It’s so hard to ask for things.

We had a fairly stressful weekend with a lot of flooding in our area and too much time spent altogether indoors. We did go outside a bit to ‘enjoy’ the wet weather with waterproofs and wellies but it is bitterly cold and really quite grey and miserable. Also, we tried to enjoy the time indoors with hot chocolates and movies but two young kids, small house, two adults in various stages of unprocessed developmental trauma needing space and time… it really was going to be a challenge at the best of times! Monday morning came and I felt my ‘child’ rear her tantrum head… she did not want to go to work. I’d taken the previous week off work with a terrible migraine and body pains… I have a very strict discipline policy at work for absence and I can’t really have any more time off. So I went in. I got through the day on autopilot.

As soon as I closed the door behind me after work the flood gates opened. I could feel it well up inside me from the depths of my tummy, up, up, up through my solar plexus, throat, head and then burst into tears. I think I had spent the day in this sort of compartmentalised dissociated state I get into sometimes when I have to just get on with adulting even when all I want to do is curl up in bed and hibernate for a year, only coming out for therapy sessions! So anyway, I was crying on and off all afternoon and late into the evening on Monday. I had to shelve the tears for my kids coming home, shelve them again for dinner, shelve them to go to the gym (which to be honest I don’t even know how I did that) and shelve them for chatting to my husband in the evening before going to bed early. The very intense thoughts of being an awful mother overwhelmed my mind. That I’m just like my mother. I had a muddled conversation with my friend as I tried to put into words what had triggered me… the main points of that conversation were:

I just feel panicky when I think about the importance of this job of being a parent and how fragile the line is between getting it right and getting it wrong. If I think about how hard we’re all working to heal this shit, all of the people I talk to online… all of the pain they’re going through trying to cleanse themselves of the trauma. Here I am now at the head of my family, I have the opportunity to NOT fuck things up right now so that my kids don’t have to work on healing from the damage I could inflict on them and I don’t think I’m managing to do that! It’s the one thing I wanted more than anything, to break the chain and not pass down the trauma, and I feel like it’s the very thing I’m doing… traumatising them, just by being here with them. And so my friend said to me that actually the bar is quite low for being a ‘good enough’ mother. And that fills me with grief and this desperate panic… it frightens the hell out of me. Because if the bar is low that must mean things were really actually awful for me growing up. That my mother couldn’t even reach a very low bar. And also, if I’m not fucking my kids up with what I’m doing and the bar is low, then what my mum did was abuse. But there’s a part of me that can’t get my head around that. Which makes me think I really am very fragmented… because I’ve talked at length about how abusive my mum was. But right now I can’t hear it or believe it. So maybe she wasn’t abusive and she did reach the ‘good enough mother’ bar. So my childhood was fine but I’m here struggling like hell so I must just be overly sensitive. I’m the one with the problem. Because I think my mum isn’t an abuser. I think she was maybe traumatised by her traumatised parents. And she had periods in her life when she was definitely mentally unstable – kind of up and down. And I kinda get on okay with her now from a distance. Also, things are easier for people who want to heal these days. It wasn’t as accessible back then. I have so much information at my fingertips that she never had. But I’m so confused, I don’t know where to go with this. How can I be angry with her when she didn’t know what she was doing, if she was traumatised, and she never wanted kids, and was possibly mentally unstable? How can I be anything but sorry for her? And then actually the bar for her should be very low. Because of everything I just wrote about her. She was fighting battles she couldn’t even see… they say you can only do the best with what you know… maybe that was her best? But for me the bar has to be higher. Because I am more educated. I have more resources available to me. I’m in a happy marriage. I have therapy. I have so much more than she had. So yes I should expect more from me… so I am failing and doing even worse than my mum. Because I have so much more help and knowledge… I have no excuse – this is why ‘good enough’ isn’t good enough for me, I should be aiming for perfection and on that note I am massively failing. There are many moments where I avoid emotional connection and intimacy with my kids. I know how damaging that can be… the emotionally distant mother can create all sorts of attachment disorders. And there are times when I go out and I miss bedtimes etc. sometimes multiple nights a week. Just like my mum did. Only I know how negatively impactful it can be. She didn’t know. So what I’m doing is so much worse. I am a worse mother than my own mother and therefore I am massively fucking my kids up and they’d be better off without me.

After talking with my friend and regulating a bit, I lay in bed holding Baby Panda sobbing because she no longer smelled of Anna. (See notes from the last session.) At 10pm, in desperation, I text Anna this message, ‘There’s a risk that I’m going to immediately regret asking this as soon as I send it but here goes… please would you consider bringing your perfume to the session tomorrow evening so I can spray it on the bear? Sorry to send a late text. I’m asking now coz if you go straight from work to therapy (and you’re not completely freaked out by the idea and still want to see me) then you’ll need to put it in your bag in the morning (and if it’s a no, please be gentle with me… I’m fighting pure nausea just writing this text out!)’

As soon as I hit send I felt myself leave my body. I literally felt it happening. Like when you get a fright and you jump out your skin. Sheer panic overloaded my body and whoosh I was out of it. I took a couple of painkillers to help me sleep. I didn’t fully return to my body all of the following day. I got through work on autopilot feeling as though I was the captain of a robot ship – sitting in the cab steering the body, arms and legs, looking out of the window eyes. Feeling nothing. I was certain my request would push Anna over the edge. I considered on a number of occasions throughout the day, texting Anna again to ask her to pretend she hadn’t got that last text.

I was incredibly nervous before the session but in a very distant way. I couldn’t feel the adrenaline fuelled panic I normally feel coursing through my veins, this time I felt numb and floaty. I hovered into the building and without making eye contact sat down in front of Anna. I’d gone over and over what I might say to her, that I didn’t really mean it, that it didn’t matter afterall… there was silence so I looked up at her and she gave a gentle smile and placed her perfume bottle on the table beside my water. I could not believe it. I felt a massive wave of emotion blow me over. Joy, grief, gratitude, shame, warmth, terror… I looked at her eyes and she looked quite emotional. Her face was just so fucking there right in front of me like she was really willing me to engage with this moment. It was too much for me and I immediately hid my face While hiding in there she talked about how brilliant it was that I’d asked for what I needed. I managed a whispered, ‘thank you so much’ but stayed hiding for quite a while. I didn’t really hear any of what she as saying because I was so dissociated.

An intense, slow, gently connecting session followed.

At one point, when I’d come out of hiding (still with the bottle sitting on the table – occasionally being glanced at by me just to make sure I hadn’t imagined it), I told Anna the big long garbled mess of thoughts that had upset me on the Monday night. I told her about my expectations for me as a mother and she said, ‘but the bar is different for everyone. You could have 7 people all in the same family and each one would experience things differently.’ That felt really uncomfortable to me, I said, ‘so it is my fault that I felt the way I did…’ she softened and said, ‘no, none of it was your fault, you did nothing wrong.’ I said, ‘but if I made it a bigger deal than it actually was?’ she said, ‘whose words are they?’ I didn’t answer her. A bit later when I was talking about how maybe my childhood was fine I experienced this sort of surge in my brain – I said, ‘there were so many days when it was so awful though… day after day… I remember the dread, walking up the lane to go home after school, I remember the dread in the pit of my stomach. I didn’t want to be there, I couldn’t find a place for me anywhere.’ She said, ‘yes, and you remember that, that was real, it really did happen and it was that bad.’

(Reflecting on that now, I’m realising that the feeling I get when I come home from work is an emotional flashback! It isn’t that much about my present day life it is my body reexperiencing the dread and pain and terror and depression and loneliness of my childhood… this sinking in the pit of my stomach and a numb grey wash loosely masking the blind panic inside that my life had no meaning and no joy and no hope… emotional flashback. Fuck I was so desperately along and frightened. Such big enormous feelings for a child to hold… I need to take this to Anna!

Back to the session…

Anna reminded me that I have spoken about having fun with the kids and that sometimes when I’m in this space I can’t feel or remember these times. I said it wasn’t like that in reality. I said, ‘I don’t think I lied to you but it’s just not that clean cut… I don’t really have solid happy present moments with my family… I get triggered so easily, I get spacey and turn into myself, I want to get away from them, I fake it for a bit but it’s not really how I feel inside.’ Anna said, ‘you feel like you fake it but I see it differently. I see you making an effort. Despite how you feel inside you’re making an effort with your family, you are trying to give them what you didn’t have. You greet your kids with a warm smile and open arms every day, you read them bedtime stories, you play with them, you are doing what was not done for you…’ I started getting really agitated and frustrated and said, ‘I cant explain it properly I can’t get the words right so you get it.’ Anna’s expression… I don’t know how to describe it… like deeply connecting in a sad way.. she said, ‘I am trying very hard to understand.’ But it wasn’t a critical or defensive statement. It was like a, ‘I’m so sorry that you feel I’m not understanding you, I am trying hard.’ I felt awful for her. I said, ‘its not you, I feel you trying to understand, it’s me, I don’t know how to explain it.’ she told me to take my time and reminded me that this is why it’s great when we have these 90 minute sessions because we have more time.

Anna said, ‘I remember you talking about your mum having two sides… one where she was quite cruel and unloving to you and the other side, the side where she would call you ‘sweety darling’… do you feel that she was being fake?’ I thought about it and said, ‘yes! So I’m just like her!’ Anna said, ‘but why was your mum being nice to you in those moments?’ I said, ‘to look good in front of people.’ She said, ‘and are you being nice to your kids only when you are in front of people?’ I said, ‘no, its usually when its just me and them…’ she said, ‘yes because you want to make sure they can feel your love, they can feel your care… you’re making an effort to break the cycle and love them the way you should have been loved… your mum never made that kind of effort…’ I said, ‘in fact just before I moved out she told me, ‘I wasted 17 years of my life on you…’ Anna let out a pained gasp/sigh… even though we’ve talked about this statement before… we talked about it in depth actually as it preceded one of the worst bouts of self-harm I ever inflicted on myself with 17 deep lines scored into my leg as an alternative to the one line vertically drawn down my wrist that I’d planned. Anna held her fists to her chest and said, ‘oh that just hurts so much, it’s just such a wounding thing to be told…’ I said, ‘I hated that she called me darling, she never called me by my fucking name… I always make sure I call Grace by her fucking name because that’s the right thing to do she should know her name!’ Anna said, ‘you’re doing it because you know it hurts to not be called by your name. you’re doing it because you love Grace and care about her and you want her to feel that love… that’s connection.’ I nodded and sat with that for a bit.

A little later Anna said, ‘So you sent that text after the last session saying that the feelings hit you as soon as you left the session…’ I said, ‘yes and I suddenly missed you, so much.’ More silence. I looked at her and she was gently looking at me… just looking… it feels so bizarre to be looked at. Just holding that spoken truth in the air. She asked me how I was experiencing our connection right now and I said, ‘but you asked me that last session and I said I could feel the connection but then as soon as I left I realised I couldn’t and sent that text. Sometimes it’s hard to even feel like anyone else is here. It’s almost like you’re a figment of my imagination. So… who knows! I know that you are sitting there, you are here with me, I feel like you are reaching over to me and I’m behind this glass wall… screaming and banging my fists on this glass wall… I want it to not be here anymore, I want to feel you.’ She said, ‘I’m so glad it’s a glass wall.’ I hesitated then asked why. She explained, ‘because it’s not brick. We can see each other. And perhaps it’s not a wall, it’s sliding doors… and the doors can open like this (motioned her hands placed palms together in front of each other then opened a little in front of her) and they can close… whenever you choose… unlike the blind that rolls up or down or the wall that you peek over… what do you think about that?’ I was nodding and I agreed and said I liked that but I just wish the glass wasn’t there at all. She said, ‘it’s there for a very good reason, you were hurt Lucy, you learned how to protect yourself. I’m so glad that you invented ways to protect yourself… and now you are slowly learning how to let certain people in… baby steps remember.’ There was a moment of pause where we weren’t speaking then she said, ‘what do you feel you need right now?’ and before I could engage my brain I blurted out, ‘I just want to leap across the room and hug you…’ I immediately panicked and plunged myself into my jumper and said, ‘no I don’t… I don’t…but I do… I do soooo muuuuuch!’ in a very young longing winey tone. Eventually she calmly said, ‘would you like a hug?’ still in my jumper I said, ‘yes but also no…’ I started to cry. She asked if I wanted her to sit next to me which I did so she moved the other chair beside me, I could hear it happening. She then put her hand on my arm after asking if I wanted her to. I felt all the crying inside me and it came out in silent little drops. I had an image of my mum in my mind and how much I’d wanted to wrap my arms around her waist and be consumed by her holding. Anna eventually asked, ‘is this alright?’ I nodded. I could feel my breathing do weird things. Little breaths then one big breath in. I could head Anna mimicking my big breaths then I tuned in to her deep consistent breathing and mine followed hers. Eventually I came out from under my top and blew my nose, dried my eyes. Hid my face from her with my arm. She slowly lifted her hand from my arm.

My memories of the session are a little hazy here. I know that we talked about how stressed and overwhelmed I get at home and work. That my work is open plan and there isn’t a single space in the building where I could be alone other than a cubicle in the toilets. And at home there isn’t a room in the house that I wouldn’t be followed into. There just is no space that’s mine. I have very few minutes in my day when I am on my own in a room… I know that in a way that is a blessing but also I really need space. I need alone time to process. To be myself. To feel things. To think without being interrupted. Anna said, ‘so, beautifully, you created that space inside yourself.’ I paused and looked around the room trying to take this in, I said, ‘in my head?’ she nodded. She said ‘don’t you think it’s amazing that you have given yourself what you need, when there seems to be no way of getting it externally? You needed space and peace so you made it inside!’ (I’ve been working this over in my mind since she said it and it’s really quite incredible how she does this, she reframes things that I had demonised inside my head and she turns it into something admirable and completely understandable… and she’s right! I did this all my life. My internal world is magical. It is everything I needed and always has been. All through my childhood… I have memories of the ‘real world’ and then I have memories of all the amazing things I did inside my head… in my inner world I could be and do anything I wanted… I was so many different things… I went to so many different places. I felt all the things I wanted to feel. In my inner world I was safe and loved and free. That’s why triggers and nightmares and flashbacks felt like such a terrifying attack… my external world wasn’t safe and loving but at least I had my inner world. When that was threatened, when my inner world was penetrated by fear and doubt and shame and terror – I had nothing. I have nothing. This is something I need to take back to session.

