Life in a Bind – BPD and me

Borderline Personality Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and my therapy journey. Listed in Top Ten Resources for BPD in 2016 by goodtherapy.org. I write for welldoing.org under the name Clara Bridges.


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How things have changed

I turned on my laptop this evening to write a post*. I recently upgraded to Windows 10 and so now instead of taking me straight to the log-on screen, it displays a picture (is it a random one, or always the same? I have no idea) with the date and time in big letters.

Saturday, 6 August 2016.

All of a sudden I realised that it was the first time since 2013 that the day had come and (almost) gone, without me really noticing that it was the 6th of August. My therapist has often said that you know when you’re ready to leave therapy, when you no longer notice the holidays. Is it the case that you know when grief is truly done when you no longer notice the anniversaries?

The date is significant to me because it marks the day on which I had my last session with my ex-therapist, Jane. There is a section of this blog dedicated to her ; the first few months of my current therapy and also the first few months of my blogging, were taken up with grieving that ending, which was an enforced one due to the short-term nature of the support service through which I saw her.

I know that this is a relatively ‘minor’ anniversary and a different sort of grief, from losing a close family member, for example. I can fully imagine that those related anniversaries (birthdays, weddings, deaths) are never forgotten; that their character may change over time, but the dates are not just memories, but part of the fabric of life, of growing up maybe. Body memories as much as mind memories. But it was the first grief I had ever allowed myself to feel, and perhaps its intensity and its duration were reflective of it being a mixture of that present pain, and also past losses, not yet grieved.

I dreaded the first anniversary of losing Jane – and though I tried to exercise self-care, I ended up in self-sabotage and with feelings of great sadness and regret, which I was only able to write about some time later. The sadness was also mixed up with feelings of abandonment in relation to my current therapist – it was our first long summer break, and as was often the case in those days, I had expectations of how I wanted her to behave or what I wanted her to say, and when those things did not happen, I felt let down. The sadness of the anniversary was complicated by a resentment that that sadness had not been anticipated, remembered or acknowledged by my therapist (or so it seemed to me at the time).

Last year, on the second anniversary of losing Jane, I wrote about how much better I felt than I had expected. Although I had thought of Jane, my main thoughts were of my therapist, and how much I missed her. It was good to know that things had changed, and that my connection to my therapist was so much stronger. But it was also frightening, because it made me even more conscious of the fact that one day I would be grieving that relationship too, and I could not even begin (or bear) to imagine what that would be like.

This year, the anniversary feels different yet again. For one thing, as I started by saying, I hadn’t even realised it was an anniversary today, though I did think about it and wonder how I would feel, earlier in the week. I’m not sure how I feel about today’s ‘forgetting’ – guilty, I think, and worried. I can’t imagine ever forgetting to mark in some way, the date on which I eventually have my last session with my current therapist.  Though I didn’t notice until now what the date was today, it doesn’t mean I don’t think about Jane – she still comes up in conversation with my therapist, and I do still wonder sometimes whether I might see her around town. On the very rare occasions I find myself near her house, I drive past just to see if the same car is parked there. And the topic of Jane’s notes of our therapy sessions together formed a very significant part of my therapy just before Easter. She will always be important to me, for all the reasons I have previously described – and she gave me the name of my current therapist, for I which I will always be extremely thankful and grateful.

Last year I talked about missing my current therapist – and that is no less true now. Last year I talked about how recollecting my therapist’s words when I was on the phone to a friend, was comforting and helped me to feel that she was ‘real’. This year, it’s not only a case of recollecting her words – memories and thoughts of her are with me all the time, and almost everything reminds me of her in one way or another. The music that I play in the car is music that I’ve shared with her; when I have good times with my children I remember her telling me how important that is for all of us. When I shout at them instead, I remember how she says that it is always possible to mend. When I have distressing arguments with my husband I try and think of what she would suggest I do and say, and try and remember her telling me that not feeling loved is not the same as not being loveable. When I’m around flowers I think of her gardening metaphors and wish that she were around to tell me about them, and identify them for me.

This year I’m managing to hold her much more in mind – where ‘her’ is ‘new mother’, rather than whatever variant of her the different parts of chose to construct at different points in time: uncaring mother, disappointed mother, unthinking mother. Whenever I have felt disconnected and separated from my therapist during previous therapy breaks, it is because who she is became clouded by my past experiences and I no longer saw her clearly. I assumed that she would fit the pattern of my previous experience, rather than fully understanding that she was different, and was trying to offer me a new experience.

