[This is the second of a two-part post – Part 1 can be found here, and describes this thing that I have done, and my original reasons for doing so].
My therapist questioned me – wanting to knowing more, wanting me to understand more about why it was so important to me to get a copy of Jane (my ex-therapist’s) notes. And the more I thought about it, the more my reasons for asking for Jane’s notes seemed to be multi-layered, and more numerous than I had imaged. Months ago, I had only been aware of two; now, a number of other possibilities come to mind. The reasons that were most important to me then, are not the ones that are uppermost in my mind now. Perhaps because the reasons then, were concerned with preserving something; and now that it is ‘preserved’, it is more about discovering something.
The reasons that felt most powerful before, are very different to the ones that speak to me now that the notes are in my possession. But the latest ones are all linked, too. And, as before, they are reflected in more areas of my life than just my relationship with Jane. My therapist feels that all of this chimes with everything that’s been in the air between us over the last few months – issues of control, of fighting boundaries, and of pushing for reassurance.
It’s certainly true that I want to give myself time to decide what to do with the notes. I don’t want them to be destroyed by someone else, on someone else’s schedule. And so yes – I think it is important to me that I have control over this particular ending. I had no control over how or when things ended with Jane – neither when I left the service through which I saw her, nor when she decided to retire. If allowing myself to ‘grieve her’ was part of trying to have a ‘proper ending’, then perhaps so is this. It feels as though the notes would be far less important if our therapeutic relationship had been able to run its course. And maybe this is reminiscent of other relationships that haven’t run their course; other endings over which I had no control.
Now that I have the notes, this all feels more as though it is about me, than it is about Jane. It feels more about keeping me real, than keeping her real. The need for validation is a strong motivator – possibly the strongest motivator present right now. All those thoughts I still have about ‘making this up’, ‘being a fraud’, ‘bringing it upon myself’, ‘being overly dramatic’, ‘being attention seeking’- perhaps I can banish them by reading the notes. Perhaps then I will finally know that what is going on for me is real. Not just now, but for always. Because just as I am afraid that my memories of Jane will become insubstantial, I’m also afraid that my memories of what I am going through, will feel unreal in ten or twenty years’ time. It feels as though I need to read Jane’s notes to validate my experience; to make it count, now and in the future.
But this is also a chance not just for validation, but to really see myself through someone else’s eyes. Moreover, the eyes of someone who really ‘saw’ me, understood me, and accepted me. What would that be like? In some ways, it won’t be the same as having that knowledge communicated through relationship; in other ways, I feel as though it could be a more direct communication. Jane’s words, about Jane’s observations, about me. It feels irresistible – utterly so. As I was rapidly flicking through the pages before I reluctantly put the notes away, I caught sight of the odd word and sentence, though I was trying hard not to actually read them. I spotted the words ‘very low’ and ‘suicidal’. And that reminded me that the last time my therapist and I talked about suicide, she asked whether I felt that I was taken seriously, and I said ‘no’. I meant to come back to it – I had wanted to since the Christmas break – but something else took over, and the matter still doesn’t feel resolved. I find it hard even to take my own suicidal ideation seriously; the critical voice in my head tells me that if I was really suicidal, I would try to do something about it. But what if Jane’s notes show that she took it seriously? How would that feel? I want to know how it feels.
After I flicked quickly through the notes I turned to the last page – our ending. I tried not to read it, but the signature and the date at the bottom of the page caught my eye, as did Jane’s last sentence: “I thanked her for her card and her thoughtfulness”. If I read nothing else, that one sentence will have made the whole experience worthwhile. When I try to think of positive things that I heard about myself growing up, they mainly centre around intellectual capability and my figure (not looks in general, but specifically the shape of my body). There may well have been other positive adjectives sent my way, but what I tend to remember are things like: ‘following others like a sheep’; ‘being thoughtless’; ‘thinking only of myself’; ‘being hard and cold’. I know that some of those ‘accusations’ came because of the way I refused to show emotion to my parents and acted in a way that protected myself from their intrusion, and in that sense they feel ‘justified’. But I wish so much that I had a bank of memories and words that painted me in a different light, and one that I would rather be seen in. I can’t say a ‘truer’ light – because it feels as though the truth of it depends on someone else seeing it. That is why it feels so important to grab this opportunity to see myself through Jane’s eyes – what other sentences could be found in those notes, to give me a better sense of who I am?
