Coronavirus – how will you use this time?

In light of the current Covid-19 pandemic I have recently found myself wondering how our drastically altered lifestyles are affecting us all at an emotional level. And I don’t just mean the obvious anxieties we hold around our employment, finances, housing, food access or health either.

My thoughts are turned more towards what happens when we remove our go-to coping strategies which occupy much of our time; our work, spending, shopping, socialising, leisure time and all other forms of distractions. I recently read a comment by a psychoanalysist who suggested that we will all project our biggest fears onto this virus, and from observations in my daily and clinical life I tend to feel this is a fairly accurate statement.

I am witnessing a great number of individuals in unhappy or unsatisfying relationships being forced to spend time with one another, with no means of getting away or consciously dissociating from their problems.

We are being called upon to tackle our elephants in the room.

In my view, this gives us a number of options to consider. Do we fully address the personal and interpersonal challenges in a constructive way, abandon ship, or continue to put our hands over our eyes and ears pretending everything is normal? Undoubtedly this incredibly trying time calls for each of us to pull on our inner and outer resourcefulness and compile an emotional and practical stock-take of all the things that serve (and no longer serve) our needs.

There has never been a better time to get the psychological house in order, utilise our time wisely, reflect, and plan for the future. Are you happy? What do you need? Where do you want to be? These are all areas of our lives which require (and deserve!) our attention as we contend with taking the difficult immediate steps to ensure our current safety and survival.

Perhaps some good can come of this crisis, that we may find an improved version of ourselves, focused more inwards on our spiritual and emotional well-being, rather than reaching for endless distractions to unsuccessfully plug the hole.

I hope you stay safe and wish you well.

Take care,

Steph x

Therapy and Improv

Growing up I used to do a fair old bit of acting. I joined the Northern Kids Theatre Company in my teen years and even did an audition for Children’s Ward (big time league, right there). Sadly, Jane ‘Corrie’ Danson got the main part and my acting career was relegated to that of a more supportive nature (walking past a child faking an asthma attack).

Part of the reason I never pursued the footlights is because I am not a natural extrovert. Whilst I love singing, dancing and all things comedy I don’t really like being watched.

Whilst training to be a therapist, like many others, I shuddered at the idea of observational skills development class. All those beady eyes with the potential to judge. I nursed myself through this awkward period knowing that real-life therapy situations don’t involve having an audience grade you and put it all down to newbie nerves.

However thousands of flying hours later I still have the same mild dissociative feelings before I meet with a client even if we have a well-established long-term relationship. It quickly vanishes once we get into the soup but breathing exercises and grounding techniques do nothing to help (rather bloody annoying given this late stage in the game).

The more I pick this apart the more I see the links between therapy and improv. The counselling room is the stage and the two people sat facing are the actors. Neither one of us knows what will come up in the next hour and there are no edits. This stuff is real. Things could and will and have to get messy. 

Directional and manual-based practitioners may be missing out on these kind of heady pre-gig nerves with their plans and scripts but for me it is a constant daily theme. I’m comfortable sharing this experience with my clients and find that being appropriately honest about my own human-ness, vulnerability and dismantling the therapist-as-expert myth can really help to deepen the connection.

I’m curious to see how many other professionals feel something akin to stage anxiety and discover how they deal with it in everyday practice. Not speaking the name of the Scottish play does little to reduce my thespian (therapian) jitters.

How understanding ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT can heal us from childhood trauma

New video blog uploaded: https://youtu.be/hdb2cVzyzgk

Looking at how understanding ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT can help us to heal from childhood trauma.

When we’ve experienced childhood trauma it can be really difficult to break free from its devastating impact even many years down the line. It might make little or no sense to us why someone who was supposed to nourish and protect us could behave so cruelly, and we may find ourselves stuck in a place of deep anger, resentment, bitterness, pain and confusion.

Whilst this video isn’t a magic-wand solution in freeing ourselves from trauma (we still have to do the healing work which takes time, compassion, bags of self-love and patience) I really do hope that by understanding a little bit about arrested development you may regard it as a healing tool on your journey in the way I have.

With love and light,
Steph
xx

@StephJonesMBACP (Facebook/ Twitter/ Instagram)
www.stephjonescounselling.co.uk

#trauma #mentalhealth #arresteddevelopment #healing

 

How do you support your partner when you both have mental health issues?

