get better…’ more crying, ‘and now she’s gone… she’s taken that hope with her. Parts of me only just learning to trust her then she got up and walked out the room. Closed the door and left me alone. It feels like what was once an open and willing door has just been closed in my face and I don’t know if I’ll ever have that again.’

I talked about feeling angry that after all the work I put in with Anna I now feel like I’ve taken a few steps backwards through this whole thing. Linda asked me to clarify and I explained, ‘with Anna we were in such a good place and it was working so well and it would have continued that way. Effectively the very deep therapeutic work we were doing has been put on hold for the past 4 months and that’s not fair, it was going so well and now even though the sessions we are having have been worthwhile it still feels like. It feels like I was on a train with her, going on the right journey with a lot of certainty on this track and then someone has flicked the switch and we’ve been separated and her carriage is going in one direction and I’m going in another and now you and I are on another track taking a really long detour!’ Linda was nodding and agreeing as I was talking then laughed at the end and said, ‘hopefully the detour isn’t going to be that long!’ I said, ‘but it is though, I don’t even know if I’ll get back onto the track I was on before. Because I have all this same stuff that I’ve already worked on with Anna and I’m going to need to go over it again with you. If I hadn’t taken so long in the first place to trust her and get moving with things then two and a half years might have been enough.’ She said, ‘oh but Lucy you are being so hard on yourself, can you see that..? Yeah..? So, so hard on yourself.’ She had such a compassionate tone and it touched something inside and made the crying start. I said, ‘I just feel defeated, like… how long is it going to take?’ Linda said, ‘I know… how long is it going to take… I guess I would suggest that no one can ever know the answer to that, even if you were working with Anna still… and that’s where I fully believe that we should trust the process, yeah? There really is no right journey.’ I remember reading about client centred therapy and how one of the fundamental beliefs that underpins the whole modality is a trust in the therapeutic process. I feel kind of sceptical about this… it sort of feels like a cop out. I mean, I know what she means about trusting the process and I would guess that Paul and Anna also felt the same, but equally you have to put effort into that… you can’t just sit back and let things unfold and say you’re just trusting that the client will bring what they need and to trust the process. I guess I feel like I want her to work harder or something. It feels like when my husband or someone responds to my anxieties with ‘it will be fine’ NO IT WON’T! It is only ever fine if I put in the effort and get it right. Things don’t just accidentally work out. I have never had stuff fall into my lap like that I’ve had to work bloody hard for everything. It will NOT be fine and I WILL NOT just trust the process. Too much is at stake.

At some point Linda said, ‘it’s really important that I understand you and so I will ask you, I will check on what you mean, I wont just say I get it when I don’t. Do you trust me? Do you trust that I will let you know when I don’t understand something you’ve said?’ I said, ‘I trust that you won’t bull shit me but its more that you won’t understand the deeper meaning behind certain things just because you don’t know me that well or maybe I don’t trust that you’ll notice when you haven’t understood something… I just miss this deeper sense of being known.’ Linda said, ‘I’m just thinking… and this could be way off and you need to tell me if it doesn’t resonate with you. Could it be that the way we work together is going to be very different? Could it be that our work will not at all look like the way you worked with Anna?’ I said, ‘but that is exactly the case, it is very different and I don’t know what to do with that because the way I was working with Anna WAS WORKING and it was what I needed and I am scared because I don’t know if your way will work for me… I need what Anna was giving me, I know that I said all that bullshit about me being the driver and her being the navigator or me being the engine or whatever I said but she was the driving force behind it all, she was taking me on this road I’d never been on before and without her I’m completely lost. I’m scared that I can’t do this without her.’ Linda looked solemn and nodded, quietly she spoke, ‘you’re scared that I’m not Anna.’ And we just looked at each other for a while. I said, ‘You are not.’ Some more crying. ‘I believe we’ve done good work together and will continue to but the type of work she was doing with me… I need that.’

I said, ‘I don’t even know where all this came from today. I was so set on talking about Adam, I didn’t know I had all this going on.’ Linda said, ‘and that is therapy right there. Going with exactly what is in the room at that moment.’ I said, ‘part of me feels scared I think because I feel a deeper connection with you today and I don’t even know how to put this into words but it’s also like I’m noticing that it’s you here… like sometimes I could be talking out into the atmosphere and I feel like I’m on my own but today I’m noticing that you, Linda, is there listening and responding.’ Linda was thinking and took a while to speak then she said, ‘I would like to share my experience of that because I think that’s an interesting thing you’ve said, however it’s really important that you listen to me and tell me what you hear when I say this. I’m going to tell you what is coming up for me… I want you to notice me. I don’t mean that in a NOTICE ME type way, I mean, notice ME. This session between you and me, it’s important that you notice ME.’ I said, ‘have you felt that I haven’t noticed you in sessions?’ Linda said, ‘I think that’s what happens in grief, you are so focused on that person you’ve lost that you don’t notice others… and that’s a natural part of the grieving process and something that needs to be worked through by allowing you to focus on and talk about her as much as you need to.’ I really don’t know how I feel about this… have I been spoiled by Anna who fully understood my need for the sessions to be about me. Maybe Linda needs to feel important in the session, maybe she experiences a counter transference of the isolation that I feel… or what I felt and still feel with my mother – that she could be talking to anyone when she was offloading onto me. I might bring this back up with her another time because it seems important.

I said, ‘I feel like that’s actually true of my earlier sessions when I started with Anna as well… like maybe grief in general including grief around losses in childhood… maybe it just makes me talk and not connect… I used to talk about a brick wall between me and Anna. Like maybe it just doesn’t feel safe to make a connection with people when you’ve been so hurt in childhood, or maybe you’re so certain of rejection that you reject the other person first. Because, why would I connect to you, open up and trust? It took so long to do that with Anna and then she left me and the openness and connection and love and then the space she left behind generated more pain than I’ve ever felt in my whole life, why would I allow myself to walk down that road again?’ Linda was nodding and saying it made sense. I complained about having spoken so much again and I referred to exactly how many minutes we had left and she made a comment about me holding myself so tightly to the minutes counting down. I changed the view on the screen so I could no longer see the time. I forgot during the session but I’m remembering now how Anna used to turn the clock away from me so that I would no longer clock watch… she knew that about me!

Linda said, ‘Lucy I want to get to know you. I want to learn about you and get to know you and it’s about trusting you and trusting the process. That whatever needs to come up will bring itself to the session.’ I said, ‘but there’s too much fear and resistance… I know that I can cope with these sessions. For example happened on Wednesday, I can get a lot out of the sessions with you, my adult can come and talk and process day to day stuff but there were sessions with Anna where stuff came out that I didn’t even know was there and we had sessions where I’d be crouched, curled on the floor and she’d ask me how old I was and I’d say 3 or something… I didn’t even know the answer until it came out my mouth and she would ask me if she could put her hand on my arm and it was so grounding, it really tethered me to the room with her, made me so very aware that she was here and that I wasn’t on my own.’ Linda was smiling and nodding. I said, ‘Anna brought those younger parts of me out, very slowly and gently… without her I feel like they’re hiding and why would they come out again? Why would I ever let myself trust anyone again… why would I trust that you will stick around?’ there was a pause and then I said, ‘…but there’s another voice saying, ‘please don’t build a wall around me again! Please don’t shut me off from that connection… what I built with Anna was so beautiful and healing and it didn’t end when she went away… please don’t build a wall around me again.’ Linda said, ‘who are you speaking to when you’re asking them not to wall you off?’ I said, ‘my protective parts.’ More silence and then some more crying.

Eventually Linda said, ‘So I have a really strong image of a child peeking round a door you know, and maybe they’re looking saying, ‘who is this woman, she’s not Anna… she looks different, she’s younger, she doesn’t talk the same, I don’t trust her!’ and so they’re keeping themselves hidden. And that’s okay. It will take time… and so adult Lucy comes to the sessions because she can deal with it, she knows she is safe. And the child parts are watching. Adult Lucy can cope with this, the adult can deal with talking to me and the child parts will be watching… does this match with your experience?’ I said, ‘YES! Spot on. This reminds me of what it was like when I first started with Anna in fact for probably a year I didn’t trust her. In fact about 18 months ago I drew a picture of a child peeking round the corner, child peeking round behind my legs… I felt like Anna wasn’t right for me, that she didn’t get me. Then you know, couple of years later and I’ve fallen in love with her and that child wants to climb up onto her lap! I know what I needed because I got it from her… then it was taken from me and I may never get it again.’