But if this is a unique opportunity to see myself through Jane’s eyes, it is also a unique opportunity to see behind her own. I don’t expect the notes to tell me much about her as a person – but they may give me a window into her thoughts during our sessions. Is this not the fantasy of many a therapy client? Sometimes, when silences go on a little too long, and I am lost inside the thoughts inside my head, my therapist asks me ‘What are you thinking?’. Sometimes, I am brave enough to ask that question of her. Sometimes, she answers it. Often, she smiles; and the thoughts that I saw pass behind the smile are left unspoken, and I am left to wonder. I never knew Jane long enough to feel that I could ask her what she was thinking; or even to think of asking her what she was thinking. But perhaps the notes would give me a glimpse of a tiny minority of those thoughts.
I suspect this is what my therapist meant by saying that this chimes with what has been in the air between us. The frustration of not knowing; of not touching; of feeling excluded; of feeling distant; of not being directly reassured. The frustration of boundaries and of things that I can never have. This comes up so often in my therapy that I am afraid that you, and I – and possibly she – might become rather bored of it soon. Bored and frustrated; but this is all clearly not resolved. Clearly this keeps coming round and around because it will take time and effort, and more time and more effort, to resolve.
My therapist once wrote in an email that when it comes to therapy, ‘there are no shortcuts’. Although I no longer fear the contents of Jane’s notes in the way that I did before, I am afraid that by reading them, I would be attempting to take some sort of a shortcut. I am afraid that it might somehow be undermining to my current therapy. And I don’t want to miss the opportunity to grow, or to learn a vital lesson. Given the innumerable helpful and wonderful conversations I have had with my therapist both in person and over email, I worry about why I should imagine that Jane’s words will have a particular power to validate and affirm? Perhaps the answer is that my relationship with Jane is frozen in time – and aspects of it, at least, are impervious to change. Her opinion of me is fixed – and therefore her potential validation of me, is ongoing. Though there are many occasions on which I feel powerfully validated and cared for by my therapist, my fear of having an impact upon her and on her caring, and changing it by something I do, is always there in the background.
My therapist questioned me – but what am I to do? Where will this new understanding, lead me? I want to end by copying here a comment on Part 1 of this post by ‘Reflections of a Mindful Heart and Soul‘ that I was very moved and grateful to receive. The comment struck me for several reasons: because of its thoughtfulness, its wisdom, its experience, and because it contained so many of the points that I had written about (here, in Part 2) but had not yet published. She had seen more reasons for this thing that I have done, than I had ‘spoken’ about – she had even seen more than I had thought about.
It is almost Easter – and Easter is an important anniversary for me. It is the time when Jane told me that she would be retiring and so the hope that I had been clinging on to, that I would return to therapy with her, became an impossibility. That was the ‘final’ ending, even though I had stopped seeing her six months previously. Easter last year was also the time when I realised, for the first time, that grieving had turned to acceptance, and that even if it were possible to return to therapy with Jane, I would say not do so. Anniversaries can have a powerful impact upon us, even if we are not consciously aware of them, and the comment by ‘Reflections of a Mindful Heart and Soul‘, reminded me of that. A number of you have told me that you are considering doing something similar to this thing that I have done; this comment has given me pause for thought, and I hope it is helpful for you too – I hope its author does not mind me sharing it here:
“I think people are triggered by anniversaries. Connections are important for all of us. It may be the fear of being abandoned, left, or forgotten, is still a part of you wanting to hold on to, instead of learning to let go. Sometimes it entails wanting what we can’t have, and sometimes it’s about trying to fix things you wanted to end differently.
What is true, whether we like it or not, is relationships change. Who we are, and who we are becoming, changes. What is important is discovering why you now have a dialectical dilemma and how are you going to effectively deal with it. Even more important is asking yourself why it is happening now, what do I want to be the outcome, and is that realistic or more hurtful in the end? Perhaps another question may be: Am I fighting acceptance of what is? If the search is to find out whether or not you were special, what was real or not in the therapeutic relationship, the notes may not tell you that. Notes and what is put down is different for everyone. Mostly they reflect diagnoses, a treatment plan, a list of goals and objectives, and whether or not they are being met or what obstacles are getting in the way of progress and how to address them and help you effectively cope with them. You risk disappointment, misunderstandings, and it may create more problems than solving them. Jane will not be able, probably, to explain, interpret what you find. That would leave you in another dilemma. If you had a good relationship, remember the good memories. When it is all said and done, what we truly remember years later is the essence of someone and that is what matters. When you are old, good memories do come back on their own when you least expect them too. The task at hand is learning acceptance, not fighting it, and learning to let go of what was and cherish that as well as moving into the present, day by day and to keep learning and growing. It is never easy. Nature teaches us this is the pattern- the seasons come and they go. That doesn’t mean there has to be forgetting. It just means there is only so much we can deal with effectively in the present or enjoy.”