Contrary to what some might have you believe being a registered Counsellor and Psychotherapist doesn’t make you any less vulnerable to human suffering than anybody else. I’ve been very vocal about my recovery journey from complex PTSD which I see as something I will need to manage long-term as opposed to eradicate completely (wishful but unhelpful thinking!).

Whilst I’m now much more adept at managing my difficult periods and taking immediate action (self care, reducing commitments, listening to my needs, reaching out) what happens if your usually supportive partner is also dealing with some heavy stuff?

Depressive and anxious episodes in others can sometimes feel triggering if you already have a sensitivity towards experiencing those states. Trying to be an anchor for your loved one when you’re in a dark space yourself can feel frightening and overwhelming. Here’s my top-five tips for riding out the storm together.

1. Be there for yourself

Whilst this might sound counter-intuitive in helping your partner, trust me, it’s not. As the old saying goes, ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’ and it’s essential that you find healthy ways of getting your own needs met without depending on your partner. Draw up a list of good friends you can talk to, reach out to a group, a wider mental health community or therapist if you can afford it. This will help you in the long-run by allowing you to hone your recovery independence skills and help prevent your relationship from falling into co-dependent habits.

2. Set reasonable expectations

When you can hardly get out of bed in the morning it’s fairly unlikely that you’ll have the energy to invest in your shared responsibilities such as cooking, cleaning, shopping or planning. When both of you are struggling it can help to co-write a list of key essential tasks that need doing and mutually agree responsibilities, essentially playing to your strengths as a team. But never expect more from your partner than you’d be able to give yourself. If neither of you can manage your responsibilities think creatively – shop online, ask a friend to help with chores, contact a volunteer or caring centre, ask a neighbour to walk your dog. Every. Little. Helps.

3. Show up for your partner

Although you might not have the energy to speak or even think clearly, you can still show up. Cuddles, hand-holding, a surprise cup of coffee, running a bath, hair-stroking – these are all non-verbal ways to show you care and that they’re still in your heart. Sometimes simply being quiet together can be just what the other person needs – no stressful conversations, no trying to ‘fix’ things, just being present.

4. Team Black Dog

Feeling at rock bottom can seem like the loneliest place in the world. Being at rock bottom together means that you already have someone to empathise and share your experience with. Try taking conversations in turns using this active listening technique:

  • Person A shares what’s going on for them
  • Person B listens and clarifies what they’ve heard
  • Person A responds to person B’s interpretation (making it even clearer), and finally –
  • Person B clarifies again and asks how you might work through this together.

Then swap over and repeat the exercise.

This method can really help to deepen an empathic connection and perhaps even allow you to come up with some positive solutions.

5. Remember, This Too Shall Pass

When you’re in the thick of it it’s difficult to keep perspective and remember a time when the relationship wasn’t as hard. You might even find yourself questioning your partner or blaming them for your unhappiness. Remember that their current negative feelings aren’t who they are. Write down the things you value about them the most. Own your own emotions (it’s OK to be hurting) without judgement and try to hold on to the fact that this period will pass – it isn’t how it is, it’s just how it is now.

@StephJonesMBACP

Struggling to switch-off? Stop trying!

The last Friday before Christmas is almost upon us. The end of the working year rushes into sight and the promise of a hefty break wafts into the room.

Tips for switching off floods social media with the obvious suspects of mindful breathing, CBT strategies, meditation and yoga – but what if these relaxation techniques just don’t work for you?

What if trying to relax stresses you out?

If you’re struggling with feelings of anxiety or are going through burnout you might feel frustrated and a bit hopeless that nothing really works to truly calm all that inner-buzzing.

And whilst therapists, gurus and self-helpers tout the benefits of quietness and turning inwards, for those who have experienced trauma or raised in an environment of dysfunction, having external stresses suddenly taken away can actually feel overwhelming. Rest and relaxation can quickly become fraught with sensations of restlessness, muscle fatigue, cramps and general fidgety agitation.

In a nutshell, doing nothing to find your inner-peace may well be counter-productive.

