I had a weird session with my therapist yesterday. Whilst I don’t want to get into specifics, there was a point in the discussion that I thought was really interesting, and kind of reminded me why this man is so perceptive. Sometimes he makes me roll my eyes – everything has to have a deep and meaningful reason to him, which sometimes irritates me slightly – but overall he’s definitely the right therapist for me.

Julia Segal - Ideas in Psychoanalysis: Phantasy

I was complaining about work – or, rather, my lack of it. This specific exchange arose after me telling my therapist about my first meeting with my new CPN (see my last post) wherein she mentioned the dreaded letters “CBT”. If she thought CBT was worthwhile, my therapist asked, what was it that needed changing? CBT is all about changing your thoughts and behaviour, after all.

In that case, it had been about my agora- or crowd-phobia, or whatever the heck the affliction is. But when he asked me what, if anything, actually needed changing, I said that I wanted to go back to work.

He let me explain in my typically loquacious way; in essence, I resent the fact that I have a brain between my ears but that I can’t use it in a meaningful way, and that all those idiots I went to school with have the careers that they wanted, and I don’t. (Yeah, okay, my writing pursuits are worthwhile, but I’m not even a part-time professional writer; I take work on a ‘now and again’ basis, depending on my psychological state at the time.)

I complained about the jobs I had had before, and I moaned about how they didn’t realise my potential in any way. He asked what would realise my potential, and I outlined a couple of roles that might do so.

He said:

It’s like you have built up a phantasy around work. A ‘phantasy’ with a ‘ph’, not an ‘f’. The difference is that the ‘ph’ refers to an idealised, role-model view you’ve formed, whereas with an ‘f’, fantasy is dreaming about idealisations.

If that’s a little jargonistic for you, what he means is that I’ve made work – my idea of work – into a pedestalised, unobtainable archetype. By way of comparison, it’s like the teenager who idolises Talentless Twat A (TTA). He or she fantasises (with an ‘f’, yes) about TTA endlessly and would do anything to meet him/her (we’ve all done it, haven’t we?) So let’s assume that by some miracle, Teenager meets and begins a relationship with TTA. He/she realises that TTA is not what he/she had dreamt them to be, and that they can never live up to that. That’s what my therapist thinks I’ve made a career into.

He added:

But I’m guessing that you fantasise (with an ‘f’) about this phantasy (with a ‘ph’) too.


In an ideal world...Both are true. I daydream – often obsessively – about what I can do, occupationally speaking, and who I am and could be within that realm. I exist in this phantasised fantasy as, I’m sure, some sort of comfort; the reality is that no matter how much I might want to have a meaningful career, it may not be possible. Many people have hugely successful professional lives whilst battling mental illness, and it’s just as hard for many of them on a daily basis as it is for those of us on benefits – but I’m not sure that all of them have screwed up (or been screwed, depending on your perspective) so epically in their most occupationally formative years as I have. But even if a career is possible, will it be one that I really want?

Probably not; most people have the pleasure of merely ‘not minding’ their jobs, rather than actively loving them (though there are, of course, a few exceptions).

And the thing is, no matter how much I intellectually want to work and try to live out at least a very redacted version of the false world that plays out in my mind, the present state of my illness dictates that I can’t – at least not in, say, the medium-term. Wanting to work is not the same as having the capability to do so. I’m still far from well enough 😦

And I hate that.

So, by way of both distraction and amelioration, I spend most of my days living in my own head with this completely unrealistic ideal job, and an entire cast of laughably unlikely characters, myself included, to go with it.

This entire blog was founded on the quote in the header image:

Anything savouring of quietness and tameness is maddeningly abhorrent to me — not in actual life, for that I wish as placid as possible; but in thought, which is my more vivid life.

I absolutely epitomise this idea. It sums me up almost entirely in one short, sharp, succinct little phrase. Cheers, Lovecraft.

And my therapist knows this from nothing more than a bitter, petty rant about my schoolmates.

I initially thought my therapist’s use of the word ‘phantasy’ referred to a concept in Kleinian psychology, as it was a term used by her. However, thanks to the wondrous font of knowledge that is Wikipedia, I think he’s talking about a Freudian understanding of the word:

He [Freud] compared such phantasising to the way a ‘nature reserve preserves its original state where everything…including what is useless and even what is noxious, can grow and proliferate there as it pleases’.

It certainly rings true of my experience.

Melanie Klein’s work on phantasy is more to do with infant psychology; babies, she posits, cannot distinguish ‘reality’ from their imagination. Though there’s a certain amount of relevance in that school of thought too, if I’m honest…

Picture credits: see outgoing links.

11 comments on “Phantasy

  1. That is so interesting… I think I can relate to that too. Thanks so much for sharing. p.s. I got your email yesterday, thanks so much, I am off to bed now (hopefully) but tomorrow I will give it a go. Thank you x

    • You’re very welcome – I’m glad you found it interesting. It’s one of the things that I like about my therapist – although he always tells me to stop intellectualising, he’ll allow himself to do it (when he thinks it’s in my interests) sometimes. I wish I’d studied psychology sometimes.