Whilst holding her much more in mind, I’m also managing to believe that she is holding me in mind too. I’m pretty confident that my ‘holding in mind’ has a different quality (and frequency!)  to hers; but the security and trust I feel means that I’m not dwelling on that, even though the feelings of ‘exclusion’ and ‘inequality’ still visit sometimes, which I think is usual during a break.  I know that she will think of me, and wonder how I’m doing. And she most certainly thought of me, and how the break would feel, before we parted company for six weeks; and she did as much as she could both to give me more time and sessions leading up to the break, and to give me things to hold onto and suggestions for how to stay connected, during the break. I go to sleep every night holding onto a stone that she lent me (one of a collection of mementos in her therapy room). I know where it came from and what she sees in the patterns on its surface. It connects me to her – and it is also an outward visible sign of that ‘new mother ‘relationship that I’m now trusting in.

It feels right that this anniversary should be marked by the sort of change that Jane would have been glad to see in me. I was never in any doubt that though the circumstances of our ending were difficult, she wanted only the best for me. And she gave it to me – in the form of introducing me to my therapist.

 

[* The post that I was going to try and write was ‘A new experience of mother, Part 3’. I don’t like taking long gaps between posts that are meant to link together and be part of a whole, and it’s a post I still very much want to write. It’s close to my heart, and important, and I want to share what I’ve felt, thought and learned about this subject. But I have had great difficulties with exhaustion over the last few weeks, and this has made it difficult to write in the evenings, and to keep to my usual ‘posting schedule’! So Part 3 will come……eventually. As for tonight, I knew as soon as I saw the date, what I had to write about….]


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The importance of saying goodbye

When I saw this clip, it immediately reminded me of the first person that I lost to death. I was a child and they were a close family member who went through a fairly brief battle with cancer. I wasn’t there at the end and I can’t remember whether it was days or weeks between the last time I saw them, and their death; and yet this was someone who until their hospitalisation, I saw several times a week. There was no goodbye and I was not allowed to go to the funeral. There was also no grieving on my part; the unconscious decision not to, had already been made, and the adults around me were far too preoccupied with their own grief and with seeking reassurance from me, to notice. Though I have no memory of most of my feelings at that time, the way I responded to this clip made me wonder whether deep inside I had wanted a ‘good ending’ and a chance to say goodbye.

By the time the scenario was repeated with a second close family member, my emotional defenses were already in place to absolutely guarantee that the pain would be minimal. I didn’t want to say goodbye or go to the funeral, even though this time I had to. People commented on the fact that I didn’t cry; but at least they weren’t asking me to try and negate their long-held atheism with reassurances of the existence of an after-life. All that I knew was that life after a death was a place of blackness, crying, desolation and lack of joy. There was no celebration of either of those lives, and that made the endings – unresolved as they were – so much worse.

A couple of years ago I read ‘Family’ by Susan Hill. It is a moving account of the author’s struggles to complete her family, following the birth of her first daughter, Jessica, in 1977. A few years later Susan Hill gave birth to a little girl prematurely, and she survived for only five weeks. The account of her brief life, and her death, is heart-breaking; but what struck me most of all was the way in which Jessica was fully involved and had the chance to say a proper goodbye to her sister. Just like her parents did, she held the little girl’s lifeless body in her arms, and gave her a last cuddle.

I know many people might disagree with Susan Hill’s decision, thinking that it would have been too distressing for a young child – my parents certainly would have thought so. When I first read about it I was shocked and surprised – but now I hope I would have had the courage and conviction to do the same, in that situation. Though not yet in double figures in age, Jessica encountered death face to face – and I like to think that she may have grown up into a woman who is less afraid of it as a consequence. A woman with loving memories of someone that she lost, that may bring pain, but also joy at what was gained before it was lost. Of course that’s all speculation; but if it’s true, I also like to think that what made it possible, was the fact that she had a chance to properly say goodbye.

***

Stepping back, after two years, into the counselling service where I used to see Jane (my ex-therapist), felt strange. For the first few months after our therapy ended, even driving past the building was painful. The prospect of entering it again had filled me with apprehension; and before I could do it I had to check with the service manager that Jane had indeed retired, as she had planned, and that the room I would be attending a meeting in was not the one in which I had had sessions. I was afraid of how I might feel if I were to bump into her again; and of what it would be like to sit in that room. If there were a choice of chairs, which would I choose? I couldn’t risk sitting in the ‘patient’s’ position in case it was too triggering; I couldn’t sit in the therapist’s chair as that had been her space. It would have to be another seat – but there was still the worry that even being in the room would be too difficult and too distressing.