So what can you do when your off-switch is firmly wedged on? My clinical supervisor talked today about going with the flow of your own internal tick-rate, that is, if you’re a person used to running on adrenaline coming to a sudden stop can feel a bit like someone has unplugged your treadmill mid-sprint.

She suggested to me that high-energy types (such as myself!) may ultimately feel more relaxed by engaging in something of an equally high energy. Interesting concept.

Personally I like to drum (Nirvana, Queens of the Stone Age, anything beefy and loud..) which paradoxically keeps me still, present, engaged and mindful. Others may find intense physical activities relaxing. Maybe throwing yourself around the living room screaming to Slade in your Christmas undies is your thing. Whatever works, works.

Don’t be fooled into thinking switching off needs to be a certain way. If sitting watching Netflix actually fills you with wall-climbing tension, listen to the feelings and take care of your body.

Find your own groove. And a very Merry Christmas.

How to Prevent Christmas Arguments

The majority of couples I see in my therapy aren’t here to work through the big stuff in life – the infidelities, financial pressures or complicated family stuff. Believe it or not most of them are arguing over the trivial stuff like who does the housework. But a partnership at odds over who takes out the rubbish or feeds the cat aren’t really locking horns over the specific tasks, it’s more about what the tasks represent mixed in with unhelpful communication skills and difficulties in accepting personality differences.

Here’s my top tips to avoid domestic blowouts and romantic meltdowns.

Negotiate

So, you’ve found the perfect partner and compatible in every way? Research tells us that the main thing couples tend to bicker about are domestic chores. And why wouldn’t it be, after all what we’re really talking about here are our personal standards, expectations and priorities.

Most clashes occur when our partner doesn’t match up to who we expect them to be but once we make a decision to share our lives with someone we need to learn the art of compromise and negotiation. If not you’ll forever be competing with one another.

Get real, name it

What’s the real meaning underneath the clash? What are you fighting over? Is it about not being heard, seen or valued in a relationship? Do you feel taken for granted? Is one or both of you going through a difficult period of stress, depression or anxiety? The eruption on the surface is usually a symptom and not the cause. Sitting down together and being courageous enough to be authentic will be a huge step in restoring a sense of harmony.

Learn to communicate

Despite most of us thinking we’re good listeners research tells us we’re not. A vast majority of people listen to defend their own position, or even more frustratingly, pretend to listen whilst thinking about the next thing they want to say.

Be honest and ask yourself whether your communication style is empathic and solution-focused or critical and defensive. Are you passive, aggressive or a combination of both?

If you feel yourself getting worked up try some deep breathing techniques or even take some time out before you resume discussions. Rarely is a helpful solution found in the heat of the moment. Own your feelings and avoid any temptation to attack.

Avoid distractions

Many of us fall into the trap of being easily distracted at home (think smartphones, devices, juggling family and work). The result is we don’t stay present. You’re unlikely to be heard (or feel heard) without your partner giving you their full attention.

Try setting aside weekly time to tackle the trickier elements of the day to day. Sitting opposite one another and taking turns to talk and listen can really help to create a safe space.

Remember you’re on the same team

What are you going to gain by fighting over the small stuff? A sense of power, control, pride? If left unchecked this kind of toxic in-house combat can turn even the most healthy and functional of relationships into a cesspit of frustration, anger, bitterness and resentment. Keeping a mental score-sheet of who did what? Learn to let it go.

The root of all conflict arrives from our feelings of separateness – that is that we reduce the other person into an object simply blocking our path. Remember the objective is about finding a way forward together not trying to beat your opponent.

Set clear responsibilities

Play to your strengths and set some clear roles and responsibilities which you mutually agree feels fair. Once you have agreed on this avoid the urge to project manage your partner into getting things done your way. Nobody wants to be micromanaged and it will likely be interpreted by your partner that you don’t trust them. So whose stuff is that? Theirs or yours?

Reach Out

By making a few changes and learning to communicate better most couples can start to see an immediate improvement in their situation. Disagreements should never cross personal boundaries and verbal or physical attacks are completely unacceptable. If you feel your relationship may benefit from external support reach out to a qualified relationship counsellor who can help get to the bottom of your issues and help you work on your communication skills.

