In a recent post I mentioned about CBT lady, which I said was a “whole ‘nother story”. Well  I might as well tell it now.

I started meeting CBT Lady, henceforth known as Celine (Cbt Lady = CL = Celine), after a drawn out set of sessions with Stress Guy (=SG, I don’t think he needs another name, I doubt I will need to mention him much), an NHS person who comes to my university regularly to help students with stress etc. After my allocated 6 sessions (which had stretched out over 6 months or so, due to holidays and me being unkeen to do telephone meetings, so that I always had to wait at least a couple of weeks before seeing him again), it was clear that all was not well, if not worse. He concluded that I clearly had some “deep seated issues that were not serving me well”. Duh. But thanks all the same. I thought I was going to be dropped altogether as a hopeless case. So it was a nice surprise when I had a letter from his colleague offering to meet me for another set of sessions. This is CBT Lady.

This is a summary of my sessions with Celine so far:

Week one: Assessment. It was kind of nice in a weird way just to talk through my ‘history’ with her. She was writing it all down, and kept apologizing for me having to go through it all over again. But in fact none of it was really ‘triggering’, and yay, I went through the whole session without bursting into tears!  didn’t make me feel like an idiot, or bother trying to ‘press my buttons’ to see what got to me. She simply seemed to trust me that I was telling her what she needed to know, which was what I wanted her to know. Also, and I should have told her but didn’t, I don’t think anyone before has gone through it with me in such detail, and genuinely tried to understand where I was coming from. I left with just the instruction to keep a diary for a week, of everything I did, and to rate my morning and evening moods, and to write a list of my goals (ie “what I will be doing differently”) and a list of qualities/strengths (as she politely put, “you’re obviously very good at coming up with negatives about yourself”).

Week two: I go over my lists with her. I’d had to chat with my friends to be able to come up with any strengths. All I’d managed was ‘perseverance’, which I would more normally describe as ‘stubbornness’. Predictably she didn’t include that on the final list we agreed on. Neither did she put down ‘making gluwein and (strong) rum punch’, or ‘good at doodling’. We ended up with me as “creative, helpful, friendly” as goals for how I will re-be in the future. Looking back at my time sheet for the past week, it was clear my sleeping and working patterns were all over the place (ideally I’d get 8 hours sleep, though 6 is more realistic, four about average, three feels like a luxury and 2 hours most likely). So we agreed a timetable that sounded like a reasonable compromise between being like a normal person and giving me time to get work done:

  • 7.30 up
  • Run once or twice a week at 7.30
  • 9am in the studio
  • 6.30pm home for supper
  • 8.30-10.30pm a bit more work
  • By 11pm asleep

Between session 2 & 3: I tried really hard to keep to the schedule that I’d agreed with over the previous three weeks. I’d had the problem though that during the first week, I’d had a piece of work due in that I was already behind with, and I knew there simply wasn’t a way I’d be finished if I didn’t put every ounce of energy and second of time into completing it. My mother put it quite well:

It would have been a bit like going on a long car journey; you still have a way to go, and the only way you can get there by the required time, is to speed. Then someone tells you, when you’re almost out of time anyway, that you’ve got to stick to the speed limit. Then there’s no way you can get there in time.

The next two weeks I tried really hard to make sure I was getting enough sleep. I felt I’d managed that quite well, averaging about 7 1/2 hours a night. Except then I was a bit dispondant that I could have been naive enough to think that just making sure I was getting enough sleep would be enough to sort me out. I was worried that Celine would feel like her job was done, tick, and send me out the door. Yet I didn’t feel much better for it, and certainly my work was not being completed.

I was also getting into a tangle over what to do with my work. Although I had extensions to my deadlines, they were after our university course’s End of Year Show (eoys), which is when practitioners are invited to see our work with a view to setting up interviews and employing us! As well as being a show to celebrate us successfully completing the course. So I was desperate to finish by then, to prove to everyone (or mostly myself) that I could cope with my work. I was dreading the thought of having to stand by my work and lie, or else to stand there and tell people that I couldn’t actually handle the course, but please employ me, pretty please. But no one thought that it would be possible to finish in time (two weeks or so) – which further depressed me.

Session three: (three weeks after week 2, because of Easter holidays etc) Predictably, Celine wasn’t too impressed by my first week of ‘trying’ (when in fact I wasn’t trying. I knew there was no way I could be finished my deadlines while on her timetable.) I was a bit narked that she didn’t think much of the rest of my weeks either, as admittedly I was still leaving the studio between 11pm-12-1am sort of times. Even though I was getting enough sleep and starting my days reasonably early. Never mind.

The rest of the session was taken up with me trying to through my various option. She was really useful in helping me go through all my options, and writing down all the positives and negatives etc for each one. In a way I felt she was being an awfully expensive scribe (thankfully all on the NHS though, so not expensive to me!). But I think that was just what I needed, to talk to someone in a calm way who didn’t know me or my work particularly well, so wasn’t able to pass judgement on what I should do, whether she would have professionally been allowed to or not. And her doing the writing that they didn’t get added to the pot of congealed, hard to decipher notes, where all the rest of my work is.

The conclusion that we came to was that I would:

  • focus on pieces of work I want to show at the eoys, and be ready to hang some things.
  • then meet the rest of the deadlines as they come up, after the show.
  • I need to stick with this choice, not keep flip flopping (which won’t get me anywhere) between that and not bothering with the show at all, or trying to rush to get everything done in time for the show, which technically is possible, but would mean things will likely have big holes in them (by anyone’s standards), and I’d probably end up with little sleep, so would be exhausted for the show, and not be guaranteed to be finished anyway.

