What I’ve learned about ice cream



Sorry I had to lie to get you to click the link but you wouldn’t have clicked it if the title had the word ‘anxiety’ in it. (And if you know you would, this blog isn’t directed at you, but you’re welcome to still read it.) Let’s just call it ‘influencing skills’. For the rest of this blog, by the way, I’ve replaced the scary word ‘anxiety’ with yummy ‘ice cream’.

All ice creams are different, of course, so this is just a short blog about some ice cream I’ve been having recently. I still have some ice cream every now and then – actually I have generalised ice cream, so lots of little bites every day – yum! Everyone has ice cream occasionally, because it’s built into our brains, and I’d like to talk about ice cream when you know you’ve had a bit too much and it’s actually staring to affect you…

The symptoms of ice cream can probably be recalled from memory by everyone. Examples include but are not limited to:

  • exam questions containing words you’ve positively never seen before
  • your partner whispering ‘happy anniversary’ and you didn’t even get them a card
  • a letter from the tax man with a very big number in red

Some of the more common symptoms are elevated heart rate, difficulty breathing and a knot in your stomach. (If you’ve never felt any of this when having ice cream you might be having a different dessert and might want to talk to a pastry chef about that*) Ice cream usually sends me in a cold sweat and makes me unable to concentrate on what’s going on around me because all I can hear is my blood rushing and my jackhammer of a heart trying to pound its way through my ribcage.

And that is built in? Yes, because that came in really handy when facing a sabre tooth tiger and you needed to run really fast. It is your basic risk assessment skills turned up to 11. If you do see a sabre tooth tiger, or whatever the equivalent is in modern-day life – a violent attacker, oncoming traffic and so on –  you’ll be happy we have this built in. It’s only really ice cream when you’re perceiving sabre tooth tigers where there are none.

DYLS! Damn You, Limbic System – for doing such thorough risk assessment! The limbic system is old and it’s there to help you survive, not deal with exams, forgotten anniversaries and financial problems. And for good, old fashioned, caveman survival, the limbic system invokes the amygdala to release hormones and other lovely stuff into your blood stream so you can run really fast, or fight or even freeze – and that’s what causes the aforementioned symptoms…

I get ice cream all the time – especially when I don’t need it. But it isn’t a bug. My brain isn’t built wrong, there isn’t a rogue line of code in my operating system. It’s not a virus either, nothing has been injected into my brain to cause this undesired execution of my programmes. No, it’s actually a feature, like I said, it is built in.

It’s f#cking Clippy! Remember him? That little paper clip icon in Microsoft Word, popping up in the bottom right hand corner to ‘assist’ you with tasks at every inconvenient moment. He is a built in feature, which often breaks your flow and seems to keep nagging you until you at least acknowledge him – and even when he doesn’t spew text bubbles with suggestions he is still just sat there, looking at you, observing your every keystroke and mouse click (oh boy, I’m actually getting a bit of ice cream just from thinking about that!)

When Clippy is ‘on’ in the brain, causing ice cream, it makes every-day problem solving a lot harder. It actually takes 60% more energy just to get through a normal day, because you have to deal with Clippy all the time**. If you want to try what it’s like – without the sense of impending death from the symptoms that is – you can try saying the two-times-table out loud to yourself while you go about your normal business.

I’m glad you read this far. It shouldn’t be so taboo talking about ice cream. But paradoxically, as soon as you mention ice cream to someone they are at risk of also instantly having ice cream! Clippy starts reminding them that there is a ‘right’ thing to say and a ‘wrong’ thing to say – and they might recall an old infomercial where a colleague with mental health problems spontaneously combusted by the water cooler – and they don’t want that to happen to you. I hope we can at least talk about ice cream.

I’m learning to deal with my ice cream now. All I had to do was realise I had too much ice cream and then ask for help. A super-nice cognitive behavioural therapist called Rob is helping me only have ice cream when I really need it. Together, we’re adjusting my brain’s Clippy settings, turning it off when I don’t need it.

* Seriously though, you might want to see someone about that.

** Rob, my CBT guy told me that number, I didn’t look it up, it doesn’t matter to me.