It was fucking brutal.
This morning I noticed that I felt fairly indifferent about the upcoming session. I felt good about my decision to send the email ‘using my voice’ as Anna would put it… I haven’t worked this hard for over two years just to have someone crap all over that in one session! If anything it felt like honouring the work Anna did with me to advocate for myself. Also, I’ve felt so massively supported by everyone commenting and sending me messages the past couple of days (and in fact through this whole thing) that I felt very confident in my position and secure in the knowledge that if the whole thing didn’t work out I’d have a beautiful group of amazing, empathic survivors and allies linking virtual arms in a circle around me ready to validate, love and support me on my search for a new therapist. I ended up going for a drive with my family the hour before the session. The first drive in nearly 3 months. It felt amazing to be out, like it was healing my mental health with each field we passed. We had the music up full and all four of us sang along like before lockdown, it was seriously so lovely. At one point I thought about how normal it felt and that maybe we will eventually be able to get to a place of feeling like life has settled again. Then a tiny wave of grief when I remembered there will be no Anna coming with me on that journey. That I will have to get used to life outside of lockdown without her… everyone else’s lives will slowly return to what they were before but for those of us who lost someone through this, we will carry the loss with us.
I logged on and we both said ‘hi’ in our usual way, in my head I’m wondering what she’s thinking. Linda asked me how I was and I said, ‘well to be honest, putting the email to one side I actually feel really good today. We went for a drive this morning for the first time in nearly 3 months and it was fucking medicinal! So good to get out and see something new you know.’ Linda was smiling and said she was so pleased it felt good to see some new stuff and do something different. I said, ‘and I decided to stop taking the diazepam and it might be a coincidence but I haven’t felt suicidal today or yesterday so I don’t know but maybe that was contributing to the really low feeling.’ Linda asked me when I stopped taking it and I said, ‘well on Wednesday I had three which is more than I’ve ever taken in a day before and after our session I crashed massively and could barely function I just felt like my whole system was shutting down you know and I think it was partly a nervous system response to the intensity of the session and not knowing how to deal with that but maybe also because of taking the meds so on Thursday I woke up feeling really grateful that I hadn’t acted on how I felt and decided to make some changes and one of those things was having a break from the diazepam to see if that helped…’ Linda said it sounded like I was in a really hard place on Wednesday and she was sorry to hear that.
So then we launched in to the email. I asked her if she’d read it and she said, ‘I read it once this morning. I was very busy yesterday and didn’t have the chance to read it any more times than once,’ I thanked her for reading it and said that I had assumed she wouldn’t read it and I was prepared but also shitting myself about having to read it to her in session. She said, ‘okay so you don’t need to shit yourself about it…’ I laughed and told her it was par for the course that I always feel like that anyway and I just push through the nerves and anxiety every session. She smiled then continued, ‘obviously there was a lot in the letter so, I know you mentioned reading it to me, you can if you want to do that or… I don’t know how you want to do this but it’s important that we cover everything you want to cover today… and also as you mentioned we will talk about the boundaries around that today as well because that’s also important.’ So straight off I noticed that she seemed calm and open to listening and relaxed. Which obviously felt great. She’d read it and she was willing to turn up and work on it. I thanked her for being willing to talk about this and said I understood it was important to go over the boundary.
I asked her what she felt about the email and Linda said, ‘I want to say that I got the very clear message in the letter that you did not feel understood by me on Wednesday and I want to share with you that as I read the letter I felt that I was not understood either. You know sometimes that happens where we completely miss each other, we just go off in different directions.’ I said, ‘I hear what you’re saying and that’s important but I do feel that… well this is my session and so it’s vitally important that I’m understood. This is meant to be benefiting me and it’s me who feels the massive impact if I’m not understood.’ She said, ‘while that’s true, there are two of us in this relationship and I need to feel understood and heard as well.’ She then said, ‘I’ve got to be honest with you Lucy I was horrified… fucking horrified when I read the email, honestly… fucking horrified.’ I felt a burst of panic in my chest and asked her to clarify what she meant by fucking horrified, ‘because to me it sounds like you’re angry with me.’ She thought for a bit and then said, ‘well I was just reading through it fucking horrified that this was your experience of the session and I was trying to think about how I had said things and what we’d discussed and my experience of the session was completely different from your experience… horrified… for me it’s the sense that my empathy had been completely misinterpreted as gaslighting.’ I said, ‘right…’ trying to take it in. She continued, ‘Sometimes we can be in such a dark place where we cant take in anyone’s care, you know? We could be in a space where nothing feels good and everything feels like a threat, perhaps the place you were in on Wednesday meant you weren’t able to take my empathy in. A really horrible hard place to be and I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to help.’
