I’m in a state of change. Ever since starting in private practice I have led a nomadic life, sharing rooms in independent clinics and running the business by hauling my files from point to point. Until now. No matter how much you waited for something, being in transition until you settle into it can be challenging.
When my mother died ten years ago she left a four storey town house full to the brim with clutter. After the initial shock of her sudden death came the endless days sorting through the forty years she had lived in that space. What started as a meticulous tip toe through letters and photographs soon morphed into a weary trudge through yet another cupboard full of used envelopes and random pieces of fabric saved for an unknown project on an undetermined day. The transition was almost unbearable.
One of the most humbling experiences for a therapist is seeing the story through from start to finish. It happens more rarely than I’d like but it’s striking in its emotional impact.
When Adam came the first time his wife was with him and, although they hadn’t come to do couples work there was something just not right. In the months which followed their relationship fell apart in explosive style, a crash he hadn’t seen coming and was completely unprepared for.
After the breakdown came the suspicion of the affair, the reveal, the anger, desperation, sadness, bargaining, hope, dashed hope, and eventual emergence into something wholly different. Although eventually stable and satisfied it had been the constant movement which perhaps caused as much difficulty as the emotions themselves. Unable to settle we are often unable to function. Creatures of habit and familiarity.
When change is happening there are two things we do well to avoid. The first is resistance.
When we are in transition it is as if we are hurtling down a hill without any brakes. If it were really so what would be the point of resisting? If anything, mortal injury becomes more not less likely.
When everything around you is changing it is best to accept it, move the focus away from the end game and instead consider how best to deal with today, finding some small morsel of trust that, in the end, you will emerge relatively unscathed.
The second thing to avoid is impatience. Trying to force your way through transition before it is good and ready to let you pass is futile and tends to result in more pain.
Six months into the grand clearance of mum’s house we had begun to see the end. But the insatiable desire felt by my brother, sister and I to get the job done meant that we had got rid of furniture I wish we hadn’t, pictures I now feel I wanted, and trinkets which meant nothing in that numbness and now seem to mean so much more. On the day I asked my sister where my dad’s enormous record collection had gone, having driven there to collect it, she told me “we sold the whole lot to a record dealer”. Even writing it I still feel that same thud in the top of my chest.
As the changeover in the clinic was being completed at the weekend, and the room was ready for my permanent occupancy my erstwhile room mate sent me a lovely message.
“The room is ever so bare so you might want to source some furniture. Hopefully you have that all in hand. Thank you for being the perfect room mate and hope you enjoy making the space your own.”
My internal response was “I’m not ready”. I had got as far as sourcing another chair (therapy is less effective when one of you has to stand through the session) but nothing else. My mind shifted between all the lovely furniture that we’d got rid of from my childhood home and the sparsity of my new space.
It will take the time it takes for me make the space my own, whatever that might look like.
There will probably be pictures and plants, maybe a small desk and some lamps for the days when the light is visibly receding. By virtue of my presence it will, in time, be me. But that urge to move through transition so that it is almost unnoticed rarely dims. So if you want to avoid losing your mind (and some beautiful furniture) it’s much better to let it flow in its own way, because the real change is quietly underway inside.