Psychology – I’m a believer!

Psychology has long fascinated me. But I never truly believed that psychological approaches would work for me in quite the way they seem to be right now. I never believed they could have a long-lasting, deep rooted effect. But much like The Pixies, Courtney Love and, sadly, Sun-In spray-on hair bleach (my locks haven’t been quite the same since the early 90s) I think something really is beginning to have an impact.

Given that I’ve had almost as many therapists as I’ve had hair colours over the years, I must make it clear that none of it was a waste of time. I’m not contributing to the suction of resources from the NHS for a giggle. All my sessions have helped in some way or another, and I have never forgotten the CBT tool and tactics that I picked up along the way.

The difference today, however, is that my therapy has shifted from symptom management to tackling the meaning behind my anxiety.

Now the meaning of my anxiety has always been as vague to me as the meaning of a Pixies song (I bloody love ‘Caribou’, I wanted it as my wedding song, but WTF is Black Francis on about – ‘I live cement, I hate this street, give dirt to me’??).


Sleep – one of my favourite things. Not recently something I’ve been very good at.

I guess the reason behind this apparent murkiness of meaning is laziness. I never truly believed that I could find any meaning to it, so I tried about as hard to find it as I did to pass my Law A Level. I just let the idea wash over me and carried on Googling sinister illnesses and then minimising the impact of said Google searches with CBT. Talk about sticking plasters.

But amazingly, when you let yourself open up to the idea, so much stuff magically appears in the front of your mind. So much stuff from your childhood. So many memories of feelings and behaviours that keep repeating themselves in my adulthood.

I panic when my husband goes snorkelling. To the point of begging him not to go back into the sea or to stay where I can see him, rather than going where the beautiful fishes are and enjoying himself. But I remember now that I felt the same about my dad when I was a kid. He used to go out for miles and I would feel unsettled until he returned.

However, when it came to me, I loved nothing more than jumping the waves on the Newquay beaches during the surf festival as a kid. I would stay there for as long as I possibly could with my sister, eventually realising that the tide had gone out so far that we were all of a sudden miles away from our wind break, sandcastles and now predictably warm and gritty sarnies. But we didn’t care.

‘Can the three girls jumping the waves in the surfing area please return to the beach. I REPEAT, CAN THE THREE GIRLS IN THE SURFING AREA RETURN TO THE BEACH IMMEDIATELY’.

Cue me, my sis and our best mate Pippa almost getting skewered by a surf board and a lifeguard on secondment from Bondi Beach seriously losing his Aussie cool.

So there is possibly something to consider here. As a little girl, I wanted to have fun, I wanted to take risks but I was also terrified of people getting hurt. It’s as big a conflict as deciding whether you’re a (commercial) rave fan or a (mainstream) grunge fan in high school in the early 90s. It’s a hellish conflict!

So I can see this now. I can see this little girl desperate to have fun but terrified of the world around her. And last night, in bed, when I felt as though heart palpitations were sneaking in, when I remembered the last time I had a major panic attack was after consuming pizza, chips and beer too, instead of losing myself in panic central, I imagined that little girl. Me. And I imagined giving her a hug.

Little meDon’t laugh. No, please don’t. I’m honestly not a hippy dippy love type channelling my inner soul and all that stuff. But it really worked! I have an image in my head of me, as a little girl, aged about four, wearing a navy dress with a little boat on it (how apt), sitting in a chair and wearing my white blonde hair tied up in a ponytail. And I imagined cuddling her (in reality, I was cuddling Tumba – my cuddly monkey hot water bottle). I imagined feeling her hair under my chin and slightly messing up her hairstyle with the hug. And then I fell fast asleep.

I woke up still clutching Tumba. There had been no panic attack. I slept through the night.

This might be a coincidence. But given that my last counselling session was on Thursday, and I have had two bloody brilliant sleeps since, it’s worth the effort to keep going. It’s worth it because it means I might be able to keep consuming my caffeinated Diet Coke and still get to sleep. It’s worth it because it will allow me to conserve my energy at night, rather than waste it all panicking about something imaginary like having a fatal illness that doesn’t even exist. And surely that’s more ridiculous than imagining that I’m giving my child self a hug?

However, as much as I love ‘Caribou’, I’m still not convinced I will find the real meaning there. So if anyone else wants to enlighten me, please go ahead.











What do British children have to be anxious about?

An international study has shown that British children are among the most anxious in the world.

