How I nearly died inside

Frances Khalastchi
5 min readSep 12


My client - leadership, career and transition coach and trainer, Gabrielle Jones, and me Looking Up

I write this as my Father-in-Law lies in hospital, terminally unwell. I was with him for many hours yesterday afternoon / evening, holding his hand, reading him folk tales and messages from family.

Death is shitty and so scary. Life can be too.

When I was 18 years old, I remember thinking I was going to be eaten alive by the gargoyles hanging over Notre Dame. I was in Paris with my mother listening to my brothers sing John Tavener’s haunting The Lamb with their school chapel choir in the now tragically burned down gothic cathedral.

And I was having an almighty panic attack. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t escape. Everything was dark, scary and my enemy. I had had to leave off from my Art Foundation cause that year quite dramatically as I was so sick, and became a shadow of myself. My mum took me to Paris to see my brothers’ concert and get a change of scene.

I totally lost my Frances.

I had the privilege of experiencing #CBT with Dr Rob Willson PhD at that time. Obviously, my panic attacks were not a privilege (although they were relatively fleeting and the associated anxiety quite mild in comparison to what many people have to endure and master) but working with Rob was mind-blowing and will be with me for life, and hopefully through death.

I remember the ABC forms that Rob used in our Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) sessions, where the patient is encouraged to articulate their:

A: Activating Event (something happens to or around someone)

B: Belief (the event causes someone to have a belief, either rational or irrational)

C: Consequence (the belief leads to a consequence, with rational beliefs leading to healthy consequences and irrational beliefs leading to unhealthy consequences)

ABC form used in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

… I learned from Rob about “distortive” themes in my thinking such as ‘All or Nothing’ and ‘Chaos’ thinking and Fortune Telling. And together we forensically scrutinised the story arcs that I would create and what I might learn and change moving forward.

Working with Rob bred acute self-awareness, compassion and self-coaching.

I didn’t quite realise how much it would influence my approach to marketing and what Simon Batchelar and I often talk about in terms of Storytelling and the concepts of Empathetic Attraction and the Hero and the Guide in marketing.

We’ve written the Coach’s Marketing Journey course dedicated to giving coaches a plan of action

You can listen to a great interview with Rob thanks to my pal, Smaranda Dochia at Association for Coaching (AC).

He’s actually doing some training for Association for Coaching (AC) members from 20th Sept of this month.

And he wrote Cognitive Behavioural Therapy For Dummies.

Darker Days

If I am a hero of my story then Rob is 100% one of the guides who showed me the path and pointed out the mountain peak. As a fellow webinar host for the AC, I cannot quite believe that I qualify for being on the same platform as Rob — it’s such an honour to help guide people to preferable outcomes for themselves.

I have been tempted to call Rob many times in the past 20 years for a “booster”. But what he has taught me is, “I can do this”. Not least in the past two years as a post-covid mother of two tiny and lovely but utterly maddening children with multiple medical needs, whilst navigating the entrepreneurial life… I have definitely had my moments…


The power of Storytelling in Therapy is the thing that makes me cheerlead therapy all the time. How we tell our stories to ourselves, our therapists and to the world is HOW we own them.

My latest guides (and heroes!) are 🎴 Charles Burdett and Steve Rawling, whose Storytelling Tactics cards are like a Tarot deck gift of Wonder, Self-Awareness and Conscious Creativity and teach how to be generous as a guide and agent of change.

Storyteller Tactics — Hero & Guide card, credit: Pip Decks

I proudly share these cards with both my coach and business clients, with whom I work to harness stories in order to grown sustainably, do good in the world and die feeling like they’ve understood their journey. I really want you to succeed.

Every day that I don’t have a panic attack (I haven’t for 20 years, except a mini one on holiday with my friend Amy in Rhodes about 15 years ago) is a miracle to be celebrated.

I am not religious, but…

As much as a good story, I love a good metaphor too…

“On 15 April 2019, while Notre-Dame was undergoing renovation and restoration, its roof caught fire and burned for 15 hours.

The cathedral sustained serious damage. The flèche (the timber spirelet over the crossing) was destroyed, as was most of the lead-covered wooden roof above the stone vaulted ceiling. This contaminated the site and the nearby environment with lead.

After the fire, restoration proposals suggested modernizing the cathedral, but the French National Assembly rejected them, enacting a law on 29 July 2019 that required the restoration preserve the cathedral’s “historic, artistic and architectural interest”. The task of stabilizing the building against potential collapse was completed in November 2020, and reconstruction began in 2021. The government of France had said it hoped the reconstruction could be completed by Spring 2024, in time for the opening of the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.

President Emmanuel Macron confirmed on 14 April 2021 that the cathedral site would be formally returned to the church on 15 April 2024, and that the first mass since the fire would be held in the cathedral nave on that day, even if the reconstruction has not been finished. It is expected that the building will remain closed until December 2024.”

- Wikepedia

You’ve got this



Frances Khalastchi

Co-Founder at Better Bolder Braver — Marketing training and support that empowers coaches.