Sinking into the sofa to watch a drama on iPlayer a few evenings ago, I noticed ‘A Feeling Inside’ falling out.
How beautifully symbolic of this month.
‘A Feeling Inside’ is the title of a print framed on my wall. The print (Tracey Emin RA, A Feeling Inside, June 2020 Varnishing Day: a moment in Time) had slipped from its border, just a smidge. It was a little wonky, definitely out of place. It needed to be re-centred. I did not have the required energy and attention to realign it just then, which was unusual. I held off the urge to put it straight. It could wait.
My discomfort was short lived, I enjoyed a couple of hours of good television drama and A Feeling Inside was realigned the next day.
This reflected the spilling out of emotion I had been experiencing this month; at times an uncontrollable tearfulness as I heard news stories or stories of those around me. Made weary by this I found myself, just as that evening on the sofa, concluding that some things needed to wait, I had to just sit with this and let it be. I had no energy or answers to do anything else in those moments.
At this point of the COVID marathon I reflect on the impact it has had on my practice as well as on myself as a human being. Paying attention to my internal world is a professional requirement as well as a personal need. Like my clients, I am a perfectly-imperfect human being.
It was both liberating and exposing to face the same challenges as my clients with the arrival of COVID last year. Clients whom I have worked with for many years found a new connection with me as together we reacted to the news and adapted our working relationship. No longer was the client the only one known to be suffering, I too was affected by the challenges this pandemic violently threw at us. That I did not discuss my own personal circumstances and reactions was irrelevant, the client knew this affected us both.
Similarities can feel bonding, it is a good place to start when forming relationships – find a shared passion, or a shared enemy, and a connection is made.
COVID left no-one safe and along with my clients I managed my private and personal circumstances as well as my professional ones. Like the print slipping from its border and my sensing a misalignment, this month I have been paying attention to my own emotional wellbeing and balance.
Grateful as I am to embrace new ways of working – online and outdoors, writing here and developing a new website to reflect the changes, it has been a long year.
As businesses and friends, families and restaurants move back indoors, I prepare for that too. Robust brick walls and the firm holding they provide beckon invitingly. Clarity of where personal and private space begins and ends excites and energises me. Connectedness through shared experience and survival of this period is strengthening but I am ready now for that separateness too. As the theory of Bowlby’s secure base demonstrates, I feel ready to go it alone, knowing the security is ultimately within.
Traditionally, in psychoanalytic therapies, the therapist’s personal world is not discussed with a client. Different schools of thought give different reasons for this, but like any business arrangement, there is a paying client and their needs, surely, are the needs to be met.
COVID has challenged this and brought a new equality for this period of shared universal experience. We have found comfort in gathering together amidst so much enforced separateness.
The therapeutic process of reparation, care and protection of the client’s psychological wellbeing means therapist self-disclosure is avoided or a carefully considered offering. It is not uncommon for clients to ask “How are you?” at the beginning of a session, this is a polite, standard opening question and during the pandemic it has felt right and fitting to respond “I am safe and well, thank you”.
It is also common to be asked if I have children, or where I am going on holiday (not for a year or so have I been asked that) and most often it is reasonable to give a straightforward answer. At the same time, I hold in mind what my answer might represent or trigger for the client, and why they might be asking.
COVID has challenged our position of withholding basic personal information. Therapists have adapted to this disruption of carefully created therapeutic spaces. Social media, and blogs such as this, invite therapists to divulge something of themselves if that is in keeping with their professional identity, so as to connect appropriately with their clients. It is done selectively, knowingly and with choice. It also means that the clear boundary between personal and professional selves can become blurred and this must be managed carefully.
I feel I am preparing to step off a playground roundabout. I have become used to the spinning and stepping off I am disoriented.
COVID brought us a new way of being. Sharing vulnerability and learning ways to survive we navigated this terrain. Now we are stepping back from that intimate and shared experience, back into our own spaces.
Rebalancing ourselves is necessary as we re-emerge and reconnect after months of isolation and lack of physical closeness. Choosing what behaviours and habits we keep and what we discard of this COVID period, and what we return to and what we abandon of the habits from before is part of this rebalancing.
For many, these periods of lockdown provided permission to withdraw, regroup with oneself, partners, children, avoid family dynamics and take a break from demands on one’s time and space. The end of this withdrawal may not be welcome and could bring old anxieties, resistance and fear to the surface.
The hoped for reopening of my indoor therapeutic space in September will come with the end of writing monthly blogs. Writing here provided a connection during periods of enforced isolation and a sharing that will no longer be needed or fruitful. Endings and beginnings. That cycle never ends. As an old yogi used to say, “I love what comes, and I love what goes.”
As we learn again the dance between intimacy and separation may we find comfort in both places: the safety and comfort within ourselves and the safety and comfort of being with another.
How will you be with yourself when your feelings inside come falling out? Kindly. Please be with yourself kindly. When you have the required time and energy you will rebalance. In the meantime, remember this too will pass and you can bear this moment, however long it lasts.
‘A Feeling Inside’ is from a collection, ‘Varnishing Day: a moment in time’, a project by the Royal Academy. In the absence of their traditional annual Varnishing Day due to lockdown they asked artists to create something representative of the times. The result is a collection demonstrating how differently we have been affected by COVID. It is a thought provoking collection, some images startling, some distressing, some saddening, some beautiful, some serene.