Maternity Leave, Eternity Leave & Lessons From A Goldfish

Some of you will know that I recently moved. I did a straight room swap with someone, and when this someone else moved, she – let’s call her K. – left behind a great big goldfish bowl with accompanying goldfish. Now, I told her straight off that I didn’t want it; I could never keep fish like that, in an un-oxygenated bowl with no black-out sides and nothing inside the bowl for the poor fish to hide behind. She told me she was going to get a smaller tank to fit in her room and come back for her fish. Being the friendly [if somewhat horrified] person that I am, I told her fine, just put it in the hallway for now, but make sure to come get it as soon as possible. No worries, K. replied and went on her way.

A week passed. Nothing. I started googling to find out what the heck to feed my un-invited flat mate [finely chopped spinach and orange, apparently] as I couldn’t just let it starve. I texted K. Nothing. I put a tea mug in the tank so the fish would have somewhere to hide from the world. Another week went by. Another text. Met by even more silence. And then, yesterday morning, a text from K. saying “Sorry about the late reply, I was busy with exams until Friday and now I’ve gone abroad. Won’t be back until January”. What the flying BEEEP..!?

Needless to say, I wasn’t much pleased with this development, so I texted her back saying that I understand she’s been busy, but really, sending a text takes seconds – anyone can fit that in no matter how busy – and wouldn’t it have been a good idea to check that someone was actually going to be in the flat over Chrismukah & New Year to look after her fish? Apologised in case I sounded harsh, but honestly I wasn’t very impressed.

Now, I’m not someone who habitually sends out even remotely angry sounding texts, so having sent off the text I sat down to reflect, realising that this was probably about something bigger than just the poor goldfish. I mean, I’m not actually going away, and feeding a fish isn’t exactly hard labour. So what was it about all of this that was really upsetting me?

Seems pretty obvious from a distance, right? What was really bugging me was – of course – the fact that she could so easily leave this living being behind without a thought, without making sure someone was going to be there to make sure that it was OK.

Fast forward to later in the day, still thinking about the fish, feeling genuinely upset by it being abandoned like that, I realised that I was very much identifying with this poor fish, and that my anger with K. was probably more accurately a misplaced expression of anger with A. leaving me behind, with no one to look after me.

So that’s what yesterday’s session – the final one before a two week Chrismukah break – was spent on. Trying to explore the feelings I have, not only around this break, but also about A.’s maternity leave – which I feel, ought really be re-named eternity leave. How I feel, much like this little fish, left to my own device in this not-great-but-won’t-kill-me place, where all I can do is to swim round and round in circles.

I feel that being in therapy gives me a sense of direction, like – although progress is often excruciatingly slow – I’m going somewhere, I’m moving. But with this massive break coming up, well, I’m not sure what to do with it, what to do in that huge expanse of time. Do I retreat into the tea cup of my mind? Do I try to move forward on my own, risking getting myself into territory I’m not at all ready to cope with outside of the safety of the therapeutic setting? Or do I just stand still? I genuinely don’t know, and that makes me feel lost and frightened.

A. gave me the breakdown of her plan for her maternity leave on Tuesday. She’s planning to keep working until the fourth week of February [but, naturally, there is no guarantee that that will happen] and then she’ll be off until some time in July when she will go back on a part time basis, meaning I will have only one session a week, in contrast to the three I’m currently having. And, of course that makes perfect sense, from her point of view, to start over slowly. But for me, I’m not really so sure. Going from thrice weekly therapy to weekly sessions, it’s one heck of a drop, even if it is temporary.

I’ve been in weekly therapy before [albeit not with A.], and it is incredibly different to having more sessions in a week. My experience of weekly therapy is that, although it is helpful – and certainly better than nothing – it’s very.. hm.. choppy. Because so much can happen in the week between sessions, there is both a sense of wanting to cram as much as possible into that one session, and also there is very little flow between sessions. What you started talking about last week can easily be pushed to the side, in favour of new exciting events and thoughts, and deeper exploration often suffer as a consequence. And if you are, as I am, prone towards avoiding digging too deep, this can be used as a way to get away with not looking below the surface of things. So, that worries me.

Towards the end of last session I was really finding it difficult to speak, feeling very emotional and tearful. I just felt utterly overwhelmed by this feeling of being left completely on my own, and feeling that I really haven’t got the tools to stay above water. Like I said to A.: Forget about that nice sturdy IKEA bag I was hoping to find, right now I’d settle for the flimsiest of Morrisons carrier bags to help somehow contain my emotions. I feel really worried that, lacking a time and place to express what’s going on inside of me, those horrendous flashbacks will start coming back again, in the way they did earlier this year. I just don’t feel I’d be able to cope with that. Not without resorting to self-harm again.

A. pointed out that despite things being difficult, I was still managing to look after that goldfish and taking steps to make things as comfortable as I can for it, given the situation, to which I had to admit that I had, in all honesty, thought that I really ought to put that poor fish out of its misery, as I can’t bear watching it live out its life in this depressing little tank. I realised then that this could easily be interpreted as my expressing thoughts of wanting to end my own life, because it just feels too miserable and closed in, and so I felt I had to reassure A. that this wasn’t my plan, that I simply wouldn’t have been able to kill the fish, or myself. I’m not entirely sure if this is true, but metaphoric suicide didn’t feel like a very good note to end the session on, and after all, the woman is pregnant, so I felt I needed to smooth things over.

