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’??).
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.
Don’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.