Hiiii loves, and happy Monday! I hope you’ve all had a good week! I certainly have; work has been horrendously busy but we continue to muddle through. Lockdown is continually boring, but I’m actually becoming absolutely fine being in the house on my days off and doing things I’ve intended to sort out for months. How are you finding things? It’s important to note that it’s completely okay if you haven’t had a good week; everything is coming in waves right now. I wish you a better week for this week and lots of love. This week’s blog is all about therapy, so I’m putting a little trigger warning on this post as I do mention my crisis a couple of times. I just don’t want people to feel ashamed about how they feel and I don’t want people to shame people with mental illness for seeking help and working on themselves!
Mental Health is not a dirty word. Depression is not a dirty word. Therapy is not a dirty word. Mental Heath is not a dirty word. So why do we have such a hard time being open about it. Why do we continue to struggle telling our stories and the obstacles we face in our everyday lives. And why are we so despondent to the diminishing mental health of those around us? Why do continue to get awkward and flustered when someone happens to mention that they are struggling, and why do we skirt around the subject and put more effort into avoiding it than people do coronavirus? Tell people you’re off to a dentist appointment and not a head is turned, but tell people you’re on the way to therapy and people get all blinky and weird, met with an echoing silence and heads being sunk further into phones or behind desks with the awkwardness of not knowing what to say or where to look.
Whilst acceptance of mental health issues is on a sharp increase, we are still fighting its stigmatising roots every single day. When dealing with mental illness, it is tough to find the strength and power within yourself; it can feel lonely, isolating and dark. These feelings are only magnified in a world that continuously shames brains that sometimes find it hard to function, develop weird coping mechanisms and are resident in the bodies of those who often describe themselves as dark and twisty (Thanks Meredith Grey). I feel I can say that because that’s what I have referred to myself as ever since I heard the phrase. Everyone experiences mental health differently, but I recently opened up about appearing to be this extremely happy, bubbly, being with a soul that has always carried sadness. I also admitted that I don’t think that sadness will ever leave me, but it is a part of me that I was born with and will take to my grave.
So, let’s be clear here. I have been medicated for anxiety and depression on and off for the past 4 years. I have been a regular attendee to therapy. I also suffered a very *traumatic* mental health crisis a few years back which saw me nearly never qualify as a nurse and very nearly never saw me survive. Nobody is privvy to the in’s and out’s of what I went through, but it was the darkest place of my life. I have been under a crisis support team which saw me attend a mental health hospital everyday for nearly four months. But what is important to remember is that my mental health and the struggles I’ve faced are only a part of me. They are not the entirety of me. And they don’t tell my entire story. I’ve been the person that’s been in regular therapy, I’ve been the person that’s been on regular meds, I’ve been the person that’s been in A&E, and I’ve been the person that’s lived without any support and been safe too. I consider all of the above to be different phases, and what had been right for me at the time.
Right now, I give the credit of my “good” mental health not only to the work I’ve put into my own recovery in the past few years out of complete necessity, but to the therapy I’ve been in since September. I waited two long years for therapy. It was mostly to do with wait lists; but it was also partly due to being “stable enough”, but more on that later. When I finally got the call that I was starting therapy, I shed tears of relief. That’s not because I wanted it. I had spent the past two years toddling along quite well. I’d had a few red-letter mental health moments that saw me in tears in my doctors office yet again, going back on my anxiety medication. But it’s because of the resounding words that my GP said to me around this time last year.
“You have made all the progress you can on your own; you now won’t get any better until you have therapy now”
Every time I struggled in the past year, those words echoed through my brain. Because even though I was a million percent better than I had been a few years back, I was stuck. I knew my brain had the ability to heal more, but I wasn’t going too without the help of someone else, and I waited for felt like forever. To be honest with you, this isn’t my first rodeo at therapy, so let’s go on a journey and meet the brain boffins that have helped get me to a (relatively) stable place….
