| Uncategorised

The power of talking

Anxiety seems to be an increasing issue in the beer world. Hell, never mind that – in life generally. If you’re hurting, please tell someone…

After giving this a lot of thought, I’ve decided I’d like to tell you about Andy.

I just said goodbye to Andy. I’ll probably never see him again. This is a bit of a wrench: for the past seven years, he has been my counsellor, my therapist. As I slowly grew to trust him, he also became my friend, and in many ways, my surrogate father.

Seven and a half years ago, my world caved in. I learned things about my family, and about myself, that rocked my very sense of who I was. Feelings of grief, betrayal, shock, guilt, panic, anger and loss queued up to take turns on me. I felt like I was drowning. My wife, Liz, was my lifejacket. She saved me. But I needed pulling out of the water, and Andy did that.

Once a week, I went to talk to him for an hour at a time. He pushed me hard. For a while, it was twice a week. The rest of my diary was structured around the fixed points of these sessions. For the first few years I dreaded them, and came out feeling like like I’d had the mental equivalent of an hour in a boxing ring.

I realised pretty soon that the things that had driven me to see Andy were part of a wider pattern, that for my entire adult life, I’d developed an elaborate coping mechanism to deal with feelings of stress, anxiety, panic and paranoia. This system had worked extremely well for a long time, but was now damaging me. I was a stressed out, unhappy, dysfunctional workaholic who soothed himself by eating and drinking too much. In your forties, this shit starts to catch up with you. I began to develop health problems that would become significantly more serious unless I changed direction.

My relationship with Andy was unequal: I told him absolutely everything about myself, and he gave away very little in return. That’s how it works. I knew we shared things in common around our upbringings, but I never discovered the details. I was scared of mumbo jumbo and psychological claptrap. I felt uncomfortable with how much he wanted me to open up to him.

And boy, it was fucking frustrating. We talked things through and worked things out. I’m a bright bloke, and I could see the workings, see where he was trying to go. I got things intellectually, understood the point, but it made absolutely no difference to how I felt. We had the same conversations over and over again. For fucking years.

And then, gradually, it started to change. I grew to trust Andy. I started to look forward to the sessions. And inside me, very slowly, things started to shift. Every now and again I’d take a step backwards, and we’d have to go through something yet again. But gradually, I came to know myself more, to understand myself. I started to forgive myself, to cut myself some slack.

Andy retires next month: we just had our final session. I was thinking that it was probably time to raise the subject of ending my therapy, and when he announced his retirement, that settled it. In our last few sessions he opened upon a bit more, made it more equal. We even had a few laughs.

The feelings never go away. Therapy can’t ‘cure’ you or ‘fix’ you. Andy doesn’t talk in terms of mental illness or mental health – in his words, I wasn’t ill, but I was disturbed, and now I’m less disturbed. Now, I can spot when feelings or behaviours are emerging and go, “Oh, I’m doing that again,” and I can shut it down – no, that’s not right – I can allow it to be, allow it to express itself, give it space and be comfortable with it, and move on without it becoming a disturbance. I can cope with things that used to get the better of me, and now no longer do.

I’m sharing this with a certain degree of trepidation. But I’m sharing it because I know I’m not alone. Anxiety, self-doubt and depression can be killers. Some people in the beer scene  have started to talk more openly about mental health on social media and there have been one or two powerful and moving longer pieces written. Despite its progressiveness (in places) the beer scene is still incredibly macho. We might often feel like we have to put a mask on and go out with our bros and buddies and smash some awesome beers and have a frikkin awesome time, when inside we might be hurting or drowning or feel ourselves disappearing. Having been there, I can tell when people are suffering – sometimes they even admit to it – and it’s becoming increasingly widespread.

So I’m sharing this for two reasons.

Firstly, I simply want to say to people who may be hurting that I’ve been there too. Many of us have.

Secondly, I want to say that if you’re drowning or falling or disappearing (like I was) or if you’re throwing up with nerves before heading out to a beer event, if you’re getting wankered to try and shut down nervousness or anxiety (like others I’ve spoken to) or if you’re worried that everyone else is having an awesome time and you’re alone in pinning on a mask and dreading being found out – please, talk about it. Tell someone. Go see someone. I’ve been paying Andy a good chunk of my income for the past seven years, but it was worth every penny. I saw him privately, but you can get referred to a therapist via the NHS. There’s no need to suffer in silence. And with enough talking, it really does get better.

I imagine I might get a bit of shit for posting this, but if it helps just one person, it’s worth it. And thanks to Andy, I’m much better at dealing with the shit than I used to be.