This week’s news on the subject reminded me of a recent visit to my GP to discuss my anxiety. He compared my life in England to the life of those in war torn countries. I felt bad. And a bit stupid. I haven’t witnessed bus bombings or lost my home. And I am certainly not living on a fault line or at risk of being engulfed by an avalanche. What on earth do I have to be anxious about? Are we truly a country of whinging poms?

I’m no doctor, but one thing I do know is that anxiety can be a perfectly understandable response to an event. That is anxiety, but it’s not an anxiety disorder. Although traumatic events can certainly lead to one.

My GP was right in one respect. I haven’t grown up surrounded by trauma. My family wasn’t rich but we didn’t want for anything (except that Mr Frosty machine I asked for every Christmas). I had a nice home life, a mum I could talk to about anything and I did alright at school (if you take my D in Geography out of the equation, but at least I now know that I don’t live on a fault line).

So why, out of the blue, did a panic attack bring me to my knees on a busy street in Hull when I was a teenager? Why was I diagnosed with an anxiety disorder?

According to the NHS website, causes may include a history of stressful or traumatic experiences, a chemical imbalance in the brain, genetic factors, substance misuse and painful long-term health conditions.

I have no idea what caused mine. I don’t think there’s an actual test to prove that your chemicals are out of sync – although I know that anti-depressants make a big difference to me. As does talking therapy, exercise and cutting back on caffeine. So it must be a mix of things – both internal and external.

In my experience, I am more scared of the imaginable than I am of the reality. Before I was diagnosed with pleurisy as a teenager, I was convinced I had lung cancer. I wouldn’t even make 18 never mind 27 like Joplin and Hendrix. When I got the diagnosis, however, I just got on with the convalescence and quite enjoyed my time out from A-Level Law.

So if British kids are more anxious, it certainly doesn’t mean they are weaker.

Me grinningThe unknown plays a big role for me. I grew up in the 80s, when Charley the Cat showed us that ‘stranger danger’ was rife, and school assemblies featured warnings about acid rain and plastic bullets. No wonder I was worried.

In terms of my diet? Well, we ate crispy pancakes and Fray Bentos back then, and Maggie had previously taken the milk away so we were probably drinking blue pop instead.

My brain, my worries, my diet – it all must have played a part.

But what do today’s kids have to be anxious about?

Millennials seem to be far more concerned with world news and politics. My 18 year old is politically-savvy, which is great in some respects, but for several years now he has lay awake at night worrying about current affairs. Social media means it’s not just school assemblies where kids are burdened with warnings about how scary the world is, it’s a 24/7 stream of extreme fear. He was terrified about the Tory’s getting into power, but he got used to it, he dealt with it. Now it’s the unknown all over again. And it could get even worse.

‘Fake news’, climate change, snap elections, nuclear threats, unpredictable presidents, headlines telling us to eat more salmon to prevent cancer, headlines telling us too much salmon causes cancer. A ball of confusion that lives in every kid’s iPhone and niggles at them 24/7. They should be asleep, but they’re too worried to sleep, so they consume even more of it.

On top of possible chemical imbalances, traumatic events, genetic factors and of course adolescence, I’d say kids today do have an awful lot to be anxious about. With so many ways to access ‘stories’ (careful omission of the word news there), the unknown is rife.

Our kids have absolutely no clarity in what they are going to have to take on when we all draw our pensions. Perhaps along with mental health, ‘media and political resilience’ should also be added to the curriculum.

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It REALLY couldn’t happen to a nicer…child

It’s my last column for Standard Issue – *sniff* – so I thought I’d do something a little bit different.

During the past six months, I’ve talked to a comedian, an actor, a writer, a PR person, a public speaker, a former commando, a young globetrotter, a teacher, a hipster, a naughty elf  and a political strategist. But today, I’m going to look at something we have ALL been at some point in our lives: a child.

Me grinningI wrote about this subject for the Independent recently, following the final hearing of the joint inquiry into children’s mental health and education. Should we discuss mental health with children? Should it be on the curriculum? Do children even experience mental health problems?

We all know memories are not 100 per cent accurate, but I am going to try to transport myself back to the 80s and 90s when I first experienced panic, anxiety and a massive amount of excitability. Timings are not spot on but you’ll get the gist…

May 1982
It’s my fourth birthday tomorrow. I’m getting a new bike. From the bike shop. It’s red and there is a ball of wool on it. And a basket. And stabilisers. I can’t wait. It’s coming tomorrow! Soon, I won’t need stabilisers. Like that girl with the Raleigh Apple bike across the road.