Though I felt unsettled, I managed to concentrate during my meeting and the next time I went back it was a little easier. During my most recent visit, I got up the courage to ask the service manager if I could go into ‘Jane’s’ room and take some photographs. For a while I had had a nagging desire to take a picture of the view out of Jane’s window – the view I spent so much time looking at because I found it so difficult to maintain eye contact. I remembered the view well, but was motivated – as was the case with wanting a copy of Jane’s notes of our sessions – by the fear of losing that memory one day. Having a picture of the view felt more important than having a picture of the room itself; perhaps because it was a memory of my vantage point and a direct recollection of my experience, rather than of the context in which it took place. In some ways the view was evocative of the therapeutic relationship itself. I was surprised when the service manager agreed to my request, and that she left me to it, albeit with the door open.

The room was smaller than I remembered, and less bright; though perhaps that was because I was visiting at a different time of day. I sat in ‘my’ chair – it didn’t even occur to me to sit in Jane’s, though when I think about it now, I wonder if perhaps I should have done….I took a picture of the view, which hadn’t changed, and of Jane’s chair and the wall behind it, which had. They seemed more drab and less interesting, somehow; but then again, I’m sure she was the only thing I noticed when she was there, and so they may well have been much the same.

The biggest and most reassuring change in the room, was that Jane wasn’t there. The room was empty; or at least, empty of her. I’m pleased I took the photos; I don’t need them now, but I may be glad of them in the future. And if there’s one thing that consistently drives me, it’s guarding against regret and the fear of mistakes, and at least this way even if I never look at them again, I cannot regret not taking them. But what I’m most glad of is that going into the room showed me the truth of the point my therapist has been trying to make all along – the same point she made in connection with Jane’s notes and that I’m sure she would have made it in connection with taking the photos, had I asked her before I did it. The point being that memories can be enough; that we remember what we need to. That I carry Jane and what she meant to me, with me. That the lived experience of the relationship is not something I can hang onto either via a bland record of it, or a picture of the place in which it unfolded; but that it is something I have internalised.

Going into the room and finding that Jane wasn’t there, and that that felt okay, showed me that my therapist was right. I had what I needed, and it wasn’t in that room.

***

When I spoke to my therapist about this a few days later, I told her it had been a relief to find that the room hadn’t been haunted by Jane. That I hadn’t been haunted by her presence, in it. I think that’s what I had been expecting, and was afraid of.

I realised, quite suddenly, that that fear went back to my first family loss. I remembered how on occasion, my parents and I would stay the night in that family member’s house. How I had to sleep in their room, in their bed, and that I was terrified. On the one hand, there was an irrational fear of ‘contamination’ – that somehow the illness and suffering they had been through, could be catching. By that stage I think I’d already acquired the belief that is still firmly rooted inside me today – that I will go through the same thing myself, at a similar and comparatively young age. And then there was the terror of waking up in the middle of the night and finding their ghost standing at the end of the bed. I was afraid to go to sleep and afraid to lie there in the dark. The whole room felt haunted by their presence, and by sickness and death.

My therapist said that she associated the word ‘haunted’ with an unresolved or somehow negative ending. One definition of the phrase, is ‘to be repeatedly troubled’, and both this meaning and my therapist’s, were certainly true for those early family losses which involved neither grieving nor good-byes.

Although my therapeutic relationship with Jane did not have a chance to run its course – as I saw her through a service that offered only short to medium term support – we had the vitally important chance to prepare for our ending, and to say goodbye. And so though at the time it was heart-breaking, and though it took a full eighteen months before I felt as though I had fully grieved her loss, it turned out to be a ‘good ending’. My only ‘good ending’ – so far.

What this short clip doesn’t show you, is what happened immediately afterwards. Meredith is gripped by anguished tears – presumably, with the realisation of what she unthinkingly denied Amelia. Sometimes, we act without thought; sometimes, with the best of intentions. But I hope, if nothing else, this post can be encouragement to us to try and ensure we do not deny ourselves or others (most commonly, our children), the chance to say goodbye before a loss: whether that be the loss of a loved one to death, the loss of a friend due to a change of school, the loss of a pet, the loss of a house due to a move – even the loss of a therapist. Along with allowing ourselves, or them, to grieve, it gives us all the best chance that we will come to feel it as a ‘good ending’ – even if it feels anything but ‘good’ at the time – and that is a priceless gift.