I’m contemplating Linda’s remark about needing to feel noticed by me and I’ve been aware of her saying something similar a few other times. There was the time she said, ‘your work with Anna has ended and you’re working with me now’ and this was the same session she told me that grief was selfish and described grief stricken people as having some sort of tunnel vision, unable to see others or reach out for connection. I guess this was our first rupture because I felt the things she was saying were so invalidating and gaslighting. In our repair session she reflected on her words as being ‘fucking brutal’. I wonder if Linda has felt invisible in our sessions or like she can’t live up to what Anna was to me. I’m guessing it’s not normal for someone to take on a client that has worked with a really good therapist beforehand. I’m guessing that normally if someone comes to a new therapist with previous therapy experience they usually have moved on because they needed more from the therapist than the previous one was giving them… so maybe Linda has never experienced working with a client who talks a lot in a very adoring way about their last therapist. Perhaps she feels inadequate or frustrated that I am not a blank slate, I come with experience and a clear sense of what I need. I also didn’t choose to come to her. I get the sense that she’s taken this to her own therapy or her supervisor and she’s reflected on it and they’ve helped her see that this is going to be the work that we do. She said last Saturday that she’s realised that it’s very important for the work that she and I do together that she lets me talk as much as I want about Anna. Which felt like a bit of a u-turn, as if she had talked it through and seen a new side to the issue. And today she is now talking about her need to feel seen in our relationship.

I pointed out the time again because I checked my phone and I told her that I hate the 50 minutes thing. I said, ‘I know it’s how you work but it’s yet another thing I’ve lost. The full hour makes a difference.’ Linda thanked me for telling her and said she hears that it’s another thing I’m grieving. I said I felt annoyed that I didn’t focus on Adam today and that there’s all these things I wanted to talk about. That I still didn’t feel completely resolved with what I spoke to her about on Wednesday, there’s loads to try to process with Adam and my brother is moving up from London on Monday and I have a massive amount I want to talk about with that but can’t because she doesn’t know anything about him or our relationship. I told her I could say one sentence to Anna and she’d get it but it’s going to take many sessions for Linda to get it and I’m stressed about my change of job next year and I want to make the most of all the sessions. Linda said, ‘I guess what I want to say to you is that I notice you being very rigid and unforgiving of yourself… I don’t want you to hear the word rigid and hear it as a criticism, it’s just an observation. It’s making me think of lesson plans! You know it makes sense, that’s part of who you are and of the way you’ve lived for years, you have to know where you’re going as a teacher, but I wonder if you can let yourself have a little more freedom with this. Trust yourself. It doesn’t matter if we don’t know where the track will lead us… can you allow yourself to relax a little?’ I said, ‘The voice is saying it’s not enough, it’s not good enough, I need to be more.’ Linda asked whose voice that was and I said, ‘it’s the part of me that was created to make me better so that they’d like me… it’s me but it’s the part of me that was acceptable to them… my parents, I guess.’

There were lots of quiet moments and I was feeling very raw and vulnerable but also was aware that Linda and I were connecting on a deeper level than before. Maybe seeing each other properly. I started to feel this pull inside me to have a hug from her… but not from her… I wanted Anna. I said, ‘This has felt like a really connecting session which is making me feel sad because at the end of a session like this Anna would give me a hug and it felt so grounding. It really helped with the connection. Because connecting with her would be scary sometimes and I’d often leave feeling certain that she hated me or was disgusted by me. But after we started hugging then I could always call the memory of that hug up in my mind and it would shut the inner critic up, ‘things are fine between us because she hugged me’.

Linda was smiling and I looked away and said, ‘Putting the stuff about the virus to one side. If things go back to some sort of normal and we’re allowed closer than 6 feet apart, is that something you would do? Like putting a hand on my arm or something… is touch part of the way you work?’ I could tell immediately that her gut response was no but she was thinking. She said, ‘Hmmm…. So, I’m not a touchy person Lucy. Not a huggy person. Not just in my work but in life in general. I’m just not a touchy person. But I’m willing to think about it and reflect on it and talk to you about it later.’ I said, ‘I might not even want it… we’ve never even sat in a room together… but it’s important that I know if it’s a possibility or not but the touch was really important in my sessions with Anna and there’s some transference stuff coming up for me right now, hearing you say you’re not a touchy person because you know my mum wasn’t a touchy person with me but she was with everyone else and it is bringing up a lot of stuff for me from my childhood… hugs not being allowed.’ She said, ‘yeah, I hear that and I will think about it. Does it help to hear that I’m not a huggy person even… well in all areas of my life? Not just work?’ I said, ‘I wish I’d started talking about this 50 minutes ago.’ Linda asked why and I said, ‘because this is another grief… that’s a big loss… you know?’ she nodded and said, ‘me not being a touchy huggy person is something that I work on in my own therapy.’ We said some more about that and then I noticed we had two minutes left.

Linda said, ‘I think you’ve brought a lot of important stuff to the session today. Be kind to yourself for the rest of the day. Be kind. I’d like you to notice what comes up for you after the session today. Don’t try to analyse it or overthink it or question it, just notice. You’ve talked a lot about Anna so expect things to come up.’ She put her hand over her chest to signify that I might find the grief come quite a lot

I just can’t stop thinking about Anna saying to me, ‘you can never have too many hugs’ and I think I just really need that. I need that energy from a therapist. Someone who is overflowing with it. Someone who has an abundance of it. More love and hugs than anyone could ever need. The energy I got from Anna was that she almost had to hold herself back from giving me too much and overwhelming my avoidant self, scaring the disorganised, untrusting parts. Anna was having to hold herself back from willing me to ask her for hugs for months. I need someone who is saying, ‘I am willing to give you anything you think will help you in this therapeutic relationship’ (obviously within ethical reason). Not someone who has to go away and think about possibly introducing touch in a session… so has she never done touch before in a session? I feel like with Linda I’m having to constantly reach out and tease these things out of her. Maybe when clients start working with Linda in the room they can tell she isn’t a touchy huggy person and so it’s never come up… I don’t understand how she can have experience working with trauma and never have come up against this before. I really miss Anna so much. I’m scared I’m never going to have anything like that again.

I have been absolutely exhausted all afternoon. My friend pointed out to me that I tend to fall asleep after really hard sessions and she noted that sleep is an extreme freeze response. Which makes so much sense to me. Also I remember reading that sleep is considered a less final option of escape than killing yourself but with a similar outcome – you can shut off from whatever emotional pain is so excruciating it’s making you want to end things. I often have to fight this strong pull to sleep straight after sessions (on the odd occasion the sensation has been there during sessions) and things like arguments, prolonged negativity and conflict in a relationship… just another thing to add to the list of things I’ll eventually explore in therapy.

This was our 20th session. Things feel so uncertain and I feel very much like I’m walking, stumbling through a thick forest at night. I’m feeling frightened and lost. I will keep working with Linda but I don’t know for how long. It feels like she’s only around when the sun comes up and then she’s gone again when I need her the most. I think its important to see how I feel with her in the room. But I don’t know if she is right for me long term, for the deep stuff. I just wish I could turn back time.

Another Love

I was absolutely exhausted after this session… if these notes don’t make sense then I apologise.

Linda asked me how I was doing and I said, ‘that’s going to take about 50 minutes to figure out!’ and she said, ‘yessss… that’s why we’re here!’ I asked how she was and she said she was good and was hoping the nice weather stuck around.

I told her I’d felt sad after the last session. That I had come to the session on Wednesday intending on showing her my drawing of the corridor and doors but had chickened out. She said. ‘Oh wow! I didn’t know that was there for you, I didn’t realise you even had the folder there.’ I said, ‘yeah well it’s sitting here right now.’ She asked if I wanted to show her and I said, ‘nooo!’ in a cringy/annoyed with myself way and joked about flashing it on the screen. I said, ‘this is the annoying bit about having different conflicting thoughts inside… there’s this really confident, strong part of me that’s like, ‘just show her, for fuck sake, why now? You’ve been through a hell of a lot worse and you showed Anna some really fucking hard ones… just show her!’ but there are really frightened, vulnerable feelings around you know, that imagine rejection or humiliation.’ Linda said, ‘hmmm well to me it just feels like when someone brings a journal to the session you know, it’s no different, journal notes, drawings…’ I said, ‘yeah I guess the difference for me is the connotations attached to me sharing something personal and creative within this type of relationship… if we had met in another context I’d probably not hesitate, I’d just show you. Although I doubt I’d be talking about this kind of stuff with you, but anyway because this is a sort of well…. whatever this is, it triggers very emotionally heavy stuff. So like I would never have shared stuff I’d drawn with my mum, she would have ripped it to shreds… not literally but she was so critical. In minute ways that slowly picked me apart. I learned to never have any of my drawings facing out of my art folder at school because they’d draw unwanted attention form her. I would keep everything hidden and private. So it’s a big deal to show you something I’ve drawn.’ Linda was saying things while I was talking like, ‘hmmm that’s horrible,’ and stuff like that – referring to mums comments. She then said, ‘okay, well I will trust you that you will bring the drawings to me whenever you want to share them, how does that sound?’ I said that was a good idea.

