Girl in a forest: FACING YOUR CHILDHOOD FEARS

Facing your Childhood Fears

Continuing with themes behind Sussex thriller, LETHAL TIES, with a special emphasis on mental health, I would like to introduce another main protagonist in this story. Maisie. She might appear professional on the outside but on the inside, her world is falling apart.

A possible survivor of child abuse like Joe, Maisie turns to psychotherapy. This post looks deeper into the symptoms of abuse, a turmoil that affects her every day life, as well as other young adults like her.

  • What are the origins behind Maisie’s recurring nightmares?
  • For what reason does she have a phobia of forests?
  • What causes her to suffer anxiety and panic attacks?
  • Maisie finds it hard to settle into relationships, lacks confidence, has a fear of intimacy.
  • But can psychotherapy regress her enough to unlock those painful childhood traumas?

What could have happened in Maisie’s life to trigger such powerful responses? Let’s start by examining her experiences, starting from her early childhood.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT MAISIE

Maisie Bell, a character from LETHAL TIES
  • Maisie lost her entire family in a car accident when she was small.
  • Traumatised beyond reason, she became withdrawn, froze people out, shied away from relationships and made herself unlovable.
  • Condemned to live in a children’s home, she befriended Joe and later Sam.
  • She also remember’s the home’s creepy owner, Mr Mortimer.
  • Her memories are vague, but something bad happened in that home, something that has haunted her right up to present day.
  • Her lucky escape came when she was fostered by a loving couple in Kent, with whom she spent the rest of her childhood.

A character driven thriller, there is a mystery at the heart of this story.

Maisie has never forgotten Orchard Grange, the children’s home she and Joe lived in, nor the parties Mortimer dragged them to. Neither can they forget their friend, Sam, a vulnerable 11-year old boy who disappeared one night… He has been missing for twenty years.

Nightmares 

Trees seems to be a common theme in Maisie’s thoughts. In addition to her unusual phobia – where the very thought of walking into a forest brings on a panic attack – she sees trees in her recurring nightmare; specifically a spidery network of branches silhouetted against a night sky.

Maisie has no recollection of what happened on the night of the party she was taken to, other than what Joe has spoken of himself. It’s as if this memory has been erased, leaving a terrifying black void. But from leaks in her subconscious mind, (resulting from therapy) she begins to form the impression that whatever trauma happened took place in some forest…

Tree branches silhouetted against a night sky

Why Panic Attacks?

Thinking of a conversation I had with a senior officer from the Metropolitan Police, who handled child abuse cases, I was advised that recovered memories from psychotherapy cannot be relied upon. He did say however, that one of the most powerful triggers in recalling memories originates from smell, e.g. a particular aftershave at the time the abuse took place. 

In Maisie’s case, it is the musty smell of forests, traces of leaf mould and damp soil that has her reeling in fear, every time she goes near them.

TYPES OF THERAPY

For people like Maisie who suffer some form of trauma in childhood – something that impacts on every day life – there are various types of help available. 

In the first instance there is counselling. Just talking about problems can be a huge help as opposed to bottling them up inside. Even a fear such as a common spider phobia can be attributed to something harrowing in the past. Facing childhood fears is never pleasant, but in some cases may act as a release valve and once addressed can help the individual to move forward.

Counselling is available on the NHS but in some cases, may not go deep enough to get to the root of more complex traumas. This being the case, the next stage may be to look for a less general, more specific type of help.

Psychotherapy

When stressful events that people experience or witness make them feel unsafe or vulnerable, psychotherapy can help by eliminating or controlling troubling symptoms, in order to function better and improve well-being. Like counselling, psychotherapy is designed to get people talking about their symptoms, and devising coping strategies to improve mental health. 

Regressive Therapy involves placing a patient into a relaxed state, or inducing a mild hypnotic trance, so they can recover painful memories. These may include childhood traumas. 

Anyone considering this type approach needs to do their research though, make sure the therapist complies to accepted medical standards and is accredited with governing bodies such as BABCP (British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies), BPS (British Psychological Society) or UKCP (UK Council for Psychotherapy). Some examples of regression can be dangerous and have even been known to implant harmful ideas.