So ten minutes before the end of the session. We’re sitting right next to each other in two separate arm chairs pushed side by side with no gap between. She’s slowly taken her hand off my arm and I am able to look at her now. I said, ‘that moment when you asked what I needed and I burst out with ‘I want to leap over and ug you’ was like this crazy speaking without thinking kind of thing… I kinda wish I could do more of that coz it was like I was speaking right from here (hand on my belly).’ Anna smiled, ‘yes and that will happen more and more, rather than chastising yourself for not always talking like that, praise yourself for saying that one statement from your gut… a year ago you didn’t want to feel even the edges of your feelings and now you’re saying ‘I really hate this but what is it I’m feeling what do I need?’ this is amazing progress… you will get there!’ I said, ‘yeah I guess so… coz you know, there are so many things that I think and don’t say…’ she was nodding enthusiastically, eyes widened for me to go on… ‘like I want to have more hugs, I wanna hug you for a long time… I just don’t want to be too much you know I don’t want you to feel depleted after you’ve spent time with me you know im scared that I’ll be too needy and you’ll be exhausted and…’ Anna stopped me and said, ‘you really don’t need to worry about me you know Lucy, I’m okay. I really am okay.’ She looked so stable and secure and like she really knew the words she was saying, she really meant it. I said, ‘I really need you to be okay…’ she nodded and said, ‘yes I know, I am, okay. I really need you to be kinder to yourself… you’re very very hard on yourself. You are doing a very hard job, you’re a mother and you are in intense therapy… just one of those things would be exhausting but you’re doing all three at once.’ I smiled and said, ‘so you don’t feel like you dread our sessions or feel like you breathe a sign of relief after I’ve gone or something…? I really felt like I was emploring her, searching her face in childlike wonder for the answers. She had such a lovely smile and said, ‘ I really enjoy working with you Lucy, I could not and would not do this if I didn’t… don’t you think you would be able to tell if I felt like that?’ I thought about it and said I maybe would.

Finally, in the final few minutes while we were so beautifully connected I asked again, ‘how did you feel when you read my text?’ this question came from a playful, trusting, young place. I feel like she sensed that. She smiled at me asking and said, ‘I felt very moved. It’s a big deal! I’m so touched that your young part was so brave and vulnerable, I know that it’s very hard.’ I said, ‘and was there ever a no in your thoughts at all, when you considered how you felt about bringing the perfume? Did you think it over considering yes or no..?’ she shook her head still gently smiling, ‘not at all. For a start I know how important smell is. It was a really meaningful request. Instantly a yes from me. It felt very connecting. I’m really pleased you asked…’ I took in a big satisfying breath and so did she then she said, ‘So are Luna and Baby here… and do they want a skoosh?’ I suddenly felt frozen and asked her, ‘why is this so hard…?’ She just looked at me patiently and then I said, ‘coz it feels young and exposing…?’ She nodded. I said, ‘it’s so hard to ask for things.’ She said she knew and understood, ‘that’s why I am so very proud of you, you were frightened but you asked!’ I checked, ‘this is okay yeah? You’re okay with this? This is consensual and totally okay?’ She nodded and finally I pulled the bears out and one by one sprayed them with her perfume. I introduced her to the tiny one that shes never seen before and she asked what his name was. I said he comes to work with me sometimes (like she’d suggested) and asked her to name him. Anna looked at the label and said, ‘oh his name is Suki!’ I liked that a lot. She asked if Suki also wanted a spray which I did. I sprayed loooaaadsss and then after realised I’d kinda lost myself in the spraying and felt bad that I was wasting her perfume! I was so soaked up in the joy of it all for that minute. I put the bottle back on the table and said to her, ‘I know I’ve said this so many times and maybe you’ll think I’m only thanking you so you don’t get sick of me and leave me…’ (she laughed) ‘…but you know I really, I’m so thankful, it’s just the most biggest feeling inside me, this gratitude… I’m just I feel so lucky that I found you… and you know, I mean, I know it’s your job but you could do a really half assed job and still take the money but you know I really feel like you put a lot into this and I… well it means a lot to me, thank you.’ Anna said, ‘I know, I can feel your gratitude, you’re so very welcome, I really do enjoy working with you. You don’t have to keep thanking me but I do appreciate your gratitude.’

I put my shoes on. Put the bears in my bag then slowly turned to her and whispered, ‘it’s so hard to ask for things…’ she did an understanding face and said, ‘I know Lucy. Very very hard. You should be very proud of yourself. I am.’

We hugged and I told her it was so good to see her. She replied saying the same and I floated out the door.

I slept with my perfume drenched Luna that night and had the best nights sleep I’ve had in years. Solid, sound… woke up rested. And I have felt secure in our attachment and calm inside myself since. Smelling Suki at work helped ground me all day Wednesday. Every time I walk into my bedroom I smell Anna. It makes me smile because I imagine her reading my text and her smiling at my reaching out… rather than imagining her grimacing, she is glad to read my words. She gladly brought something from her house for me. I think I’m slowly learning that this attachment that I fear so much is actually the basis of it all… she isn’t fearful of it, she is encouraging it. I am not getting this all wrong, it is all going the way it’s meant to. And the gratitude fills me up.

Your inner critic creates distance between us

Anna is a transactional analysist. A lot of our work is looking at my inner dialogue. She encourages me to share the things I hear in my head completely uncensored, even when my thoughts are critical of her! Anna said to me recently, ‘of course your inner critic belittles me, I’m a threat to her! I undermine her existence.’ I said, ‘but this is ridiculous, there is no ‘inner critic’ it’s just me, all the voices and thoughts are just mine, isn’t this just a convenient excuse so I don’t have to take responsibility for the horrible things I think?’ Anna told me that the inner critic is like a contamination of the authentic self. It’s the beliefs and words of our parents and other adults who influenced us when we were children. She said she can hear when I’m speaking from that ego state because it’s not who I really am deep down. Quite often I find it very hard to hear when I’m speaking from my inner critic because it all feels and sounds so reasonable and true to me. But Anna is slowly helping me untangle it. She will stop me, challenge the statements, ask me to take a closer look at what I’m saying. She’ll ask me, ‘who’s voice is that?’ or, ‘where have you heard that before?’ or, ‘that sounds familiar’ and I’ll be encouraged to dig deeper to find my core authentic beliefs.

Last Saturday in session I rattled through a memory from childhood, rushing through the details when she said, ‘let’s just pause there, Lucy. That’s really awful. Devastating. I’m so sorry that happened to you.’ I carried on without looking at her and she gently said, ‘did you hear me?’ I said I heard her but couldn’t connect to it. She said, ‘I know, that’s why it’s important to pause and let this reach you.’ I laughed and said, ‘you’re making a big thing out of nothing though Anna, it really wasn’t that bad!’ She took a deep breath and said in a stern voice, ‘your mother told you that it wasn’t that bad. NO ONE in this room believes her.’ In that moment it burned into me, hot and unbearable. I wanted to hide behind the chair but didn’t want to make myself more visible by moving. That is when I know I’m ‘in my child’. Trapped – wanting to connect and wanting to run. This is where the work is – pulling it all apart, through the agony of being seen by her.

The first thing Anna did at the start of that session was thank me for the text I’d sent her after our last session. ‘Baby smells of your perfume which is really nice. I wish I’d taken the moment in more when you were holding her. There’s something really comforting about seeing you with them.’ I cringed and said it was embarrassing, ‘I hope you weren’t freaked out by it!’ She looked concerned and said, ‘no I was deeply touched. I know you go over your texts many times so it wasn’t just a quick one you fired off. It will have taken a lot for you to send it. I saw it as a message from a very young part that felt relieved and comforted like she was smelling Baby and thinking, ‘ahh it’s okay, that smells like mummy’ and I know I’m not your mum, but I know a small part of you sees me in a motherly role. And that touched me, it didn’t creep me out at all, it made me feel connected to you. I was proud of you for sending it. It felt important.’

In my head I was thinking, ‘this is amazing, she knows a part of me wants her to be my mum yet she’s not scared shitless,’ but I was totally numb behind my protective glass wall. I told her I felt like I was going to push her away, I was too needy, too demanding. That one day she’d snap and tell me enough is enough. She reassured me that my texts don’t anger her. She said, ‘Lucy, you are not too much for me and you don’t have the power to MAKE me feel anything.’ We talked about boundaries. We talked about the roots of these ‘archaic’ fears. She explained that the texts help her understand how my young parts are feeling because they rarely come out in session.

She said, ‘I wonder, do you think your inner critic creates distance between us between the sessions? What does she tell you?’ I said, ‘um… that you’ll find relief in forgetting about me, you don’t want to remember me and if you do then you’re angry that you’ve remembered me… and if I text you maybe you’ll roll your eyes and think for fuck sake can’t I go a few days without thinking of this girl!? I feel like I burden you…’ Anna interrupted and said, ‘do you think I don’t think of you between sessions?’ I said, ‘I know we’ve talked about this before and you’ve said you do think of me, you hold me in mind, but I feel like you’d be really boundaried about how much time you spend thinking about your clients… it’s not the same as how I feel.’ She said, ‘and what is the fantasy…? If I was to think about you through the week…?’ I said, ‘that I’m too much for you and uh…’ she got kind of enthusiastic and said, ‘yes! Go on!’ I said, ‘and um…’ I told her I was feeling spacey so she got me to put both feet on the floor and take a drink of water. I went on, ‘that you’ll suddenly just break and you’ll tell me you can’t do this anymore…’ I then launched in to a long description of my dad and how I would never know how he was feeling until it was too late. That he would seem fine, calm or neutral, then suddenly he’d explode with rage. Then later my mum would come in and tell me that I just was too much for them, I needed to stop being so difficult, that it was my fault they were having so many arguments.’ Anna reached herself forwards into my line of vision and said, ‘it was not your fault Lucy, that was a very unkind thing for her to say. It must have been so frightening to have your dad lose his temper like that?’ I nodded and felt myself falling inside. I told her that I was very good at never showing them how I felt. We talked about that for a bit.

A lot of this session was very dissociated. I struggled to write notes for it. Just bullet points and a paragraph here and there. I delved deeply into some very painful stuff relating to my dad abandoning me, choosing to not help me when I really seriously needed his help… things in my life that lead me to this very strong belief that I am better off on my own, an island. I can have people exist adjacent to me but I must not need them. I love people from a distance. At one point I was explaining something and the preamble to the story went along the lines of me saying that I knew it sounded stupid. She stopped me and told me to be mindful of the criticisms and to not over analyse myself, ‘just speak uncensored’. I laughed and said, ‘do you know me?’ in a jokey way, seeing as over analysing is all I seem to do. She very seriously replied, ‘I really hope so!’ as in, she really hopes she knows me. As I was driving home, something really massive was stirring inside me – this thought kind of blew my mind… this sort of grief – a panicky realisation that she has always been there… she hopes she knows me… she does hope that she knows me. She has sat with me every week for two and a half years… this is the 119th session and we have had some 90 minute sessions and phone calls in addition to all the one hour sessions… all of that time… ALL OF THAT TIME dedicated to her getting to know ME and helping me get to know myself… she has been there trying to reach me every minute of the time we shared (and all of the time outside of our sessions, her reading my texts, her taking our work to supervision, her planning for and reflecting on our sessions)… and for most of it I could not feel her. That’s devastating. The care and connection has been sitting there a metre away from me and I’ve been numb to it. Those thoughts completely floored me.

When I got home I sent her the following text, ‘Sometimes I miss you almost as soon as I’ve walked out the door. I think my adult dominated the session again today. I stood in the way of that young part you were talking about, the one who felt like she could smell mummy on the baby panda. I could have cried when you said that coz it’s exactly how it felt and I’ve been too ashamed to admit it. I could easily have fallen into a deep dissociation every time we went near the topic of how I feel about you. It’s just so painful. I know we’re not planning Tuesday’s session but it’s really important that I let that small part be in the room with you. I think that’s probably the point of it. I want to limit the planning and talking and overthinking to leave space for her. So that she can be there and feel connected to you and not dissociate away from it all. Now I’m going to utilise all my tools in an attempt to not obsess about all of this in my head for the next three days. Thank you Anna, for understanding. I really felt today that you do. That’s so important to me.’

I knew I only had to wait until Tuesday before I would see her again… three days wait – easy!

A creative way to get comfort…

As soon as I sat down I felt uncomfortable and on show. The room had been rearranged and it didn’t feel the same. I didn’t want Anna sitting beside me because my skins really bad at the moment and I didn’t want her to see up close how bad I look but also sitting in front of me she can see the whole of me which also feels too intense. At several points in the session I told her I wanted to hide.

I told Anna that I’d brought the pandas and that I’d show her later and she said, ‘is the wee one really soft..?’ and I realised it was silly to wait so I pulled Luna out first so she could remember how big she is then said, ‘here’s Luna’s baby,’ and pulled the wee one out. She immediately reached over to take her and so I passed her over. Just seeing her look right at the baby panda and hold her with both her hands melts my heart. She asked what her name was and I said she was just called Baby. It was a nice few moments of Anna stroking her, saying she was so soft and fluffy… then I squirrelled them both away in my bag again down on the floor beside my chair. Every so often I flopped my arm down over the arm and could rub Luna’s ear for comfort.