This was the most realistic option, and will mean that I end up with work that I’m happy with, and have time to sleep decently. Negative is that I miss my deadline of the eoys (though that was my own made up one anyway).

For the next session she said she we could spend the whole session going through how I can think and go about my work/deadlines in a better way to avoid getting into knots and tangles with it…

Between session 3 & 4: I had been getting a decent amount of sleep and eating properly, as well as sticking with my decision from last week. But then I was getting worried (thanks to the Voice of Conscience aka my mother), that I was ‘frittering way’ my time getting old pieces of work ready for the show, rather than getting on with the real pieces of work for deadlines, especially once I realised that in order to do the pretty parts of the work that is due, i’d need to do the boring preamble parts first. But doing that would take away time from actually producing something good for the show. So the result of the week was that I hadn’t been able to do or enjoy the supposed fun bits of work, and hadn’t done much of the boring pre- stuff either.

Session four, part 1: Now I couldn’t believe how far I’d fallen, from only the week previously having been quite upbeat (or over optimistic?) that I could potentially be finished everything in time for the end of year show, to now feeling like I might barely make finishing at all.

I said that I’d like to work on how to work efficiently, without getting into a panic. This session got into some proper CBTish stuff. Something about hot cross buns and other things, showing me how an event leads me to think a negative thought, which makes me feel a negative emotion, that then badly affects me physically, and makes me behave in a negative way that then reinforces my negative thoughts etc etc etc. I agree with all of that. It is so obvious. It is also the reason that I am seeing her now, after having seen SG – because I totally agree that I’m stuck in that vicious circle. Yet I don’t know how to get out, and it is distressing/depressing me further that I can see so clearly how I’m not doing myself any favours, yet I can’t think of a better, believable way of thinking that will help me.

Promptly we then realised that I’d just about used up my hour’s session, and was no further forward than I was a month or two ago. Yay me. But thankfully she had a gap in her diary later the same day, so we arranged to meet again then. While in the meantime I would go through all the ‘evidence for’ and ‘evidence against’ of the thought, “I’m in a panic with my work”.

Between parts 1 & 2: I filled in the sheet, coming up with evidence for and against the negative thought, ‘I’m in a panic with my work’. Then I’d tried to do the last column, which was meant to be balancing up the for and against points, which was meant to result in a believable, more balanced thought which was less depressing. This is where I’d had trouble before, and basically came up against the problems again. Either I’d come up with so much ‘evidence for’, that I’d convinced myself further. Or else I couldn’t come up with anything very convincing, such as ‘I’m panicked but I can cope’, (clearly I am not coping), or ‘my work may not be good, but it is good enough for university’ (not very satisfying, and it still makes me worry about how I will cope out in the real world).

I also realised that although I’d talked about feeling panicked about my work, that isn’t really my main thought that runs through my mind. Rather, I mostly find myself thinking (or whenever anyone asks how I’m getting on), that ‘I’m tired and I don’t know what I’m doing/meant to be doing’, which then makes me even more frustrated, tired and lost etc. So I wrote that down again, although I found the evidence for and against was mostly the same as for the ‘panicked with my work’ thought.

Session four, part 2: Very kind Celine let me meet her for another session later the same day. She looked at my notes for the for’s and against’s, and my supposedly balanced conclusions. She agreed that it wasn’t surprising I hadn’t got on well with the self-help before, and that if this was the sort of thing I’d been coming up with, then no wonder I didn’t feel better. So then she went through what she would have written and suggests. This is what I like about her, that it is ok to say that I’m not finding the theory very helpful, even if I think I understand it. So then she can help explain the bits that I’ve got wrong, rather than just pushing me back to try again, and probably just do the wrong things another time round.

She suggested that rather than thinking “I’m panicked and cannot cope”, or “I’m tired and I don’t know what i’m doing”,  a better thought is that “marks and feedback say I’m good within university standards. But that my mode of working at uni causes exhaustion which means I miss deadlines/need extensions and saps my potential”. They’re meant to basically say the same thing, except the second is phrased in a less frustrating way, so that I don’t get caught wasting time being frustrated. For the first phrase, I rated that I’d be 90% frustrated, and 50% frustrated with the reworked phrase. I guess dropping by 40% is a good thing, even if I’m still not totally happy.

I don’t really know how a better mode of working is though. The summary I have written down is:  “Don’t lose heart, don’t lose sleep. Put fun in wherever I can.” I think that is what my plan is for this week. Just not in such nice easy steps as I had last week. So that is what I have to keep in mind. She also suggested I keep a little note somewhere of some encouraging quotes. Very Oprah-ish. I suggested one which I heard recently and quite like, “Everything is always ok in the end. If it’s not ok, then it’s not the end.” I was pleased she thought that was a good one too. She even made a special note of it, maybe to give away to her next person?!

Currently: I’ve technically had my four sessions after the initial assessment, which is all she promised me at the beginning. Although two were on one day, so hopefully that doesn’t count. I’m due to see her later this week anyway. I feel I’m just starting to make a tiny bit of progress, and would ideally love to confidently approach interviews and full time work without the worry that with every deadline, I’ll have to wave a doctor’s note around to get an extension.  Maybe that is still too over optimistic, maybe I’ll never be a confident person. Is that too much to ask? But I know  I really don’t want to be stuck bursting into tears if someone questions me about what I’m doing, which is what I currently feel like. For now I will just continue to “Don’t lose heart, don’t lose sleep. Put fun in wherever I can.”