Steph Jones (MBACP PGDip BSc Hons HND) is a Registered Counsellor, Psychotherapist and a freelance Writer. Steph offers individual and relationship therapy to adults at her private practice.

www.stephjonescounselling.co.uk

@StephJonesMBACP

What Burnout Really Feels Like

There’s a lot banded around about burnout. Self-care feels like the buzzword of the moment. However as someone who has been struggling with burnout for at least three years now, I will tell you this. You cannot and will not remedy burnout by country walks, hot baths or positive affirmations.

Burnout is not being tired or having a busy period in work. Burnout is a measurement of your immune system’s fucked up-ness. You do not heal fucked up-ness by reading a book or cuddling kittens. That is called looking after yourself. And it most certainly does not fix burnout.

If you are going through this, I empathise with you. If you can avoid this, do so at your earliest convenience for once you fall down the rabbit hole you can’t climb out of it that easily. All the therapy in the world will not fix the physical stuff (sorry, Sean – my therapist) and your only chance of escaping is waiting patiently for sand to fall into the hole until you can feel daylight on your face once again.

If you haven’t had burnout here is what it feels like to go through it.

  1. You will feel angry. Your constant exhaustion will be met with unhelpful advice from others such as, try getting enough sleep, or, maybe you’re sleeping too much. Trust me, in recovery there is no such thing as too much. You will wake up tired. Everyday. Forever.
  2. Your GP will likely fob you off for many years suggesting you really have a mental health issue but without running adequate tests for deficiencies or other things such as fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome.
  3. You will ache. Everywhere. Usually around the joints, but there will be muscle stiffness too. Your gait will change and you will hobble like the Old Woman Who Lives in a Bloody Shoe.
  4. You will forget things. I recently forgot my boyfriend’s name. Fortunately he is a very good understanding boyfriend and this was not in the context of bed.
  5. You will pee all the time. Perhaps over 15-times a day. You will keep a fluid intake diary and wonder where the hell all the extra fluid comes from. You will get in bed at night and pee several times before you are allowed to fall asleep. You will pee in the night.
  6. You will be clumsy. You will knock into things. Tables, chairs, dogs. You will most definitely knock into things in the middle of the night whilst you go for a pee.
  7. You will have the concentration span of a gnat. If that gnat was pissed up on its work’s Christmas-do.
  8. You will have brain fog. Your brain will feel like the inside door of a tumble drier without the ability to de-fluff it.
  9. You will have no sex life. Sorry. Facts.
  10. You will forget what you wanted to write for number 10.
  11. You will be stressed, overwhelmed and miserable at times. Your GP will then remind you that you have depression, even though you are simply miserable from chronic pain and exhaustion.
  12. You will only be able to tolerate anything in incredibly short bursts before hitting THE WALL. The Wall can be observed in toddlers and baby animals. Mid conversation can suddenly come to a grinding…
  13. It may take years of rest, therapy, self-care, medical support and love from your friends and family to get though it. It may feel like you’ll never get through it but bit by bit some of your vim will return. Vim by vim.
  14. You will realise that you have to let go of certain traits. Tidiness, organisation and perfectionism will simply have to go. You will not give a rat’s arse about spelling mistakes and eventually give up on editing blogs because the words scramble aimlessly around the screen whenever you read them anyway.

#burnout #selfcare #mentalhealth

How many hangovers have you had?

This article was originally written in 2015. I am now teetotal yet still dance on tables at parties.

ONE THOUSAND AND FORTY. This is the number of hangovers I have had.

Of course this figure is merely an approximation based on a steady average of one-boozy-do a week for twenty years. However this figure does not take into account the debauchery of the Britpop era, Ibiza hedonism or the socialite years, let alone all the why-not-it’s-a-Wednesdays. Taking these new variables into consideration I have probably therefore been drunk around two thousand times.

I imagine huge vats of wine in an expansive vineyard – the town’s entire population gathered in glee to squash grapes with their tiny peasant feet, all working diligently towards the shared goal of filling nuclear bunkers with the finest Cote de Jones.

I then turn my attention to my liver. My tiny, irritated, worn out liver and imagine it as an integral part of the winery process. Imagine my poor knackered liver filtering all that hooch. All one thousand and five hundred litres of it.

Are these calculations worrying? I don’t consider myself to be a big drinker maybe cracking open a bottle at the weekend and perhaps once in the week if I’m in a particularly jovial mood. Saddle me a steer, Jeeves, I wish to get squiffy.

And it’s true that I can’t hold drink like I used to. Over the years my tolerance has stubbornly refused to increase which means I can only manage four glasses of wine before I fall asleep. I say fall asleep- I mean drunk-text any male with a pulse, eat the weekly shop and pass out with a piece of raw bacon attached to my face.

I know plenty of folk who have a few beers after work most nights with extra lashings at the weekend. And I know plenty of respectable mothers who after putting tiny Boris to bed will hastily reach for their 7pm Chardonnay and quite magnificently quaff the lot. Are these calculations worrying?

Alcohol is a relatively cheap, relaxing pastime which most of us indulge in. We get p****, f****, wasted, trollied, muntered, smashed, s***-faced, hammered, wrecked and blasted. We Brits LOVE IT! Up an down the land we gather together at ethanol watering holes and imbibe gallons of chemicals. We unwind after a tough day, whet the baby’s head, toast to good health, cheers to this occasion, or that wedding, or this birthday, or the fact we’re still breathing.

I live a reasonably healthy lifestyle- I eat well, I walk a lot, I’m not overweight and I don’t smoke. At my last medical my doctor laughed and told me I was boringly healthy RIGHT until she asked me how much I drink. “A bottle or two a week… maybe?” Cue ice-cold medical stare. “That’s too much. Do you have a problem? Do we need to make a referral? ARE YOU AN ALCOHOLIC??” Well I didn’t think I was until you said THAT.

After a nice cold glass of Rosé this evening I found myself jacket on, keys in hand, dashing off to the shop for fresh supplies before closing time. I had walked for about five minutes before I stopped dead on the pavement and asked myself out loud: what on earth am I doing? I couldn’t give myself a good enough answer.

So instead I came home and had a glass of MILK. Which was just so much FUN. I’m doing myself a favour and expect I shall thank myself for it in the long run. But for now I shall simply go to bed early and sulk slightly the way a teenager does when they’ve been grounded.

The vineyards will have to slow their production. I retract my teenage mantra of the liver is evil and must be punished.

https://alcoholchange.org.uk/

Steph Jones is a freelance writer and a BACP Registered Counsellor and Psychotherapist. She lives with partner Mike and Ziggy the cat.

#MeToo

As we mark the first anniversary of the sexual assault movement #MeToo I recently started to reflect on my own experiences. I’d always considered the things that happened to me weren’t bad enough to warrant disclosure and that anything which occurred must’ve been my fault anyway.

My first kiss was administered by an over-amourous teenage boy who thought it appropriate to push me up roughly against the wall and ram his tongue down my throat whilst grabbing my backside. He didn’t listen to my first twenty refusals. At the time I was wearing ridiculously high heels and denim hot pants which I’d been asked to wear as part of a teenage fashion show. I’d been viciously back-combed and had my face caked in make-up to look sexy. I was 14. After the kiss the boy ran off I tottered home feeling incredibly confused. On one hand I’d had that elusive first kiss but couldn’t really balance it with the deeper feelings of sadness, regret and violation.

Still at least it meant I was a proper woman now.

My first sexual experience was much the same. The boy in question, wearing the finest white Kappa tracksuit in the land, led me to a pub car park and insisted that bending me over would hurt less. I screamed in agony as he penetrated me and tears flowed down my face. But this is what you do if you want to be a woman. ‘Do you want to stop?’ he tutted. ‘No, carry on, I’m alright’ (I didn’t want to look silly after all). My loud sobs attracted an old man passer-by who rather than checking to see if I was alright, had a wank in the nearby bushes instead. After Kappa-boy had finished we walked back to our group of friends. I was visibly shaking and pale but figured this was completely normal. Fierce laughter erupted as his friends pointed at the blood on his tracksuit. ‘Mate! You’ve popped ‘er cherry!!’ Frat-like high-fives broke out as I ran off into the night utterly humiliated and sore.

In the subsequent years that followed there were so many incidences of relatively minor sexual assault that I just normalised it as lads being lads. Friends would share similar stories with such alarming prevalence that you almost became immune to it.