I said, ‘I’ll just launch straight in then…’ and she nodded. I then said, ‘I hadn’t planned on talking about this and actually in the car this morning felt totally fine and good actually but now I think it’s really important that I talk about Thursday.’ She said that it sounded like a good idea. So I said, ‘Thursday was the absolute worst Thursday I have had so far… I know we’ve talked about Thursdays being the day when everything just hits me but this Thursday was the hardest ever. I’m trying to think what made it so hard, let me think…’ I sat for a minute with my eyes closed thinking. I said, ‘it was the usual thing, I woke up on Thursday morning and felt the pain in my chest and throat immediately… got myself and the kids ready while on autopilot… then when Grace was at school I felt it all in my throat and chest. Welling up inside me. Overwhelming me. I had to push it all down until Reuben was at nursery and then when he was away I laid on my bed and cried for over an hour. Then calmed down again… I didn’t want to tell Adam so I just pretended everything was fine when he got home… then in the evening… something happened but I can’t remember let me think…’

On reflection I can see I was fairly dissociated at this point. I was feeling spacey and forgetful and there were big gaps in my memory which was frustrating me. She encouraged me to take a minute and slow down. I took a breath and then said, ‘oh yeah I remember now, it was awful actually I went to a spin class to try to use up some of the energy I had coursing through me and then afterwards I needed to go and get diesel but on the way to the diesel station I had another panic attack, it was fucking terrifying and I had to pull over and…’ Anna said, ‘okay lets slow down, take it slow.’ I felt like I was struggling to take a full breath in that moment and so I looked around the room and down at the candle on the table and out the window. I nodded and closed my eyes and continued, ‘to be honest with you, I know this is the inner critic speaking but it’s my own fault that I got myself in such a mess because I was talking to you in my head and doing that thing that I’ve not done in ages where I was like rehearsing what I could say to you and so in my head we were at the start of the 90 minute session that we’ve planned where I’m going to sit and not speak and just see what comes up and I mean (I laughed) it’s ridiculous because the whole point of that session is that I DON’T plan it and I just see what happens but I guess the idea of that makes me feel anxious so it made me want to plan it in my head… so in the session in my head there was a short silence then everything just came pouring out of me, all of the things I’ve never told you just spilled endlessly and I guess I was getting more and more panicked and anxious and it felt like I was being strangled, like I couldn’t take a breath and my throat was closing up and it felt like I was actually going to die and I pulled over in a layby and…’ Anna interrupted and said in a very serious voice, ‘it can be terrifying to have a panic attack, that is exactly what it feels like, as if you’re going to die, and you were all on your own and it was dark and you’re driving, very scary!’ I could feel the shame prickle and I couldn’t look at her. I nodded and continued, ‘I need to not have these conversations with you in my head they’re too scary I think I frightened myself I wasn’t ready to even imagine saying all that stuff…’ she said, ‘I know… the point of the not talking at the start of the 90 minute session is to go slow and be authentic and see what comes up in that moment, to slow right down, not say everything all at once. I think you make a good point about maybe creating a boundary around the car. I know it happens sort of automatically, that when you are on your own in the car it feels safe and containing because no one is going to interrupt you or discover you, but it’s important we keep you safe. We can’t have 8 year old Lucy or 14 or whoever come out while you’re driving and expect her to safely control the car. You did the right thing pulling over, how did you help yourself calm down?’ I told her I put the fans on full freezing cold on my face and told myself, ‘I’m an adult, I just went to a spin class, I’m going to get diesel, it’s raining, it’s 2020, I have a husband and kids and Anna and life is okay now, this will pass…’ and that by the time I’d finished saying all of that I was finally able to take a breath in again. Anna said, ‘I’m so glad you could keep yourself safe. I wonder if we can create a boundary here… like when you’re in the car and you notice your mind start talking to me or ruminating you say, ‘I am driving, I’m concentrating, it’s important that we stay safe, I promise we will come back to this when it’s safe but we’re not going to think about this just now…’ a bit like what you’d say to the kids if they asked you to look at something or they’re distracting you while you’re driving, you’d tell them it needs to wait.’ I nodded and agreed. I said it’s hard because I didn’t notice it happening until I was in the middle of it. She said, ‘it’s just about practicing the boundary over and over until it becomes a habit. You notice the overwhelm, contain the emotion, establish the boundary… with repetition of this routine you’ll begin to feel safer in yourself.’

I told her, ‘when I was getting the diesel I realised I haven’t filled this car up since we bought it and didn’t know how to open the diesel cap door. I phoned Adam and he told me it was under the footwell so I pulled that lever, got out and went round to discover the door still shut. I went back and shone my torch and realised it was the bonnet I’d opened. I phoned him back and told him and he said, ‘for fuck sake! It’s between the chair and the door, open the door and look!’ he was really impatient with me and made me feel like an idiot.’ Then I had to figure out how to close the bonnet by myself. We talked quite a bit about this. We explored why his response had hurt me so much, that it triggered my wounded child. I felt a shock inside like I had been told off, I felt ashamed for not knowing how to do it and I felt like he hated me. Then I felt angry with him. I told Anna it reminded me of how harsh and impatient my dad used to be. That sometimes he’d have all the patience in the world and then he’d snap and shout at me really loudly in my face and I remember just freezing, he’d often threaten a smacked bottom as well so I’d just not look at him and stiffen up and wait for it to be over… wouldn’t let him see how I felt. Then mum would come in and tell me she wished I’d stop being so difficult that I just push him too far, that I need to stop arguing or whatever and that because I push him so hard then they argue and I need to just be easier to live with. Anna was saying over the top of me, ‘what? No… what? That’s not your responsibility! So not only was it your fault that he couldn’t control his anger but also your fault that they were arguing? Lucy, parents should be supportive and caring and loving, that’s a horrible thing to say to a child… really horrible, you didn’t deserve that…’ she said some other things and I said, ‘yeah and so then I…’ she said, ‘Lucy did you hear me?’ I looked at her and she liked angry and red in the face which I now realise was probably anger at my parents but I felt a bit overwhelmed. I nodded and said, ‘yeah but I cant connect to it I don’t want to…’ she said, ‘I know, I know Lucy, but it’s important.’ I said, ‘but really? It feels like we’re making a bigger deal out if it, is it really that bad?’ she told me what I had said to her but she replaced me with Grace in the story and asked me if I could imagine saying those things to Grace. I said I would never say that to her, put that onto her. We sat with that for a bit. I felt a little out of it so I looked at the trees out the window being blown about by the storm. I focused on the beads of rain on the window. I looked at the candle flickering on the table and focused on it’s smell. I flicked my eyes up at Anna and she was looking down at my chair legs. I wondered what she was thinking. She looked at me and I looked away. I said I was finding it really difficult and she said, ‘I know, well done for staying with it.’

I told her that when I went home I told Adam there was no need for him to swear at me. He said he’d just put the kids down by himself and was busy tidying and felt hassled by me. I just went upstairs and went to bed. Anna came back to this later in the session and said that when people do one thing that makes me feel like there’s a disagreement or misunderstanding or they hurt me in some way, it changes the whole way I feel about them. I told her I’d noticed this and that this was one of the things that made me ask Paul if he thought I had BPD because I know it’s called splitting. She didn’t respond to that but said it makes sense that I respond in this way because that small part of me is always looking for evidence that people don’t really love me and that I’m an idiot. So his reaction to me asking for help (which is hard for me to do) made me feel shame and rejection and abandonment and all the things I fear and so it made me go into myself… I retreated, protected myself and went to hide upstairs. She played out a scenario of a more adult way to deal with. Of me saying to Adam that it didn’t feel nice for him to lose his patience with me and what was going on for him at that moment. We talked that through a bit.

I then said, ‘so when I was upstairs I cried for like two hours solid and it was so intense… I know I said this recently that I cried deeper than ever before but this was the deepest most painful crying ever, I couldn’t even stay quiet it was so intense… and I can’t believe I’m going to tell you this it’s so embarrassing and hard to explain…’ she reminded me to take my time, ‘I was like lying in the foetal position in bed under my covers with my arms over my head and there were no thoughts just deep crying and then I suddenly felt like my head was huge, massive in my hands, felt like it was the size of a space hopper or something (I laughed awkwardly)… like it was really trippy… I felt like I dunno – weird proportions…’ Anna said, ‘it sounds like a huge amount of grief being processed from a really young preverbal place, you mentioned the foetal position, you know how babies and the foetus, the head is so much bigger in relation to the rest of the body, I wonder if you were really grieving from a very young regressed place… does that sound right?’ I was nodding and just looking at the floor. I covered my face and said I was really embarrassed. She said she understood and then said, ‘I think you know that there is a huge amount of grief to be processed and a lot of it doesn’t have words because the grief and longing is from a time before you had the words to express what was happening or how you were feeling, but you are feeling it now and that’s so good, I know it doesn’t feel good but really this is exactly what needs to be happening, I’m so proud of you.’

She asked me if I knew what had made me cry and I said, ‘I’m reluctant to tell you this because I feel like it’s like rubbing salt in the wound but… well do you remember a couple of years ago I told you that my mum was a singer and had made records?’ she nodded and said she remembered. I said, ‘well there was this particular album that she recorded that had two songs on it that I loved. I taped it onto a mix tape and used to listen to it on repeat on my headphones in bed on my Walkman. One song in particular that I liked listening to had lyrics that were exactly the words I wished she’d say to me about feeling comforted and loved. So… I’ve not listened to it in decades and on Thursday night I had the urge to hear it again so I looked it up to see if I could find it on youtube and I did find it so I listened to it and that’s what made me cry so much. You know when we spoke on the phone you said, ‘you’re not that little girl anymore, you’re not alone in that room with the door shut, you don’t have to cry by yourself anymore, you’re an adult now…’ and those words had been going around and around in my head and it all just built up… so on Thursday night it felt like it was her crying, her tears, her pain that I was connecting to…’ Anna said, ‘do you know why you were connecting to her pain?’ and I thought for a moment then quietly said, ‘because she needed me to.’ There was a long pause and I looked up and Anna was tearful with a kind smile on her face. She was nodding and said, ‘yes… she is not alone anymore, you are ready to hear her and comfort her now… she needs you and you are there for her… that’s magical Lucy, isn’t that wonderful!’ I found her enthusiasm uncomfortable. It’s really hard to connect to. She asked me if the song meant something different to me now I’m an adult and without being consciously aware of it I pulled Luna out of my bag and held her against my chest. I asked Anna to sit next to me which she did and I said the song meant the same to me now. I told her the song and she recognised it and asked what in particular moved me about the lyrics. I asked her if I could say them to her and she said of course but then nothing came out. I said, ‘I know the song off by heart, it’s threaded through the bones of me, I’ve listened to it thousands of times and can hear her voice singing it in my head.

You asked me ages ago if I felt like I loved my mum and wanted her to hug me and I told you I hated her and wanted nothing from her. But on Thursday night I could just remember how much I loved her, that I wanted to be close to her so much… I remembered that she used to wear black leggings and really heavy chunky knit cream jumpers that skimmed her thighs and she had a lovely body and… its so weird it sounds so weird but even as a child I noticed this, she was soft and curvy and slim and beautiful and I wanted to wrap my arms round her waist and nuzzle into her and breathe her in but I was never allowed to… I remember her pushing me away so many times… and listening to the song and imagining her singing it to me, I can hear her taking a breath the recording is that clear and it feels intimate and like… the only way I could get close to her…’ Anna said, ‘I know you described it as rubbing salt in the wound but I actually think it was a beautiful way to show that little girl that you were ready to hold her pain.’ I asked Anna if I could show her the lyrics instead of verbally telling her and she agreed so I looked them up online and gave her my phone. I sat for an agonising minute while she slowly read the lyrics and then I covered my face so I couldn’t see her reaction. I could hear her put the phone on the arm of the chair and from inside my top in a muffled voice I said, ‘this just seems so stupid, like I’m making this much bigger than it is I just can’t believe I’m telling you all this…’ She said, ‘it is a big deal, it’s very personal and very painful. I’m so honoured you’ve told me Lucy, thank you for sharing the song with me.’

Anna said, ‘it’s so sad that you were on your own with all of that, that you couldn’t get the hugs and love you needed, but what I’m hearing is that this little girl who was on her own with all of those overwhelming feelings had the creativity to find a way to be close to her mum, she found a way to hear the words she needed to hear… that’s incredible Lucy. And she’s waited a long time to have someone be there for her and now she has someone who can love her and hug her and listen and let her cry. This is hard, hard work you’re doing here. I get the very strong sense that you know there is a lot of grief work to be done and you are prepared to let it happen now which shows immense strength.’

We started to finish up. I still felt a bit in the thick of it. Anna asked me how I was and I said okay in an unconvincing tone. I did like her describing the fact that I listened to the song as a child as creative and I also liked the fact that she read the song lyrics. It was such a private, alone, shame inducing thing I used to do… this unlovable little kid listening to her mum singing on a mass produced record that anyone could buy and listen to… I felt like a loser… but Anna reframed it… that little kid was creative, she figured out a way to survive despite being deprived of the love she desperately needed. I need to try to hold on to that.

At the end I asked for a hug and she held me tightly and swayed from side to side gently. I love when she does that. We were hugging for a wee while like that then I thanked her and left. When I got home I unpacked Luna and Baby and noticed that Baby smelled of Anna’s perfume which made me feel so happy and connected to her and like it all really did happen… like at the end of the Snowman when James finds the scarf in his pocket. It is real.

Will the real Lucy King please stand up…

When I started working with Anna, right at the start, maybe even the very first session, I told her, ‘I need really strict boundaries, I need you to tell me nothing about your life, I need you to keep you out of this room, I don’t want to know about who you live with, I don’t want to know about your family, I don’t want to know where you live, don’t tell me how old you are, don’t tell me when your birthday is, don’t tell me where you work… nothing… tell me nothing.’

So, at the time I understood this desire to keep her out of my therapy as a way to get her to assert boundaries that were lacking with Paul (my previous therapist). He told me a lot about his life. I know what his wife did, the names and ages of his kids, where they went to school, he told me when his wife was pregnant and how the pregnancy was going, plans for the labour, he told me his work history, where he’s lived in his life, what made him want to be a therapist, things that annoy him about people in his life, things he’s worked on himself, what he still needs to work on, he told me about past girlfriends, about where he currently lives… the list goes on and on… and also, there was my stalking… I looked him up online, I found out his favourite band, I found his reviews on Amazon and therefore saw things he’d bought, I found out books he’d read, films he’d watched… I found out a lot!! I interpreted this as my preoccupied attachment style running rings around me. I thought, ‘this is my history playing itself out in the room… this is just how I love people, from a distance obsessively’… and it hurt. It was the worst pain I’d ever experienced. I wanted Paul to be my daddy and my lover at different points through our work together. I touched on the fact that I felt jealous of his daughter who was twenty years younger than me. Initially he worked on this with me, telling me it made sense I would feel like that. Then he started to appear a little defensive. He would say things like, ‘it’s my fault you’re feeling like this, I have created this dependence by having a lack of boundaries, I’m going to make some changes to fix this…’ it made me feel so much shame… this was a bad thing that was his ‘fault’ that needed to be fixed?? I never saw it as a fault, I saw it as part of the work. Any time I brought my feelings for him into the room he became increasingly tense and then said things like, ‘you’re pushing me outside my level of expertise’ and ‘I don’t deal with transference, lets just focus on your real life stuff’ and my personal favourite ‘it’s just transference, its not real’… phew… that stuff hurt like hell. But because of my personal attachment issues I allowed this shame and sense of wrongness to be piled onto my shoulders. I felt like clearly this was my fault and I was doing therapy wrong. Don’t get me wrong, Paul was an amazing therapist in many ways and these statements and examples have been plucked randomly out of context, but in this area he did not help me. In fact, he retraumatised me. It made me certain that my feelings were not welcome and so I tried my best to numb them and focus on impressing him with my ability to intellectualise.