 


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This thing that I have done – Part 2

[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.”


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This thing that I have done – Part 1

[This is a two-part post – Part 2 will follow next weekend and will speak about how my reasons for ‘This thing that I have done’, have changed.]

I’ve done something. And I was nervous about sharing it with you because I don’t know if it was a bad thing or a good thing or a somewhere-in-between thing to have done. And I wouldn’t want you to think about doing it, before I really know how it turns out.

I went on the internet and typed in “Should I…..[do this thing that I have done]”? Out of fifteen responses to a similar question on a forum, all but one said “No“. Why would you do it? What could you gain? Leave it alone. I haven’t left it alone though I still have opportunity to let it lie. But, hidden underneath my bed, the temptation is stronger than I thought it would be.

A few months ago I approached the service through which I saw my ex-therapist, Jane, to ask them if and when they destroyed ex-client notes. It turns out that they did, and that I had a few months left before Jane’s notes would be gone. A few weeks ago I put in a request for those notes; a few days ago I picked them up. For some reason I had always imagined receiving them in a brown, sealed envelope; one that I didn’t intend to open for a very long time, if at all. Instead, they came in a yellow loose-leaf folder; a quick flick through (frantically trying to avoid reading the contents), showed me that they were longer than I expected. I had imagined a few lines, a short paragraph; little time for Jane to write much more, during the ten minutes following our fifty minute session. I think I was relying on that envelope to be my biggest ally against temptation; the glue reinforcing my willpower a hundred fold. But now my willpower struggles on alone; a tiny, weakling part of me, whose main ally now is the fear of disappointing my therapist and doing something she would disapprove of.

I told my therapist months ago, that I was thinking about asking for Jane’s notes. Though she would never say it directly, I know she thinks this thing I’ve done is not a good idea. I know she doesn’t really understand it, though she really wants to work with me to understand me and why this is important to me. There has been a generational shift – from a time when a therapist’s notes, unlike other medical records, were made for the professional’s eyes only, written with the client in mind, but never as the intended reader; to a time when your records belong to you because they are about you, and you are the ‘owner’ of your data. At the service where I saw Jane, some therapists go through their notes with their clients at the end of treatment; these days some therapists even put their notes and resources on secure websites for their clients to access after every session.

But this isn’t really about a change in culture, it’s about me. It’s about me and trying to figure out why I did what I have done, and what it means. I didn’t ask for Jane’s notes because I am the owner of my data. I didn’t even ask for them so that I could read them; part of me felt very strongly that I shouldn’t read them, at least for many years, and certainly well beyond the end of my current therapy. I asked so that I would have the option of reading them, should I want to in future. I asked so that I could postpone making the decision about whether I should ever read them, rather than having that decision made for me.

My therapist asked me what I would gain by reading the notes. And like the responses on the website that I found, I have to say that in some ways I see far more potential for loss than for gain. I have wonderful, warm memories of Jane and our sessions together, and I can’t see how anything in the notes could add to that. It seems far more likely that they might detract from those memories, and leave me unsettled. What if the notes feel clinical and cold? What if the way she comes across in writing is very different to the way she came across in person? What if I read something I don’t like, either about me or about the way she thought about me? But then I try and remind myself that this is Jane we’re talking about – someone I trusted and someone that I trusted cared about me. Could the notes really contain something that might hurt me, particularly as she knew it was possible for me to have access to them? And why are my reasons for wanting them, so difficult to understand?

***

I want to guard against forgetting. All along, this is what the notes have been about. Right now, I remember Jane: how she looked, how she sounded, some of the things she said. She still feels real, though absent. I have more than just a ‘sense’ of her left; and that is very special. But I’m scared that it won’t always be so – that one day, I won’t be able to recall those things. I’m scared that one day she won’t feel real, or substantial; that all I will have left is a vague memory and a concept that she existed, that we interacted, and that she was important. If that is the shape that my memories of key figures in my childhood have taken, why should the same not happen to my memories of Jane?

