M A R C H 2 0 1 9

Trigger warning – discussions of anxiety & depression

It was a summers night last August, and something came over me where I just wanted to write. I had never done this before, but I opened up my laptop and couldn’t stop. That week I continued to write down all of my thoughts. Why I felt I needed to get those words out on to paper, I will never know but I have never read them back, until today.

It goes without saying that this last 12-months has been really tough for each and every one of us – all affected in different ways. Some have lost loved ones, not been able to give them the sendoff they deserve or grieve with their close family members. Some have mourned relationships and had to overcome that alone. Some have experienced feelings of worry and anxiety for the first time in their lives, and some have been completely wiped out by it, with little or no support.

We have all encountered months without social interaction, hugs, love and any general sense of emotion that we used to feel. Every feeling has been heightened and with so much broken promise, it’s been so tough to find the energy to look forward.

The excitement of life, slowly entering back into normality is matched equally with worry and fear of how we will feel in situations. Situations we never even thought about entering before. From discussing this with friends and family in the last few weeks, it seems we are all feeling the same way. The last couple of weeks have been the toughest of them all. When there is little else to think or talk about, it is hard to avoid forward thinking and this is when we lose control of our focus.

I think the aim of this post is to try and normalise talking about our feelings and emotions more. We have all become better at this more recently, but there is still so much work to be done. A couple of years ago you wouldn’t have seen the words ‘Mental Health’ posted anywhere together. Now it is much less of a taboo subject. You may follow people who promote health and wellbeing, and use them as role models in your own personal way. But there is something about someone you know opening up about it that is so real and raw – and maybe me speaking about my experience will normalise the process to those who are worried about seeking some support and guidance with their thoughts.

I saved my document back in August as ‘March 2019’, and here is why:

I was one month back in Sydney, after seeing my family and friends for the first time in 7-months. Two months in since I flew home to my Masters Graduation – the hardest challenge I had faced to date. March 2019 – in Sydney and ‘living my best life’, I was diagnosed with Depression and prescribed a course of Anti-Depressants, after approximately an 8-year battle with Anxiety. I was 17 when I first went to the Doctors with these feelings, and I was in the process of applying for Camp America. The Doctor advised trying other techniques to deal with how I was feeling as being on medication may jeopardize my visa application for America. A good job seeing as working in America broke so many barriers for me, I cannot imagine myself now having not done this.

1-month before.

I started a course of phone counselling for a few months while I finished off my college course, and although anxiety lingered in the background – my following years followed an exciting cycle of summers spent in America and the rest of the year with my friends at University. What triggered this initial spout of anxiety? Starting a college that was away from my friends & failing first year, I presume. I felt like I was already falling off ‘life’s timeline’. I took a slight wobble in my second year, but my confidence levels in my third year were probably at an all-time high. During my fourth & final summer working in America, I found out that I had received an offer to attend Kings to study. For someone who had failed there first year at college, gone on to fail two exams at University – this was a pretty big deal. My plan had always been to work for half a year and go and travel, so I was conflicted. I made the mature decision to complete my Masters whilst the education mindset was still somewhat ‘fresh’. I knew it was going to be hard, but I didn’t expect to feel so out of my depth. As I feared I would – I ended the year with a failed module.

I attended a University Counsellor at KCL – and we were not compatible at all. I used to dread our sessions and would 9 times out of 10 come out feeling worse. It is important to note, if you start out with therapy or counselling, and you don’t feel like it is helping you, do not continue because you think this is how it should be. There is so many amazing people out there that use all sorts of different methods, do not settle for someone because of their title or you think that is how every session should be. Find someone who is right for you, however many people it takes seeing to get there. What helped me the most throughout that year, was knowing I was going to run away from it all soon. I was so fixated on my travel plans, that I had the ability to suppress all emotion until then. I thought jumping on a plane would fix all my problems, but I never thought about how I would feel when I eventually had to come home.

I had been in Sydney around one month when I had my first breakdown. And my new job, around two weeks. It was November 2018 and I had just finished a day at work, and I had not been able to control my tears, the whole day.

I was so angry with myself. I had ‘everything’ I wanted at that time. A good job. Living in Sydney (a dream of mine). Exciting new relationship. Supporting family, lovely friends. WHY did I feel so sad? So empty. And so much guilt for feeling this way.

The hard days would come and go. I made some big changes – I changed jobs, moved apartments. But I still remained so low. Having had time to reflect, I wasn’t living in an environment I was comfortable in, I was working throughout the night, I was not seeing anyone Monday – Friday and I was spending what little of the weekend left drunk, only to repeat it all over again the following week. I visited the doctors and without question I was prescribed my first dose of Anti-Depressants.

8 years and I had finally ‘gave in’? There is absolutely nothing wrong with Anti-Depressants, however – I was put on these far too easy. I was so scared of my feelings because I was so far away from home. I was fed-up with battling these fears & thoughts? The physical symptoms of butterflies & numbness on a daily basis. I was signed up with a counsellor at the time alongside my medication. Again – not a fit for me. I continued going to her because they were free – and health care in Australia is expensive. I left each session so frustrated. She was more interested in my social life than anything I was discussing with her.

