12 February 2017

Over-Analysis and New-Sky Thinking

I have a long-standing relationship with negative over-analysisWe've outlasted 90% of Hollywood marriages, 82% of my University degree and 2016. 


The only person with that kind of sticking power is Jeremy Corbyn.

Yet despite this longevity, our marriage is anything but functional. Clearly NOA didn't get the memo about "love and cherish", because the idea of equal paternership is quite lost on him. Contrary to his name twin, NOA isn't the biggest fan of fluffy animals or staying dry. Conversely, he seems to quite enjoy a flood; each day brings a fresh storm of anxieties, doubts and "what-ifs?", and I don't even have an Ark for respite.


In the world according to NOA, nothing is ever 'just right'. Imagine you were choosing between 200 varieties of apple in your local supermarket, or picking a paint colour from 51 shades of 'off-white'. Now, imagine that this applies to every single decision you make

It's a marriage made in re-tell; a dejavu list of everything that could go wrong; a prediction of failure. Before I even face those 200 apples, I am second-guessing the number itself. Why didn't I pick 100, or 300? What if my choice of '200' apples alienates 50% of readers? 

This has now gone up to 60%, because I picked 50%... Wow, I could really do with an Ark. 

For as long as I can remember, every decision has a context; a prequel, an extra line, another chapter... Maybe, if I'm lucky, one sentence could become a three-part blockbuster. Just call me Peter Jackson. Yet while I'd happily watch Tolkien till the Hobbits come home, NOA's story is getting a bit old.

It''s the same script again and again. It's The same relentless, critical, questioning antagonist. So why have I stuck to NOA like Mr Wormwood and super-super-glue? It doesn't exactly make me feel super about myself. I don't have numbers racing around my head because I want to be the next Einstein. If I accidentally knock my right knee, I don't merrily knock the left one for the fun of it; conversely, to quote Ross Gellar "I bruise like a peach". I don't get happy hormones by telling myself that I'm not good enough/a bad person/a burden to others.
Trust me, 101 dalmatians sound infinitely merrier than 101 doubts and fears. Yet that's the thing about mental illnesses; you don't choose to think this way. It becomes your normal, It is why recovery is so very difficult, despite seeming the most logical thing in the world.

If we revisit our Friend Mr Tolkien - because LOTR is always a good idea - he provides a rather brilliant case study on the subject: Gollum. So pop you metaphorical cap on and bear with me! Firstly, imagine that you are Gollum (feel free to scream "my precious" in the middle of the street." Now, imagine that NOA as the one ring. You love and hate it, but you cannot imagine a life beyond it.

The ring, like a mental illness, is the ultimate paradox; it runs on emptiness, feeds off starvation and functions through dysfunction. Over the years, mental paralysis has driven my physical life to a standstill, yet NOA mercilessly conceals the path forward.

"Gollum hates and loves the Ring, as he hates and loves himself. He will never be rid of his need for it" - Gandalf

Gandalf has a point on the first sentence; however, I will have to disagree with the second part.   A wizard is never late, but he can be wrong. We CAN be rid of it. *cue Samwise voice*


Since starting Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) last month, however, I may finally be able to glimpse a road beyond this. For so many years, I would have believed this to be impossible; Moreover, I think I've already established that there is no surefire answer for mental health recovery. Yet I do feel that CBT could be the fresh approach I need.
Over the years, I have tried private "talking" therapy, two NHS Outpatient groups and self-help strategies; however, they have been a sticking plaster, covering the cracks but not reaching the core issues. Consequently, I have been in a recovery-relapse cycle that has only become more entrenched. Prior to my admission in October, despite the incredible support of my family, I felt more lost than ever.

Cognitive Behavioural therapy is a treatment that I have looked at numerous times in the past; however, I've either been too unwell to engage, or have come face-to-face with an 18 month waiting list (True story. I was toward the end of IP treatment in Bristol, by the time the Exeter referral came through...)  So when the inpatient nursing staff told me I could start CBT, upon discharge, I couldn't quite believe it. What's more, I already knew the therapist I would be working with, as she ran a "self-compassion" group for the Unit.

I am careful to pin all my hopes on this; from the first session, she has stressed that this isn't a 'cure' and setbacks are part of recovery. However, four weeks into CBT and I feel NOA may finally meet his match

"CBT is based on the idea that the way we think about situations can affect the way we feel and act. Unlike other talking treatments, CBT deals primarily with your current situation, rather than issues from your past." 
CBT doesn't try to analyse when or why; instead, it looks at how things can be different. I think this was my issue with 'talking therapy'. While it can work for some people, for me it only fuels the over-analysis paralysis. Although I get the thoughts out - it is certainly 'therapeutic' in that sense - I end up running in circles. NOA doesn't need a listener. He needs a divorce lawyer! I need a plan of action.
I think the key to this is compartmentalisation. I need to approach a situation in the HERE and NOW. Forget blue skies, this is about a new sky - a clean slate - where past decisions and future predictions are put to one side. Quite simply, you can't go through life with the weight of the world in your suitcase, so I need to give each decision a baggage limit. I wouldn't' pack snow boots for the Zahara Desert, so why should I predict 'failure' for a single word choice.

In the time I've spent over-analysing this post alone, I could have bought an Ark from Ebay - I'll be the first to admit that I talk better than walking! Nevertheless, it's a process and processes take time. Through my first 4 weeks of CBT, I've been reminded that recovery is not about that great 'leap of faith' - goals and grand plans - but small, consistent steps in the present. 

So in the name of new-sky thinking and future Ark-bidding, I am going to take one right now. It's taken me two weeks to reach the "publish" button of this post, but I am going to hit it today. NOA wants to re-edit the photos, re-take the photos, re-draw the designs in the photo... oh, and change those 3 synonyms at the start of the post. 

So how will I act? By leaving the photos as they are and the synonyms as they stand. I'm also going to share my latest calligraphy project, which NOA has been toying with for over a week now. It has been restarted no less than 16 times; yes, 16. However, yesterday I rode out the anxiety with a little faith, trust and (metallic marker) dust. I actually acted on the words I was writing. I thought outside the box to complete it...
...and breathe.

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