Belfast Telegraph

I laughed at counselling ... until I split with my partner

By Robert McNeill

If you’ll take my advice, you should train to be a counsellor.

Business is booming in the anxiety sector, with one in five citizens saying they've sought counselling at some stage, and half the population averring they know someone who's sought professional help.

I used to knock it mercilessly, adopting a lofty, macho attitude, having come through several decades of ups and downs in which I just girded my loins and got on with things.

That was until I had to seek help. In one year, I dealt with splitting up with my partner, losing my job, and being misdiagnosed in a health scare. One disaster drove out worries about the previous one.

Still, I came through it all okay. Then, one night the following year (well, this year, if you must), I stumbled upon pictures of my ex with her new man, and their lovey-dovey messages, on Facebook. Fair enough.

But the shock of it caused me to have some kind of panic attack. The overwhelming feelings of doom I could deal with: situation normal. But I couldn’t breathe. Suddenly, my centre wasn’t holding any more. I felt my world caving in. Could happen to anybody.

Apparently, I’d suppressed my grief about the relationship at the time and now it all came out with a vengeance though, as is usual with me, after the initial violent explosion, things pretty much settled down.

But I was shocked and disappointed that all my oriental breathing exercises and relaxation guff hadn’t come through for me when I needed them.

True, I was pretty much sorted after a week, and the whole episode already feels like a hazy, distant memory.

But I could be repressing the pain again, with the result that I'll be out shopping one day when, suddenly, I start flapping my arms and shouting: “Wibble! A-wibble! Please help me!” Just as I normally do when shopping.

Strictly speaking, I didn’t really get counselling as such, though I intended to. Searching for a counsellor online, I made a typical bags of things and chose what turned out to be a lifestyle coach instead. Still, she listened to me grieving on for a bit, then over the next few weeks gave me valuable advice about how to use my time better. Stop boozing it away was one idea. I promised to give it some thought.

According to a new study, a whopping great 94% of citizens regard counselling as valuable for anxiety and depression. It’s now an accepted part of our culture. In some Scottish islands, where once crofting and fishing held sway, counselling is now considered the main traditional industry, along with African drumming and recreational drugs.

Even on the mainlands of Ireland and Britainshire, counselling is booming. Adrian Mole author Sue Townsend said in an interview this week: “I'm surrounded by counsellors. My sister is a counsellor. My daughter is training to be a counsellor. A lot of my friends are counsellors.”

Soon, if you haven’t had counselling, people will wonder what’s wrong with you. The point is that it's good to talk. Not to your mates obviously, unless your crisis is football-related.

But to get things off your chest and achieve a little perspective, it helps to have a cool professional in front of you, someone who has, you hope, a plethora of esoteric knowledge about such mushy matters.

Belfast Telegraph

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