March 21, 2016 at 12:39 am
In your writings, there is a recurrent pattern of ideas, emotions, ways of interacting with people you want to be close to. It may have benefit to ask this question: Has my action helped me focus on the task at hand which is to learn to accept reality for what it is, or is it distracting me from the work I need to be focusing on with my current therapist? This action, getting and dealing with the notes, seems to be taking your focus away from the true issue you really are grappling with. Sometimes when the situation becomes unbearable or we have to learn acceptance about boundaries, the reality of relationships, we do things to avoid or distract.
The real truth in life is there are going to be certain kinds of boundaries with whom ever we come in contact with, whether we like it or not. We will always want the things we think will magically fix everything. We will always want to make it happen. The reality is: we are too close to see clearly what is or isn’t good for us. We often fail to see that forcing things often makes it worse for both people involved. The saddest reality of all is learning that the child that didn’t get what she needed and wanted has to respect the limits of time and space and learn to nurture that child herself, because no one else can realistically do it because of the limits of space and time. This is part of what acceptance is all about. The reality is, we are an adult whether we want to accept it or not. It may not be fair, it may not be what we want, but because of time and space, it just is. Nature teaches us we grow, we change, we lose things, and we and time move on. This is one of the hardest things in life to accept and it’s painful. I’m still learning it.
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March 25, 2016 at 9:13 pm
Thank you SO much for another wonderful, considered, and amazingly insightful comment which has cleared helped not just me, but others reading this post and comments as well. As before, I am incredibly grateful to you for taking the time to read and to give me your thoughts in so much detail. And particularly for asking the questions that you are asking – very important questions.In relation to your first paragraph, my therapist implied something similar, I think – she implied it came up a little out of the blue, just as the issue of ‘touch in therapy’ sometimes does. Sometimes it feels as though it intrudes into other things, or disrupts the flow. She also implied that she thought perhaps I wanted the notes to have something or someone to hold onto during the therapy break – inevitably, I resented the implication that I was seeking to replace her during the break, and at least partly to prove that point, asked her to onto them for me! This wasn’t about replacing her – in fact it was almost the opposite, it was partly about seeking connection with her. Although I have written a two-part post about the notes, I am still thinking it all through and the post could easily be a three or four parter as I have realised there was so many more aspects to this, including the ones you describe here. And a major part of it all, as you point out, is a repeated pattern of behaviours of different kinds…..
In terms of your second paragraph – painful to read (I suspect it was this paragraph that moved other readers to tears!) but full of wisdom. With regard to accepting the limits of time and space, it is a subject I have been wanting to write about for a while, ever since, months ago, my therapist and I were discussing why therapy cannot simply ‘replace’ what was lost, and why she cannot simply respond to me as the child might want her to – as you point out, the reality is that I am an adult and in a fundamentally different state to the one I was in as a child. This particular ‘boundary’ is not therapy’s fault – as you say, it is a essentially a limit of time and space, we cannot go back in quite the way we would like to, and the ‘going back’ that is offered, is of a different kind to the one we sometimes feel we need and want.
Your comments on these posts have been really valuable – and clearly demonstrate there is a lot still for me to learn – and there is something about this whole situation with the notes, that can help to teach me. I’m not rushing into anything – your comments have definitely give me pause for thought, perhaps a very long pause! I have to be honest and say I don’t think I have made a decision yet, about what do to, but I know I need to take my time, and think things through and understand what all this means. Wonderfully, in the run-up to the Easter therapy break, the whole subject of the notes did actually provide an amazing opportunity for connection with my therapist – things went from the notes being something I felt we were ‘in dispute’ about, to something that created the context for an intimate and connecting experience that not only made me really happy in the days surrounding it, but is helping me to ‘survive’ the therapy break in a positive way. I am hoping to write about it soon! Thank you again for everything you have written over the last couple of weeks and please know that I appreciate the concern and care that this shows. Take care….
March 21, 2016 at 7:43 am
This comment made me cry. Excellent article & i always learn from your thoughtful reflections life in a bind. Thank you for sharing this process.
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March 25, 2016 at 8:16 pm
Thank you so much for your lovely comment and support and I’m very very glad that what I write is helpful. All of our therapy journeys are completely individual and unique, but I have often found that others’ writing and reflections spark my own, and it’s lovely to be able to do the same. Thank you for reading and commenting!
