A Year Ago Today

I was tidying up my desktop and I found an unnamed word document which turned out to be a journal entry from exactly a year ago. June 2018. It has highlighted two things. One is that I am not where I was a year ago and two is my relationship with Anna has grown. A year ago I was very confused by these newly emerging feelings I was experiencing. I was trying to supress them, frightened by what would happen if they came out. I still struggle with being emotionally vulnerable in front of people but I am getting more comfortable with it. And I’m crying on my own most days now which has never happened before. Last year I really struggled to trust Anna. Now I feel more secure in our attachment… I was going through a particularly hard time when I wrote this. It was Anna’s holiday break and I was feeling very alone without knowing how to reach out to anyone. I am so grateful of that small leap of progress – I now know and have experience of reaching out to people and allowing them to be there for me. I am also better at asking Anna for what I need, whether that’s a phone call or extra session or just extra reassurance.

Here is what I wrote last year…

I have 159 contacts in my mobile phone. One of them belongs to me so really it’s just 158. I just sat here reading down the list of people through blurry, tear filled eyes. 158 phone numbers that I will not call. I did call Daniel earlier but his phone is going straight to voicemail again. I’m sure he’s avoiding me.

I scrolled past mum. It’s been a month since I spoke to her and in another month it will be my birthday and she will not care. Last year for my birthday she sent me a card with a scrawled message in felt tip pen, ‘here’s a voucher, it’s hard to choose things for people’… I’m not people! I’m your daughter. You’re meant to know what I like! She’s apparently in Mallorca at the moment, which feels weird because Anna is also on holiday. For some reason that feels significant enough to mention. It amuses me that both mum and dad have enjoyed holidaying in Mallorca since the time we were there as a family almost twenty years ago. Nothing could persuade me to go back there after that experience. It was the worst holiday ever, and that’s saying something because all of our family holidays were completely shite.

I kept scrolling through the numbers. The doctor and dentist don’t count. Work doesn’t count.

Paul. I must have saved it from that one time he phoned me to ask if we could move my session for a client in crisis. I remember feeling pretty good about the fact that he thought I was stable enough to be able to cope with that. Not feeling quite so stable now. I’m tempted to phone him from a different phone just to hear his voice. I’m eleven digits away from potentially having an impact on him this very minute. Maybe he’d hear the phone and have to get up from where he is, walk across the room, lift his phone and speak into my ear. I miss his voice. I torment myself by looking at some emails he sent me years ago. It hurts my heart more than I can bear. I wonder if I ever cross his mind. I wonder if anyone ever thinks of me. I wonder what it would take to make them think of me.  

At lunchtime today Natalie told us that a mutual acquaintance took an overdose last night. Hearing those words and people’s reactions made me emotionally check out. This small, distant voice in the back of my head was saying, that was me twenty years ago. I wondered what they’d all say if it had been me she was talking about. I got up and walked out the room, out the school and sat in my car for the remaining fifteen minutes and deleted the internet history on my phone. Therapy blogs, psychology today, psych forums, google searches asking for ways I can hurt myself without it showing. Delete. Delete. Delete. Anna keeps gently encouraging me to stop all of that. It’s like an addiction.

My husband went upstairs to settle our son 50 minutes ago and I can hear him snoring over the monitor. I tried talking to him last night, lying in the dark. Told him I was feeling really shitty, that I didn’t need him to do anything but I just wanted to tell him. I rolled in for a hug but he’d fallen asleep.

I feel like I’ve been crying on the inside for days and every so often it seeps out of me and I have to take myself away to suck it all back in. But right now I’m sitting on my own and don’t need to hide it, yet still I stuff it all down and stem the flow of tears. I can’t even cry by myself. What the hell is wrong with me?

I scroll past dad’s number. A few friends. I pause at Jennifer and remember that she said to me just a couple of weeks ago that I could call her if I needed to. I imagine how the emotions I am feeling right now would instantly evaporate the minute I hear her voice.

I stare at Anna’s phone number knowing that even if she wasn’t on holiday I still couldn’t phone her. I am starting to doubt her again, doubt that she cares or that she can help me. I cycle round and round past these feelings of doubt. Why is this creeping in again, I felt like I was beginning to trust her more but is the trust really so fragile that 14 days of no contact can make me feel like I want to reject her before she rejects me? At the end of the last session I told her I might miss her. Those words fell out of my mouth before I even really knew I felt them and the kind smile she responded with stole my breathe. The normalising. The reassurance that she would hold me in mind, not forget me. That we will see each other on the 9th. That she thinks I’m stronger now than I was 6 months ago. Reminding me of the tools I have now that I can use to get me through. I find the stone I took down to mum’s on Anna’s advice and I sit and hold it which helps me feel a bit more grounded. I rub my thumb over the smooth side. I get my art stuff out but I put it all back again and decide just to write this instead. It’s so shit that I need therapy. It’s so shit that I don’t have these kind, caring people in my life without having to employ them to help me. It’s so shit that I can’t just call her or Paul when I really need them. It’s so shit that I don’t get that kind of support from my own mum. She’s not dead but it feels like she is.

