How Do I Feel? Therapy's Big Question
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.