I had a really, really lovely session with Therapist today. It’s two weeks since I’ve seen her, so there was a lot of positivity and excitement to catch up on. Normally I like to gloss over these things, I’m still intensely uncomfortable acknowledging the possibility that I might be doing something right, but she wasn’t letting me today. She sent me home with a challenge – watch the interview, really watch it – and see how I come across. According to her? Confident, capable, in control of what I’ve got, and a really good advocate for mental health. What I see? I make a lot of faces when I talk.
But here’s the thing. Over the course of the session we talked about the two huge opposites that I have going on – on the one hand, I’m incredibly guarded, reluctant to trust people, slow to talk about how I really feel and very much inclined to hide when I’m not well. On the other? Well on the other, I’m not afraid to go on national television and answer some impossibly direct questions about the most difficult aspects of my life. As she so wonderfully put it, ‘of all the things that are odd about you, that has to be the oddest’ (yes, I told her I’d have to use that line).
I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about this incongruence, because it has occurred to me more than once over the last 18 months since I’ve been blogging. How can I talk about the most challenging aspects of my life in public, and yet go into a session with Therapist and feel sick with anxiety? There are a few differences. When I blog, it’s from behind the safety of a screen. I’m reasonably sure I’ve mentioned before that unless someone actively tells me they’ve read something, I assume they don’t know anything. So, while I might be putting difficult stuff out there, I’ve no clue who’s read it, and unless they want to talk about it, I won’t ever know. So there’s that. Public speaking? In a way, it’s almost as if I’m talking about someone else. It’s not like anyone listening can trip me up on getting my facts wrong, or misquoting stats. I am the stats. And again, unless someone is either in the room at the time, or tells me that they’ve seen an interview, I’ll assume they don’t know about it.
But also, I think a huge difference between answering a question posed by Therapist, and answering a question posed in an interview or during a presentation, is that Therapist is really, really listening to the answer, and encouraging me to think about it as well. I’m in the room with her, her focus is completely on me, and she’s watching for all those non-verbal tells I have that I still don’t know about. She also has a knack of asking really difficult questions, ones I may not have considered before, whereas chances are in any kind of public speaking, I’ll have set the ground rules and will know broadly what to expect. Is that what it comes back to? Control? Safety?
Either way, now’s not the time to think too much on it. Today felt like a celebration. Eighteen months ago, I was just out of hospital, a long way off going back to work, and barely able to function. Now? Well, you know about now. So, my little well done treat to me was a trip to Salthill after my session, alone, and an hour looking at the most stunning sunset I’ve seen in a long time. I may even have managed to feel a little proud of myself. Today, that’s enough.