“I struggle to see the person you describe” my counsellor says to me, looking over the top of his glasses.
“You tell me, not for the first time, that you often feel woolly and that your brain is slow. You say that you don’t work as fast as you used to. You feel that you are less valuable”
“I simply do not see that. Every time I see you, I am struck by the fact that you tell me you are ill, and yet I see, every week, a bubbly, friendly person who is quick and sharp and intelligent”
I don’t quite know what to say. I pause and have a little think.
I describe how when I’m in the office my work moves more quickly, because just by the very nature of being observed you feel compelled to work quickly. Also I can ask colleagues the myriad little questions that occur to you as work. At home I have to answer those myself, or wait for an email, or Skype someone. The flow is different, it is harder to be motivated and fast-paced.
Maybe it is the nature of my job, maybe I perceive that I am not as productive as I used to be – but perhaps that is simply the fiddly and large nature of the tasks I do. I don’t always wrap them up one after the other – they drag on. I guess I’m not comparing like for like, I’m just remembering what was, how it was before. It’s just different. And I know that I find it much harder to organise my thoughts these days. There is always woolliness.
We explore the evidence that actually I am productive; that if my boss had concerns about my productivity that he’d tell me. I repeat that work is fundamentally important to me, pivotal to who I am, to my core values of wanting to achieve and be competent. Work is allowing me to save for my house, which is important to me.
In due course, when I have the house, I will look at my work and see what else I would like to enjoy that both makes me feel more fulfilled and that I can manage. It’ll be less money – I don’t much care about that. Enjoyment will be more important, so long as I can still pay the mortgage.
Following that, he asks me whether I value myself.
What a question. How very complicated.
On the one hand I do, robustly, unshakeably. On the other hand there is self-doubt and a lack of self-confidence about things like my figure and my worth as a potential girlfriend. Quite serious self-doubts which stop me doing things sometimes, that I use an excuse. But also that, following our discussion last week, I had decided to stop assuming what people thought about me and acting on that – instead I would let them make their own minds up and see what happened. And that resulted in a date being planned, which I am pleased about.
He asks first about the bits that I do value about myself. I feel like an arrogant arse saying “Actually I AM smart, and I will look myself in the eye and have that one”. Why do I find that hard, he asks. Because it’s arrogant! “I’m SO brilliant!” I laugh “come on, it sounds ridiculous”.
Then of course we address my worries. Much of it boils down, as ever, to the messages I receive. So many “nos” add up to eroded confidence. An excuse to put yet more in my mouth, to deflect attraction before I risk yet more rejection. I acknowledge that I’m guilty of the myth that being slimmer would magically solve everything, which of course isn’t true. If men can only see that then I don’t want them. I’m not, when I’m forced to admit it – THAT awfully-figured. There are plenty worse than me.
It’s just easy to hide behind myself.
We review the more detailed activity log I’ve kept over the last week. He is struck by how little I mention my emotions, how I feel about given things. To be fair, I put more about that as the week progressed, trying to be open about how feeling bad over the weekend upset me. I feel slightly like I can’t win sometimes; I try to accept what is happening to me, with a resultant lessening of negative emotion around it, then get chided for not being emotionally open enough. I think he wants me to come to the sessions and display more of the anger or the frustration that I write in my log – but that’s not me. I wouldn’t find that productive or helpful, unless I were having a particularly awful day at that very moment.
I tell him it is easy to be focussed in the sessions because I don’t have to physically move, and there is nothing else to distract me. That’s why I can be open and clear and sharp and laugh. I am engaged in the help that he is giving me – that is my focus.
I suppose I had forgotten there would be so much “and how do you feel about that?”, which was silly of me really. I get caught up in the process, the mechanics, the logistics. I acknowledge when I feel physically bad, but unless it’s really bad I don’t look at the emotional impact. The detailed log actually helped me to note the positives, the things I enjoy, the things that make me happy, the glee at doing little things just for myself (sunbathing on hills, for example). I understand that it is important to log the good things as well as the bad, to see everything and not cherry-pick the bad stuff (rotten cherry-pick?)
At the end of the session he exhorts me to write more about what I actually feel, as well as giving me some mindfulness exercises to try out and assess. There is to be more openess with myself.
I keep quiet about the surprising tiny fountain of perfectly genuine emotion or feeling that popped out of my head a mere ten minutes before our session, but I smile to myself and think there’s hope for this slightly emotionally-uptight girl yet.