‘Challenging the Old Rule’

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This blog post is a continuation of my worksheet from my CBT session on Thursday. But it’s also struck me that I have seem some parallels on others’ blogs, specifically around plans and goals. I have found these others so inspiring for a number of reasons: So often I can’t untangle my thoughts in my own mind, let alone put them on paper (or computer screen). What others write so eloquently is like them putting a dollop of olive oil in my sticky strands of grey matter. It is also heartening to see others’ face their challenges with such strength, and to show me that my ‘issues’ are really not that important. Not in a demeaning way, but helps me see things in the bigger picture. Recently I’ve had the tendency to ‘not see the forest for the trees’ (or whatever that saying is).

The rule that I’ve identified as causing me problems, ‘I must push myself to try ever hard to reach my high standards, to the exclusion of everything else’, stems from my belief that I’m not good enough/as good as others.

The worksheet has the following headings:

Origins/’It is understandable that I hold this rule because…’

Irrationality/’However, the rule is unreasonable because…’

Dysfunctionality/’It is helpful/unhelpful because…

Reformulation/’A more helpful fule would be…’

Action plan/’Given that I have held the rule for a long while, it will take time and effort to change it. What I need to do is…’

GO! Let the games begin…


I think I’ve mostly covered that in my previous worksheet: I had a supportive upbringing given lots of opportunities and encouragement. Did well at school, seen as a high achiever. Because of support, encouragement and that I did well early on, I’ve had the luxury to set myself high standards and mostly achieve them. Now I still have those high standards and feel I need to achieve them because I expect that of myself, as well as to ensure that the good start I was given by my parents, and the effort I’ve put in til now, are not wasted. I want everything to count, and not waste more time either.

Irrationality & disfunctionality…


I’m rather goal orientated, and have good perseverance. This has payed dividends in the past, so I don’t think that in itself is a bad thing, or irrational. It has served me well in the past with lots of things, eg getting myself from the operating table and onto the international hockey pitch in under two weeks was only achieved through sheer determination and encouragement from my nurse/hockey team manager. I wonder at my younger self how I managed to fit everything in: playing ‘cello, hockey training & matches (each x 3: school, youth and national squads/orchestras), volunteering at an old folks’ home and at the local aquarium, playing tennis and at the same time doing well with school work. I know at the time I had some low points and wished I wasn’t good at things, as that wasn’t ‘cool’, but I think I enjoyed it and wanted to do everything. No one ever forced anything on me (which I’m grateful for).


The problem for me arises when I end up with such a narrow perspective that all I can see is that goal, and focusing on it is to the detriment of everything else. Unfortunately my view isn’t so narrow that I can’t see that, so my real problem arises when I can see that my perspective is becoming so narrow and that I’m missing out on other things that I would like to be doing at the same time. Everything then cascades on from there:

  • I start to resent my work towards that goal.
  • I try harder to reach the goal so that what I’m missing out on isn’t missed out on in vain. Except then I exhaust myself – which I know isn’t good and doesn’t actually help anything.
  • I end up not enjoying the work, not being able to enjoying the other things that I could be doing, or even properly enjoy what I do fit in, because then I think they’re taking away from the goal I’m trying to get to.
  • As well as lack of enjoyment, then I have regrets for not doing the other things I would like to do and guilty when I do do the things that should be fun.
  • Maybe the goals I’ve set myself are unachievable anyway. (I still argue against the perfection label: generally when I achieve what I’ve set out to achieve, then I am happy. I don’t do the thing of moving goal posts. Promise.)
  • At the bottom of the spiral is me in a low mood, which isn’t enjoyable for anyone.

Go me…grr. Yet I can’t seem to get myself to not focus only on the goal I’ve set out to achieve.

If it were a goal that I only thought I should be aiming for or to fulfill others’ wishes, then I might be happier to take my eyes off it. But at the moment, my goal is to complete university with a portfolio that I can be proud of and willing to discuss at job interviews, and a good reference from uni tutors. This is really is something I want, because the field of landscape architecture is really what I want to get into and brings together my interests (now I remember all the other things I used to do too, like lots of art and photography –  winning competitions etc, each year I would grow tons of plants to enter in the local Agricultural Exhibition and I studied [sorry, read] geography at undergrad). So working in that would be my ideal job. Also I rather need a job if I’m going to have money to live off, so I need show myself well to be employable.

Reformulating a more helpful rule…

Previously I haven’t been able to challenge that goal with a more rational one that I can believe.

Though just writing this much has been eye-opening for me: I can see that when I was younger I had lots of goals all at the same time – everything I did was working towards a goal, so it never felt that I was taking time away from the end goal, and I could enjoy it all.

