I HAVE been reading an autobiography by the actor, Stephen McGann. He can be seen playing the doctor on TV’s Call the Midwife. The book is titled Flesh and Blood: A history of my family in seven sicknesses.

Stephen’s life story has been beautifully written and in an unusual style. With a degree in medical science, Stephen has written his life story and that of his family, through the eyes of seven medical diagnosis that affected his family through one hundred and fifty years. Seven chapters full of medical, family, social and cultural history. As I ‘listen’ to books, I also have the bonus of hearing Stephen McGann voice.

Why do I think the book is worth mentioning in this column?

Stephen is the youngest of four brothers with a younger sister. The McGann brothers are all well known actors. As he was growing up, Stephen was ‘the sick one’, or ‘the weak one’. A quieter child with respiratory problems which gave him his family identity. Certainly not a child destined for a career on the the stage. But he refused to give in to his medical problems and fought against living up to his place in the family as the sickly one.

As I listened, I was reminded of adult man with anxiety problems, who through childhood, was used to his mother introducing him as. “This is Peter, our anxious one.”

Now grown-up, he was reinventing himself and due a suggestion made by Dr Robert Winston on a TV programme, had made a list of all the positive characteristics he knew he truly had, and kept it as a reminder in his wallet.

Oliver, the youngest boy of four children, was experiencing an apparent school phobia and wouldn’t leave his mother at home alone. There was no phobia, but a fear of leaving his mother, who said on a daily basis: “I won’t be able to manage without him.” One reassuring conversation between his mother and the boy changed everything in a day. Are you still believing an unhelpful identity given to you in childhood? It’s time to stop.

Rita Leaman is a psychotherapist and writes as Alison R Russell (chasingrainbows.org.uk and alisonrussell275.blogspot.co.uk)