Richard Pierce


Day 118

Therapy is pretty intense. Yesterday, just before it was due to start, I felt more nervous than I had when I first started four years ago. It’s not just like you’re facing yourself in a mirror, it’s like an out-of-body experience, looking at yourself from the outside and not knowing what you might find. Therapist silences are deliberate, and they are intended to liberate. Whilst I might be self-censoring this, here, this placing of myself into the public domain, there can be no self-censorship in therapy. And therapist silences are there to allow us to come even more out of ourselves, to encourage (not provoke) us to keep talking, to keep emptying our minds out into the room (virtual nowadays). When a therapist speaks it’s to guide or to counterpoint, or to make a gentle suggestion. My therapist has never said “do this, do that,” and only ever suggested things I might want to try. Ninety minutes of therapy after no therapy at all for 18 months is pretty hardcore.

When I finished my first set of therapy three years ago, I put together The Eight Lessons Of Therapy and hung them on the wall over my desk. That piece of paper was the first thing I hung on the wall in this new study after it was built last July. After yesterday’s therapy, I need to change it to The Nine Lessons of Therapy, because I learned something new yesterday, or should I say, I finally consciously learned it, because it’s been swimming around in my head for a while but has been something I tend to forget. So…

The Nine Lessons Of Therapy

  1. You are not alone.
  2. There is no need to catastrophise.
  3. Take 10 seconds not to think, and then consider.
  4. The middle ground is the most fertile.
  5. Make time for yourself.
  6. Past pain will not disappear but can be mitigated.
  7. Negative emotion can be used constructively.
  8. Reflective thinking + emotion = understanding.
  9. Ask questions rather than offering solutions.

The interesting thing is that we came up with the last one yesterday as an initial coping mechanism for me when I worry about others in my life going through a bad time, when I am always eager to come up with what I think is a bomb-proof solution to a problem rather than letting them work through problems and come up with a solution themselves. And I also suddenly, in a lightbulb moment, while we were talking realised that I could just as easily apply that to myself when I keep running round in circles trying to give myself solutions for my problems when I should be asking myself gently guiding questions that might make me less fraught and less expectant of quick fixes. It also chimes with what my acupuncturist said about me, that I’m a man who’s always looking for a quick fix rather than letting my body heal itself naturally and in its own time.

I’m learning.



‘Civilisation?’ Zav says, his voice too loud in the spartan office.

‘The key,’ Robert says. ‘Where do they get you people from?’

‘Independent schools,’ Zav says.

‘I had heard they called them that nowadays,’ Robert says, putting the key into the worn hole of the heavy unfarmed oak door. ‘I went to a public school, unashamedly. Only a day boy, though. Perhaps my parents did have some love for me, after all.’

‘I boarded,’ Zav says.

‘I can tell.’ Robert pushes the door open, and the darkness and echo of the huge space ahead of them rushes in. ‘Very easily corrupted, boarders were.’ He laughs, slaps Zav on the back. ‘Pulling your leg, my dear boy, just pulling your leg. I always felt very sorry for boarders to be honest. Never felt it said much for their parents that they just dumped their boys in that place and ran away.’ He turns to Katharina. ‘I’ve been ignoring you. I am sorry. Welcome to mine and God’s palace.’ He closes the door to the office behind them all.

‘I don’t believe in God,’ Katharina says. ‘Cold heart, cold stone. Look at the world.’

‘You don’t have to believe.’ Robert’s voice is a disembodied breath in the gloom. ‘This is a place of safety whether you believe or not.’

‘Palaces are only safe places for the rich,’ Katharina says, her Norwegian accent more noticeable than ever.

‘You would be so right anywhere else, my dear,’ he says, ‘But here, surrounded by this glorious dark, you are safe. I guarantee it. Come.’ He takes her hand, leads her through one of the high arches into the Quire. The stone is smooth and white, glows in the dark with some ethereal light which comes from nowhere. ‘Touch it.’ He guides her hand onto the stone. ‘It’s not cold at all, is it?’

‘How?’ she says. ‘Marit, come feel this. It’s amazing.’

Marit’s voice comes from the other side of the arch, her hand wrapped around one of the columns that make it. ‘I can feel it. I didn’t think it was possible.’

Aggie takes a few steps through what to her is no darkness but the lightest light, sees the others around her, Robert straight ahead, an indulgent smile on his face the others can’t see. She reaches out and touches another one of the columns, feels the stone beneath her fingers, solid and yet soft, smooth, but with the stories of ages running through its atoms, its fissures, its veins. ‘It’s alive,’ she says, under her breath.

‘Very much,’ Robert says. ‘It’s all very mysterious, but I wander around here when I can’t sleep, when I need some sort of absolution for what stops me sleeping, or when I’m lonely, and I feel great comfort amongst these stones, and the wood, and the peaceful air.’

‘I do the same at home,’ Aggie says. ‘I let myself into the cathedral in Norwich and walk round it in the dark.’

‘You let yourself in?’ he says.

‘I have ways.’

‘I’m sure you have,’ Robert says. ‘Aren’t you afraid of being caught?’

‘Who by?’ she says. ‘God, or the Devil, or the people who say they own and run the place?’

‘All of them.’

‘No, I’m not afraid,’ she says. ‘I don’t think I’m afraid of anything, somehow.’ She looks at him. ‘Except for the cathedral not being there. When the floodlights go out at night, that’s when I go; to make sure it is still there.’

‘What a strange woman you are.’

Aggie shrugs. ‘I don’t know what I am, if I’m strange or not. I just want to be happy.’

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