I Can Look After Myself

Is it a rupture when only one of you knows about it?

On Saturday we had our last session before Anna’s two week holiday break. I was looking forward to seeing her – we’ve had a couple of months of an increasing sense of closeness and the previous two sessions in particular felt very connecting (this and this). Despite the difficult subject matter where I tentatively talked about a sensitive issue I’ve not been able to share before, I felt very seen and understood. Anna was gentle and patient with me, encouraging me to talk but making it very clear that I was in control and that we could go as slowly as I wanted. She checked in with me a number of times which felt really caring and like she was holding me safe. The second of the two sessions in particular I felt something shift inside me. A little bit of the walls crumbling. I felt my self-consciousness melting and as we sat on the floor next to each other, not even talking, I felt deeply inside me like she really cares. In that moment the inner critic (who popped up to doubt the authenticity of what Anna was saying to me) was easily silenced. I knew she was right there with me in that moment.

So, on Saturday I walked in feeling good. I wanted to briefly tell her how amazing the past two sessions had felt and then talk a bit about how I felt about her going on holiday for two weeks… going from seeing her twice a week for two full months to no contact for two weeks. When I sat down I felt instantly like things were different, not bad just not as intimate and close. In the very difficult sessions, where I am feeling things deeply and feeling very seen, where I feel like she is being caring… it’s hard to explain but it’s like a filtered down, concentrated, potent version of therapy. It is focused and powerful and intense like very loud music listened to on headphones… I can’t help but feel it… those are the sessions where I can really feel the connection between us. During other sessions when I don’t feel emotions that deeply or don’t get upset, the ones where I stay in my adult and she doesn’t feel the need to be as overtly nurturing, they just don’t feel as connected – they are like listening to music that’s playing in another room, it’s muffled and not as clear. Unfortunately, the sessions before a break often feel less connected. I have two theories about that. One theory is that I unconsciously don’t give as much in the session before a break because a part of me is pre-empting the abandonment, so I reject her first. The other theory (one which Sirena suggested to me) is that Anna holds us both back in the session, not allowing me to go too deeply into anything very meaningful so that I’m not left carrying any painful residue or dealing with a kickback with no session to support me through the aftermath. Either way I am left feeling like all the closeness, connectedness and warm fuzzy feelings were all in my head and never happened in the first place. I feel like I must have imagined the intimacy, must have imagined the caring… how could I be so stupid to actually thinks she cares. Then I have to leave her office with this gnawing doubt about the authenticity of our relationship and not see her for however long.

So, back to Saturday’s session… I happened to mention that I’d been receiving a lot of messages through my blog and Instagram page from people who had found my words affirming, validating… saying it resonated with them… and I told Anna I felt a real sense of community amongst these people and that not only did they find my writing helped them but them reaching out to me helped me. I was feeling less isolated and enjoying sharing. I had mentioned briefly in a previous sessionthat I’d started blogging but not gone into details. Anna stopped me and said, ‘you write about therapy on your blog?’ I nodded and immediately noticed something change in her. A slight flicker across her face, she shifted on her seat and rested her head on her hand. I asked her what she was thinking and she said, ‘that’s great that you’ve found it helps you.’ I nodded but was sure that wasn’t the full story. I didn’t give her a chance to even check in with herself, I started to fire off statements that I thought might counteract whatever it was she was thinking, ‘it’s completely anonymous, it’s not my real name, or yours… I only share what I’m comfortable sharing… you wouldn’t even recognise yourself if you read it!’ she smiled and said, ‘would I not?’ I said, ‘even if you knew the name and googled it, it wouldn’t come up, it’s such a tiny part of the internet, only a handful of people read it and I’ve blocked everyone I know in real life from the therapy Instagram page… no one could find it!’ I could tell she was trying to give me a reassuring expression.

