This week I met someone new. I felt like I’d signed up to the weirdest version of First Dates, and I wasn’t even going to get to meet Fred (ooh la la!) I had worried about what to say to my date, I had worried about what to wear, expecting them to analyse everything about me – was my wardrobe too crazy or not crazy enough to warrant seeing her?? She was a psychologist, and I was exceedingly nervous about meeting her. I had seen a psychologist on the ward of the mother and baby unit but since discharge in January my treatment has focussed on the pharmacological (with the exception of the support of a superb community psychiatric nurse). I paced the room as I waited for her, anxious about her, anxious about her questions, anxious about having forgotten my anxiety questionnaire (seriously, you just needed to look at me, I was a visual anxiety score). I had built up this image of someone peering at me behind spectacles whilst asking about my deepest and darkest fears, taking notes and saying ‘mmmhmm’ every so often.
She walked into the room and sat down, I still couldn’t sit but she said that was fine. The first thing I noticed was her nails – they were immaculate. All painted white, except for the fourth finger on each hand which was a deep royal blue. It was exactly the kind of thing I do when I want to express myself or when I want to put my war paint on. In preparation for seeing her my nails were gold with a black cracked effect on top, giving the impression of a gold, sliding leopard print. She was dismantling my stereotypes.
She then did something very useful. She monologued. She talked about what psychology was, how she fit within the broader community psych service, how our sessions might go, confidentiality and so on. The soothing rhythm of her voice slowed everything down and I was able to sit opposite her and take it in. The fact that she did the talking took the pressure off me to contribute until I felt I had been able to assess whether we might get on. By the time she was done I felt like maybe, possibly, she wasn’t this intimidating person I had built her up to be, and perhaps these sessions could actually help. So I began, tentatively, to talk, explaining that I was having a busy and anxiety provoking week with seeing her for the first time, giving a talk at my former mother and baby unit and attending my grandmothers funeral all in one week. She was understanding and sympathetic towards my anxiety and she tried to get me to CBT my way through a couple of points. For example, following my talk at the mother and baby unit I was overwhelmed with positive comments. However one person made an ambiguous comment and I fretted over it, worrying that she was being critical and saying I’d given the wrong kind of talk. My husband agreed it was ambiguous but suggested that given how positive everyone else had been, it wasn’t worth a second thought. But I gave it a second thought, and a third and a fourth. The psychologist tried to suggest that if we interpreted the comment differently, or simply discarded it as being an outlier amongst the otherwise uniformly positive feedback, then the same event (i.e. the comment) could have a very different effect on me (i.e. nothing, compared to massive anxiety). It’s the beginning, I’m taking tiny little newborn steps down what will be a long road. I’ve no idea if it will address my anxiety, but I feel a little more hopeful that we have another strategy, another method of attack to take on this monster.