My therapist says that we remember who and what is important; and that we never know how and when memories might come back to us. During my very first session with her, when I was in floods of tears over losing Jane, she told me that Jane was still with me; and she makes the same point now. When someone is important, we absorb the relationship into ourselves so that it becomes a part of us. I think she would say that if all we have left is a ‘sense’ of someone, then that is more than we think it is and it is also all that we need.

But still I feel the need to guard against forgetting, and I have a great fear of destroying the notes (or allowing them to be destroyed) and then regretting it. I find it very difficult to live with regret and wrong decisions, and will do anything I can to avoid them. None of this is unique to this situation – it is how I live my life, every day. Worrying about not making notes after sessions, in case I forget; anxious about missing moments and not making memories; scared I will lose the memories I have.

And so I did what many of us do when we want something to remember someone by – I acquired an object that would help to connect me to them. A tangible reminder of Jane, and what she meant. This is really just another way of guarding against forgetting, and trying to keep her real. I asked my therapist why having Jane’s notes was any different to the many objects that she has in her ‘therapy room’ that are clearly important to her, and that remind her of people or of places. She said that the difference was that those things were given and received in the context of a relationship; I think she is saying that although Jane’s notes might be about our relationship, they were not really a part of it, or significant within it.

Neither of these related reasons for wanting the notes, actually require me to read them – at least, not for a long time. Simply having them can provide a sense of connection; and as I haven’t yet forgotten, there is no need to read to remember. In some ways these reasons are motivated primarily by fear: fear of forgetting; fear of regret; fear of the uncertainty of whether I will regret or forget.

I felt so strongly that I should not read the notes; that they would even be an ‘intrusion’ into my current therapy. I worried about the possibility of bringing back intense feelings from the past, and what effect that might have on my current therapeutic relationship, which I very much want to protect. But now I feel just as strongly that I want to read them. And who can tell whether our judgment, if motivated by fear, is any sounder than our judgment in the face of temptation? I don’t know how to tell what the right thing is. All I know, is that this is what my head is telling me: “Everything you want is on the other side of fear”*.

 

*Quote by Jack Canfield

 


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Anniversary

Two years ago, on 6 August 2013 at 6.50pm, I walked out of Jane’s office (my ex-therapist) for the last time. I have included this clip, because this was the song that I played over and over again for several months after that day. It was our ‘break-up song’, if I can call it that. I have written about our brief therapy relationship, what it meant to me and how attached I became to her, in the ‘All about Jane‘ section of my blog. Losing her meant feeling the grief I had never let myself feel over losing anyone before. It was intense, often overwhelming; it took up the majority of my first eight months in therapy with my current therapist, and it wasn’t until eighteen months after that August day, and one year after I knew for certain I would never see her again, that I felt I had actually grieved her loss fully, and had finally accepted it. To realise that was painful, but also comforting at the same time, because it meant that I had grown closer to my current therapist.

The sixth of August 2014 – the first anniversary of that loss – was a very difficulty day for me. I felt let down that my own therapist had not remembered the significance of the date and had not contacted me by email. Although I had tried to exercise ‘self-care’ by watching a film and having a glass of wine, I had ended up giving in to the urge to internet-search and google Jane, and that made me feel incredibly bad about myself, and as if I had betrayed and sullied the memory of our relationship.

And so it was with some trepidation that I was ‘looking forward’ to the second anniversary of that loss, this year. But I am surprised. I am surprised at how much better I feel than I expected. I am surprised that Jane was not the first thing on my mind when I woke up this morning. It didn’t feel like I was grieving anymore. I thought of Jane – but not in a way that caused me pain. I loved her and her smile – I still do. But the only feeling I was conscious of today was missing my current therapist. Wanting to be close to her – to see her again. Wanting to see her smile, and hear her voice. What a difference to last year, when I simply felt betrayed and let down by her. What a difference to when I was still in anguish over the loss of someone I had idealized and still missed dreadfully.

It’s encouraging to realise how much things have changed – to realise how attached I have become to my current ‘therapy’ (as my therapist would say – and I feel like saying: “No! Attached to you! To my therapist! Let’s tell it how it is!“). But at the same time it is scary – progress in general is scary. It would almost feel more comforting if I was in bits about Jane, as I was last year. Or in bits about not having my current therapist around at the moment. I don’t like being okay. Change is difficult to handle – but most difficult to handle is the thought that change means that this current therapeutic relationship, which I am so incredibly attached to, will eventually need to be grieved as well. Maybe not in quite the same way as I grieved Jane – because that relationship ended prematurely, before we were done, before I had made much progress. But it will be grieved nonetheless. And yet…..