22 Comments

22 Comments

Phil

Thanks for that, Pete, and good luck – the weeks and months after leaving therapy can be a bit of a weird time. I was in ‘group’ for many years (through two job moves, the birth of a child, the loss of both parents…). I still miss it sometimes, but by the end it was a safer place than I really needed; I could “face my demons”, to use a cliche, and (most importantly) recognise them as my demons. A couple of lines from a song by Jackie Leven resonated & still resonate with me:

She gave me the keys to the forest
And then the forest was mine

(My therapist was female, but I’m sure a ‘he’ could do the same.)

Reply
Michael Harper

WOW, so let the comments roll, the fact that you have opened the door will allow people to enter. Good on you for having the balls to say this kind of stuff. We all often hide behind the trade we are in and the work we do, but never really meet the real person. You to me are the back pack wearing, British guild of beer writing, bearded author, that walks past me at almost every beery event we go to. Next time will be different, because next time, I will stop you, I will put my hand out to you, I will say thank you. You will see in my eyes that we share something. Hospitality is something, the above is everything.

Reply
Jeff Pickthall

You’re not alone. That’s a familiar story. It could have been me writing – apart from the workaholic bit! As soon as it dawned on me that my fondness for the consumption of alcohol was self-medication for anxiety/low self-esteem I started to lack the desire to drink much of it. I haven’t quit completely (god forbid) but I’m back at the stage of being able to feel the effect of a half pint – and feeling much better for it.

Reply
Gregg

Doubt you’ll “get shit” – exposing one’s weakness takes strength. As you say, won’t hurt anyone, and might help some. Well done.

Reply
Ian

Great courage Pete, and hopefully no shit from anyone. I imagine you’ll get an overwhelming response of appreciation and support. And there will be many others who identify with this and take strength from your experience. You have many many many many more fans who appreciate your down to earth human-ness than the odd “get a life” critic. See you in Iceland !

Reply
Silas

Well put Pete. Clearly a big deal to share, so hats off. But those of us who know you now just know you a little better. So there’s now that little bit more to respect and love. And those of us who don’t know you can only benefit from anyone opening up an important topic. Cheers 🙂

Reply
Sam

This is such a brilliant piece. Well done on writing it, sharing it, and putting yourself out there. Well done — and thank you.

Reply
Elainechambers

Pete, what a star in the darkness you are! As as a therapist I’ve worked with many people in your situation whether it be alcohol, smoking, self loathing, anxiety, etc. The first 3 sessions are always difficult but if yiu feel comfy with your therapist it’s gets easier very quickly. I’m not100% traditional in my approach, ie, I do share some of my on life experiences with clients so they can see I’m working from life not a text book & this breaks down barriers & builds trust & confidence. Anyway, we’ll done you!

Reply
Ian

Kudos, Pete.
It takes real courage to publicly reveal your doubts and insecurity. The fact that you have done so tells me you are again in charge of who and what you are.
In addition, your raising the issues will help others realise there is help available: as you say, if only one person is helped, it is worth it.
God Bless Liz
xx

Reply
Miranda

Really honest and valid bit of sharing. You have very likely saved a few souls with this bit of writing Pete and opened up a difficult but much needed conversation for those needing and willing to have it.

Being ok with not being ok is some of the toughest learnings a lot of us will (and won’t) go through. To lay bare your story for the purpose of opening up and hopefully helping others to is exemplary and really encouraging. Thank you.

Reply
Frazer

I feel genuine pride in being able to say that I know Pete Brown. I know even more now and I’m even more proud. Tough thing to publish, but who could possibly give you shit for this and call themselves human? Well done. Much love.

Reply
Darlene

My “Andy” was named Bob, and he saved my life. I’m so glad that you found someone to help you save yours. Thank you for your willingness to share your experience.

Reply
John H

Thanks Pete, that took guts, too often we are afraid to talk openly and honestly. Well done! Reading this has helped me and no doubt many others.
Good on ya!

Reply
Mike Ousby

Since I marked your first A Level essay I knew you could write, Pete – but this piece “goes beyond”, sir. Brave and upsetting and honest. Take a deep breath – you’re “shit-proof” on this. One of the good guys (but that’s never been in doubt). Bless you & your missus.

Reply
Philip

Pete good article. Thanks for your courage. And excellent reading tonight. I especially enjoyed the typo. Bines. Vines. What’s the difference between friends.

Reply
Mike Clarke

Great piece – and all the more valuable because of the attitudes that are still widely associated with beer drinking, as you mention.

Reply
B

We have seen each other at many events over the years and never really spoken or met properly. My family has a history of mental health issues and I do wonder sometimes whether I am doing well to fend it off by smiling continually and thinking positively or kidding myself. Would you believe a Rune reading changed my approach to everyday anxieties? Maybe next time I’ll introduce myself fellow human. x

Reply
MarkD

Spot on and beautifully written Pete. I’ve come to thinking that those who don’t have need of an Andy at some point are either one of the extremely fortunate few or one of the many in denial trying to muddle on without, when, as you say, an Andy can make all the difference. Hats off to you and your bravery

Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *