Beginnings and Endings in Therapy, Covid and Beyond
It has been a remarkable twelve months even within the quiet contained walls of Chichester in West Sussex where my counselling practice is based. That sense of the unusual seems to be continuing. Within the UK the Covid situation is easing but the pandemic has not yet ended. There still appears to be a long road to walk despite the many vaccinations and the lessening of those lockdown restrictions. Perhaps for some of us this sense of a gradual easing back into a form of normality mirrors other situations we find in life. It certainly has parallels in the counselling world.
Emotional challenges can arise unexpectedly. A personal world that is safe and familiar can be suddenly disrupted. Anger, panic, loss or jealousy can come from nowhere, triggered by events which we do not control and may not understand. But we are affected. We engage, resist, succumb or challenge. We endure for days, weeks, months or even years before things start to ease. Even then there is rarely a sudden ending but instead concerns start to fade with an inconsistent oscillating pattern. Perhaps change occurs because of positive actions we have deliberately taken (such as engaging in counselling work) or maybe we just begin to develop some immunity and resistance.
Eventually the feeling subsides. It does not vanish but it reduces to the extent that we can live with it as a presence in our psyche. We are aware that the disturbing emotion remains. On occasions that is irritating but gradually we come to terms with this new factor. We accommodate the shadow and allow it to become part of the fabric of life. So long as it remains in the background for most of the time we can tolerate and even accept the occasional outburst.
By now I am not certain if I am still writing about the emotional dysfunctions in life which we learn to deal with or whether I am back with Covid and the resulting impact on both society and ourselves. Certainly as far as Covid is concerned it seems as though we are now setting out on that road to something which will eventually approximate to a new normality. There will be consequences from this new normality. There will undoubtedly be changes which will persist. Perhaps some of these can be beneficial. It is likely for example that a positive societal aftermath of Covid will be a willingness to devote resources towards planning and preparing for the next pandemic.
That can also provide a further parallel with our emotional lives. Our sense of being right, of being in control and generally functioning as a responsible human being can be challenged by an emotional reaction to an unexpected event. That could be a major happening or just a friend’s casual reflection on something we said or did many years ago. ” But that was not me. I cannot believe I said or did that. That is not who I am.” Most of us can probably identify with that shocked reaction when someone we respect holds up a mirror that reflects back a very different self-image to that we expect to see. Our assured self-perception suddenly appears as conceited, arrogant and inappropriate.
That shock can help us prepare for what is to come. The ending of a relationship reminds us that we are not immune from loss. The flash of anger and bitterness helps us to acknowledge that the world may not always be as we wish to see it. Reality can begin to take different forms. Our truth may be far more temporary than we expect. Our integrity may be more fragile than we perceive it to be.
And the unexpected cancer (or Covid?) scare provides a reminder of fragility and of the impact of time on age. We experience and we learn. We catch our breath and on a good day go forward with the hope that the scars will heal and fade.
But on occasions scars will become a permanent mark. At times there may not be a recovery. Sometimes normality even a strained version of normality, may not return. There is a loss which is permanent. Within our personal lives that may be the ending of a relationship through divorce, death or a rupture with a friend or lover that is irretrievable. The career dreams may have finally ended. The health diagnosis may be terminal. We then have to learn to deal with that loss, the regrets and with that new reality.
The same will be true of our post pandemic society where many have died, a multitude of businesses have closed and careers ended. There will be a general recovery across the land but for many life will be different. It may be easier for some to deal with that new reality. Where loss is tolerated and a positive future beckons through the gloom, that sense of underlying optimism may indicate a robustness that will prevail.
For others there may be a continuing sense of struggle which is just too much. A feeling of futility grows rather than diminishes and the heavy sighs swamp those attempts to speak with a lighter voice. Loss for some becomes just too heavy a burden to be carried or perhaps too weighty to be carried alone It is then when assistance should be sought and help should be provided. We can all offer, encourage or just listen and we should be prepared to do so.
And if you are there for others who do you allow to be there for you? Perhaps it is time to think carefully about just why you have built those protective walls. What purpose do they serve? And if it is time to begin the process of removing some of those suffocating defences just who will you trust to listen to you. Who is the friend, colleague or family member who will be allowed to listen to your narrative, witness your pain and help you to look forward and believe?
And if that supporter, that trusted friend is hard to find then perhaps it is time to turn to a counsellor. That first discussion with a therapist will quickly provide you with a sense as to whether the counselling room can be the safe place in which you can start to work through those aspects of loss that you can voice.
T S Elliot wrote of endings and beginnings. It will be up to you to decide whether the eventual ending of this remarkable period in our lives can become a new start.
What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning
The end is where we start from.
T S Eliot
Four Quarters – Little Gidding v.