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Monday, January 10, 2005

Blippy Mental Health

Have had a few mental health blips over the past few days. Of course, when that happens, the tendency is to panic, especially as things had been on a pretty even keel of late. Feeling a bit better today.

It's not long now til the end of my sessions at The Mighty Maudsley and, to be honest, that's a little nerve-wracking. The sessions tend to become a bit of a safety net. The minute something goes a bit wrong, you comfort yourself with the thought that you can talk it through at the next session. I'm a little apprehensive about the idea of not having that opportunity there.

Of course, the idea is that the therapy has taught you the techniques that you need in order to cope with any bad patches. And, if I'm honest, I really do think that it has done that. But that doesn't mean that the removal of the therapy isn't a little concerning.

A central aspect of the techniques is the idea that only by removing a safety net can you remove your fear of something. The example I was given was of a man with a fear of heights: you can make him go up a ladder, but if he's wearing a helmet and there's a safety net beneath him as he climbs, the fear won't be removed. He's gotta climb up the ladder without the helmet and the net.

With that partially in mind, I took a detour on my way home from Oxford Street on Saturday, and walked over the Millennium Bridge. I'd walked past it every day for two years, because my offices used to be right by it. But my fear of heights meant I'd never actually walked over the thing. I decided to correct this, in the hope of making some progress with my fear of heights.

As I stepped onto the bridge, I started to panic. It became difficult to move my legs. I contemplated what the hell I was doing walking across something which is suspended over water (I also have a fear of that, and can't swim) and which was once (and for all I know may still be) structurally unsound.

These feelings made me pause a few steps into my crossing. And seriously consider turning back.

But then, like a true therapy subject, I said to myself: "face the fear" (I believe outloud - it's a wonder I didn't gain more attention) and started to walk. And continued walking. And continued hyperventilating. And experienced some vague dizziness.

I did this to the soundtrack of Simon and Garfunkel's "The Only Living Boy In New York", which was the song that happened to come up on my iPod as I made the crossing. As the music swelled, I began to feel a bit better. I made some voluntary pauses to look out over the Thames, and managed to look down as I walked.

After a brief pause to catch my breath and look at the river, I made the return crossing. For some reason, this was much less pleasant. Perhaps I'd made the wrong soundtrack choice.

Anyway, at least I crossed without a helmet and a safety net, right?


  • At 12:54 PM, Blogger Hypatia said…

    Completely out of context, I've decided that the word "blippy" is a great one.

    Well done on (literally) crossing the bridge as you came to it - there's a book out there called Face the Fear and Do It Anyway which has been a bible for those with similar "safety net" issues for years. I think it's quite out of date and needs a new edition: d'ya fancy writing it?

  • At 1:38 PM, Blogger Fizzwhizz said…

    Yay! Well done! I too am scared of heights so I feel your pain. Particularly well done for doing the Millennium Bridge of all bridges, which has that totally unecessary see-through floor so you can see the water underneath you. I imagine it's probably a similar experience to me walking across Clifton Suspension Bridge (have been over a couple of times in car, very glad that I wasn't anywhere near the edge but still with a nagging feeling in the back of my mind that something more than 100 years old can't possibly still be entirely structurally sound). Maybe I should face my fear of the London Eye and do it anyway. When I first met Prince Charming he arranged to meet me at Waterloo station for a mystery date and the people at work convinced me it was going to be the Eye, so I spent the rest of the day shaking with nerves. He was a bit put out when I turned up for the date all white-faced and snappish, but after it turned out we were actually going to see a film at the Royal Festival Hall, oh, how I laughed (after I made him promise never to take me anywhere more than a few feet off the ground).

    PS You can ask Taxloss about the Millennium Bridge, he was working on Building magazine when the scandal all happened and he knows all about how safe it was even when it was wobbly. You shouldn't believe everything you read in the papers.

  • At 3:33 PM, Blogger Taxloss said…

    The Millennium Bridge is now probably the most stable in the country, thanks to the over-reaction of the public. I can even explain how, but I would have to use the expression "passive damping", and "damping" isn't the most reassuring word to someone who's nervous about crossing bridges.

    Well done on overcoming the fear - that must have made you feel top of the world!. But - and I can't believe I've beaten Fizzwhizz to this - wouldn't "Bridge Over Troubled Water" have been a more appropriate S&G track?

  • At 5:59 PM, Blogger Fizzwhizz said…

    Ahem. Actually I think you'll find that "Bridge Over Troubled Water" is about the joys of intravenous drug abuse, so hardly apposite to such a life moment. I would suggest that "59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)" might be more appropriate.
    But hey, thanks for giving me the opportunity to use the word "apposite", which is one of my favourites.

  • At 4:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Thanks for the kind words, all. Hypatia - please feel free to use "blippy" in everyday conversation. And when, in a year's time, "blippy" is the new in-fashion slang phrase, please remind everyone where it originated.

    Fizzwhizz/Taxloss - you are of course both right on my failure to select one of S&G's two "bridge" songs for this historic bridge moment. Dammit. It has to be said, though, that I think had I gone with "Bridge Over Troubled Water", I may well have started bawling my eyes out, wondering why no one has offered to be my Bridge Over Troubled Water. "Feelin' Groovy" would have been a nice uplifting little ditty to accompany the trip. I find it nigh on impossible to listen to it without singing, though ("hello lamp-post/watcha knowin'?/I've come to watch your flowers growing..."). And I'm almost certain that me striken with vertigo, humming Feelin' Groovy, would not have been a good look...


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