Parrots with bad attitudes and Dragons with razor teeth

I’m going at this new course of CBT (cognative behavioural therapy) all wrong.

I know it.

I don’t like my new therapist much, and I’m increasingly reminded about why I hated CBT before and why it was so unhelpful.

What it boils down to is that I’m not stupid, in fact I have a higher than average intelligence (not my opinion, this is evidence-based) and find it intolerable to be patronised or condescended.

In principle, the theory of CBT aught to work in many cases, but only if the therapist can intuit when the patient wants to punch them in the face, and take the therapy a bit off the beaten track.

This week I was asked if I knew what the diaphragm was. Erm Biology doctorate? Then had diaphragmatic breathing demonstrated. Honestly, I expected more. I can only imagine that my face exhibited the single raised eyebrow of derision.

I can be such a bitch but unfortunately it slips out when my tolerance threshold gets approached. Maybe I should explain.

As an ex-flautist, my natural way of breathing is deeply from the diaphragm, I would like to know breathing exercises, eg how many seconds to breathe in/out/hold, some visualisation or mantra or something but no, I got told to breathe like I do anyway. I’m not convinced she knows anything further than that. I was promised muscle relaxation techniques too but I suspect that involves ‘just relax your muscles and you will feel relaxed’, in the simplistic style of delivery I am coming to expect from CBT.

I was given a handout that came complete with cartoons – perfect for your children who have anxiety problems. Apparently I have a toxic bullying parrot in my head and if I ignore it I will be calm and happy.

Cheers for that. I’m not pissing myself with laughter at this idea at all. Nope. Not one bit.

What she doesn’t realise is I don’t have a parrot, I have a dragon (see blog header for a portrait of the beast), and it doesn’t bully me, it messes my personality about and makes quite compelling and intelligent conversation.

I also don’t think that I like the idea that you have no control over your thoughts. For example, let’s say that you keep thinking about killing yourself. Then magically by the power of CBT you start ignoring that thought… I mean, that seems a bit off-piste to me…aren’t you better off dealing with why you feel like that and changing your thought patterns rather than accepting you will repeatedly have those thoughts forever?

The therapist seems baffled by some of my problematic anxious thoughts because she sees them as relatively realistic – as in – there is  a historical reason why I think those thoughts, so they aren’t disordered. Erm, so…that means I don’t have health anxiety? I’m really not convinced about that. I have stomach pains (from suspected gastritis) so I avoid loads of things (foods / drinks/ medications/travelling/social meals/drinks) to avoid the prospect of stomach pains that will most likely not happen but could and she thinks that’s ok? I’ll wager she doesn’t know enough about these physical conditions (gastritis / ibs) and how they relate to anxiety so just tells me that they might not get any better after therapy. So….what exactly am I doing here if you keep telling me that this doesn’t work for everyone and physical symptoms that perpetuate anxiety will not be improved?

I came out with what I consider to be a highly relevant and important statement. That I suspect that I allow myself to get very anxious because I want an excuse to be imperfect. I have had something ‘wrong’ with me since 15 and it’s been touted as why my exam grades slipped, why I got a 2:1, why I struggled so much during my PhD. Maybe I’m just not the best at stuff after all – and I cannot accept failure. Hence I do not try to control my anxiety as it gives me a nice get-out clause. What about that then Ms therapist lady?

Well. She wasn’t interested in that theory at all. She just thinks I’m too harsh on myself and that self-criticism is bad. The ONLY thing she wrote down this session was when I said that I felt self-criticism could be a good thing. A concept utterly alien to her – that the inability to see and accept one’s own flaws turns one into an arrogant narcissistic douche. The ability to self-criticise is inbuilt in any half decent scientist (or artist, or y’know… human being) – you judge what you have done, your level of ability, your qualities and you think about how it can be improved (or ruminate of how it cannot if you so choose)- that is the instigator of progress and understanding of the shortfalls of others- realisation that things are not perfect. Am I getting through here???

I’m trying to stick with it – but I feel  I am being asked the wrong questions. I’ll fill out the inane homework things I’ve been asked to complete but in addition I will write something about the stuff that I think is relevant.

Chronic anxiety for me is not all about a single thought or situation that happens every week- I may not have a panic attack during the whole course of treatment – but the problem comes from big overwhelming thoughts that rarely specifically get triggered but are always lurking in the wings, hovering and ruminating and  stopping you from living your life. And that is what I will write about.

Does anyone know the trick of getting off one’s high horse and trying to accept that very simplistic and superficial things might be helpful?