The Story of My Skin. How I Finally Stopped Wearing Make-Up and Healed my Acne after 15 Years of Trying (Hint – Look to your Gut, not your Face)

In my early twenties an ex-boyfriend once said this to me: ‘if you had clear skin there’s no way you’d be interested in me, you’d be way out of my league.’ He did not mean to hurt me with this comment, he is one of the kindest men I have the pleasure of knowing, but unfortunately this was one of the most painful back-handed compliments I have ever received and it still haunts me when I am having a ‘bad skin day’. My bad skin has been the bane of my life. I plan to talk about my own insecurities here, but just as a quick aside, it upset me that he thought I would be that shallow. Yes, I’m vain, (sorry, let me correct that, my EGO is vain). My Ego wants everyone to think I’m pretty, I can’t deny that. And he was a pure stunner (my Ego is also shallow enough to appreciate a very handsome man, though we all do, don’t we?) But even if I had the most perfect alabaster complexion I would have still wanted to be with him. It made me sad too that he thought I was ‘settling’ for him, No, I couldn’t believe my luck, in many ways I think the comment says more about his insecurities that it does mine. wow, we all have them, don’t we? But the real thing I want talk about here is my fifteen year battle with my skin, and how I have come to realise the long, hard way that no matter how bad our skin is, there are solutions, and NATURAL ones at that, and some of them really do work! So hopefully if you’re reading this and are suffering as I have, something here might just help.  

The Story of my skin: First I’m going to tell you all the things that didn’t work over the years and later on in the article, exactly what did.

I saw numerous doctors and dermatologists over the years and have tried everything- Benzoyl Peroxide (turns your pillow orange), Adapalene Cream (no orange pillow but you still have to go to bed with a slimy face every night), taking contraceptive pills that apparently clear your skin (Dianette made me come out in a rash from head to toe after taking it for 3 days, Yasmin turned me into a suicidal-verging monster on the days running up to my period). I’ve popped so many other pills: Doxycline, Lymecline, Tetracycline (These are dangerous. Yes, they clear your skin after taking them for a few months but literally decimate all your gut bacteria, removing the bad, but also ALL the good bacteria that is integral to your overall health. The gut is now recognised as the body’s second brain. I ran repeat prescriptions on these for about 4 years as no doctor ever called me up on it. It more or less cleared my skin and kept it that way, so I was happy. But I had no idea of the damage it was doing below the surface until I stopped taking them when I came down with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and they turned out to be a big part of the cause. I am still recovering from the damage done by these pills and I have a gut so full of candida that I can’t tolerate any sugar whatsoever. Right now I’m so intolerant to sugar as a result that I can’t even eat so much as a carrot, let alone a piece of fruit, or god forbid some chocolate, or a teaspoon of honey to sweeten my herbal tea. Can’t eat A CARROT, it seems too ludicrous to be true, I wish it was. It’s temporary, I hope. The few years of clear-ish skin were really not worth this. I didn’t go so far as trying Roaccutane, but if you’ve considered that then you may have read reports that it can allegedly cause depression and can irrecovably damage the kidneys.

So I tried of course all this, and not to even start in all the different cleansers, toners and moisturisers- from bargain bin Clearisil to top of the range Chanel, Clinique, Clarins, even completely natural organic products. For sensitive skin, for oily skin, for combination skin, for easily irritated skin, for blemished skin. I could go on. NONE of it really worked. Some of them worked temporarily, and then the problems would re-appear a few weeks later.

I have suffered with pretty severe acne and rosacea since I was 11 years old. In my teens I had spots mostly on my chin, nose and forehead. In my twenties it tended to be spread across my jawline, cheeks and often on my chin too.

I can remember in primary 7 the very first stick of Boots’ ‘Collection 2000’ concealer I had (which of course was not even slightly the same colour as my skin) that I used to cover up the spots on my chin. As I moved into high-school concealer turned to tinted moisturiser, turned to foundation, turned to concealer, foundation and powder, turned into… let’s just say that when I looked in the mirror I wouldn’t recognised ‘me’ until I had applied a caseload of different cosmetics. Between the ages of 13 and 15 my eyebrows were also non-existent, I had plucked them to within an inch of their life, they looked like this ~ (not a keyboard character of a lie, photos from that time make me cringe).

