Therapy Talk

At the beginning of 2015 I had a strange and unsettling episode that harked back to my days as a stressed out third year in university. It was a panic attack, full blown and frightening. Brought on, I think (it’s always hard to pinpoint), by a lack of direction in my life at the time. I had moved to Brussels with my boyfriend and was loving life in Belgium, but my nine month maternity cover job contract was coming to an end and I didn’t have anything else lined up. I was also conscious that my status as a girlfriend rather than a wife in this international setup was somewhat lacking in security. And so, after weeks of internalising my emotions, they built up and burst out of me in a tidal wave of fear. I hyperventilated myself silly, cried and panicked for the best part of an hour. Fortunately my then-boyfriend (now-husband – as it turned out I didn’t have to worry about that part) was on hand to offer words of support and encouragement. I calmed down. But I knew something inside me had awakened, and that I would need to find the courage to face it.

And so I did something I never thought I would actually do: I found a counsellor. And I went to my first session feeling embarrassed and stupid, like I was wasting her time and my own. And thinking surely counsellors are for people with real problems, not women whose biggest issues are which job to choose next and whether their boyfriends will decide to pop the question. But as I sat and talked, in the first session and the next, I realised this was about so much more.

We humans are like onions. When you start to peel away the layers you find layers you never knew existed. Each represents experience, and emotion. And until you have uncovered them all it’s hard to appreciate why you are the way you are, why you interact the way you do with others, with the world. And, most crucially of all, how you can adapt your behaviour to bring about positive and lasting change.

Almost eighteen months later I had my final session. It was tonight.

My counsellor asked me what three things I had learned from our sessions. I said, firstly, I’ve learned how to get some perspective. When I feel myself getting anxious, I now have the tools to dissociate myself from the stressor – even if just for a moment. I can then ask myself how big the problem is, really. If it will matter in three weeks, three months or three years. If it’s worth fighting or losing sleep over. And the answer, of course, is usually no. Secondly, I said I’ve learned some valuable coping mechanisms in response to specific situations. The best one was the victim-perpetrator-rescuer scenario, which I have used successfully to navigate occasional tricky patches in relationships. Finally, I’ve learned to be more empathetic towards others, to appreciate they have layers of their own (layers sometimes even they don’t know about). I have a propensity to be oversensitive, but now I have the capacity to realise that people don’t do things with the aim of upsetting me. It’s just the way they are, the way they have been conditioned. Just as my response to their behaviour is the way I have been conditioned.

It’s been a great experience.

I’ve learned a lot: About the person I was, the person I am and the person I want to be.

Now it’s time to take back the reins.

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On Being Judgemental

I don’t remember much about my religious education at school, but one passage from the Bible I remember very clearly was this one, from Matthew 7:1-5:

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the human inclination towards judging others. I like to think I’ve been brought up to be accepting, but the reality is that as a result of my experiences, education and interactions with others, a million layers of conditioning have permeated and fused with the synapses in my brain, and they are influencing me every day without me being consciously aware.

I know this because I occasionally catch myself having a fleeting judgmental thought that doesn’t fit at all with how I view myself as an accepting individual. I am so shocked, in these moments, as I cannot reconcile such thoughts with how I see myself or how I want to be. But, whether I like it or not, those thoughts are a part of me, perhaps not a part I am proud of or happy about, but a part of me nonetheless.

Why do we, as a species, so often seek to ridicule – and, in some cases even hate – that which we don’t understand or identify with? What is it that compels us to develop prejudices that serve only to blind us of the very things in our own character that are flawed and need attention? I do not, nor ever could, pertain to know the answer to these questions. But I can’t help feeling that the world would be a better place if someone could.

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Tat’s Life

I’ve been fascinated by tattoos for as long as I can remember; intrigued by the stories they tell, by their boldness and their permanency. I had my first one done around the age of nineteen, and whilst I can’t say it was the most profound of experiences (if I recall correctly I’d imbibed at least two pints of cider after a university lecture and had dragged my reluctant friend to the tattoo parlour with me intent on getting a dragon on my hip, but when we got there and they didn’t have any dragons in the book I opted for a four leaf clover instead – lucky I’ve never regretted it. But then, how can you regret luck?), it set me on a path of discovery that I’m very much still following today.

Each tattoo since that first one has held more emotional significance. The second, a literal translation of ‘inner strength’ into Cambodian script on my lower back, was done after a long term relationship ended badly in 2007, and I wanted to mark the start of my recovery by remembering the happy time I had spent alone in Cambodia before news of my ex’s infidelity broke. The next one came along after a stint of travelling in 2011. Written in English on my foot, it is the last line of a Buddhist prayer (‘May all beings be free), the full version of which my parents kindly gave me as a talisman on a necklace before I commenced my travels. On that trip I had a magical experience with a green turtle whilst diving in the Perhentian Islands off the coast of Malaysia, which I felt was relevant to the last words of the prayer (and hence also to the meaning of the tattoo). I also happened to meet the person I sincerely hope to spend the rest of my life with, who makes me feel more free to be myself than anyone I’ve ever known.

