The Thinking Cap

Anna was a shy little girl. One would not ordinarily look twice in her direction. This didn’t bother Anna, as she hated to be the centre of attention, particularly from strangers. Folk would say of her that she was a quiet, slightly awkward child. The awkwardness was caused by Anna’s extreme discomfort at the occasional glance of a stranger

Anyone who cared to take the time would find Anna to be a rather engaging child with a good sense of humour and low self-esteem, and that was that! Or so it would’ve been, if an extraordinary thing hadn’t taken place one Saturday morning.

Anna was out playing with her imaginary friends, she found them far more appealing than the children she’d met at school, who seemed hell bent on making fun of her. This particular Saturday, as Anna charged around a field on her imaginary horse, she came upon a beautifully coloured, though somewhat battered looking hat. “Goodness, I wonder what kind of person wore this hat?” she pondered, as she stooped to pick it up. It looked like a clever hat, Anna wasn’t sure why she would have such a thought about the hat but that was her first impression. She picked it up and gave it a shake, brushing a few bits of grass off it. A moment later it was placed at a slight jaunty angle on her curly haired little head.

Anna immediately felt important and jumped back on her horse, marvelling at the wonderful adventure she was having. Off she charged, in the direction of home feeling resplendent in her new hat.
“Mummy, look at my new hat, I found it over the field she exclaimed!”
“Very nice dear, it suits you.” Muttered her mother, hardly glancing in Anna’s direction. She was used to Anna’s vivid imagination and it served no purpose to state the blindingly obvious, that there wasn’t a hat!

That night Anna found that she could do her homework more easily, finding solutions that had previously eluded her. “I shall wear this hat to school tomorrow, as I’m cleverer when I wear it,” she thought. And sure enough, school was much easier than normal and the other children were nicer to her, mostly because she was able to help them with their work too.

Anna had been wearing her hat for six months now and didn’t take it off, even when having a bath or sleeping. She was convinced that the hat had made her life better and that it bought her friends and approval. And so it was that Anna sailed through her school years winning admiration from her peers and delighting her parents and teachers with her progress. She’d long stopped telling people about her hat, as they just gave her odd looks.

Today is Anna’s birthday and she has reached the big 3 0!! Life has been good to her, she adores her wonderful husband and two children. She is also proud of the fact that she has continued to educate herself, despite the demands of raising a family. No time is wasted reference learning, she is a perpetual student, always hungry to learn something new and to explore the depths of her own mind.

Anna has long forgotten about her beautiful hat, which still sits at a jaunty angle on her curly hair. She is prone to headaches these days and an inability to switch off. And sleep is a rare luxury, not because of the children or a busy schedule but because of her busy mind. “If only I could stop thinking for just five minutes, I could get some peace,” she thinks.

Fast forward to Anna’s 40th birthday and she has treated herself to a session with a counsellor, on the recommendation and favour of a friend, who is seriously worried about her. It is quite obvious that Anna is hurtling towards a nervous breakdown and a little gentle persuasion and the fact that the friend had already paid for the session, made it difficult for Anna to decline.

The first thing the counsellor asked Anna was “Where did you get that hat?” Anna looked confused, as she had totally forgotten she had it and no one had ever given it any notice! “Oh, you mean this old thing, it’s who I am,” she replied.

The counsellor was troubled as this wasn’t the first Thinking Cap that she had seen. She knew that she was up against it, in persuading this lovely woman to remove it. It’s not easy getting folk who are perfectionist and over-thinkers to take off their Thinking Caps, as their identity is so interwoven into the fabric of the hats they wear. If only they could see that it’s not the being clever or perfect that makes people like them but their amazing personalities.

The counsellor suggested that Anna bring her husband along to the next session, if he was able to.  That night, during dinner, Anna shared with him what had happened during the session, though not the bit about her hat! Her husband was thrilled to go with her as he was incredibly worried about his wife’s sanity at times. She could escalate the smallest inconvenience into a monumental problem and it was painful to watch her overthinking causing her, and dare he even think it, himself, so much distress. And quite frankly, if she didn’t sort her sleeping out, he would be forced to sleep in the spare room. It was like sleeping with an octopus flailing around, arms and legs everywhere. Thank goodness she couldn’t squirt black ink! She saved that for her writing projects, (not squirting it you understand, no she could certainly write beautiful words). She had even managed to wear holes in the pillow cases with all the tossing and turning.

Anna did a lot of thinking (of course) about her long forgotten hat. It had made her feel so important and she had grown in confidence and got the respect of others through wearing it. What if she were to take it off? Goodness her brains might actually fall out, for surely the hat was keeping them in? Or even worse, maybe she didn’t have a brain at all, or it had morphed into the size of a pea or even a grain of rice, or mustard seed (over thinking again)!

Finally she plucked up the courage to remove the hat. She thought it might prove painful but it lifted off her head with the same ease with which it first jauntily nestled there. “Now what,” thought Anna? Dare she even venture out today? She knew she had to, as she had a busy day in the office. She was ashamed to admit that she was seriously tempted to phone in sick!

To Anna’s great surprise the office didn’t grind to a halt when she walked through the door. No-one said anything bad or stared at her in a furtive way. In fact everything seemed just as usual. She started to relax and get on with her day. By lunch time she was perfectly comfortable without her hat, didn’t feel naked at all!! Lunch was a revelation, as she met with a few colleagues and had the usual banter. She was witty and entertaining, even if she did say so herself! As the week progressed Anna found that she was feeling more relaxed and she’d stopped using her iPad in bed and sleep was coming a lot more easily.

Anna decided that she did not want her husband to attend the next counselling session with her and wasn’t even sure that she needed it but her husband thought it wise that they both still attend the session. “Goodness, thought Anna, I hope the counsellor doesn’t mention my hat!”

Anna need not have worried, as the counsellor put her at ease immediately by commenting on how lovely Anna’s hair was looking today, less weighed down than last time she’d seen her, had she had it cut? Anna thanked the counsellor and informed her of her progress, she declared, “I realise now that all my life I’ve wanted people to like me and I thought that by being clever they would notice me for the right reasons. I never once stopped to think that I might be likeable just as I am.

The session concluded with the counsellor stating that she felt Anna didn’t need to return for any more counselling. Anna was delighted and as she practically skipped out of the room, the counsellor sighed and wondered how long it would be before Anna’s husband sought her counsel, to remove his Fear of Failure Cap!

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