I’ve had three different therapists: Abi, the Eating Disorders specialist at my local NHS trust, Jamie at Ascot House, and my private therapist, Phillip. All three have different styles and approaches, but all leave me drained and exhausted. This is, no doubt, due to the energy I expend in dread, circumspection and furious strategic thinking. I’m thinking on my feet, improvising, as I try to engage with these sessions and make them useful, without actually confronting anything, while still making myself likeable, because they’re such lovely, good people and I want them to like me.
Abi’s the one I fear most. It’s her job to deal most directly with my anorexia and my progress towards recovery. She weighs me, sets me targets and demands to know why I’ve missed them. She’s a gorgeous person: interesting, forthright, humorous. I suspect she’s political, with opinions similar to mine, and, in another life, I think we could be friends. But she’s dedicated and professional, and that makes her a very tough cookie. She used to go hunting in my head for the twisty little creature. She tracked it down relentlessly and I just had to accept that she’d hack a path through my brain in the process.
Now that I’m a more acceptable weight (just inside the green band on the BMI scale) our conversations are much less bruising. I enjoy her company; it’s just that the circumstances and the topic of discussion that make our meetings fraught.
Jamie was warm, gentle and supportive. (That makes him sound like a sofa.) He also ran some of our workshops and tried to make us aware of our modes and habits of thought. He liked to use whiteboards to map out spider diagrams and models of destructive thought patterns to discuss how we could actively disrupt the cycles, cognitive-therapy-style. These were illuminating and useful.
With me, he honed in on a triumvirate of core values that feed into each other, I think they were “I’m selfish”, “I’m lazy”, “I’m incompetent”, along with a compensatory self-concept which we called “The Servant”. He also identified a need for attention and a melancholy, depressive attitude. (I could have told him that. No, wait: I did!) He also suggested I might have, if not ADHD, then at least an ADHD bent or synaptic structure to my brain. This surprised me, but when he gave me a test I came up emphatically positive. Admittedly, it was an anecdotal and self-diagnostic questionnaire, but it would explain some of my behaviour.
Jamie, and especially Abi, have literally saved my life and may permanently cure me of my anorexia. Phillip, on the other hand, doesn’t deal directly with anorexia nervosa, but he is the one who teaches me how to deal with the profound fuckwittery which led to it. We range widely over my life, at the whim of my wandering brain and, although some trains of thought remain inadmissible, patterns of thinking emerge.
When I tell Phillip some terrible, buried event from my past, in hushed and horrified tones, he deftly puts it into context and perspective by not reacting. He gives the impression that he’s heard it all before. “That’s what people do,” he seems to be saying, “You’re not the first to tell me this.” This disarms the buried, unexploded bombs. It neutralises the toxins in the soil that have twisted my growth.