I thanked her and she looked quizzical and said, ‘hmmm that sounded a bit, I don’t know, flat… are you sure you were able to take that in?’ I said, ‘So… yes I am grateful for what you’ve said there, that you’re sorry. I’m uncomfortable with what you said before that.’ She asked, ‘Okay, which bit are you uncomfortable with?’ I thought for quite a while and then said, ‘…your empathy was interpreted as gaslighting… saying that to me IS gaslighting!’ She looked shocked. I said, ‘what you’re saying to me is that what you were doing was kind and nice and caring and the problem lies in how I interpreted it. I’m the one with the problem.’ She explained some more about how we can find ourselves in such a dark place that we can’t take in empathy. I said, ‘No… I know what empathy feels like, that did not feel like empathy.’ She sat back and looked right at the screen for a while as if she was really actually paying attention and she said, ‘Okay I’m listening to you Lucy, I hear you. It didn’t feel like empathy and that’s very important. And I am really sorry for that Lucy. I genuinely mean that. I’m sorry that my words made you feel worse.’ I couldn’t help but smile broadly with tears in my eyes and I thanked her. She said, ‘thank YOU for your honesty, you know Lucy, if it wasn’t for what happened with Anna we wouldn’t be working together and in therapy terms we really haven’t been working together for very long at all.’ I said this was out twelfth session and she continued, ‘yeah we really don’t know each other, I don’t know you and I’m listening and learning because I want to get to know you… so this is very important work. A very important conversation.’
I nodded and really felt so glad that we were both facing this conversation. It is important. I said to her that I was really glad to see that she was willing to hear me out and try to understand me. I said, ‘I think it’s important also that I say this… what you are describing as sensitivity is actually hyper vigilance. Which is a trauma response. To call it sensitivity is to say that this is some sort of character flaw. Whereas this is actually a survival strategy that makes perfect sense when you know my history. And yes I’m an adult now and no I’m not in any real threat but this relationship does in some ways mirror the parent child relationship, certainly to some parts of me, the parts that need to be healed, those parts struggle to trust. My trauma is interpersonal so your words and tone and mannerisms and facial expressions and body language… I’m interpreting it all, all the time. Minute details. Because that’s what I had to do as a child… and I get that I’m not a child any more but that is what I was exposed to every day of my life from birth so… like you’ve talked about neural pathways before, so those grooves that have been scored millions of times over these fundamental, developing years… they are pretty fucking deep… it’s going to take a shit load of work to really shake up and dig up all that deeply engrained stuff to then create new pathways of a new way of being in relationships.’ Linda was listening and nodding and saying sort of active listening noises and phrases. She said, ‘yeah this all makes a lot of sense and I’m taking it all in. It makes so much sense that you would be like that, yeah… it is a perfectly understandable response to the… yeah to the uh… to the trauma actually yes.’ And she had a really sort of deep feeling expression on her face, like she was seeing this part of me that she didn’t realise was there or something. Like it was sinking in for her. She told me again that she was grateful that I was willing to be so honest with her.
I said, ‘the thing is, you’ve met me in this really fucking strange time in my life and like, if you’d met me like a few months ago I was doing good. I was happy and life was going well. I was dealing with working through the childhood trauma stuff in my sessions but my daily life on the whole was going well. I had these things in my life that I’d carefully curated and sculpted and gathered around me that made my life feel full and fun and fulfilling.’ She was listening and repeating things like, ‘yeah you were happy,’ and ‘you had made this great life for yourself hmmm…’ I said, ‘and you know Anna and I had a really solid relationship so anything that came up in my life I would take it to her and she would help me work through it. Whether I was stressed with work or arguing with Adam or struggling with my perfectionism in parenting I would take it to Anna and she would tease it all out with me and help me process and figure out what was going on… life just ran so much more smoothly when I had her to talk things through with.’ Linda had that warm smile on her face that I recall noticing way back in the first few sessions whenever I would talk about Anna, like she was thinking fondly about Anna. I interrupted myself and said, ‘that right there…’ pointed at Linda and she widened her eyes and looked startled and like she was paying attention, ‘that version of you… that caring, kind Linda… I feel like she wasn’t with me on Wednesday and then I spent all my time thinking about how you probably have got sick of me and you don’t want to work with me and I couldn’t even remember this part of you and now I see it and I’m like struck by the fact that you’re here and you’re listening and I mean, of course you are this is what your whole job is about!’ Linda again was nodding and agreeing. I said, ‘anyway, back to what I was saying… It’s like in the movie Inside Out. You know how all the areas of the girl’s life are all suspended around in her mind and one by one they all start crumbling and dropping out the space they’re suspended in. That’s what is happening in my life…’ She said that was a powerful image and she said, ‘all the areas of your life have crumbled.’ I said, ‘yeah and like I said, if you had met me a few months ago I wasn’t like this, I wasn’t overly sensitive, I had a lot going on in my life, just like in the film… I’d worked really hard at getting to a great place… but all of a sudden everything in my world that brought me all this happiness and gave me a sense of identity and made me feel solid in who I am, all that has disintegrated in such a sudden and short space of time and not only that but I’m then having to try to cope with that by myself because the person I would have taken all that to has gone.’ I started to cry a little but kept talking. ‘So the island of my life where my marriage sits is crumbling because for the past 3 months I’ve had no one to process our disagreements with and the island of my relationship with my kids, especially Grace is crumbling because I have no one to help me iron out all of the tiny little ways that relationship triggers me daily. My ability to do my job… I mean my job has changed so much through this lockdown and the stress around that is immeasurable and yeah so that’s crumbling. My health, so I can’t go to the gym anymore I can’t go to my weight loss classes… I’ve been binge eating and not exercising… so that islands crumbling. And even my close relationship with my brother is crumbling. I don’t know how to deal with any of these issues by myself, we hadn’t really got that far yet. I processed everything with Anna. I used to take everything to her Linda. This is why I need two sessions a week. It’s a lot! Family life, in particular my relationship with Grace… for example at bedtime when I read Grace a story and cuddle up with her, it fuckin hurts so much because I never had that, my mum never read me bedtime stories and she never cuddled up with me… so I have these emotional flashbacks and reminders of pain from my childhood all the time and I would have taken it all to Anna and she’d have helped me process it so I could then go back to family life with a better understanding of things and the ability to repair with Grace. The past few months all of that has been piling up, un-worked-on, since the end of February I haven’t had that support… and so now it feels like I’m looking at this life that was once great, like I really felt like things were going great, and its all fucking crumbled before my eyes and then as if that isn’t bad enough I fucking lost her! The most important attachment figure in my life and the only person I trusted with all of this. She’s gone and I cant get her back and the grief of losing her… god. My life is chaos and I’m barely keeping my head above water and I am meant to then try to process the grief and then you know, I’m told that I’m sensitive… you know? Of course I’m fucking sensitive…’ Linda interrupted me and finished my sentence, ‘…your life has fallen apart and you’re deep in this very painful grief… this is trauma. It’s fucking traumatic!’ and I said, ‘yeah and I have to try to build a relationship with you in the middle of it all just so I can try to get some of this back on track, somehow.’ She said, ‘and yet here you are showing up!’ I said, ‘yeah what choice do I have really? This is about survival.’
I said, ‘I had convinced myself that this session wasn’t going to happen. I was quite relieved to receive your email with the link. It’s hard for me to determine the inner critic sometimes you know it’s not like she comes through with this like witchy voice in my head luring me into the dark side of hating myself… it sounds very logical, like a rational thought process – Linda doesn’t understand me, she thinks I’m some sort of overly emotional, hyper sensitive, easily triggered irrational person and nothing I do or say will help her change her mind. But I can see and hear now that you have come to this session open and willing to hear me out and I do want to continue this you know, I was kinda frightened by all of this, I was looking at other therapists online thinking it was going to be too triggering to work with you because you didn’t get it. But I do want to continue to work with you…’ Linda said, ‘you do want to continue, good, I want to work with you too.’
I said, ‘You know, maybe 6 months down the line I could talk reflectively about my sensitivity around the words people use but one week after losing Anna and you know, I’m feeling all this grief and you’re telling me I’m sensitive and that I’m easily triggered. It was too soon. I think I just need someone to sit with me in this, understanding and caring. It feels very delicate and painful.’