Don’t worry, I’m not saying I’m suicidal, only that it’s kind of hard to know with me. Even for me.

At points in this final session I felt very strongly that I needed A. to reassure me, to play the good, nurturing therapy mother, and tell me that things would be OK, but, for whatever reason A. didn’t seem to pick up on that, and said very little when I felt I needed it most. [Yes, I do recognise that this is the child in me being angry at not getting instant gratification]. But then, at the very end of session, as we said our goodbyes, she gave me this very warm smile [which, for all I know she may have been giving me all through session, but since I rarely look at A. during session I wouldn’t know] which made me feel so much better, and I wished her a good break. And I meant it.

All the very best and more,


PS. Once again, thanks to all of you who have voted for my blog in the TWIM Awards. The polling station is still open, so if you haven’t but would like to register your vote there’s still a little bit of time left.  Just click here. :) Voting closes at mid-day on December 31st.

12 responses

  1. Just wanted to say that this is a really lovely post. Again you’re really doing so well in terms of thought process. You just seem so AWARE of it and make connections between things I think most people wouldn’t even think of. Pretty astonishing, I think. Anyway, I hope that this first break isn’t too hard and that you are able to use the weeks after the break to talk about the up-coming major break. I’m rooting for you!

    PS. I really love that term “eternity leave”. Definitely is more of an eternity leave that a maternity leave for the client

  2. Hi again

    Just wanted to say that I clicked the link above to vote for you and some other blogs but I don’t think they were registered. Could be because I’m at the library I don’t know. Seems to work on your blog. Anyway just wanted you to know that I did vote for you even if it doesn’t seem to have gone through.

  3. Heya Maya,

    Thanks for the comment. Always nice to hear from you. The break has been bearable so far, but it’s pretty scary to have a break just before another break. I’m more than just a little freaked out about it, I have to admit. But, I’m trying to take it a day at the time. It’s all I can do.

    Hope you have a lovely day!


  4. Hello Maya,

    Thanks for voting for me. That’s really sweet of you and I appreciate it. I find it astonishing that anyone finds my blog interesting enough to follow, to be honest, but I’m glad that you do! I’ve emailed TWIM to tell them that your vote appears to have gone missing, just in case it’s got stuck in a spam filter or something. I don’t really know if posting from a library would make that more likely to happen; as you said, your comments seem to get through to my blog OK. Might be something to do with having commented on my site before. I know that TWIM will view comments before they go live on the site.

    Once again, thank you for your support!


  5. Hello,

    We have been following your blog for a while now, although we’ve not posted comments. Just wanted to say that your courage is pretty amazing and the way you write is so absorbing. I stumbled across your blog by chance some time ago looking into conversion to Judaism, and I found your blog so fantastic I directed my hubby here too, and now we’re both big fans. You write really sensitively and honesty about some incredibly difficult things! You said in an above comment that you’re surprised that people who don’t even know you find your blog interesting, but you shouldn’t be surprised because reading your blog makes us feel like we DO know you!

    Wishing you a happy Hanukah and lots of good things in the new year.

    Rachel & Peter Jacobson

    PS. We’ve both registered our votes for you at TWIM (PTSD & Therapy). You TOTALLY deserve to win!

  6. Hi again,

    Sorry to be “multi-commenting”. Just so you know, we took the liberty of letting TWIM know about “Maya’s” comment above. Being solicitors tend to make you prone to being anal about fairness.. Now it looks like neither of our comments are going through, either. Very odd, although could be because we are at a coffee house using the same laptop. By the way, it looks like the person counting votes at TWIM is also the author of one of the blogs nominated in the same categories as you (Confessions Of A Serial Insomniac). Of course this doesn’t automatically mean that there is anything fishy going on, but it’s just an interesting thing. (Did we mention being anal about fairness..?)

    Anyway, you should DEFINITELY have two votes for Best Therapy & two votes for Best PTSD from us.

    Rachel & Peter Jacobson

  7. Hello – Great blog. We too (James and I) have just voted for you! So that’s another 2 votes for each category. Hope to get to read more updates from you very soon. Know you don’t celebrate Xmas, but Happy New Year for later!

    Jenny (and James)

  8. Hello Peter & Rachel

    Thanks for both of your comments and for voting for me. It’s all very sweet. I’m glad you feel that you’re getting to know me through my blog. That’s the idea.

    Just to say, regarding the your other comment on the TWIM voting thing.. Yes, I am aware that Pan is both nominated and counting, but I have ABSOLUTELY no problem whatsoever with that. I have complete and utter faith in her sense of fairness. And you should check her blog out – it’s fantastic! If you like this one, chances are you may like hers, too. :)

    All the very best and more,


  9. Hello you two.

    Thanks for liking my blog, and rest assured that there will be plenty of updates in the months to come. Have a feeling that once A. goes on maternity leave I will be using the blog as a bit of “substitute therapy”.

    Happy New Year to you, too


  10. Hello again,

    Thanks for responding to our comments. We have sorted out the votes at TWIM now (we think). Didn’t mean to sound like we were accusing anyone of anything, so apologise for that.

    Hope you have a great new year and keep writing!

    Rachel & Peter Jacobson

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