My using make-up as armour began as early as this, and I can even remember receiving a mean-spirited email from a ‘friend’s’ nasty big sister which was a cruel, finger-pointing article entitled ‘You wear too much make up’. At the time I was devastated, I am pretty sure I was too embarrassed to tell a soul, but despite the cruel method of delivery, she was right!  But nothing could convince me that I would look better without make up. Throughout my teens and twenties I was painfully aware of my skin at all times, whether I was having a ‘good skin day’ or a ‘bad skin day’.  A good day meant I might only need one pump of foundation, concealer, powder, mascara, and then I could leave the house brimming with confidence. On a bad skin day in order to leave the house I would literally have to trowel it on, in a thick impasto, and only then would I allow myself to see people, only then I could walk down the street and if I noticed people looking at me thought they must be doing so because they found me attractive, and not because they were judging me because of the spots on my face, thinking ‘look at her, she’s be attractive if it wasn’t for her dreadful skin.’ Yep, that comment from my ex haunted me big time. I’ll admit, some days I couldn’t even leave the house, I would put on make-up even if I was going to spend the whole day IN the house, just so as my flatmate didn’t have to see me without make-up, and I wouldn’t cry upon encountering a mirror.  I’m aware this all sounds really dramatic, but I know if you’ve had acne problems like me, you might have done the same, or similar, I sincerely hope I was on the extreme end.

I remember reading articles in magazines talking about girls whose boyfriends NEVER saw them without make-up, how they would sneak out of bed an hour early in the morning to ‘put on their face’ before their beloved awoke so that there wasn’t the slightest chance they would say what they really looked like. I remember thinking how sad this was at the time, but I realise now I was pretty much right there with them, I hated when my boyfriends would so much as look at me in the morning as I was so full of skin-based insecurity, and God forgive you if you so much as tried to tell me that you didn’t notice my bad skin, or give me a compliment, you would be swiftly rebuffed, savaged even. However if I was fully made-up, I accepted compliments readily. Over the years several boyfriends, friends and my parents said to me time and time again ‘maybe your skin would get better if you just didn’t wear make-up, if you just left it, let it breathe’. Did I ever listen, NO. No, I kept scrubbing, popping pills, layering the make-up on. Were they right? Yes.

But I haven’t worn a scrap of make-up since June of last year, so coming up to almost a year now, and for the first time in my life I am happy looking in the mirror at my make-up free face and don’t think twice about leaving the house without a scrap of make-up on, I don’t even wear mascara now. Yes, I do live the life of a chronically ill hermit these days so I don’t have to get dressed up much. I even get a kick out of casually just going to splash some water on my face, in the middle of the day, just cos I can. For years this was an alien concept to me as this would mean making my mascara and eyeliner run and would mess up my impasto of foundation, concealer and powder. No make up selfie So- what really DID work? Food worked. 

So many doctors told me that there was no real connection between what we eat and the state of our skin. I have learned through the experience that this is just completely false, what we put in our body has absolutely everything to do with how we look on the inside, as well as on the inside.

I clocked during my teens that whenever I drank milk my spots got worse. So I cut out milk when I was about 14. Over a number of years I realised the same applied to all lactose — cheese, yogurt, cream — so I cut out all of these- out with the dairy milk sadly, (not easy for someone who was addicted to their daily Twirl every night during the final stressful year of university.) It is very common for acne to be a result of lactose intolerance. And of course, I did what any normal person does when they cut out lactose, I switched to soya milk. It was only years of dreadful skin later (almost 10 years later in fact) I realised that soya is often even worse for acne prone skin than lactose. Spots in women are most commonly caused by hormonal imbalances and soya really messes with your oestrogen levels. You may not be intolerant to soya, however, in my experience it is definitely worth looking into if you are trying everything to solve your acne problems and nothing seems to be working. I discovered that If I so much as have even so much as a tiny bit of soya lecithin in something I will be greeted with huge big pustules on my cheeks a couple of days later, nice. This also extends to eating intensively farmed fish like salmon that have been fed soya.  So lactose and soya products were out. Just a few months ago I ate a rainbow trout I thought was wild but turned out to be farmed. I didn’t leave the house for a week my skin was so abysmal, and I was thrown back into that pit of insecurity.