She said, ‘I hear you. It felt too soon. This is on me you know Lucy, this isn’t yours it’s mine… generally as a rule I work with quite fast paced clients (she specialises in working with armed forces short term treatment) so we maybe do 6 to 8 sessions and I am a fast person by nature and so I’m used to moving quickly… I need to be mindful of that, I am going too fast for you.’ I said, ‘oh that just makes me feel like shit though because I want to be able to process things quickly. I want to be one of those people who is just like in and out after 6 sessions you know, I feel like I’m broken and I really feel so ashamed that it’s taking me this long.’ Linda said, ‘Hmmm no but there’s no shame in that. It takes as long as it takes and their situation is different – they are working on different things, you are dealing with trauma and that will understandably take time. What I said to you on Wednesday felt brutal and it was too soon.’ I sort of laughed and said, ‘yeah well anyway so…’ and I started to talk about something else and then Linda said, ‘no hold on let’s stay with that because it feels like you’re trying to brush that to one side but it’s important that you hear what I said. So I replied, ‘hmmm okay well, it sounds like you’re saying that I felt like it was brutal because I’m sensitive but anyone else would have been able to take it… and this is a lose lose situation for me because by pointing this out I am showing how sensitive I am, which is the twisted nature of gaslighting… whichever way you look at it, it’s my fault that it hurt.’ Linda spoke a little firmer and said, ‘I want you to hear me,’ she put her hand on her heart and said, ‘I am taking responsibility for this. What I said on Wednesday was fucking brutal and I’m so sorry that it hurt you and made you feel unheard and misunderstood. I want to work hard at getting to know you and understanding you. It takes time to get to know someone and I want to do that with you…’ I said, ‘I feel that. I can feel that. Thank you. It was brutal and it was too fast.’
I said, ‘I’ve always wanted things to go faster. Why would anyone want to stay in this much pain for any longer than they need to you know? To be honest a similar thing happened when Anna and I worked together in the early days. Things moved too quickly and it was pretty retraumatising for me actually until we settled into a better rhythm… this isn’t as extreme as that, there has been some progress over the years! And actually, in the last phone call I had with her she said to me to remember to be patient, that the temptation is there to rush through this work because it’s hard and painful but pace is really important for me and I need to remember to go slow, baby steps… she specifically told me to be patient and go slow.’ Linda smiled a sort of sad smile and said, ‘this is really important, Anna knew you and that’s really important advice. I’m hearing you that we need to go slow. I will work on that.’ I thanked her.
I said, ‘I’ve said this before but this is such a good example of this… so there are really different parts of me. So there’s this really capable, coping adult part that is seemingly confident and is articulate and reasonable and can be rational and logical but there are these other parts that can’t cope with that, they feel much younger and they don’t have the words to describe what they’re feeling and they carry the really hard emotions and you know… they ARE younger because they’ve been trapped in a space and time and all of the pain has been frozen at whatever age I was and then when it’s triggered it does feel young and the pain is overwhelming and that’s when it needs to be sort of drip fed to me and really carefully controlled so I don’t go too far and actually, you know the times when I’ve been crying and maybe you’d say it was an example of me being sensitive but if Anna was here she would be saying, ‘noooo don’t tell her she’s being sensitive, she’s doing so well, this is amazing, she’s feeling, she’s crying, she’s sitting with it, this is such great progress!’ honestly she would be so proud of me for expressing my feelings, so fucking proud of me for crying as much as I’ve cried and not doing it only by myself and the fact that I’ve been advocating for myself… she’d love all that! So yeah, its these child parts that are holding the emotions that need very slow, patient, nurturing kid gloves you know?’
I then explained further why the interpersonal stuff is really painful. I gave a couple of examples of what my mum was like and how flippant she was with what she would say to me. I said a number of times in the session that words are really important to me because words are all I had and Linda said, ‘I’m hearing that loud and clear. Words are really important to you.’ I said, ‘and this is something Anna learned as well as the timing thing, I guess learning the hard way but hitting a sore point and having to repair it you know… so there was a time when she said something about the fact that I, ‘still haven’t cried’ with her and it really jarred me and I wrote to her about it and we worked through it and she said she knew instantly that it was a clumsy and hurtful thing to say and wasn’t how she’d intended it and she regretted the phrasing… that kind of apology and repair is so meaningful to me it really means so much.’ I continued, ‘I need you to remember that this is really hard for me, to hold on so tightly to the words people say… I overanalyse everything and to be given the space to explore why something has impacted me is so healing.’ She said a few things about how she understood why it was important and that she will remember how important words are to me.