I had a lovely phone conversation with one of my best friends yesterday. And part of that conversation involved talking about some of the things my therapist and I had discussed, and the impact it had made. It was part of a wider conversation on the topic of children growing up, and the discussion I had had with my therapist just naturally came to mind. And I thought: is this how it will be, in years to come, when I no longer have her physically with me in session, but I carry her and her words with me, internally? She felt woven into the fabric of my life; it felt natural to recollect her and her words. It felt comforting, and real, and special. That, in itself, was a big surprise, given how difficult it normally is for me to retain a sense of her reality and her presence, particularly during a therapy break.

When I thought about it later, it felt wonderful – but frightening at the same time. I’m not ready to say goodbye. I know it will be a long time yet before I do. But I am so so not ready to say goodbye. SO not ready, that I am crying as I write these words. Even to glimpse that goodbye, from a distance, and to acknowledge its inevitable reality, is painful. But there is hope in knowing that her presence can still feel wonderful in her absence.

Because one day, these will be her anniversaries that I will be writing about – and I need to know that I won’t feel cold and alone, but warm and in her company. That one day we will reach a point where she can never really leave, and I can never really be left.

But not yet. Not yet.


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Have you googled your therapist?

My husband was away today and I spent a lovely sunny day out with the kids, exploring fields and paths, playgrounds and pubs we weren’t familiar with; taking in the scenery and people watching. I drove nine miles from our house so that we could spend five hours doing all of this within a mile (or less) of my therapist’s house. On the way there I tried to navigate a slightly circuitous route, map on lap, that took me past Jane’s (my ex-therapist’s) house – both on the way there and on the way back.

I’m not proud of either action, though to be fair (and partly by way of an excuse), I love the part of the city near my therapist’s house – it’s one of the ‘gut-instinct’ reasons it ‘felt right’ when I had to choose a therapist when my sessions with Jane were ending. It’s the sort of area I would love to live in and so spending time there, with the added bonus of activities for the kids, would be a pleasure whether or not my therapist lived nearby. But I would be lying if I said that feeling physically closer to her wasn’t a factor.

As for driving past Jane’s house – it’s been a very long time since I last did that, and I’m somewhat surprised that I did it today. Particularly given the fact that as described in ‘Progress can be painful’, I have finally accepted that, important though she is to me, she is a part of my past, and though I certainly miss her, I don’t think I’m grieving her in the same way. But as I drove past her house and saw the same car in the driveway, I felt some reassurance and relief, and I realised that I am still worried about her health (which was one reason she decided to retire and could not take me on as a private patient). Although logically the presence of her car means absolutely nothing at all, it felt as though it was some sort of indication that she was still okay.

A few months ago, ‘Sunny Spells and Scattered Showers‘ wrote a wonderful post about searching for her therapist on Facebook. I was struck not just by how much I related to how she felt and acted, but also by her honesty and courage in writing about it so openly. It challenged me to write about my own experiences in this area, and to be honest about events I had not yet dared write about.

Judging by what I have read on other blogs, trying to find out about one’s therapist (most often online), is not unusual. Technology, search engines and social media make this so much easier than it has ever been before, and it must be an extremely rare therapist these days who has virtually no online presence at all. I suspect too, that it is extremely rare for a therapist not to realise or perhaps even to expect, that many of their clients will behave in this way. I think it’s important to remember that the online searching is not just about information: it’s about trying to become closer and feeling connected; and keeping the therapist ‘real’ in between sessions. That’s why the ‘searching’ does not just happen online – behaviour can extend to walking or driving past the therapist’s house, or waiting around places where he or she is expected to be, for example. The client may even dread what they could see or find out, or they may dread being seen; but the feeling of greater physical proximity may over-ride that dread.

