It’s been a while, and since then, it’s undeniable I’ve been worse and worse. I was going through a cycle of depression, though, even before the last time Lesley was seen, magnolia tree petal and all. I need help still.
So, once again. A desk. Two chairs. A fear of what’s about to happen. Yep, it’s therapy day.
This time it’s different though. It’s a sexual psychotherapist I’m seeing. There’s no doubt I have problems underneath the duvet. My cripplingly low self esteem manifests itself in many ways.
One of them is to recoil when being touched intimately, another is to rarely have full sex with my partners. It’s definitely affected my relationships down the years. About time that, at least, was stopped.
There’s no special route to my session today though. It’s in a rundown part of town. Safest way is a train and then walk down a side street, eyes towards the pavement, with any luck going unnoticed.
The reception area is dark, despite the summer sun. Uncomfortable wooden seats, nailed to a metal frame, seems to fit in with the grubby surroundings. The receptionists are separated by an oval glass, as if protecting themselves from the diseased.
I try to hide myself away from the grim ambiance by burying my head into the Daily Record, pretending to be impressed by its quality and entertained by its stories. It’s a lie, of course. Big on headlines and populist cliches, short on facts and quality, it’s a paper that appeals to … well, I’m not sure. Rather like myself, I find myself thinking. What or who on earth could I possibly appeal to?
My mind, as ever, is punishing me. I miss my ex as much as ever. I feel lost, bereft, heartbroken. It’s almost like a bereavement. Except, and it’s sad to admit, I’ve never been this upset over the passing of any family or friend. It’s a living loss I’m dealing with. Not very well at all.
In all this gloomy reverie, my name is called out. Show time. I look up and Anne is there to greet me warmly. The first impression is one of mild shock. She’s beautiful, genuinely beautiful. Slim, dark hair, a nice smile, and big wide eyes that are mesmerising when she looks through you.
Curiously, I seem to have some sort of reality chip lodged in my subconscious. Despite being in the presence of someone so good looking, there’s not a scintilla of desire in me. Clearly I’ve somehow put in my mind a strict non-transference rule. A very handy tool, especially today.
We adjourn to Room 19 and her smile is as warm as the heatwave outside. The room itself is small and there’s no air conditioning or open windows. Had this not been the first session, I would’ve asked if I can take off my top. It was that uncomfortable. Or perhaps the discomfort was within me rather than the environment.
As ever, with first sessions, it’s a getting-to-know-you vibe about it. As ever, a ‘scores-on-the-doors’ form is filled in to measure how depressed, anxious and stressed I am. They don’t make great reading. Anne gives me a concerned and earnest look and asks about my suicidal thoughts.
When the conversation turns to the underlying reasons, and my inability to get over my ex, Anne’s eyes widen more. Slightly disconcerting but I carry on, breaking gaze occasionally to look at a biro on the desk as I speak.
Anne’s response takes me by surprise. She confirms something I had thought myself but believed would be in a minority of one about. What I’m going through, Anne considers, is a living loss. Not only that but there’s no closure on it either.
All this time I thought I was over-reacting hysterically to a relationship break-up when in fact it’s a not uncommon response. She takes me through the stages of dealing with a living loss. It seems I get to the stage where disorganisation in my life is about to come reorganisation, then an event triggers it all back to the start of shock, anger, and so forth.
We also touch on sexuality. It’s something I’m comfortable talking about and Anne is pleasantly surprised by my attitude, especially in view of the somewhat old-fashioned views my parents had on it.
Kinks are touched upon too and again, I feel no embarrassment in discussing what I’ve tried. It all builds up a picture as to why, when it comes to deep intimacy and sex, there is a problem. It’s a reason that I use to blame myself for my ex leaving me, too. I know it’s partly why but not wholly, but when you’re depressed, the part becomes the whole. It has to stop some time.
Before long, the session is over. No pithy remarks or anything like that. Anne is, of course, a different soul from Lesley, so there’s a different rapport. I like her, I’m pleased that I find her beautiful without having any emotional attachment to it, and she seems to exude a mix of informality and certainty.
Anne asks me if I can practice some pelvic exercises, and when bathing, take time when using the flannel, to concentrate on feeling it against the skin, to see what parts of my body I enjoy the sensation of, and which parts I don’t. I laugh, thinking of the cartoon character on my flannel. So does Anne when I tell her. It’s a good time to end the session.
I walk out into the heat, not feeling any better, but then that wasn’t the point. Today was groundwork, a summary. The next time it begins. Until then, though, I’ll be living a loss. Except that now I realise that other people feel the same as I do. Up to five years it can take to get over a relationship, Anne says. At this point, I’ll take that. So one session down.
And only four years and six months of a living loss to go.