Last summer, I spent a couple of days at a life-coaching retreat in the countryside. For the most part, it was a happy, constructive experience, with lots of time for reflection, a heavenly reflexology session, and sound nuggets of advice from the life-coach, such as YOU CAN’T EAT AN ELEPHANT ALL AT ONCE, which is a metaphor. I think.
On the downside, I flipped.
It happened on the second afternoon, during a stroll to the village shop to buy a Twirl. Afterwards, when I was supposed to be listing practical strategies to manage my time and emotions, I wrote an alternative list, a kind of memo to self.
This is just an extract:
- In future, when you leave the retreat for the recommended afternoon stroll, don’t assume - as you turn on to the High Street - that the posh middle-aged woman tending her garden is ALMOST DEFINITELY thinking “Look, another one of those mentalists from that retreat.”
- Do not immediately greet the woman with an overdone, exaggerated ‘Hi’ to reassure her that you are not a mentalist. Do not further assume – when the ‘Hi’ gets stuck in your throat and then comes out wrong – that she will immediately think, “Not just a mentalist, but a sheep-shagging cottage-burning mentalist”, just because you have a Welsh accent.
- Once the crisis with the posh middle-aged woman is over and you’re passing a creepy narrow lane, try not to dwell on the idea that you are about to be gang-raped, and that this will be made all the more hideous because you are wearing a MAXI sanitary towel the size of a cruise liner. Try not to worry that the distinctive outline of the sanitary towel is ALMOST DEFINITELY visible through your jeans. Instead, thank god that you are still a fully-functioning woman capable of producing menstrual blood, and that you are not yet lugging around a bunch of dead rancid organs in your body.
- As you pass a young couple with a baby, consider the (admittedly remote) possibility that they may NOT be thinking, “Look at that poor childless woman who has probably been staying in that retreat because her life is so lonely and tragic.” Ignore the fact you are exhibiting signs of agoraphobia. FOR FUCKSAKES JUST RELAX.
- On arriving at the Co-op, don’t freak out over the realization that you have forgotten your PIN number and every single piece of information relating to your PIN number, and that you only have about 80p left in your childishly bohemian purse. Furthermore as you are counting coins outside the shop, do not assume that all the passers-by are WITHOUT EXCEPTION ALMOST DEFINITELY thinking, “I’ve not seen her around here before. She must be one of those mentalists staying at the retreat. Look at the nutty OCD way she’s counting those infinitesimally small pieces of currency.”
- On your way back to the retreat, try not to worry yourself sick over the fact that the life-coach (whose house overlooks the retreat) will see you returning so soon after you left and conclude that you cannot possibly have had time to engage in reflection, and that you can’t be taking the retreat and life-coaching process seriously. Do not, I repeat, do not carry on walking down the High Street for at least another fifteen minutes just so that you can give the life-coach the impression of having been on a long reflective walk.
- As you’re walking around, wide-eyed, drooling now, with your stupid empty purse just hanging weirdly from your hand, pointlessly killing time for some imaginary reason to do with your own paranoia, feel free to wonder why, when you’re with the kids, when you’re hiding behind the big green Phil and Ted double buggy, you feel less paranoid, almost normal.
- Don’t start crying as you realize that when you’re with the kids, you are in love with humanity; when you’re with the kids, you see everyone around you as someone’s son, someone’s daughter; someone who is loved and cherished; someone who someone else would die for... But whatever you do, don’t start crying … don’t start crying … oh for fucksakes …
P.S: Since then, I’ve been told that reflexology, massage, too much time for reflection, and an over-stimulating afternoon stroll, can make you go gaga. Personally, I blame all that shit about trying to eat an elephant in one sitting, which is a very fucked-up image to give to someone who suffers from a general anxiety disorder. On the other hand, it might just be me.
PS I’m dedicating this blog to the Black Dog Tribe blogging network.