I said, ‘I can tell you’re thinking something negative about this just tell me what it is!’ she thought for a split second (that always feels minutes long) and said, ‘I was concerned because you’re just in the early stages of feeling comfortable sharing with me and I don’t want you to be putting yourself in a vulnerable place where you could be open to criticism and hurt… I know your adult might be comfortable sharing these things because you know it’s anonymous but it’s important to think about your child… how she feels having these things out there…’ I felt like she thought I was an idiot, doesn’t she think I know how to keep myself safe? I said, ‘why can’t you just be happy for me!?’ I felt like saying, ‘what, so you want me to share but only with you? You want me to talk but only if it’s just you!? Our little secret, is that what it is? Don’t tell anyone else… don’t talk to anyone else!?’ I didn’t say that though (although that should be brought up next time because that’s definitely an old wound). I kept reiterating, ‘it’s anonymous, I’ve hardly shared anything anyway…’ Anna said, ‘I was concerned but you’ve reassured me that it’s anonymous, I don’t know how blogs work anyway and this is the first time I’ve ever experienced this so it’s all new to me… I’ve never had a client tell me they write a blog… we talk about very personal, sensitive stuff in here…’ I said, ‘I don’t think you are worried about me, it feels like you’re worried about you – you’re worried that you’ll be recognisable in what I write!’ I felt like she didn’t trust me. She looked carefully at me and said, ‘you think I care more about whether I’m anonymous or not rather than caring about you… like how your mum always made everything about her?’ I replied, ‘hmmm yeah… well?’ Anna repeated that I’d reassured her and that she understood we were both anonymous.

We moved on to talk about a doctors appointment I’d had the previous day. When I’d come home my husband immediately greeted me at the door wanting to know how it had gone and even though it was fine and the thing I’d gone for had turned out to be a false alarm (thankfully) I was angry at him and wanted to just storm off upstairs. I didn’t want to tell him about the appointment. I was annoyed he was asking me. Anna helped me see that in that moment I felt two things (both relating to my mother)… one was that I felt like he would think I’d ‘made a big deal out of nothing’ and the other was that he wanted to find out the results to alleviate his own worries, not because he wanted to see how I felt about it. Neither of those things were true of him, they were both transference from childhood stuff. Anna then helped me see that Adam cared a lot about me and was just showing his love for me by asking me how it went.

I then quickly jumped out of that thread and said, ‘I still don’t feel okay about the blog stuff I want to go back to that.’ Anna said, ‘okay, what’s coming up for you?’ I said I felt really yucky. I pulled my knees up to my chest and sat sideways in my chair facing the wall and not looking at her. I said, ‘I wish I’d never brought it up now!’ She said, ‘oh why?’ in a kind and sympathetic tone. I said, ‘well it’s spoiled everything, it all feels weird now, I want to make you believe that it’s all fine, I need you to believe me, I don’t feel like you believe me (another old wound) it’s totally anonymous, it feels good to write it, I want you to be okay with it!’ She said, ‘Lucy, you’ve done nothing wrong here. You’ve done nothing wrong. I believe you, you’ve reasured me. I don’t read blogs, I don’t know how they work, I just wanted to know you were keeping yourself safe… does that make sense?’ I felt very stubborn and angry as if she was taking something fun away from me. I also felt like she was criticising blogs by saying that she doesn’t read them. I really was taking everything she said personally. (Now that I’m relfecting and writing about this I’m finding it interesting that this teen part of me decided to show up in THIS session… the one just before a break! What’s that all about? I wonder if it’s because I spent the past two sessions talking about horrible things that happened to me when i was a teenager. Like I’m testing her or something… do you really care about me? Even when I’m like this!?)

We moved on to talk about how I felt about her going on holiday. I said, ‘obviously I am glad you’re taking a break, you deserve a holiday… and selfishly I want you to be well rested and ready for all my shit so I’m glad you’re going on holiday! I want you to have a good time. But there is another part of me that feels very differently. In the past I wouldn’t have shared this because it wouldn’t change anything so what’s the point in saying it and I don’t want to make you angry or whatever but now I understand that it doesn’t matter if expressing my feelings wont change anything, what matters is that I get to share how I feel and have my feelings heard…’ I had turned myself back round to face her again and looked at her as she smiled and nodded, encouraging me on… she said, ‘so, how do you feel about me going on holiday?’ I said, ‘I don’t want you to go! I don’t WANT you to go! The past couple of months have felt amazing, I like seeing you twice a week I don’t want to stop, I want to see you twice a week forever and ever!’ I sort of laughed and she smiled. I said, ‘I don’t want it all to change. I don’t want to go back to the way it was before.’ Anna said she didn’t feel like I would go back to that. She talked about how difficult it used to be for me to say anything, that I talked slowly and deliberately with lots of long pauses as I carefully, thoughtfully considered every word. She told me that I’m not like that anymore, I’m far more comfortable with sharing things and can often dive right into a subject without the big preamble like I used to do. It was nice to hear her say that.