But I still was suffering, things were improving, but nowhere near to the point I would dare go out barefaced: maybe 1 pump of foundation instead of 2. When I came down with my Chronic Fatigue in September 2013 My skin was the worst it has been in my entire life. There was just no covering it up. Even the harsh antibiotics had stopped working. Now, I am now pretty sure my CFS was caused by Adrenal Fatigue/HPA Axis Dysregulation, brought on by living my life at 100 mph for too long; that and by the Candida which grew in my gut, caused by far too many years on the Contraceptive Pill and the antibiotics for my skin, such as Tetracycline). Despite this I continued to layer the make up on for roughly the next year. I wouldn’t admit how sick I was, I would do my very best to cover it up. I did my best to cover it up in my entire life, not just on my face.

The crunch point finally came in June of last year when I said- ‘That’s it, for today I am no longer wearing any make up, I am no longer going to put any cosmetics, or anything that is not 100% natural on my face or in my body and when I am well on the inside it will finally show on the outside.’ This turned out to be the best skin-related decision I ever made.

The Story of what FINALLY worked: What did I start doing differently? I read up on the oil cleansing method, tried with jojoba oil and within days I had more spots than I had to begin with, so I decided I couldn’t be patient to wait and see if that was just ‘purging’ or if oil cleansing was just going to give me more spots. Instead I opted to use raw, unpasteurised honey to wash my face in the evenings (it feels so lovely and soothing, smells great and you do just want to lick your own face!). I only wash my face at night, not in the morning, as your skins oils naturally balance themselves overnight, at most all you need is a wee splash of water. I still use a moisturiser- an all natural and organic Frankincense cream from Neal’s Yard but intend to change this to a homemade oil blend when I have done enough reading on aromatherapy. So that’s literally ALL I use on the skin on my face- honey to wash in the evening, just a bit in your palm, use it like a facewash and then rinse off with warm water. And infrequently I might use a tiny bit of bicarbonate of soda mixed with water to make a paste to really gently exfoliate. Also, as a treat every now and then I slather 20+ manuka honey on my face as a facemask and leave for a couple of hours before washing off (this is incredibly comforting and it highly anti-bacterial, so great for helping to soothe the skin). On the couple of occasions I have put on a tiny bit of powder and mascara I use a bit of jojoba oil on a cotton wool pad to wipe the make-up off before cleansing with honey. And as for what I put IN my body.

Changing to a Paleo orientated way of eating has been revolutionary for my skin. The daily diet of brown rice and spinach, humous with carrot sticks and apple and ricecakes that I thought was so healthy for me and my skin… really wasn’t. Of course, it is best to eat as many vegetables as you can, organic if possible, some fruits if you can tolerate them, and drink lots and lots of water.

But I now know that the superfoods for my skin are not being completely vegan, but rather, and this was a HUGE shock for me: the best foods for getting clear skin are: Liver (grass fed), eggs (especially the yolks) and fermented foods such as sauerkraut (and kefir, if you can tolerate lactose). As I can’t tolerate lactose, like many acne sufferers, I eat a lot of Co Yo products, probiotic yogurts made from coconut milk that are dairy free and sugar free, and good for your gut, therefore good for your skin, and taste amazing. Admittedly, liver does not taste as amazing, but it is quite literally the most nutrient-dense food on the planet and it is the extremely high levels of Vitamin A which acts as a skin clearer (Roaccutane is basically a really high dose of Vitamin A). Eating liver once a week has cleared my skin. Fact. And by eating fermented foods such as sauerkraut, I have helped through my diet to encourage the growth of good bacteria in the gut, and healthy gut bacteria is absolutely essential for clearer skin. As I said, I am still in the process of building up the good bacteria in my gut after the years of Tetracyline had wiped out all the good bacteria as well as the bad.

