Tag Archives: mental health
Sitting to feel safe
*TRIGGER WARNING – SUICIDAL IDEATION*
I’ve sat pretty motionless for the past hour and a half, because if I don’t move, even if I’m not doing something to actively try and distract from these thoughts, at least I’m not doing anything to act on them either.
I can still move my fingertips on the keyboard, as I’m doing now. Twenty minutes ago I typed in the Samaritans’ email address in an open window in my Gmail account, but I haven’t typed anything else in it yet. I got distracted by opening up a private browser window and looking up more information on a particular way to die. As with most ways to die, there appeared to be numerous downsides. And then I came across this:
It is an incredibly poignant article by the late Sally Brampton, who tragically took her own life a few months ago. It is moving, funny, and brutally honest.
I wish I had a suicidal soulmate, like Sally did. Yet somehow I can’t bear the thought of ‘inflicting’ my suicidal ideation on friends, even on those who might on some level be able to relate to how I’m feeling. I don’t want to burden anyone with my thoughts, or cause them to feel as though they are somehow responsible for my safety. I don’t want to talk to anyone; but at the same my inner critic is busy invalidating me and telling me I have no right to share this with anyone. It tells me I have no right to take my feelings seriously; that if they were serious I would have made an attempt on my life already. That if they were serious then my ‘mood states’ would last longer, rather than often being intense but fairly fleeting. I know my inner critic is a liar. I believe my inner critic.
In her article, Sally wrote that when you are in the midst of depression, “the senseless makes sense”. I don’t know whether or not it’s a consequence of neuroplasticity, but I can certainly attest to the fact that over time and given prolonged suicidal ideation, the concept of suicide acquires its own twisted type of logic. I recognise that it is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, and I recognise the devastation it can leave in its wake. But it’s still as if the phrase ‘suicide is logical’ has been rewired into a tautology in my brain. Most of the time I can hold it alongside the concept ‘suicide is not a good solution’. But sometimes I really struggle with that. Like tonight.
I felt such a strange mixture of shock, sadness and relief, when I read how in her darkest times, Sally began to imagine dying together with her daughter, who also suffered from depression; lying side by side, holding hands, and drifting off into an endless sleep. A couple of years ago in one of my own lowest patches, I half-jokingly half-seriously suggested to a close childhood friend of mine who also suffers from depression, that we usher in our next decade together in a similar fashion; holding hands while drifting off into a place of no pain. She called me ‘sick’ and hasn’t spoken to me since. I told another good friend what had happened and she discouraged me from writing about it, saying it wasn’t really one of my better moments. It wasn’t, and I was ashamed of it. But I think I’d always been hoping that behind the ‘sick suggestion’, my friend would be able to see the fact that I loved her, and if there was anyone I wanted to share the terror and intimacy of death with, it was her. She didn’t see it – she didn’t see the strange sort of logic that suicidal ideation sometimes constructs. Thank you Sally for helping me feel a little less ashamed of the fact that sometimes the senseless makes sense to me.
And yet I’m lucky, very lucky. Lucky because I’m able to root myself to the spot and somehow convince myself to ride it out while letting my fingers do the job of trying to bring me back into safety. Lucky because at this juncture in time, this moment is a moment; intense and almost unbearable, but likely to pass relatively quickly. I am not in the midst of a prolonged period of depression; and even when I am, unlike Sally’s months and years of hell, my worst periods tend to last three or four weeks at a time.
It’s been almost two and a half hours now, of sitting in one spot, waiting to feel safer. I feel a bit safer. Maybe safe enough to risk moving. My inner critic berates me for wasting hours doing nothing. Previously, not making an attempt on my life was evidence of a lack of seriousness; now it’s evidence of a lack of productivity. Another bizarre sort of logic.
At the end of her article, Sally wrote: “So, and I say this with all my heart, hold onto hope, because if we keep it grasped tight, then summer will surely come”. I’d be lying if I said I was trying to hope for summer. Right now I’d like to be able to hope for a crisp, sunny, sparkling day in winter. Right now, that will be more than enough.
My ordinary day
My therapist has always encouraged me to find the extraordinary in the ordinary. When I used to crave intensity or powerful therapeutic revelations, or emotional climaxes, she tried to point me in the direction of the beauty of the every-day, ever gentle in her encouragement to try open my arms to happiness and joy from where it could more easily be found, if I could perceive it and then receive it.
