Tracey Emin: My Life In A Column

'Hypnotised, I saw myself like some wild banshee with an axe, hacking my flesh, slicing fat'
Click to follow

I'm all hot and flustered. Tomorrow is my last day here. When I say "here", I mean Sydney. By the time you read this, I'll be strutting my stuff at the Barbican, receiving my third honorary PhD this year. This time it's from the London Metropolitan University and, charmingly enough, it's for philosophy. Yes, Tracey Emin Doctor of Philosophy has a nice ring about it, and what is nice and cosy is the university is five minutes away from where I live.

It's horrible when it's time to leave. You start thinking about all the things you haven't done. I didn't hire a seaplane and fly around the harbour, I didn't take a helicopter trip up into the Blue Mountains. I didn't visit any ancient Aboriginal sites, but I'm sure I walked across quite a few in my everyday journeys. I didn't swim at Boy Charlton, and I still didn't make it across the coastline to that graveyard. I didn't hire a water taxi to Manly beach to watch the giant, giant surf. I didn't even take a picnic to Nelson Bay. All I've done is try to make myself feel better. I've had to buy another case just to get all my vitamin pills in, along with facial creams, Chinese herbal medicines, self-help books, and how-to-relax CDs.

One of the most interesting treatments I've had here is hypnotherapy, and no, you don't sit there while someone dangles a watch in front of you from side to side, saying, "you feel sleepy, look into my eyes". It's much more. In fact it's quite scary. I have a very good imagination, so I'm susceptible, and also take any opportunity to be able to relax my mind, and to be able to disappear into the recesses of the subconscious. I'm totally up for it.

You lie there on a couch. Not the Sigmund Freud type of couch, but like a doctor's bed (maybe I should get one!), and on closing your eyes, the hypnotherapist obviously tells you to relax, tells you to unwind, and to try to think about how your body feels, and then relate to him which part of your body is feeling most prominent. With me it was always my stomach. He'd ask me to describe how I felt, or how I visualised my stomach. I saw myself like some wild banshee with an axe, hacking through my flesh. Slicing through sheets of fat. He'd then ask me why I was doing this to myself. I hear myself saying: "Because I hate my stomach, I wish it wasn't there, I hate it!" He tells me to relax and breathe deeply, and to thank my stomach. I tell him, "I can't, I hate it". He then asked me what was the next thing I'm thinking or I'm feeling, and from nowhere, an Indonesian puppet warlord comes towards me out of the darkness. It's razor sharp and flat, and its arms and legs are dancing sharply with zig-zaggy movements that resemble the blades of a knife. Its face is very ugly, and with an expression of pure hate. Its mouth open, its teeth showing, which are razor sharp.

Everything about this manic puppet is insanity, and then I realise that it's me. It's trying to edge its way into my body, sideways, its arms and legs moving in crazy, jerking actions, as if being pulled by strings. I tell the hypnotherapist what I can see. He then tells me not to be afraid, and to thank the puppet warlord, but I can't. I want this thing as far away from me as possible, and I try to banish it back into the darkness. My body goes into a strange spasm. There are goosepimples all over me, as though the room has become ice.

The hypnotherapist, at this point, tells me to surround my body with light. Now usually this works. I can imagine, and summon up, all kinds of light patterns. And some of them just appear on their own. Fantastic cascading spirals that dance around my body, tiny electric sparks, resembling supernatural stars, but this time there is just a strange, orangey, limp fire. I tell the hypnotherapist I hate that puppet. "Why?" he asks. I screech out: "Because it was me! It was me when I was 19. When I wasso stupid." I hate myself for such stupidity. It is when everything started to go very, very wrong. There was still a chance then, and I let it all get fucked up, I let it all get ruined. I had horrible visions of myself, skinny with black wiry hair. Drinking pints of snakebite with Pernod.

The hypnotist then tells me to imagine myself standing in a place where there is light, and from nowhere, a vision of myself as a 12-year-old girl, standing in my old school field appears. I'm wearing a green and white-striped school uniform summer dress. What is strange about this is that I never had one but I always wanted one. At the time I associated these dresses with the good girls. He tells me to imagine light coming from my hands, and the base of my spine, and the soles of my feet, and projecting it into the ground that I stand on. I have this clear image of myself as a 12-year-old, feeling warm. Bathed in an astral plane of light.

The hypnotherapist then tells me to walk towards the girl, who is myself, and it's at this point that I have an out-of-body experience, and I feel myself floating across the field towards the girl. The hypnotherapist tells me to stretch my arms out towards her. He asks me: "What is she trying to say to you?" "Nothing," I tell him. She can't speak. She looks sad." He tells me to go further and further towards her, and then I'm there with her. I put my arms around her, her head rests on my breast, and I can feel her tears. I hold her very tightly, and she wraps her arms around me. The hypnotist tells me to ask her if she believes in angels. With all my heart and soul, I hear myself screaming: "Of course she doesn't!"