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Let’s CHAT part 2: A new hope, a monster, and a tophat

November 13, 2012

(Edit: This post was written when I first got involved with CHAT and things were still good. Later when I got more involved with the workings of the organisation, things took a dark and almost life-threatening turn. I’ve left the original posts up for people to see what hopes I had for CHAT and how good things were at the beginning, but for the update on how things changed, please check my more recent post here:


I’m going to combine the three sessions into one post for the sake of making it easy on my memory and not going on for five entries.

At some point I’d acquired (read: bought from ebay for no small amount of digital squids (as in, paid via paypal)) a tophat. Being into steampunk as I am and having always loved Victorian era fashion, and finding myself with a loose £26 doing nothing, I decided to buy some headgear. My ex always hated me in hats but since she’s no longer around to make me feel bad, I thought I’d treat myself.

It was in this top hat that I arrived in Trefforest on September 3rd of this, the year of our flying spaghetti monster, 2012, completely overwhelmed by the task I was putting myself up for.

A somewhat intensive course, really: Three sessions of three hours each, taking place over three consecuative Monday afternoons. I don’t know what made me decide to go. Probably knowing I’d regret not taking this chance. Jocelyn and Dennis were clearly caring people, but such a bold claim as what they made was ridiculous. However, their passion was obvious, and the kind of intensity that frightens or inspires. If nothing else, it intrigued me.

I had planned to just make sure I was in the right place, then go over to the crystal shop (which I have since discovered had closed down anyway.) Instead, having arrived a good 35 minutes early, I stayed and got chatting with Jos and Dennis, and Simon, who had been on a previous course, and assured me the claims weren’t exaggerated, the stuff really works. Hm.

I helped set up a little bit (by which I mean put some chairs at tables and tried not to get in the way too much.) I don’t remember what we talked about but I felt extremely awkward and out of my depth.

Others arrived and names were thrown over my head. I wore a name tag on my chest that if I had my name would have read DAN’S MOOB, but simply read Daniel, because real life isn’t as hilarious as it is in my head. Jos took us through the first point.

“Name your monster.” What? What monster? You’re a nice lady, really, but isn’t there a hospital you’re due back at? As it happens, she’d made a bloody good point. Depression isn’t who you are, it’s something else, something separate. As Stephen Fry describes it, it’s like the weather – it happens, and you can’t simply will it away, but it isn’t raining because you go outside, it’s raining whether you go outside or not. In other words the depression is like a monster sitting on your shoulder, whispering things at you, telling you you’re not good enough, you’re a failure, you’re worthless. Most of us, depressed or not, find outselves listening to this voice from time to time, but in depressives, it’s more compelling, and there are no commercial breaks.

By naming your condition, you separate yourself from it, and find yourself again. It also offers a focal point to redirect your justifiable anger toward it. And on top of that it’s a symbol – as you give in to your negative thoughts, your monster gets fatter and stronger and louder and more convincing. By taking control back, by using positive thoughts, you starve the monster. It never dies completely (reminds me of those Tamagochi toys from years ago, I didn’t feed mine for about 18 months because I couldn’t work out how, and it never ran out of batteries and never died, just stayed on screen being cute and guilting my technological ineptitude!) but it grows weaker and smaller and quieter, and we gain momentum and power over it.

Immediately I named my monster Audrey II, from Little Shop of Horrors. It starts off kinda cute, you wanna see it grow, it’s a novelty, but at some point it’ll bring your world down around you and eat your girlfriend. Spoilers, I guess.

Next came the Control Word or Song. This one was even more bizarre to me. You can’t listen to someone if you’re talking at the same time, so when your monster kicks off and you feel anxiety coming on, you chant your control word, or sing your control song to yourself, to block out the monster’s voice. This was followed by a class rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow. I did not like that. I hate singing with people. It’s gotta be me on my own, or not at all. Ideally in the shower. The acoustics are brilliant in a tiled room.

We earned ourselves a break and I got chatting to some folks. One of the ladies was smoking a herbal cigarette, I didn’t find out until the third week that it wasn’t a joint, it smelled so much like marijuana. Chuckles all round. I got chatting to Simon, the guy who’d been there before, and asked what he did with his time. He mentioned a couple of things that got my attention: tai chi and karate. Two of my favourite martial arts. So me and he got friendly quick.

My memory is a bit funky from there, I meant to write this stuff up at the time, but hey ho, what you gonna do right? So from here on I’ve lumped the weeks together for the sake of coherence.

Affirmations were next. Finally things were making more sense! An affirmation is basically reprogramming your mind. Most of us have programmed our minds based on what kids at school have told us – you’re fat, you’re ugly, you’re a loser – we can shrug it off for a while but with repetition it starts to sink in. Thankfully the same can be done with positive thoughts. You’re lying to yourself at first, but before long you find yourself believing it. One of the affirmations we were given as a template was “I am a positive person.” I wrote this out a hundred times by hand and stuck it on a card in big letters on my bathroom mirror. I used to read it everytime I passed to use the toilet or shower or brush my teeth. Before long I saw the card, read it, and smiled and thought “well yeah, I know THAT, why am I telling myself that, it’s obvious!” It’s pretty profound.

The other affmirations we were given were, “I am able to do anything I want to,” and “I am feeling better every day.” The key to affirmations is in the wording. It is literally a programming language for your brain, and as we computer geeks know, programming language is pretty specific – if you do it wrong, it works wrong. So here’s a quick ruleset:

1. Affirmations must be set in the present tense: I AM a positive person, I AM feeling better every day. Most people think it’s affirmation to say “I will have a good day today.” The difference is, “I will” is FUTURE tense – it MIGHT happen. We may INTEND it to happen, but the point is we’re acknowledging that it’s not a good day YET, NOW. A more simple example is, “I want to be rich.” What that is, is a wish, not an affirmation. All that affirms is that you want to be rich. Nothing will change. However if you use “I have enough to live comfortably,” you’ll feel more content with what you have. That one only really works for possessions though, obviously if you’re in debt, the debt won’t go away because you tell yourself you have a million pounds in the bank.

2. The mind focuses on absolutes, not negatives. You can’t say “I’m not afraid of spiders,” because the not doesn’t register, all your brain sees is “I am” “afraid” and “spiders.” Instead you should phrase it as “I am comfortable looking at spiders.” Make it a positive, definite thing.

3. Repeition is key. I took the three affirmations offered and wrote each one something like a hundred times. I also read them aloud as I wrote them. The bonus of this is it covers the bases of learning: some people learn by seeing, some by hearing, and some by feeling/doing. By physically writing the affirmations, you are DOING. By reading them, you’re SEEING, by reading them aloud you’re HEARING. It’s impossible not to have them start to sink in.

You really have to be careful what you wish for and be careful with your phrasing, but it’s the closest we’re ever gonna get to a genie offering us three wishes, and you can have as many affirmations as you like.

The fourth and final tool offered by the course was the Egg Timer. This is exactly what it suggests – a time out. If you feel an argument brewing with someone, you call for egg timer, and you stop talking about that thing for four or five minutes. You need to agree to do this with people beforehand, obviously, but over the course of the three weeks, there was a couple on the course whose relationship improved dramatically just from using egg timer before a row got nasty.

I’m missing some bits. I’ll continue in another post.

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