Staying well: When is it enough therapy?

I’ve had therapy of varying degrees most of my adult and some of my teenage life, but started to properly seek professional help for my mental health about six years ago. The first few appointments I had, I panicked and ran away from. I knew that my anxiety was becoming more of a concern, and I knew that I had to speak to someone professionally who wasn’t a close friend, someone who wouldn’t just offer a pint when I didn’t feel like Alice, someone who wouldn’t hold onto that sense of worry like my friends did- someone who could help me make sense of my anxiety.

I’ve seen so many different therapists over the years, some who have told me that ‘what I was feeling wasn’t real’, those in the middle and others who were so much better, making a plan with me to move forward. The first time I sought help I was so terrified, I didn’t tell anyone- I dealt with the worries and anxieties of going along to therapy all on my own. This meant that I cancelled the first appointment, made it along to the second one- but didn’t go back after that. There was so much going on, I struggled to compartmentalise my life and just wanted to be normal. I felt like the biggest outcast in the world when I had an anxiety attack on the bus, and all I wanted to do was just forget about it- let alone talk about it. How do you explain some of your deepest feelings to a stranger? I felt like I couldn’t or at least not without support. At this time in my life, I was at a crossroads- having just graduated from university, returned from India and trying to work out what I should do in the future. Signing on certainly didn’t help my mood and to me I had bigger things to worry about than attending weekly therapy appointments, but I was wrong here- self care is the most important thing in the world, and must take priority.

In the last three years I have seen three different therapists, two fairly close together and all very different, with varying benefits to me. Some more helpful than others, but I’m glad I have seen them all. Three years ago I started the roller coaster ride of assessments, waiting lists and appointments again. This time with the support of a friend who sat with me to make the initial self referral phone call and helped to boot me through the door on the day of my first appointment. At this time I had just started a masters degree and struggled to make sense of myself emotionally. I didn’t understand my anxiety, why do I feel ill all the time? and why does it always seem to happen when I’m on a train? Are questions I asked myself often. It was all a complete mystery. I saw a nice lady for six weeks, who seemed incredibly understanding- some techniques for dealing with potentially anxiety provoking situations were put into place. I found sitting in a room with someone to discuss my worries once a week to be incredibly empowering and the ‘homework’ more so because it made me think between sessions. This was all because I decided to talk about how I was feeling, to a friend at first- who was on the ball enough to sit me down and make me phone a number. One phone call that probably changed my life. After my six weeks of sessions had ended, I continued with my degree, occasionally escaped for cups of tea around friends houses when I needed to and tried to remember the strategies my therapist had taught me.

Almost a year later, after I made it through a pretty difficult time nearly failing my degree and a ‘hero-worshipping’ situation that almost broke me, I remembered the number I had rang a before. I was still, at this point very conscious about the stigma attached to mental health, and avoided talking about it, other than to a select few. After a few weeks on the waiting list, I made it along to my first CBT appointment. During this period of therapy, so much was going on in my life-  a South Africa trip that I was building myself up for never happened and confusing messages from someone ten years older than me, who I looked up to but in reality she didn’t care about me,  and often resorted to undermining my abilities. I didn’t see it at the time though or realise how this contributed to a massive dip in my mental health. I went from a generally self assured young woman who felt confident about dealing with my anxiety, to a broken shell- withdrawing from everyone around me. I sought help at the right time, but because I had so much going on, particularly with a difficult discrimination case- I found that I didn’t have time or head space to do all of the extra homework I was given at my CBT appointments. Some times you have to accept that you can’t take everything on at once, I had too much to contend with, to even attempt to deal with the years of mental health rubbishness that had built up over time. As this lot of therapy came to an end, I was told rather ironically that I wasn’t in the right place for therapy at that time, and that I should come back if I needed too.