Back to Anna. I often forget that I have told her numerous times from the start that I want to know nothing about her. I forget it came from me and I say things like ‘Anna is very boundaried’ or ‘Anna works with the blank slate mentality’ or ‘Anna doesn’t bring any of her personal life into the room’ – when really I have no idea how she works when she hasn’t been given very strict instructions to never talk about her life I’m the room with me. She has only ever let a couple of things slip and each of those times I’ve brought it up with her as being a very painful experience. These have been minor. E.g. when she told me she couldn’t call me because she was in a car with her family all day driving to wherever they were going on holiday. Another time was when she said something about another client. Most of the time these slips make me feel intense jealousy, inadequacy and a fear of abandonment.

There was one time when she told me of a dream she had when she was a child. We were talking about a dream I had that left me feeling really emotional when I woke up and she was talking about how real dreams can feel. She never normally does this but on that occasion she related it to an experience she had herself. She said that when she was a child she never had a bike and really wanted a chopper. She had a dream that her friend had given her her bike and she was so excited only to wake up and realise it was all just a dream. I didn’t feel the same painful emotions as I did with the other disclosures. I guess because with this one it felt like her inner child sharing with my inner child. It felt intimate and special between us. It felt connecting.

During the phone session on Tuesday Anna told me that a number of her colleagues at the office had struggled to drive to work because of the weather and that was one reason she felt it necessary to not force either of us to meet at the therapy centre rather than just have a phone session. I found myself wanting to ask her what it actually is that she does for a day job. I have never, ever asked her a question about her life. I’m starting to notice a gentle curiosity. I am curious about how old she is. When her birthday is (so I can find out her star sign). I want to know what her day job is and how long she’s done it for. I would like to know what propelled her into training to become a therapist. I’ve wondered, I’ve fantasised about parts of her life and yes, I’ve looked her up online. But thankfully there is very little to find about her on the internet (compared to Paul at least). I have a slightly different attachment style with Anna than I did with Paul. More of my inner child is being worked on with Anna and I relate more to anxious avoidant/disorganised attachment descriptions. I think about her all the time, every day, I desperately want to be close to her but I’m also frightened by the idea of closeness. In fact on occasions the sense of close connection repulses me and simultaneously the sense of disconnection feels like it might kill me. It’s very contradictory and confusing.

One thing that has been amazing about working with Anna is that SHE DOES DEAL WITH TRANSFERENCE… woohoo! I mean, how can you be a therapist and NOT deal with transference? It’s basically just how past relationships have shaped how current relationships are played out. Also, she is happy to talk about our relationship in the room – THANK GOD! She is also wonderfully not defensive in the slightest. She doesn’t take anything I say personally, she sees it all as my shit that needs to be worked on. She is also very aware of her own shit and will not let it interfere with my work. She is also willing to reflect and adapt. She wants to help me in a way that works for me. She isn’t rigid in how she works, she will be flexible with me. I have so many examples of times I have tentatively told her something that didn’t work for me or didn’t feel right and she has heard me, talked it through, taken responsibility or apologised and made changes. She constantly asks me how I am experiencing her, whether the way we’re working is working for me. Also, when reflecting my need for boundaries and for her to not self disclose she has shown a huge amount of understanding. She has said to me, ‘its so important for you that I don’t talk about myself, you spent your whole life having your mum and other people dominating relationships, even Paul made sessions about himself… this hour is yours, it needs to be all about you!’ and I really understand this on a deep level. As a kid I listened to my mum talk about her life so much (including her childhood and teen years) that I find it hard to distinguish what are my real memories and what are her memories. Enmeshed doesn’t even come close to describing our relationship. I read a book recently which calls this type of relationship covert incest… it was an emotionally abusive relationship. I was used for her to get what she needed… and then Paul retraumatised me. Because it is built into the fibre of me to want to serve the needs of others I wilfully listened to him and talked about him because that felt like love to me. But an icky love.. like I was special but also something felt wrong about it.

I recently reflected on this very strong demand for boundaries that I made early on with Anna and had a bit of an epiphany. When I found things out about Paul I absorbed the information and made it about me. I found out the bands he’d loved since he was a teenager and bought a t-shirt with the band on the front to wear to therapy so he could see I liked them too. I bought the cds he had bought and listened to them over and over every minute of the day. I imagined teenage Paul listening to them 30 years ago. I bought the books he had bought and read them as if I was inside his head as he read them. I streetviewed the places he said he’d been to. I looked up the school his kids went to and read the whole website. I tried to enmesh myself… to find meaning in who I was… to find myself in the select crumbs of him I knew. I began to realise that I have done this my whole life. Changed my make up depending on the make up a particular friend wore. Adapted music choices to fit in with people. Picked up and dropped hobbies to try to mirror the people around me. I think people who know me might find this hard to believe because I appear to have a very strong sense of self and I think this is because largely these thoughts and feelings are internalised. I’m not a chameleon, I’m more of a kaleidoscope. I don’t change myself entirely to become a mirror image of them, what I have done is added to myself the things that other people present to me and focus completely on them and their likes rather than showing them my true self. Why..? Because I didn’t know who my true self was!!! You develop and grow your true self in childhood if you have the right loving, guiding, accepting environment. I didn’t, so my true self stayed in hiding. In fact she was never truly born in the first place.

So… when I started working with Anna, I guess in some strange unconscious wisdom, somewhere deep down inside, I knew that this time within this therapeutic relationship I wanted to find my authentic self. The ‘me’ that has never fully come into actuality. All of my life I had found myself in reflections of other people. This time I wanted to find me. And she has given me that space. Beautifully she has opened her arms to me willing me to find the seeds of myself amongst the rubble of broken pieces that other people forced into me. For the first time ever I’ve experienced someone respecting my boundaries. She has allowed me to fumble around in the pitch black wilderness of my soul attempting to find the bones of myself. So I can begin to build for the first time, my true self with no need to mirror myself against what I think she would like.

One of the reasons why I have never given Anna a gift (other than fearing the absolute carnage a rejection would cause) is that when I give gifts, my perfectionism goes into overdrive. I need to know about a person, know something very specific about them, then buy or make a gift that shows them I care, shows them I listened, shows them I know them. I want to give them something that says ‘I know who you are’. I’ve been reflecting on what I have given her… I have drawn her two Christmas cards, both of which had a drawing that related to the work we’re doing or something we talked about in session… I believed I couldn’t give her a gift because I don’t know anything about her… except I’m starting to realise that maybe what I can give to her is something of myself… she already knows about herself, she can already give herself things she likes, she has family, friends and loved ones who can give her things that are specific about her. But what does she not have anything else in her life like…? Me! Giving her my art is something only I can do. That’s special because it comes from the core of who I am.

So many times I have said that this journey feels like I am breaking. Now I realise, it is a breaking down of my hardened, brittle protective wall and a breaking down of all the versions of me that were built to serve others. The breaking down of all the many facets of mirror-me… the parts of me that were merged and mixed up with other peoples likes, dislikes, needs… breaking down my old beliefs in who I need to be for other people. That breaking is painful as fuck because those walls and mirrors kept me feeling safe. I could hide behind them. I could dissociate comfortably on autopilot while also being hyper-aroused in relationship. Watching and mirroring and not feeling.

So now… in this brand new type of relationship, where this amazing woman keeps herself out of the room by simultaneously having her fully present and dedicated self right there in front of or right next to me… it’s incredibly healing. She only bringing the parts of herself that can help and serve me… wow this is brand new! She is attachment focused, trauma informed, routinely works on herself in her own therapy and supervision… she does the work she expects others to do. So this is new for me… Aaaand it’s scary as fuck also because I don’t know how to make her love me if I can’t merge myself. I have to ‘be the real me’ whoever that is. I know for sure that she would say to me, ‘baby steps, Lucy… just like a baby learns to walk one shaky step at a time, go slow and purposefully with those baby steps towards finding the real Lucy.’

*I want to add a wee note here to say that this is just what I need… not what everyone needs. We are all on our own very unique journeys that are as specific and different as our fingertips. If your therapist shares parts of themself with you that doesn’t mean I think they are abusing you, only you will know what feels right. I am just speaking from my personal experience so please don’t think I’m judging you, your journey or your therapist if what you experience is something different. Also, Paul helped me enormously, so even though this part of his theraputic style wasn’t right for me in the end, we still healed massive aspects of the pain I brought to him. I will be forever grateful to him for what he did for me. This is all one massive learning curve and actually, his failing in this area has helped me learn something about myself. So even that was worth it!*

It feels like I’m slowly coming out of hiding

...and there’s someone that’s been waiting patiently for me, on the other side of this wall.

I sent Anna a text asking for an additional session or phone call as I was unable to go to my session at the weekend due to being away. I said, ‘I’m sorry to ask you for more time. I can’t even put into words why I feel the need for more support. Sat here for fifteen minutes typing and deleting… it’s just really hard, this work we’re doing right now.’

She replied offering me a half hour phone call and an additional session. She said, ‘I understand Lucy.  It is hard work and if you feel you need extra support right now that’s ok. You’ve asked for what you need, which I know isn’t easy.’

We had the phone check in which was really helpful. I was so touched that she had given it to me in the first place but also had a mixture of confused emotions about her not charging me for the call as it was a long one. In the five mins before the call I was so anxious that I visited the toilet three times. The prearranged time appeared on my screen and my immediate thought was ‘she’s forgotten, she’s not going to call… that’s fine. Anxiety be gone!’ One minute later and her face popped up on my screen. It was the first thing we talked about – my anxiety and my belief that she will forget we’d arranged a call. Anna talked to me about how I had to get used to disappointment as a child. I learned to predict it. People just didn’t come through for me. So of course I expect it in this attachment. I told her, ‘I feel bad coz I’m not really in crisis so I feel you’ll be angry with me for wasting your time.’ She said, ‘I feel bad,’ is a child speaking. And expecting her to be angry with me… that’s the part of me that doesn’t believe people can genuinely care and that perhaps she’d be pleased for me that I’m doing well. She also said, ‘and I know part of the reason you’re doing well is because you knew we’d arranged this call… it’s like when a kid is on stage searching for their mummy. As soon as the child spots her the child can relax and say their lines… you just needed to touch base to know I’m here, you needed support and THAT’S OKAY!’ I started to cry but not audibly, ‘it makes me upset and I don’t know why.’ She said, ‘I think you do know why but your child finds it hard to articulate. My care and my kindness is hard to take in, it’s hard to trust.’

I said, ‘when we have a session, if you’re pissed off with me or feel bogged down by me you can sit there and think, ‘at least I’m getting paid for this,’ but you’re not charging me for this call so it’s like, I’m confused, why offer it to me? What’s in it for you?’ She told me she’d had her supervision tonight and that she knew she’d have this time available. She said, ‘I know you and I trust that you will ask for what you need. I thought, ‘what would help Lucy feel supported right now?’ I wanted you to feel our connection through this break.’ The call did just that. It really carried me over the session break until the second half of the long weekend when I started to feel overwhelmed by family life.

We had arranged a 90 minute session for the Tuesday after the break and just prior to that Anna text me saying, ‘Hi Lucy. I’m just checking in with you re our appt tomorrow. It’s looking like the weather is going to be the same as today. Driving was tricky and I’m conscious you have a long journey, in the dark home and need to be safe. I wondered how you’d feel about a phone session instead of travelling through? If you would like a phone session you may want just the hour. We can always reschedule a longer session at another time. Let me know what you think. Thanks. Anna.’

I didn’t want to cancel the face to face but eventually after much umming and aahhing from me through a few texts she made the decision for me that we would just do a phone call. The snow hasn’t been particularly bad where I am but it’s quite a long drive and the weather is very changeable.

So… phone session…

Anna asked me how I felt about the session being a phone call instead of face to face. I told her that I understood it was sensible. I said there was a stubborn annoyed feeling inside me wishing I could still see her face to face and a sadness as I started to feel younger waves of disappointment and sensed there was a part of me that felt rejected… I said, ‘I would have come out in three feet of snow and hurricane!’ She said, ‘yes I know, it’s important that we both stay safe though.’ I said, ‘so are you not at the office?’ she said, ‘no, I’m home.’ I said, ‘oh wow, that’s interesting.’ There was a pause and she said, ‘why’s that interesting?’ I said, ‘I think I’d imagined that you had just told me to not come out, that you didn’t want to see me but everyone else was going to be at their session tonight.’ She said, ‘you were the only client I had tonight Lucy, so it was just you and me going out to the centre… I know that you’re really keen on having a 90 minute session again… my reasoning behind having the phone session as just an hour is that it can be less holding than face to face and I have a sense that you’re feeling the need for longer so you can go further into your feelings and I’d like to be there with you in the room when that happens. Does that make sense?’ I said it did and that we were on the same wavelength… I agreed with her.

Anna asked, ‘do you know what you’d like to get out of this session tonight?’ I said that I wanted to talk about the long weekend away. She asked me if we’d had a nice time and I said that for the most part I had. There were some great moments, a lot of outdoor time in the wild elements… storms, sleet, wind… I described it as exhilarating. I said, ‘but there were moments when I was very upset, it felt like I got overwhelmed by too much time with the kids and I was really very sad, crying. I mean I remember it happening but it feels like I’m talking about someone else just now I don’t feel like I’m that person at the moment, I feel totally fine just now.’