In our second session, Anna stopped me at the door on the way out. She put her hand lightly on the top of my arm and looked me in the eyes and said, ‘you don’t have to do this on your own any more, Lucy.’ What a fucking joke. I am on my own with this, just like I always have been. It’s fucking bull shit to call it anything else. No one else can be there for me. Where are you now Anna? Fucking on holiday with your actual family. And I am here, comforted by my dysfunction. Yeah… you don’t have to do it on your own for ONE HOUR A WEEK! The rest you’ll have to deal with yourself!

I sneak into my daughter’s room and sit on the floor beside her bed. Watch her breathing. Gently move her hair from her sweaty forehead. Six years old. She’s still my baby. Some days I feel like there is a glass wall between us. That I can’t reach her. That she doesn’t love me or like me and that I’m not good enough for her. They’re both too precious and pure, I don’t deserve either of them. I imagine all the ways I may be fucking them up. All the things they may need to take to therapy in thirty years time. It’s so painful to imagine all the ways I might be irreversibly damaging them just because I am me. Like an invisible poison seeps out of my skin and is slowly corrupting them. Did my mother ever feel like this? Did she ever sit silently staring at my sleeping face?

Never in my whole life has my mum dedicated herself to me. Never. I don’t remember a single time where she was there just for me and didn’t make it about herself. All my life. She has never been able to allow me space to have it be about me. When I’m in therapy, that time is mine – it’s about me. And I can’t fully absorb it. Then my hour is over and it’s taken from me and I just don’t know what to do with the fucking pain. It’s not enough. One hour. How can this be called reparenting? I need so much more than this. Am I destined to have this aching need forever and simultaneously be repulsed by the need in me?

It’s actually quite reassuring sometimes to read these old notes over. If I felt this desperately alone now I would do one of a few things. I’d tell my husband, I’d message a friend, I’d text Anna asking to schedule a phone call or for an additional session… I’d be patient with myself and know that it will pass. Maybe I’d give myself space to cry. I need to remember that although I’m currently going through a huge emotional shift with a great deal of feelings coming up that I’ve not processed yet, this is progress. It’s messy and sore and feels overwhelming at times but this is the road untrodden. This is what I’ve signed up for… and it changes every day.

The Therapy Relationship and the Rooms in My Mind

I’ve been missing Paul (my last therapist) the past few days. I started working with him over 6 years ago and we worked together for 3 years. We didn’t have a proper end to our work for a few reasons… one being that he isn’t particularly good at endings… another is that I had my second child and couldn’t afford therapy while on maternity leave. When I was ready to come back to him I discovered he’d stopped working in the city I saw him. So that was it… we had a final Skype session a couple of months into me working with Anna and I said goodbye then. Paul told me he would always be my therapist and the door was always open to me but I really needed to feel the closing. I needed to feel an end. For as long as the door was open, the grief couldn’t happen. I’m still not fully there even though it’s been three years since I last saw him. It comes up with Anna every so often… the grief I need to process.

I reverted back to an old favourite self-destructive cycle today of casually browsing through his daughter’s social media account and felt myself slip into a familiar pattern of comparisons and jealousy. I guess if I try to see things from a distance – my therapy relationship with him wasn’t always therapeutic. Sometimes it was painful and retraumatising. There’s something about me, my history, my attachment wounds that makes me desperately need very firm boundaries. I didn’t know that about myself 6 years ago and so when Paul presented me with a very relaxed model of therapy (sharing many details about his personal life with me) I dove head first into the delicious sea of self disclosures, swimming in the idea that it somehow made me special or unique because he told me these things… ignoring the pain it conjured up or worse, blaming and shaming myself for the pain. Now I have experienced a very different therapy model (Anna doesn’t share anything about her personal life, the only self disclosing she freely gifts me is her authentic emotional responses and even then I am very aware she is constantly considering whether it is beneficial to my therapy for her to disclose).

Today the pain of missing Paul got the better of me and I started reading over old therapy notes from our sessions. It makes my heart ache because there is a part of me that loves him still so much and desperately wants to go to him now. Reading it back is interesting, I would do things differently now if I started working with him today. I thought I would share some of the notes here. This one is from June 2013. Almost exactly 6 years ago. I’d been working with Paul for 4 months.

