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The meeting on 13th April was back to normal and we all gathered in our convenor's house, said hello to her dog (who'd been staying at our convenor's sisters where she had been thoroughly spoiled!) and presented our stories from the previous homework assignment. The assignment for the next meeting was Panic or, if you were a fan of the Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Don't Panic. I chose the latter and tried to imagine what it must be like for a person who suffers from panic attacks and what might be done to combat them.

It's probably worth pointing out that the post hypnotic suggestions mentioned in the story are mostly true incidents and anecdotes which are taken from a hypnotism demonstration that I attended when I was a student.


Don't Panic

Trevor thought that Dr Craddock was almost a caricature of a psychiatrist. He had unkempt hair, thick coke-bottle bottom glasses and a straggly beard. All he needed to complete the picture was a faint German accent. Unfortunately for the image his appearance suggested, his accent was cut crystal home-counties received pronunciation. Maybe that was his saving grace.

Dr Craddock took his glasses off and blinked owlishly at Trevor across his desk. "What can I do for you, Mr Watkins?" he asked.

Trevor cleared his throat. This was going to be embarrassing, but really he had no choice. His wife had given him an ultimatum. "I’ve got to give a presentation to an important client soon," he said, "and it’s been weighing on my mind. I’ve been having panic attacks and nightmares."

"Really?" Dr Craddock removed a soft cloth from his desk drawer and began to polish his glasses with it. "Tell me about the nightmares."

"Oh, just the usual stuff," said Trevor. "It happens to everyone, I’m sure. In my dream I stand up to give my presentation, but I can’t think of a single thing to say. Other times, I give a fluent, brilliant performance. The audience are laughing, giggling and applauding. Then I look down and discover I’m not wearing any trousers."

Dr Craddock nodded. "Yes," he said, "anxiety dreams like that are very common. We’ve all had them. So why have you come to see me?"

"Because my wife insisted I had to come," said Trevor miserably. "When I get these nightmares I wake up screaming, which wakes my wife up of course. Neither of us has had a proper night’s sleep for ages. Something has to be done about it. We can’t go on like this."

"When is your presentation due?" asked Dr Craddock.

"In a couple of weeks," said Trevor. "If my marriage and I survive that long."

"Hmm," said Dr Craddock thoughtfully. "There’s no magic pill I can give you to treat this condition and the time scale is very tight. But I’ll see what I can do. Perhaps we could try hypnosis?"

"I’m willing to try anything," said Trevor. "I’m desperate."

"All right," said Dr Craddock. "That’s agreed. You’ll get my invoice in a month or so. Goodbye." He turned his attention to some papers on his desk.

"What do you mean?" asked Trevor. "I thought you were going to hypnotise me?"

"Yes indeed," said Dr Craddock. "Check the time on your watch."

Trevor glanced at his wrist. It was nearly an hour later than he’d expected it to be. "Where did the time go?"

"You spent that time in a hypnotic state," explained the doctor. "And while I had you there I made various suggestions to you. You were a very good subject actually. I’m sure you’ll find the results beneficial."

Trevor was puzzled. "I don’t understand," he said. "Just what are you telling me."

Dr Craddock heaved a deep sigh. "All right," he said. "I was expecting to have to do this. I’ll give you a demonstration. Let me just say the word farmyard to you."

Farmyard!

Trevor stood up from his chair and tucked his hands into his armpits, forming a crude parody of a pair of wings which he began to flap. He bounced his head backwards and forwards and made gentle clucking noises while he searched the floor for seeds to peck at. He was sure he’d seen a kernel of corn just over there in the corner and he scampered over to investigate.

"Trevor," said Dr Craddock firmly, "it’s time to stop being a chicken now."

Feeling slightly embarrassed, Trevor straightened up and walked back to his chair. He sat down. "What just happened?" he asked.

"That’s an example of a post-hypnotic suggestion," explained the doctor. "While you were hypnotised I suggested that it would be a good idea if you pretended to be a chicken when you heard the word farmyard. And you agreed to do that."

"But you just said farmyard again," said Trevor and I didn’t imitate a chicken when I heard it this time."

"That’s right," agreed Dr Craddock. "When we discussed the subject, I suggested that you should become a chicken only once. I doubt if people are in the habit of saying farmyard to you very often, but it could happen, and it would be really embarrassing for you if you kept turning into a chicken at the drop of a farmyard."

"I didn’t know you could set up post hypnotic suggestions like that," said Trevor.

"It’s a very useful technique," said Dr Craddock. "But you have to be careful with it. Sometimes it can lead to problems. One day I was having lunch with a colleague and the only drink on the table was water, which he found boring. He asked me to hypnotise him and suggest that the water was beer. So that’s what I did and he had a great lunch. We didn’t see each other again for a month and when we did finally met, he was absolutely desperate. For the last month he’d been showering in beer, brushing his teeth with beer and making his tea with boiling beer. He begged me to turn the suggestion off… Ever since then I’ve been extra careful about the possible side effects. That’s another reason why I limited your chicken impression to only one farmyard."

"Thank you," said Trevor. "I think..."

"I’ve put several other post-hypnotic suggestions to you," continued Dr Craddock. "The chicken was just a frivolous demonstration to get the idea across to you. But I think you’ll find the other suggestions a bit more helpful. For example, how do you feel when I say the word presentation?"

Presentation!

Trevor felt a warm glow of confidence surge through him. He knew exactly what powerpoint slides he needed to prepare to make his presentation go with a swing and he knew just how he was going to explain the project to the client. "Gosh," he said, impressed, "I think it’s working."

"Let’s hope all the other suggestions I gave you work as well," said Dr Craddock. "And let’s hope I didn’t make any mistakes like I did with the water into beer trick. After all, this session has been a bit of a rush job."

The next two weeks were as close to idyllic as two weeks can get. Both Trevor and his wife enjoyed long nights of deep and restful sleep. There were no more dumb and trouserless dreams to disturb them. No more panic attacks to keep them awake and annoyed with each other.

The scheduled day of the presentation arrived at last. Trevor dressed in his best suit, his wife kissed him goodbye, straightened his tie, and wished him luck.

The meeting room was large enough to accommodate two hundred people and almost every seat was occupied. Trevor gazed across the sea of expectant faces and felt the butterflies start to flap in his tummy. Be strong, he reminded himself. You’ve been hypnotised. Trust in Dr Craddock. Everything will be fine.

Trevor’s boss, the company chairman, opened the meeting with a brief overview and then called on Trevor to fill in the details. "Let me introduce Trevor Watkins," the chairman said to the assembled multitudes. "Trevor will be giving a detailed presentation about the project."

Presentation!

Trevor felt a surge of confidence.

"He’s our project manager supremo," continued the chairman.

Supremo!

Trevor stood up, took off his trousers and began to speak.


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