I've been seeing a therapist for a few weeks in a bid to get a handle on the extreme anxiety I seem to be feeling most of the time. Lately I've been having nightmares, the kind where you realise you're shouting in your sleep, or sitting bolt upright, or both, and it leaves you feeling rotten for the first few hours of the following day. I've also come out in a host of skin conditions, all thought to be stress-related.
My therapist seems to think it's a kind of post-traumatic stress, as a result of the three years of dealing with Ben and his anorexia. I tend to agree. So today she decided to do some hypnotherapy on me.
At first it felt a bit weird and I felt a bit silly sitting there opposite her, eyes closed, the traffic buzzing outside the room above the health food store where she holds her sessions. She was going to put me into a state of deep relaxation and then do something I think she called a "Re-wind" technique. The idea is that you set two anchors: both when you were in a Good Place, kind of sandwiching in the bad bits you want to deal with.
Unfortunately I had to take a massive chunk of the experience, almost four years to be precise. I set the first anchor at the time when I took a photo of an athletic Ben standing on top of a mountain in southern France. Ben was at his peak: confident, athletic, handsome and popular.
The second anchor was yesterday when Ben arrived home from seeing Spiderman with his old mates, full of the joys of spring, laughter in his eyes, no different from any other teenage boy that had spend the afternoon messing around with his mates.
"Think of a safe place," she said, "A place where you can 'go' while I take you into this deep relaxation." I decided on a garden, my Grandfather's garden - a large vegetable garden climbing up a hill with a huge retaining limestone wall at the back and a greenhouse leaning against it.
Then the therapy started. At first I didn't think it was going to work, but was gradually astonished at how trance-like I was beginning to feel, and how very relaxed. I really did feel as if I was in a deep, deep sleep, yet completely aware of the sounds going on around me.
Once I was mentally sitting in that garden, she asked me to place the two anchors.
The idea then was to rewind rapidly from the second anchor back to the first: from Ben full of the joys of spring yesterday to Ben at his peak, high up on that mountain almost four years ago. It wasn't easy re-winding through all that time. Most of it I missed, but she said that's OK. It really was just like a videotape being rewound back, the scenes passing quickly in front of your eyes.
When I got to the first anchor, I had to lift my finger, and she'd tell me to fast-forward to the second anchor again. And this continued for quite some time, before she brought me out of the trance.
"The trouble was," I told her afterwards, "I had to pick such a massive chunk of time. Nearly four years. I had to do this because I couldn't find anywhere within the eating disorder experience that I could place the first anchor. It was all horrible. There weren't any 'good times'. I felt coiled up like a spring every single day. I felt as if I was going to implode. So I had to look further back, to the time when I remember Ben at his best, before the seeds of the eating disorder sowed themselves. Because, although Ben began to show signs of the eating disorder over the summer of 2009, the seeds had been germinating silently for months. So the French mountain was one of the last times when I believe Ben was totally ED-free."
Did the therapy work?
I've no idea. But it did make me feel fabulously relaxed afterwards!!