We were in a different room today; it was a brighter, smaller room with a view out onto the skyline of the city. I stood at the window for a couple of minutes looking down at all the roof tops and people below. The other room has a small roof window that you can only see sky out of so it was nice to get a sense of where we were in the world. Paul explained why he had to move, something to do with a new colleague but I was too busy dealing with feeling anxious about the change of room and worrying about which seat to sit in and what each seat decision would say about me that I missed his explanation. I overanalyse everything in my head…. wondering what he is thinking about me. It’s exhausting. Paul said that he received my emails and that the first one was quite long and he didn’t thoroughly read all of it. I cringed and apologised and he said –‘no, no don’t apologise it’s absolutely fine, I said you could email me and I know it is a great therapeutic tool for you – you can email me whenever you want and I don’t want you to feel bad. When I have the time I really enjoy reading your emails – you’re a good writer – in fact I’ve only had two other clients who were as good at writing as you and they are both writers themselves.’ I thanked him and was a bit taken aback, I said I was embarrassed about needing to write such long emails and he asked why. I said I hated being so needy and that I imagine he feels burdened and dreads seeing my name pop up in his inbox. He thought for a bit and said he didn’t feel burdened at all. That feeling burdened was a choice and that he doesn’t push himself harder than he is capable of. He said he is marking for the SQA at the moment so he has less time for emails but still checks his emails every other day. He said, ‘you are paying for this service Lucy, it’s your therapy to use as you need it.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’m paying for this hour a week not for you to spend your personal time looking at my emails,’ I joked about my brother teasing me about Paul telling his wife to cancel their weekend appointments because he received an email from Lucy King. He laughed and said, ‘You’re not quite that bad! I am glad my other 20 clients don’t email me though I have to say…’ I said, ‘What? Seriously? I’m the only one who emails you?’ and he said, ‘Well, yeah they email to arrange appointments and maybe run a couple of things by me but no they don’t email like you do…’ I couldn’t believe it – I was mortified but he said it was fine and that it obviously was cathartic for me to get it all out. He suggested that when I have a particularly important email I could print it off and highlight the important bits and bring it to session. I don’t know if it’s something to do with the ego but a part of me loves that I’m the only one who emails him like I do. That he sits and reads my words. That I will be forever known in his mind as the client who sent very long emails… not sure even what I mean by that… that I want to be remembered? That I want to be special? That I want to stand out in some way…? Maybe if I’m unique, interesting, special in some way then he wont want to stop working with me…?

So Paul then asked, ‘How’s things?’ and I paused for a while and looked out the window… ‘not great to be honest…’ He looked curious and I started to explain, ‘I have had a great week, really lovely catch up with friends, great weekend in the garden and a bbq with friends… lovely week… then I met up with dad yesterday and that put me back to square one! I don’t know how he still manages to do this. I thought that after bringing him to a therapy session things would change. Dad had suggested we meet up for lunch and stupidly I looked forward to it, I thought it would be nice. I arrive and all goes fine but he seems distant (I look up and Paul is nodding with a pensive look on his face, absorbed in my story), I just presumed it was because he just came from work. We make small talk and it’s a bit awkward. We talk about the weekend and talk about my daughter, we eat, he then asks about therapy. (I look up again and say, ‘you know it really annoys me that he still askes about therapy – why does he care? He doesn’t own it any more… he only paid for the first 3 sessions!’  Paul says, ‘it is none of his business and you don’t need to share any of it with him’). Dad then asked in so many words why therapy is taking so long, he says he thought it would just be ten or fifteen sessions. I told him I have a lot more to work through than I thought.’ I then went on to detail the rest of my lunch with dad, I explained that I told dad that it upsets me how mum still has the power to affect me just by being her. Dad told me there has to come a point where I get all I need from myself and stop looking to others to change how I feel. He didn’t understand so I changed the subject to asking him about work which in turn made him ask about my work.

‘I talked about how I’m not enjoying teaching at the moment. That the thought of teaching until I am nearly 70 feels like a life sentence. It is stressful and makes me more anxious, I have been looking into ways that I can do a little more learning and change career or something. But dad just said that everyone thinks their job is stressful and that very few people enjoy what they do and in fact it took him over twenty years before he enjoyed his job and that I should write a list of all the things I like about my job because I’d probably find that I wouldn’t get a better one.’ Paul then said, ‘it’s interesting that he didn’t say anything affirming there…’ I said, ‘I think he was only ever proud of me because I got a degree and became a teacher, I don’t think he would know how to feel about me if I changed career.’