Also, Omega 3 fatty acids are essential for skin health- you can find these in oily fish such as sardines, mackerel and wild salmon, and if you are veggie in flaxseed and hemp oil. These good fats are very beneficial for the skin, as are eating avocadoes, extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil, (which is especially good for Acne as it has anti-fungal properties).

I strengthen this by taking a high-quality daily probiotic supplement, my herbalist recommended Solgar’s ‘Advanced Multi-Billion Dophilus’ and I took this daily for a few months, and the difference in my skin was immense. At my Homeopathic doctor’s advice I switched to Dr Mercola’s ‘Complete Probiotics’, which is a top product too. So my skin is almost completely clear. And they key was to look to my gut, and not my face at all.

These are the things that have finally helped me see the way through the woods when it comes to my skin.I wish I’d known many of these things fifteen years ago, it would have saved me a lot of hassle. An indispensable guide on all of these dietary changes and natural cleansing methods can be found in Liz Wolfe’s ‘Skintervention Guide’, a PDF on purely paleo skincare. I have found this in-depth guide completely invaluable this last year and would highly recommend it if you are looking to clear up your skin for good, and the natural way. I am covering many of the basics here, but if you want to read much more in depth, I’d highly recommend this. You can buy it online here http://purelyprimalskincare.com/  Ok, I am off to go splash some cold water on my face!

‘Archetypal Animals’ a Short Story based on a session of Bowen Technique I had to help cure my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Wolf and BearI have been suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/M.E. since September 2013. Last Summer I spent a week as an in-patient at a Homeopathic Hospital to investigate different holistic avenues that might help me to heal from this mysterious and completely debilitating illness. My experience of Chronic Fatigue is (on the worst days) characterised by extreme tiredness (the kind where you just can’t get out of bed, no matter how much you sleep, and even sitting up can seem too much like hard work); severe brain fog (on some days you pretty much forget even your own name); and the kind of migraines that make even the thought of thinking lucidly or (God forbid) speaking to anyone, feel like climbing a mountain. Listening to music is out of the question, even making a cup of tea requires Herculean effort. On the good days I can be as articulate as an academic, as joyous as a giddy child and as energetic as… well a ‘normal’ person who is maybe just a wee bit tired. Energetic enough to cavort around the hillsides, do some pretty full-on yoga and meditation, read, listen to music, sing, chat to friends, maybe even dance and perhaps do some writing, and that’s about it. Anything more ‘real world activity’ such as work or handling stressful situations are pretty much impossible right now; I would crumble. Quite convenient you might say… sounds like a nice life… And it is, on the good days that is! But the best way I can describe the bad days is that I feel akin to a dying moth, one that is lying twitching on the windowsill, and you’re just not sure whether or not it will perk back up enough resume flight- off in search of the next cherished woolly jumper to nibble holes in. That, or like a mobile phone that is so low on battery it keeps beeping at you ‘Charge me! Charge me!… I’m gonna die if you don’t’. Luckily now the good days far outweigh the bad.

My week in the Homeopathic hospital was nothing like your usual idea of what a week in a hospital would be like (bed ridden in extreme pain, dipping in and out of consciousness, pumped full of drugs, overstretched doctors and nurses, food so disgusting you’d rather starve) counting down the hours until you are well enough to be discharged… No, it was nothing like that. Here, each morning I would wake up to go and do yoga and meditation in a bright airy room with big windows that opened out onto the beautiful wild garden. (It was here I found I could sit in full-lotus for the first time!) The garden was specially designed for patients to potter around, admiring the flowers, watching the bees pollinate, listening to the birds sing… stepping in fox shit. Yes, I did that one morning while I was contentedly (until that point) tip-toeing about in my bare feet. A nice warm surprise…

