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.

Anxiety-Looking-Glass

Thoughts for the Philippines

I’ve been so saddened to hear of the devastation that’s been caused in the Philippines by the recent typhoon. Two of the worst affected parts are the islands of Leyte and Malapascua, both places on our travel itinerary for January. The dive school where we are booked to stay for three nights on Malapascua has been completely devastated (see pic) and supplies are being sent in from the office on the northern tip of Cebu, which hasn’t yet managed to make contact with the inhabitants. Similar devastation has befallen Leyte, where we are due to go on a whale shark tour.

The clean up and repair operation of this beautiful paradise will likely take months, but the emotional scars of the survivors may last forever. When we visit in January it will be a very different Philippines that we find to the one we had expected, but I suspect we will come across individuals and whole communities who have been strengthened in the face of such tragic adversity. I hope we may even be able to help in some small way, perhaps through some form of relief volunteesring.

News like this makes me realise just how charmed a life my peers and I lead. I can’t imagine the shock and horrors those poor people have suffered and seen over the past few days, it’s almost incomprehensible. All I can say is that my thoughts and prayers go out to them all.

 

The ones you meet along the way

I’ve talked before about the different types of friend we make on the journey of life, and how each type offers something different and complementary to help us feel complete. Well, last night I spent the evening with a group of people who I met two years ago whilst volunteering for Raleigh International in Borneo. In so many ways that was a pivotal time in my life. I had finally broken free of the emotional shackles of a previous relationship – four whole years after it ended – had quit my job and was at the start of a seven month adventure. I was, in short, feeling positive and excited about what the future held.

Not only did I meet the man who would become my boyfriend on that expedition, I also met a number of lovely people, all quite different to me, who I am still in touch with today. When we get together there’s a great feeling of nostalgia – we shared something so special during our time in Borneo. It wasn’t always plain sailing (far from it), but we made it through the ups and downs as a team, which is why I love getting together and catching up here in the ‘real’ world. It keeps me grounded, reminds me of how much we achieved and how sometimes strength of spirit really is enough to get you through the toughest of times – that and support from those around you.

So, last night a few of us met up in a quiet and unassuming pub in north London and had a proper catch up, some food, drinks and generally put the world to rights. It didn’t matter one bit that we’re all different ages and at different life stages, and that’s something I value about this type of friend – when you meet people travelling the only thing that matters is who you are, not how old you are, what you do or where you’re going. It’s all about you in that moment, and maybe that’s why this type of friendship, if you can sustain it after your travels have ended, is such a valuable thing to help you keep a sense of yourself long after you return. 

Image

This was taken right at the end of our expedition in Borneo, on an island called Pulao Tiga (where they film ‘Survivor,’ no less). In the pic are me, my boyfriend and four of the people I met up with last night. This brings back such happy memories 🙂