Today was an ordinary day, but it was lovely to remember my therapist as I sat in church listening to a sermon on the powerful words of the 19th century American poet Emily Dickinson, who was preoccupied, we were told, by finding the extraordinary within the ordinary. You could say she was driven to it – for much of her life she suffered from agoraphobia and was completely house-bound.
Today was an ordinary day, but I discovered a poet I didn’t really know, and a poem I don’t yet understand but really love. I had time and space for myself, for beautiful music, and for moving words.
Today was an ordinary day but I spent a part of it with my children doing something we hadn’t done before – attending a show in which we and the other families got to draw on a massive sheet of paper stuck to the auditorium floor. We drew as a story was told to us through words and dance, our illustrations bringing it to life. My children were a bit puzzled about why we were there – we don’t often go to shows, particularly not ‘participatory’ ones like this. I explained that it would be a nice ‘family thing’ to do. They liked that idea, and repeated it. My youngest said: “ah, family….I wish we could all draw naked….“?! I have no idea what was going through his extraordinary young mind, but it was a lovely, funny, moment to treasure – somehow, it was just so ….him.
Today was an ordinary day but at the theatre, during the show, I was reminded of my ability to still be childlike and to get carried away by performance, storytelling and simple creative expression. I was grateful for my ability to feel, uncomplicatedly but deeply; my inner child and adult experiencing the moment side by side, rather than trying to negate each other. A juxtaposition that added meaning to ‘both of us’.
Emily Dickinson often used juxtaposition – the better to draw out the extraordinary from within the ordinary. The light which oppresses, which should be heavenly but hurts, which leaves no visible mark, but shakes up our internal world of meaning. I read an article recently that said that as we get older we also become happier, even though that happiness is tinged much more with nostalgia and the anticipation of loss, than in our younger years.
This post is a ramble through my day – an ordinary day, but extraordinary enough to warrant a ramble in this way.
The growing good of the world – World Mental Health Day 2016
The theme of World Mental Health Day 2016 is ‘psychological first aid’. This can come in many forms, and though the emphasis on this day is on what others can do for those in distress, it’s worth remembering that at the times when we are able to practice it – and it won’t be all the time, or even when we need it most – self-compassion is an important type of psychological first aid that we can administer ourselves.
This evening I was re-reading portions of Rachel Kelly’s excellent book ‘Walking on sunshine: 52 small steps to happiness’, and I was struck again by her ‘last step’, step 52, entitled ‘Unhistoric acts’. Apart from giving away the ending of Middlemarch (I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t yet managed to read it!), the chapter points to the wonderful quote above, which reflects the impact that the heroine of the novel had on the people around her and, to quote Rachel Kelly, it shows “the value of those small – but immeasurably important – acts that may go unnoticed, but can be crucial for our wellbeing and that of others”.
We can all administer psychological first aid – greater information and understanding about mental health conditions can of course help – but we are all capable of ‘unhistoric acts’ that can change lives and make a significant difference to those around us, and particularly to those in distress. Many of us will have been recipients of such unhistoric acts, whether from friends, family, therapists, ministers, colleagues or strangers; and we know the difference they have made. The acts may be known only to the two people involved – and sometimes only the recipients are aware of their effects; but their impact is as much for the good of the world, as it is for the good of an individual.
When it comes to unhistoric acts and the growing good of the world, we are all transformed – whether by the giving of compassion, or the receiving of it.
To draw, or not to draw
At the end of my last therapy session my therapist suggested that I go home and draw a tree. But I cannot draw her a tree.
This followed on from a discussion in which I’d told her that I had been surprised by the strength of my desire, at various points over the last few months, to express myself in pictures rather than words. These periods tended to coincide with times when I found it particularly difficult to write, and also with times when I was more dominated by one or other of my ‘inner parts’. These periods were also very frustrating as I have never been competent or confident about drawing, and I felt completely incapable of giving my feelings visual expression.
We talked about the fact that the aim was not to create the perfect painting, and the quality of the output was not the point of the exercise. I could draw a tree, and I could bring it to her and we could talk about it. Drawing a tree seems perfectly simple, and I understand the idea that it doesn’t need to be a particularly good picture. However, when I imagine drawing a tree, this happens.