When I talked about parts of me feeling different things Linda said, ‘I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before but this is what in Person Centred therapy is called Configurations of Self… it’s called a variety of different things in different modalities but yeah, we all have different parts of the self and that’s what you’re describing here… but you know, you are here, Lucy!’ I wrote down ‘configurations of self’ for future googling and said, ‘so I am here… and what does that say about me?’ she said ‘you are here and you keep coming back, twice a week. You could just cancel but you keep coming, that shows me that despite many conflicting parts, the strongest part of you wants to be here. The strongest part of you wants to heal, wants to work on this.’ I liked this. It reminded me of Anna telling me she admired how hard I worked in therapy and that she was in awe of how dedicated I am to my healing journey. It’s incredible to feel like not only am I welcome to ‘keep coming back’ but actually by doing that I am viewed in a positive light… considering I spent most of my life feeling like I’m too intense, too much, and getting the clear message from my mum in my early years that I should dumb everything right down (I realise now that she had such a fragile ego and weak sense of self that she was threatened by me and my individuation).

I said, ‘I’ve been missing Anna a lot recently.’ She said empathically, ‘yeah, I know.’ I said, ‘last night I was listening to music while cooking dinner and I had these great 90’s songs playing and you know how music can be so emotive?’ she said, ‘yeah absolutely, what tunes were you listening to?’ I laughed and said I don’t even know what they’re called but could sing them but I wont… then I said… ‘oh like, What is Love, Rhythm is a Dancer, All that she Wants that kind of dance pop stuff… stuff I was never allowed to listen to growing up.’ I then went off on a ramble talking about how mum was stuck in her youth in her mind, that through a slow and agonising process of emotional blackmail we were all squashed into a box that suited her. I couldn’t express any likes or dislikes that were different to her. If I played music from my generation she would say it was just noise, it would be subjected to endless degrading and criticism. It wasn’t worth it. And what did I want more than anything? For her to like me. So I like what she liked. I played all her old records. I told her I wished I’d lived in her generation. I explained to Linda, ‘when the music was playing while I was making the dinner, in a split second I experienced this intense emotional flashback to the 90s, to my childhood or early teens, to this all encompassing sense of not being a real person, having no identity, not being real and worthy of my own opinions and preferences, I was an empty shell or rather like a mirror for her or something… as long as I could make her feel like she was this special, unique, worship-able, most amazing person then things would be okay…’ I felt like I wasn’t making any sense and I sat with my head in my hands for a bit muttering that I didn’t know how to phrase it. I think Linda said something encouraging here and then I continued, ‘basically I had to mould myself into something that would be acceptable to her… something not too threatening, something that makes her feel good for herself. I didn’t have a sense of myself. And I would tie myself in fucking knots trying to figure her out. I’d overthink and analyse everything. I’d have to think ‘if I say this how is she going to interpret it?’ everything I said had to be considered through a filter of what she might think… THAT’S WHY I AM THE WAY I AM!’ Linda smiled with widened eyes and was nodding saying it made sense. She said, ‘God its just rules rules rules!’ I said, ‘yeah but not in a clear, concise, reasonable way. It was like second guessing all the time, feeling your way in the dark, total guess work!’ She said, ‘oh no, yeah, absolutely… it made no sense!’ I was nodding.

I continued, ‘wow… went off on a tangent… so yeah the song came on and it reminded me of all this music that I loved at the time but wasn’t allowed to listen to, then the split second sense of being an empty non-person then smashed right up beside that scary, lonely emptiness was this calming, soothing sense of, ‘it’s okay because I can take this to Anna and she will help me.’ Because you know, for the past two and a half years I have kept myself going through really hard things by reassuring myself that I can take it to Anna – then immediately a wave of grief hits me when I remember that no I can’t take it to Anna because she’s gone now. And I have to push all of that down because you know I’m making the fucking dinner!’ Linda said, ‘yeah the momentary forgetting and remembering is very painful when we’re grieving a loss of someone so special to us, that moment of remembering that it’s not Anna, it’s me that you’re taking it to.’ I felt like she hadn’t quite understood that the loss was more than that so I continued, ‘yeah but the thing is, I cant take these things to you. I mean I can talk about it. I could probably tell you most things right now. But it wouldn’t be therapeutic because I wouldn’t be feeling it deeply… thing is, this is session number 18 and really there’s no comparison between session number 18 and session number hundred and thirty odd or whatever we were on. The deep ‘knowing’ I got from Anna that you just can’t give me yet, not because of an inadequacy in you but because of time and experience, because of the depth of the relationship. So there’s a really huge loss there because, well (started to cry) there is a lot in me that I wanted to take to her and now it all has to wait… for how long you know?’

She said some reassuring words and I calmed down and said, ‘I take notes for every session, Anna actually joked that I probably made better notes than her.’ Linda laughed. ‘and so I looked back at session number 17 with Anna and session number 17 with Paul. Comparing them with our last session. And the same thing was coming up…. oooh this feels very vulnerable and exposing (she raised her eyebrows and I continued) so uh… same stuff… this sense that uhhh… this person doesn’t understand me, they cant help me, this isn’t going to work, that kind of thing.’ Linda said, ‘so that’s interesting. That tells us an interesting thing about your process doesn’t it? That shows us that you are consistent and you have a reliable process.’ I must have looked like I was questioning her because she asked if I agreed with her and I said, ‘doesn’t it mean I haven’t made any progress?’ she said, ‘noooo Lucy! Plenty of progress within a consistent process.’ I feel like I want someone to explain to me what process actually means. It’s one of those words I’ve used frequently but then think it has so many subtle nuances, are we talking about the same thing? Is it just that I work things through in a similar way through all my therapeutic relationships? We talked about pace and I said it annoyed me that I cant skip all this delaying and resistance and just jump in with both feet and trust.

I said, ‘I was chatting to my friend on the phone this morning and she’d asked how I was doing and I told her I was really missing Anna and just stuck in these feelings of it not being fair, that there’s this denial where I keep hoping I’ll suddenly get a text from her saying she’s starting up again and then at the end of the message I had apologised that it was the same shit different day kind of thing. She had replied saying, it’s only been 4 weeks and even if in 6 months I’m still saying I miss Anna, it will makes sense to her and that this was my first real secure attachment and it is a massive loss and of course it feels unfair and that she is surprised I’ve been doing so well considering what a huge grief it is.’ Linda was nodding and saying she’s glad I have such an understanding friend who really gets it then I said, ‘but theres a big part of me that’s scared that people are sick of me talking about this and they’re going to say enough, that I need to talk about something other than Anna,’ Linda said, ‘and there’s a part of you that’s worried that I want you to stop talking about Anna.’ I said, ‘yes! And I feel this thing that’s so familiar to me… like you are holding back your true feelings while you build up a ball of anger and resentment against me because I talk about Anna so much…. and I’m really hoping and I’m actually guessing that you definitely don’t feel like that?’ I looked at her and she said,’ I definitely don’t feel like that and actually Lucy, I don’t think I ever felt like that about any of my clients or in any of my relationships,’ I said, ‘yeah, I don’t get a passive aggressive vibe from you. Both my parents and husband are passive aggressive. But I don’t get that sense from you… I really prefer, upfront you know, honesty.’ She said, ‘I’m sure I’ve said this before but I think its really important that when things come up for me I will say them and vice versa. It’s really important that we don’t hold back.’

I said, ‘There is a familiar reluctance, like I used to feel with my mum and dad when they were together but especially after the split up, that I had to be very careful what I say to each of them… and I’m aware that I talk very fondly about Anna and I know I hold her in high regard and I just don’t want it to feel that by default when I’m saying I loved these things about Anna and miss it, that I’m saying I don’t get all this great stuff from you… I don’t even know if I’m making sense!’ She said, ‘I don’t know if this is my stuff but I wonder how it impacts things that I know Anna. Because obviously I know who you’re talking about. So I wonder if that’s something to note.’ I wish I’d asked her to explain this further and let me know what she was happy to tell me about her experience of listening to me talk about her friend and ex-colleague. I didn’t though, what I said was, ‘I feel its largely a positive thing that you know her. I have thought sometimes when I say something positive and you smile it is heart warming to me because I feel like maybe you’re fond of her too and it makes me feel closer to her to know that you can imagine in your mind who we’re talking about.’ Linda was smiling and nodding and I explained that when I talked about Paul I was often curious as to whether Anna knew him or had brushed shoulders with him at some point but I found it so hard to ask her questions. So it’s kind of cool that I know Linda knows her.  

