• Starting therapy can be challenging in many ways

  • Rae Freeman shares her experience of therapy, which helped her learn how to identify and express her feelings

  • If you are looking for a therapist, you can find one here

How do you feel? I try and answer. I start the sentence in my head…I feel…and no word comes. I begin to panic that I don’t ‘feel’. My throat is tight and my heart pounding. The moment eventually passes. I walk home trying to answer. With increasing desperation I resort to a dictionary to see if anything stands out. Nothing. I know my parents don’t like me but I never knew why. This must be it - I don’t feel. I have several degrees and a developing professional career. How pathetic then not to be able to answer. My Dad’s words were ringing in my head - ‘you are supposed to be clever’. Although frustrated at my inarticulate self I am also relieved that I have identified my flaw.

Outwardly I try to hold it together. I smile like a Cheshire cat. I make sure I let no-one down –’I don’t know what I’d do without your support’ says one. I call my parents weekly, as usual, muting the phone so my crying isn’t heard. Once in bed the tears roll. I shuffle under the covers. I don’t want anyone to hear I am not ok. Tossing and turning I wake daily with a pounding headache. Nothing touches it. Dad’s familiar solution to ‘just get on with things’ helps so I throw myself into work convinced that the more I immerse myself the easier it will get. We win several new clients. I am perplexed watching someone else in my body.

I can’t get away from the recurring thoughts that I can see patterns repeating. I end my current relationship as I realise although I am a ‘rock’ he knows nothing about me. I feel increasingly empty. I am a flawed non-feeling person who is incapable of any normal relationships which I conclude means I am limited to a lifetime of loneliness. I reason with myself that this is just about manageable if I can be useful at work. The new clients I had worked so hard to secure conspire against me as a new recruit becomes the favoured centre of the studio. The golden boy. However hard I work, however hard I try I am overlooked. I can’t kid myself any longer that I am even useful.

These feelings hang around. I can’t shake them off. I long to be ‘kicked’ back into action. My 60-hour weeks dissolve into barely productive 9-to-5 days. The procrastination that had bugged me about others was becoming my mainstay. I give up cycling. I start trudging to work. Life in slow motion.

To this day I cannot fathom where the energy came from to look for a therapist. I had thought about it in the past but had always been convinced that I should be able to cope. I emailed several. Two immediately called to see if ‘we were a good fit’. I can’t talk. I was almost careering out as quickly as I had begun. Delete. Delete. No thank you.

The next morning in the midst of a pounding headache a reassuring email reply from another with no demanding questions. Email I could cope with. Time to think and reply.

My time in therapy has been relatively short. I am still surprised that I even made the first session. I am only too conscious that to some feelings are obvious, emotions are identifiable and can be negotiated.

It has taken time – and incredible patience and not an ounce of judgment from my therapist for which I am eternally grateful – to begin a journey of looking at myself. Often the smallest things have opened my eyes – when I thought of my therapist’s room I realised I could very easily picture the floor tiles, the path to the door, the spacing of the locks – but her or even her chair would be challenging and the other side of the room - I wouldn’t know where to start. I had subconsciously mapped my route to leave. I was after all convinced I was wasting her time, burdening her with the ridiculous and most definitely not doing the ‘right’ thing.

The John Berger book – Ways of Seeing - is a particular favourite of mine. The importance of looking and really seeing stuck in my consciousness as a young student. I used these ‘glasses’ at work. Looking back I can see that with huge amounts of care she has guided me, much like the Berger book, to begin a new way of seeing myself and with it a glimmer of hope that one day I might be able to answer truly how I feel.

Further reading

What is therapy?

Trying different types of therapy

What therapy did for me

Therapy and the art of transformation