1. Cognitive Bitch Therapy (CBT) – Matt* was my CBT therapist about four years ago. This was my first time ever having therapy and I had no idea what to expect. Or actually, I had different expectations to what actually happened. At the time, I viewed therapy as this incredible healing power that would take away all of my mental health problems and magically “fix me”. Matt* was incredibly caring and I saw him every week for 12 weeks in a very freudian set up in a London Bridge office for 50 minutes. We spent time muddling through my social anxiety and doing things to “fix” that, and Matt* himself was amazing, but I think I started out with the wrong idea, expectations and I had no idea how much work really went into having therapy. I only refer to this as cognitive bitch therapy *because* although it did wonders for my social anxiety which I only suffer from about 30% as much now, it brought up a lot of suppressed memories and in the long-term, made things a heck of a lot worse for me. The last time I spoke to *Matt was in the midst of my mental health crisis which saw me emailing him in a desperate flock of tears. He couldn’t help much; he’d moved on from his old job and told me to go to A&E immediately. I didn’t.
2. CBT 2.0 – Tracy* was my second CBT therapist. I’d actually forgotten about this therapy until just now to be honest. I was referred through university at the time of my crisis, and went off on a little adventure to Pimlico every Friday for 6 weeks. Although I don’t really remember a lot about this therapy, mainly to being out of it on meds at the time, I remember her being one of the kindest and coolest people I’ve ever met. She actually told me that every time I was having a panic attack to tell myself I was having an orgasm instead because it used the same muscles and mechanisms and I still use that technique to this very day. It honestly works.
3. Cognitive Amazing Therapy (CAT) – Janice* is my current therapist. And I absolutely adore her. We FaceTime every week for an hour and she makes my morning. Due to COVID, everything is now online, but I so wish I could meet her and hug her in person. She’s taught me to take the parts of myself that make me wholesome and give them the power. The best session I had was actually this week; and she’s changed me in such minimal, but massive ways at the same time. She’s giving me back everything I lost during my crisis. When I mentioned that I write a regular blog now, she told me that it’s actually a direct action of therapy and that it’s actually helping me process my emotions in a healthy way. It’s honing down the emotions I once described to her as incredibly loud. I think it’s working so well for me because I knew I had to put the work in, it’s a structured therapy with a definitive timeline, I’ve got an amazing therapist (who on a quick google search is also a powerful business woman?!) and she’s asked so little of me, but I’ve got such a lot of out of it. I’m actually scared now, because I’m half way through a 6 month therapy and I don’t ever want it to be over. I don’t know what I’ll do without her or even thank her for what she’s given me back.
What I don’t mention above is so many people I should and shouldn’t at the same time. The nurse who admitted me into A&E on the night of my crisis. My favourite nurse from the crisis team that always used to buy me a costa coffee without asking. My GP who cares so so much. There’s people I’d like to forget; the person who basically forced my discharge from the crisis team even though I wasn’t ready at the time, the head of my local CMHT who refused to have me on their service because “I was too complicated”, the OH nurse who told me I would never be a nurse if anything like this ever happened again. All very very angering, but forgettable characters in my story.
What I’m here to tell you, is that therapy IS NOT a dirty word. It is not taboo, and you should never be ashamed for admitting that you may need or have had therapy. You wouldn’t neglect a physical health problem, so don’t neglect your mental health issues. Again, Therapy IS not a dirty word, it is just wholly misunderstood. I have loved and grown from my therapy. I’m not a new person, but I definitely feel like it sometimes. I have got better from my therapy. And even though I’m so so scared of being right back in the spot I was three years ago, I have so so many more tools and tricks to cope. Maybe we shouldn’t even call it therapy, maybe we should call it brain training, or healing? Below are some fact’s about therapy that I’ve come to be surprised by over the past few years:
Therapy isn’t for everyone
This is a pretty self explanatory one, but therapy does not work for everyone. Different therapies work differently for different people and sometimes, it just doesn’t do anything for someone. Some people may just rely on medications for better mental health and that’s completely okay. Whatever works for you is okay. It is okay in admitting that therapy does not work for you.