I wrote about how taking this medication was the worst decision I ever made. I realise some individuals genuinely need to take this due to a chemical imbalance in the brain and therefore, it is not right to discuss why they did not suit me. The battle to wean off them was the toughest of all, and that is just something I wish the Doctor discussed with me beforehand.

A couple of months after returning home, I decided it was time to get this under control – once and for all. I went to the doctors to discuss my options and was put on the waiting list for NHS funded counselling. With the warning that this could take up to 9-months, I used British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (bacp.co.uk) & Find Counselling, Therapists, Psychologists – Psychology Today UK to search for a private counsellor.

When searching through these profiles, please do not focus on cost, or what the person is ‘offering’. Read their descriptions and make an enquiry with the person that you feel you could comfortably connect with. And remember, if they don’t feel right after a session or two, try someone else – no questions asked. Do not give up – therapy is incredible if you find the right person to guide you through it or the right practice for you. We worked through several techniques including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) until I reached the point where I could rationalize my thoughts in my head, rather than have to write it on paper. My counselor was brilliant, a perfect fit for me. I would come away fifty minutes later feeling the weight of the world lifted from my shoulders.

A brilliant task to try –

  1. Record the situation. Who were you with? What were you doing? Where were you etc.
  2. Record each mood and how it made you feel – in one word. Rate the intensity (0 – 100%)
  3. What was your automatic thought? What was going through your mind as you started to feel this way? Images/memories from this situation?
  4. Is there evidence to support this thought? What are the facts?
  5. What is the evidence that does not support this thought? How much have you overthought this scenario in your head?
  6. Can you create a balanced or alternative thought to the original?
  7. How do you feel now? Rate your mood again & compare to initial mood.

Start this task with points 1-3. Once you feel more confident, introduce more analysis until you complete points 1-7. Write them down to start with and continue to do this until you naturally do it in your head. Taking a couple of minutes to pause, think about the situation, break it down and rationalise it will automatically calm you down and bring perspective back to that thought.

Why am I sharing all of this?

Talking to a complete stranger, where helping people is their job and their passion, is so much more beneficial than talking to someone you know and love. From my own experience, your nearest & dearest have your total interest at heart. They are perfect to talk to when you are feeling low. But can they work with you consistently to ensure these feelings don’t surface again? Teach you how to control your triggers? Your closest family or friends cannot fully invest into what you are discussing with them, due to dealing with issues of their own – life its self is hectic and we all have overworking minds. This feels like your thoughts and feelings are a bother to someone, which results in holding back, not talking and suppressing these thoughts – only for them come to surface at a later date. More than likely in a worsened state.

I recently got my appointment through with Solihull Mind – I had forgot I was even on the waiting list. A 12-month wait just reflects how overwhelmed the system is. My initial reaction was ‘I don’t need this anymore’, but I decided to go. The appointment was on a Wednesday, and from the Monday onwards I was irritable and anxious. The morning of, my mind was telling me not to go. Two minutes in, I was in tears in a room with a woman I had just met.

It is funny how the mind works. How my mind was telling me I was ok, to avoid having to talk about what’s going on in my own mind currently. It was a wake up call to how much I have been putting on a brave face for others during this time.

I have realised the importance for me personally, having that insignificant person there to spill all too. Once you have practiced CBT, you can use it in everyday life to control your triggers and interfere with emotion before it occurs. But having access to someone who you can talk to is equally as important. We cannot always do everything alone. Some people thrive off phone counselling and having ‘someone to talk to’, others need face to face interaction. Many want  to dig deeper into psychotherapy and train their brains to behave differently. Some use a combination of different techniques. Find what works for you and go with it. Don’t compare your healing journey to any others – the healing process is unique.

Of course, therapy, counselling or however you want to address it is just one source of help. There is so many other free sources of therapy. Meditation, holistic therapy (yoga, pilate’s) , journaling, podcasts, music, exercise and one I often have found the most rewarding, is reading. There is a whole array of self-help, life coaching and guidance books out there that provide eye-opening advice.

Books that have helped me and ones that are my list to read next:

  • Jen Sincero – You are a Badass
  • James Smith – Not a Life Coach
  • Marie Forleo – Everything is Figureoutable
  • James Clear – Atomic Habits
  • Robert Greene – The Law of Human Nature
  • Vishan Lakhiani – The Code of The Extraordinary Mind
  • Dr Nicole Lepera – How To Do The Work
  • Adrienne Herbert – Power Hour
  • Lisa Feldman Barrett – How Emotions Are Made
  • Matthew McConaughey – Greenlights

Therapy is not easy. It takes an extremely brave person to seek support. You have got to be open to learning and digging into things you did not know about yourself, and understanding that by learning these things that it is going to make you a better person. It takes time to talk comfortably about certain things, it has been years and I still haven’t talked about certain things yet. It often leaves you feeling extremely raw, vulnerable and exhausted. I feel anxious before most sessions, panicking on what the hell am I going to talk about. All those feelings are put to bed as soon as I enter the room. It is so natural to be nervous.

The healing that comes from talking is life changing. It is the beginning of development into your future compassionate and caring self. I cannot express how important it is to face these thoughts now, rather than suppressing them for years to come. Talking was not an option for the older generation and it takes a hugely brave adult to start talking now, with years of pain beneath them. Don’t avoid the decision to seek support until it is urgent.

My inbox is always open should anyone wish to talk, gain guidance or for recommendations on where to go next.

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