She asked me what the thoughts were around the sadness and I said it was the idea that they deserve a better mum, that I’m not good enough… ‘all the times I ask them for peace, all the times I tell them ‘off you go into another room, I’ll be through in a minute,’ constantly pushing them away. Anna said, ‘can you remind yourself of the moments you had with the family over the weekend that were fun and enjoyable?’ I said, ‘but I don’t really feel like I’m explaining it properly I don’t know how to articulate it… it’s like I’m behind a sheet of glass the whole time, I can see them all fully embracing it all and I think in my head, this is fun, they will remember this, we’re creating happy memories for them, this is good… but I’m not fully there… I take photos of it all and mini video clips to record all the ‘fun’ we’re having… then there will be a moment when I go stand at the waters edge and the wind is wild and blowing my hair and scarf around and the waves are crashing and it feels just as wild as the waves and wind inside my chest and I can barely contain the emotions so I block it out again and turn and return to Adam and the kids, taking the photos and absorbing myself in the idea of what they might remember from the day in years to come as they look back at the photos… hoping I’m giving them a happy childhood.’ Anna asked, ‘did you feel like you were able to let a little bit of the emotion out as you stood by the water?’ I said, ‘no… I couldn’t, it felt like a huge body of water being held by a weak, bursting damn… it would have been too much.’ She said she understood and she talked about ways I can plan in time where I would be able to feel my feelings. She suggested going to the coast or a walk on the hills where I like going with the family but just going by myself and screaming and crying. She joked that no one would be around coz this weather keeps everyone indoors. She said, ‘I know that even when you let yourself feel things in the house, you will always be on guard expecting the kids to burst into the room… you don’t have the complete freedom you need… I know that there is a fear there. It’s overwhelming. I know that it feels like once you start crying you might never stop. But you’re not that small child anymore, you’re an adult now. You’re not a little kid all alone in her room crying and crying with the door shut and the covers pulled over her head feeling like she might cry forever more all by herself. You are not in that room anymore. You have the power and control to allow yourself five minutes, half an hour, an hour to feel and cry… then regain yourself and get on with your adult life.’ I started to feel my throat burn… chest tighten.

I said, ‘earlier this afternoon… I had extra time with the kids because I wasn’t coming out tonight to the session which was nice and Grace had asked me to spend some time one to one with her and I don’t know why I find it so hard to give it to her, she shouldn’t have to ask! And we were sitting in the livingroom while Adam made the dinner, the kids were watching tv and I was scrolling Instagram being a shit mum and Reuben grabbed the Guess Who game and dragged the coffee table over to me, set the game up and asked me to play with him… I mean he’s four years old…’ Anna said, ‘aw that’s lovely’ and I said, ‘no it’s heartbreaking, it’s so so sad…’ Anna shared her observations with me about how my children know in their hearts that I will meet their needs, she said, ‘we often talk in pictures Lucy, you couldn’t get a clearer image of secure trust, that he knew for certain that mummy would without a question play with him… he didn’t tentatively ask you with his head down expecting rejection, he dragged the bloody table over to you and set the game up… and Grace asked you for time, she knows that if she wants time with you she can ask for it, that’s beautiful!’ she was saying all of this and I was silently crying. There was silence when she stopped talking and then she quietly asked, ‘what is this bringing up for you?’ I sniffed and took a few reflex shallow breaths and said, ‘it’s really upsetting, I’m feeling really sad about it.’ she said, ‘I know. Could you put into words the feeling?’ I said, ‘he’s such a tiny, fragile little thing… it’s making me feel the way I felt about the children I worked with who were put into care and taken away from the school… um… um… I feel sad for them…’ spacey spacey… slight awareness that I need to ground. I took my socks off and placed my feet on the cold laminate floor… ‘um… I feel sad coz he’s such a tiny trusting beautiful wee child and he is so full of this faith in me and… I’m realising that I’m not sad for him, I’m sad for me…’ I tailed off and cried again. She quietly said, ‘yes, I know… and it’s so sad and so painful, because he trusts that mummy will play with him, and you never had that, you didn’t have someone playing with you, you knew you couldn’t ask…’ I cried a bit more. I told her, ‘I’m not enough for them, they deserve better than me… It’s like I have this extra bit in my brain that’s gone wrong… I want to cut that part of my brain out that overthinks and procrastinates and dwells and the over feeling and over analysing, that’s the part of me that stops me being the mum they deserve…’

I said, ‘when we were in the car driving up, Grace was taking photos with this old iphone of mine that we gave her so she could use it for music and the camera… looking at the photos she took was really interesting, it reminded me of the photos me and Daniel used to take when we were kids on road trips – photos we’d taken on disposable cameras of each other, of the blurry view out the window, the backs of my mum and dads heads… Grace’s photos were exactly the same except I’m the mum in her photos… I don’t feel like I’m the mum in this family a lot of the time, the idea of being the mum in this family makes me want to hide, scream, run away… not always but sometimes…’

Anna talked a bit about the fact that of course I need a break every so often and that when families are on holiday together it is hard to all be together. She said, ‘usually when you’re home you’ll be hoovering or cooking dinner or something and they don’t have all your attention all the time but when you’re away you’re not doing as much of that so they see an opening and they want to talk and play with you all the time.’ I said, ‘you have this idea of what I’m like at home but I’m not like that… I want to be like that, I have an idea of this perfect mum and I want to be like that but I’m not.’ She said, ‘perhaps the idea of perfection is so high and unobtainable that the only way is down, you’re setting yourself up to fail…’ I said, ‘I don’t think I mean perfect because this is a very low expectation I have, I think it’s… it’s present… I should be more present and I’m not and they deserve me to be.’ Anna said, ‘okay…’ in a very understanding tone then said, ‘so can you describe what you feel you should be like to me?’ I said, ‘okay… um… well if you were to study the activities of every member in the house without knowing who each person was, you wouldn’t know I’m the mum… I should be cooking the dinner, cleaning the house, washing up, making the kids beds, cleaning and tidying their rooms every day, folding and putting away their clothes, setting up activities for them, sitting doing homework with them… but instead I just sit scrolling on my phone. I think my phone protects me from engaging with them, it stops them from coming near me when I’m busy on my phone or laptop… but I shouldn’t be doing that… it’s ridiculous coz my mum was a fucking mess but she was really very good at keeping a house and she could tidy a room perfectly in five minutes and I’m not like that and I wish I was but then I also can’t be arsed!’ (I just want to add here that it’s a day later and I’m reading this back thinking… this is not 100% true! I mean it felt true when I said it but I do do all those things, not all the time but I do clean and tidy and organise and play… this is a very split/parts type thing I think because here are massively conflicting opinions and beliefs inside me about this.)

Back to the call…

Anna said, ‘I wonder if…’ (she paused as if she was thinking about the benefit of asking me this question then continued), ‘I wonder if a part of you wants to be the exact opposite to your mum? You don’t want to be anything like her, you’re frightened to be like her and fuck your kids up…’ I agreed completely and said that I do want to have those qualities just not the other ones… mum was always cleaning and tidying and never sat on her bum, I don’t want to be that extreme but I’m being just as avoidant of family life by sitting on my phone all the time. Anna said, ‘it sounds to me like you’re trying your best to be part of the family, present for them unlike your mum who was always in another room tidying and cleaning, but it triggers big emotions for you so you go on your phone because it provides that bubble where you can be reading and writing and intellectualising rather than feeling.’ She continued talking but I spoke over her, ‘fucking hell that’s it. Fuck. Sake…. Shit… hold on… so I do want to spend time with my kids but then I start to connect to them and I start feeling my feelings and it hurts so I distract myself with my phone. Being online, writing and reading helps build a wall between me and the feelings OHMYGOD that’s the Thursday morning thing! That’s the Thursday morning emotional overwhelm we were talking about the other day! Because on a Thursday morning I do all the housework that’s been building up over the week and I plonk Reuben in front of the tv and I load the dishwasher and tidy the bedrooms and clean and the feelings overwhelm me and sometimes I’m doing all the cleaning and tidying with tears streaming down my face in the other room with a door separating me and Reuben and I feel like such a shit mum coz I should be playing with him but I’m not!’ I started crying again. Silently-ish. After I took a deep breath Anna said, ‘I know that it hurts. Well done for feeling it.’

I said, ‘its way easier to cry when you can’t see me!’ She said, ‘mmm… I can hear you. And that’s okay. I’m glad to be sitting with you in this.’ She went on, ‘anyone could say, I could, Adam could… that of course you are enough for your kids, that you are a good mum, but it won’t make a difference until you believe it yourself.’ She talked about the pressure I’m putting on myself by using words like ‘should’ and ‘perfect’. She said, ‘when we have time to think a lot, that’s when our inner critic becomes bigger… what you’re doing here is you’re talking and sharing and feeling it so that it can’t grow arms and legs inside your head, you are working on it here which is a very strong things to do… and I don’t want you to beat yourself up for what you’ve realised about what you’re doing with your phone – it’s actually incredibly creative, what an amazingly creative way to help you be in the same room as your kids without crying your eyes out. Well done!’ I smiled at her unending ability to turn everything into a positive!

She told me we had fifteen minutes left and said, ‘I hope you’ve found this helpful, I know it’s not the same as face to face but…’ I interrupted and said, ‘yeah I know, I want my hug!’ Anna said, ‘I had that thought about half an hour ago, wondered if you could feel my hand on your arm…’ I smiled and said, ‘aw… I was holding Luna.’ She said that was lovely and then I said, ‘actually… so I decided to not take Luna with me on holiday. Actually I hugged her goodbye and tucked her into bed before leaving. But halfway there I regretted it and wished I’d brought her.’ She made an ‘oh no’ type sound and I said, ‘so I promised myself that I’d go to shopping and see if they had any stuffed toys… so the day we arrived I walked into the first shop and there was a baby Luna sitting there in the middle of this display of cuddly toys.’ Anna said, ‘what! You’re joking! Of all the shops in the whole of Scotland you walk into that one and find Baby Luna! That’s amazing.’ I told her I bought her which she loved. I said, ‘I’ve cuddled Luna going to sleep every night since I got her, I didn’t want to not have something to cuddle… I was quite proud of myself for meeting that need and I thought you’d like it…’ Anna said, ‘I do like it very much, I like that you supported yourself, you met that need. That’s’ lovely… I’m looking forward to meeting Baby Luna!’

Reflecting on this session… I think that’s the third phone session we’ve had in the last 2.5 years though we’ve had check in phone calls as well. Calls always feel slightly different to a face to face session but Anna does her best to keep me feeling connected throughout. When we’re in the room together there are more opportunities for long silences because so much of the experience of therapy is communicated through facial expressions and body language. On the phone, the fact she can’t see me means I have to be more explicit about how I’m experiencing things. I have to tell her rather than show her that I’m struggling or upset or confused or overwhelmed. This kind of pushes me outside my comfort zone a bit and also makes me look after myself more. When we’re face to face the younger parts of me want to act out and have her notice whereas on the phone I have to step in and speak up for those parts. It’s an interesting thing to observe and I’ll probably talk about it when I see her next.

This is the first time I’ve properly cried on the phone with Anna and had her acknowledge it. In hindsight I notice that I wanted her to know I was crying. I realise that despite me always crying silently and covering my face in front of her, I’m not completely hiding the expression of emotions… the body language tells her I’m distressed. On the phone there was just silence and I felt a need to break her stream of talking to let her know I’d become overwhelmed. When my voice quivered and my breath jumped as it does when I’m crying, I was glad that she noticed and stopped talking. I could hear her sitting there with me on the other end of the phone. When she told me she could hear me crying there was a tiny twinge of shame and then something more self soothing washed over me when I realised that actually it really was okay that she was listening to me cry.

It feels like I’m slowly coming out of hiding and there’s someone that’s been waiting patiently for me, on the other side of this wall.

Some notes from my session 01.02.20

She said, ‘what your mum did was cruel and not loving at all. I’m so sorry Lucy, so sorry that you had to go through that… what a brave and strong little girl you were to withstand that, to not show her any emotions until you knew you were safely away from her. Of course you’re worried I will hurt you and of course you hide your feelings from me… you’re very good at looking after yourself.’ I said, ‘but I just feel like you’re being dramatic, it’s not that bad…’ I tailed off saying, ‘I don’t even know why I told you…’ Anna interrupted, ‘I don’t think you really believe that. I think you know. It shouldn’t have happened, you didn’t deserve it… it’s amazing the love and care you show your children – the exact opposite to what you received.’ I whispered, ‘It’s not fair…. but that sounds so entitled… why do I deserve anything better..?’ Anna said, ‘I don’t think it’s entitled to want to have parents who love you. I think it’s a given that when you have children, you choose to have them, it’s then your responsibility to look after them, make decisions in their favour, care for them and love them, feed them, clothe them, be kind to them… every child deserves to be loved.’ She continued but I’d started to drift further away as I lowered my face into my hands and everything around me faded into the fog. Waves rising in my chest. I held my breath. At some point she slowed to a silence and we sat there for a while with me not breathing. She asked if I’d like her to put her hand on my arm and she gently told me we had 5 minutes left. She said, ‘I think, Lucy, that actually those two words are perfect. I think they beautifully sum this whole thing up. Not fair. And the adult can stick the ‘f’ word in the middle… it’s not fair and I think you’re very brave to come here and trust me with this…’

I told Anna of the realisation I’d had after reading Carolyn Spring’s blog post about responding to emotional pain with self harm. (When I mentioned it I noticed an expression on Anna’s face, initially my frightened child interpreted it as anger but I actually think she was just thinking, it was quite a blank expression. I know from my internet browsing that Anna follows Carolyn Spring’s facebook page and so she is aware of her work. I wonder if she was thinking about how it might relate to the work she’s doing with me. I told her that through all of that crying I had been desperate to hurt myself. Then I realised that if I had hurt myself I would have been punishing that little girl for trusting me with her feelings. That it’s taken her a very long time to trust me enough to cry like that and what I really want is to bring that pain to a session and cry with Anna from the core of my child. If I were to self harm it would push my child away again, hurt her for being hurt… I was rambling through my thoughts and looking all around the room trying to formulate sentences to build a sense of what I had learned over those two days. I finally looked at Anna and she was kind of red in the face and had tears in her eyes… probably the most emotional I’ve ever seen her. She said, ‘oh Lucy it’s so wonderful hearing you talk about your child like that, looking after her, really so lovely…’ her voice cracked, ‘she so deserves to be loved and looked after.’ She smiled through her tears and nodded me on. I was hesitant, told her that it really hurts to see emotion on her face because it makes me so acutely aware of what I might be feeling underneath it all and also it hurts because I wish someone had attuned to me like that when I was little. She said she knows how painful that is. She asked me if I’m able to take it in, how she was being with me. I covered my face and said, ‘yeah a little.’ She said, ‘good… Lucy, when you are away from me and your small part struggles to feel connected to me, I want you to remember my face, remember the emotion you can see here. This cant be faked, this is real. I wouldn’t feel like this if I wished I wasn’t working with you.’

Emotions should not be punished (reflecting on my urges to self harm)

I just finished reading Carolyn Spring’s most recent blog post Meeting Pain With Pain and it gave me clarity about a couple of things.