You may require more than one therapy/therapist
From personal experience, you may have to have more than one therapy to heal. Different therapies can be focused on different things and if you have more than one issue, different therapies may be required. Or even the same therapy, more than one time. For example, my CBT was focused on my social anxiety. So there, I learnt about different techniques I could use in social situations to ground myself, to breathe and feel present, to unwrap all of the fears that I had about being in groups of people and how terrifying I felt talking to a patient or picking up the phone. And right now, the CAT therapy I’m having is focused more on me as a whole with a particular interest in my past. Never go into a therapy thinking that this will fix all of your problems. Having more than one therapy can also be helpful in the aspect of the more you have, the more you know what is expected of you and the more you know what to ask for and what to work on. What’s also important is that it may take a few therapists to find the right one. As with everything in this life, not everybody gels together so well. So if you aren’t getting on with your therapist (I’d give it at least 4 sessions before you start feeling comfortable), you are more than willing to ask to move to a different therapist. The therapist you’re working with will not have hurt feelings if you do move along; they all generally want the best for you and want you to get the best results you can from your therapy.
Therapy is HARD work
I wrongly went into my very first therapy thinking it was some kind of magical fix; that I’d lie back in a chair and the therapist would just drain my brain of all it’s bad thoughts and feelings. Oh, how I was wrong. It takes a lot of dedication and time and you have to be willing to make an agreement that you will put in the work. Therapy isn’t just an hour long session every week. You get homework from that session. And some of it is about undoing behaviours, so you have to actively want to try. Your therapist will put in the work, as long as you do too. Therapy is a 24/7 commitment.
You have to be in a relatively stable place for Therapy
When I had my crisis, I expected to be put in for therapy straight away. But this wasn’t the case. I had to be deemed “stable” to even be referred. What stable means for me, might mean something different for someone else. There wasn’t a necessary agreement of what made me stable, but I know it involved being able to function at a certain level; involved me being able to eat, drink and shower as well as disengaging from harmful behaviours, or at least trying. The reasoning behind this is because of my next point; but therapy can bring up lots of negative emotions and experiences and you have to be able to deal with talking and processing those things without putting yourself at risk. Therapists don’t want to make you more ill.
Therapy may bring up traumatic memories
Important to note is that you don’t have to talk about certain experiences in therapy if you don’t want too, or if it’s too much too. In my first therapy, there was something that I absolutely did not want to talk about, even though the therapist said it may hinder my progress or make things much worse by continuing to lock it away from the world. But, you also have to remember that you have to want too. If you don’t want too, you cannot be forced to share things. You have to put yourself first through it all and if something is truly too painful or harmful to mention, you 100x over do not have to share. Only you can choose what you do and don’t share with your therapist. This time around, I have talked at length about it, but that’s only because I knew I wouldn’t move forward if I didn’t. I’d also had three years to process traumatic memories and to make my peace with them. But it’s important to note that therapy can cause a bit of a “wobble” because of this. Talking about suppressed or traumatic events may make you remember things you didn’t even know you remember, it can cause flashbacks and PTSD. Please be honest with your therapist if you’re experiencing these things, they can do things to help.
You may have to wait a long time for Therapy to begin
This is a difficult one. Wait times on the NHS for therapy are anywhere between 6 months – 3 years depending on where you are and what therapy you are waiting for. Waiting is difficult and painful. But please do not give up. Continue to use your safe spaces and contacts, stay in regular contact with your GP or CMHT. Contact your local CCG regularly to see if the wait list is being worked through. Use text lines and help lines. Use this time to think and make lists about what you want to achieve from therapy and what you want to get out of it. Once you get that call, you’ll be prepared and it will be such a moment of shining light.
Therapy isn’t all weeping and lying on a sofa
Everyone see’s the movies and the tv shows that show someone lying on a very expensive looking couch, crying into a box of tissues. This is not what real life therapy looks like and that may shock you when you first start, because it did me. I have had some of the biggest smiles and loudest laughs at therapy. I have not cried during my current therapy once. I always have a box of tissues and a glass of water ready, but you can often find me giggling into the computer screen with a flat white in my hand in a full face of make up (but of course the pyjama bottoms stay on!). You can be happy and be in therapy at the same time. And there we have it, in black and white (or green and white). I have therapy. I’ve had therapy before. I take medication because of a chemical imbalance in my brain. There’s nothing to be afraid or ashamed of. And this is where I hope we start getting rid of the stigma around mental health and therapy and seeking help. There is certainly no judgement here. And I hope those of you reading who don’t suffer with mental illness also take away from this; let your friends and family be open about their mental health, let them talk about therapy without you getting all weird and vacant. Ask them how they are, but truly listen. Let’s talk about our emotions and have sad, anxious, depressed, lonely ect be completely valid in the response to “how are you?”.