And then there’s the newest addition to the tattoo clan. I’ve been toying with this one for a while, and it’s been particularly difficult because it is related to the thing I’ve struggled most with for the majority of my adult life: Writing. Some of you may know I went part time a year ago to focus more on my writing, but due to a severe lack of discipline on my part, ‘success’ (whatever that means) hasn’t materialised in quite the way I’d hoped it might. So I’ve recently decided to take off some of the pressure, to try and write ‘for love’ instead of fame and fortune. And to help me both with my writing and with the new transition I’m about to make to life as an expat in Brussels with my partner, I decided one more tattoo was appropriate – this time the unambiguous word ‘Believe,’ written as if by a feather quill, which is also included in the design, and which stretches over onto the top of my arm.

I’m sure none of my tattoos will be to everyone’s taste, but all that matters to me is that they are to mine. Not only that, each one (with the exception of the clover, but I love it nonetheless) marks important stages in my life – beginnings, endings, declarations of hope. Each to their own, I say. Maybe I will be embarrassed by them one day, when I’m old and wrinkly and they no longer look as good as they once did. But, like my wrinkles, my tattoos will go to the grave with me, and they will tell the story of adventures, of love, of aspiration: They will tell the story of a life well lived.

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Silent Disco at the Shard

Last night I went with three girl friends to a special silent disco event at the top of the Shard, organised by Time Out. I first discovered the silent disco concept several years ago in a south London club. The idea of everyone wearing headphones with the option of flicking between several different music channels seemed utterly ridiculous – and I loved it from the outset. Since then I’ve attended only a handful of similar events, most recently at London Zoo as part of its series of ‘Lates’ evening events. But whilst silent disco dancing near wild animals was fun, it was nowhere near comparable to doing it on the top three floors of the tallest building in Western Europe.

With its unobstructed 360 degree views across London, the View from the Shard is really something else. Not being a big fan of heights I wasn’t quite so taken with the outside viewing platform on the top floor, but in the two enclosed floors beneath I was in my element, switching between the three available music channels as I bopped away with the rest of the lucky few who had purchased tickets to the event. It really was a phenomenal experience, and one I doubt I will ever be fortunate enough to repeat. It’s nights like that which make seasoned Londoners like myself appreciate this magnificent city all over again – God bless London, and God bless the creators of the silent disco (the crazy bastards).

Send off

Today is my last day as Communications Manager at the NSPCC. It’s been a rocky sixteen months to say the least, but as I sit here on the verge of saying goodbye I do have fond feelings for the organisation that’s given me the chance to really prove my worth as a communications professional. More than anything I will miss the many lovely people who I’ve met here. It’s funny (or maybe not) how it’s not until the very end that you’re able to see all of the good points shining through the frustrations and problems. But there have been good points as well as the bad, and I have grown stronger as a person as a result of this experience.

I’ve ended on a high with a lovely lunch at the Breakfast Club with some of my colleagues, and am now ready to close this chapter of my life and embrace the challenges ahead. Who knows what the future will bring, it’s exciting and terrifying in equal measure. But if the events of the last few weeks have taught me anything it’s that you only get one shot at life, so you may as well make it your best.

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Restoration

Apologies to anyone who is hoping for the next instalment of the story I’ve been writing over the past few days, but today I thought I’d mix things up a little and return to blogging. I am, after all, sitting in an ex-brothel in the centre of historic Prague, and it seems wrong not to acknowledge the effect this place has had on me over the past few days.

I’ve written a full feature on my experience of Prague which I will be posting tomorrow on the Bea blog, but what I would just like to say in this post is that coming here has reminded me how wonderful it is to step out of your life from time to time and experience another culture. As an aspiring writer I always feel particularly moved when I explore another part of the world, as it reminds me how much more there is to know and understand.

I defy anyone who is suffering from writer’s block not to find inspiration here, where every twist and turn in the maze of back streets brings a new surprise – whether architectural delights, performance artists, odd little museums or delightfully quaint restaurants serving traditional Czech fare such as goulash and dumplings (just like grandma used to make – yum).

Breaking out of normal life for a couple of days can be really beneficial – not least when ‘normal life’ is proving troublesome, as in my case with recent redundancy news and subsequent job searching and interviews. I arrived here feeling drained and stressed, but after three nights in my (free upgrade!) palatial suite in the Mamaison Pachtuv Palace hotel and time spent wandering by the river, drinking local beer and eating hearty traditional fare I’m leaving feeling inspired, rested and ready to resume my job search with renewed enthusiasm.

God bless Prague and all who sail in her.

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I took this last night whilst strolling around the old town square. It sums up just how wonderfully atmospheric this city is. I don’t want to leave!