(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: Authorleea@outlook.com
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.)
As I sat in the waiting room, my heart pounded in my chest as I focused on controlling my unsteady breathing. I’d had many panic attacks before, so controlling one wasn’t much of a concern. Not even in an unknown place surrounded by unknown people. Luckily, my therapy appointment was very early in the morning, so I had forgone the terrifying necessity of alerting the reception to my presence. Yes, such a thing is an easy task for the majority of people. But in my anxiety-wracked mind, uttering “Hello, I’m here to see blah blah at blah blah,” would have been quite the challenge. And it would have been for a lot of people. Especially anybody else suffering with an anxiety disorder.
I waited with thoughts racing through my head. How do I great my therapist? What are they going to look like? Do I go in for a handshake? Are they going to think I’m crazy? Each racing thought makes my hands tremble a little bit more. I could have brought someone with me, to help ease my anxieties, but I didn’t. I chose to do it alone, to prove to myself that I could. I may have regretted my decision while sitting there, but looking back, I did it. And I’m proud that I did it. (But this doesn’t mean that you have to do anything alone. This was my personal choice, and everyone suffering from mental illness is different. If you feel that you need someone, take someone. Chances are they won’t be allowed into therapy with you, but they can ease your mind during the wait.)
“Hello, are you Lee?” A female voice came from beside me. My heart felt like it was going to explode in my chest as the anxieties were becoming overbearing. But as I looked up to my apparent therapist, my anxieties eased a little. You see, anxiety is at it’s very worst while you are anticipating an event. During an event, it can either go one of two ways: 1. It remains until you can barely function. 2. It slowly dissipates. Luckily, in that moment, it did the latter. Maybe it was the welcoming demeanour of my therapist. Maybe it was my will to get better. I don’t know. All that I do know is that things were okay when they needed to be. (Later in therapy, I learned that this was an important lesson. Things can turn out to be okay, even if we think for certain that they won’t. Some events we have no control of and we cannot predict the future with any certainty.)
I took a moment to control my breathing before I answered. She waited patiently, still smiling. My hello and confirmation were probably slightly wobbly from breathlessness, but again, it was okay. She led me to the room in which I would go to once a week for almost eight months. As I sat down for the first time, I never knew how significant that room would become to my life. I never knew how important those therapy sessions would become. And, I certainly did not know how much it would change how I feel. Let me explain that further for a minute. I was always very sceptical of the therapy process. It wasn’t my first experience with therapy, but it was my first experience with Talking Therapies.
My very first experience with therapy was about nine years ago, and it was a very negative one. I pretended to feel better just to get out of it. It left me feeling that I could not be helped. I struggled to open up and connect with my first therapist. Maybe it just wasn’t the right time for me to heal, but regardless, it left me with a negative impression of therapy. But despite that, I was there with another therapist in a different room, trying again. My determination to get better overcame my doubt.
And so, I started my therapy. I began this process with a cognitive form of therapy (known as CBT), and this built the foundation of my path to recovery. Here’s a quote from mind.org.uk, so you have an exact idea of what it is: “Cognitive behavioural therapy is a type of talking treatment which focuses on how your thoughts, beliefs and attitudes affect your feelings and behaviour and teaches you coping skills for dealing with different problems. It combines cognitive therapy (examining the things you think) and behaviour therapy (examining the things you do).”
I will bullet point the main things that I learned from CBT:
- I learned to challenge my negative thoughts- I did this by using a percentage system. I asked myself, how much do I really believe this thought, then gave it a percentage. After doing so, I looked for evidence to support the thought. With every doubt I found, I brought the percentage down. This was a lengthy process with some thoughts, because some were stronger than others. But not once did it fail. There is always some doubt in every negative thought, you just need to find it. The thing with negative thoughts are, they speak so much louder than the positive ones. Once you bring their volume down with disbelief, you begin to hear the positive. And I found this to be a snowball-like effect. Once I started to feel better by doing this, I started getting better every day. I started to feel happy about myself.
- I learned that it’s okay to be different- This ties in with the first bullet point, but this one was very important to me. I have always felt very different to those around me, for a variety of reasons. And because of this, I have felt that I do not belong in this world. Through CBT, I learned to think of these things in a different way. I learned that everybody is different, in their own way, even if they choose not to show it. I learned that there are others that feel the same way that I do, and in that, I didn’t feel so different after all.
- I learned that I’m not useless- Again, this ties in with the first bullet point, but it’s another very important one. The bottom line was, I felt useless. I felt that I couldn’t achieve the things that I wanted to and I felt that no one would ever be proud of me. I challenged this thought by remembering all of the things that I had achieved, no matter how great or small. I reminded myself how capable I was by putting myself into situations that I was not comfortable in. I believe the absolute opposite now. I believe that I am capable of doing anything that I set my mind to. It was in the early stages of challenge that I released my first book out into the world, just to prove to myself that I could.
- To stop living in the past and future- I was living in my mind. I was scared of things that hadn’t happened, and I didn’t know for certain would happen. I was ruminating about past mistakes and things that had happened. I learned that there were certain things that I had no control over, and I couldn’t change things that had already happened. Through this, I learned to remain in the present. I learned to concentrate on the things around me. The things that I could control.
My cognitive behavioural therapy lasted for a while, but it seemed to go by really quickly. It became a weekly routine that I eventually began to enjoy. It was a place that I could vent and express myself in a way that I never had been able to. It was a place that I could practice speech, and through that, find the confidence to speak. As the sessions bled into one and I came to the end of that chapter, another problem surfaced. I discovered, through talking to my therapist, that I still had problems with PTSD, from a trauma that happened a long time ago. Where CBT had helped me control my anxiety and depression, it didn’t help certain moments of pure fear and anger that I was experiencing. Talking Therapies decided to help me immediately with this, despite already going overtime with sessions. So that was going to be my next chapter in therapy, it wasn’t over, but I was even more determined to finish my journey. I was on the path to being a better me, and nothing was going to stop that.
Hey everyone. So that was my experience with cognitive therapy. I hope everyone found this useful in some shape or form. Therapy can be a scary thing, so I guess my main aim here was to give an insight into what exactly happens.
Its okay to be afraid, but don’t give up through fear. If you push through the fear, you’ll come out the other side so much stronger. As you can see, I learned an incredible amount about myself through the process.
In part 3 of this series, I will be going through my experience with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) therapy. Thank you for reading.
Lee A. Vockins.