I was really looking forward to Module 2 of my hypnotherapy training course. I’d had a great time on the first Module, met some great people, and learned a lot. I’d been practising my skills with reasonable success and was starting to learn what did and didn’t work and to develop my own style. I wanted to know more.
So it was with great anticipation and excitement that I set off on the first Friday morning in March, full of Monster Energy Drink, satnav set for Motivation Training near Aviemore. Iain had decided to stay at home this time, so I was making the journey on my own, accompanied only by Ken Bruce on Radio 2 and a selection of CDs for when the Jeremy Vine show got too much for me (some of his phone callers give me exploding head syndrome).
The Monster Energy Drink turned out to be something of an error of judgement. An hour into my journey I was desperate for the loo, and with no idea of how far it was to the next one was forced to pull off the Edinburgh City by-pass and relieve myself against the car (something I never, ever do) in what I suspect was a dogging car park. Fortunately, 10.30 in the morning is apparently not peak time for dogging.
Bladder successfully emptied, I carried on to Aviemore, with a short coffee stop at Kinross services, arriving at about 2.00pm. Having advised Jan at Motivation Training that I’d be there around 4.00pm, I had a couple of hours to kill in Aviemore. I wandered up and down the main street, mooched around the small branch of Waterstone’s, then realised I’d forgotten about lunch so went into the famous Mountain Café. This is an institution in Aviemore and it’s rare to get in without queuing but I was lucky. Not being particularly hungry, I ordered a cheese sandwich (or “piece” as they describe it on the menu – somehow I find the self-conscious Scottishness of this a bit off-putting but that’s probably just me).
This was something of a mistake. Stupidly, I expected neat little triangles made from thinly-sliced bread, maybe even with the crusts cut off. A few crisps on the side. A little salad garnish – you know the sort of thing I mean. What I got was something the size of a small house – two thick slices of bread (about half a loaf in total) enclosing a filling of cheese, salad, mayonnaise, chilli sauce and probably the odd missing child. All this with no cutlery and the tiniest of napkins. I would have liked to ask for a knife so I could cut it into smaller pieces (no pun intended) but not wanting to seem like a soft Southern Jessie I struggled manfully and left needing a shower.
Soon afterwards I arrived at Motivation Training, to find that I was the first student to arrive. This allowed me an hour on my own to unpack and enjoy one of life’s greatest pleasures – a little lie down. Unfortunately, at this precise moment an old adversary returned to my life, one I thought I’d just about escaped from forever. Hello Depression – will you be staying long?
The full story of my battle with depression will have to wait for another blog post but it’s enough for me to say here that I’ve had depressive tendencies for most of my life and was floored by an incapacitating attack about 20 years ago. Since then, with the aid of medication and support from various sources, other than a couple of relapses I’ve been able to keep my mood in a range somewhere between fine and a-bit-miserable-for-no-apparent-reason-but-still-able-to-function. I fell through the bottom of that range shortly before John and Lisamarie arrived.*
I employed my cloaking technique – fixed smile, slightly brittle good humour, exaggerated gestures to compensate for the fact that my body feels like it’s closing in on itself. This can fool most people for a while, but it’s exhausting for me. However, it got me through dinner the first evening, during which Marta and Andy arrived, and with the help of a little rosé wine and the pleasure of being back in such lovely company I managed to push the depression away for a few hours.
The following morning, Marina and Gillian, the two non-resident students, arrived and Matthew welcomed us back. Most of the first day was spent discussing the volunteer clients we had seen since Module One. Matthew was quick to stress that there was no element of competition here – a simple relaxation session was just as valid as curing a long-term problem. I tried to convince myself of this as Andy described the amazing work he had been doing with terminal cancer patients, John told us how he’d relieved a friend’s fear of being a passenger in a car, Gillian of how she’d cured a chocoholic. Everyone seemed to have achieved miraculous results.
And what had I done? Reminded someone of her ability to cope with life’s problems, encouraged my sister to stop and think before automatically accepting the offer of a glass of wine, totally failed to hypnotise my brother. But not to worry – it’s not a competition.
Of course most of the others also shared stories of things that hadn’t gone so well. John had phoned Matthew for advice after his first attempt at curing his friend’s fear had only limited success. Gillian’s chocoholic needed a second session and a change of approach to bring about lasting change. Andy had an unsuccessful session quite early on. But my mind wasn’t having any of that – they were all wonderful and I should have been sitting in the corner wearing a dunce’s cap. I can look back now and recognise that my own results were actually pretty impressive (apart from the failure with my brother) but I wasn’t thinking that way at the time.
The day ended with us practising hypnotic inductions on each other. I worked with Andy again with Marta making up a group of three.
In the evening, the five of us staying in the house sat up and talked, the conversation oiled with more rosé wine. Jan had clearly decided we were determined to behave like toddlers on a Haribo high and didn’t bother trying to send us to bed.
Most of the tuition in this Module was related to NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming). I’ve blogged previously about the difficulties I had reading NLP for Dummies. Matthew’s approach was to demystify the subject by explaining the jargon but using it as little as possible, and this certainly helped me to make sense of it. Unfortunately, I was struggling to concentrate so I’m not sure that all of it went in, but combined with further reading I managed to make sense of it all.
For the uninitiated, I will try here to give a brief idea of what NLP is. This is easier said than done, and I find myself having to use jargon and then explain it. In a nutshell, NLP involves changing the submodalities of a remembered experience in order to change the clients feelings about that experience and thus bring about beneficial change for the future. Crystal clear eh? I’ll try to make it easier to understand.
