Monday, 5 August 2013

Food for thought: Notes from a CBT session

I wanted to put some notes down about my ongoing CBT sessions, primarily for my own benefit. While sometimes the content may sound fairly negative, these words do not represent my mood for the majority of the time when I am my usual (sort of) cheery self. I hope that some of these observations could prove useful for others who have ever used food or any other substances in a slightly unhealthy way. I am not a medical professional and so if anything here is ringing lots and lots of bells then I would suggest you go and speak to your GP in the first instance. CBT, as well as many other counselling services, are available on the NHS albeit with a waiting list.

For those of you who follow this blog for somewhat lighter ramblings about dieting and dining then do feel free to skip.

Cognitive behavioural therapy involves far less talking about the death of your first pet hamster (RIP Pythagorus) and far more trying to identify patterns of thought and emotion and the attendant behaviours that these provoke. So, before you deal with the negative behaviours – in my case that potent combination of panic attacks and self medicating with cheese on toast and cheap wine – you have to pinpoint the moment when the urge to enact it arises. And then, once you have done that, you can start to identify positive behaviours with which to replace them. Otherwise you are left with gaping voids and black holes and they are never good, except as science fiction plot devices.

For me, one of the hardest things about the past year has been all the empty time. It’s the fact that I can go home from work at five, get back to work at nine the next morning and not have spoken to a soul in between. And I’m not talking about meaningful conversation, just the type of mundane chat with which anyone fills their evening – those thin, glistening threads that connect you to the rest of the world. I start to feel disjointed, faraway. I’m not someone who finds it easy to pick up the phone to a friend so I sit and eventually find myself retreating into the places in my head that are deeper in shadow.

Weekends are the worst for this. Especially those weekends when there is nothing arranged. But, having said that, even some weekends where I have had distractions lined up in the diary I have ended up cancelling them because, buried deep within my lair of duvet, the outside world seems a very distant and frightening place indeed.

And when it comes to filling the emptiness and the silence that is when my old friends and comfort blankets reappear. Some people take succour in music, others in exercise, for me it is the familiar foods and a few glasses of wine to soften the edges of the vast, quiet space.

And so firstly I must learn to sit with the emotions that being in the deep, deep quiet invokes. I must learn to be present with the sense of fear and loneliness, the nagging anxiety that I am unloved and unlovable. We talked about how these emotions could be visualised; as clouds perhaps, or leaves in a stream, or people leaving and entering a room – the point being, of course, that they are transient, that they pass and when they have passed rationality re-emerges and with it an end to the automatic groping for something, anything to help. And then, when the immediacy of the emotions has gone and the urge to act has waned, then you find something else.

One immediate concern of mine was that these behaviours are so deep entrenched as to become almost instinctive reactions – I’m alone, I’m sad, I’m angry – I eat. How can I find the impetus to use these techniques when the first time I’m really aware of what I’m doing is when I’m halfway through a family size bar of Dairy Milk? It’s not easy. We discussed visual stimuli – if using the cloud visualisation, for example, having a picture or a prompt to hand or even just going outside (although the neighbours may wonder what I’m doing standing in the middle of the yard staring up at the sky…) And breathe, breathe, breathe. The most immediate thing you can do to ground yourself is close your eyes and just focus on the process of breathing.

Finally, and I think that this is important; I need to remember that negative emotion isn’t a bad thing in itself. Sometimes, it is a fundamental evolutionary tool – fear, for example, fear can keep us safe. Sadness or anger can highlight for us areas of our life that need work and change. Or they can remind us of how much we love and are loved. They are part of the human condition, and a necessary part at that.


  1. I'm the same and eat when down, hence a 3 stone weight gain in 4 years but I'm working in it and feeling happier in myself. Good luck with the CBT, I had it for anxiety and OCD and it did help x

  2. First the important stuff: Pythagorus is a GENIUS name for a hamster. And cheese on toast is an amazing food - better than the sum of its parts (I like onion marmalade under my cheese too).

    Now, on to the rest. I know just from reading this that you are absolutely not unloveable. I wish you lived closer to me as I'd love to meet you (although of course I'd then be scared that you wouldn't like me!). Maybe we can resuscitate our plans for a weekend with Lesley? Not necessarily descending on her (not inviting myself!) but girlie weekend? See scared bracket above! But I know what you mean about the not speaking to anyone thing - my mum has this. Can't be easy that you've just moved to a new city either.


  3. Snap!! I was going to say exactly the same and descending on me would be brilliant. After missing out on seeing Peri down in London due to being trapped in a cycle race web of closed roads, I would LOVE to have a proper get together with my bloggy besties. Will email.

    Fear of being alone/loneliness is such a common yet isolating fear. You've done more than most to identify and talk openly about it as it is so difficult to admit to a less than perfect life. Well done and good luck with the work ahead.

    For the record, you are nowhere near unloved or unloveable and when it comes to other people, quality not quantity is what counts!!

    Lesley xx

  4. Thank you for all your support ladies.

    It's odd, when you see the stuff written down it can sound so daft and even irrational and yet it has such a profound emotional impact. Being alone isn't the end of the world and I do have a wonderful family and good friends but sometimes, during that long dark teatime of the soul... :-)

  5. You are far from unloveable. I love to read your posts and you come across as the most lovely of women :)