I’m going to practice and practice and practice. I feel funny. I know they’ve got it in the house.

Can I have it in my room? Why? But why!? I’m not going to bed unless you put it in my room. No! NO! But it’s my birthdaaaaaay. But pleeeeeease.

I love my bike. It’s so pretty. I can’t sleep.

Muuuuum! Muuuuum! I feel sick! Muuuuum quick, it’s coming. Muuuuuu….bleurghhhhhhhhhhh bleurghhhhhhhhhhh

It’s got carrots in it again.

Read the full article on Standard Issue here

It REALLY couldn’t happen to a nicer…globetrotter

For my latest Standard Issue piece, I interviewed a very good and fabulous friend….

Rosie Willan has dived with great white sharks. Rosie Willan has anxiety.

She didn’t accidentally fall in the sea by the way. She chose to be trapped in a cage underwater in close proximity to a living breathing death machine (sorry shark fans – I grew up watching Jaws). You can bet Lemony Snicket’s anxious Aunt Josephine wouldn’t do that – she’s terrified of leeches, never mind sharks.

Kind of funny that Rosie isn’t fazed by sharks. Sometimes she’s terrified of her own body. And that’s much smaller and less frightening than a shark’s. But sometimes it does strange things. It can make her heart beat too fast and make her short of breath. For Rosie, that’s far more frightening.

Continue reading this article on Standard Issue

It REALLY couldn’t happen to a nicer…writer

How lush to interview a big inspiration, the fabulous Claire Eastham of hugely popular blog We’re all mad here for my Standard Issue column….

claire-easthamDid you see that girl, Claire Eastham, on This Morning last year, addressing the nation live with talk of her apparent ‘social anxiety’? FAKE NEWS! All this mental health bollocks. Everyone’s jumping on the bandwagon.

As if anyone with crippling social anxiety would even dare do that without breaking down into a blubbing mess live on TV. Social anxiety? My arse!

Of course that’s not really what’s on my mind. It’s more the injustice of that kind of thinking. And Claire – a seriously successful mental health blogger and author – knows only too well that there’s still stigma attached to mental illness.

“I think people expect me to be a nervous wreck,” she says, “Lots of people have social anxiety and still function. It’s just that sometimes they might need extra support.”

See the full article on Standard Issue

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Oops, I did it again


Napalm Death image (c) Onigiriwords

Except it’s not bubble gum pop like Britney. It’s more Napalm Death. I can’t bear Napalm Death. I can’t bear anxiety relapses either. It’s like I become the poor frightened soul the ‘singer’ of Napalm Death is screaming at. And he follows me EVERYWHERE.

That’s probably the perfect way to describe it actually. For me, anyway. My anxiety attacks are like living with Napalm Death. Inescapable. Loud. Too much crazy shit running through my brain and screaming at me. And then, just when you think you’re reaching the other side….it crashes back from nowhere like a hidden track blaring out from a CD that you really, really hate.

Continue reading

It REALLY couldn’t happen to a nicer…actor

For my latest piece for Standard Issue, I interviewed my other half, or, as our editor put it ‘I took my work home with me’.


Chris (right) in Wet House at Live Theatre with Riley Jones. Even loud, menacing actors can experience anxiety. (Don’t worry – he’s not this angry in real life).

When I saw Chris Connel on stage in his underpants it was love at first sight. Covered in fake marinade and lipstick, he had audiences in stitches every night as Stuart the hapless baker in Lee Hall’s dark comedy, Cooking with Elvis.

Don’t worry, that’s as Mills and Boon as I’m going to get. Put simply, I fancied the arse off him, fell for his terrible chatup line at the theatre Christmas party and the rest is history.

So it’s fair to say I got to know him pretty well over the years. And we have lots in common. Our obsession with Homeland and Gary Sparkles bingo; our love of Cat Stevens, big dinners and garden centres – and a shared experience of debilitating panic attacks. See, the thing is, as I’ve mentioned in previous articles, anxiety doesn’t just strike the wallflowers. Proud, loud, blokey actors get it too.

When I went to seek help because I thought my throat was going to close up and kill me aged 19, it was explained to me that I was suffering from anxiety, and I was offered a combination of medication and talking therapy. I took the talking therapy. It kept things pretty manageable for many years.

When Chris went to seek help because he thought his heart and lungs were going to kill him aged 19 (spooky eh?), he was told it was anxiety and sent away with nothing but propranolol (beta blockers). No explanation, no conversation, just drugs that didn’t even touch the sides.

Read the full article here on Standard Issue