Examined Life: Q&A

Examined Life is a collective of therapists committed to innovation in the theory and practice of psychotherapy. They invited me to deliver a talk, and sent a list of ten questions beforehand:

What is an unbearable experience you somehow survived?

I had a period of insistent suicidal thoughts, and found myself at the bridge between Embankment tube station and the South Bank, needing to cross in order to meet somebody, and I was suddenly gripped by a terrible fear that, though I knew what I “ought” to do, and what was best for me, I might suddenly lose all sense and jump off. I got over the bridge by staring intently at the surface beneath my feet.

What is a moment of pure joy for you?

Anytime I remember that I’m not on that bridge, feeling how I felt. Even the most horrible feelings and thoughts don’t last forever.

Describe a time you laughed hard.

Sometimes when I was a child my mum would completely lose herself to laughter, usually gasping in fragments of speech that whatever had prompted it was very silly. That sense of being overwhelmed by silliness is contagious, so we would all soon be laughing.

Who inspires you?

Most people inspire me, when they’re not being fake. Lots of famous people, including some I’ve met, and many more who mistakenly believe they are quite ordinary.

What adjectives describe 7 year-old you?

lefthanded, eagertoplease, easilypleased, scaredofdogs, giventolaughter, Englishabroad, occasionallytroubled, secretivenosepicker.

My inner child. See more drawings I made while I was in psychiatric hospital.

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

Kill dragons.

What keeps you up at night?

Wife, daughter.

How do you recharge?

Prayer, which I first started doing to drown out my obsessive negative thoughts.

What is something you desire you don’t currently have?

Somewhere to live outside London (without giving up London).

What are you most proud of?

“No one can list all the harm that comes from pride,” says the Parson in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, before listing ways pride shows up: “disobedience, vaunting, hypocrisy, spite, arrogance, impudence, insolence, impatience, strife, disregard for authority, presumption, irreverence, rejoicing in wrongdoing, vainglory…” Pride was considered the worst of the seven deadly sins, and I’m fascinated that it morphed into something we aspire to. I’m pleased, and grateful, to have published my first book since my breakdown: A Modest Book About How To Make An Adequate Speech.

Examined Life