One Tuesday several months ago
Picture the scene. An NHS hospital in North East Wales. The neon strip light glares and highlights the brick walls of the consulting room, painted in a mushroom gloss. Despite this, I'm still feeling rather pleased and smug because car parking is free at Welsh hospitals. The consultant is feeling even more pleased as he tells me he is retiring at the end of the week and that "like you I will soon be enjoying life on a gold plated public sector pension."
Consultant Psychiatrist [hereafter “The Shrink”]: “Well that's about it then. I’ll send a letter to your GP with my conclusions. In the meantime, keep taking the tablets for at least another six months. But as I said, what might be most effective is a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. CBT. You’ll have heard of it.”
Me: “Is that where I have to stick a pin in my arm every time I worry about something?”
Shrink: “No, it’s not at all like that.”
Me: “Or flick myself with an elastic band?”
Shrink: “No, not that either. It doesn't involve pain. It’s just talking. It will help you see the world differently. Keep things in perspective.”
Me: “Okay. That sounds fine. I’ll try it. What’s the waiting list like?”
Shrink: “Oh, we should be able to get you an initial appointment on the NHS in two years or so. Or if you want to go privately you can get to see someone this afternoon.
I booked to go privately.
One month later
Picture the scene. A small consulting room in a posh private hospital. The therapist was a very short, very dumpy woman with a very strong, southern Irish accent. She had clearly gained her qualifications at the Father Jack School of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy on Craggy Island.
She: “……so, we’ve discussed your obsessions with writing lists, and of ensuring all the mug handles in the cupboard point the same way, and your inability just to park the car without getting out, getting back in, restarting the engine to straighten it so it is dead in the middle of the space and lots of other feckin weird habits that you have. Now tell me that last one again. You were in the back of the boat and this swan kept trying to attack you?
Me: “That’s right. Well actually I reckon he was going for little Cholmondley, the cox.
She: “So he wasn’t actually after you . You were rowing. What were you holding?”
Me: “The oar of course.”
She: “And this oar, how big was it?”
Me: “About 10 foot long I guess.”
She: “So you have a bloody great 10 foot long piece of wood in your hands. The swan is going for Cholmondley. Not you. Did it not occur to you just to whack the feckin thing with the oar?”
She: “Well don’t you think you were being a bit feckin thick then? I’d have smashed the fecker so hard it would have decided that in future it might be better off chasing the ducks than going after four bloody great oarsman with their little cox. [She roared with laughter for some reason when she said that]. Now what else are you scared of?”
Me: “Well there are horses. And cows."
She: “Horses and cows?” What the feck are you scared of those for?”
Me: “Well when I was in the Boy Scouts I was camping in a field near Leebotwood and this horse kicked over our camp kitchen and chased us to get at our Cornflakes. I spilt my breakfast. And a couple of years later Rob and I were camping in a tiny two man tent in Snowdonia. We were about 16. It was dark and these ponies started to kick our tent whilst we were inside. I made Rob go out and scare them away. And cows sometimes look at me a bit funny and sort of dance and prance around me when I cross their field.”
She: “Ponies? Jeez they aren’t even very big. You were in the Boy Scouts, you say? Girl Guides more like. And cows? I was brought up on a farm. It’s feckin stupid to be scared of cows. Cows never hurt anybody. Don’t you think you’re just being a bit pathetic as well as feckin stupid?”
Me: “But cows killed 18 walkers in the UK last year.”
She: “And how do you know that?”
Me: “I Googled it.”
She: “Let’s get this straight. You’re scared of cows. So you go on Google to find out how many walkers were killed by cows last year. Then, no doubt, you sit and read about how those poor unfortunates were trampled to a painful death in a muddy field miles from their loved ones. Don’t you think that was just a bit feckin stupid?”
Me: “Have I just paid £80 to have you spend an hour telling me I’m feckin stupid?”
She: “No, not at all. You’ve been to three sessions now. That means you've spent £240 to listen to me banging on over a three week period about you just being feckin stupid. Now, listen to me. I’m going to say one last thing."
She: "Feel the fear and do it anyway. And remember the whole phrase, not just the first part.”
£240? It was a good investment. I went home and, in the full knowledge that I had been clinically diagnosed as feckin stupid, I applied for the 2017 TGO Challenge.
A few weeks later I accepted the very kind invitation of Challenge legends, Mr Alan Sloman and Lord Elpus to walk with them rather than going solo. Case proven M'Lord?