Linda said, ‘I actually have thought about this and I believe it is very very important within and for our relationship that you talk as much as you want to talk about Anna. I feel you should talk about her whenever the need comes up, until one day you won’t. It’s happening for you right now so it’s vital that you talk about it and don’t leave that one very important aspect of your life out of this relationship.’ I had a huge smile on my face and I thanked her for saying all that. I said it was really good to hear because I did feel that I should talk as much as I want to about her.

I said, ‘When I started working with you and I described Anna as my therapy mum and suggested you could be my therapy aunty, I have realised that at the time I thought that sat well with you because of the attachment I had with Anna at the time, you were quite happy not stepping into her shoes at that point because it was temporary and so you were happy being one step away from the attachment because that position was already filled. So, when she stopped working with me and I realised I was actually properly moving on to you, I desperately wanted to figure out if you were up for the job of working on this deep attachment shit. But now I realise that actually the denial and avoidance of the grief has made me almost panicky and want to hurry up and replace that very deep loving attachment I had with Anna you know in a sort of ‘hurry up and fill this painful hole with another love so I don’t feel the agony of what she has taken away;’ and actually when I get little glimpses of what’s beyond that wall of avoidance I see that probably the analogy of a therapy aunty sits really well for you regardless of whether Anna is here or not because that’s not the way you work. That’s not your energy. What I got from Anna was this very mothering, nurturing, deeply loving connection with my inner children and I mean, we’ve only been working together for a couple of months so it could change and grow and maybe I’m wrong but I’m thinking you don’t work like that and by holding on to this idea that I can create with you what I had with Anna is holding me back from the full force of the grief. I need to grieve what I have lost rather than try to replace it with a carbon copy.’ Linda said, ‘This is true, these are very real losses.’ She paused and looked like she was thinking then said, ‘Also, this might be my stuff coming up but I do think its important just to highlight that there are other ways to nurture that aren’t mothering, you can be nurturing and not mothering.’ I feel like this is going to be an area that we may but up against each other from time to time because I am curious about how willing and how able she is to nurture without having the maternal aspect. I said, ‘the thing is though, young parts of me, especially Four, she really needed the mothering… and I know I’ve made progress and I do wonder if it’s not needed so much anymore because I have managed to internalise her a bit and I am more able to be nurturing towards myself, but the therapy stopped before I was ready to let it go, there’s still a lot in me that needs that mothering.’ She was listening and saying that it made sense.

I said, ‘In the garden this morning, Reuben dragged the other chair all the way up to me so the arm of his chair was right up next to the arm of my chair, he couldn’t have got any closer. And he said to me, ‘mummy when I’m a big man, taller than daddy, will I still be your baby?’ this is like a wee routine we have and so then I said like I always say, ‘even when you’re a big tall man you will still be my baby, you’re always in my heart.’ And it reminded me of the sessions with Anna, after months of building up the courage I asked her if I could sit next to her and she said of course I could and so gradually I got closer and closer over the sessions to the point where I would drag the chair right over to her, it was so close that there weren’t any space for our legs any more and I’d have to sit cross legged and it really felt like it was Four. I felt her excitement and her love for Anna. She just loved when Anna welcomed and accepted her intense need for closeness.’ Linda said, ‘what you had with Anna was very precious and special… very precious.’ I nodded and said it really was and started to cry.

I said, ‘During our last phone call Anna said to me that this wasn’t the ending I deserved and that she was sorry I wasn’t able to have the ending I needed. She told me not to let the ending stop when the call ended, to not just close the door and she said, ‘take this to Linda and work on the ending that we would have done, with her.’ Linda said, ‘wow, I’m not sure you’ve told me that before… that’s exactly what you’ve been doing. I know you listened to Anna really carefully but you obviously really listened to her advice there and you have been doing exactly that.’ I nodded and felt really glad that she seemed totally on board with that.

I told Linda I had a question to ask her and I umm’d and ahhh’d and got annoyed with myself then blurted out that I didn’t want an answer straight away but basically when we eventually are allowed back in the therapy centre, I would like to be allowed to go in Anna’s old room. I said, ‘I feel like it will be like healing or you know a sort of physical closure type thing for the younger parts of me to actually see that she’s not there. I know this sounds a bit torturous but I was thinking even if I could rent the room from the company for the hour before our first session so I can sit in the room by myself and just be there and feel the force of her not being there and cry and just feel it all.’ Linda said, ‘okay yeah, let me check that out then, there isn’t anyone in that room yet… everything is in the planning stages right now but I will investigate and get back to you on that one.’ I thanked her then said I had another question. ‘

I said, ‘So as you know Anna did the full hour and I mean, I respect that it’s your personal decision and boundary to do 50 minutes, I do just want to verbalise that there is a difference, I do feel the loss of the ten minutes. We used to spend that time grounding and reconnecting with the present moment and without it I sometimes feel a bit in limbo or sort of hanging in this weird space after a session. I mean, I’m coping with it now but we’re not going very deeply into things yet. Also, sometimes when we did very deep stuff we would do 90 minute sessions and it meant that the panicky part of me that stressed about time could relax a bit. Even if I rambled or was hesitant for 20 minutes or got very dissociated and lost half an hour of the session I would still have made some use of the time together. I don’t want you to give me an immediate answer, I don’t want you to say no that’s not how I work, I’d like you to go away and think about it… I know that the work we’re doing is different and not going to be the same. At the moment I can’t envisage how we would do the very deep work in just 50 minutes. So I wondered if you would consider doing longer sessions.’ Linda asked me how often I would do that with Anna and I said it was probably no more than ten times in the two and a half years we worked together and that the two sessions a week really helped me hold the difficult stuff. She said, ‘Thank you for telling me all of that and explaining it to me. I will go away and think about it and I’ll take it to supervision and see what comes up for me. I’ll let you know what I think.’ I felt good about the way she responded to me but now I’m writing it out it feels kind of awkward and weird. So it must have been something about her open facial expression or something that gave me the impression it was okay to ask. It felt adult and reasonable to ask about this part of our work.

At some point in the session I showed her a photo on my phone of the kids playing in the garden. I cant even remember why now but I showed her Grace wearing these tiny shorts she’s had since she was about 3 that she loves and keeps wearing despite them not covering her bum. I talked about how comfortable Grace is with her body and that even at 8 I knew not to be naked in front of my mum, not to wear revealing clothes, not to be visible actually. That she would pick me apart. I told her how mum called me all sorts of names and made me feel like I was shameful, that there was something wrong with me.

Her cats kept meowing and snoring and purring… not sure how I feel about them being in the room with her when she does her sessions. I wonder if they stay in the therapy room when she is holding her face to face sessions at home. Surely I’m not jealous of the attention her cats are getting during my session time? She did refer to one as her daughter in the session… oh the weird and wonderful ways of my psyche. Will I ever fully know myself?

I’ve been contemplating the purpose of therapy recently. I said to my friend this morning that it was hard to balance the notion that in order to fully trust Linda I need to feel a sense of permanence and longevity in the relationship but that running alongside that is the very real knowing that nothing is a given, everything is temporary, people can’t promise to stay with us and the only thing we can rely on is the consistency of our own presence. I actually presented this dilemma to Linda and I think this might be where she told me that my strongest part kept bringing me back to therapy. That she admires that I have kept trying and that I have adapted to three different styles in therapy. I was struggling with feeling confused about how I could possibly do the work in therapy without imagining the long term attachment goals. My friend reminded me of the time Anna was ill and I had to do it without her the first time… I realised then that she was my guide but I am the vehicle. She said that she doesn’t believe that the purpose of therapy is to heal us completely within this one perfect relationship and that I’m living proof of that in a sense because my healing and my life didn’t ground to a halt when Anna stopped working with me or when Paul stopped working with me. I could easily and understandably have dropped into a spiral of helplessness, depression and self harm but I chose to take those steps forwards. I’m making a note of that here because I think it’s important for me to remember this part of my journey. When I feel like I’m on my knees. When I feel like I can’t trust anyone. When I feel the weight of the ‘not fair’ feelings that two of my therapists stopped working with me before I was ready to stop and I had it SO GOOD with Anna. The bargaining I do in my head when it sinks in that I really lost this thing that was so good for me. But I have to think about who walked me into her office in the first place. And who’s dialed me in to my sessions with Linda. And who is sitting here processing and typing up these notes. Weirdly, amazingly, there is some sort of power in being thrown into this worst case scenario. I have learned about myself that I can cope with this thing that I thought would kill me. It felt like it was killing me, but here I still am. I would go back to her in a heartbeat, don’t get me wrong… but also alongside that is an acknowledgement that I am surviving without her. And actually, on reflection, I am never without her because I have internalised enough of her that I benefit from our work continuously. That is the purpose of therapy in fact, to internalise her – achieve autonomy and self-actualisation.

