I’ve been carrying a bit of a burden now for six years. When I was 14 years old, I became fixated with a girl in my class. The thing is, I’m also a girl. It seemed to take over my mind, when I walked into a classroom I immediately scanned the room to see if she was there. Whenever she talked to me my heart raced, I got sweaty hands and went weak at the knees. It was like the best thing in the world when she did talk to me – but also the worst, because I knew that this wasn’t right. She wasn’t the only girl that I became like this with. I was away on a team retreat with one of my female colleagues. When she sat near me, my heart started to pound and I had to get up and leave. I have wrestled with whether I am a lesbian, but I really don’t think I’m sexually attracted to the girls. But when this was all happening at school, I also stopped having crushes on boys. And surely it’s pretty weird for a 14-17-year-old girl to not have a single crush on a boy at school? I’m just totally confused, and a bit freaked out by myself.

When we go through our teenage development years psychologically we become more acutely aware of ourselves and our presence within relationships. It is a transition time designed to equip us for the new responsibilities of being an adult. However, sometimes we get stuck in some of the development loops and don’t know how to pass through them without a bit of ‘midwifery’.

What you describe is not sexual or linked to sexual arousal. It is an over active sensitivity to your interaction with another person. This is created by a little knot of psychological development needs, including the need for approval, to be noticed and learning to be attuned to how your presence affects others. Imagine it like a sound mixing desk where we are learning to get these in balance with other sounds. Sometimes these levels of awareness get stuck on high volume when really we wanted them to be gently integrated into our background subconscious level. It can only take one experience when we become hyper aroused to something for our brains register this as an alarming experience.

Then whenever it is repeated you get another rush of adrenalin and cortisol because your brain has logged it as something that you should be on hyper alert about. This builds and builds, creating a conditioned response to a recognised stimulus. The fact that it has lost connection with the reality of the original stimulus (just another person innocently passing your body space) becomes irrelevant because your reaction is now a learned response.

The thing to do is to retrain this response by sitting with your high volume alert until it readjusts. Next time you come into close proximity with your colleague and you get the symptoms, just stay with them. Tell yourself that it is to be expected that your heart will race, your hands go sweaty etc because that is what your brain has become conditioned to do. As you accept the symptoms, look around you and let the presence of the other woman come into perspective within the room for you. Tell yourself that the symptoms will go down after a while, because they will. We do not sustain these symptoms for hours, they will reach a peak and then the brain will tire and they will go down. Stay long enough to experience them going down. Once they have subsided, become aware that although that wasn’t a nice or welcome experience, you managed it and it was ok. And therefore you could do the same next time. You need to take the fear out of the experience and realise that it is not going to overwhelm you. Each time you practise this, go through the same steps and remind yourself that the symptoms peak then subside and wait for them to go through this natural cycle. At the same time distract yourself by allowing other awarenesses to filter into your attention. A book you might find helpful is Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway by Susan J Jeffers.

I’m not surprised this has diverted your brain’s capacity away from having the space to have crushes on boys. I think as you take time to practise bringing down your hyper alert responses to these other individuals, you will feel more at ease with yourself as a woman and then start to feel confident enough to enjoy noticing guys that catch your heart.

Just give yourself time to pass through this little stuck eddy of the river of life and I think once you get flowing again you will find that your natural attraction to men will kick in and lead you happily on.