CBT

CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, reference: Mind-health.co.uk) is designed to help patients understand their current thought patterns. This may include such things as their mental image and beliefs, but is used to identify harmful thoughts and misperceptions, anything that may be holding them back in life. It is possible that negative thought patterns can be reversed by trying to do things differently, which may in turn help the patient discover new paths in life.

IN THE CONTEXT OF MAISIE 

Maisie’s phobia of woods, anxiety attacks and nightmares are the cognitive responses that have a negative impact. But at a deeper level, her fear of intimacy is the more harmful issue that stops her from enjoying a happy, fulfilling life and settling into a lasting relationship. This is not unusual in abuse victims as I have read in various blogs I’ve researched. Thus, in one of her therapy sessions, she describes her first sexual experience as traumatic; that she became so frozen, so tense it felt more like consenting to a rape. 

A hooded figure used as an illustration in my blog

LETHAL TIES is a work of fiction, intended as a suspenseful, twisty novel, but also addresses some of the mental health issues that prevail in today’s society. Next time, I’m writing about Asperger’s with a view to promoting a better understanding of the condition.

Entering the Final Phase of a #WIP

Atmospheric image of oak trees

It’s been a while since I mentioned writing, especially my current work in progress (WIP).

This standalone novel is a psychological thriller set in 2015 located in my home county of Sussex.

Sadly my writing took a nose dive in 2019 when I lost all confidence. I started the book in March 2019 but then things went a bit wobbly. It was like learning to ride a bike again. As soon as I made some progress, I would read it back and shake my head. Stop. Edit. Have another stab at it and still it didn’t engage! Grrrr! I was tearing my hair out with frustration, I even shed tears, thinking the creative power in my brain had been switched off. Even when we took a holiday in the most beautiful part of France, I read some good psychological thrillers to see if I could figure out where it was going wrong. I was inspired enough to embark on another complete re-write. But then the dreaded Coronavirus struck, leaving me so anxious, I was unable to move forward again.

Outline Synopsis

Joe, Maisie, Sam.
We were three kids in a care home, too young to protect ourselves.
Three friends who were inseparable until the night Sam went missing.

The story is centred around a group of fictitious children’s homes that existed in London in the 90s. Maisie, a professional woman at 32, has psychotherapy, unable to understand what lies at the root of her recurring nightmares and panic attacks.

Joe meanwhile, has led a troubled life from serving time in prison to being homeless. When the two characters cross paths in 2015, they recall memories of the strange parties they were taken to by the home’s sinister owner, Mr Mortimer… but what happened to Sam? 20 years ago he vanished, never to be seen again.

Yet as Joe tries to turn his life around, he is subject to a campaign of online abuse that makes them wonder if their enemies are still around – until a police investigation is launched.

A homeless man

Back in the writer’s chair

By mid April it struck me I needed to take a different approach; look at the nature of the police investigation at the heart of the story. Going through the chapters, I identified which parts needed research and further delighted to get some help. Speaking to a senior police officer who worked on similar cases to the one I am writing about, I have found a new direction. So I finally thrashed out the nuts and bolts of the investigation

With a brand new focus, the next hurdle was getting inside the heads of my characters. They took a while to come out, especially Maisie. So by the time I was immersed in a second re-write, I drafted her scenes in first person, something that enabled me to think like her, imagine her life and feel her anxiety (something which comes naturally.)

Joe’s character has been easier. Writing his part in 3rd person, he is a likeable rogue with fire in his belly; an angry rebellious young man at the pinnacle of his life. Now all he wants is justice.

Last of all, I wanted to be able to picture my characters which is where Pinterest came in useful. You only have to key something as obscure as ‘auburn hair’ in your search and dozens of faces appear. I found the right faces for both Maisie and Joe (depicted as Jack Falahee), as well as their childhood friend Sam.

Characters from a psychological thriller I am writing

Joe, Maisie, Sam.
We were three kids in a care home, too young to protect ourselves.
Three friends who were inseparable until the night Sam went missing.

The remainder of the story

I have now drafted out a huge part of the story and about to tackle the final phase. But with a full synopsis worked out, I think I have an adequate foundation to complete a first draft. Wish me luck because if I succeed I’ll be looking for beta readers and an editor.

I’ve seen lots of fellow authors rediscover their writing passion during these strange times and hope this will be the start of something promising. That aside, I’ve really enjoyed getting back into it.