It’s official. I’m seeing a therapist.
Well actually, I’ve seen a therapist once.
There wasn’t a particular reason for going. In fact I’m feeling that my life is going pretty swimmingly at the moment. But I felt curious to try it for myself and I love a good emotional analysis. And also, I wanted to see if there were any relics from the past that may be affecting my future unknowingly. Plus my mother wisely informed me that absolutely everyone ought to go to therapy and who am I to doubt her.
The therapist’s room was near Borough market, and I was early, so I spent a happy few minutes browsing the over-priced foodie delights, musing that I couldn’t possibly be more middle class.
I arrived panting at the top of four flights of stairs, to be greeted by a very ‘bland’ looking lady. She had a soft American accent, probably East coast, and everything about her was non-judgemental. I liked her.
She showed me into the little room and to my delight there was a reclining couch in there! And a chair as well. I picked the chair, although in hindsight, I wish I’d reclined.
Her first question was, ‘So, tell me about yourself.’
For a second I was stumped, and then out came a river of words.
I’d never been asked to tell a complete stranger all about myself, and just that simple action was enlightening. What do you say first? How do you describe yourself? By your roles, your job, your relationships?
Suddenly everything that came out of my mouth took on significance. Wife and mother, daughter, sister, friend, yoga teacher, writer, singer. I’m none of these things and all of these things.
I’m just me.
But the thing is, I’m also a sum of all those parts, and some of those parts that I have taken for granted for 36 years are buried deep within my subconscious psyche, and don’t take kindly to being yanked, kicking and screaming into the glaring light of a therapist’s gaze.
For example, the word ‘duty’ came up. I felt that being a wife and mother involves a certain amount of duty. The therapist’s ears seemed to prick up and she prompted, ‘What do you mean by duty?’
My immediate reaction to this was irritation. What do you think I mean lady? You know, doing all those things OUT OF DUTY that I would rather not be doing, but if I don’t do them, then no one will, and Christmas probably wouldn’t happen, and to be honest, I’m not sure much else would either.
But instead I smiled politely and replied, ‘Well, it’s not all bad, but you know, duty is part of being a wife, mother, daughter and so on. All those roles have an element of duty.’
And this is also true as in fact, I think the whole concept of duty is hugely underrated and if more people felt duty-bound to get things done, then it wouldn’t be left to the dutiful minority.
But I did get her point. It’s slightly odd to put duty top of the list. I saw what I’d been missing.
‘And love!’ I countered. ‘Obviously love.’
But then why had I said ‘duty’ first?
It’s obviously my mother’s fault.
That’s the other funny thing about going to see a therapist. We think we’re individual and have carved out our own niche, and then we think about it and realise that we’re just at the bottom of a crevasse that has been carved out by our parents, and their parents and so on ad infinitum.
My mother was, and is, dutiful. She put her children first. And she was, and is, a phenomenal mother. We wanted for nothing. Our needs were met, possibly whether we liked it or not. But, when prompted, I think that the only thing I would have changed about her mothering was that I wish she could have been happier. I wish she could have done things for herself, FOR FUN, with no thought for anyone else.
Because she showed me that mothering involves putting yourself last on the list, and sometimes, I don’t want to be last, I want to be first!
The other thing I realised was that, being the eldest of five, I became a little mother in my own right. I still call my children by my younger sibling’s names when caught off guard. I grew up young, was aware of my parents’ emotional needs, and tried to fix them. In fact, my Dad’s speech on our wedding day included the line, ‘Poppy did a great job of bringing her parents up.’ It was funny, but there was a smidgeon of truth to it.
So the duty I felt was a sense of duty to them too. To try to make them happier.
As a child, you don’t understand that it’s not your responsibility, you just love them too much.
My son has the same sensibility. He’s aware when the mood weather signals an impending storm, while my daughter is blissfully unaware. He’s sensitive to the opinions of others, while my daughter is teflon-coated and determined. I admire and love them both.
Seeing myself and my family, both nuclear and extended under the microscopic gaze leant by the therapist’s attention was startling. I left feeling that I possibly needed a whole lot more therapy to get over the therapy I’d just had.
Who knew that I had so many issues?!
But there was one point that I took away with me, wrapped carefully in my heart. Being a mother is desperately, hugely important. When I said to the therapist that I’d loved being a full time mother, but got to the point where I wanted to use my talents, she interjected, ‘Your other talents’.
I didn’t see what she meant at first. We are so conditioned to under-value the role of mother. Because of course, being a mother demands a huge range of talents. And – unlike our other jobs – goes on to impact the emotional health of our family for generations to come.
And hopefully saves them having to go to therapy in a couple of decades time.
Unless they want to.
In which case, I would highly recommend it.