Therefore the key isn’t to take away goals, it’s just to make sure I don’t get focused on just one thing and blow it out of proportion. While I’m not 16 anymore and what I used to do may not be possible any more, so simply doing again what I used to do isn’t realistic, I need to find away of ensuring that I can follow the rule: “I must push myself to try ever harder to reach my high standards” without the caveat “to the exclusion of everything else”.

Action Plan…

  1. Get through this final week of university. A distinction doesn’t matter. I can put together a portfolio that shows my best work that I have already done. If this final piece of work isn’t what I would like then I can improve it over the summer. The tutors know I’ve been conscientious throughout the course, so will probably write a good reference regardless of this last piece of work (providing I do at least bother to submit it).
  2. Finish making summer plans, be a good crew member on the Tall Ships, enjoy the time off. Those are goals in themselves and I should approach them as such as I always used to do, and not see them simply as frivolous activities that waste time.
  3. Join clubs/societies/groups for my different interests, including sports, music, art/photography, gardening. As above, these are goals and not time wasters. They are fun, good for being social as well as improving my skills.
  4. Volunteer again.
  5. Adopt a cat from the SPCA. As well as the enjoyment and therapeutic qualities of stroking cats blah blah blah, this is will help make sure I go home in the evenings to look after it and don’t spend unreasonable amounts of time at work. My goal is to become Cat Lady (if all else fails…)
  6. Don’t be worried about interviews. I am good enough. Get a job, preferably one that is meaningful and also fits with my interests and uses my skills. This is number 6 on the list, and should be treated just as that. It is not the be all and end all.

<I am tagging this ‘step in the right direction’, as I do feel somewhat happier even just writing this stuff down. I feel like I have a plan that I want to do and can see myself enjoying it, without it being too arduous>


‘Rules of Living’

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Another session with Celine and another worksheet. At the top it says, “Your therapist will have helped you uncover a rule which may be causing you problems. This worksheet is designed to help you rethink a rule and make it more useful for yourself”. I’m not really sure that my whole life can be turned around on the basis of a single worksheet, but I’m keen for anything to help, so I’m going to work through it.

Like before, Celine went through the questions with me briefly, with my answers based on the worksheet from the last session. This week I’ll have to go back through it properly to make it relate more to me. I have my final university deadline just after the next session, on Friday, so not sure how I will get on with it this week.

The first line is: “The rule of living I need to rethink is…”

 I must push myself to try ever harder to reach my high standards, to the exclusion of everything else.

I needed to add in the final bit, as I think for most people who do well, the probably have to push themselves. I’m not imagining that in my ideal world I no one needs to try hard. But I definitely fall down on the ‘exclusion’ bit, as that is what then makes me resent the work, feel guilty when I do do something that is meant to be fun and generally feel in a low mood.

The one line: “Typical situations in which I find myself using this rule”

At the moment this is quite simple for me (I’m grateful that at least my problems are straightforward): University work

“The kinds of things I do because of it”

Work extra hard

Don’t sleep regularly

Forget meals

Don’t do other things like fun

Don’t enjoy the fun things that I do do

“How many other people do I know who seem to have this same rule?”

None. As I said before, everyone else seems to be perfect at whatever they try. They may work really hard, but they don’t get upset doing that. Or else they don’t work as hard, but at least they are doing plenty of other things instead.

“How many other poeple do I know who DON’T seem to share this rule?”

Everyone else

“With people who don’t share my rule, what happens?

They mostly achieve what they want, and have fun

It looks like she added another list to the worksheet: “What happens when I follow my rule?”

Relationships get lost as I’m not around (this one came about because she was shocked when I mentioned that I hadn’t noticed my housemate leaving (took a couple of weeks to realise), and haven’t seen the other for a month or two. As I’m in the studio mostly and just come home to sleep and shower, it didn’t surprise me. Maybe I am weird.

Most of the other ‘kinds of things I do because of it’ could be inserted here too.

When I get a chance to work on the worksheet again, I’ll have the fun of “Rethinking & Challenging the Old Rule“.