Firstly… that absolute agony I feel when I accidentally look at Anna when she is resonating with my pain. I could never articulate why it hurts so much to look at her and why it makes me feel like crying. Then I read Carolyn’s words, ‘Now, in therapy, in the eyes of my therapist, my pain is reflected as pain. So there’s no hiding from it now, no dissociating, no pretence: pain hurts. This is the ineffable, unbearable reality of pain: pain hurts.’ And I now realise… I can’t bear to look at her because my pain becomes an unavoidable reality all over her face, it’s confronting and raw. She makes me feel it to the core.

The second thing that Carolyn’s words helped me understand was this… after being in so much emotional pain last night and for most of today, I’ve been so tempted to self harm. I desperately wanted to feel physical pain. She writes, ‘the answer to pain is kindness and empathy. That’s what I need to show myself.’ I realise now that my child has been punished for having needs and feelings her whole life… my knee jerk response to her showing her pain to me is to hurt her!? My child finally trusts me enough to cry her heart out and I’m contemplating physically hurting her for doing that! After reading the blog post and talking with a friend I realised if I hurt myself today it would be like betraying myself. That frightened young part of me doesn’t need to be punished for crying anymore. She needs to be loved, thanked for trusting me with her real and authentic self. And she deserves to be promised that I will protect and look after her and take her to Anna on Saturday to share her pain and have it witnessed and loved.

This is the root of it all…

Tuesday night… I sat down feeling quite relieved to have finally got there. My journey took twice as long as usual because of the traffic and when I relayed this to Anna she suggested we go back to the usual timings and not the earlier one. This feels good. I think anything she suggests I will initially try to accommodate because it feels in my mind like she is being passive and secretly wants me to change my arrangements to suit her suggestion… when actually she genuinely wants me to choose a damn time that suits me. So I agreed to go back to the later time.

I talked about how busy I have been. I went in to some details of the things I’ve been doing. Work. Family life. Kids homework and clubs. Gym classes. Therapy. Parents’ nights. Catching up with friends… she asked me leading questions that were designed to help me see a way round my arrangements. To see if I could move somethings around or maybe not do them all in one week. I was reluctant to change anything, though also wanted it all to change. I told her that my first quiet day is a Thursday and I always feel this massive emotional shift on a Thursday morning as if I am now finally feeling everything that the busyness has covered up for days. She asked me what I thought the business was covering up and I said it’s just the feelings that are always inside me. she asked if it’s things that we are stirring up here and I nodded but felt worried that she was going to say we should stop then, which is illogical but the fear is always there.

I then told her that I have this panicky feeling that I’m wasting our time. I said, ‘this is a recurring fear of mine. It comes up in these sessions. It came up in sessions with Paul. It comes up in my daily life… that I am wasting time. I waste the time I have to myself, it could be put to better use, I waste the time I have with the kids… I’m wasting my precious time in here.. I mean, I have been here (looks at clock and dramatically raises voice) FIFTEEN MINUTES… so it’s basically too late to go into anything deeper now because there’s not enough time to get out of it again and…. Uh it’s all a waste of time!’ Anna smiled and said, ‘I completely disagree. I think this is all very important. This is your daily life and this week is every week. It’s important to look at these things. and I’m wondering, I’m thinking about your mother… Was there a sense when you were a child that things always had to be busy and all of the time filled with no gaps?’ I said, ‘yes definitely with my mum, she would be non stop on the go all the time…’ Anna said, ‘what would happen if she wasn’t busy doing, when there were quiet gaps?’ I said, ‘those were the times that she was more likely to loose it, crying, shouting, talking all the time to me about her problems…’ Anna said, ‘so there’s a sense that if the busyness stops and there’s quiet…’ I interrupted and said, ‘oh my god, fuck I don’t want to be like here! I’m just like her! I am busy all the time and when there are quiet moments I lose the plot and go mental like her!’ Anna said, ‘no, you don’t behave the way she did… I think there’s a fear that if the busyness stops there will be gaps that let things in, things that hurt…’ I said, ‘oh…’ and sat with that for a while. I said, ‘so the keeping busy, the always doing… it’s protecting me from something that can’t even hurt me anymore… from 20 years ago?’ she nodded.

Anna said, ‘what happens when you’re busy, what do you do? What do you do for you?’ I said, ‘well on Sunday night, after a non stop weekend. I talked to my husband about the fact that I’m really proud of us. We’ve achieved a lot this weekend, tackled quite a few stressful dilemmas and we’ve also been very connected with each other, no arguments, lots of things sorted that needed to be sorted. I said to him I might cancel my session on Tuesday as the whole week was looking very busy and I thought it would be nice to have one night off. I thought I should slow down and take a minute so I sat down to check in with myself… after a very adult, organised, proactive two days… I wanted to ask myself how I felt. I immediately started to cry coz I felt this pain in my chest and I cuddled Luna. The message I got from inside was, ‘I just wish I’d been wanted. I wish I’d been cherished. I felt like a burden, I got in the way… everyone was always so busy and stressed and I just added to their problems. I wish my mum had felt glad I was here… I wish there had been time for me.’ It wondered if my child had felt abandoned all weekend and figured that a session on Tuesday would be useful. I also had a dream that you cancelled the session and I was really disappointed so kept the session.’ Anna said, ‘I’m hearing that possibly this hour is the only hour in your week when you get to slow down and just be..?’ I nodded and said, ‘for the past month or so I’ve been wondering about this sense I have of us moving too fast in here… and after the session where I said that we were talking over the feelings… that wasn’t a preplanned thing those were just words that came out and it surprised me, so I thought, I wonder if we could do a session where we experiment with just sitting quietly not saying anything at all and just see what comes up. Even just saying it fills me with panic and I feel like, well that’s what this is all about isn’t it, pushing me outside my comfort zone? It feels like something worth trying…’ Anna smiled with interest and said, ‘it sounds important, yeah, shall we contract to do that on Saturday?’ I agreed.

She then said, ‘I was so moved to hear you talking about checking in with yourself… that’s the work we’re doing here, you checking in with your inner child is massive. There’s no way you would have down that a couple of years ago you would have just got very overwhelmed and become frustrated with yourself… well done!’ She gave a really genuine smile that makes me ache inside. I had images of my child leaping out of my body and throwing her arms around Anna’s waist.

I said, ‘I feel a lot of shame about the fact that this is so important to me…’ she asked me to explain further. I said, ‘It’s just weird to me that the thing I fear the most and the thing that is the most important thing to me is us here in this room… I feel this really strong pull, a need to feel very close to you and connected but then another part of me is terrified of that and very reluctant to even tell you… like I’m panicking just telling you this…’ Anna said, ‘…hmmm and why do you think this is important to you?’ referring to the therapy sessions, like she has done before. I paused for ages and then blurted out, ‘it’s not THIS… it’s YOU…’ I quietened right down, a bit taken aback by my outburst… ‘you are important to me, I care about you and that scares me. I mean, shouldn’t I just be coming here and talking about the issues in my life that are bothering me, not how I feel about you? But I don’t want to tell you… it’s too scary.’ she said, ‘okay I understand. And what’s the fantasy in your head of how I might respond to you saying this?’ I said, ‘you might reject me… you might say ‘oh this isn’t the purpose of therapy’, you might…’ Anna interrupted, ‘have I ever said anything like that before?’ I said she hadn’t then I recalled how Paul had responded to me feeling jealous of his daughter. That he’d talked about it being his ‘fault’ for creating a dependency because of his lack of boundaries. That he would fix that and change things. And then after talking about it for a while he eventually said he didn’t deal with transference, that it was beyond his knowledge base and that I was pushing him further than he was able to go. Basically I felt like I was being punished for telling him how I felt. I pondered with Anna, ‘but you do work with transference and attachment stuff and you’ve encouraged me to talk about how I feel about you.’ She had been nodding and making agreeing noises while I was talking. I can’t remember exactly the words she used but she talked about dependency and emails and longer sessions and I pushed back and said that I didn’t think it had created a dependency I thing it was transference and attachment stuff. I said, ‘I wish he hadn’t said that it was a bad thing that shouldn’t have happened, it made me feel so ashamed… I wish he’d said… I wish… I wish he’d just said, ‘can you tell me more about how that feels?’ or something, you know?’ Anna had a very serious, listening look on her face and she nodded and said, ‘yes I do understand.’ I said, ‘I just wanted him to listen to me and accept me.’ she said, ‘I know.’ She then said, ‘it’s reminding me of your drawing of the corridor and doors. Of a little girl standing at a half open door and then it’s slammed in her face and she doesn’t know why. Just all these closed doors…’ Oh my god that hurt so much. That’s exactly what it felt like. I told Anna that Paul was inconsistent with his new boundaries. That sometimes they were there and sometimes they weren’t. She said that must have felt confusing. I said, ‘you know I remember you said at the start when we first starting working together that I was testing you but I don’t think I do test people I think I just need to know where I satnd. I think it’s really important to me to keep things harmonious in relationships, I don’t like to antagonise people and I am respectful of their rules… but if it’s not clear to me what the rules are then it doesn’t feel safe…’ Anna interrupted, ‘the way I see testing is that it’s a bit like walking on stepping stones over a river. You don’t know if the rock is going to hold your weight so you tentatively rest your foot on it and if it wobbles then you go to another stone… you’re constantly testing to see where you can step. It’s about establishing safety and knowing where you stand in a relationship. It’s not about being difficult or pushing people away, it’s about figuring people out so you can stay safe in the relationship.’ I said, ‘I like that explanation so much more than what I first thought.’

I said that I didn’t like how Paul just randomly made these knee jerk decisions and I hated it. She said, ‘This is a partnership. This is why we contract. We decide together what feels right. I will always say, ‘would you like to try that in the next session…’ or ‘I’ve been reflecting on this and wondered how you would feel if we adapted x, y, z…’ this is about us deciding together, it’s not about me doing to you.’ I let out a pained sign and tightly wrapped my arms round myself. I said, ‘oh that makes me feel like I could cry.’ She said, ‘what did I say that made you feel upset.’ I repeated, ‘it’s not about me doing to you.’ I then said, ‘it just feels so respectful and safe and caring and I don’t know why that makes me upset.’

I said, ‘I just wish I didn’t feel so intensely about this… I feel like a fucking idiot because I’ve fallen for this therapy thing again… like I worked so hard to block it and I failed… I just hate that I care so much about this.’  She then said, ‘Just because you’re my client and I’m your therapist, doesn’t mean I don’t care about you. This is a real relationship. You’re a teacher… you care about the children you work with, you think about them when you’re at home…’ I said, ‘it’s not the same. I don’t feel the same about the kids as I do about you…’ I was sinking further into my seat, face half covered by the neck of my hoodie and sleeves over my hands. Hating. Every. Minute. Of. It.

I said, ‘I don’t like that, what you said, it made me feel bad.’ She said, ‘What was it I said?

‘You used the words therapist and client… it feels really distancing.’ I said… shifting about in my seat. In a gentle voice she said, ‘well you are my client but that doesn’t mean it’s not an important relationship.’ This part is a bit fuzzy. I told her I felt spacey and that it felt like a really scary thing to talk about. I didn’t want to hear her call me her client, it hurts too much.

Anna said, ‘you feel that you’re an idiot for caring about me, you think it makes no sense and that it actually feels really risky… but I see it as the exact opposite. You find it really difficult to trust people (understandably) and you need to feel very connected and close to me before you can trust me… and you can only do the work we’re doing which is deeply personal, vulnerable work, if you feel close and connected to me and that you trust me. So of course, damn sure you’re bloody panicky and fearful when you don’t feel the connection, of course it’s fucking terrifying when you get a sense that I’m not on the same page as you. Because this is very deep intense work and you need to feel that you can trust me.’ I kept getting flashes of really understanding this on a deep level then it going. I closed my eyes and said, ‘let me think about that I want to try to get it deeper in my head… so… it’s not that I’m an idiot for caring about you, actually it’s a really sensible and good thing that I care because its very personal work were doing and I need to be able to trust you before I can open up to you and so there needs to be real care there in order to do that..?’ She said, ‘yes… and considering how much you’ve been hurt, it’s understandable it takes a long time and a lot of work for that trust to build,’ She asked me if I wanted to check anything with her, ask her anything. I said, ‘I don’t even know what it is that I want to check…’ she said, ‘that’s okay.’ I laughed and she said, ‘it’s progress that you’re just saying you don’t know what you want to check but there is something there… that’s more than before when you would just say no.’

I said, ‘I feel like I want to reach down and pull that bear from my bag but I don’t know if that would be weird or not…’ she had an expression on her face that I cant describe like maybe desperately encouraging me or something. She said, ‘if you need Luna for comfort right now then why deprive yourself of that comfort? I know that you feel comforted by my presence when you’re very upset and when you’re not here Luna is a support for you so it makes sense that you would want to hold her when the feelings come up… lets contract that whenever you’re in here, if you feel the need for Luna, you don’t need to ask permission to get her out of your bag, just do it… how does that sound?’ I said, ‘it sounds scary, I feel really ashamed… I don’t want you to see me holding her and I’ll worry what you’re thinking of me.’ she said, ‘when I see you reach for Luna I will ask you what came up for you to need her and I will be really glad to see you comforting yourself with her…’ I said I was worried that holding her would make me cry. Anna said that would be okay if I did. I um’d and ah’d and then exclaimed, ‘for fuck sake Lucy this is ridiculous you have fifteen minutes left just fucking do it!’ and I reached and pulled Luna out by her arm, sat crossed legged on the armchair with Luna in my lap, both arms wrapped round her and chin resting on her head. I said, ‘I feel really fucking embarrassed now, I don’t like that you can see meeeee…. Ahhhh I hate this. I think it’s easier when you’re sitting beside me because then you cant see me or maybe I cant see you.’ Anna said, ‘ah, yes I was curious about why you chose to keep me seated over here this session and didn’t ask me to move over. I had wondered if you wanted to be fully seen by me tonight or maybe to be able to see me?’ I was really struck by the fact that she’d noticed and wondered as well what it all meant. I said, ‘please don’t stop sitting beside me though, even if it is about hiding…’ I then said I felt really overwhelmed and I buried my head in Luna. Anna said, ‘her fur looks so soft.’ I just sat stroking Luna’s ears for a bit. Anna said, ‘remember you can still ask me to come and sit next to you.’ I said in a muffled voice, ‘can you now.’ So she moved over and asked me if I wanted her hand on my arm which I did. She sat rubbing her thumb back and forth holding my arm. I felt like I wanted to cry but couldn’t. I was leaning over to her side but face hidden from her and I said, ‘I really hate this feeling so much…’ she said, ‘I know you do, Lucy.’ In that deliciously empathetic tone she uses so well.

