Chapter Twenty-Two

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As I sat in a circle of strangers on hard plastic chairs, I felt like my world had ended. This was a part of my mum's terms, and quite frankly it was something that I could really do without.

Although, this option had been the lesser of all the evils!

Mum originally tried to sign me up to one-on-one counselling sessions, but there was no way I could do that. All of that intense, scrutinising attention gave me a mini panic attack just thinking about it, so when she'd talked about a group, I figured that would be much better. It made it even more appealing because it was run in the local community centre. I didn't even think it was being organised by a professional, just some guy with an online qualification, which was absolutely perfect for me. The less real this was, the better. If it had been at the hospital, or at the doctor's surgery, it would have felt too clinical for me.

I felt lucky to have found such a casual, slack group. I figured I could blend into the background for the meagre six sessions, skating under the radar until it was over, allowing me to get out of this nightmare and go back home. 

How wrong I'd been.

This attention was going to be even worse than with just one professional. Here, I would have nine more sets of eyes looking at me too. I hadn't realised just how daunting that would be. Sure, they had their own worries to focus on, but there was no way I'd be able to speak out loud in front of them all. I couldn't tell my story to all of these strangers—even if theu kind of understood me. Maybe after today, I would have to find another solution. I just hoped mum would be as flexible as I needed her to be.

"...shall we go around the circle and introduce ourselves?" I finally tuned back into what the guy in charge of this bullshit was saying, just in time for him to strike cold fear into my heart.

I flicked my eyes around quickly, trying to see if anyone else hated this idea as much as me, but none of them had anything on their faces to suggest as much. They all looked ready for this, happy to progress. Urgh, why could no one else see how much of a waste of time this was? Were they actually expecting some sort of life transformation in six sessions? It was mental!

Everything that had attracted me to this course, now put me right off it.

I stared at everyone in turn as they spoke, creating a hum in my head so I didn't have to know any of their names. I didn't want any information about any of them in my brain; I didn't want any of their stories to affect me, or to impact on me in any way.

I just needed this over.

And then it came to me, and I realised I should have listened a little, if just to know what everyone else had said.

"Erm..." I sat up awkwardly, feeling an intense blush fill my cheeks. "My name is Lara." I coughed uncomfortably, noticing everyone looking at me expectantly. Did they want more from me? Were they assuming that I was going to tell my whole story now? My heart pounded painfully against my rib cage at that prospect, I was nowhere near ready for that today! I'd been expecting that much later on, if at all. "I'm twenty three years old." My mind had gone completely blank; I had no idea what to say. Stressed burned brightly in my stomach, and began to creep around my veins. "And I live...you know, here." I shouldn't have said that since it hadn't been the truth for a while now, but it spilled past my lips regardless.

"Okay Lara, thank you." The guy seemed to realise that I was struggling, and thankfully he intervened before it got really torturous.

As the attention turned away from me, and centred in on someone else, I let out a breath that I hadn't even realised I was holding.

That was painful!

My breaths were coming out laboured as the others took their turn to speak. I felt like panic was emanating out of every single pore, and that was making it all so much worse.

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