Coping & Maintenance

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The second to last section on the worksheet I’ve been working on:
Helpful                                    Unhelpful
I’ve begun by just copying over the list I have under the ‘Weapons’ tab. I’ve been trying to build up my arsenal to attack my problems from various angles, including medication, various talking therapies and generally trying to take care of myself and put fun leisure in wherever I can.
  • Mirtazapine: 30mg/day (around bed time. Zonks me for about three hours)
  • Diazepam: 2mg PRN (works out to be about 1-2x2mg once or twice a week, more around deadlines)
  • Talking Therapy: 1hr/week (more or less) with Celine, an NHS CBT therapist who comes to my university
  • University Advisor: a meeting with Enise every now and again (every few months)
  • Making a conscious effort to get 7 or 8 hours sleep/night, eating 3 proper meals a day
  • Making a conscious decision to “put fun in wherever I can”, especially when I feel anxiety rising
  • Art – lots of sketching, especially botanical illustration. I think that helps slow me down and I can focus on fine detail which actually produces something. Helps especially when I’m getting really frustrated. (most recently a series of ‘Zentangles‘)
  • Walking, photograph – though these things only help before I’m wound up!
  • Generally trying to persevere, not give up and get through problems, reminding myself that if I can get through a particular bump, I will come out the other side (although this can lead to exhaustion and can be Unhelpful too…)

Some less helpful things:

  • NOT yoga (tried. failed. miserably)
  • Staying up too late and missing meals trying to push myself too hard to get work done = physical exhaustion.
  • Pushing myself to get things done when I’d rather be doing fun things = resentment.
  • Getting distracted with fun things and not getting the goal achieved = guilt.
The final section is:
Physical  – + – Emotions
I’ve done this ‘hot cross bun’ thing before in my sessions with Celine. It’s become fairly clear as I’ve been listing my ‘rules I live by’ and ‘what helps me cope’ is that everything is a vicious circle. Now that I’m in it, the more I push myself to get through a problem, the more I feel its a problem that I have to push myself. With the physical (exhaustion) and mental problems (guilt, resentment) as well as cloudy thinking, lack of focus and general frustration that come with it.
Therefore, my maintenance pattern boils down to:
“I’m not good enough”
                Exhaustion – + – Frustration, worry
Push myself, be upset
I think I knew all this already. Which is why I’ve become so irritated with myself because I can see how silly it is, but it’s still happening. I have been trying to build my resilience so that I can make the effort to either challenge the initial thought, or if that is too difficult or too believable, then at least I will have the energy to not be such a slave to my emotions and stop myself from doing the behaviours that result in a bad physical state with low resilience.
Here are links to my entries for the rest of the worksheet: Intro | Early Things | Core Beliefs | Rules | Current Problem & Triggers |

Current Problem & its Triggers

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Still working on the worksheet from my CBT sessions…

Current problem:

Struggling to know what to do with university work, making me spend far too long on work, and taking me away from what I would rather be doing. Has affected me mentally, meaning my deadlines have been extended.

Its triggers:

General feelings about not knowing what I’m doing or what is expected of me (grading criteria is subjective, and marked against an unknowable and attainable ‘perfection’)

Specific occasions where I’ve wished that I hadn’t let myself spend so much time on my work, to the extent it took my time away from what I should have, and would like to have been doing. eg Easter 2010: my last time I spent with my grandfather, and I spent the whole time in tears and upset at my uni work while typing away at the dining room table, rather than enjoying my time with him (he died a few months later). Eg New Years Eve 2010/11: going to sleep at 10pm and setting my alarm for 5am trying to get uni work finished, rather than enjoy the night. On both these times I have never felt that the work I produced, reflected in my marks (that’s the only way I can judge the quality of my work), have been worth the sacrifice I made to take myself away from friends and family. Even if I’d got 100% I wouldn’t have thought it was worth it. So why why why did I let my uni work do that to me? It’s not even ‘Real Work’. Gah!

Feeling like its the last time to practice how to do things, how to work efficiently, before I’m out in the ‘Real World’, and that’s assuming I even get Real Work.

I’m scared that I’m a fraud if I pretend my work is good, that I know what I’m doing. Or else I will have to admit that I haven’t been able to cope with uni work. But then who will want to employ me.

The work I have produce is only the work I’ve produced with much anxiety.

I wouldn’t want to work like that again (thankfully I am slowly learning how not to force myself to work like that, since my sessions with Celine), but then I feel I’d be ripping off potential employers if they think they can expect that kind of work from me again. I’m scared that I will have to work like that again to produce that same standard of work which is expected of me. But I know (now) that that isn’t healthy or good for me.

Part time people on my course say that they’ve found uni work, in comparison to their Real Work, a ‘breath of fresh air’, and ‘refreshing’.

I’m scared that I’m setting myself up for problems even contemplating that I can cope with Real Life, and that I’ve wasted my one opportunity of having fun with my work by being anxious and so worried.

I’d like to do this year again, so that I can learn and practice working better, before Real Life.