Channeling my Inner Anna

Something interesting happened tonight with my daughter and I shared it with my friend who had quite a powerful emotional response to it as I recalled what happened. We talked about it and I realised it was actually really important to make a note of this kind of parenting learning curve/triumph… so here it is.

Therapy had been hard, as I wrote about earlier, and after I wrote out my notes, played a cars game with my son, painted both kids nails and had dinner I was still feeling kind of activated so I decided to go for a drive. It was beautiful weather this evening so I drove through the empty back roads enjoying the scenery and felt myself slowly relaxing. There’s something about driving that seems to ground me. I don’t know if it’s the physical act of having to coordinate all my limbs and my mind… whatever it is, I love driving, I love being in the car.

When I got home the kids were in my neighbours garden playing. She is in her 50’s and has been very kind and sweet with my kids through the lockdown. She usually works abroad for most of the year but because of the pandemic she has been ‘stuck’ at home which has been a blessing for us. She has played ball games over the fence with my kids, baked them cookies, given them water pistols and all sorts of other things. This week we’ve allowed the children to play in her garden while keeping distance and they’ve loved it. My neighbour says she really enjoys their company and that they make living alone more bearable.

So the kids were in Vera’s garden and as I walked in my husband spoke to me under his breath that they’d all been setting up Vera’s new gazebo that had just arrived. In all the excitement Gracie had cut the box open and sliced through a part of the tent covering of the gazebo and there’s now a 12 inch gash in the top of it. I spoke to Vera over the fence asking how I could help as she tried to tape the hole up with the only tape she had. I browsed on my phone for gaffa tape and replacement gazebo tents to go over the frame… all coming back at around £150. I was pretty annoyed. To be honest I was mostly annoyed that Vera had turned her back and let an 8 year old loose with scissors… of course she cut through the fabric, kids don’t know how to cut through the tape of a box. But I was also annoyed with Grace for being so slap-dash and annoyed with Adam for being so passive! Vera doesn’t have kids and isn’t aware of how you can not turn your back for a second. She seemed really chilled about the whole thing and I didn’t make a fuss either. I said we would sort it later and I went in to run a bath for the kids.

Gracie started crying, she was still in Vera’s garden. Part of me wanted to see how this would play out. Vera started saying things like, ‘don’t cry, its okay… you’re fine, why are you crying…?’ in a cheerful, light way. Eventually I text Vera with a few links to some options online offering again to pay for it and then called the kids in for their bath.

Reuben got in the bath but Grace was hysterically crying. Sobbing, scrunched up face, repeatedly rubbing her face and curling over holding her tummy. I sat next to her. I noticed inside my body a discomfort. I felt emotionally disconnected from her and the urge to tell her to stop crying and be quiet and get over it was very strong. I stayed with her in silence. I concentrated on my breathing and channelled my inner Anna. Literally thought the words, ‘what would Anna do in this moment?’

Grace cried and cried, to the point where her face was screwed up and red as if she was crying but no tears were coming any more. And still she was holding her tummy as if she was in pain. It was a lot of loud, messy crying. I’m sitting there feeling very uncomfortable, numb, wanting to get away from her. Thinking, ‘not only did you break the tent thing that I’m now going to have to spend £150 on fixing but now you’re making this all about you by crying and making me comfort you, when you were the one who did it!’ I am aware from working on similar triggers in therapy before that in these re-enactments, Grace has become my mother. I remind myself that Grace is 8 years old and she’s not a narcissist. She is feeling genuine, real, valid emotions and it is my job to guide and support her through it. These moments are here to solidify our relationship, if I let them.

Again, I’m noticing all this happening in my body and mind. A very strong desire to get up and leave her. I put my hand on her back and asked her, ‘what do you feel in your body?’ she snapped at me, ‘I don’t know!’ and then started angrily crying. I felt annoyed and almost put out like, ‘here I am trying to support you and you don’t even have the decency to answer my question?’ – I know, from previous work with Anna that this is my child responding again… so I breathe. She leaned in to me and I put my arm around her sitting in silence. I was staring off into space struggling to know what to do or even find the emotional energy to engage with her. I was thinking, ‘I’m really not good at this, I’m failing her!’

Eventually we started talking.

I asked Grace what she was thinking and she said, ‘Vera said it’s fine but I’m worried that she’s angry with me and only saying that it’s fine to not hurt my feelings.’ I was thinking, ‘wow that’s really such a mature and accurate feeling. So, I said to her, ‘I really understand that feeling, I’ve felt that before.’ I said, ‘lets imagine she is annoyed that it happened, because you know it’s a new thing that she just bought and it just arrived and now it’s broken, it would make sense if she was annoyed about that. So imagine that she is annoyed a little bit.’ I pinched my fingers together to signify the little bit of annoyance. I said, ‘why do you think she would hide that annoyance from you?’ Grace said she didn’t know and I said, ‘I wonder if she would hide the annoyance because she cares a lot about you and doesn’t want you to be more upset because she knows that you’re worried and you made a mistake… so maybe actually she might be a bit annoyed but she also knows that it’s a mistake and you didn’t mean it and that you feel bad… and she cares about you and she knows that you are more important than the gazebo so she’s protecting you from feeling more bad than you already feel’ Grace was listening and looking at me and nodding and crying some more.

I said, ‘do you feel like you’ve got a sore tummy?’ and she nodded. I asked if she knew what the feeling was and she shook her head. I said, ‘does it feel like guilt?’ and she started sobbing. I said, ‘it makes total sense to me that you’re feeling guilty because you did something that you think is bad and wrong. Remember you didn’t do it deliberately, you were very quick to open that box with the scissors and really its best to leave these things for a grown up. If Vera had opened the box and cut the fabric then it would have been her mistake… but it happened, it was an accident. That feeling you’ve got in your tummy of regret and guilt shows me that you’re a human being and that you want to do the right thing and that you care. These are human feelings that we all feel when we do something wrong and we regret it, even when we didn’t mean to do it. So I want you to know that it makes sense to me that you’re feeling as you are and it would be strange if you didn’t feel like that because then I would wonder why you didn’t care about Vera and her gazebo. Does that make sense?’ she nodded.

I wanted to get the message across that people can be angry or annoyed and still love or like the person. The gut instinct was to say ‘no she’s not angry’ but that creates more fear as if anger is the worst thing in the world. I wanted her to get the sense that she and the relationships she forms are more resilient than this kind of accident. That she’s a good kind nice person and it doesn’t change how Vera views her and that she will still welcome her into the garden. I also said, ‘she might not be angry, we don’t know how people feel without asking them and then it’s up to us if we want to believe them or not. Does Vera seem like the sort of person who can’t tell people how she feels?’ Grace shook her head. I said, ‘She seems to be very open and find it easy to say how she’s feeling so let’s believe her when she says she’s not angry.’

I later talked to Vera about all this and she said she was genuinely not angry, that it was her fault for not getting up quickly enough when the kids had the scissors. She said since her niece died when she was 5 of cancer, she realised that none of those material things are of any significance and there are far more important things in life. I later explained this in child friendly words to Grace which helped her have a bigger perspective.

Later I explained to her, ‘good relationships aren’t fragile,’ I asked if she understood what I meant and she said she didn’t so I elaborated, ‘imagine you had a glass vase and you dropped it and it smashed and it could never be fixed – that’s fragile… but now imagine you have a wooden pot or a metal bucket and you drop it and it dents… the dent will be there as a reminder that something happened to it but it is still strong and in one piece, it’s not fragile. That’s what good relationships are like. You might always remember that this thing happened between you and Vera but your relationship won’t be damaged or shattered by this one accident. You haven’t broken your friendship with Vera. Does that make sense?’ Grace nodded and took lots of deep breaths and we had a very big hug and then she seemed more ready to move on with the evening.