Yoga at Homeopathic HospitalEach day we would do group movement sessions, group meditations and have presentations on different topics such as ‘Nutrition’, ‘Stress and Sleep’ with the friendly and attentive nurses. Alongside this we had long consultations with our doctors (which were so all encompassing they felt more like therapy); one-on-ones with a physiotherapist, and treatments such as Acupuncture and Bowen Technique (the subject of the story below), jacuzzi baths and art therapy. Did I mention that this is an NHS hospital? We would have far fewer sick people if more hospitals were like this, where they take the time to look at your mind and body; really investigate your physiology and psychology; your genes and your life experience- all of which go into being causative factors towards the forms of ‘dis-ease’ we might end up suffering from when we are not looking after ourselves. These hospitals prize optimum health, not plastering over the real health issues with prescriptions for pills and the factory farming care of patients.

full lotus

The story I post here for you to read is a fictional adaptation of a session of ‘Bowen Technique’ I had during my stay at the hospital. (Fictional as I recently entered it in a competition and so decided to change the names). But it all happened. Now, I am pretty well-versed in alternative therapies- I’ve trained in massage and have tried all sorts to help heal me from this illness- Acupressure, Acupuncture, Nutritional Therapy, Reiki, Cranio-Sacral Therapy, Shamanic Journeying, Pranic Healing (which is where someone waves a crystal over your chakras and cleanses your aura by spraying some lemony/lavendery water, banishing the negative energy into a pool of water full of pink himalayan salt. You name it, I’ve probably tried it. I’ve done some weird shit.  And I’ve experienced all sorts of strange tingling, swelling, euphoric, and wave-like bodily sensations in the process. But nothing prepared me for what I experienced during this one session of Bowen Technique, it really shook me and made me sit up and take notice. (It has something to do with the scary image at the top of this post, as I’m sure you’ve been thinking why does she have a horrible photo of animals fighting at the top of this? How weird! Anyway- read the story and you will find out. In a later post I’ll dissect what these symbols mean for me personally, and in relation to Native American theology and Jungian psychology, but for now I’ll let them speak for themselves…

Animal Archetypes

‘Is Hazel here?’

Stefan knocked politely on the already open door just as everyone was getting up to leave. We were returning our blocks to the pile by the door, and those who needed them were readying their crutches and walking sticks.

‘I’m here, that’s me’ I said, trying to sound upbeat, despite having just been put through the emotional wringer for the last hour, as I had endured that afternoon’s patient presentation.

‘Can you come with me please?’

He had to come now, I thought…. I’ve been looking forward to my session with him all week and he just bloody had to come for me now! Now when I am red-faced with anxiety and unbelievably tense, sat here for the last hour nodding in painful recognition as every single symptom spelled out to me that I am a textbook example of someone with a stress-induced illness! Brilliant, there’s absolutely no way I’m going to be able to relax enough for this treatment to work. I fumed, silently. The shock of seeing all the symptoms written down like that forced me to relive the trauma: the nights of lying awake unable to sleep due to the shooting pains down my arms and around my heart; the petrifying burning rushes in my back (the evidence that I was in perpetual ‘fight-or-flight’ mode); and the nights where I just literally couldn’t face it anymore and would take a high-dose Benadryl to knock myself out for a few hours to get some respite before having to face the next day.

We walked down the bright airy hallway to the treatment room. Stefan was blind, Metta had told me. I walked cautiously so as not to step in his path.

‘Ooh, I cannae wait fer ma date with Stefan, he’s absolutely incredible, so he is’ sing-songed Metta on our first day in the ‘Hotel Homeopathic’, as she referred to it. Metta really lived up to her name: a warm-hearted old lady in her sixties with the cheeriest disposition despite her at times debilitating Multiple-Sclerosis (we weren’t here for fun after all, no matter how nice it was). A retired manager at Clarks, the shoemaker, for that week Metta became my adopted grandma. I was comforted to have her as my room-mate, my first time as an in-patient. I bet you would have had a right laugh with her getting your feet measured for new school shoes.

‘That man’s a genius, so he is, he sorts me right oot. One session wi’ him and I’m flyin’ high fer weeks, I call ‘im me aither man!’ She cackled. ‘He disnae even have tae ask you whit’s wrang, he just examines yer body, yer skeleton and yer energy and ‘aw that, and he just kens exactly whit tae dae.’