But that would be such a waste of time, money. I don’t want to do that! And I don’t even now how I do work differently. So far I’ve worked out that making sure I eat and sleep properly helps, but is that really the whole answer.

I’m scared of going for a job interview (if I even get one. At least I think I can sell myself ok on paper).

I’ll have to talk about myself (not interesting), will have to try to be like a nice person that they would want in their office (but who would? I’m depressing!). So I will have to pretend to be interesting and someone they want around, but two problems: 1. I’m not good at pretending, 2. that would be lying. In addition, I’m worried that in talking about my work, it will make me upset, and I really don’t want to cry in an interview!

I’m realising it’s probably wrong to equate Real World with Real Life with Real Work.

Except in my mind they are all the same. I’ve almost always been in education except for my gap year, which was only ever a fixed gap and nothing else, so I’ve always felt that I’ve been in a sheltered, pretend world. I had a strange sense when Jo Yeates’ death was in the news, with thinking about how even though she was the most amazing landscape architecture student ever (we overlapped at university for one year. I watched one of her final presentations where one of the external examiners tried offering her a job in the middle of it!), even her amazingness at it couldn’t save her. Of course it couldn’t and I don’t think it could have, but it did highlight to me how much I’ve equated Work with Life, and the wrongness of that.

I’m not sure I’ve really identified a proper, isolated problem, or the ‘triggers’ I’ve mentioned are actually triggers. But it’s what I’ve filled in on the sheet, and I think are the main undercurrents in the worries I’ve been having. The specific things that send me in to tears in any given moment on any given day are way to numerous and random to mention. Or maybe that is what I’m meant to be concentrating on?

Here are links to my entries for the rest of the worksheet: Intro | Early Things | Core Beliefs | Rules | Coping & Maintenance


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The third section on the worksheet:


Helpful                                                                   Unhelpful

Work Hard & Be Nice to People

  • Try as hard as I can
  • Be kind and helpful
  • Don’t waste time
  • Make everything count. Especially don’t mess up now, which would waste previous efforts.
  • Practice til perfect, change if its needed and I can, put up with it til I’m out the other side (it will be worth it).
I think generally these seem to be positive rules. Except that sometimes the persevering and not giving up/giving in takes its toll and exhausts me, and I’m not happy having to try to so hard. Then when that happens, it’s harder to feel like I’m helpful and not a depressing influence on others.
Here are links to my entries for the rest of the worksheet: Intro | Early Things | Core Beliefs | Current Problem & Triggers | Coping & Maintenance

Core Beliefs

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This is the second section on the worksheet Celine gave me to fill out, about early things, core beliefs and rules I live by.

<the short version>

I am…friendly, likeable

Others are…perfect.

The world is…good.

<The slighly longer version>

I am…a person who likes to think they are, and tries to be, friendly, likeable. Except in reality I am a person persevering at trying to be as good as others, which makes me not as good for (at least) two reasons:

  1. I’m having to try harder that others when they don’t need to try as hard = can never be as good as them as I can’t do it as effortlessly or gracefully as them;
  2. Trying as hard as I do = can’t enjoy things as much = makes me not such a nice person, and I’m not happy having to try as hard as I do = not happy = not a Good Thing.

Yet I don’t give up.

Other are…perfect:  Everyone seems to be good at whatever they do. They know what they are good at, what they want and can do, and know how to achieve that. And others don’t get upset/let things get to them. They just get on with it and do it.

The world is… (still) good

Here are links to my entries for the rest of the worksheet: Intro | Early Things | Rules | Current Problem & Triggers | Coping & Maintenance

Early things

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I’m working on the worksheet Celine (NHS CBT Lady) gave me at my last session, on vulnerability, core beliefs and triggers. As usual I’ve been getting behind with things and already its been a week and I haven’t written anything down.

The first section is ‘What made me vulnerable in the first place”. When I first looked at that I wasn’t too sure how that applied to me. If anything I’ve had a very sheltered, caring upbringing, so how can I be ‘vulnerable because of it? Am I even ‘vulnerable’? It’s true I haven’t been happy or feeling very stable though, otherwise I wouldn’t be having sessions with Celine in the first place! So Celine suggested I tackle the question just by thinking about what has shaped me and my ideas from an early age. That is where I will start.

I’m an only child. My parent made sacrifices for me, and put me before them (even as far as having only one child, when I know their dreams were for a cosy family with a happy mummy, daddy, son and daughter). Now I feel I need to try hard to make sure their effort wasn’t wasted.

My parents think I’m wonderful. I try to live up to my expectations/what I think their expectations are (or what I think they should be). They don’t actually seem to have expectations for me. They just want me to be happy. I don’t know how to do that, I just try extra hard in whatever I do to make up for that (except that tends to lead to me not being happy!)