Leaving my children out of the equation (because to try and put them on one side or the other would make me feel like an even worse parent than I already do) –  my therapist is the most interesting person in the world to me, and I have a very strong desire to know more about her. ‘Sunny Spells and Scattered Showers‘ called this a ‘craving’ and sometimes, that is exactly how it feels. Most of the time I can control the craving – if I want to know something and if I decide I dare to ask, I do so in session, fully expecting (though at the same time dreading) not receiving an answer. But occasionally that craving takes hold and I feel I’m in the grip of an urge too powerful to withstand. That has happened a couple of times in my current therapy, and both times I ‘confessed’ and we had a very helpful discussion about my ‘googling’ activities. My therapist took it remarkably well – if she was perturbed, she didn’t show it. If anything, she seemed completely un-phased by it – for which I am extremely grateful, as my behaviour carries with it both feelings of great shame, and great fear that she will want to leave, or at least withdraw and close herself off from me. Today was the second time I found myself on a walk near her house – when I told her about the first time, she commented not on how close I’d come, but on how I’d stayed away. I was within sight of her house – but turned and went back. In her words, I didn’t ‘close the gap’ – and perhaps tolerating that distance was more significant than trying to narrow it a little in the first place.

I am grateful for my therapist’s approach to this issue – and for the fact that I can bring these occurrences to session, and deal both with the feelings that lead to them, and the feelings of fear and shame that result. But there are some situations that can’t be resolved in that way. I wish I could say that the story of my therapy relationship with Jane ended with the ‘love letter’ I wrote to her in June last year, and with that recent realisation of the gradual passing of my grief. But it didn’t – in between those two events is a story about which I still feel great regret, and which I fervently wish I could change. That story took place on the first anniversary of our last session together, a day I knew I would find immensely difficult, but wanted to use to ‘honour’ her and the work we’d done together.

However, far from honouring either her or our work, I found myself caught inside an intense desire to find out more about her (triggered by accidentally finding out more than I had before, when I googled her to simply get that sense of her existence and reality that seeing her name ‘in print’ had so often brought me, when I was grieving her). I succeeded in finding a few additional details, but it didn’t stop there – I actually paid money to a well-known and widely-used directory enquiries website to receive a brief report compiled from ‘public information’ (e.g. company director listings and census data) which listed individuals of the same name, and current and previous addresses. To cut a long and rather distressing story short, I thought I’d discovered a couple of things which didn’t fit with the picture of Jane I had created in my mind, one of which I soon realised was an error, the other of which I still find hard to believe. I remember rocking backwards and forwards, repeating the phrase ‘I don’t understand’ to myself – it was a fairly minor fact about her professional life, but it felt as though my world had been turned upside down.

But even worse than the ripples in the picture I had formed of Jane, were the feelings of guilt and betrayal that I felt. I hated myself for letting her down; for acting in a way that I was sure she would not approve of, and that I was sure would have disappointed her; for invading her privacy in way that I found abhorrent, despite the fact that the information was essentially publicly available. I was deeply ashamed for what I saw as my betrayal, and deeply upset about the way in which I saw this as ‘sullying’ what I had previously seen as a very honest and trusting (and yes, perhaps a little perfect) relationship.  Looking back, I find it hard to ‘let myself off the hook’ and to have sympathy for how I felt. My situation was entirely of my own making – if I didn’t like what I had found, I had only myself to blame. And yet, I have a sincere sympathy for others who are going through the same thing. I know how hard it is to have that intense desire to know more, and to feel so very bad for having it and for acting upon it.

It occurs to me that this post is a logical follow-up to my recent post on how it feels to be excluded from your therapist’s life. Although separate issues, I think that the sense of exclusion and the harsh reality of the boundaries of therapy, can certainly fuel the desire to know more and the need to draw closer. If there’s one thing I hope to achieve by writing these posts, it is to try and encourage others to talk to their therapists about these feelings – however painful they may be and however much shame and embarrassment may be involved. When it comes to those feelings, I think that our fear of retribution and rejection leads us to greatly underestimate out therapists’ capacity for understanding and acceptance; and our twisted desire for uniqueness (I am uniquely ‘bad’ in my feelings or behaviour) leads us to think that we are our therapist’s ‘worst’ client, and least deserving of his or her love.

Whereas in fact what I’m coming to realise through exploring these issues in therapy, is that my therapist’s caring is neither conditional on me being able to please her by knowing more about her and what she likes; nor limited by her need to maintain boundaries and the restricted nature of our contact. This is progress painfully won, but I humbly submit that it is worth it. And I would suggest that the true value in trying to find out more about our therapists’ lives lies not so much in what we discover about them, but in what we discover about ourselves, and about our relationship with them, and theirs with us.