I sat with her while she had a bath, because she asked me to. I washed her hair, put it in pleats and read her a bedtime story. She went to bed happily and fell asleep quickly. I sat down with Adam later on in the evening and went over what had happened. I told him that I felt like I redeemed myself despite being triggered by Grace’s strong feelings. I wanted to help her tune in to her body and notice her feelings. I also wanted to teach her that she is worthy of care and connection even when she makes mistakes. Adam and I both felt quite moved by what had happened and talked about how no one had ever helped us understand our feelings. My mum would have shouted at me, punished me, sent me to my room or cried intensely demanding I comfort her.

This is the kind of moment I wish I could share with Anna… this is her work in action… her mothering transmuted into my mothering. The ripple effect of the therapy.

Grief and Depression

‘In grief, depression is a way for nature to keep us protected by shutting down the nervous system so that we can adapt to something we feel we cannot handle.’ Elisabeth Kuber-Ross & David Kessler

Today’s session was hard going. A lot of feelings came up for me and I struggled to feel Linda’s care which makes me sad because I felt it from her in the last session. I think I was disappointed that she didn’t bring up the article I’d sent her in email but maybe she was waiting for me to bring it up. I didn’t remember in time and also felt a lot of hesitance around sharing too much vulnerability around everything I’d talked about in the last session. I had my art folder beside me intending on showing Linda the drawing of the corridor and it stayed closed beside me the whole time. There was a strong sense of self protection and guardedness today.

Linda started the session by saying, ‘Good news, the centre is talking about reopening and we’re in the process of figuring out all the protocol to make that happen.’ I said, ‘oh wow… hmmm that’s going to be weird. Aren’t we going to have lots of weird rules like having to stay far away from each other?’ she said that’s true but they’re looking at how to open in the safest way and it will probably be in July. I said it would be really hard to be back there. I didn’t tell her this but I’ve had this recurring fantasy of going back into the building and being allowed time in Anna’s office to sit by myself and cry and just let it digest and process – the idea that she’s really gone. I feel like sitting in the room without Anna would help gain some sort of deeper sense on a somatic level that she’s gone, almost like showing the younger parts of me that she’s physically not there. But I know that wouldn’t be possible under the new circumstances. They will undoubtably have to have deep cleans between clients and wouldn’t want me to just go into a room, sit in a chair and potentially contaminate a room for no reason. I also can’t imagine how they’ll figure out toilets and even the buzzer at the door. I’ll mention all this to Linda at some point because I think it’s important.

We focused in on the session and I said I felt nervous and talked about how I had been struggling with the inner critic this week. I explained that because we talked about more intense stuff last session and she had said, ‘this is big’ my mind had twisted those words to mean, ‘this is too much for me’ and it was a pleasant surprise to actually see her on the screen, that she did come back. ‘Yes I came back, Lucy.’ She said with a smile. She asked, ‘Is it familiar to you? This feeling that I’m not going to want to keep working with you?’ I said, ‘yes I’ve felt it all through.’ Linda said, ‘all through working with Paul and all through working with Anna?’ I said, ‘yeah which is pretty ridiculous, I’d have hoped it would be something that would subside after all this work!’ I thought for a bit and then said, ‘actually it did change when I was working with Anna, I did start to believe that she wasn’t going to leave me… then she actually did!’ I laughed loudly and Linda had a sad expression on her face. I was quiet for a bit and then said, ‘Wednesdays are hard because they’re the day after Tuesday which has unintentionally become this anniversary of the end of our work because of the phone call.’ Linda nodded and said she understood.

I said I spent most of the past few days reading and researching stuff to do with childhood emotional neglect and abuse. I showed her the two books I’ve been reading and said I spent all day Monday and most of Tuesday reading. I explained that I did that through all of my work with Paul and at the start of working with Anna. I said, ‘Anna worked really hard to get me to stop doing that. She would say to me, ‘you don’t need to do my job for me, Lucy, trust me, I will do that part of the work, you stick to your job… which is just to turn up.’ Linda was smiling and nodding and I could tell she was pleased to hear what Anna had said to me. She asked, ‘other than intellectualising and taking you out of your feelings, what else does reading the books give you?’ I said, ‘validation! It’s so amazing to read me on the page… I grew up thinking my life had been fine you know? I always believed that because I wasn’t sexually abused or whatever that I had nothing to complain about and that I was making a big deal out of nothing but reading these books it makes me realise that what I experienced is very impactful and that these really subtle ways of not having my emotional needs met are a big deal.’ Linda said, ‘yes.. and sometimes not so subtle but actually very obvious examples of emotional abuse and neglect. I often talk to my clients about CEN, many of them aren’t aware it was an issue for them. The group that I work with at the volunteer unit is different because they are all sexual abuse survivors but my other clients, the private clients, there are levels of CEN running throughout all of them. People don’t realise how prevalent it is you know? And in many ways childhood emotional neglect and abuse has far more profound and long lasting damage on a person than something physically abusive like sexual assault, depending on lots of other factors. Because with the emotional abuse and neglect there is no making sense of it.’

I said, ‘I know that the message you’re trying to get across is that you understand and it makes sense and maybe you’re trying to validate me but it doesn’t feel like that.’ She said, ‘can you describe what came up for you? What did it feel like?’ I really struggled to put it into words and she said it didn’t have to make sense. I eventually explained that it reminded me of the feeling of being generic and not special… that everyone deals with this kind of stuff and it’s no big deal. She ensured that was not what she had going on for her and we talked about how it brought up memories of my mum making me feel like I’m nothing special and that she did the things she had to do because she’s a mum but nothing more than that. And that she resented the bare minimum. I then said, ‘I don’t think I like hearing about your other clients.’ She tilted her head and said, ‘oh, can you say more about that?’ and I explained that it’s hard to be reminded that this is her job. That she does this for a number of people and it’s just her job. Linda said, ‘you are my client Lucy, you are my client. That is an important relationship.’ I made a sceptical noise and she continued, ‘So what does it feel like to be told you’re held in mind? Does that have any impact on you?’ I said, ‘hmmm I mean, I remember saying to Anna… getting annoyed with her actually and saying, ‘what does that even mean? I can’t feel when you’re holding me in mind!’ you know? It doesn’t impact me… what does it even mean? And anyway I don’t expect you to hold me in mind, I felt it more from Anna towards the end because we had a very close connection and it was really deep work we were doing but I’ve only just started with you, I could easily not turn up to a session and you’d be like ‘no loss’ you know?’ Linda looked kind of quizzical or concerned and said, ‘hmmm you are my client Lucy, I hold you in mind. When I’m flicking through my diary and I see ‘Lucy’ on the page I think about you, you know… as an example. I don’t see your name and roll my eyes and quickly flick onwards… I hold you in mind.’

I don’t really know how I felt about this. I think it’s a different holding to the one Anna meant. I imagined Anna fondly thinking about me from time to time or wondering about something I’d said or looking into training to help further our work but Linda’s example is thinking of me when she flicks through her diary? But also, like I said to Linda, obviously she’s not spending every waking moment thinking of me, that would be really unhealthy. I wouldn’t want a therapist who had a preoccupation with her clients. I want her to have a life independent of her work and I think it would actually really concern me to have a therapist intentionally reach for me first. I think the thing that I’m missing is that Anna and I really clicked. We got each other. We had a few sessions where we both were in a fit of giggles. There were real bonding moments between us. These early sessions with Linda seem to serve as a reminder of what I’ve lost. I can hear Linda attempting to reach me and reassure me, and I actually feel like I could get on well with her, but I don’t feel the same level of investment from her and I don’t know if that’s because it’s only been 16 sessions or if it’s because she doesn’t work the same way Anna works.

At one point Linda pondered out loud if I was struggling to put things into words and struggling to make sense of my feelings because I spent the past few days reading and staying in my head in a very clinical theoretical way. I said it might be the case but also it’s just an ongoing struggle of mine.

I talked a lot about how much I’m missing Anna. That I really wish she was well and that her life was on track… not just because I miss her and want her back but also because she deserves happiness and wellness. I said that she’s such a lovely person and amazing therapist and it’s such a massive loss to not have her practicing anymore. Linda was agreeing. I said, ‘I know that Anna made a deliberate decision to only tell me what she told me but I’m left wondering what went wrong. I just don’t get it. I know she has asthma but I don’t understand why that would mean she had to completely stop practicing. Why couldn’t she just have taken a few months off then come back… and it feels really selfish and stupid that I’m sitting here moaning, ‘oh I miss my therapist so much why did she leave me,’ when you know the truth and you’re having to hold the facts. You know the probably very serious reasons why Anna had to stop working and you have to put up with listening to me moaning like this.’ Linda said, ‘that was very unkind, the way you mocked yourself there, really so unkind… what you’re going through is so hard, and I know, trust me I know how hard the boundaries are. It is hard not knowing why she had to close her practice, I get it. And you missing her is valid and real and painful and I know, I can see it’s coming in waves for you.’ I started to cry and covered my face and she was saying, ‘I see you are very sad, Lucy. I know it’s very much there for you today.’