The man who forced me to the ground and tried to get on top of me? He was just drunk. The man in his thirties (to my seventeen) who forcibly digitally penetrated me against my wishes in the middle of the road one night? He was a proper grown up and I was an immature prick-tease (or that’s what he told me anyway). I ran down a back street and hid behind a massive metal bin terrified he’d rape me. It was all my fault anyway, I did fancy him and we had been kissing.

And herein lies toxic masculinity in action, where events are distorted until we’re the ones stood in the dock.

I’ve had male bosses who have used their relative power and position to push things way beyond what is deemed to be appropriate. Fearful of potential consequences, losing my job and creating bad feelings (something I was very keen to avoid) I didn’t always realise I could say no. The one time I reported a senior member of staff for his frequent advances my (male) line-manger accused me of leading him on. ‘Well, why haven’t you put a stop to it? There’s no smoke without fire.’

I have lost count of the numbers of men who have been abusive or cruel towards me yet ultimately held myself accountable. I shouldn’t have been there in the first place, shouldn’t have worn this, shouldn’t have drunk that. I’ve had a man slap me hard across the face following a date: ‘I thought that was what you wanted, you’re dirty aren’t you? Don’t take it so personally, I was only messing,’ and a French man throw me out of his apartment after drinks because I didn’t want to have sex with him, ‘Stop wasting my fucking time, you whore.’

My last experience of male sexual dominance was some years ago with a primary school teacher. He invited me to his one evening which I read as getting to know one another/ no pressure. I had a big crush on him and had hoped for a relationship to develop. I turned up wearing ripped jeans and a baggy jumper having spent the evening quaffing a bottle of wine relaxing at home. ‘You could’ve made an effort’, he said. ‘I like my women to look well-groomed – make-up, hair done properly, dresses’. Isn’t that a bit sexist? ‘No, just personal preference. I don’t usually date scruffs like you’. The loop plays over and over in my mind: perhaps it’s all just bantz, maybe I’m too sensitive, ignore the hurt feelings….

He seemed angry that I didn’t want to put out and demanded that I do something sexy as though my sole purpose of being there was to entertain him like some auditioning porn star. He told me he judged whether he’d have a second date with a woman based on how clean her oven was – if it was unclean she certainly wasn’t, ‘wifey material’.

Although he was rude, arrogant, critical and obnoxious (calling me feisty for disagreeing with him and a lush for drinking alone) I dutifully swallowed up his anti-misogynistic rhetoric: ‘I’m a primary school teacher and I give all the girls the same opportunities as the boys, don’t you dare suggest I’m sexist – you don’t even know me.’ Despite all of this we had sex in the morning. This is what proper women do. I’m not normal if I don’t.

Even more bizarrely on my part I bombarded him with cringe-worthy drunken texts for weeks afterwards asking to see him again which he kept ignoring. Eventually he found the space in his diary to text me and asked me to leave him alone. I was left feeling like a total bunny-boiler. In hindsight (beautiful thing) I was vulnerable and grieving. My Mum had died only a year earlier and I was desperate for comfort, warmth and validation.

Only recently have I come to reassess these experiences in a fresh light, a perspective that doesn’t involve me assimilating self-blame. It’s easy to get caught up with cognitive analysis of situations which takes you away from the actual feelings you felt – shame, humiliation, vulnerability, fear, manipulation. No one ever wants to be considered a victim – the word itself is riddled with negative connotations and stigma.

I have felt that in comparison to other sexual assaults and rape my experiences have been too minor to speak out against. I welcome the next phase of the #MeToo movement and hope it leads to people everywhere taking stock of their own stories and re-framing them in a clearer way. There is still much to be done and we are far from being in a world where a single no means no. We need greater education and open-discussions on consent, helping people to hear and respond to their instinctual feelings of not-okayness in the moment, redefining societal and peer expectations around sex (including media accountability) and an improvement of our existing political and judicial systems which prevents so many in coming forward.

I commend everyone who has been brave enough to share their story and myself for only just realising that I have a story in the first place.

#MeToo

What love feels like to someone with depression

Written at the worst of my struggles and something I’d like to share with you now- Steph, August 2018.

