In the last few months/years, you can’t deny that there’s been much more media coverage for mental health. Which is amazing. I would never claim to be an expert, nor would I claim to be a big sufferer (it’s never been bad enough to warrant a trip to the GP), but I do get anxiety, from time to time. I didn’t realise until a year or so ago, that virtually everyone I know has been, or is, affected by anxiety in some way. Which, whilst I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone, it’s quite a nice, sobering thought – to know that other people UNDERSTAND how you feel.
I don’t want to go on about it at all, because, full disclosure, I really don’t know an awful lot about it. I just know, that certain situations (or the prospect of certain situations) can really get to me. And this post isn’t going to be an earth shattering, internet breaking look at the way we live our lives, or facts and assumptions about mental health. It’s just something I’ve realised. That I’m going to leave right here.
The other night, Ed and I had just finished watching something on Netflix, and a trailer automatically started playing once the credits had started rolling: it was for Derren Brown’s ‘Miracle’. It looked pretty kick ass, so we went straight ahead and popped it on.
Now we all know what Derren Brown does, so I don’t need to give too much away. But he opens the show with quite a poignant suggestion about the way we live our lives – and when I say poignant, I mean (arguably) life altering. Who’d have thought that within a minute of the show starting, Ed and I would have pressed pause, looked at each in awe and had a two minute discussion about what’d just been said. THAT’S the kind of show it is.
Anyway, many wonderful and magical things happen during the show which I won’t spoil, but what I WILL tell you is that half of it has left me with the utmost respect for his brilliance, and the other half believing in magic. It’s at the end of the show when he starts to wrap things up and takes a moment to reflect, that something really hit me – it was quite a light bulb moment.
If you don’t want spoilers, look away now.
He’d said earlier in the show (and came back to it at the end) and I quote:
“We tend to dwell on our past and we think that somehow defines who we are. But our pasts are just stories we tell ourselves in the present…
…if this were the start of a film and it said ‘Based on a true story’, you would know that the events that were going to happen in that film weren’t real events exactly as they happened…you’d be naturally skeptical…
…we forget to apply the same natural skepticism to the most important stories we have, the ones we tell ourselves every day about who we are. We can choose to change those stories.”
And THAT has really resonated for me. The wealth of my anxiety comes from
– Having had a bad experience (of something) in the past
– Dwelling on it (and probably making the event worse in my head)
– Allowing that to influence my views on it in the present.
This ultimately leads me to panicking about having to repeat the same activity in the future.
I’ll give you an example.
A few years ago I was on a bus, and felt really ill. I can’t tell you whether the two were mutually exclusive or not, but now, I don’t want to get on a bus. For fear of feeling ill. Because my learned response to that situation (having told myself a certain story for all these years, as Mr Brown said), is that I WILL feel ill again. Daft right? And I know it is.
I’m much better these days at dealing with little moments of anxiety, therefore feel a bit more confident to attempt to combat them. For example, last summer before I had my car, I got the bus down to Mum and Dad’s. It’s only a 5 minute drive, but that was a big deal for me. And a stepping stone to getting better at it. But a couple of years ago anxiety really did pull on the reigns of living a ‘normal’ life.
And (going back to ‘Miracle’) something about the way he explained this – the idea of telling ourselves a story – really hit home. It may sound silly, but within that minute or so of explanation, I though ‘Holy s**t, this is so me. Hang on, this is actually going to help’. And now, I feel like I have ‘IT’S JUST A STORY’ ingrained on my cranium.
I didn’t expect that sitting down to watch a Derren Brown show would make me re-evaluate my life and the way I deal with certain situations – but it did. And don’t I wish I’d watched it a few years ago!
The show is brilliant regardless of the message, and I’m not going to say ‘OMG YOU MUST GO AND WATCH THIS NOW!’…but it really is something special.
And I leave you with a gorgeous quote from the start of the show that we loved;
“LIFE SHOULD BE MORE LIKE A PIECE OF MUSIC,
AND YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE DANCING.”