High achiever at school (and reasonably high through university) = have to keep trying to live up to expectations. (These are basically my expectations of myself. If my family have expectations of me, they don’t say them. Sometimes I think I imagine their expectations, so those are basically mine too.)

Teased for having sticky outy ears when I was 10, 11, 12ish. I think that was the first time I realised something was ‘wrong’ with me. At first I tried to say that I didn’t have sticky outy ears (because I didn’t think I did, I just assumed everyone’s ears were the same), but then when it was pointed out to me that yes, my ears did stick out, then there wasn’t anything I could say. I couldn’t tell them they were wrong and mean, because they were just being truthful. And my parents couldn’t say anything either, as no words would make my ears stick back. Eventually a friend’s mother, and my doctor, suggested pinnaeplasty as an ‘easy’ solution. Four operations later and musty ears…it turns out my friend’s father was a neurosurgeon, so ‘easy’ was only ever a relative term I guess! Eventually my friends got bored of teasing me, probably by then they’d moved on to their next victim, and I got bored of trying to do anything about my ears. Now I’m older people probably notice my ears, but unlike 10 year olds, are too polite to say anything – as long as no one says anything, I can still pretend that everyone’s ears are the same, and mine are no different.

Silent treatment and not popular. When I went into the senior school, I developed a close set of friends. I have no idea what I did wrong, or didn’t do, or if it was just on the whim of the others, but through the second year of senior school I felt more and more as if I didn’t fit in. I think it spiralled out of PE class, where we’d alway have to pick teams. I was always one of the last to be picked. I knew I was reasonably good at sports, but of course it didn’t have anything to do with being good, it was who was popular, and I wasn’t. The popularity contest soon overflowed out of PE class, and I was given the silent treatment in everything. It made me feel confused because I hadn’t don’t something to suddenly become a bad person, so didn’t know what I could do to make myself a better friend (my bad – friendliness isn’t the basis of popularity anyway). My parents even had a meeting with our head-of-year tutor (which mortified me when I found out). One thing that changed was that the PE teacher made sure different people were team captains each week, and that they no longer did all the picking – after the first few people were picked, then she would divide the rest of us up evenly between teams. I’d be interested to know if that has continued or not. I don’t think it really made that much difference. After that year I made another group of friends (mostly those of us who were always the last to be picked for teams), and we’ve been really close ever since.

‘Painfully shy’. I know I’m quiet, and I always have been (even my mother was worried about me as I didn’t speak til I was 3. My doctor was able to reassure her that I was fine, as I could accurately imitate animals). I didn’t realise my quietness was a problem or noticeable til someone specifically described herself as ‘having been just like [me], painfully shy’ ( the story then went that she suddenly changed when she was 14 and became the loud and fun person she is today.) I guess that comment got to me as well, as it was said when I was 16, and had really been trying to make an effort to be more outgoing and self-confident over the previous couple of years. If I think about it now, it is around then that I would rate as having been one of my more confident points in my life!

Went away to boarding school for 6th form. I’m not sure how significant this is. I knew I wanted to go to university in England (US & Canada, my other main options, felt too big and didn’t offer the sorts of courses I wanted to study (geography), so I needed to get into the English system. To do that I needed to do my final years of school in England, so I don’t consider myself having been ‘sent away’. Though equally I didn’t really feel I had any other options, or at least none that I wanted to do, so I was stuck with putting up with the boarding  school for two years. Boarding school and me didn’t mix. I hated the fact that, by the age of 19 (moving to England led me to being a year behind), I was still being told what to do, where to go, what time to do things at, even prevented me from being late if I wanted to be,  and at the same time being told that the boarding school was providing us with so many opportunities and turning us into such independent people . Um sorry, I was way more independent at home at age 16, and had had three times the amounts of opportunities available to me compared to what the school offered. I didn’t resent the school itself, as I had made the decision to go there, I just resented how they tried to tell me that they were so good and gave me so many opportunities. I also wished I’d appreciated the way my school at home had taught: more or less, the teachers gave back what you put in, so since I’d made an effort to ask questions, go for revision classes etc, I did well with my work. At boarding school, however, there wasn’t the question of whether you made an effort or not: there wasn’t any choice, all there was to do was to work. I did (very) well, but couldn’t feel it was all to my credit.

Okey dokey. I’ve never written that much about me all in one go before. Think I will shuffle off now…–>

Here are links to my entries for the rest of the worksheet: Intro | Core Beliefs | Rules | Current Problem & Triggers | Coping & Maintenance

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