It's a privilege to watch patients understand themselves better but it's amazing to be there for the big momentsby Anna Blundy / August 21, 2014 / Leave a comment
There have been two or three big revelations during the five years I’ve been having psycho-analysis. Mostly, as the sessions trundle on, little drops of knowledge trickle into my conscious mind from my unconscious and the world begins to pull into focus. No need to avert my eyes from the male runner so that he won’t get the chance to size me up sexually. No need to look at him flirtatiously so that he has to. He’s just another runner. “Hi,” and a smile will be fine. Occasionally though, something earth shattering happens.
My first one happened on the couch. I had not slept for as long as I could remember. I would go into session after session saying I was tired. I was exhausted to the point of madness, only ever feeling safe enough to fall asleep when the birds started singing.
One day, after more than a year of this, my analyst said: “Why do you think it’s an aural signal?” This was a good point—it wasn’t fear of the dark. Lying there, I heard the sound of a Yale key in a lock in my mind and realised that I was waiting for my mum to come home. I don’t know how this got translated into birdsong or why knowing about it was helpful, but I have slept well ever since.
More recently, things I have spent a lifetime trying not to know have begun to seep into my consciousness. Not wholly unknown, not completely forgotten, but lurking in the shadows. Part of the understanding came from a tennis teacher. I was chatting to him about some man. “He’s awful,” I explained. The tennis coach laughed. “Well, you hate men,” he said. Do I? I wondered, shocked. I realised that, masked by an attempt at fond contempt (“He’s sweet, really”) I probably do. Stunned, I took this to my (male) analyst and the whole world started to implode. Much later I was sitting on the deck of a ferry near Sardinia and jumped up from my seat, heart pounding, mind screaming with the revelation of what (or, more specifically, who) was at the bottom of this. The archeological dig of analysis (Freud’s analogy) was churning up identifiable relics.
Although it is an enormously satisfying privilege to watch patients understand themselves better and begin to change, it is amazing to be there for the big moments. I have a patient who spends a lot of time and money building houses for her abusive relatives in her country of origin. She is obsessive and acutely anxious about the build, constantly arguing with her family over Skype and coming to me hysterical. I wondered over and over again why she was doing this. Was it to feel power over a family that had damaged her? She agreed there was an aspect of that. Was it to make up for the guilt she feels at having escaped and left them there? She agreed there was an aspect of that, too.
But one day she rushed into the room for her session, eager to begin. “I realised something,” she said. ‘It sounds stupid and obvious, but I know what it is I’m doing. I’ve believed that if I can fit them into this nice new house, they will be a nice new family.” She burst into tears. “But it won’t work,” she whispered.
It is hard to define why conscious understanding helps where unconscious acting out perpetuates damage, but this patient has not been upset by her family since that session. She even went to stay with them in the house she’d built, but no longer hoped for anything. She was devastated to understand that no kind of reparation would make them love her but, in knowing it, she was set free.