I said that I regretted all the texts I sent Anna. I explained, ‘when we had the first 6 sessions after the first time Anna was ill I sent her messages in our usual session times. I didn’t want her to feel like I was emotionally blackmailing her so I was really careful about how I worded them. I wanted her to know that I missed her but also that I was doing okay and that you and I were making use of the time… but ultimately that I wanted her to come back to me.’ I started to cry, ‘when she said she was well again and ready to work with me I sent her a text saying I had mixed feelings about going back to work with her and I feel so guilty for saying that. What a cruel and unkind thing to say to her! And she was so lovely and told me that she understood and to take my time and she’d be there when I was ready. Also I told her I’d cried with you, I thought she would be proud of me. In the three sessions Anna and I had before she stopped again she told me that she’d sensed I was surprised that I was able to cry with you and I think she was surprised too. And you know that she said she had taken this to supervision because she’d never had to hand a client on to someone else before and that she’d experienced feeling jealousy around the whole thing. That’s the first time I really fully believed that she wanted to work with me. For two and a half years I imagined that she would gladly pass me on to the first person that came along and in that moment I realised actually she really wanted to get me back from you.’ Linda was listening and nodding. I continued, ‘Then I made up this fantasy in my head that she had gone to supervision and said that she couldn’t believe I cried openly with you in the first session when we’d worked so hard at me doing that with her and that her supervisor had told her ‘that shows the work you’ve done with her, you enabled her to be able to do that,’ coz she kept saying to me that was our work working… and I feel like maybe I went too far showing her I was working well with you, maybe it made it easier for her to leave me. She thought I was better off with you… I should never have told her I had mixed feelings about going back to her, I would always have come back to her.’ Linda said, ‘Lucy you were going through a very very difficult time in those six sessions and trying to make sense of what was happening. It was very hard for you. People say all sorts of things in these kinds of situations. It was such a hard time and you spent most of it in shock.’

I said, ‘you know I’m really glad and grateful to be working with you, this feels like I shouldn’t be saying all this to you like when I was a kid and was never allowed to say something good about mum to dad or the other way round…’ Linda said, ‘I know, I know you are grateful to be working with me.’ I said, ‘but I miss her so much. A part of me keeps imagining that we might bump into each other at some point or maybe she’ll get in touch with me and tell me that she’s fine now and that we can start back up again.’ Linda was nodding. I continued, ‘but it wouldn’t be the same and now I wonder if I would go back to her. A few weeks ago I wouldn’t have hesitated but now I wonder if I’d just ask her for a couple of finishing sessions and then keep working with you.’ Linda asked what was going on for me and I said, ‘I feel like this grief has changed me.’ She asked in what way and I said, ‘I had never felt anything so intensely in my whole life. It’s not that I hadn’t experienced things that should have made me feel those things but this is the first time I’ve been fully awake and felt the feelings for real you know? And I feel like it would be very hard to work normally again with her after her leaving because it triggered such intense feelings in me.’ I’m reflecting on this and it feels like I was on the edge of feeling let down by Anna, angry perhaps.

I reminded her of the analogy I’d used of the image of the girls mind in Inside Out and how I felt like all aspects of my life are crumbling, ‘I know I’m projecting but I feel like that’s also what happened to Anna and it’s devastating. I wish there was something I could do to put everything back to the way it was before. Everyone’s talking about us coming out of the lockdown and life going back to normal but it’s not going to be normal for me because she’s not going to be there with me. And it’s not going to be normal for her because she’s lost her career. I have to come out of this lockdown and watch everyone else going back to their sessions and back to seeing relatives and work and I am not going to ever see Anna again. It’s not fair.’ I started to cry again and Linda reiterated that she could see how hard this was for me and that it really isn’t fair. She asked if her bringing up the fact that the centre is going to be opening had triggered this and I said, ‘it’s inside me always but you mentioning it has brought it to the session.’

I spent a bit of time crying, pulled my knees up to my chest. After I calmed down I said, ‘I read that grief and depression look really similar and that the depression in grief serves a purpose of slowing us down.’ Linda nodded and said yup. I said, ‘yeah coz that’s what it feels like. Like I’m just coasting in life. I feel like I’m just being dragged along but I’m not actually doing anything of any use or purpose just now. I’m not central to anything here I’m just being pulled along by the tide.’ I turned the laptop round and showed Linda the huge pile of laundry on the bed and told her that everything feels out of control. ‘There is constant laundry, the house is a tip, it all needs to be tidied and I can’t find the energy, my sleep is fucked I was still awake at 3 last night and I got up at 11 today and have been doing that most mornings for at least a month. There just isn’t anything to get up for and I was never like that before and I feel so neglectful but thank god Adam is there, he gets up with the kids and he cooks and cleans…’ I took a breath and continued my rant, ‘and 2019 was such a healthy year for me I really got my life back on track… I uh… so body image stuff is a really sensitive subject for me and I couldn’t even talk about it for like a year with Anna but anyway we did slowly start talking about. I was very overweight when I started working with Anna, I was probably close to — stone actually and so ashamed of myself, ashamed of what I looked like and my body hurt all the time and something clicked at the start of 2019 and it’s like this hole that I’d been filling up with food, Anna had spent over a year filling that hole up with all the things it always needed like care and attention and being seen. So I didn’t need to eat like I used to anymore. I joined a healthy eating group and the gym and got so healthy and I lost over – stone and I dropped 6 dress sizes and I felt really great. I felt so good about myself. Then the lockdown happened and the groups all stopped and the gym shut down and slowly everything disappeared and then Anna was gone but food was there. And so I ate and ate. And I binged to the point of it hurting. Which I hate myself for. I had stopped doing all that. And so I’ve put on weight and gone up a dress size and I’m sore all over again because I’m drinking so much tea and diet coke and my skin is really bad and I just feel worthless and gross and I can’t face going back to work if my smaller clothes don’t fit me and I don’t feel mentally well enough for work anyway… it’s all so much.’

It felt like I had just purged all of the issues that were on my mind and then I looked at the screen. Linda said, ‘thank you for bringing this to the session I had no idea you were going through this, especially the sleep and the eating, I think that’s really important. Please do bring it up again and we can work on finding a way to support you through this. It sounds like you had got to a place of really caring for yourself and your body and eating more mindfully and it’s been harder to do that through the lockdown.’ I said yeah and then she went on, ‘did the support groups not continue virtually?’ I said, ‘yes but I just panic cancelled everything, it felt like such a ridiculous privilege to be paying for a calorie counting app basically when I didn’t even know what kind of food we’d be able to get hold of you know?’ I talked about how hard it was to get fresh fruit and veg at the start of lockdown and I laughed a lot recalling all the weird meals we ended up eating like tinned stuff with Smash, things I’d never eaten before. Linda asked if we were back to eating normally again and I said we sort of are but I’m too afraid to go to the shops so we get the food delivered and then I only really get a couple of days with fresh salad and then it’s back to stuffing myself with biscuits and chocolate. I struggled to make eye contact through most of that. It feels so exposing.

I said that Anna’s care and attention motivated me to do well in my life and make better choices and without her every area of my life has deteriorated. I wanted to please her and without her, what’s the point. I said, ‘it’s like all these threads are unravelling and it’s too hard for me to get a hold of any one thread so I just shut down and want to sleep all the time. ‘I don’t really spend much quality time with the kids… well that’s not true I did a jigsaw with Reuben this morning but I feel very detached doing it. Maybe this is linked to the feelings I have about you just playing the role of therapist but not actually feeling it… I behave and act like the mother my kids need but I don’t feel it.’ Linda said, ‘you’re feeling detached?’ I nodded. I’m reflecting on this and it’s definitely just a part of me that feels like that. Another part of me watched a film with the kids last night, played at the beach with them yesterday, baked with them the other day… so there’s something about this part of me that’s grieving and feels out of control and can’t feel a connection with the kids or anyone. That part needs intense care and can’t bear to take on any responsibilities.

As the session wound up Linda asked me how I was feeling… with one minute to go! I said I wasn’t sure and that I’d be fine. I then said I was probably going to cry as soon as I shut the laptop and that it had been a lot. She said, ‘Be kind to yourself, Lucy. Be kind to yourself this week. You have been through an awful lot and it is hard. I know this is hard… okay? So I’ll see you on Saturday?’