I told Paul that I had explained to dad that I knew the pros and cons of my job, that it was pretty depressing to stay in a job because you get long holidays – that the plus side of your job is the times you aren’t in work. That I asked dad if he could imagine when he was 29 being told he would never earn any more money than what he earned at that point. Then he suggested going for promotion. I said the thing I love about teaching is the kids and being a head teacher I would spend no time with the kids.

I said to Paul, ‘I mean, it’s like he knows nothing about me… then dad said, ‘this was the problem with your mother, she was never happy, no matter what job she had or where we lived, nothing made her happy she always wanted something different…’ I just didn’t know what to say!’ Paul looked all kind of contemplative and screwed his face up a bit, ‘That makes me so angry!’ He said, ‘Doesn’t he realise that all his daughter needs is a hug and to be told she can do whatever she puts her mind to… you’re nothing like your mother Lucy, I could have told you in your first session that you are nothing like her, I think his comparison there is because of this issue he has where he unconsciously has merged you with your mum – he can’t see you are a separate person.’ I said, ‘well he should know me – he should know! It’s like he is trying to hurt me…’ Paul said, ‘I don’t think he has the capacity to see how other people are feeling, Lucy. If you were my daughter I would NEVER say anything like that to you… it is very easy to affirm you and validate you because it is true, you deserved better…’ I could have melted into the energy of the room… ‘if you were my daughter…’ that sentence makes my heart hurt. I looked away to stop myself from connecting fully to his compassionate eyes and losing it completely. I composed myself and finished the rest of my story about lunch with dad. ‘I told dad that I thought that if someone he respected like his wife told him she was thinking of a career change he would listen and take it seriously, he would ask what she didn’t like about the job and tell her she should follow what she enjoys but I felt that he was telling me I couldn’t get anything better than what I’ve got and I am just like my mother. Dad then said, ‘I didn’t say that… I said none of that. I wasn’t comparing you to your mother.’ I asked, ‘what was the purpose of bringing her up then?’ and he said, ‘what’s the point in me answering that?’ I said, ‘so I can understand you better,’ and he replied ‘we’re just digging ourselves deeper into this hole we’re in so we should stop talking about it.’  It makes me feel crazy, these kinds of conversations. I’m not allowed to have a response that contradicts his opinions… he literally wont let the interaction continue. So there was about 5 minutes of silence then I started getting my daughers coat on. I said, ‘with all due respect I am not going to waste 25 years of my life hating my job in the faint hope that by the time I am in my mid-fifties I might enjoy it. I am the main bread winner and want to not only enjoy and further my career opportunities but also widen the possibility that my family could have more money coming in, I do not make decisions lightly.’ Paul looked very serious and said, ‘you are nothing like your mother Lucy. You have been teaching all your adult life and have been with your husband for 12 years – you are a considered and stable person who commits to things.’ I nodded and just felt such deep sadness for the fact that this man I have only met for an hour or so a week for a few months knows me better than my own father. I told Paul that dad had said that I should count my blessings. I have a great husband and daughter. That it made me angry when people say I’ve to be grateful for the small mercy of other people enriching my life rather than being proud for the things I have worked damn hard at achieving, maintaining and improving.

I told Paul that I cried my eyes out all the way home. That I felt like such a fool. That at this present moment I want nothing to do with both mum and dad. They bring nothing positive to my life, just heartache and disappointment.

Paul said he resented dads comment about Paul encouraging me to take on more and more sessions. He said, ‘not only is he suggesting that I am unprofessional enough to lead you on like that but he is also implying you are stupid enough to be manipulated by me… I’m feeling angry and resentful about that,’ I said I was sorry that dad made him feel like that but it was good to hear because I was angry too. I said, ‘after we had the session with dad I asked him what he thought of you and dad said, ‘he’s a lot older than I thought’… I hadn’t told you about that because I didn’t want to hurt your feelings but I now realise your feelings wouldn’t be hurt because you don’t care about dad.’ Paul nodded and said, ‘he was just putting down your experience, belittling it… when the three of us were working together, I got the feeling that he was very intimidated by me and how in tune we are, that we have a connection, he probably felt threatened.’ I agreed and said, ‘I then asked dad what he thought of you as a person and dad said, ‘well he obviously cares a great deal about you!’ and I felt a mix of emotions, I felt happy because of course I want you to care about me but I felt sad because I want dad to care about me too, want him to care about me more…’ Paul said, ‘I just wonder though if your dad just doesn’t have the capacity to care about anyone other than himself, if all he is thinking is ‘how am I?’ then he won’t even consider anyone else.’ I said that made me sad and that’s what makes me wish I’d never started therapy because this feeling is so painful, knowing what it feels like to get it from Paul and knowing I will never feel that from my own dad. I said, ‘It’s just… well… it’s a shame, you know?’ and Paul said, ‘it’s a crying shame, that’s what unconditional positive regard is all about. You deserve nothing less.’ I said, ‘can you honestly say that with all the clients you’ve ever had you have always managed to have completely unconditional positive regard for them?’ and he thought for a bit and said that he was certainly aware of his judgements and prejudices so he doesn’t let it affect how he is with clients. He said, ‘I’ve been working in mental health for so long now it does come a lot easier than it used to. I remember one client when I first started doing this, I asked her at the end of what I thought was a great session if she thought it went well and she said, ‘no, I thought you were really judgemental…’ and she walked out and never came back. I learned a lot from that.’ I asked Paul if he agreed with her and he again thought for a bit like he always does, really considers his answers, then said, ‘no I didn’t agree with her but it taught me that your perceptions of things often differ from the clients.’ I said, ‘it was obviously her issue then,’ and he said, ‘yeah but o#I could have handled it differently…’ He said he has been trained to be aware of his reactions and why he feels certain ways.

