Am I the only person in the world who finds breathing exercises really stressful? The action of concentrating on my breathing makes me breathe oddly, making me panic. I end up breathless and fretful. Waves of claustrophobia come over me. Relaxation makes me tense up. Whale music makes me want to scream as does any supposedly soothing harp-related cacophony. I can’t abide lavender oil; it just gives me flashbacks to the late 1990s when I was burning it like an apache sending smoke signals in the hope of curing my acute on chronic anxiety. I really needed prescription medications and now, one sniff of lavender and I go right back and start to get edgy.
I love the advice people give you when you’re feeling mentally ill. Burn oils, take up sports, have a massage, go out more, do yoga, work harder or buy a dog. Try not to think about it. Don’t talk about it. Drink more water. Eat better. One friend advised cold showers when I was so depressed that I couldn’t dress myself. I think that was popular in asylums in the 1920s but has been superseded now. People mean well and I appreciate advice and support but sadly I’ve also come across some misguided or downright dodgy mental health professionals too.
The first was a counsellor I was referred to by my G.P. We didn’t start well. I wasn’t keen to see her anyway and would have preferred a prescription for Prozac and Valium. She was from the school of the old cliché of patchwork skirts and cheese cloth peasant blouses. We didn’t see eye to eye. I turned up once a week for 8 weeks and talked to her. She repeated back what I’d said with a different inflection or a vague question attached and I failed to see the point or where this would get us. In desperation she told me I should relax more and we needed to discuss my anxiety and look at how to control it. This sounded better. I like practicality. She suggested I lay on the floor. I looked at the floor and suggested she Hoover it first as it was a bit murky and my clothes were clean on. This earned me a glare and a sigh.
She then suggested I talk about a body part where I felt anxiety and I offered up my stomach. She told me I had to play the part of my stomach and say “I am C’s stomach” and then she’d ask me questions. I blushed but did it anyway.
“So, C’s stomach. What colour are you?”
“Why are you pink?”
“Stomach’s are pink. I’ve seen one in the operating theatre. That’s what they look like. Pink.”
“You really aren’t going to play along are you?”
“You really don’t like me do you?”
I never went back but at least we achieved some honesty in our brief relationship. The G.P. gave me the pills and I got better, for a time.
In years to come there was the grumpy psychiatrist who refused to look up from her desk ever and would shout me into her office by my surname. Then there was the Stepford wife lookalike psychologist who told me that to cure my borderline OCD all I needed to do was leave a minor strategic mess somewhere each night, such as a dirty cup in the middle of the lounge floor. Wow. If only I’d met her years ago. There was a psychiatric nurse with a rat’s tail like ponytail who when I said I’d had migraines since age 8 asked “So, what was the bad thing that happened when you were 8?” My answer of course being “The bad thing that happened was that I got a very very bad headache.” How about the work related counsellor who told me to stop all my antidepressants as the doctors were quite wrong about them all? Unsurprisingly she got a stern talking to from me about professional boundaries and lack of medical knowledge.
I have to redress this and say that over the years a few remarkably talented individuals have really helped me to get back on track when things were dire and without them I’m not sure what kind of train wreck I’d be now. I’m all for therapy, just keep the bad ones away from me. Keep offering me your advice too. If it’s rubbish I’ll smile sweetly and ignore it.