It was a cold Friday morning in January. I was hovering nervously outside the office of Professor Dave Black waiting for a psychological evaluation for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
Psychological and evaluation.
Two words I believed were reserved for the depressed, the mentally troubled, the crazy. And possibly Donald Trump.
So how could these words apply to me?
But they did apply to me, because apparently I had anxiety and apparently Cognitive Behavioural Therapy could help. Which was why I was waiting there. Waiting to be psychologically evaluated…
But for the record, I DIDN’T BELIEVE MY ISSUES WERE CAUSED BY ANXIETY!
Because I believed I had a serious health condition and I just wanted to be well.
I’d had enough of the pain, the worry and being ruled by a tormented body and tortured mind which left me incapable of focussing on anything,
EXCEPT MY HEALTH!
Focussing on my health had become my job.
And it was the worst job ever!
Even worse than the job I once had in a fish factory which involved sticking my hands in smelly fish guts at 6am on Saturdays in freezing cold conditions. Usually while dealing with a hangover.
It was completely exhausting.
The conditions were Dickensian.
I worked on it 24 hours a day.
It cost a fortune and paid me nothing.
There was no time off.
And the food was rubbish.
So I decided it was time to quit.
Which was why I was standing there waiting to meet a Psychologist. A Professor. Who might be able to help with that.
Introducing the very, very familiar, Professor Black
It was time to go in.
A voice called out ‘enter’ and I opened the door, expecting to see a white coat-clad ‘shrink’ and a couch behind it.
There was no couch.
But there was a desk and behind it sat a sandy haired chap about my own age who looked like he was a member of the 80’s pop group, Madness – very fitting given he was located in a Psychologists office.
However, he didn’t look like a psychologist. And he wasn’t wearing a white coat.
Yet he was strangely familiar.
In his turned up jeans, black DocMarten boots and red plaid shirt with braces, he reminded me of the guys I hung around with in my college days.
Against a backdrop of Cure, Smiths, New Order and Margaret Thatcher, we navigated our way to almost adult life, sharing secrets and experiences in those precious halcyon days between leaving school and becoming real grown ups. We were actors, cast in a tale of youth and hope, in a rose-tinted world where anything was possible and only good things lay ahead.
And seeing a psychologist was definitely not in the script.
As I sat down the Madness lookalike said, ” hello, I’m Professor Dave Black, but my husband calls me Prof D!”
I admired his honest openness and felt I could trust him.
“So what do you know about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy?” asked Professor Black.
“Not much,” I said honestly, while staring at him intently and thanking the Psychology gods for my good fortune.
And in case you don’t know much either, here’s a summary from Dr Google…
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave… based on the concept that your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and actions are interconnected, and that negative thoughts and feelings can trap you in a vicious cycle.
He echoed the good doctor’s summary and asked what I expected to happen.
‘I didn’t expect you’, I thought, whilst at the same time being delighted it was him.
“I thought we would talk about things and maybe I’d lie on a couch,”
“Well there’s no lying down in here, we don’t have a couch!’ he quipped. “But we talk, so come on, tell me why you’re here.”
A surge of scratchy heat rose up my throat, prompting me to spill the beans.
And I told.
A tale of fear, worry and wondering how to get well. Of a raging sore throat and other symptoms which moved in and wouldn’t leave. Of a search for answers and googling, symptom checking and monitoring everything I did.
Then the floodgates opened releasing a torrent of tears in a forceful, flowing cascade. I sobbed and sobbed big, noisy, snotty sobs.
And I was suddenly six years old again. A six year old in a 40-something body with a mascara streaked face.
And that 40-something, six year old, was desperately hoping The Professor might do what her mum always did when she actually was six.
But I wasn’t six years old.
And The Professor was not my mum.
So he didn’t do or say anything, except offer a tissue, which was great as I didn’t have one.
When I regained my composure he asked,”what are you really afraid of? “
He hasn’t listened, I thought, before realising I actually hadn’t told him that bit..
Fear of the future
So I told him I was afraid tomorrow would always be the same as today and I would never get my life back.”
“Well if you couldn’t get your ‘life back’ would it really be so bad?” He questioned.
I gave an emphatic, “Yes. I would be devastated.”
He was silent, considering my words before saying,
“There are ways of dealing with these things. Strategies and techniques I can teach you which could help. It’s really about changing how you think and view things but it isn’t easy. It’s very hard work and it is all up to you. Are you in?”
“I’m in!” I said, feeling an unexpected tremor of excitement.
“Then let’s get started. There’s things we need to get to work on right away. Firstly, you have developed some extreme behaviours.”
I looked at him, puzzled.
“Your Googling and throat checking habits are extreme and will make things worse. You must stop,” he said.
Ah, Okay. Guess I couldn’t argue with that.
My habit of googling all day certainly hadn’t solved anything and was actually depressing. It had led me to some horrific virtual places and yes, it had made me feel worse.
And I did check my throat.
From every angle.
Numerous times a day.
I guess peering at tonsils with different sized mirrors and various lighting implements probably isn’t ‘normal’ behaviour for anyone who isn’t a throat specialist or perhaps tests mirrors for a living.
“Ok. I will try” I said, knowing I could probably cope without examining my throat while nervous at life without Dr Google, my friend, confidante and sole medical advisor.
He nodded encouragingly and said, “I know what’s really going on here”.
Surprised I looked at him. Waiting for the verdict. Wondering if that meant I wouldn’t need him after all.
“But I will get back to you about that next time” he said.
“NOOOOOOOO, damn it, you spoilsport!” I yelled inwardly.
And I was suddenly back to 1983. A time before Sky+ when box sets didn’t exist and you waited on tenterhooks for a whole week to find out what happened next in your favourite TV show.
AKA – A CLIFFHANGER!
And like the cliffhangers of yesteryear, I was going to have to wait till the next episode with The Professor, to find out what happened next.
And I had a feeling it was going to be a very long two weeks!