I said that I was sick of constantly letting my dad hurt me, that I thought I was over all this and Paul said, ‘I thought you were too, I thought you had moved on from your dad and we were going to start talking about your mum,’ I replied, ‘well I guess this was a test about just how over it all I was. I failed big time because I still do care.’ Paul said, ‘do you think that you wish you’d never come to therapy because you think nothing has changed? You are still the same but many people believe they must change or get fixed in therapy but that’s not the case we are actually all fine we just need to learn to live with what we have,’ I said, ‘no, I feel like I’ve changed a lot. I am getting much better at expressing how I feel, better at accepting how I feel for example I am currently feeling that anxious pain that I get in my chest (he later explained again that was fight or flight) and instead of hating myself for feeling like that and believing there is something wrong with me, I now just think I have this feeling, that it’s probably quite understandable that I feel like that because of what we are talking about and I just carry on with what I’m doing.’ Paul said, ‘that’s interesting, good, that’s good…’ I explained that after dad’s lunch I felt really awful and would normally have swallowed the feeling down and just got on with my day not really knowing how I felt but yesterday after dad I just let myself feel sad. I cried and cried until I was done crying.

I said, ‘I just don’t know why I keep going back – why don’t I just refuse to have a relationship with them? I feel like such a fool.’ Paul said, ‘All humans live with hope – that’s what makes us human, but we are actually very self-destructive as a species and I don’t mean physically I mean we worry and think and can be very negative about ourselves and if our situation is more than our system can tolerate then we turn to physical ways of self-destruction like drinking or other ways… like you experienced,’ He talked about the need for balance and quiet in our minds, the effort we must put into trying to balance our thoughts. He said, ‘At work as a teacher you must see the children who are constantly ill because their bodies are trying to cope with this high level of hormones and chemicals that they’re producing to attempt to manage their anxiety?’ I said that I was always ill as a child, I hadn’t thought about it like that. I had a really bad attendance rate.

We talked a bit about how perceptions of things change over time. I said, ‘I think the biggest thing that has changed is that I used to have this stupid hope that things would get better or would have this expectation of what I thought mum and dad could be – that if only I could adapt myself enough and change who I am to fit in with what they would need and like then they would change. The difference now is that I can see that they can’t be what I want and it makes me really sad – like a grief.’ Paul said it was interesting I chose those words – that I used to be in denial and now I was grieving a relationship that never existed but that I’d always thought was possible. He explained about his own mum, that he doesn’t always get closeness from talking to people but sometimes just spending time with them, sometimes in silence, can feel intimate. That Paul and his mum speak a different language but he still feels close to her – he would just never talk about something emotional with her. He said he had always wished his relationship with his dad had been something more and that he had always had that feeling about his grandfather as well, that he wished their relationship could have been more than it was, but he didn’t think his grandfather understood what him – he said it was a sad time. I felt like Paul really connected with me and what I was going through. I love that he shares parts of himself with me.