I told Anna that earlier in the day my son, Reuben had been crying and when I went to him he was cuddling his huge teddy and I almost wanted to praise him for finding comfort before I’d got there. I peeked at Anna and she smiled. I said, ‘I don’t know why I feel so much shame holding this bear… I cant imagine what my parents must have done or said to make me feel like this is such an awful thing to do… but it feels so exposing…’ Anna said, ‘I know. It is. I feel honoured that you’re allowing me to be here with you while you hold Luna. This is personal and it is private. Just you and me.’ I said, ‘I feel naked sitting here…’ I laughed and said I was glad I wasn’t actually naked and she said she was glad she wasn’t too and then we joked about how there probably is a type of therapy out there like that which lightened the mood a bit. Then her candle reached it’s end and went out and all the smoke sort of bellowed up and into our space and Anna tried to hold her composure through some slight coughs then practically gagged, got a drink of water and said, ‘I feel like I’ve eaten an actual candle!’ and we both laughed a lot. It felt very very funny. Anna said, ‘mental note – sit the candle further away next time!’ and I joked about it happening at the most intense moment of the session.

She checked that I was okay to stop and I was. I put Luna back in my bag, chatted a bit about the plans for the rest of the weekend. Hugged a big long swaying hug and thanked her then left.

I then text her on Tuesday morning –

I don’t enjoy my job. I feel burdened by the unrelenting needs of the kids in my class. When the parents send me messages on the communication app we use (out with working hours) I feel annoyed with them and that even though I’m stretched thin, it’s still not enough for them. Quite often I wish I could quit my job.

When you compare our relationship to the ones I have at my work, it just confirms my fears – that you feel burdened by me, that you don’t enjoy working with me and that I am too much for you. Doesn’t everyone dread their work..? I’m your work.

It’s boundaries! My mum was too much for me. My friends feel too much for me. My kids feel too much for me. Work feels too much for me. I’m projecting that onto you and assuming you feel that too. But it’s the lack of boundaries in my life that allows people and work to be too much. And you have healthy boundaries so maybe that’s a very important difference. Maybe your boundaries protect you from being burdened and overwhelmed by me.

I took the following paragraph out before sending… I struggled to articulate myself last night, it all felt quite overwhelming, I’m still struggling to understand it all. I know that I want to matter to you. I want you to enjoy your work and specifically enjoy working with me. I know that all of this feels important to me because I’m still afraid you’ll want to stop working with me and if you like me you’ll be less likely to leave. But this is just your job, so liking me isn’t even enough to keep you here. It wasn’t enough for Paul.

Wednesday night I got home from work after 8pm. It had been a long and busy three days. I sat and stared at the TV while we watched a drama together then went upstairs at 10pm while my husband made the lunches for the next day. I was taking my make up off in the bathroom and could feel my chest tightening. My breathing becoming more shallow. Feeling a bit panicky. I moved around the bathroom a bit and put my hand on my chest. I spoke to Anna in my head, ‘I remember this feeling, this is how I’ve felt before when I’ve had a panic attack… I don’t like this feeling, it’s like my throat is closing up… I can’t breathe…’ I imagined she would ask me what I needed and then I realised I needed to cry. Then it just hit me. Wave after wave of silent, open mouthed sobbing. Buckled over on my knees with my head in my hands, resting on the ground, eyes tightly closed. Noiseless wailing. I have never cried like that…. Not as an adult anyway. I remember crying like that a lot when I was a teenager. Alone in my room feeling completely desperate.

I had to calm down, wash my face and go to bed. I didn’t want my husband to see me like that, I can’t be bothered explaining it all to him.

Then this morning (Thursday) I got my daughter ready and out for school. Intended on spending some time with my son in the morning before nursery but could feel the ocean rising again. I basically sat him in front of the tv for over an hour while I was upstairs crying on my bed holding Luna. The only thoughts I was aware of were thoughts of wishing Anna loved me. Wishing she was with me. Feeling separate from her and alone. Feeling frightened of the massive emotions and as if I might never stop crying. There were lulls in the crying. I was able to wash my face, reapply my make up and take my son to nursery. I cried again when I got home. It struck me that I have never trusted myself to be able to cry like this. The overwhelming feeling is that I wish I could cry like this with Anna but I guess if I’ve never been able to cry like this by myself then how could I expect myself to cry with someone else like this. Perhaps this is a small step in the right direction. Fully expressing the emotions and allowing them to pass through me when I’m by myself so that I can then do it with her.

I have really struggled to write this session up. Every time I’ve tried I have felt overwhelmingly exhausted as if I could just fall asleep. I think this is some sort of dissociation. Now that I have cried on and off for the past five hours it feels like I was better able to write it all up. I think this is the root of it all. The deepest pain that is so black and roots so entwined round all of the parts of me that I can barely make it out. The desperate pleas inside for Anna to love me… the grief underneath that screams for my mother to love me. The crying today and last night has felt like a scraping off of another layer. I know it is part of the process but it feels life threatening. In my adult I feel certain that Anna is prepared for this work… but in my child I am still so terrified I will make her leave me if I go any deeper with this. I guess this is the tentative testing steps onto the rocks as the water rushes around and under me… and I only need to go one step at a time.

Notes from today’s session 25.01.20

At the start of the session I said I didn’t know what I wanted to talk about, ‘I was in a rush because I had such a busy morning and so I grabbed Luna, my art folder and photos and figured I could just see what felt right…’ Anna said, ‘I think the fact that you brought Luna today is really important even if she just stays in your bag, we know she’s here… maybe she could come along to every session?’ I said, ‘it really fascinates me how positive and encouraging you are about her… last session you were sort of excited at the idea that I bring her back in,’ Anna said, ‘hmm yeah, she is special. I think Luna represents that small part of you. That’s massive. I remember you talking about buying her, deliberating over the cost, was it worth it, was it selfish, is it silly for a 36 year old woman to want to buy a stuffed toy, you bought her for yourself, you allowed yourself to have her. How did you feel when she arrived?’ I said, ‘I was excited… then sad.’ I thought about Luna sitting beside me on the floor in my bag, covered with my scarf. Anna said, ‘yeah, I know… the sadness is there, grief.’ I said, ‘I remember when I was about 8 or 9 I helped run a bring and buy stall, when I was setting the tables up one of the things that caught my eye was a little stuffed bear. I basically stole that bear from the stall and put it in my school bag. I had to hide it because obviously people would ask where I’d got it so I hid it under my bed and any time I hid under there, she was there with me… I just really loved that bear and I didn’t really have any other stuffed toys, my brother had them. Why wouldn’t she buy me…?’ I tailed off. Anna said, ‘perhaps your mum needed you to not be a child.’ Oh that hurt. I said, ‘why am I so ashamed of Luna?’ Anna said, ‘my take is that you were shamed for being a child when you were a child so now you’re ashamed that you still have these needs… but it’s okay to want to have toys or to play or cuddle stuffed animals… whatever you want at any age!’ I nodded, acknowledging that the shame was stopping me from even bringing Luna out my bag. I said, ‘it feels scary, vulnerable,’ Anna finished my sentence, ‘exposing.’

‘Last session when I was huffy and teenagery, I’ve been thinking about how you responded to me. You didn’t take any of it personally, you laughed actually. Were you amused by me being so moody?’ Anna smiled, ‘hmmm it was interesting…’ I wish I’d asked her more about that but I just continued talking, ‘I was never allowed to express those feelings as a teenager.’ Anna asked, ‘what would have happened if you had shown those feelings?’ I explained that my mum would probably have got angry with me, said I was adding to her problems. She’d say, ‘what’s wrong with you? Grow up! Snap out of it… why are you doing this to me?’ ‘It was actually really powerful telling you that I felt like I wanted to hurt myself. I think I was reluctant for you to praise me at the time because I knew I was still in the middle of wanting to do it and so I felt like I might still go home and do it, then what?’ Anna said, ‘I was praising you for looking after yourself despite feeling like you wanted to hurt yourself.’ I interrupted, ‘yes but I still wanted to do it so it felt like you were pressuring me. You were saying, ‘well done,’ but what if I went home and did it that night? What’s the opposite to praise… disappointment?’ she spoke over me and said with total sincerity, ‘concern.’ I seriously love the way she thinks. I just looked it up, the opposite of praise is condemnation and criticism but I love that for HER the response to me looking after myself is genuine warmth and praise and the response to me harming myself would be concern and care. She has never criticised or condemned me. I looked at her for a while and smiled. She said, ‘I’m sorry you felt pressured by me praising you. I was proud of you and glad you could find ways to look after yourself. If you had hurt yourself I would have been concerned that you were so distressed. I would want to explore that with you without judgement.’ I said, ‘There were so many times when I was a teenager and I wasn’t able to tell anyone how I felt, no one helped me make sense of how I was feeling.’ She said, ‘Thats why it’s vital that those parts of you that were rejected and exiled in childhood are now witnessed, seen and validated.’

The Breaking

After my last session on Tuesday I sent this text to Anna:

Last night’s session was really hard. I’ve been feeling panicky this morning but I think it’s just because it’s frightening to be so vulnerable and honest. I still get scared that I’m too much for you and you’ll want to stop working with me. There really aren’t the words to express how grateful I am for what you’re doing with me. Sitting with me and helping me through all these thoughts and feelings and for letting me have hugs. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, thank you for helping me 💙

She text me back the next morning saying:

You’re very welcome Lucy.

Then on the Friday morning she sent me a text saying she was very sorry but had to cancel Saturday’s session because she had a virus. She said she knew it would be disappointing and she apologised for that. She offered me the Tuesday which I took. I actually felt okay about the cancelled session and just wanted to enjoy the day with my family but the weekend ended up kind of shitty and on Monday I felt the need to send this message:

Hi Anna, This past week’s been hard going in my head/feelings and I’m very anxious this morning. I’m at work but really just want to go home. I thought it’d help settle me if I touch base with you and check that we’re going to see each other tomorrow evening. Lucy

She replied saying she could offer me an earlier time on the Tuesday which I took. Then, because of her short (interpreted as abrupt) texts, I stressed that she was pissed off with me.

She buzzed me in and when I went in she seemed sort of off. I hung my jacked up and I went to the toilet and when I came back in she was already sitting down. The past few months we’ve hugged at the start of the session and thi schange to our routine felt really rejecting and distancing. I knew I’d feel disconnected from her if I didn’t ask for a hug so I braved it and said, ‘can I hug you please?’ Thankfully she got up and gave me a hug. I could hear she was still loaded with the cold so I said, ‘aw I’m sorry you’re still ill, that’s really shit.’ We sat down and I asked her how she was and she said she felt better. I thanked her for coming in despite still feeling crap. I really did feel so grateful but I was also sensing that she really wasn’t fully well yet and could probably have done with more time off.

Anna then asked me how I was doing. I immediately started to feel myself pull away. Looking around the room, avoiding any eye contact. I started to answer, saying it had been a hard week. I couldn’t even remember what had made it hard. I said, ‘I actually feel like I don’t need to say anything today, I just want to sit with you.’ she said, ‘that makes sense… there’s possibly a fear that if you go too deeply, I’ll leave again.’ We didn’t really go further into that at this point but I was puzzled y what she meant. I felt very distant and ‘away’ then I realised if we were going to get anywhere in the session I was going to need her beside me so I asked her if she minded sitting closer. She moved over but I had to ask her again to move her chair closer. I asked, ‘do you really not want to sit close to me?’ and she said, ‘no, it’s fine but I just don’t want you to catch this virus, it’s been a nasty one. I want you to really hear me, I am happy to sit beside you – any distance you might feel or be aware of when you reflect after the session is purely because I’m mindful that I don’t want you to catch this.’ I nodded and smiled. Randomly she talked about preparing for the snow. She said, ‘I’ve been thinking about that long journey you make to get here… I don’t want you getting stuck on the motorway in a snow drift just to come to a session so if you feel it’s not safe to drive up here just remember you can have a phone session, just text me during the day. Obviously I will be in the office coz I work during the day but I’ll pick up your text at some point, I just think it’s important to have a contingency plan in case this snow they keep threatening us with actually happens!’ I said it was lovely she’d thought of that and I appreciated it.

She said, ‘so in your text you said that you’re worried you’re going to be too much for me… shall we explore that a little?’ I said, ‘it’s fine I don’t really feel like that any more.’ Anna said, ‘how were you after the session cancelation on Saturday? I said, ‘I really was fine actually. I was glad to have a full day with the family. But then Adam was in a fowl mood and the whole day was filled with arguments and that really threw me.’ Anna said, ‘do you think there might have been a connection between the arguments and me cancelling the session?’ I said I didn’t think so. How foolish of me!

Anna asked me what the arguments were about. I explained it allto her in excruciating detail all the while thinking ‘why are you going into so much detail?’ but I’ll briefly explain it here – basically Adam was grumpy coz he’d had a few drinks the night before. Plus. he’s an awful passenger and was criticising me all morning as I drove us around places in the morning. I just wanted a nice day. I hate having arguments in front of the kids. He was stressing about money and saying we didn’t have the money for petrol, this was a wasted journey, didn’t have the money to go get lunch etc. it’s his anxiety and I understand it but it annoys me that he can’t keep it in his own head and talk to me about these things when we’re on our own. I don’t want to argue in front of the kids and I don’t want to talk about money worries in front of them. I was explaining all of this to Anna, sitting beside her staring straight ahead, ranting. I continued explaining that I’d ended up using my overdraft to buy us lunch and kept trying to hush Adam’s complaints. Then on the way home he asked me to stop at Tesco so he could buy some ‘supplies’… basically more beer for that night. I told him no and kept driving home. I could feel his anger but he wasn’t saying a word.

A little later in the session I explained that when Adam feels and expresses intense emotions I feel like I absorb them like a sponge and then they become my feelings and he is fine. This is an exact reinactment of what used to happen when I was a child with my mother. Her feelings would burst out of her and I’d take them in to me. I then end up physically knotted up while the other person can get on with their day.