I had a lot riding on this session, I had seen countless doctors over the past year and so far, no one could tell me exactly ‘whit wis wrang.’

Stefan closed the door and gave me a minute to settle, I wondered if perhaps he could feel my seething discomfort, hanging around after the talk.

‘If you can stand straight, arms by your sides, that’d be great’ he said, his voice relaxed and reassuring. I stood up and closed my eyes and I sensed him moving towards me. I became highly conscious that he was not the wise old blind European man I was expecting, (more sage than civilian); but was rather an attractive Glaswegian in his early thirties. As he held my hands in a soft grip and gently pulled them one by one away in a spiral motion from my body so as to encourage my spine to rotate, first one way, and then the other, I was lulled by his silent attentiveness, but found myself feeling very self-conscious of my body, dressed only in the tight vest and leggings I’d put on to do my yoga that morning. I’d been nervously sweating so much in the presentation that I had to take my jumper off. I was painfully aware that as he sensitively moved my hair aside to run his hands along my collar bone, touched my face, pressed his knuckles up and down my spine, and measured the levelling of my hips bones, down through my knees and to my ankles, that he was using his heightened kinaesthetic awareness to create a picture of me in his mind. Not that I was uncomfortable, rather, I caught my ego red-handed having a full-of-itself moment:  I wonder what his impression of me is? it said. Is he attracted to me? I was horrified and quickly berated myself for it, and then the intrusive thoughts came, as they always do when I feel I’m under surveillance I want to fuck you, the voice said, the same voice I’d been hearing since I was a teenager; habitual response; I swallowed hard. Please don’t let him be telepathic, I can’t control it, I don’t mean it, I thought, as I tried to breathe deeply to ease the dizzying heart palpitations. He stepped away and leaned against the counter, I opened my eyes; we both stood silently for a minute.

‘So, Hazel, what appears to be the matter?’

What?! I thought he wasn’t going to ask me anything. Metta said that he would be able to tell what was wrong just by examining my body, does this mean he has no idea either?! Surprisingly, I managed to tell him the story in a calm and straightforward manner, letting him know only what he needed to. I felt centred, and in my body, which was a far cry from my usual storytelling manner, where I would whip myself into a neurotic frenzy and leave my body completely, especially around the doctors.

‘Ok. I think I’m going to do some Bowen Technique. If you wouldn’t mind lying face down on the couch, that’d be great. It’s a very subtle technique, you might not really feel anything at all, though some people say they feel vibrations, or see colours… that kind of thing. Just let me know as we go along.’

Stefan began by softly indenting what felt like his thumb underneath my right shoulder blade. He gradually increased the pressure, but it was scarcely ever more than a light touch. The intrusive thoughts fired a few more quick rounds, but I soothed myself, breathed into my belly and they went away. I slowly became aware of my hands, which were gripped in tight fists by my sides, palms facing up. As my breath softened and deepened I felt my hands loosen their grip, and as they did so I felt pin pricks in between the knuckles of both hands, like someone was sticking needles into the pads at the base of each finger.

‘I’m feeling a tingling sensation in my hands, like you’re putting acupuncture needles between my knuckles and now waves of heat are travelling up my arms.’

‘Ok. I’m just going to leave the room for a minute, just notice how it develops’

What? He’s leaving? What?! I felt uneasy, knowing that he was just going to stand there, outside the door. What difference does it make? But my conscious mind was quickly silenced before it could begin its analysis by the waves, which were now intensifying by the second, moving up the entire length of my arms, buzzing right up into my armpits.

Stefan came back in. He asked what had happened. I told him, my face still face down on the couch, my voice slow and steady, not really aware of the words I was choosing. He resumed his position and placed his hands back on the same area. Within seconds the feeling had returned, but this time much more powerfully. The waves were moving up from the base of my spine and through my torso as well as up my arms; I was vibrating like a fridge.

‘It’s more intense this time, up my torso too, I’m getting really hot.’ I started to feel incredibly flustered.