Almost immediately, I need my tree to be more than a tree. I cannot just draw a picture of a tree – or I don’t want to. What would be the point? All of a sudden I want my tree to be a metaphor, to convey so much more than ‘tree-ness’ – whatever that is. I want my tree to be about something. I want it to be about therapy, and the relationship between me and my therapist. I want it to be about how she both grounds me and nourishes my growth, and also inspires me to let my imagination take me where it will, like the roots of a tree spreading out in all directions. I want some of the tree branches to resemble weeping willows, falling heavily towards the ground. I want others to reach upwards and delight in finding the sun. I want the weeping branches to be like hair falling down around my shoulders, and I want other branches to be like arms and hands placed gently on that hair. I want there to be a face, barely discernible, peering out from behind the hair, and a million little tributary-like branches, coming off the tree-arms reaching to the sky. I want the two sides of the tree to be definitely but imperceptibly leaning in towards each other, though also seeming to pull in two different directions. And I want there to be simultaneously both a noticeable difference in the colour palette of the two sides, but also a seamless blending and fitting in together. I want the reaching branches to stand out vividly but softly against their backdrop, and I want the weeping branches to be slightly out of focus, but jarring at the same time.
Now, my artistic skills being what they are, if I cannot produce an ordinary looking tree, how can I produce the tree that I have just described? And if I try to simply draw a tree, just an ordinary tree…..well, I know that part of the point of the exercise is to talk about it. But then, it isn’t really just a tree, is it? It’s a seeming-tree, or a telling-tree, and then we’re back to metaphor and right back where we started.
I cannot draw her a tree. And so I wrote her this tree, instead.
Memory Monday – “Sometimes, this is what therapy feels like, after”
Tomorrow I resume therapy after a forty five day break. I have no idea what it will feel like, either before, during or after the session. As is often the case, I have run numerous ‘scenarios’ through my head, of the opening few minutes. Few of those scenarios, I have to admit, are positive. In a way, that’s fitting – in the sense that the most positive scenario would be to turn up without an agenda or a plan, and simply open up about whatever is on my mind. The difficulty with scenarios is that they impede creativity and spontaneity, and they create expectations which lead to disappointment when they aren’t met, and when things don’t play out as imagined. In addition, when imagining sessions I have to play two parts – my therapist’s part, and mine. But I’m not her, and so I’m only ever really imagining me, in two different ‘chairs’ and with two different personas. And I can control ‘me’ – to some extent -but I cannot control what her responses to me will be. And so her ‘failure to follow the script’ leads to yet another disappointment and a feeling of being misunderstood.
Just over a year ago, I found myself unexpectedly in some incredibly painful ground shortly after resuming therapy. I ended up talking about my own past losses (the death of close relatives), and this also led into a discussion about the end of therapy, my therapist’s eventual retirement, and – hopefully far in the future – the death of my therapist. This post was written the day I found out that she planned to retire in a different part of the country:
Not something I had ever thought about before (I think I had just assumed she would stay in the same city and the same house), it came as a huge shock, and I found it incredibly upsetting. The idea of walking or driving past her house and her not being there, was unthinkable. Given the subject matter of our sessions at the time, my mind also turned to death; the thought of not being able to easily visit a grave or memorial for her, was very painful.
I’m hoping that when I return to therapy tomorrow, this will not be what it will feel like, after. But I’m anxious. The last third of the break has been nowhere near as positive as the first two-thirds. I have felt nowhere near as connected to my therapist as I did before. Negative, defensive and resistant thoughts have been much more common. And in the last few days, a major trigger which threw me into internal chaos, also seems to have completely driven my ‘internal ally‘ (and my therapist’s ally too) underground. Or rather, it gave the more troublesome parts of me the opportunity they were looking for to launch the expected (and yet simultaneously surprising), ‘end of therapy break sabotage and attack’.
And so I have no idea what it will feel like after. But I’m hoping, I’ really hoping, it won’t be this.
Reblog-ish: “Summer reading and listening”
Alison Crosthwait is a psychotherapist and writer living in Toronto, and over the last few months I’ve had the joy of not only reading her open and thought-provoking posts on her website, ‘The Good Therapists‘, but also of occasionally corresponding with her and sharing ideas. I hope it’s accurate to say that I think we both get excited by creativity and ‘projects’, and back in April we did our first live Twitter chat on the subject of therapy breaks. It was our first experiment in taking a therapy-related subject of mutual interest, and tackling it each from our perspective of therapist and client, by simply letting a dialogue unfold*. One could argue that the therapist has the advantage here as they have experienced ‘both sides’ of the equation – they have sat in both the therapist’s and the client’s chair!
Alison herself sometimes talks about her own experience as a client in her writing, and she is movingly honest about its emotional highs and lows. Reading and writing about both the therapist’s and the client’s perspective continues as a theme in her latest post on ‘The Good Therapists‘, called ‘Summer Reading and Listening‘. She writes: “I’m on holiday diving into an elaborate reading plan combined with a lake view for the next couple of weeks. If you are also in a late-summer reading phase here are some therapy-related writings I have come across lately. No deep thoughts or surprising twists in this post. Just shout outs to people doing great work.”
I am thrilled to be included in Alison’s post and list of ‘shout-outs’, and am excited to look into her other recommendations as well. In her short post you will find two reading suggestions of material written by clients – a blog and a book; and two reading suggestions of material written by therapists – again, a blog and a book. There is also a recommendation of a new podcast (and a video), by a therapist.
Reading Alison’s post also reminded me that it’s been a while since I have written a ‘book review’, and there are at least a couple of recommendations I would love to share, in due course. In the meantime, if you have some reading time left before summer is on its way out (what an unwelcome thought) – do take a look at Alison’s recommendations, and ‘The Good Therapists‘ website itself!
*It’s worth making it clear that this was a dialogue about therapy, not a ‘therapeutic discussion’ of the kind one might have in session. It was intended as an exploration of an interesting subject from two different viewpoints, and we were very clear and specific about the fact that it should not, at any point, start to ‘become therapy’. I must admit, I found that aspect of it harder than I thought it would be!
As this post and Alison’s were prompted by thoughts of vacations and the end of summer, I thought I would gratuitously start this post by including a photo of somewhere I visited recently that had a very calming and relaxing effect on me and was a moment I will treasure from this long summer therapy break.
A new experience of mother, Part 5
Just before our summer break started, my therapist told me that she now has an ‘internal ally’ – who is my ally too – and I know that she feels that that is making all the difference. This ally advocates for her and reminds the various parts of me that she exists and that she is on my side. My therapist knows that when she is trying to get through to me, particularly when I am distressed, there is now someone inside me who is also reaching out for her, and wants to take in what she has to offer. However many parts of me are angry with her, or feel betrayed, or want to act out or push her away, she knows that there is also a part that is capable of noticing, analysing, standing back, and keeping close to her. A part that wants to talk to her about what is going on, and who sees her as an unwavering ally, too. That part is the one who has the task of trying to be my own ‘new mother’ to my younger parts, as described in the previous ‘installments’ of this post.
I think it’s also true to say, however, that there is another aspect to this internal ally. I’m now better able to internalise my therapist herself, and to hold on to her and keep her real as ‘new mother’, even when she is absent. The sense of her ‘within’, is a powerful comfort and motivator; and one of the ways in which my own ‘new mother’ part reassures my other voices, is to remind them of my therapist’s caring. My therapist as ‘new mother’ sustains, builds and nurtures my own growing ‘internal mother’, and she in turn reminds the other parts of me, of my therapist’s presence, because she can hold onto it, even when they can’t.
In ‘A new experience of mother, Part 4‘, I said that these experiences of a ‘new mother’, both between me and my therapist and me and my ‘younger parts’, were completely interlinked. But they are not just interlinked, they each make the other possible. And what makes both of those things possible, is the very concept of seeing myself as consisting of various ‘parts’, in the first place. As highlighted in ‘A new experience of mother, Part 3’, it is my own ‘internal re-organisation’ that has facilitated these ‘new mother’ relationships. Before I was aware of those parts, I inhabited each of them, in the moment, as if they were ‘fully me’ and as if their viewpoint was my only reality. There was no distance or distinction between my feelings, my perceptions, and what I believed to be true. Seeing myself as composed of certain ‘parts’, has created a new and bigger space, a space with more possibilities. It has created the possibility of lots of different perspectives existing at the same time, even if one particular one is at the fore in a specific moment. It has created the possibility of a vantage point from which to observe the parts and their interactions with each other and the outside world, and to think about them and talk about them.
This then, finally, is the difference between ‘talking about things’ and ‘acting them out’, that my therapist has been trying to get across to me for so long, and which I never quite understood. Without an awareness of the different parts, and without the existence of an ‘internal ally’, there was nothing to stop the child, or the teenager, from taking the wheel and communicating what they had to say in whatever way they wanted. Their ways were sometimes indirect, provocative, self-centred, resentful, testing, boundary pushing, and completely driven by their experience of ‘old mother’. This not only made it difficult for my therapist to respond to me – on occasion it actually manoeuvred her into responding in exactly the ‘old mother’ way I was expecting. She sometimes spoke of me creating traps for her to fall into – traps that were essentially recreations of dynamics I was familiar with and was unconsciously trying to re-enact. This was illuminating, for a while, in that it showed her quite vividly what my previous experience had been like. But there is only value in that information, if it can be used to help break the pattern and find a new way of relating. And my own experience of these ‘parts of me‘ gave me a way to break the cycle of ‘acting out’, and instead to start talking about what I was feeling.