During the months following, I started talking to more people- trying to explain how I felt and the years of therapy that I had gone through virtually on my own. I updated my parents for the first time in years, who obviously had noticed my mental health dip. The last lot of therapy that I referred myself to, happened at exactly the right time- after cutting negative people out of my life and losing the sense of belonging I once had, I also experienced the bereavement of a close friend. This was a time when I needed therapy more than ever. In the few months following it really helped to have someone to talk to, someone to develop a plan with me and the encouragement to make sure I do it. Some of the tasks I was given between therapy sessions, were things as simple as texting a friend to tell them about my day or arranging to go out for a coffee. This helped me to deal with the grief, isolation and fear I felt after the bereavement, people around me probably didn’t realise how vital they were in my mental health journey at that time. My therapist also started to explore my low mood properly and the possibility that I could also have depression. As this lot of therapy drew to a close, next steps were discussed. I was worried about these sessions coming to an end. Who would I talk to in depth now? I also knew that I would miss my therapist, because she was one of the good ones, who really tried to understand me. she mentioned that it’s not healthy to have therapy after therapy, but also if I wanted she could make another referral (meaning more waiting lists and appointments.) I opted for the latter. I was scared of dealing with my anxiety alone- and now that I was in the system of having therapy I felt comfortable there. It was my safety net. I felt that the only way I could stay well was to have these weekly talking therapy appointments, each session I kept bringing other things in- which to some of my therapists made me more complicated to deal with, and it felt as if no particular issue ever had closure- because there was just so much. It’s very difficult to cover everything in an hour long session when you have a knot of worries, that are impossible to untangle. Bereavement counselling doesn’t always work for example, if you have so much more to talk about- and it certainly doesn’t fit into their allotted amount of sessions.

This new waiting list to go onto the next stage lasted months. I had a lot of time to think, i thought about endless therapy not being very good for you and how I was currently feeling. I started writing again- something that has probably been one of the best things I’ve ever done for my mental health. I felt included and I found a sense of belonging. Meeting others who have had similar experiences to me has been so wonderful and pretty emotional at times. I started to realise that there are others, who feel just as I do- that it is okay to talk about not being okay and for the first time in my life my Dyspraxia started to actually make sense.

This week, I finally decided to come off the waiting list, and to start using strategies to stay well myself. Some that I learnt during my sessions of CBT but others that I am sure I will develop along the way. One of the most important things in life is to look after your mental well-being, it was almost impossible to tell myself that ‘I’ve had enough therapy for now’ but I hope I have made the right decision. I know that there are people I can ring if things get tough, friends who I can contact on social media and those who I can visit when I need to get away. It’s scary not having the safety net of therapy behind me, but through making sure that I look after myself, talking to my friends both near and far and sticking to a routine of getting out of the house everyday, I hope to keep self care as my priority. I’ve also decided to set myself a new goal, since moving away won’t happen anytime soon, with the depressing realisation that many late 20/30 somethings have to live at home out of necessity rather than choice, I have decided to learn to drive. I’ve put it off long enough, so if I haven’t made the phone call by next week feel free to prod me with a large stick/hide my glasses in a kettle or send me lots of messages until I pick up the phone. Having a plan in life has always helped me mentally, and I’m at the stage now when I’ve basically done most of the goals I set myself, well university/exams/jobs and I only have move away/driving/not be single and find more work to tick off my list. Talk about giving yourself expectations, but I think driving is a good place to start. So yes, feel free to make sure that I’ve booked that first driving lesson in a weeks time.

I feel more happier than ever because I have a sense of belonging that previously didn’t exist. I didn’t fit in and felt like an outsider, but now it feels acceptable to have an anxiety disorder because there are others who really understand. I also have a plan that has my mental health at the heart of it- you should all make a plan too, just writing it down is helpful in itself. There is so much you can do for your own self care and well-being, I know some people who find cooking very therapeutic, some who go Boating, others swear by the impact of their pets, those who enjoy walks in the countryside, music  is often good for people and then there are those of us who phone a friend to rant for half an hour.

I know that there are always people around me who I can talk to if I start to feel low again, and that number is still safely in the top drawer of my desk should I feel that another referral is what I need. This has all happened because I made that initial step to accessing talking therapies for the first time, and I hope you are able to as well. More people than you think will have accessed some form of talking therapy at some stage in their life, although many may struggle to talk about it, don’t know what to say or feel embarrassed about asking for help. Whatever their reasons, and I know that some people are more comfortable with chatting about their mental health than others, that is okay and it is also okay to ask for help- by doing so will make you more equipped to deal with some of lifes unresolvable stresses. It is so important to talk about how you are feeling and as I’ve said before you will be okay.




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