March 21, 2016 at 12:12 pm
This post made me open my own eyes and accept that I am clinging onto my “magical” thinking about having a “friendship” with my therapist when we are done my therapy. My adult, intellectual side KNOWS that this will never happen and gets very frustrated with how the child part steadfastly clings to this fantasy and literally holds her breath and plants her heals to keep this soothing imaginary friendship.
I have not seen my therapist for 2 months now because she was away on vacation only to come back to a family tragedy. I have no idea when I will see her again but these past months have been very painful for me because I am only a client and not a friend, I can only do what a client can do and nothing more. I want to go and hug her and help her through this horrible time, be supportive to her and just be available for anything she needs. But I am barred from doing any of this because I am just a client. I sent a card to her home as soon as I heard the news but I feel so handcuffed and frustrated by the restraints of the relationship!!
Anyway, I feel for her and am having a very hard time no thinking about her and I am stalled in my therapy with her replacement.
I know that at some point I will give up to notion that we will ever be friends but for now it gives me some peace to dream about it.
Thank you for this interesting post.
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March 25, 2016 at 8:37 pm
Thank you so much for your comment and for sharing what has been happening – this sounds really really hard, two months is a long time, albeit the gap was unavoidable. I can SO empathise with all your feelings on this, having felt similarly when I have been aware of a difficult situation in my therapist’s life, and also thinking ahead, more seriously, to how I might feel if it were ever the case that she was seriously ill herself, for example. I know that we will never have friendship in the ordinary sense of the word – I _do_ hold on to the hope, though, that we will always be in touch, though I don’t really know what that would involve. For example, if I send her a card, will she reply? I think I’m also holding onto hope that I might still see her occasionally, after our therapy has ended – but again, I don’t really know what this would involve or whether it is a completely unrealistic fantasy…..
When I have these thoughts about being a client and not a friend, if I am able to I try and remind myself of something she told me once, which is that she doesn’t even see her best friends, for two hours a week (and these days I see her for three hours a week!). That is, I try and remind myself of what a client has, rather than doesn’t have. (For the benefit of readers, including my therapist (!), I should like to say that I fully acknowledge I am pretty terrible at this and this is a bit more of a case of ‘do as I say and not as I do’!). But I _do_ sometimes manage to try – and sometimes I even manage to accomplish it 🙂 ) Another thing my therapist has pointed out, is that she can never be a therapist to her own children (a comment made in the context of my own painful feelings over not being a part of her family). Our therapists may have a special kind of access to us – and we cannot have exactly this kind of access to them; but on the other hand, we also get to experience an aspect of them that they can only show to us, and not to others. I know this doesn’t feel like ‘recompense’ for everything we feel we miss out on, but I hope it helps to take a little bit of the sting out of it, until acceptance (which I’m assuming is the ultimate aim!) is possible….Take care….
March 26, 2016 at 1:11 am
Yes…it does sting but knowing there are others (like yourself) who have fantasies of closer relationships with their therapists…the sting is lessened.
In reality life stings alot and we must at some point accept it and hope it makes us stronger.
Thank you for the blogging.
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March 21, 2016 at 12:27 pm
I second what “pink” says 🙂
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March 25, 2016 at 8:16 pm
Thank you – I really appreciate your saying so, and your support in reading and commenting on my posts 🙂
March 24, 2016 at 12:23 am
I love your blog.
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March 25, 2016 at 8:12 pm
Thank you – it means A LOT to have comments like this 🙂 Keep in touch!
March 25, 2016 at 8:20 pm
You’re welcome. You should check out my blog.
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March 26, 2016 at 7:58 pm
This evening I’m going to post a piece that touches on our need to allow our memories to fade, without which it would be impossible to attend adequately to the present. A coincidence not triggered by you, but pertinent to what you’ve written here. There are so many sides to the issues you raise. Another is mortality — trying to control life and prevent our oblivion — the terrible impermanence of everything, sometimes symbolically fought against by those of us who collect things (or perhaps therapist notes?).
Most of us prefer “closure,” especially if a relationship ended by someone else’s agency when we had hoped it might continue. The best we can do, I think, is to come to an acceptance of the nature of things, including all the events outside of our control that we may never allow us to achieve the kind of closure we’d hoped for. Letting go has become a cliche, but one must be sure not to repetitively reexamine the past to the point of allowing the present to slip away. You are the only person who can determine when reviewing the past has passed the “use by” date. Is your pursuit of validation from Jane’s words an attempt to obtain the thing that was not available from your parents, but perhaps was provided by someone who was present at a time when she saw some of the things in you which your parents did or didn’t see?
Those of us who read you regularly benefit enormously by your frankness, and the richness and range of your thought and emotion. Thank you.
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