You’re not ridiculous, crazy or pathetic

Angela can’t leave the house. Even the thought of it fills her with dread. She is sick, dizzy and her heart pounds. “I know this is ridiculous” she assures me. Ajay’s head swirls with thoughts of hurting his partner. He knows he’d never harm her but the more he tries to push away the thoughts, the stronger they rebound. “I know this is crazy” he acknowledges. Hayley can’t bear the thought of having an injection. “I used to be fine. I know I’m being pathetic”.

Angela, Ajay and Hayley all judge themselves harshly. Each one of them is intelligent, thoughtful and rational. Yet they condemn themselves so readily. They would not judge their friends so easily.

It is very common to start first sessions in this way. We have a myth that the clever part of our brain, our pre-frontal cortex is who we are. For most of the time, for most of us, this is the case. We act rationally, our thoughts make sense to us. But what when we behave in a way that doesn’t make sense to us? What is happening to our frantic trio?

They are all experiencing forms of anxiety and anxiety does not live in our clever brain, it lives in the part of the brain called the amygdala and it has one purpose; to keep us safe. Nothing else. It doesn’t care about our happiness, our social life or even our intellect. It is built for survival not for happiness. If we register fear for any reason, the amygdala kicks in and over-rides the pre-frontal cortex. It is this that can leave us feeling out of control as if we’ve been kidnapped by an alien force in our heads.

They feel confused and embarrassed and need to let me know that this isn’t really them. I get that, but an important first step to getting better is to understand what is happening; to realise that these feelings are part of a normal evolutionary protection system and by acknowledging this and being kinder to ourselves we can begin to feel like ourselves again.

Hayley now walks to the shops on her own, Ajay, occasionally has those thoughts but he knows that they’re just thoughts and he barely notices them and Hayley had her injections, a little nervous but that’s OK.

You’re not ridiculous, crazy or pathetic. The chances are you are experiencing anxiety; a very curable condition.

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