My psychologist's treatment is based around teaching me to be kind to myself. The irony is that I do consider myself to be a kind person, but somehow I am so hard on myself that if I'd said or thought anything so harsh to anyone else, I'd have died of shame and humiliation for being so horrid.
Among a range of other things all designed to make me nicer to me, she suggested that I should hug myself if I'm feeling low or frightened. To be honest, I found that such an alien concept that I could not imagine ever doing it so I decided to fish Big Ted out of the cupboard and hug him instead.
In case you've not guessed, Big Ted is my teddy bear, he's forty-seven years old, having been a first birthday present from my folks. He's covered in so many "love marks" that it's hard to imagine what he once looked like as a pristine teddy straight out of the box. I took him to bed with me every night until I was well into my twenties.
In the late 1970s, my Mum carefully unpicked several of his seams, took out the crumbly foam that he'd originally been stuffed with that had deteriorated badly over his first twenty years or so of life and replaced the filling with a modern one that is still nice and squishy today. The final part of this operation was to resew the seams and wash him in the washing machine before giving him back to me as a "good as new" Big Ted.
I continued to love him virtually to the point of extinction - he's now so tatty that he's almost completely threadbare across his front, leaving nothing between the stuffing and the outside world but some very old, very frayed fabric that's looking very fragile these days. So, when my Mum realised I was using Big Ted for my hugs again, she was worried about his well-being. She suggested clothing him but I found that suggestion not just weird but somehow rather unpleasant - he's always loved me in no more than his bearskin and that's how it should be!
When we went to see my folks over the weekend (yes, we had to go to London for DMs folks 50th wedding anniversary so we popped in on my Mum's birthday to say "Happy Birthday" to her), she called me into her hall and presented me with Floppy.
He's a "Bear Factory" rabbit, all soft, new and lusciously huggable. Not only that but he was "made" by my family (Mum, Dad and my two nephews) so he's made with love.......and he's got a heart. You give him a squeeze and his heart beats. I find it difficult to articulate how comforting it is to squeeze him then press your ear to his tummy and hear his heart beating. Whenever I'm feeling a bit blue, I just give him a hug and feel his response. It's wonderful.
The only trouble is - I now feel disloyal to Big Ted who isn't getting hugged any more. I can't make up my mind if I'd be more upset to keep on hugging Big Ted until he dies completely or if I can live with the disloyalty to protect his life for the future. I think the latter will win over the former but it's still a toughie.