So anyway, he gave me the silent treatment the whole way home then when we parked up he got out, didn’t help with the kids, stormed in the house and went upstairs and stayed there. We had a text argument where I told him that it triggers a deep pain in me (the way he behaved) because my mum would complain about having no money, wouldn’t provide things for me that I needed then she’d go and buy herself fags and alcohol and make up and jewellery and anything she wanted. I don’t want my kids experiencing that horrible, painful confusion of believing that you don’t deserve to have what you need. I told Adam if he hadn’t moaned about having no money all day in front of the kids then I wouldn’t have had a problem with him wanting to spend his money… though I was disappointed that he had £15 in his account and would prioritise booze over treating us to lunch. I also told him that if he was spending the money on something that would benefit him in a more positive way then I would also be fine with it. But the fact he’s wasting it on alcohol just really grates on me. He said I am controlling and that I spend hundrds of pounds on therapy and he can spend his tiny amound of spare money on whatever he likes. I was not happy about him compairing my therapy session sto his beer sessions… I want him to do better. I want him to learn how to be kind and caring to himself. I’ve given up trying to persuade him to go to therapy but at the very least could he not take up cycling again or join a club or something. I want him to parent himself. I don’t want to have to look after him… but the thing is, I know that 90% of the time things are great with us and I don’t really have anything to worry about… it just triggers deeper stuff for me.

Anna asked me how I was doing and I struggled to orient myself… I saw on her watch that half an hour had passed and I switched to this unfiltered, stroppy, huffy part that said, ‘I’m pissed off I wasted all that time talking about Saturday! I didn’t want that to dominate the session.’ Anna said, ‘oh but it’s not a waste, it’s been really important… you’ve been talking about Adam but your child has been telling me about your mum. She’s told me that she hated all the arguments at the weekends, that she just wanted to have nice, happy days… she’s told me how much it hurt to be told there was no money for the things she needed and then to watch her mum buy anything she wanted. She’s told me how painful and confusing it was to hear all the adult conversations about money worries… your child was feeling a lot of pain… does that feel right?’ I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me. This total agony in my whole body. I couldn’t look at her, it felt like tunnel vision. My breathing felt like it was all on the outbreath. Like shallow in and hard forced out. Tight in my chest. My tummy hurt. I nodded.

Anna said, ‘which part do you think sent me the text saying she felt too much?’ I said, ‘a really fucking depressed part!’ Anna said, ‘hmmm… the same part that was here on Tuesday?’ I nodded. I was now sitting with my knees up, my arms wrapped round my chest gripping onto my arms. Anna asked, ‘do you feel that it was your adult part that was upset on Tuesday or your child part?’ I said, ‘well it wasn’t my fucking adult!’ she made an understanding noise and said, ‘do you want to know where I’m going with this?’ and I nodded. she said, ‘I think it was a very very small part who was upset on Tuesday and because she cried she felt very frightening that she was too much for me and then I cancelled Saturdays session and abandoned her and she feels like she scared me away. So at the start of this session she thought ‘it’s okay she’s here now, let’s not say anything, let’s not feel or get upset in case she leaves again,’ does that make sense?’ I gave a tiny nod. I said, ‘there’s so much shame in me.’ she said, ‘I know.’ In her fucking painfully addictive gentle tone that I just want to gouge out of her and shove inside me. I want to be able to house that gentle kindness.

I was still hunched and curled in on myself. I rambled, ‘my mum would drink til she was sick and I’d have to look after her. She would be overwhelmed by big massive emotions when she was drinking, cried all the time, loudly, it scared me… I’d do anything to make her howling stop. I feel like an idiot for what I did on Tuesday… it’s like performance anxiety or something… like this stupid pathetic tiny cries that I fucking stifled and squeezed out of me, hiding behind my hands like a fucking child and what? Am I meant to be proud of that? Fuck sake I just want to be like a normal fucking person who cries normally. I can’t even fucking cry properly and you know when you said, ‘let it all out’ I just felt like… fuck I just felt like ‘this is me letting go Anna I don’t know how else to do this. This is me fucking doing all I can do…’ but it wasn’t good enough its just fucking pathetic!’ Anna said, ‘Lucy, me saying, ‘let it out’ was not about me saying ‘do it louder, do it longer… push harder’ it was about me saying, ‘this is okay, I’m here, I’m not leaving, this part of you is welcome here… let what ever comes, come. Let whatever you can out… I hope that makes sense. It’s okay that you cry quietly, it’s okay that it doesn’t last very long. It’s okay if one day you cry louder or you always cry silently, it’s okay if you cry for a whole session or only ever cry just for a few seconds… it’s all just fine because it’s your experience.’ I was listening and occasionally this hypervigilance would kick in and I’d dart my eyes at her all over her face to try to see if she was being genuine then go back to staring at the wall or her watch or my knees. She continued, ‘I know it’s hard for you to let yourself be upset here and I was so proud and so honoured that you felt safe enough to do that with me. It takes a lot for you to cry and you being comfortable to let that happen here with me is a privilege.’

I had this powerful sense in my body of the fact that I love her and wish she was more than just my therapist. I said, ‘I think the last session was really hard and then you cancelling and then Adam abandoning me through the argument, it all just mounted and made me feel awful.’ She said, ‘so it was a series of events that culminated to make you feel alone with it all, and that small part of you was scared that she’d pushed me away?’ More nodding.

At one point I said, ‘I think it really is so shitty that this is the only hour in my week when I feel like I can be this version of me… this is shit, it’s just this one hour…’ Anna started to explain that it’s totally understandable that the therapeutic hour is important to me and that anyone who said otherwise doesn’t understand the importance of this relationship and the work. She said what she’s said before about it being admirable that I’m so ‘dedicated to getting better.’ I kind of hate this phrase… I just makes it so clear that there’s something wrong with me. I told her there was so much shame in the crying. I said, ‘it’s the most intimate and personal thing I could ever do in front of someone I feel like totally naked and exposed and like it’s really hard to feel safe when I feel that unprotected.’ She was sort of enthusiastically agreeing, ‘uh hu, yup… yes it feels like being naked, it’s very exposing.’

I said, ‘I hate this feeling so much, I hate it… I don’t even know what it is or how to describe it… it’s like an agitation or a fucking jumping vibration in my body like it’s just so powerful and I don’t know what to do with it.’ Anna said, ‘it sounds like rage, does it feel like rage?’ I said I didn’t know. I felt confused but now in reflection, I guess I can see why rage makes sense. All of the stuff that surfaced in the session about my parents, the triggers that I’d explored, the child feeling abandoned by Anna and Adam… it makes sense. But in the session I was still in this fuzzy place of not seeing it clearly. I angrily ranted, ‘I really wanted to self harm this week. Every day it was such a strong urge. Every fucking day. It’s not even really gone away… like I feel it right now.’ Anna asked me what I have needed, what was the need behind the urge. I was so unwilling to enter into that kind of introspect. I said, ‘I wanted to fucking feel the pain, like feel it hurt, I wanted to cut my fucking skin and bleed. I know you didn’t ask that but that’s what I wanted I don’t care what I needed…’ she said, ‘you wanted to express the pain… and did you hurt yourself?’ I had my hands up at my face and my eyes closed totally blocking her out. I paused then a raised voice burst out of me, ‘NO!’ I put my hand up at her and said, ‘but I don’t want a fucking ‘well done’ coz it fucking stayed inside me all fucking week and it’s still here, I could do it right here right now!’ Anna said, ‘and it’s really important to validate that pain, that you so desperately want to cut yourself. It feels almost unbearable, and yet you resisted. Something made you stop yourself. Something else kicked in. That’s something to be proud of.’

I said, ‘I mean, a part of me is proud of myself for you know like getting upset with you sitting beside me and for then all week resisting the urge to self harm but… ugh it’s a really small part of me though coz…’ she interrupted to say, ‘it doesn’t matter how small, it’s a part that’s proud of you and you should be proud.’ I said, ‘hmmm but there’s the other voice saying, ‘fuck sake it’s not that big a deal I mean it’s your fucking body if you wanna do it just fucking do it. It’s hardly the worst thing a person can do. Just do it and stop taking about it! It would instantly make you feel so much better!’ She said, ‘I know you don’t want to hear praise but I’m going to say it, I’m so proud of you for not hurting yourself, well done! It’s a big deal because you looked after yourself and you deserve to be looked after.’ She asked me what had stopped me from harming myself and I said, ‘I think that’s one of the things I’m angry about though because my body is not my own. There’s not a single part of me that wouldn’t be seen by someone… Adam and the kids… I thought of every creative story imaginable for accidents that could have happened where I could hurt myself and make out like it wasn’t deliberate. But it’s so hard to lie and I just couldn’t come up with anything. I can’t even hurt myself if I want to because I don’t want to tell Adam about how I’ve been feeling…’ Anna said, ‘what do you need when you’re feeling like this?’ I said, ‘what I WANT IS TO CUT!!’ She said, ‘because the physical pain is an expression of your emotional pain.’ And I said, ‘yeah and it gets it out. It stops the emotional pain. It’s an expression yeah…’ she said ‘and now you have other ways you can express your pain.’ I said ‘but it doesn’t feel like it.’

I felt like I was hunched inside a shoebox placed on the seat beside her. I wasn’t feeling connected to her and I felt so tightly coiled that my lungs couldn’t inflate. It could practically feel my intestines slow to a halt. I said, ‘I feel so tense and tight and like constricted or something like I can’t fucking breathe…’ Anna nodded and said, ‘what would it be like to relax your arms down at your side and sit up straight, take a deep breathe?’ she did each of the things as she described them and I just remained locked in the shoebox. In my head there were a million different voices screaming at me and I couldn’t make out any single one voice and I didn’t know what to do. I was then aware that she’d let out a gentle, breathy smile laugh and I looked at her and she had a kind expression on her face like she found it funny and endearing that I was being so stubborn or something. I sort of laughed back and said, ‘I don’t want to! I don’t want to move.’ She asked what I feel might happen if I move and I said, ‘I feel like I’ll end up a puddle on the floor.’ She sort of chuckled and said that was unlikely and I said I felt spacey and weird. I was feeling panicked because I had been on and off dissociative all the way through the session and I needed to feel connected to her. She immediately became quite instructional. ‘okay, place both your feet on the floor, feel the floor, sit with our back against the chair and take a deep breath.’ She did all these things and as if I was a robot following her instructions I did it all too then I sort of crumbled inside, hunched shoulders, hollow insides, ‘I don’t want to feel in my body I don’t want to feel I don’t want to be grounded I don’t want to feel.’ i was whispering, or feeling very far away. She said she understood and that she knows this is painful. She repeated the grounding technique and for some reason this brought me back.

I said, ‘I think I felt like this all the time when I was a teenager.’ She nodded and made an agreeing sound and I said, ‘I’m feeling very teenagery just now actually.’ She immediately smiled and said, ‘yes I know, I get that!’ I looked at her and laughed and said, ‘really?’ she was nodding and raising her eyebrows and said, ‘oh yess, uh hu! …but thank you for telling me that, Lucy. I’m glad that part of you was here tonight.’

It actually amazes me that she can withstand that stubborn, resistant, angry part of me. But then I wonder if there’s something quite appealing about spending time with me when I am far less censored. My teen parts are raw, filled with all sorts of rage and righteous indignation. They’re not interested in being overly polite or people pleasery, they make her work for the connection… maybe she likes that?

There was a quiet moment where she said something about being grateful that I was able to share everything I shared today and that she really was very pleased that I hadn’t hurt myself. I felt the tears brimming my eyes and I said, ‘I find your kindness and care really overwhelming you know Anna, it really hurts…’ She said, ’I know.’ I said, ‘when we first started working together I don’t think I really believed it. I thought it was all bullshit therapy jargon that you said to everyone.’ She smiled and I said, ‘but I think that’s just because it hurts too much to believe you .’ she sounded moved and said, ‘I know, it’s fucking agony…’

Anna changed her tone and asked me how Luna is… ‘still in one piece?’ she joked. I smiled and said yes. I talked about how I’ve been looking online researching how to wash Jelly Cat teddies so they stay plush. She suggested I use a washing machine bag. We chatted a bit about that and I said it would be weird putting her in the machine because she’s like a baby to me… I guess she was grounding me with day to day chit chat.

Anna then said she’d been thinking about Luna through the week and wondering, ‘she’s too big to fit in your bag at work and I wonder if there’s a smaller version you could get or a strip of the fur that you could take with you so you can have the sensory calming affect of touching and stroking her fur wherever you are.’ I felt really touched by the fact that she had been thinking about me and just sat with that lovely warm feeling for a moment.

I then said, ‘I’d thought about bringing her in again to another session… I don’t know why but I just thought I might..?’ I felt a prickle of embarrassment and Anna suddenly became very animated and exclaimed, ‘yes! That’s a great idea. That would be lovely.’ I could feel my eyes widen and a young playful sense of wonder around Anna’s enthusiasm and her total lack of shaming around this mid-thirties woman and her stuffed panda. Then the inevitable pain poured in. It hurts so much when she’s nice to me. My eyes started to well up again and Anna subtly acknowledged my sadness with an understanding facial expression and said, ‘we won’t stay with this as it’s so close to the end of the session but know that it is okay to bring it back in next session or whenever you want. And Luna is welcome any time. It would be lovely to have her back in here… washed or unwashed.’ I sometimes wonder if Anna is using Luna as symbolism for my youngest parts… when I saw her hold Luna a few sessions ago it felt like I was watching her interact with me as a child. It was very powerful. I had totally personified this little panda. I was watching her dancing the bear about on her knee talking to her and I was thinking, ‘aw I bet she’s loving being on Anna’s knees, getting talked to and looked at like that…’ it felt lovely and also I felt a lot of shame about it being so meaningful to me.

So much of my attachment wound is tied up in the teen years. These moody, huffy, stubborn attitudes that surface in therapy are a repressed version of me that was never allowed to be fully expressed. As a child and as a teenager I had to constantly supress any feelings so that I could be the grown up, look after everyone, be mature. I couldn’t huff and moan and rebel. Often I was the only one behaving and holding everything together while everything around me fell apart. In the sessions there is a sense of breaking down and exposing this prickly, protective, damaged young teen who barely has the strength for it all. But I guess the truth is I was already quite broken. And my broken pieces had fused together in a muddled pattern of mixed up coping strategies, defence mechanisms and triggers… this part of me was crammed into that shoe box and has waited for longer than her own lifetime to be let out… so yes I am breaking, but just like we sometimes have to break a bone to set it in the correct position again, perhaps I too need to be broken and guided into place to heal in the way I was always meant to be before I was broken in the first place.