      Anyway, hope you slept well!

      Take care

      K xox

  2. Oh Karen, I do hope the day arrives when you can work and do something that you feel has a purpose and satisfies you and hey, I’m living proof that it is possible to work while managing a mental illness.( more to follow on this;)
    However, as you said, not everybody has had to deal with experiences or illnesses as you have and I think that it is vital to be in the right place to be able to carry out a job.
    I took 3 months off when I was diagnosed with PND and was sent to Occupational Health who recommended a return to work. Hindsight is a marvellous thing and I thought a doctor should know best so did as I was told. It was not the right decision and I found my job extremely difficult and noone there understood what I was going through. So, my friend. Continue to take small steps in the right direction and you will achieve what you set out to do.
    ❤ x Ash

    • Thank you, Ash 🙂

      I totally agree that you have to be in the right place to either start or return to work – I actually learnt that the hard way several years ago, when I thought I was well enough to take (what would have been) quite a good job after a serious bout of being ill. I lasted a week. Bad call.

      I’m sorry that you had to go through something similar – I know what OH can be like, and when they get it wrong, they really do 😐 But I’m so pleased that, eventually, you’ve managed to hold down a meaningful career whilst managing your depression. It gives me hope 🙂

      Small steps, all the way!

      Take care hun, and (((hugs)))

      Karen ❤ xoxox

  3. Yes I agree with with both Bourbon and Ash- fascinating info and you really deserve the kind of job you want. You certainly have the brain and the ability but do give yourself time, as you’ve said before going back to work prematurely would not be good for anyone. But- in time!!

    Also I find it so reassuring to know that I’m not the only one that has a fantasy world in her head ;o) Seriously I don’t know if it’s that unusual when you’re struggling with mental health probs, I think we need something else to focus on maybe.

    Anyway thanks as always Karen and take care

    Best wishes

    • Oh PS Karen, I’ve meant to say before how much I _love_ that quote from Lovecraft- its really evocative and as you say it captures so much in one sentence.

      Best wishes

      • It is a great quote, isn’t it? I honestly don’t remember how I came across it, but as soon as I saw it I was struck – like I was saying above – by how much it ‘gets’ me.

        I’m glad you found the post interesting; like I said above to Bourbon, I do wish I’d studied psychology sometimes. Though in the time I’ve been off work due to mental illness, I have self-taught myself a hell of a lot 😉

        And for what it’s worth, I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one with a fantasy world 😉

        Take care Kate

        Karen xxx

  4. This post sounds like me so I completely sympathize. In my mind I fantasize about my dream which is being a professional writer and I too have a cast of characters that inhabit my head. I find myself paralyzed by fears that make me hesitate over and over to begin writing my book.

    I’m on disability over here in the states and I think that my experience of having breakdowns while working traumatized me so badly that I’m pathetically grateful to have benefits. I wish I could work but I also remember how awful that last year was before I couldn’t work anymore.

    I definitely feel for you. It sucks to have your brain betray you and to be limited by it. Yes some people with mental illness can work but some people can’t. We all have varying degrees of difficulties so we can’t compare ourselves with someone else.

    I think it’s great that you’ve reached out to do what you can. And despite what the public would like to believe, being on benefits does not mean that you’re lazy. If they had to deal with what we deal with for just 5 minutes, their heads would explode.

    • Amen.

      I don’t know what it’s like over there – I’m sure it’s similar – but here the government, a lot of the rags, and a seemingly large amount of the public think that the majority of benefit claimants are “scroungers”, particularly when it’s something like a mental health problem, because (a) they can’t see it, and (b) it’s still so horribly stigmatised. You’re either a “nutter” (knife-wielding “psycho” who needs to be in Broadmoor, the UK’s most notorious high security psychiatric hospital) or there’s nothing wrong with you. These people just don’t get that there is a very sizeable in-between.

      The Man – in part, at least – blames the ubiquity of the word ‘depression’. As he says, it can mean anything from feeling a bit down for a day or two, to full-blown serious clinical illness – and because most people haven’t experienced the latter, they assume the former as a general benchmark.

      I am generalising, thank God, but I’m sure you know what I mean – I think most of us in this boat sadly do 😦

      I totally empathise with you re: your last period in work before you had to go on disability. In fact, I’m going to write my own post on that today; I have an anniversary…

      And it’s always good to know I’m not alone when it comes to the whole phantasy/fantasy thing 🙂 But I hope that, eventually, you can overcome your hesitation and write the book; you’re a very talented, emotive writer, and it would be amazing to see you in print. You could totally do it, C, but that said, if you do do it, obviously only do it when you’re ready.

      Anyway, enough dribbling from me. Thanks for this comment (and every comment, of course ;-)), my friend.

      Take care

      Karen ❤ xoxox

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