4 weeks of unsent texts

26th May

Anna, It’s been a whole week since you phoned me to tell me you’re closing your practice and we will never see each other again. I wonder if you’re thinking about me right now. I wonder if it’s crossed your mind that it’s been exactly a week. I wish I could text you, I miss speaking to you so much. I wonder if you ever ask Linda how I’m doing. I know you’re not meant to but I still wonder… I really hope you’re okay and that your health is improving. I hope you’re happy and calm and enjoying some parts of your days. I had a dream last night that life was back to normal and that we bumped into you at a garden centre. In the dream my kids called out your name and ran up and hugged you. We hugged and cried and it was amazing. The pain of not having you in my life any more is unbearable. I love you, Lucy.

27th May

To Anna, I dreamed about you again last night. My nights are filled with you, as are my days. In my dream we had two ending phone sessions ahead of us. The second last session was minutes away and I’d busied myself getting everything organised and I was sitting waiting for your call. The minutes ticked over and you didn’t call. Then with horror I realised I’d got the time wrong, it was meant to be 3 hours before but we’d been out and you hadn’t text or called to check why we’d not had our session. I phoned you and begged, cried down the phone asking you to let me have it at another time but you gently and kindly told me no, that it was best to leave it. That it was a good sign that for the first time in two and a half years I’d forgotten the session time. You said it meant I was moving on. I was crying so hard telling you I’d never move on and that I never wanted any of this. Crying at you that we now only had one more session left. It was agony. Then I woke up and was faced with the reality which is so much worse. We have no more sessions left and will never again. I’m speaking to Linda in two hours. I wish it was you. Love Lucy x

27th May

To Anna, Linda doesn’t understand me like you do. Having to explain something to her takes so much more time and effort and words than the few I’d need to say to you. And even when I manage that, she doesn’t respond with anywhere near half the empathy and connection that you did. I know now what I had with you. There was never a wall, Anna. I felt your care. My session today was just a painful reminder of what I’ve lost. I don’t know how to live my life without you. I don’t know how to be a mum and wife without being able to process things with you. I hate my life without you in it. I wish I could bring you back. Missing you so much today. Love Lucy.

27th May

Anna, It’s amazing how human kindness and connection helps us heal. I feel you in the care of others. I think it’s because I learned to take it in by first taking in your care. I woke up crying today. Then I felt very misunderstood in my session with Linda. Because she’s not you. I took a higher dose of meds than I’m used to and I fell asleep. Woke up suicidal and had a blurry check in phone call from my GP. I left my home tonight feeling desperately hopeless. I left the kids in the bath and husband at the sink and drove away. Could have taken one of two roads. Ended up at my friends house sitting at the end of her garden, many metres away from her. I cried and talked and she listened and she cared. She told me I’m too hard on myself and she told me that my grief makes sense (even to someone who has never been in therapy). I felt her support. I’m writing up my session notes and I can see through a more balanced lens that there were some helpful parts. Life feels more hopeful in this moment and my missing you not so blinding. Love Lucy x

27th May

Anna, When I got home tonight it was late but the kids were still up. I haven’t been out at bedtime for over two months and I can tell they’ve developed an anxiety over me leaving. Hopefully short lived. I went into Gracie’s room and kissed her goodnight. She was delighted to see me and hugged me so tightly. She excitedly told me all about the games they played while I was out. Then I went in to see Reuben and his lip quivered and with outstretched arms he said, ‘I missed you so much mumma the words are just too sad to say.’ Then he whispered in my ear when I was hugging him, ‘you are my favourite person in the whole world and it was sore to have bedtime with no you,’ I’m so glad I chose to come home. I need to remember that they need me, in whatever state I’m in. Lucy.

28th May

Anna, When I went to bed last night I felt okay. I woke up crying this morning. I want to contact Linda but also I don’t because even if she agreed to between session contact I don’t think she can help me. She’s not you. I want to text you and beg you to change your mind. I want to tell you that all I need is a phone call every couple of weeks. I feel like my life source has been ripped from me and I don’t know how to breathe. Last night I dreamed I was carrying this really big baby. Heavy, with rolls and rolls making it hard to keep hold of. People were asking me to do normal every day things but it was impossible to do anything with the burden of this huge baby on my hip. I fell to my knees trying to pick something up off the floor, managed to stop the baby from hitting the ground and I snapped at the person who’d demanded I do it saying of course I couldn’t help like I normally would coz I have my hands full with this huge baby. I feel like you pulled these parts out into the light and then left me with them. I don’t know how to live my life without you helping me care for them. Please come back to me. Lucy.

29th May

Anna, I don’t think Linda can help me. She’s not all the things that you are. You’re endlessly compassionate, you always seek to understand, you’re reflective and open to feedback. You believe in me and you see my inner child. Your only aim was to make sure we focused on me and we met my needs. Every area of my life feels like it’s pulled tight and fraying in the middle because it doesn’t have you working with me to patch the broken threads. Every area of my life is suffering because I’ve lost you. I think I’m going to need to find another therapist and it’s impossible to imagine finding someone as good as you. I really wish you could give me a list of names to work through. I’m so tired and struggling to believe it could get better. I really wish you’d come back to me. Love Lucy

31st May

Anna, I had a really important session with Linda yesterday. I told her how her words had made me feel and I actually think she listened. She apologised and it felt real. I held an image of you in my mind the whole time trying to conjure up the faith you always had in me to be able to use my voice. She seems to be willing to reflect on how she is with me and learn and be flexible which is good. That’s something I always loved about you. I told her you’d have been proud of me. And I told her you’d said we should go slow. I’ve been thinking about you a lot today, I saw that your picture is no longer on the website. I really hope you’re okay and that life is being kind to you. I keep imagining a time in the future when we might accidentally bump into each other. Miss you. Love Lucy xx

1st June

Anna, It’s half one in the morning and the grief has hit me for the first time in two days. Waves of it. It’s just so fucking unfair. All of this. Things were going so well with us and I still had so much I wanted to take to you. So many unfinished threads. I thought about all the times you told me to remember your face when I’m missing you and struggling to feel a connection. To remember the emotion in your eyes, that it can’t be faked. You told me you think of me often and that you care deeply about me. I wonder if you’ve grieved losing me. Do you still think about me sometimes? Do you know how much this is hurting me? I just want you to come back. It’s torture to look at old session notes. I wish I’d known how limited our time was. I’d never have held back. So much wasted time. I love you and I really wish you could hold me right now. Goodnight. Lucy xx

2nd June

To Anna, I remembered today the session when you told me you’d been to the cinema to see Rocketman at the weekend. You told me the film reminded you of me and that you’d told the friend you were with, ‘I’m doing this work with a client of mine… this is the work I do!’ You said to me, ‘the end scene – that’s what we’re aiming for,’ then you wouldn’t say any more and I’d have to go watch it. So I did, that night. I’m sorry I wasted so much time resisting. I’ll never know what amazing work you would have done with me if I’d just embraced my child. I’ll never find out what ‘the mirror exercise’ involves. In your absence Anna, I’m trying to nurture her as I imagine you would. I hope you know the impact you’ve had on me will last a lifetime. Love Lucy x

11th June

Hi Anna, I still think about you every day. Driven to your old office many times and sat staring at that door imagining you greeting me with your warm smile. In my darkest moments I’ve been amazed at how I’m able to call you up in my heart and seek comfort from all of the love and kindness you poured into me. I’ve been caring for this wounded child of mine who has been so broken by you leaving. My heart aches for you. I hope you’re not feeling isolated and that you’re not very ill. I only want health and happiness for you, I wish there was something I could do to help you. Last night I had a lovely dream about you, we were texting each other and you were sending kisses at the end of your messages. It helped me feel connected to you. I hope you know I’d come back to you in a heartbeat. I wish there was a way. Love Lucy xxxx

16th June

Hi Anna, I’m wearing your perfume today. The pain feels less like a knife edge and it’s feeling safer to let these parts of you back into the foreground again. Luna is still hiding in my wardrobe, she brings waves of grief that I can’t always allow myself to express. I’ve been thinking about the days that led up to the phone call. How you will have deliberated the decision. I wonder when you knew. I text you the Saturday before, did you know then? You will have spoken to Linda. I wonder if you cried as you told her. I imagine you taking it to your therapist and supervisor. I wonder about the details that I’m not privy to. I wonder why it was not an option to take a break and come back when the lockdown is lifted. I wonder what’s going on for you. I still miss you and love you and grieve you every day. I’m doing the work but I wish it was with you. Love as always, Lucy x