I spent some time talking about the situation with my brother (I wrote about this in my instagram stories this week – basically I told him how I’ve been feeling recently and he overreacted with a bunch of helplines and interventions then gave me the silent treatment when I told him how unhelpful and codependent he was being, that I just wanted love and understanding, not to be fixed… that it was his desire to alleviate his own worry and concern that had fueled his jump to action and not a desire to give me what I needed which was connection and compassion). I talked about how the misattunement strangely mirrored the situation with Linda and that his lack of attuned support this week has hurt so much because I feel so misunderstood. And that’s a sore point because it reminds me of what I’m grieving. That I’ve lost Anna who knew me so well. I said, ‘and when I talk about Anna and the things I’m missing, I’m not comparing the two of you, I’m purely grieving the loss of this person in my life who knew me better than anyone. I could say just a few words to her about something and she would immediately know how that thing would have impacted me because we’d worked together for so long. I miss that. It’s not that I don’t value what I have here with you but I miss that relationship that I’d invested so much time and effort into. And it’s hard to have to overly explain everything to try to help you understand what I’m trying to say or how I’m feeling, it requires energy that I just don’t have… I just want to be understood and empathised with you know? And I guess that’s what hurt with Daniel too. I wanted him to just know what I needed.’ Linda reflected on the situation as I explained it all to her about him overreacting to what I’d shared with him and that he really can only ever see me as a mother figure and therefore just needed me to be okay.
I said, ‘I really do value your willingness to thrash all of this out you know… and I do like people being honest and open with me and I try to be like that too. I know the email is kind of a side step round and not all that direct a way to communicate but it was a way for me to feel heard. It’s like I imagine people will have very rigid thoughts and beliefs and nothing I do or say will make them change their mind so I need to give myself time to explain myself perfectly before I give them the space to read through my thoughts. I get that it’s important to bring these things directly to you but this is our first rupture I suppose (she smiled at that bit) and I had no idea how you were going to respond, I just felt that it was really important and I couldn’t let it go.’ She said she was glad that I’d brought it to her. I said, ‘so is the boundary could you please not send emails between sessions?’ she said, ‘um, no, it doesn’t have to be as strict as that, you can send emails but maybe not ones like that because it’s far more safe when it is brought to the session, this is the only safe way to deal with it – in session, in real time, within this containment, you know?’ I nodded and said I understood and that was talked about at length with Anna and I do agree. I didn’t feel told off at all, it felt like a really calm and mutually clear conversation.
I said, ‘so, 90 seconds to go… over the next few sessions I want to cover a few things. It’s important I talk about my self harm urges and the things that have happened recently and also I want to talk about all the things I’m missing from working with Anna. I want to be able to talk about these things without you thinking I want it from you, I just need space to grieve losing these things you know like phone check ins and texting between sessions I really miss these things and want to talk about it.’ She said, ‘okay you have a list of things to cover,’ I laughed and said there was plenty to keep us busy. We confirmed the time for Wednesday and we both thanked each other for being open and honest. She really made a point to thank me… then there’s that awkward three seconds where you’ve said goodbye and you’re both still visible trying to find the ‘leave meeting’ button. Hate it!
Anyway, so one thing I’ve noticed is that there is this need to make use of every last minute of a 50 minute session. And I thought it wasn’t possible but it really is! I needed longer with Anna and there will probably be times when we delve into some of the trauma work that I will need longer and hopefully she will let me have double sessions if necessary. But there was a point in the early days with Anna where I wouldn’t open up until I was about 40 minutes into the session then we’d have ten minutes or even 5 minutes of very deep and painful work and then fifteen minutes of grounding. I can feel the difference, I don’t feel ashamed of the need to launch straight into the work as soon as we’ve said hi and to make full use of the entire session. I also have the gift of hindsight. Now with two long term, deep attachment therapy relationships under my belt, I know how important it is to be transparent, honest and open from the very start… to speak my mind and tell the therapist exactly how I feel about the way she is being with me and state exactly what I need about the service she’s providing while I’m not knee deep in the transference and deep attachment which makes it ever so slightly more complicated and difficult to be my vulnerable self! (Also… my god how proud Anna would be to hear that I am fighting to have my needs met. Jeez that was a hell of a lot of work right there. Hours and hours of ‘what do you need?’ – ‘I don’t have any needs’ – ‘I don’t know what my needs are’ – ‘you can’t help me’ – ‘I don’t deserve to have needs’ – ‘you should know what I need’… shit!)
What’s happening here with Linda feels like very important work and something a friend was talking through with me earlier really resonates. It’s the idea that having to stop working with your therapist prematurely and moving on to a new therapist can feel like you’re going back to the beginning again but you’re not, its about starting from where you are now with fresh eyes. And I actually said this to Linda, that of course I wish all of this had never happened, but having lost Anna and having to go into detail explaining myself, feeling this grief, revisiting things, working through getting to know myself through a new person, it has propelled me onto a new road of learning and growth that I wouldn’t have experienced had I still been working with Anna. And its not that I was stuck with her, I do believe we were doing amazing work and would have continued with that. But this situation has broken open a box of potential growth that wouldn’t have been triggered within my work with Anna. So for that, I’m grateful.