I said I was sick of feeling like this irritating yappy dog that’s constantly leaping about and seeking love and attention, ‘love me love me love me…’ it’s humiliating… and all they’ve ever done is turn away from me. Paul said, ‘I’m really interested in your analogy about feeling like a wee yappy dog because it clearly illustrates how you feel and I think it’s about time you made the decision that you are no longer going to put your all into those relationships. You need to see that your parents are just two people, that they will not meet your very low and reasonable expectations. You have very validating relationships with Dave (husband), your friends and your Daniel (brother)… you’ve talked about him quite a bit and he sounds like a really positive influence in your life.’ I said, ‘yeah I’m so fortunate to have him in my life – if I had to go through all the crap with mum and dad just to get him in my life then I guess it was worth it.’ Paul smiled and said, ‘well that’s a really great way to look at it isn’t it, I mean if you didn’t have the parents you had you wouldn’t be you, I mean I know there are parts of yourself that you don’t like but there are plenty of things I’m sure you do like and you just wouldn’t be you, Daniel wouldn’t be Daniel, if you hadn’t had your mum and your dad… that’s a really interesting way to look at your experience isn’t it?’ I agreed and said that I can’t think of many things I like at the moment but that yes – I wouldn’t be me and Daniel wouldn’t be Daniel without our parents.

Somehow we got to talking about some of the techniques he’s taught me like the mindfulness meditation. I said that I was finding the meditation really helpful, that I feel like I’ve had a sleep after just 10 or 15 minutes of mindfulness meditation. He said it’s like a brain nap – that he loves it, loves clearing his mind. He said, ‘one day a few weeks ago I did the initial mindfulness meditation with five clients – in one day – I was so relaxed!’ I laughed and so did he, he said, ‘it was a bit of a cop-out, can’t do that every day!’ I said, ‘the initial time we did it I don’t think I was capable of doing it right though, it was a bit odd,’ Paul said, ‘yeah I’ve had a few clients who won’t do it with me in the room, one client told me, ‘there’s no way I’m doing that with you, it’s weird!’ He explained it is pretty intimate and you have to be very trusting to close your eyes and experience that with someone. I said, ‘well when we did it I did peek at you a few times!’ and he laughed again, I said, ‘I think that was the main benefit of the exercise actually – it wasn’t about the meditation it was about learning that I could trust you.’

I had been watching the clock all session as I usually do but by this point we were past the hour and Paul was still nestled in his seat looking pretty comfortable so I figured I could let him be in charge of the time keeping. (Interestingly when we did get to the end of the session after an hour and a half he started to wind the conversation up by asking the usual, ‘how did you find today then?’ and I stood up as I normally do and we then continued talking with me standing and him sitting for a further ten minutes. That often happens – I think I end things by standing up first so I feel in control and not rejected – I’m sure he is probably very aware of whatever reason it is that I do it). Paul said that he was going on holiday the first week of July (same as us) and that they were visiting the Scottish Isles (also a coincidence as we are going to Orkney). I said, ‘That’s a bit different from the Caribbean then…’ and he said, ‘well yeah it’s my brother in law who owns a hotel and restaurant out there, it is great and we get everything for free but the flights are extortionate and we just don’t have the money at the moment to fly 3 kids out there. I also feel a bit indebted to him and although they’re family I would rather not owe them anything. Plus I don’t think they like how opinionated I can be – they didn’t speak to me for two days on one trip because I said something they didn’t like,’ That made me laugh a lot. I have such a hunger to be part of his life. I want to know it all. I want to be in it with him. Oh my god I don’t know why I feel like this but it feels so good and so awful all at once.

We made some more small talk. He said I must be looking forward to my long holiday, talked a bit about how being a therapist is a really rewarding job. We talked a bit about the value of siblings and how he loves to hear his wee gang of kids rallying together. He mentioned a couple of books – one by John Cleese about surviving families and another about compassion. I showed him the book I am reading about the power of validation. He talked a bit about mental health and I said that everyone in Britain seems depressed. Paul said, ‘when I lived in Sweden I saw people with serious mental health issues in the street every day because they don’t over medicate out there like they do here… all sorts of people are just accepted and welcome in society. We numb everyone down over here…’ He continued, ‘I’ve always attracted people with mental health problems, I remember being in a bar at a music festival in the 70’s when a guy walked through the whole bar pushing his way through the crowd towards me. I take a sip of my pint and then the guy gets to me and says, ‘I’m a schizophrenic’ haha – it’s like he searched the whole place for me. That has happened a lot in my life.’ I said, ‘So you just thought I might as well be getting paid for this!’ and he laughed and said, ‘Yeah that’s exactly it.’

We got organised to leave and Paul started to walk me down the stairs to the main entrance. He saw me to my car and said he’d enjoyed talking to me today. I said I did too and that I looked forward to the sessions. I said I’d try to limit the emails this week and he smiled and said he looked forward to his bit of extra light reading. I drove away and felt better than I did when I arrived but also something else sitting in the pit of my stomach and in my chest… a sadness… maybe that I want so much more than I can ever really have from him. A feeling of dread at what I’ve started by walking into his office four months ago. Maybe healing is meant to hurt this much.

