COVID-19 Forced Us Into Therapy and Healed My Relationship With My Mother
Living together throughout the pandemic, she and I determined the source of our anger with each other and figured out how to fix it.
My relationship with my mom has always been a close one. It’s the kind of relationship where the love feels so big that if you think about it too much, you’ll end up crying in the supermarket. But like most people’s relationships with their parents, it’s complex.
As I grew up, the men in my life were toxic and difficult. My father’s famous words before I was born were, “I’ll probably have nothing to do with her until she’s 2.” Twenty-six years later, I’m still not sure he even knows what my job title is. When I was 18 months old, my mom divorced him, and he became an angrier, almost vengeful figure who had no real interest in spending time with me but insisted he got to see me because it was “his right.” Six months later, my mom gained a new partner—a bullying, psychologically abusive, narcissistic man whose name still makes me sick to my stomach. He was in our lives for 10 years.
As I grew up, I had lots of problems—I was constantly anxious, I had OCD, I was bullied and I was constantly scared to be away from my mother. Even sleeping in my own bed at night was too scary. None of these things are really a surprise now, considering what was going on. Throughout my life I’ve suffered with periods of severe mental health issues, and even when I wasn’t depressed, I felt scared and ashamed. Scared of others, myself and the future—and after graduating from university—the feeling intensified. I spent a year in the city in which I studied, chopping and changing between temp jobs, trying to afford rent and spending 40 hours a week doing jobs that were panic-inducingly dull. Feeling completely defeated, anxious and questioning what the point was, I felt I had no choice but to move back home with my mom and her new partner.
I Didn’t Feel Safe in My Mother’s Home
They live in a quiet middle-of-nowhere village, the perfect place for a 20-something to start questioning how on earth they got there and what the hell they were going to do next. For the first couple of years, I got a job in the local pub, tried to start my illustration and writing career, and traveled up and down the country desperately seeking an escape from something I couldn’t put my finger on.
By March 2020, when the news of the pandemic was increasingly real and we entered the U.K.’s first lockdown, I could feel myself start to panic. Like many people, my coping mechanisms were running from what was eating me inside. I’d go and visit my friends, get a large distance between me and my home and try to keep myself incredibly busy. I started going for walks each day, and the walks got longer and longer until eventually, I was walking miles and miles every day, trying to keep moving from the invisible thing that was chasing me. I could feel that the tension in the house was getting worse. My mom and I were bickering a lot, and I could feel those age-old feelings of terror and panic around my new stepfather. Everything in me was telling me, “You are not safe,” despite the fact that there was no actual danger present (well, apart from the virus that had the potential to kill you).
Something I’ve learned trauma does to you is pickle your brain and teach your body to feel enormous amounts of fear in what would otherwise be a perfectly normal situation. Every day I grew angrier and more afraid. I felt increasingly unsafe in my home, and my body was telling me my mother couldn’t protect me. My anger toward her turned into frustration at the fact I couldn’t even articulate what was happening in my head. Why did everything make me feel sick? Why did I feel like I was betraying the young girl inside me? Why did I keep feeling furious at her even though she was just trying to live through a pandemic herself? Why did our relationship leave me feeling a deep well of sadness?
My Therapist Suggested I Seek Relationship Counseling With My Mother
One day, my mother and I were driving to a spot to take a walk together. Out of nowhere, we started to talk about the past. For the first time, I started to make sense of what was eating our relationship. “I feel like I’m always either angry at you or guilty…I think your stepfather ruined our relationship.”
As my mental health started to deteriorate, my therapist suggested that my mom and I seek relationship therapy to heal the wounds of the abuse we’d suffered together and fix what was between us. I agreed, but I don’t think either of us fully knew what was in front of us. We arrived at our first session in the dark and rain of late September. Sitting in front of our new therapist, she asked us why we were there. I went through the past, trying to place some distance between it and myself as I spoke about the very basics of what had happened. Each session started with us describing some seemingly menial event during our week that had bothered one of us and how we’d not communicated properly or how we always believed the other one to be angry with us.
These tiny details revealed themselves to be deep wounds stretching back over 20 years. One tiny exchange of words in our kitchen had turned into a knived trauma that had cut us both. Each interaction became a map of our entire lives. It became apparent very quickly how long we’d needed to do this, and as the fog cleared, we realized how much space and hurt there had been in what was, for both of us, our closest relationship.
Therapy Has Allowed Us to Be Honest and Open About Everything
That therapist’s room will always be a significant place in my mind, especially the paintings on its walls that my eyes would jump over as one of us cried. I remember looking over the spaces between the fire exit sign as I talked about my stepfather yelling insults at me, or looking at the dimly-lit lamp as we discussed the intensity of love between us, or at the gap between the heater and the wall when I realized that, as the old cliche goes, I was the only one who could fix myself.
We’ve been in therapy for nearly a year now, and over that time, the room and our therapist provided a space to release everything that needed releasing. It allowed us to connect with one another in ways that we’ve never been able to. It’s allowed us to forgive ourselves and each other for what we’ve been through, and it’s ignited the most enormous compassion for the person I love the most, helping me to forgive her for her mistakes.
It’s also let me see that, through all of the things we’ve been through, for everything that has gone wrong, she has always tried her best to do what she can for me. Every single parent makes mistakes, not always from lack of love but because they were not given what they needed when they were children. That understanding has helped me get closer to feeling that she loves me, and one day, I’ll be able to feel that fully and know that it's always there wherever I go. We’ve both been able to step back and see our relationship and look at the details. It’s easier to see your house is on fire when you’re standing on the steps in front of it.
I’m Starting to Regain the Love I Had For My Mother
When I look back on the course of events that led to this incredible experience, I think about the very human aspect that exists within all of us—the part that looks for the good in even the hardest of times. The timing of this experience could not have come any sooner or any later. COVID-19 has been one of the most life-changing events on the planet, and this horrendous year has revealed the intricate details of people’s lives, many of which have been ignored.
Although it’s been the most testing period of my life and countless others, I’m grateful for what it has given me, for what it’s opened my eyes to. It’s put me on a path to something I didn’t realize was possible. It’s shown me not to accept these feelings I’ve carried around my entire life. And it’s starting to make me realize that I’m allowed to feel loved. Sometimes I still slip up and panic or lose trust in her, but we’re getting better at getting back to that safe feeling much quicker.
Now I feel like I can tell her what’s going on inside of me, and it makes me trust a little more that she’ll be there throughout. I’m learning not to run, but to stay and look at the feelings that are in front of me, knowing it’s safe to let them out. It’s helped me to leave behind the anger I had toward her and let me get closer to really expressing the earth-shattering, enormous love that I have for her: a love that terrifies me but a love that is intrinsic to who I am.