Not a lot of people know this. But back in 2012. I harboured a dirty secret.
Every Wednesday lunchtime.
For about a year.
I sloped off from my office desk. Alone.
Away from the shiny soulless glass buildings of Canary Wharf. And the power-dressing clones.
Towards the fishy world of Billingsgate Market. And the little bobbing private narrowboats of the marina.
I would check behind me before making my way down the steps to the water.
Like a private detective. Or an unfaithful spouse.
And then I’d board one of the houseboats. Only to re-emerge an hour later.
I’d head back to work. As if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
But it had.
Because. In that hour. On that boat. I had been with her:
My Woman On The Boat.
No. I wasn’t having a lesbian affair.
She was my therapist.
Hmm… Therapy… Counselling…
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve always thought going to see a counsellor could be very worthwhile for someone.
I just couldn’t see how it would help me.
After all. Wasn’t therapy something for people who didn’t have friends they could talk to? Who had trouble opening up? Processing stuff? Understanding themselves?
That certainly didn’t apply to me. Oh no, siree!
I had friends I could talk to. Friends so close I’d consider them family.
I’m also pretty sorted, thanks very much. Open. Self-aware. Emotionally intelligent. And other annoying self-help buzz words.
As far as I was concerned. Therapy was something that only applied to other people’s worlds. Not mine
But. In retrospect. I thought the same of terminal cancer. And look how that worked out!
The truth was. I was seriously struggling.
And the little voice inside knew.
I just didn’t want to admit it.
I hate admitting I can’t cope. It’s my kryptonite.
I am proud to be capable. Sorted. Strong
That’s my thing! I’m the one who’s always okay. Can handle anything.
I’m also a bit of a control freak.
I rarely ask for help
I never ask for directions
Oh. And I’m always right.
But enough was enough.
I was going under.
When Mum got diagnosed. I just got on with it.
And that’s nothing to do with being strong.
It’s from being the only thing you can do.
You just cope. Do what you need to do. Be who you need to be. For them.
But underneath it’s all silently whirring away: The shock. The trauma. The information that I was losing my Mum. The injustice of it. To her. To me. To our family.
It also somehow affected my own sense of identity.
Perhaps it’s something to do with not knowing where I fitted in. To her demise. Her absence.
My creator. Possibly the only person who loved me truly unconditionally. With whom I had been inextricably bonded to. Since before I was even born.
With her gone. Where did that leave me?
I also had a strong sense of needing to do something. To fulfil my role as daughter.
But apart from just turning up. And loving her. I was utterly helpless.
There was nothing for me to control. I couldn’t make it better. Through research. Through hard work. Through anything.
Everything was out of my grasp
I was one floundering daughter. I didn’t know which way was up.
It was like being caught in an almighty wave. Having that moment of panic about which direction to swim to get to the surface.
Although it wasn’t just a moment. It was continuous.
And then. On top of that. My partner deciding to leave. After almost 10 years. Effectively a divorce.
And with it I was hit by another crushing wave. Impossible to determine any sense of direction.
Another onslaught of loss. Grief. Anger
And another chunk of my identity smashed to pieces.
I was utterly lost. I didn’t know who I was. Let alone how I felt.
It was all too much.
And then three words saved me:
I need help.
For three small words. Of one syllable each. They didn’t half have a lot of oomph
Just admitting it. Like that. To myself
It was an enormous fucking relief.
It almost felt better right there. Without even doing anything about it.
The waves still crashed into me. Knocked me about. Directionless
But I realised I could still breath. And I could still ask for help.
Normally. When I decide to do something. I have a process.
First of all. It’s the research phase. I research the shit out of whatever it is.
I think some people mistake this for me being indecisive or unsure. But I’m not.
To me. Information is power.
I like to know everything before I make a decision. Consider everything that is available. Weigh up my options. Take into account every possible outcome or scenario
So that I know when I do take action. It’s the best possible action to be taken
If I decide to do something. I’m not fucking about. I don’t want to rush straight in. Only to realise it could have been better if I’d done it differently.
If I do something. I do something right.
At its heart. I guess. Is perfectionism. A need to be perfect. Just like my need to be strong
Why is it that we put so much pressure on ourselves to be capable. Right. Best?
Because the odd thing is. As soon as I stopped needing to be strong. The need to be perfect went out the window too.
And I did something unusual.
I skipped my normal process.
And instead I fell back on a different approach:
Minimum research. Maximum trust
Trust that the right opportunity would make itself known.
I took the first three counsellors I could find operating near my office. In Canary Wharf. And I sent them an email. Explained briefly what my situation was. Asked if they had weekday lunchtime availability.
I was a little reticent about finding anyone in Canary Wharf. I imagined pencil skirts, harsh buns and cold leather couches. Hmm, a tad stereotypical perhaps. But this was Canary Wharf – a Mecca for soulless drones in suits.
But how wrong I was.
Because when I read the replies to my emails. There she was.
Quite the opposite to a soulless drone.
No competition with the others. A done deal. A fait accompli.
You see. Pretty much all of the replies said the same thing: Yes they could help me. Yes they had availability. Yes they could do weekday lunchtimes.
But only one of them added words to this effect:
“I do need to inform you however that I operate my practice from my houseboat. And that I have a small, but affectionate, dog. If this doesn’t put you off, please do let me know”
Put me off?!
Boom. I’d found my woman!
She was just. So. Me
Without getting too Mystic Meg on you. There are times in life when the right people just come your way.
And hell. Was she was the right person!
I remember being so nervous when I arrived for the first session.
Who was I supposed to be? What was I meant to talk about? I had no idea.
She went through a long list of questions: Had I ever been depressed? Had I ever considered ending my own life? Was I on any sort of antidepressants?
No. No. No
I felt like a fraud. What was I doing here? I didn’t really have any problems.
I remember feeling my habitual self gripping on. Trying to keep that control. Stay strong.
But then. Slowly. Week by week. I trusted my instincts. A little more each time.
And eventually I just gave in. I yielded to myself. And also to the counsellor. I let her guide me.
She allowed me to open up.
To finally voice some of the things I’d locked up. All in the name of being capable. Strong. Perfect.
I managed to express the inexpressible. The hurt. The anger. The injustice. The guilt.
She helped me to navigate my way through this newly forming relationship with Mum. A relationship that was strengthening and deepening on the one hand. But also shifting and growing in unexpected directions at a rate of knots on the other.
She helped me to see how I could be there 100% for Mum. But how I needed to look after myself too.
How I was creating an honest relationship with her. Not based on sympathy or guilt or perfection. But with boundaries and on occasions, even disagreements. And how that was okay.
She helped me manage my feelings. The intense and sudden panics that would sweep over me from nowhere.
She taught me how I could just breath through the panic. Experience it. Let it wash over me. And then let it pass.
I learnt how emotions didn’t need to be held on to. Or built on. That I could choose to let them affect me and then move on, on their way.
Just like those almighty waves I’d been fighting with.
Yes, they’ll come crashing into my face. And I’ll not be able to breath. Or know which way is up.
But don’t struggle. Just let the wave do its thing. And let it pass.
Learning that one simple idea revolutionised my life.
It freed me up from a whole shitload of mind-mess.
I practised it all the time. Whenever I wasn’t with Mum.
In the office. On the commute. I was quite often in tears one moment and then laughter the next.
What a loon I must have seemed!
And what a head-fuck for those people around me. My colleagues at work. My friends.
Who no doubt were already struggling with how to deal with me.
But it made me feel better. And that was what mattered
So. Every Wednesday lunchtime. I went off to see My Woman on The Boat.
Oh. And Frosty the Dog.
Frosty was a Labradoodle. And she was right. He was incredibly affectionate
In fact, so affectionate that when I got upset. When I cried. He’d come over and sit on my feet.
Comfort me. Canine-stylee
Then I’d go back to my shiny soulless office building. And get back to work.
Business as usual.
It must have been a real mystery for the people I worked with.
I rarely took lunch breaks.
Then every Wednesday at 12.30 I’d disappear.
Only to return an hour later.
With red puffy eyes. And smelling of dog.
How confusing and utterly bizarre for them.
And how funny for me.
I still struggle with it. Not being strong.
And I know this might sound cliched.
And like those neat little quotes we like to share on Facebook.
But I’ve slowly come to realise that there is incredible strength in being vulnerable.
In admitting you need help.
In giving in.
And asking for assistance. For support.
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