Mand, 52 år
Around 2 years ago, my life had become a confusing mess. I had gotten divorced 6 years previously, and had moved to a small flat with my kids (whom I saw every other week). Additionally, I had been fired from the job I worked at while going through my divorce, and had experienced many personal attacks from my ex-partner, all of which had taken its toll on my psyche, including my behaviour to those near to me, my work superiors and even up to that date – passers-by.
Things clearly needed to change, as I was beginning to lose my grip on reality. My health had begun to suffer; I was constantly worried, and had totally lost all my self-confidence: both in myself, in life in general and the world around me. To say I was confused was putting it mildly: I could find myself taking a sick day from work, and laying there in the same position on the sofa until day turned to night, my mind jumping through thought-loops on a rollercoaster of worry and fret – the heart beating like a bass-drum.
I had finally plucked up enough courage to tell my Doctor, and she had told me about a psychiatrist, whom I had 4 sessions with. He just listened while I talked and talked, working myself up to a rant, but not accessing any of the deeper feelings behind it. I felt good to get this rage out, but afterwards the misery did not cease. The best advice he could give, was that I should go for long walks, get some sleep and eat healthily. Good advice too, apart from the fact that I didn’t want to go out, feeling safer indoors – I couldn’t sleep for worrying – and had absolutely no appetite whatsoever.
My girlfriend, who was studying psychotherapy at the time, got Jimmy’s details from one of her teachers, and I gave him a call. His voice exuded calm as we spoke briefly, and I made an appointment to see him.
Over the course of 5 sessions, during our discussions, Jimmy created such an atmosphere of safety and trust, that it was wonderful to slowly, gently coax answers out of me. Working backwards in time, and by slowly talking, asking, and probing me about my feelings and myself (both emotionally and physically at any given moment in time), we worked together, eventually turning my life-experiences around in order to see them as a) not my fault, and b) as possibilities to learn about myself. I learned that there was nothing wrong with the way things had turned out – that there was nothing wrong in the way I felt – and that I could open myself completely and find out what REALLY had happened to my thoughts, my worries, and my psyche.
The journey, albeit backwards, went thus: I found out that my “best” childhood friend had been jealous of the kind attention his own mother gave to me, and bullied me accordingly, whilst simultaneously being a friend to me. I responded by “cooperating beyond my abilities” so that I wouldn’t lose his friendship, and found myself in the tortuous position of later self-loathing and guilt because of it. This dispelled those feelings and left me understanding him, instead of hating him, and myself.
We also discussed conflicts with bosses in various past jobs. I found out (through analysing my physical and emotional reactions while I recounted these memories) that these issues stemmed from yet earlier situations that I had found myself in, having their foundation in a female teacher, who bullied me at Primary School, when I was 6 years old. Going through the feelings surrounding this (again, both physical and emotional), using empty-chair techniques and breathing exercises, I finally had the chance to give her a “piece of my mind” – something that I had wanted to do for years (and it felt good too!). I realised, too, that the by-product of this bullying had also affected my way of “survival” in later life. This manifested itself by me wanting authority figures, or those in a position of power (or partners, or friends for that matter) to “like me” – whilst simultaneously despising them, and being completely miserable about myself, deep down, with all the “false me” connotations that that contained.
More excavation into my feelings and emotions brought me to understand what I had been doing all along – protecting my inner child, a lovely but shy boy, who I visualised as hiding behind my legs, exactly as I did, all those years ago in the supermarket, when I was with my parents, as they chatted to someone they knew. After examining my thoughts about him (my inner child), I could finally visualise him playing freely on the floor, not hiding anymore.
In 5 sessions with Jimmy, I had excavated a great deal of my life, and every time I left the sessions, I felt lighter than air. At that point, I felt also that it was time to take a break, having touched briefly on the biggest challenge for me, that of suddenly losing my Dad when I was 14, due to a blood clot in the heart.
A few months later, I re-convened with Jimmy for 3 sessions, and “went for it”. I knew it was going to be tough, because I had bottled up this sorrow for 27 years, building “survival strategies” around it and removing myself from situations when things got too much. I had also developed a sense of self-control over it in order to stop myself getting upset – all the things that made me feel even worse and didn’t deal with the problem at all, which meant, of course, total avoidance of the issue. I was simply too scared to “open that box”.
Working with the empty-chair technique, breathing exercises and a picture of my Dad, we worked through the feelings surrounding my Dad’s death, and I talked about his life, as well as about my life at that time. In addition, how I felt about the whole thing and what had happened to me since that day. It was tough, especially when Jimmy asked me to be my Dad, and asked me to give myself advice, as he would have given it to me. This was ground breaking for me: Tough, yes, but immensely liberating, because when he died in 1986, there was no talk in the UK about psychotherapeutic support – we had to just “put on a brave face and deal with it” – and “let time do the rest”. I had waited so long to say the things I said that day.
With Jimmy’s guidance, I felt I have finally been able to steer my sorrow – something that had had a knock-on effect on who I was, and the way I interacted with people from that time onwards. The most important thing for me was to hear that it was OK to feel bad; that it was OK to feel sorrow. I mentioned to Jimmy that I wanted to say goodbye to my sorrow, and his answer I will never forget: It is not about saying goodbye to it, he said. “It’s about saying hello to it, and goodbye to it, and hello, and goodbye: Each time it comes and goes, accept that it’s there, because this has happened to you in your life and there’s nothing that can change it, only the way you perceive it. This will help you in dealing with it when it comes again”. This blew my mind completely. Of course, he was right. It’s all really so simple. But when you’re in it, you can’t see it yourself.
My time with Jimmy was a major step forward to my current state of balance: balance in my head and my heart. Because of this, I feel much more prepared to take on the challenges of life, both professionally and personally. It has filled me with new confidence, and is leading to new paths of self-awareness, self-compassion and an understanding of myself I had, before meeting Jimmy, never thought possible. It has also made me more aware of trusting my body and the way it feels in situations, rather than my head and my thoughts with their constant analysing. Some things just are – they do not always have to be understood at all. Thinking along these lines has chilled me out immensely. I feel I can better tackle awkward conflicts or misunderstandings in a working situation, whereas before I would spend 3 months analysing it to death. I have become much better in putting myself in other’s shoes and thinking about why they did what they did, whilst simultaneously not being so choked up about it, or sucked into their lives and energies. Earlier I would have taken it much more personally – now it’s like, not really so important at all. Probably the most important thing is that I’ve learned to hold onto myself and understand who I am.
The trust and safety Jimmy creates and the way he listens without judgement is so important to good therapy, and he possesses all those qualities (and more) in abundance. I would not hesitate to talk with Jimmy again if I need to get things “straightened out”, and seriously cannot recommend him highly enough.