Some things I learnt in therapy….

I finished my last therapy session this morning. The sun was shining, I felt bright and hopeful. And filled with gratitude for all I have learnt and how far I have come. It is a big – huge – step forward.

I have essentially been in therapy since the end of August, but I only really started making progress when, (after two false starts), I was paired with Jane, with whom I quickly and easily developed a trusting and respectful bond. Jane was perfect for me – practical and pragmatic, but also warm and thoughtful, she was a mother and a former health visitor, deeply understanding, patient, clever, sympathetic. Under her careful and considered guidance, I have moved from a dark, lonely, hopeless and despairing world, to one where I feel confident, hopeful, resilient and capable. I see myself with new eyes. My life feels possible again. I feel joy again.

As I left my therapy session this morning, I handed Jane a card. I wanted to find a way to say thank you, for all that she had done. She has fixed what felt like my broken self and my broken life. And that is literally priceless. On the back of a card, I wrote: “Thank you for helping me fall in love with being a mother again. You have brought hope in the darkness and light back into my life. I couldn’t have got here without you. Thank you.” On the front of the card was a sketch, by Picasso, entitled Mother & Child, which really said it all.

I have learnt an awful lot in therapy.  At the moment, I run the risk of saying, ‘my therapist Jane says…’ almost every three minutes.  But, she has guided this unsteady ship out of the stormy waters, and, as I start to go it alone, I know I will take a lot of what she taught me with me.  It’s important to have things that you can revisit once therapy ends, to be able to turn back to the things you know and trust if you face a setback or a new challenge. Below are some of the really helpful things that I have taken away from my sessions, recorded here so I always have them to hand.

Accept the Things I Cannot Change: There is a very important prayer which has been used in AA programmes for years. It’s well-known – you’ve most probably heard it many times before – but it has never really meant anything to me, until now. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” For me, learning the things I cannot change – I have twins, it’s hard, it’s not fair, we didn’t ask for them, having three children is demanding – has been crucial. These are the realities of my life, they are the facts of my life, and I cannot change these things. I have to let the truth of these facts sit in my soul, be with them, acknowledge them, stop fighting them and accept them. It seems hard, and acceptance is a big step, but acknowledging these truths is also freeing. It allows you to focus on the things in your life that you can change, the things that you can work on to make things better.

Supply & Demand: Just as there are things I cannot change, there are things I can change. Being tired, working too hard, needing a break, feeling alone – these are the things that can be changed.  And this is where the idea of supply and demand comes in. It takes a certain amount of energy, emotional resilience, humour, fortitude, physical strength, patience, support and love to raise children, and it takes a specific amount for me to raise mine. Everyone is different, what they need is different. To stop feeling tired, overworked, worn out, alone and in need of a break, I needed to look at what the demands are on me each day, and where the supply comes from to meet those demands. For me, supply is about things like having a break each weekend, and child-free time during the week, a night off from bedtime, sleeping better, a walk, a good book to read, coffee with friends, a quiet trip to the supermarket, a tidy house, fresh flowers, help with the children, work that inspires me – these are all things that buoy me up, make me happy, make me fulfilled, give me energy, keep me calm. They are all things I need to be a mother, to cope with the demands of my life. So, part of the process over these past months has been slowly working at the ways I can ensure I get these needs met as much as possible. It has been an adjustment – asking for these things felt selfish at first, but you can’t drive 1000 miles on half a tank of petrol. I have to keep topping up the tank. And, that’s not being selfish, it’s being responsible.

‘Should’ is a Very Bad Word:  One of the things I have wrestled with so much over this past year, is what I expected of myself. I should have been able to cope better, I should be enjoying this more, I should be able to get through the day without shouting, I should be more patient. These ‘shoulds’ are so damaging and so destructive. They put unrealistic expectations on us that make it impossible not to fail. It turns out, my expectations of myself are demented, and also wildly inaccurate and really unhelpful. Jane has helped me to realise how normal it is to feel and say the things that I do on a day-to-day basis – “Emma, I don’t think any mother gets through any day without shouting at some point,” she said once. It felt radical to hear that. We have talked about everything from not wanting to be a mother on some days, to feeling differently about all my children, and how I am wracked with guilt about it. We’ve talked about some of the horrible things I’ve felt about, or even said, to my children – things that felt shameful and wrong. Surely I should not feel these things? No, says Jane, absolute rubbish. Everyone feels these things. Everyone says these things. It’s normal, you’re normal, there is no ‘should’ about it.

And the truth is, that we are all just doing our best, and it’s ok not to love it all the time. I’m reminded of something the amazing Scummy Mummies said when I saw them recently: “The truth is, parenting is just a bit shit sometimes, and there are days when we just don’t want to it.” So simple. So true. No judgement. No expectation. Just exactly how it is. And that’s ok.

Having children, being a mother, is hard. There is a lot to do, a lot being asked of you – when we are stretched so thin, our bodies and our minds prioritise what’s important. I might not have enjoyed it all, but my children are happy, they smile, they are well-fed, healthy, robust, joyful creatures, with happy lives and full hearts. You can see it. If the thing that had to give, the need that didn’t get met, was my enjoyment of it all, then maybe that was my part as a mother, maybe that was one of the sacrifices I had to make. It’s sad, but it’s life. And at the end of it, I still have my children and years ahead of me to love them.

(Photos: Chui King Li)

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