So… that was fairly long! If you made it through to the end then I applaud you… thank you!

I have a lot more psychological insight now than I did back then. I understand myself on a deeper level. I know about attachment pain, ego states, transference, counter transference, boundaries, projection, holding, containment… all of the behind the scenes things that make us tick, that make therapy what it is. I definitely have more to learn but I also want to acknowledge how much has changed in me. I’ve been feeling confused about the work I did with Paul – was it too ‘shallow’, why did we avoid so many topics, why did we talk so much about him, how do I feel about the lack of time boundaries and his self disclosures. I’ve talked a lot to Daniel about my experiences with Paul and the work I’m currently doing with Anna. He said these words to me… ‘People don’t come into our lives by chance Lucy. You were meant to work with Paul and you were meant to work with Anna. Perhaps Paul came along at a time when you needed to be shown you are loveable. That you are worthy of the extra time and bending of the boundaries, that you are not and were never too much, that something extraordinary about you made Paul want to work with you in an extraordinary way… and now you are stronger and now there is a part of you who believes you’re worthy, you can let Anna teach you about tolerating the deep emotional pain you’ve pushed away all your life.’ Perhaps he’s right. I know I couldn’t have done the work I’m doing now back then. The doors to those rooms in my mind and my soul were locked and I didn’t have the keys. Now with Anna I’m slowly sorting through the very complicated entry system within myself and braving what’s inside every room. One door at a time.

Progress

I remember reading that progress in therapy is not linear, it’s like a spiral… like a slinky-toy. ‘Moving through a continuous spiral of levels, sometimes so tightly packed in that they seem to be a circle rather than a spiral, other times more clearly separate from one another and more obvious evidence of progress. Similar material is addressed therapeutically at each step along the spiral, but addressed differently at each level as the spiral progresses forward.’

It got me thinking that maybe I will feel like I am taking a few steps forward and one step back sometimes and maybe that’s okay. Because as Anna keeps reminding me, we are not in any rush to get through this. I want to be ‘finished’ already but it’s just not going to be that simple.

Every time I am less than what I believe I should be as a wife and mother I feel this stabbing fear that I am just like mum and that really I’m kidding myself thinking I can be anything better. The catastrophising kicks in. If I can’t get through a day without a cross word or irritation I feel like the whole day is fucked and that everyone who knows me will be storing these misdemeanours in their minds as reasons to hate me and never want to see me again as soon as they get the chance to leave. The thing is, I know these ‘mistakes’ I make are nothing compared to what she did to me but for some reason my mind leaves no room for error for me – I can’t so much as look at the word ‘mistake’ without fearing that I’ll career off on a journey of destruction and completely annihilate everyone in my path. I remember the day I read about narcissistic/histrionic mothers online and everything clicked into place. Like that scene on The Truman Show where he realises his whole life was a set up. It’s like it came as a surprised to me when I realised what she was really like, that it was an actual thing and that it wasn’t all my fault. Every so often I get this dead weight feeling inside me that maybe my husband and the kids don’t know it yet but they will soon realise in time how bad I am for them… just like I did about my mother. I can see that my perfectionism is still a very big part of me. The internalised unrelenting high standards/hyper-criticalness… it’s all still there, even after all the work I did on that with Paul it’s like I revert back to my original form in times of difficulties. There has been a slight softening in my internal voice as I have intentionally tried to be mindful of how I speak in my head. The voice no longer screams, ‘you piece of shit you’re so weak, grow up, no one likes you, you’re worthless…’ now the voice occasionally says, ‘maybe it makes sense that you feel like this…’ I cry by myself every day. Anna says I’m grieving. It hurts like a ball of lead in my chest but the pain doesn’t feel bigger than me like it has in the past. And crying helps reduce the intensity a bit. I’m grateful for this.

One thought that’s made me cry recently was that in the last session Anna said that I come out when I feel safe and go back in when I don’t feel safe. That touched me because I know I am like that but I forget, or I try to pretend that’s not what I’m like. It feels so amazing and so painful that she notices these things and still accepts me and wants to keep working with me. I am reminded of how mum used to say that I was a typical cancerian in that I’m a crab with a hard shell on the outside but I’m soft on the inside. For some reason it makes me feel angry that she used to say this. I feel like I couldn’t let her know me because she would just use these things against me in some way. But also she uses these things to excuse her bad behaviour – describing herself as a typical taurian, being ‘a bull in a china shop’ rather than learning how to think before she speaks or acts.

