Advice to my younger self: don't change a thing

By | 2011/10/29

If I were to somehow travel back in time and were able to give my younger self some advice without causing a temporal paradox, I can honestly say that I’d give only one piece of advice: don’t change a thing.

Young PrestonThe above photo was taken when I was somewhere around 4 years old, and much of my psychology sessions so far have turned out to be addressing things related to the next 5-10 years of that little boy’s life.

Yet, I am who I am, and every event in my past has contributed to making me the person I am, and just as importantly, has contributed to me knowing the people I now know. Sure, there’s some shit in my past, but wishing I could somehow wipe that away means wishing for an erasure of self – of this self.

When I’d been thinking about Friday’s psychologist visit on Wednesday and Thursday, I wasn’t quite sure what I’d be discussing, other than a desire to explore what options there might be on the social phobia front. Then, late Thursday evening, I saw an incoming consulting request which might mean travel to the opposite side of the world. My first, initial reaction, was pure horror.

What was useful though was having already spent a couple of sessions discussing various bits and pieces of my psyche, my self awareness had been tuned enough that I could recognise this reaction for what it was – social phobia. Not a lack of appreciation (or, likely), a lack of desire for the work. Just the typical gut fear for having to go into a new situation.

So I made a brief comment about it on Facebook, knowing it would elicit some feedback, then went to bed to sleep on it. That in itself was a sign of an improved reaction. And so, the next morning, I threw the consulting opportunity request across to my managing director.

It certainly gave me something to talk about on Friday afternoon though with my psychologist, and as I’ve discovered in previous sessions, for me at least, those sessions are about me talking to someone sufficiently independent and outside my ‘loop’ that I can validate my subconscious thoughts on what the solution might be – thus enabling me to actually apply those thoughts and head towards that solution.

When we see people talking about seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist on TV, the term “repressed memory therapy” is tossed around like a sad meme, and so it builds up this notion that it’s either all bullshit or it’s all involving deep hypnotherapy sessions. For me it’s not so much a case of “repressed memory” but “unprioritised memory” or “unacknowledged memory”. In this case, we started talking about my general struggle with travel and its linkage to my social anxiety and suddenly I remembered the significance of an experience when I was around 10 or 11. A few friends and myself from our school had been given the opportunity to go to a one week “creative” camp – video, music, writing, etc. I’d approached it eagerly, but the morning I had to go, a huge dread built up in me, and I spent the entire week away utterly miserable. It was the first time I’d ever really been homesick, and it hurt bad. I got a cold as well, which made the experience doubly annoying, but I still remember to this day leaning over an upstairs railing at the event and thinking “If I manage to fall over I’ll likely break my arm and then they’ll have to let me go home”. I didn’t go through with it of course, but it was that level of discomfort.

And for the most part, it is that frightened, homesick kind of kid that pops up in the psyche when solo travel is discussed. (That kid that also grew up in the cold war, the 70s and 80s, who was smart enough to understand worrying parents and be terrified of the notion of  being away when a nuclear holocaust started.)

I know in many circles, Freud is getting a bit passé, but there is something to be said in particular for the base notions of id, ego and super-ego – at least from a lay perspective. That super-ego approach has been to trample and dominate the id, to invalidate its processes and suppress them. Or if you want to bring it out of the Freudian analogy, it’s about trying to suppress the negative emotions in the limbic system.

Ironically in doing so, I’d achieved the exact opposite: The angry side that lead to intense anger suppression for lengthy periods followed by irrational outbursts, and the traumatised, scared side that hated the notion of travel or dealing with new people. “Monsters of the Id” – and we’re taught monsters don’t exist, so they should be ignored. The super-ego approach of “reasoned intellectual response will rule” – the vulcan attitude, you might say, creates an opposite result than intended.

So what’s the net result?

A cure isn’t about learning to control these elements – well, not in the suppress interpretation of control, but how to integrate them.

I don’t need to go back and tell that little boy from my past to change anything. (That’s not his job, and if he did, I wouldn’t be me, I’d be someone else anyway.) I just need to give myself the permission to make those changes now, in me.

(Oh, and apparently I need to learn how to relax, so I’m off to learn about the parasympathetic nervous system…)