And what are you supposed to wear to your Brain Training debut? What kind of outfit is chic but cancer-comfy, straight-talking but not straight-laced and shows personality but doesn't scream crazy? (A polo neck/floral dress/black opaques/flat boots combo, apparently.) And when you get there, are you supposed to smile at your counsellor – sorry, Brain Trainer – or look sullen and traumatised? Are you allowed to make jokes? Is it okay to cry? Clearly, I went into this with very little knowledge of therapy. The little I do know I've learned from Tony Soprano, and I'm not convinced he's the best example of how to act. (Actually I've watched so much Sopranos this week that I had to stop myself asking for Dr Melfi at reception.)
Even after Thursday's session, I'm still not sure how much I know about therapy. But now, at least, I don't think it really matters. Because what is there to know, other than whether or not you like it, and whether or not you think it can do you any good? As it goes, I'm sold already. Not that I wasn't trying to talk myself out of it in the waiting room, mind. At that point, the slightest excuse would have done: I was having a bad wig day, I didn't have any tissues, my chipped nails would give the wrong impression. In the end I took my mind off doing a runner by reading the posters in the waiting room and, just as I spotted one calling for patients to judge a poetry competition and not-so-surreptitiously balanced on my chair to take a photo of the contact details (ie, just as I reached new lows of spoddy and uncool), in walked my counsellor. Let's call him Mr Marbles, since it's his job to find them.
Mr Marbles steadfastly ignored my pleasantries about what kind of week he'd had as we walked along the oddly familiar corridor to his office (can you call it an office if it's got a coffee table instead of a desk, table lamps instead of strip lighting, a box of tissues and a cushion on the chair?). My corridor-induced déja vu suddenly made sense when I heard the instantly recognisable sound of Crap FM coming from the cupboard-like room several doors down. A sneaky look as I walked by left me surprised to discover that the figure in there, surrounded by boxes of grey syrups and tapping their feet to Destiny's Child, was not, in fact, Wig Man, but an equally bored-looking and lacking-in-job-satisfaction Wig Woman. I giggled on my way into the Brain Training room, then stopped when I realised it might make me look too jovial and unworthy of free NHS therapy.
And then – at the risk of depriving you of the good stuff – the next thing I knew it was 50 minutes later, I had a handful of crumpled tissues, redder eyes than I went in with and was listening to Mr Marbles read out the notes he'd written throughout the seemingly lightning-speed session. By heck, you don't half get going when someone gives you the opportunity to talk about yourself. Poor sod could hardly get a peep in. When I finally gave him the chance to speak, though, every single thing he said was another word to further convince me that the Brain Training is a good idea. Just like everyone else I've encountered at the hospital, Mr Marbles is great. Again, I felt that now-familiar, wonderful, uber-professional mix of total understanding and a means-business determination to help. He's sensible and serious, but not to the point of being unable to crack a smile (particularly at mention of my keeping-occupied-by-adopting-a-kitten tactic and the 'can't come out, I'm washing my hair' gag. I'll say it again: why do I always turn into such a goon when I'm around medical professionals?). He puts you at immediate ease, doesn't pass judgement and never lets his face give away what he's thinking. Plus he wears corduroy slacks. Of course he wears corduroy slacks. I'd have been disappointed if he didn't wear corduroy slacks.
Despite my initial 'go ahead, therapise me' attitude (a bit like sitting in a comedy club, arms folded, thinking 'come on then, funny boy, make me laugh'), I was very quick to open up to Mr Marbles. Maybe it was the firm handshake, the reassuring voice, or the fact that he didn't once tilt his head or treat me like a sympathy-worthy cancer patient. Either way, I started the session with ruler-straight posture and my handbag perched on my lap (clearly I wanted him to meet me and my Marc Jacobs) and ended it with casually crossed legs and my spine comfortably moulded to the back of the chair.
We spoke about survival instincts and concerns and expectations and outlooks and fears. I talked endlessly, sobbed and apologised a fair bit. He nodded, scribbled notes in an orange file and revealed that the best-known way to feel instantly better is to make sure your husband buys you a pair of Louboutins. (He also identified humour as one of my coping strategies. I fear it's more sarcasm.) The whole coping-strategy shiz is a funny one, though. Not least because the words 'coping strategy' sound like something David Brent would say. But, semantics aside, I reckon that, in a roundabout way, I'd already realised that I had a few coping strategies up my sleeve. I'd just been calling them 'projects', is all. (Yep, we're back to the old blogging/baking/kitten equation.)
Naturally, that conversation backed me into a better-tell-him-about-the-blog corner. And so I did. I told him how often I posted, the kind of things I blog about, what writing it has meant to me, how it's helped my family and friends understand my experience of breast cancer and how it's made me realise that I want to keep writing, even when The Bullshit is a distant memory. (I didn't call it The Bullshit, by the way. Probably best to save the expletives until session three or four.) Mr Marbles asked how people had responded to the blog, whether I'd ever re-read it from the beginning (I haven't) and how I think it'd make me feel if I were reading, as opposed to writing, it. I started to worry that he'd ask for the web address, too, but (a) I'm sure that'd be against some sort of Counsellor's Code and (b) after spending all day listening to people's neuroses, the last thing he'll want to do when he gets home is read 60,000 words of the same. He's got telly to watch and wine to drink and slacks to iron. I'm still paranoid that he's on here somewhere, though, reading about the constipation and the pubes-as-eyelashes and preparing to have me committed. Shit, what if he leaves a comment? Right, I'm heading straight to my blog settings. There's a gadget that enforces background checks on anonymous commenters, right?