This has been a five-part post – I’ve spent a great deal of time and a great many words talking about something that is one of the most significant parts of my therapy so far. But I don’t want to give the impression that now that I’ve taken on board this concept of a ‘new mother’, everything is suddenly ‘fixed’. Having an internal ally and being able to keep hold of new mother has definitely made a difference to my summer therapy break. I’m half way through the six week break and for the first two weeks I felt connected to my therapist every single day and there were no resistant or resentful murmurings at all from my ‘inner parts’.
But more recently I have struggled again with internal battles, though on a much less intense scale than before. Although I still feel connected to my therapist, last week it felt as though my inner parts ‘woke up’ and I could feel them going on the defensive (or offensive, depending on the part). I wasn’t sure what to do about them; even worse, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to do something about them. The internal ally felt weak, and the temptation to let whoever wanted to, act out whatever they wished, was definitely there. But the ally was weak, not non-existent; and in many ways this reaction did not surprise me. I always feel much more antagonistic towards the end of a break, in the expectation and frustration of waiting to seeing my therapist again; I get the sense that it’s a form of backlash from the parts who resent the separation and who have spent the break feeling ‘unheard’. Although I am only half way through this break, my therapist and I had a couple of phone sessions this week, and so I think that this waking up of my various parts occurred in anticipation of this ‘reunion’ of sorts.
Though I had been afraid that these internal battles might mean that I would sabotage the phone sessions (or at the very least, that I wouldn’t fully engage with them), they ended up feeling comforting and productive. As described in ‘A new experience of mother, Part 4‘, what made the difference was an ability (which I still have not got used to) to be completely open about how I was feeling; and therefore to stay in that new space, the place of perspective, rather than inhabiting a ‘part’. I talked about the specific ways (which I felt ashamed of) in which a part of me had been thinking of sabotaging our phone sessions. I said later on in the conversation that I was worried about how to bring this powerful and frightening part into sessions in September. My therapist pointed out that by talking about her and her thoughts and desires, I had already done that. Bringing her into session, in this ‘new mode’ in which we’re operating, doesn’t mean turning all my thoughts, actions and feelings over to her; it means ensuring she is heard and that she has a chance to speak – and this new ‘internal ally’ is the best interpreter she could have.
One of the most significant things that my therapist pointed out during our phone conversations, is that my internal landscape has changed, a new part has been introduced, and that is bound to stir things up a little. I hadn’t really thought of it in that way, even though we had talked about this ‘internal ally’ before. I think I had thought of this persona as some sort of ‘overarching identity’ that I was trying to build, rather than as a ‘part of me’, similar to the others. And perhaps both pictures are equally valid. It is certainly the case that I can feel the internal landscape being redrawn and rebalanced, and I understand it better; and I think the presence of this ‘ally’ is making that possible.
This growing part is allied very closely to my therapist; and she has formed a much better relationship with certain parts of me – the inner child and teenager, for example. But there are still parts that are ‘out on a limb’ as my therapist put it – aspects of myself I have never really accepted as belonging to me, who still have the ability and desire (as they quite clearly showed me during this break) to undermine, disrupt, and destroy. Parts with which I have little relationship and as yet little understanding of how to reach. But I know that these alliances and experiences of new mother, both within myself and with my therapist, are going to enable me to reach those parts and build those relationships, even if the process is painful and slow. We just have to get through the September post-break ‘reunion’ onslaught first – given that I’m anticipating it, that almost guarantees it will come in a form and from a direction that I’m not expecting! I must admit, I am more than a little afraid – but also curious to see how the next year of therapy will unfold. Most of all, I’m looking forward to what this developing and fulfilling experience of new mother (both internal and external) will bring.
Three lessons I’ve learned about choosing a therapist
I have been wanting to write about the subject of choosing a therapist for some time; I’m passionate about sharing with others, what I feel are some important lessons I’ve learned about this subject, through the therapeutic process itself. I’m very grateful to welldoing.org , an independent counselling and psychotherapy directory, and information resource, for being interested in my ideas and for publishing my article ‘What you want isn’t always what you need in therapy‘, which can be found here:
I hope this is helpful to you if are thinking of starting therapy, if you are wondering whether to continue, or if you are simply looking at where you are in your current therapeutic journey, and are thinking about how you arrived at that point!
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….]