My Experience With Cognitive Therapy. (Mental Health Awareness Part-1)
(Trigger warning and disclaimer: In the following blog post I will be discussing mental health in a variety of forms. If you feel like you may be triggered in any way, please do not read the article below. I understand completely. If you don’t wish to read on, but would like to talk to me about my experience with therapy or mental health in general, please do not hesitate to contact me at: Azerius@hotmail.co.uk.
Now for the disclaimer part. I am in no way a professional on the subject of mental health. The views expressed here are entirely from my own experience and my opinions based on those experiences. Mental illness manifests itself in many ways that can be different based on the individual. Do not take my experience as fact. If you are struggling, please seek help from a professional.)
So, where do I start this? I guess the beginning would be a good start. But in truth, I don’t really know where it began. My problems happened so gradually that they seemed like a natural progression. Like they were just part of my growing up and part of me. And I guess in a way, they were. Mental illness is not something that we choose. It is something that builds. It builds ever so slightly until we begin to feel its weight. Then over time, that weight becomes almost unbearable. I think that this is something that most forms of mental illness have in common. But absolutely no form of the illness is our choice.
I could go on to speculate and guess at the causes, but that will come in time. I will get to the point of this article now, and that is my experience with cognitive therapy and how I got there. About a year ago, my struggles bore me down to a point where I simply could not function. I know that’s blunt and kind of general, but I don’t think that there’s any other way to describe it. I was at a point where I couldn’t eat or sleep properly. In fact, I barely did either of the two. I felt useless and alone. I felt like I did not belong. The only emotions that I felt during this time were sadness and anger. These things led me into a number of coping mechanisms and avoidance behaviours.
It took me a while to realise that I had a problem. It took a number of breakdowns and people trying to get through to me, but I’ve never been a big talker. I had become adept at hiding my emotions from others and keeping my thoughts inside. Now these things I know to be the result of being bullied throughout my school years, but I will go more into that later. There were a number of things that made me realise that I needed help, but one thing stood out like a beacon. I realised that I needed confidence in my self and my abilities to become a full-time writer. I clung on to my passion for writing, and it gave me hope. I realised the things that I needed to achieve my dreams, and in this, it gave me the strength that I needed to seek help.
So, I did just that. My first step was a call to my doctor to tell her about how I was feeling, both mentally and physically. (I don’t think many people realise this, but mental stress of any kind has a serious effect on the body. It’s exhausting. It makes muscles tighten, which in turn creates aches and pains. Our brains use up a lot of our energy, so if we’re overusing our brains, it leaves us fatigued and drained.) My doctor was extremely understanding and compassionate. This wasn’t the first time that I had been to her with these problems, however. This episode is part of a very long story of ups and downs, but I will stay on track with my purpose of getting to cognitive therapy. After my appointment, I was left equipped with a phone number and a prescription. These were the tools that I would use to sculpt my future and beat my demons. But they were only tools, I knew that a long fight was ahead. A fight that would require all of my strength and will.
The prescription was for anti-depressants. Now, please allow me to address the elephant in the room that just appeared after that sentence. It is okay to be on medication for mental illness. If you have a broken leg, you will likely need a cast and a crutch for it to be able to heal properly. Anti-depressant medications are the cast and the crutch for someone struggling with depression and/or anxiety. It’s an aid to get better. It is certainly not something that can be entirely replaced with a walk and fresh air. To recover fully and properly from any mental illness takes a combination of methods and hard work. With that rant over, I’ll continue. I got the medication that was recommended to me by I professional, and I took it. As you should with any illness.
The phone number was for a place/group called Talking Therapies. I’d not heard of them before, and they weren’t around when I first reached out for help with mental illness about ten years ago. I remember laying on my bed, terrified of calling this number. I could hear my heartbeat pounding in my ears and my chest tightening with anxiety. Thinking back, I was probably on the verge of a full-blown panic attack. But despite this, I pushed through. I broke the first barrier that was going to try and stop me from getting better. I dialled the number and held the phone to my ear. The break between each ring saw a breath catch in my throat until they answered.
“Hello, Talking Therapies. How can I help you today?” It was a woman’s voice; her tone was kind and reassuring.
“H-H-Hello.” I barely articulate. I pause for a moment and take a deep breath. “Hey, I was given this number by my doctor. She said that you can help me.” It was easier to speak once I had reminded myself how to breathe.
I was on the phone for about an hour after that. After answering a series of questions to determine the severity of how I was feeling and which sort of help I needed. It wasn’t an easy conversation, I’m not going to lie. It required me to be completely honest about how I was feeling and what I was thinking, and that wasn’t something that I was good at. But after that hour of talking through the tears, a conclusion was reached. My depression and anxiety were severe enough to need weekly face-to-face therapy. This conclusion was terrifying at first. Therapy was something that scared me, and my anxieties only pushed that fear even further. But with that thought in my mind of being able to become a better me and a full-time writer, I was determined to get better. I was willing to do what needed to be done.
Hey everyone. That’s the end of part 1. In part 2 I will be going through the cognitive side of my therapy from start to finish. Just thought I’d put a slight explanation down here as to why I chose to write about this. It’s been three weeks now since I completely finished therapy. I feel great. Better than I have been in a long time and better than I thought I could ever feel. It’s because of this that I wanted to share my experience. I want to show people that it is possible for therapy to be an entirely positive thing. I’m not going to pretend that it’s easy. Like anything worth doing in life, it’s not easy.
If you are struggling with your mind, in any way, find your voice. Find that passion to hold on to. We all have the strength to do what we want in life, we just need to find it sometimes. Help is there if you need it, you just need to want it. Above all, you need to help yourself.
L. A. Vockins.