The Circle Line

Philippa

"We all have tough times
it's part of being human."

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The Spice Girls were Christmas number 1, 1997, when a close member of my family was taken to the psychiatric ward at our local hospital. I was 17 and didn’t understand any of it, and very little was explained to me.

This was my first exposure to the world of mental health.

I went on to do a degree in psychology, have a career in law and business, then marketing, taking me finally to training professionally as a psychotherapist myself.

After three careers and some tough times of my own, I now see little more important than helping people also work on their mental wellbeing. My professional training helps me make sense of our response to the world, and use my new knowledge and learnt skills to help others; my life experience gives this the colour.

Of course, the tough times pass. And having experienced both extremes in my life – the hellish and the heavenly – I realise that our minds can create our own internal version of either.

LEARNING TO BE PRESENT

We all have tough times; it’s part of being human. During a particularly difficult time in my own life, I remember calling a close friend and she gave me some advice I’ve never forgotten: she told me to focus only on the minute detail of the one thing in front of me. To do each small everyday thing with total focus.

So I watched every bubble in the washing up bowl when I washed the dishes, looked at every branch of each tree I passed, at every leaf on the pavement. It was this that got me back. I’d never heard of “being present” before, but thanks to my wonderful friend, I discovered it.

This was how I got through the worst weeks in my life. Therapy was how I really learnt from them.

FINDING MY THERAPIST; FINDING MYSELF

My mum has always been an advocate of counselling – and I’ve often been thankful, because it meant I never had qualms about talking to a professional myself. My first therapist I saw on-and-off for around 9 months, helping me come to terms with the end of my marriage. Then having turned a corner, I ended my sessions.

And things were good for 6 months after, and I was reading and learning more and more about psychology. I started reading voraciously. Self-help books, books on marriage and relationships, divorce, self-esteem, the impact of childhood.

Then I met someone I really liked. That triggered a lot of fear, and I remember clearly thinking “No. I’m not letting this happen” – and went to find another therapist.

This time I let my emotions guide me. I didn’t go for an ‘expert’, or any old random therapist; I chose the person I wanted based on my very vague sense of what I needed … and chose the person who triggered an emotion in me.

FEAR OF OPENING UP

At first I was scared to tell my new therapist about my experience, scared of being locked up in a hospital and of having it put on my medical records, a mark against me forever. I had nightmares about being locked in a ward, drugs and electric shock “treatment”. This made me feel very trapped at times – as if there was no way forward.

It took me 18 months of weekly sessions but I did manage to open up and tell my therapist about myself and my experiences; I really wanted to know and sort out what was going on deep-down for me – even though it took me time to fully trust him.

Everything I was learning about myself and my past, and why relationships were triggering it, was a revelation. I was so interested and getting so much from it that I started training to be a psychotherapist myself.

WE ARE NORMAL

Our tricky early years deeply affect us all. I am no different.

Experience, particularly our emotional experience, forms our “wiring” – and can be changed; the brain is malleable. Through my studies I’ve learnt the importance of our childhood years, when we adapt and find ways to cope and survive in our family and situation. It gives me such hope. Because anything that can be learnt can also be unlearnt.

Through my professional training, I eventually understood difficult emotional and mental experiences to be akin to re-experiencing mangled emotional memories – from the perspective of a very confused and scared small child.

It’s possible through therapy to de-confuse that “small child” in us, and grow into a much more present adult; integrating or leaving the past and living full in the now. That’s what I constantly work hard to do – and for sure it gets easier.

LIVING LIFE & CREATING RELATIONSHIPS

Now, I finally understand myself enough to be able to live the life and create the kind of relationships I want. It’s taken a few years and was painful and scary at times, but worth it. I feel better now than I’ve ever felt – totally back to “normal”, although it’s a new normal for me now. In fact I see all mental and emotional experiences as very normal.

Back in 1997, when I first encountered this thing called mental health, it was virtually unheard of, let alone spoken of. Therapy, self-care, healing weren’t even a “thing” back then.

But things are changing now. And I started The Circle Line to keep changing them.

WE CREATE OUR OWN STORY

Now I’m not sure I would rewrite any of my own personal life story. I’ve learnt so much, being present, real choice, and discovered my creativity – one of my best ideas evolved into what is now The Circle Line.

And it’s showed me that it’s time for a different conversation; I want to take therapy wide into the world and offer something to help others who want to be OK, who want to change their lives too. That’s why I set up The Circle Line; it’s why we exist.

I believe we can heal ourselves. I believe we decide. For we create our own life story.

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