I was having a drink with my new friend A. ‘How’s it going with David?’ she asked me.
‘Well. I was very brave, for the first time in my life, and I emailed him, saying, “Where do we go from here? If anywhere?”’
‘After all he’s done? OK. What did he say?’
‘He hasn’t replied.’
She stifled a laugh, tried to look sympathetic, then sat up straight. ‘I know!’ she shouted, banging down her martini glass. Not for the first time do I feel as though I’m in an episode of Sex and the City, except for the sex part. ‘You should Marie Kondo him!’
And so, just as the Japanese queen of decluttering gave us a new, liberating way of living by tidying our sock drawer, I am to consult a hypnotherapist specialising in relationships called Malminder Gill at her Harley Street clinic. Her speciality is to ‘spring-clean the toxic relationships in your life’.
I arrive at her consulting room in my default setting: panting, constantly checking my phone and my bag for my keys, which might have jumped out at some point. She asks why I’m here. I tell her I have no confidence: I am always terrified of everything. That I was probably born nervous.
‘You were not born this way,’ she says. ‘Something happened when you were very young to make you anxious.’ She asks for my earliest memory, wanting to prise open the black box that will tell her why my life crashed, and I tell her something I’d forgotten. That my mum was pushing me in my pram to pick up my sister from school. And when my sister emerged, she turfed me out of the pram and got in. I had to walk.
She asks how I am now. I tell her I have nightmares and wake at 3am, gripped by a panic attack. That I catastrophise. We talk more and within minutes she tells me I have been preyed on by a narcissist: someone who appears credible, nice, but is really putting up a front. This person is also a psychopath. They make up only one per cent of the population. That what happened wasn’t my fault. That I was a victim.
‘But that person is out of my life now,’ I tell her. ‘I haven’t heard from them for 18 months, from the moment I was made bankrupt.’
‘But the pain is still in your mind. How do you think that person is now?’
Then Malminder – who, bear in mind, is a scientist not a psychic – shivers and rubs her arms: the hairs have stood on end. ‘She is not alone. She is no longer interested in you. She is feeding on someone else.’
Blimey. Now I’m really scared. Talking more, I realise my fear never made me stick up for myself: narcissists prey on the vulnerable. Malminder tells me my ex-boyfriend is not my real problem, and that by using hypnosis, she can help to release me from the grip of all my fear and bitterness, before she can then work on my anxiety.
The next day, I return for my hypnosis session. I am asked to visualise a meadow, which will become my safe place whenever negative thoughts threaten to invade. She tells me these thoughts do not really belong to me, but have been placed there.
She then asks me to visualise this person and tie them to a chair. I am then to tell them, in my mind, exactly what they did to me and how they made me feel. And that they will never be able to harm me again. And then I release them. It is not forgiveness exactly: more a banishment, rendering them insignificant. I am then asked to imagine a bright light around me, a bubble that will protect me from ever being preyed on by someone toxic again. I will be able to enjoy my life. The adversity has made me stronger.
After an hour, I am told to open my eyes and sit up. I am not to think too much about what has happened, but to allow my subconscious to do its work. Malminder is going to call me on Monday to gauge how I’m feeling, and I’m to have another hypnosis session to tackle my anxiety now my virtual sock drawer no longer houses ones with holes.
I emerge into the sunlight and hail a cab. For the first time in a decade, I don’t reach for my phone, opening my inbox as though it’s an unexploded bomb. Instead, I sit back. The sun comes out. I usually stare at the meter but today I simply look out of the window. All those commuters, rushing to work, getting on with their lives. And I realise that I deserve that, too.