I don’t know why it’s been so hard to write about the second half of the session with Anna. I suppose I’ve been holding onto it for myself.
We sat quietly for a moment, letting the repair settle, then she asked tentatively “Do you want to have a shot at telling me about the guilt [over calling child protection]?”
I did, but it looked like we were teetering off the tracks again. I couldn’t find the words, or maybe wasn’t ready to share them, and she offered some suggestions but none of them were right. I kept saying “It’s not about that“, but I didn’t know what it was about either.
Anna gave me some time to sit quietly, head down, and tears started slipping down my face. I was feeling alone and angry that my mother had again been unable to handle the situation and left me to step up and deal with it by myself, but mostly I was feeling deep regret for not having the courage to reach out to my cousin earlier and push her to get help, even though that would have meant risking rejection. And then I realised why it was so hard to talk about guilt: because really, that wasn’t at the heart of what I was feeling.
“I’m mostly just sad,” I said. The words were honest, but my tone was still calm, almost flat.
“Sad for your nephew?” she asked, and I shook my head. “Sad for your cousin?” I shook my head again. “Sad for you?”
A swell of emotion came over me, and the tears fell faster as I nodded, eyes still fixed on my knees. This was the first time she’d ever seen me cry, and she didn’t leave me to sit with it by myself.
“All right, it’s okay,” she murmured, crossing the room to pull out a tissue, and coming to kneel beside me. I was so inward – focused that I didn’t realise she was reaching out to wipe my nose until she was almost touching me, and I jerked away abruptly, reflexively giving her a sideways look.
I still find this kind of a weird thing to do – I’m 25, not 5, and that is definitely not what I meant when I said I need her to be more nurturing. But at the same time, I feel warm and a little nervous that she wanted to take care of me in a tangible way, and that she is obviously taking our conversation about needing to be more than a case manager seriously.
“Sorry,” she said softly, pulling back and handing me the tissue.
“Are you okay if I’m here?” she asked, still crouched beside me, and I paused for a moment, but nodded. I was sitting on the floor, and at the start of the session she’d said she wanted to be on my level and asked if she could sit on the floor too. I’d been willing to try it, and she’d pushed her chair back so there was more room between us before shifting down, but I immediately felt uncomfortable and panicky that she was too close and I’d asked her to go back up to her chair. Further away. Safer. But sitting side by side where I didn’t have to see her face felt okay.
“Can I sit here?” she checked, and I nodded.
“Can I put my hand on your shoulder?” she asked, and I immediately shook my head vehemently. I’m sure I also tensed, and probably leant away from her a little.
“Okay, I’ll just stay here then,” she said gently.
I’m surprised by how strong my reaction was. It’s something I’ve thought about before – Jen and my GP both touch me a lot, not only for work-related reasons but in a comforting way, and I love it. Jen will hold my hand or lay a hand on my stomach or my shoulder or my forehead when I’m upset, and my GP will rub my back or playfully bump my shoulder. Aisha is more limited given that she is on the other end of a computer screen, but will send me a big hug when she knows I’m struggling. All of this makes me feel cared for and protected. When I’ve thought about Anna touching me I’ve always felt uncomfortable, but there’s also part of me that really wants that comfort, so I’m surprised I wasn’t torn. I’m glad I said no, but I’m afraid she won’t offer again.
We ended up going over by 45 minutes. She encouraged me to tell her more about the sadness, but I was just crying quietly, and she ended up spending most of the time talking to me.
It was a relief when I managed to gather myself enough to tell her I was flying home the next day to see my cousin and her kids, and I was scared about it. She asked me not to go and told me it was putting me at risk; the kids knew I was coming and I had to go, but it was nice to have someone recognise how big it was. When I hit the end of my words, she asked me to text to her, and she got her phone and we sat side by side while I typed out the things I couldn’t say out loud.
We weren’t suddenly in perfect sync. She wasn’t getting the depth of how much I love my cousin and how desperate I’ve been to keep my relationship with her, and was making comments about how I would have said something to her if I’d thought there was any chance she was going to change, and that just isn’t true. Towards the end, she commented “Okay, I’ve lost something here. I feel like I’ve misattuned or something. I haven’t got something. I’m searching, but I’m not getting something. I wish I could know what I’m not getting.”
But she was trying, and there was connection between us. She was reaching out again, physically and metaphorically, asking me to touch base with her after I’d been with my cousin so she could offer support.
Right now, I’m feeling disconnected from her again. But I can hold on to that memory, and know that it doesn’t have to stay this way.