It’s behind you!

As part of my therapy, my counsellor asked me to write a metaphorical story about me, as a child, and my struggles. So this is a little story about anxiety and the upbeat parts of my personality that I wouldn’t give away – the excitable parts. Would I swap my excitability if it would take away my panic? I’m not sure I would.

I’ll be taking this with me next therapy session to discuss it. Which is kind of nerve wracking. But here goes…

She opened her eyes. They were still sticky from sleep and she struggled to make out the shapes of her teddy bears sitting in a neat row at the bottom of her bed. The dust was floating calmly in the sunshine as it shone through the gap in the floral curtains.  The mass of teddy-like shapes gradually sharpened up and she could make out her favourite bear.

It was morning.

But wait. What was that? Was that a dark shadow lurking behind her purple woollen bear?

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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.











Psychiatry v Psychology

I’m neither a psychiatrist or a psychologist, but I’m a consumer of both ideas. So I reckon I can say something on the subject…

Have you seen the Twitter war? The psychologists v psychiatrists war of words in 140 characters. It can be as caustic as JK Rowling v Donald Trump, except in this war, as far as I can tell, there isn’t an obvious bad guy. And in this war, capital letters are only used for diagnoses and prescription pills.

As someone who pops antidepressants on a daily basis and pours her heart out to a complete stranger on a weekly basis, I find it all a little unsettling. Should there be one right way to do things? Am I in with the in crowd? (in taking antidepressants, I fear not).

I feel guilty for relying on chemicals that there is no definitive test for to prove that they work. But they feel as though they work – for me at least. And the thing is, as much as long-term psychological treatments can unravel deep rooted causes for my anxiety, its only available in six session blocks on the NHS. Those six session blocks can sometimes seem as much a sticking plaster as an antidepressant.

But something has changed. I’m seeing counsellor number six right now. I’ve only had four sessions but something has clicked. I’m not doing CBT (and don’t get me wrong, I do rate CBT, but in my case it has been more about managing symptoms than dealing with the cause). What I’m doing is working on self-esteem, shame and liberation. The things my counsellor believes might be driving my anxiety.

He’s a private counsellor. Through work. Because due to a severe lack of funding, the NHS referral took five months – so thank God for work’s Care First services and my prescription. Anyway…

Soda streamIt might sound a little clichéd, channelling the inner child and all that shite, but something really has clicked. For the first time ever. All of a sudden I feel as though I have found the secret door to happiness, I just need to find the guts and strength to kick that bastard door to pieces. I’ve ignored it in the past, that door. Looked the other way. Pretended it didn’t exist. Assumed it was far too heavy and thick to be moved. And even if I did sometimes confront it, I assumed there was a sheer drop behind it that would send me spiralling into a bottomless pit of hell, Napalm Death’s ‘music’ on a loop ringing in my ears and a severe infestation of spiders, rats and Piers Morgan.

But all of a sudden I am feeling a little giddy. That door feels more breakable. I reckon I just need Mr Miyagi to teach me how to kick with confidence and belief. And I’m mega excited to find out what’s behind it.

Liberation isn’t a scary word. It’s an enticing word. A word that can take me into a world where I can read a script with passion unafraid of sounding silly, where I can shout whatever I like as loud as I want at a basketball game, where I can sing along to Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Ear Worm on a karaoke machine and where I can jump into a pool and know I’m not going to die (the latter perhaps being the most important to me).

So right now I’m doing both. I’m embracing psychology and psychiatry. I absolutely see the value in both. And part of me believes that, without the help of psychiatric drugs, my mind wouldn’t have been calm enough to embrace the psychology. No blood test or lobotomy is going to prove that though.

So can I be fans of both please? Can we all go to the party together? I don’t want to feel bad or think that synthetic drugs are my evil crutch. It’s not my crack (that’s Diet Coke if anyone’s interested. Now that IS an issue). Maybe one day I wont need to take the pills. Maybe one day I wont need to attend therapy. But for now, it’s all good.






It REALLY couldn’t happen to a nicer…PR person

Me and TomMy mate Tom lives the life of a 90s PR. Those halcyon days when journalists had time to lunch with you at the restaurant responsible for underwriting your mortgage.

In reality, me and Tom (or Tom and I, as he will no doubt correct me) were just starting out in our PR and marketing careers back then, and all we knew of this glitzy lifestyle was Patsy and Edina’s version.

Still, Tom continues to embrace the Absolutely Fabulous notion that PR is glam. His house is equipped with a mahogany drinks cabinet and he always greets you with a ‘filthy fizz’ in a ridiculous champagne saucer. The fizz is usually accompanied by a new and searing insult.

“Are you really wearing those pedal pushers with those cankles, darling?”; or “What’s with the Croydon facelift?”; or “Did you wake up in 1992 this morning?”

I wrote about him recently for the #InYourCorner campaign by Time to Change. Because, through all my ups and downs, he’s always been there for me. But he needed me too.

Read the full article on Standard Issue