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Progress can be painful

Jane 2Two weeks ago my therapist suggested that one of the reasons why I may be finding things so difficult at the moment, particularly with regard to the therapy break over Easter, is that it is ‘that time of year’. When I asked what she meant, she said that it was at this time last year that I had been waiting to find out whether I would be able to go back into therapy with Jane, my ex-therapist, after a break of a few months. It was also the time when I found out that Jane was considering retiring, and would no longer be taking on any more patients.

I paused for thought – it would certainly at least partly explain why I had been so pre-occupied by thoughts of what it would take to ‘push my therapist away’, and by worries about our therapy having to end prematurely if, like Jane, her health began to suffer, or  she decided to retire. However, I hadn’t made the association with how I had felt this time last year, or indeed any association with Jane at all. What I did notice, when I started to think about it, was that for the first time it felt as though Jane was part of my past, rather than my present. The thought felt interesting, but also disturbing, and so I pushed it to one side. Jane had been so much at the centre of my thoughts and feelings over the last couple of years, even in her absence, that any shift in her position felt strange and uncomfortable.

Although Jane and I only had fifteen sessions together, I formed such an immense attachment to her and idealised her so completely, that losing her was devastating. I spent much of my first eight months with my current therapist in tears over this loss, but with the ever-present prospect and hope that I would return to therapy with Jane. I have experienced bereavement but I have never properly grieved – yet this felt like a powerful grief that took months to loosen its hold. Even up to a few months ago, I would be regularly overwhelmed, out of the blue, by sadness, loss and longing for her. I persisted adamantly in my view of her as perfect in every way – the perfect therapist, the perfect human being.

Although at various points I felt I had made a commitment to my current therapist, she was still very much ‘in the shadow’ of Jane. I constantly compared her and her words and actions, with Jane’s. Before Christmas, when my therapist made some reference to the fact that I had difficulty ‘letting go’, I was shocked and said that I had committed to therapy with her. Yet my unthinking Freudian slip when I answered her, said it all. ‘I’ve committed to this therapy – I have no choice’. Which of course begs the question – but what if I had a choice? Or rather, what if I had the only choice I was really interested in having, the option of returning to therapy with Jane?

Even at Christmas, despite the fact there had been some momentous and intimate moments in my current therapy, and I felt my therapist and I had made great progress in building a more trusting relationship; when I thought about what I would do if I had that choice, the answer was unclear. I didn’t know what I would do – the draw to return to Jane if the option were open, was still very strong indeed. I very much suspected that if I had the opportunity, it would be almost impossible to resist. Although I found it disturbing to think that I couldn’t yet say that I was invested completely in my current therapy, I also found the thought of completely letting go of Jane, just as disturbing.

Which is why last weekend was a mixed-up, bitter-sweet, wonderfully healing and also painful time. Thinking about the fact we only had two sessions left before the break, I turned again to my therapist’s suggestion that part of the background to my feelings of distress, are my memories and experiences of last year’s ending with Jane. I asked myself again the question – what would I do if I had a choice? What would I do if Jane contacted me to say that she was not retiring – that we could resume therapy together again? What would I do if the one thing I’d been wanting for so long, was actually offered to me now?

I would say no.

I’m not sure when and how the change happened, but at that moment I realised that I could now answer that question unequivocally and without hesitation. I would not choose to return into therapy with Jane. It was a massive shock. On the one hand it was incredibly welcome for the sense of relief in not feeling conflicted; the sense of security and safety and ‘rightness’ that I’d come to feel about my current therapy. But on the other hand it was very upsetting because it signified a letting go of the kind that I hadn’t done before, and that a year ago would have seemed completely impossible.

It’s not that I don’t want to see Jane again; she meant to much to me, and still does. I still find it incredibly difficult to get my head around the fact that despite living in the same city, I will almost certainly never set eyes on her again. That thought is as hard for me to comprehend as it is to try and imagine infinity. I would love to see her again – I still long for it. I would love to talk to her, to hear her voice, to see her smile. I have no photos of her, and am worried that soon I won’t be able to remember what she looked like, or how she sounded. I want to see her again. It hurts that I can’t.

But I don’t need to be in therapy with her. I have everything I need in my current therapy. It’s not always what I want, but that’s okay – questioning what I want, and why, is part of the process. I wouldn’t want to replace my current therapist with anyone – not even with Jane.

I cried tears of happiness and of sadness combined. It felt like an arriving home and a leaving behind. It was the day I suddenly realised that things were no longer all about Jane.