Well that was interesting! As someone who has suffered from what is now called Recurrent Depression (it used to be called Chronic but I’ve been rebranded in some sort of mental health marketing campaign ) I have seen my fair share of counsellors , therapists, practitioners, whatever. I have started to feel like the Norman Stanley Fletcher of getting your head straight and, like the classic old prison lag, I tend to think I have seen it all. Today though, I experienced something quite odd and remarkably insightful. I don’t know quite how to best describe in, a tag team, buy one, get one free, double trouble? What happens is you sit in a room with two therapists from different disciplines, say one talking therapist and one cognitive behavioural therapist, and one of them interviews you. Then this is where it gets weird, they talk about you in front of you, like a pair of sports pundits dissecting a football match. It gives you a strange feeling of being outside yourself, through the interpretation of a third person. They talk about you as if you weren’t there, trying to reach some kind of decision about what makes you tick and about the best way to help you sort out your problems. I think that is always the most important point, that it is you who needs to sort it out, we can have every help under the sun but if we don’t make the effort ourselves things will never change.
Change is scary though and when we try and change we often hit a lot of resistance to that change, from friends, from family, from our own routines and rituals. We arrange the pieces of our lives in certain ways and, once we do, it’s hard to move them as everyone gets used to them being there. The alternative to change though is stagnation, without realising it, we miss boats in our lives all time. I missed the chance to own my own home and the chance to have children, amongst other things, and I’ve had to come to terms with that but then there are other boats I haven’t missed and none of them have sunk yet. I have now learnt to be more aware of these metaphorical departures from our port of call and I don’t want to repeat the mistakes I have seen amongst my family where problems have been ignored for so long that they are now set in stone. Decisions haven’t been made, matters haven’t been faced and now the consequences of those actions have walked right in , sat down, kicked their shoes off and demanded a cup of tea and the television remote control.
To make counselling work you have to be honest, honest with the person asking the questions and honest with yourself and sometimes you will hear things about yourself that you don’t want to hear and you have to be prepared for that. Even then our self deceptions and misconceptions can colour our realities so much that we don’t actually realise we are lying to ourselves. A good counsellor can pick this up but it takes time. The beauty of having a second counsellor observing the procedings seems to be that that removal from asking the question to the client gives them a better opportunity to pick things up that may otherwise have been missed.
I’m not going to give you a blow by blow account on everything that came up, not out of a need for privacy, in my experience secrets end up owning us and I can’t be doing with that nonsense. What they did mention though was a word I hadn’t heard before and that was “hypervigilance”. Probably the most likely reason I hadn’t come accross this word before was because it is most often a symptom associated with post traumatic stress disorder. PTSD for short is most commonly associated with military personnel who have experienced active duty in war zones. It comes from spending far too long in situations of threat, be it perceived or actual, and it manifests as a constant state of being overly aware of every little detail that surrounds that person. Only in this case it was caused by my own childhood, not a war. In short, as Larkin would say, “my parents fucked me up”. Or, to be more accurate, a combination of being brought up by a hostile mother and squalid surroundings and the pressures of poverty, homelessness and debt gave me the same problems as a soldier who had spent too many years in Vietnam. The theory that they came up with, and it holds a lot of water, is that over the course of many years I have taken the symptoms of this, the way I pick up on tiny little details and draw in information at a rate that can leave me exhausted for example, and turned them to my advantage, using them to make art. There are other issues that need to be factored into this, dyspraxia for example , but what they said made a lot of sense. So how does one deal with something like this? The truth is none of us really knows right now. Whilst giving something a name can be comforting, and hypervigilance is a doozy of a name, it doesn’t really change anything else about the situation as of yet. I am still the person I have always been and am still on the same journey, just with a fabulous hypervigilant hat on at a jaunty angle.