Yesterday I had my last session with J before her holiday. She will be away for two weeks. That means I will miss six sessions. It doesn’t sound like much when I write that, but it feels like a dark chasm has just opened up ahead of me.
The thing about therapy is that it isn’t just about the hours I sit in that room with J. Yes, those are the most crucial part, and because I have three sessions each week, I’m used to a lot of contact.
But what also matters is the structure those sessions builds around me, the sense of continuity that helps me stay grounded in between sessions. Always knowing there’s at most, only a couple of days to get through before I see J again helps me endure it when I’m really struggling. It’s comforting to be aware that when difficult stuff comes up for me outside of therapy (as it inevitably does), I just need to hang on for a few days to be able to talk it through.
A therapy break, then, is not just missing a few sessions. It’s missing the reassurance that a session will happen soon. It’s feeling like I have to contain every intolerable thought or emotion that comes up – not just for a few days – but for weeks. That’s a thoroughly unwelcome prospect.
The last session before a break always feels impossible. Yesterday, I mostly sat in silence feeling angry that J was going away and sad that I won’t see her for a while. It’s hard to feel close to her when I don’t see her, I can’t keep hold of the connection. So I spent the session already feeling alone and abandoned, even though she was there, only a metre or so away from me.
We agreed that I could email her, as usual, on the days I normally see her. That helps a bit. It means I know she hasn’t forgotten about me. Of course, it’s not really possible to do therapy by email, but that’s not what those emails are for. They’re just a way for me to keep connected, to share a little of what has happened with her and to know she is there to listen.
The session didn’t end well for me yesterday. I was immersed in a lot of painful stuff and feeling tearful and fragile. I didn’t want to leave feeling like that, but the session had already run over, so there wasn’t time for me to try and pull myself together. We had a hug and the warmth of it soothed me a little so I temporarily felt a bit stronger as I walked home.
When I got in, I felt terrible. I was swallowed up in loneliness. I felt really desperate. I’d already had some Lorazepam before my session, but I took more in an effort to numb myself. Despite being heavily sedated, I threw myself headlong into the familiar unhelpful cycle of thoughts; telling myself nobody cares about me and fantasising about suicide. It was all made worse by the realisation that I had forgotten to ask J for a transitional object.
When she’s been on leave in the past, I have always brought home one of her blankets. The young, scared part of me feels comforted by being wrapped in something that belongs to her. And those blankets smell of her, of how safe it feels being in that room with her. The smell is so important to me, as it evokes the positive emotions I feel when I am with her, the embodied sense of being accepted and contained. I was deeply sad when I noticed I wouldn’t have that this time.
I know it’s tough for a lot of us when we have a therapy break, and that I’m not alone in feeling like this. And I also know that I have coped with the breaks OK in the past. I just have to keep telling myself – literally out loud – that J will come back. Time will pass and things will return to normal. I have not been forgotten. I have not been abandoned.
Perhaps if I say it enough, I might eventually start to believe it.
Photo: Dee Ashley, Creative Commons.