A few sessions ago Anna told me she felt I was stronger now and she wanted to start tackling the letter I’d written to my mum. I was defensive and I questioned whether I was stronger or were we just not talking about the hard stuff… what if we start talking about it and I go off the deep end again. She didn’t answer me and I felt like she was exasperated by my argumentativeness and unwillingness to just accept encouragement. I then proceeded to have a crap week and the following session was emotionally challenging. With relief I agreed when Anna suggested we delay discussing the letter. She didn’t want to push too hard and for me to retreat again. But I kind of wish she had pushed… because it’s like this tantruming toddler threw herself into the room and had a screaming fit that made us all back down and comply. The toddler didn’t want her to think I was stronger only for me to then let her down… but the adult me knows I can be stronger and still find this difficult. Being stronger doesn’t mean I won’t get upset or space out. Maybe I needed reassurance that Anna would stop if I needed her to, that I could take a step back and she wouldn’t be disappointed in me. That session served the purpose of reassuring the fearful part of me but frustrated the part of me that wants to push forward. Anna remained attuned to me the whole time amazingly (I felt so fragmented I couldn’t stay attuned to me… but she managed!). She became moved by a story I told her. I felt my trust deepening. I envy how effortlessly the emotions come and go for her like waves. I want to be like that.

I’m so conflicted. I always feel like I need to do something but I guess when I feel this conflicted the best thing is to just notice. Notice and do nothing. I’m not where I want to be but a few things have changed. I trust Anna more than I’ve ever trusted anyone before and I am prepared to go places inside myself I was never able to even see before. The progress is slow, but it’s still progress.

Vulnerability

I’ve always found it difficult to be my true self with people. Always had so much going on under the surface that no one saw. Old habits die hard.

I don’t know how to be fully authentic and open with Anna. I don’t know how to be completely vulnerable with another person. Especially not a woman. It scares me. I don’t even notice the fear but it’s there all the time, under the surface. Anna asked if I hold it in until I leave the session and I guess I always have done that. Since I was very young – that Perspex bubble around me so that the criticising, blaming, humiliating couldn’t reach me… and if I hide myself then I can’t be hurt when they don’t see me. It was the only thing I could control – that no matter what happened, they didn’t know I was hurting. I didn’t want to give them the power of knowing how I was feeling. Then I can blame myself when no one shows they care, because how were they to know?

I have a very vivid image of this little girl sobbing her heart out, wanting to crawl up onto Anna’s lap and cuddle her. She’s always either crying or hiding. The image has been popping up a lot recently, louder just before sessions. It comes through as a feeling of panic and anxiety. But in the session on Tuesday there was a wall between me and her. That happens a lot. So when Anna was trying to get me to reach inwards I just had nothing. And so Anna fills the gaps with talking and that just makes it even easier for me to hide. I get a lot from what Anna says but I know there’s a part of me that is happy to let her talk more so I can feel less. It keeps me in my head, muffling the feelings. I’m sure it’s a way to protect myself but I want the protecting part of me to fuck off, it’s not helping any more I don’t need to be protected from Anna it’s just stopping me from getting what I need. What am I so afraid of? That I’ll start to cry and wont stop? That I’ll break the dam that holds back the body of water that up until this point has only been seeping in through the cracks… that it will knock me to the ground and I will drown in it all, again, and my life will be annihilated… the life that I have worked so hard to build up. What if I go back to how I was? What if I start crying and never stop?

As soon as I left the session I felt the wave of that little girl’s pain and anguish because once again I’d abandoned her in the session when she can almost taste the comfort and support she’d get if only she could express herself. It starts as soon as I turn the corner onto the street. Then I had nightmares all night and woke up with the panicky, heavy sadness and I have to get the kids ready for school and I have to be mummy and go to work be a wife and happy, laughing, capable Lucy while I carry this intense, unignorable pain around with me.

I’m so angry with myself for not getting my fucking needs met IN THE SESSION! I mean, what the hell!?? It’s burning the back of my throat now and I’m just sitting here next to my husband ‘watching’ tv desperate to just be in the room with Anna. Because even though I feel like I can’t be completely vulnerable with her. At least I can sit in the space of not being able. I don’t have to be anything in that room. Everywhere else I have to be something or someone to somebody. But with Anna I can just be. It is the most vulnerable I have ever been with another person and it’s the most frightening thing ever. And it’s still not enough. I feel like we’re going too fast and too slow all at once. It’s too much and not enough. I want to fill the session with as many words as we can fit into an hour and I also want us both to stay silent and not utter a single word to each other. I wonder what would happen if we just said nothing… would the feelings come then, filling in the vacuum created by no words? Or maybe I would spend the whole time dissociated… just an hour of nothing.