I said I was really sad that I was losing the twice a week sessions but I just can’t afford it long term. This month is going to be so hard because not only does she have a two week holiday, she also has a training day one of the Saturdays and on another I can’t make it. Anna picked up her diary and looked at me, she said, ‘I could arrange to come in a couple of Sundays so we can keep up the consistency if that would help?’ I said that would be amazing, then I said, ‘how would you feel about me doing Tuesdays fortnightly along with the Saturdays. So that I’m not completely dropping the Tuesdays?’ She agreed to that immediately and then said, ‘well, how about I just don’t take on a new client, so your slot on Tuesday will remain yours and you can come whichever Tuesday you want.’ I was so touched that she would do that, she would forfeit the money she’d get from a new client just to keep my slot free for when I need it. I told her I’d prefer that to a Sunday and she said, ‘me too, I’d rather not work a Sunday if I don’t have to.’ And it struck me that she actually meant she would come in to the office just for me on a Sunday. I was really moved by this and thanked her for helping me find some way to work it all out. Now that I type this out I can see that she does still care about me. She has consistently tried to find ways to help me within her boundaries. I need to remember that.

After Saturday’s session I freaked out about the blog stuff. I felt completely derailed. I sent her two very long texts (one going on and on about how I need her to believe me and the other talking about how ‘it’s my story to tell anyway!’) – thenI panicked and requested a phone call and then four hours later (after no reply) I sent a text asking her to ignore all those messages. I couldn’t stand the pain of no response and just told her I felt fine now. Told her to enjoy her holiday. I felt like such a selfish bitch texting her on her holiday. I hope she doesn’t hate me for doing that.

I’ve reflected on all of this with two close friends. They both helped me see more clearly what was going on for me. My inner teen was massively triggered by Anna showing care for me by being slightly protective and cautioning me on looking after myself. This type of care does not sit well with my teen. I never experienced this kind of care from my parents. They were never consistent, they didn’t have rules, I wasn’t given boundaries, I didn’t have a curfew, there was never a list of things I wasn’t allowed to do, I was never disciplined in a fair and consistent way… but every so often I would unwittingly break an invisible rule that would send one of my parents into a blazing fury or push my mother to her emotional breaking point. I never knew where I stood. I could never predict how they were going to respond. One minute she’s pressuring me into taking a joint with her boyfriend, the next she’s screaming at me coz she found a joint in my top drawer when she was snooping. I remember her once getting angry at me for back answering her when I was about 17. She shouted, ‘you will respect me, I am your mother!’ I was usually very compliant and eager to please her but by this point that part of me was dead. I laughed in her face and said, ‘are you fucking kidding me? NOW you decide to mother me? I don’t fucking think so!’ and walked away from her. This is exactly how I felt with Anna… like ‘how dare you try to tell me how to look after myself! I’ve been looking after myself my whole fucking life, how dare you tell me what to do…’ mega teen kick back. It’s the part of me that HATES being told what to do. I remember when I’d been working with Paul for about two years and we were reflecting on our sessions and he said, ‘I learned very early on that you don’t like being told what to do.’ I didn’t understand back then why I was like that and I’m not even sure he did… but I know now – it’s because it feels like the person who is doing this thinks I’m incompetent. And it feels threatening to the part of me that had to grow up fast and look after myself. When I was little, care felt like letting a person do whatever they wanted. Anna is teaching me that care is actually boundaries, care is calling someone out when you know they’re bull-shitting or criticising themselves, care is questioning a person’s actions or words. But this all hurts so much when you’ve never had it before. One of my friends likened it to my daughter and how I won’t let her go to the park without me yet. My daughter might think I’m being unfair but actually it is the love and care I have for her that has dictated that decision. Anna cares about me and wanted to make sure I am thinking carefully about my decisions.

Since reflecting on all of this I have modified a couple of things on my blog and the Instagram page, just to ensure anonymity. I feel so much better about it all. I’m looking forward to sharing this insight with Anna who will probably have no clue that this rupture has happened!