As I Google my way around the internet searching for conclusive answers, my anxiety increases tenfold. How do I know if I love my partner? Strangers posing such desperate questions are answered by other strangers as though they are the gospel according to factual truth.

For the record my boyfriend is the best thing that has ever happened to me.

He is gorgeous, kind, sweet, 100% there for me and contributes an incredible amount to our relationship. I on the other hand am really struggling with depression and fairly fucking useless. If I’m not raging at him for not taking the bins out, or crying like a mad woman in the kitchen because his innocuous supportive comments feel like the end of the world, I am predominantly numb and incapable of feeling joy.

Yesterday whilst searching the internet (it has a lot to answer for) I came across Byron Katie’s ‘The Works’ which is a strategy based upon self-enquiry. I watched a session in which the client had incredible revelations and seemed lighter – lifted – clean. It only made sense to try this out with other aspects of my befuddled life so I asked myself a question – do I love my boyfriend?

The first question of the process is – is thistrue? My stomach dropped and I felt confused. How can you know if you love someone? The second question, do you absolutely know that to be true? felt like maybe I didn’t know at all. If I couldn’t answer the first part how the fuck could I answer an incomprehensible question at greater depth?

You see, the thing with depression is that it robs you of all positive feelings. You feel numb, ghost-like and can’t trust anything you experience with your five senses. Thankfully he understands just how much it hurts me not to be able to answer this kind of philosophical existential musing in my current state and doesn’t seem to take it personally.

As the question crashed its way through my skull it unleashed my pure-OCD (based upon relationships, confession and reassurance) which has been lying dormant for some time. It’s a bit like two fairground mirrors facing opposite each other, their reflections bouncing and stretching into infinity – do I, don’t I, do I, don’t I….?

I get lost in the concept of what love even is. What is it? If it is a feeling and you can’t feel do you have it?

The thoughts that arise when I ponder this question fill me with feelings of dread, sorrow, guilt and confusion. Suddenly my brain comes to a complete stand-still. It’s like my mind has literally jammed with trying to compute this impossible equation. No. More. Storage.

Only one internet stranger flung a logical inflatable rubber ring into the sea of my neurosis – if you didn’t love him you wouldn’t care.

In relaying all this to him I realise that he can still see me even when I hold a completely distorted view of myself and reality. He reminds me that only yesterday we were happy but that’s a world away from me now as I plummet down the eternal mind helter-skelter exhausted with rumination.

If I had asked the questions: who do I want to be with in another 50-years, whose arms would I like to die in, who offers the best and most healthy relationship I’ve ever had, who is your soulmate, who do you fancy the arse off? – the answers would all be unequivocally HIM.

But the absence of reliable feelings unnerves me and puts even the strongest of connections under intense scrutiny.

My only experiences of ‘love’ have been around longing, pain, drama, obsession, infatuation and loss. I can feel all of those things – a bit like my microphone doesn’t really pick up noise until it’s over-the-top intense.

The intrusive thoughts battle against any firm arguments to support my belief that I do. In fact, the gremlin on my shoulder is telling me that it’s all just a complex lie and that this entire article itself is a bullshit self-denial.

The result of this daily mind ping-pong? It makes me want to push him away – for both of us. On one hand I don’t want him to have to put up with me when he deserves someone who can freely experience and give love. And for myself, I have a core belief that I am destined to be alone, not right for anyone and incapable of healing or experiencing positive feelings. And to not be with him would surely mean freedom from all the questioning?

And these are the stories that depression and anxiety feeds us.

That we’re not good enough, not worthy, genius manipulators and all the other bunch of crap it throws at you on a daily basis.

Although to talk this kind of difficult stuff through with your partner might feel like the worst thing in the world, it might help them to better understand where you’re coming from and enable them to separate out you from the depression.

No one asks to feel depressed and living with the guilt of not being able to feel love when you can’t feel any form of happiness or pleasure is not a bundle of picnics. My advice when you want to ask the question? Don’t.

If you’re not in a healthy place, it’s very unlikely that your insight is going to be a reliable witness (unless of course your partner is a complete tool).

Asking existential questions about the meaning of love whilst struggling with a mental health condition is as futile as asking what the colour four is, and unless you’ve got Synesthesia or are tripping on acid you’re only likely to go further down the rabbit hole.