Imagine a time when you were really happy, relaxed and confident. Picture the scene. In creating a visual image, you are employing the visual modality. The qualities of that image – whether it’s in black and white or colour, large or small, flat or 3D, still or moving – are its submodalities. Still with me? Good. Now if you magnify that image, brighten the colours, bring it closer, make it more lifelike etc your emotional response will be different from if you make it tiny, washed out, far away and flat. By manipulating the submodalities of an unpleasant memory, for example, it’s possible to reduce or eliminate its negative impact on the present and future. It may sound a bit bonkers and far too simple but it works.
Unfortunately, I have great difficulties with visualisation. I think that internally I may in fact be severely sight-impaired. If I try to picture myself, for example, in a situation that has caused me distress in the past, I might manage to create a vague image of one element of the scene but not to clearly see the entire scene in full colour. And if I try to manipulate that image, the likelihood is it will just disappear altogether. NLP does, in fact, recognise that not all of us process information visually; some of us display a preference for auditory processing, while others have a kinaesthetic leaning, processing their memories through the feelings they create. However, all NLP techniques seem to start from the premise that we can all create beautiful vibrant pictures in our heads.
So my difficulty is that although I have no doubt that these techniques work, I struggle to experience them myself. This obviously reduces my confidence in my ability to use them with clients. Of course I must actually be able to visualise, otherwise I would be unable to make any sense of the world. When we see an apple, for example, we compare what we have in front of us with the catalogue of images we have in our brain, taking a fraction of a millisecond to identify this object as an apple. We’re visualising all the time without being aware of it; if I can identify an apple I have the ability to visualise a memory, I just have to develop it. So eventually, if I work at it, I should be able to resolve this problem.
Over the course of the next few days we learned to apply these techniques in order to achieve a wide variety of results – to develop new behaviours, to remove the negative impact of unpleasant memories, to cure phobias and to minimise the effects of traumatic experiences. We were able to practise some of these – while most of us could think of different ways we would like to behave or unpleasant memories we would prefer to exorcise, phobias and traumas were less common (and perhaps too personal to use in the context of a training exercise).
Light relief was created by Andy, who produced Donald Trump masks for us all. Having created a distraction, we held them to our faces while Matthew’s back was turned and waited for the tirade of expletives when he found himself face-to-face with seven Donalds. We were not disappointed.
One evening John took those of us staying at the house on a scenic drive around the area. The highlight of this was spotting the Indian restaurant in Aviemore which we decided we would go to the following night.
During our evening meal the wine made another welcome appearance. Lisamarie and I tried to give a heartrending performance of the song “I Know Him So Well”, only slightly hampered by the fact she didn’t know the words. I, of course, know this song backwards but elected to sing it in the more traditional forward version. I then gave a solo rendition of a song recorded years ago by the Irish singer Mary Coughlan, entitled “The Country Fair Dance”.
John and Andy gamely took on the roles of Porcupine Paul and Fearsome Fred Ford, while Lisamarie made a delightfully coquettish Pamela Pearl. So what if we all seemed a bit bonkers – we were having fun and I was putting nasty depression back in its box for a while. We were late to bed that night!
All too soon Tuesday evening came around – time for our second visit to the Cairn at Carr Bridge. This was another evening of fun, laughter and too much wine. Having managed to find “I Know Him So Well” on the jukebox, Gillian and I performed a word-perfect rendition, with Lisamarie helpfully contributing backing oooohs. Marina filmed this and posted it on Facebook. I used to like Marina.
The following morning, with thick heads, we tried to make sense of Matthew’s end of module test (sorry, quiz). We sat around a table and tried to answer questions we could barely read, let alone understand. I employed my crafty technique of writing completely illegibly so Matthew would just assume I was right. It worked for Module 1 so it was definitely worth another try.
With much hugging and promising to keep in touch (aided by our new WhatsApp group) we set off for home, ready to put our new skills into practice.
*I’ve tried to find somewhere in the main body of this post to include this bit, but it just seemed to interrupt the flow, so I’ve added it as a footnote.
It’s very often said that depression makes people selfish and there is some truth in this. In the depths of despair anything that makes you feel better seems like fair game – other people’s feelings can cease to matter as you desperately try to lift your own. I know that in the past I have, at times, been viciously angry with people, not necessarily because they deserved it but because expressing anger felt so much better than staying locked inside myself. I don’t do that any more.
Instead, I do guilt. Guilt that I’m being such a wet blanket and threatening to infect other people with my misery. Guilt that I don’t have the wherewithal to just shake myself out of it. Guilt that I can sometimes have a good time while still claiming to be depressed. And most of all, guilt that I’m depressed when other people have things so much worse.
Knowing what I do about some of my friends on the course, depression seems to me like the ultimate in self-indulgence. I have no business being depressed. And being far too self-analytical, living too much in my head, I then ask myself, is it self-indulgent to accuse myself of self-indulgence?
So I remind myself that it’s down to my faulty brain chemistry. That I don’t choose to feel like this. That many years ago, during one of my worst attacks, I told myself that amputation of a limb would be an acceptable price to pay for the depression to go away.
It’s not self-indulgence. It’s just the way I am. I’ve been kind to myself and it has passed – I feel much better now.
And one day I will beat it.