Stefan quickly made his exit. My heartbeat quickened to a pounding and scorching heat was now burning up through my chest. It brought my heart right up into my throat and I felt myself cry out. Fear: unmistakable. I felt extreme fear. It coursed through my entire body as I gulped back the tears that sprang forth. I began to sob uncontrollably, chest heaving, face down, my head feeling like it was going to explode from the tension and ///// FLASH \\\\\ something, behind my eyes. The sensation retreated almost as quickly as it had arrived. I caught my breath and began to settle.

I heard Stefan return and I began to laugh nervously, head still down. He resumed his position and applied a light touch.

‘It grew stronger… I got so hot. I even started to cry, a really heavy sob from my chest, I saw…’

Another needle, this time in the right hand side of my sacrum, ///// FLASH \\\\\, there it was again, and this time it was unmistakeable: a grey wolf, the face of a grey wolf, close up, with piercing ice-blue eyes and white streaks through its fur.

‘I see a grey wolf.’ I laughed awkwardly as the words came out; this was a complete first for me. I was unsure of myself but unable to deny the image that was appearing in my mind’s eye.

‘Ok, stay with it. Let’s see if it will expand.’

Slightly more pressure in my back. A pain shoots through my right side. ///// FLASH \\\\\

‘Yep, I see a wolf… No… a wolf…, and a bear. I see a wolf and a bear, and they are facing off against each other on a snowy mountaintop. I am the wolf, I am wounded and I am absolutely terrified of the bear, I am afraid she is going to kill me.’

I could not believe what was happening. Stefan quickly shifted his attention to a different part of my back and I felt the fear gradually subside. I let out a huge sigh, and as I did I became aware that the fear had put my back right up, frozen in the high-arch of a petrified cat. As Stefan’s touch encouraged my back to flatten, flatten, flatten, I began to feel like a pancake lying there on the couch. I felt like I’d just dropped down a whole metre. A hazy scene started to form…

‘I think I see something else… Yes, now I see water flowing smoothly over pebbles.’

He exited again. It was so pleasant… The water was flowing gently down a river, the soothing close-up opened out to the same landscape as before, but the wolf and the bear were no longer there, it was summer, and everything was peaceful: I was safe.

He returned. I recounted. We resumed.

‘Now I see the bear again. Ha! She is not threatening at all.’ I was tickled by a funny close up of the bear’s big friendly face; I let out a huge belly laugh.

‘The bear doesn’t want to hurt me. She just wants to pick berries!’

He asked me to move onto my side. As I shifted my weight I wiped the tears away from my cheeks. He applied a light pressure to my uppermost leg and I felt it expand as if it were inflating up and away from me. I told him. He made for the door. By this time I was perfectly aware of the drill.

He re-entered with a comedic inquisitive noise.

‘I saw a galloping white horse, running wild and free, I kinda identify with it.’

He swiftly resumed his stance.

A sharp pain pierces me in the left-hand side of my torso ‘Ha! And as if that wasn’t enough, now I see a brown horse… domesticated, bridled, in a field, a show pony. It’s completely bored! It’s kicking the dust. It’s blowing raspberries! This is getting a bit ridiculous…’

We were both properly laughing now. Stefan’s hands came to rest in a place that felt like a natural ending-point and my entire body lengthened, as if I were being stretched out and unfurled completely.

‘Oh! And there’s the white horse again, galloping free, I feel content.’ One last flash for good measure.

‘Great. I think we should leave it there for now.’ I sense him retreating and I open my eyes. I smile at him in complete disbelief, forgetting for a moment that he can’t see me doing so.

‘Be sure and do some yoga or some other kind of body work tonight and tomorrow morning; very light, nothing strenuous. This kind of work usually takes around twenty-four hours to fully develop.’

I thank him and stagger out into the hall and float back along the ward, completely spaced out. I enter our room, where Metta sits with her swollen feet perched up, happily reading the newspaper. She takes one look at me and lets out a small giggle. I just shake my head in wide-eyed disbelief and walk straight out through the big glass doors and into the garden. Kicking off my shoes to feel the cool grass beneath my feet I think: I know exactly what I’ll be doing as soon as I get out of here: researching animal archetypes!