"You don't look like someone that needs therapy"

“You don’t look like someone that needs therapy”

What does that even mean?

What does someone that need’s therapy look like? I was confused.

In my eyes “they” look just like you and me. In this instance they looked very like me, because it was me.

18 months earlier ….

After leaving my career in the corporate world, I will admit, I was naïve, I really did think that everything would be ok and that all the anxieties and stresses that I had been experiencing would just disappear, when in fact, they got worse.

Not immediately – there was the “honeymoon period” where I was so euphoric at not having to go back to work where I was loving life, having dinner on the table for Mark, spending time with Natalie who was bidding time before going off to University in the summer, driving about in my wee red Renault Clio (it was a bit of a novelty as getting rid of my Mercedes was part of the giving up work deal I had made with Mark) – visiting friends, meeting friends for lunch, working for Oxfam tying up parcels to send to Indonesia after the Tsunami, – I was a great Girl Guide and a packers knot was my speciality – you see, I had tied a bedding roll or two in my life to date!

The summer brought Natalie’s 18th birthday and a whole host of parties and fun! Life was good, and I was getting better and better at putting on a really good show – don’t get me wrong – I had some really fun times, and there were some really dark times.

I even did some real work, doing a bit of restructuring work and a little bit of recruitment – life was feeling pretty good, despite some pretty ugly bouts of anxiety that I was in denial about at the time – I seemed to be coping.

Reality was quite a different story and I didn’t recognise that at all at the time. Looking back is a different picture entirely.

Mark and I argued a lot, I argued with Natalie a lot and I began to think that life would be much easier if I wasn’t around, which absolutely was not true.

My husband and my daughter were almost at a loss with what to do next – I was hysterical with tears and anxiety one moment and the next I was absolutely fine and the world was great – they didn’t know when it was ok to leave me and when I needed watched.

Rock bottom wasn’t far away though. I had almost reached my destination and it wasn’t pretty.

I was so anxious that I used to drive myself to absolute insanity over the simplest things – if Mark wasn’t home within 5-10 minutes of his normal time, I had dreamt that he had died in a car crash or that he was lying in a ditch somewhere and Natalie as a first year student at Uni was stalked by me, desperate to know she was safe, nearly every minute of the day, my heart racing and the redial button on my phone red hot from constantly calling until I got an answer.

Anxiety over what people thought of me and what I was doing, wearing, saying was out of control.

I couldn’t see how this was making life hell for my family – not just watching me self-destruct but not being able to relax at all when they were out of the house.

It all came to a head one Sunday in April – we had just returned from a few days holiday to Oban, just Mark & I and everything was relatively calm – no serious anxiety attacks – I had really enjoyed some calm time and I was feeling much more like myself than I had in ages.

That morning, I woke up and I was just in a complete tizzy (the trigger would have been there and I can’t actually put my finger on what it was looking back as it is a moment in my life that I have tried to blank out in the past so it isn’t completely clear in my mind) and it wasn’t long before there was a full scale riot in the house.

I am not going to go into details here, it is too painful and upsetting for all of us to go through again and we all remember it clearly as a reminder that it can never happen again – my amazing husband and daughter are my saviours and I love them dearly for being able to forgive me for what I put them through that day and they forgive me because they love me just as much in return.

That was rock bottom – I needed help, not just another band aid and I needed to admit that I wasn’t ok.

This is the hardest thing I have ever had to do – I was broken and I had absolutely nothing left after years of pretending.

Going into the doctor’s surgery the next day with Mark, I was terrified, terrified they were going to put me into a psychiatric hospital, terrified of being judged, terrified of being classed as weak, and mostly terrified of admitting that I couldn’t go on the way I was going.

To this day, I can’t actually get over the relief of what happened in the doctors room that day – it was like I had verbal diarrhoea – all these years I had bottled up how I really felt and now I couldn’t stop.

I was given an urgent appointment to see a psychologist on the Community Mental Health team the next afternoon – I was a nervous wreck – I didn’t want to go, in fact I had convinced myself I wasn’t going.

I went. I went because if there was one thing I knew at this stage, it was I needed to go.

Bizarrely one of the reasons I didn’t want to go was a friend was the practice manager in the health centre I was to visit and I was absolutely dreading banging in to her as if she was going to say in a loud, completely judgemental voice (which she doesn’t have by the way), “Fiona, have you got an appointment with a therapist?”

I entered the surgery like Inspector Clouseau just in case I needed to duck and dive, it was a ridiculous carry on and I didn’t even see her, I had managed to get away with it. Seriously, she would have been far too professional to say anything and that was not even a rational thought in my mind at the time because in my mind she would still be judging me. All this going on in my life and yet still I was worried about what someone would think.

The Psychologist, who I eventually felt comfortable calling my counsellor, Jim, was so calming – I am not sure if I was expecting a dragon or a booming man telling me to get a grip of myself however he was the complete opposite.

It’s funny I still remember he was wearing a brown round neck jumper, beige cords and desert boots – I have no idea why this is the detail I remember from that day!

We spoke for an hour and I have absolutely no idea what about – I can only tell you two things about that meeting on top of what Jim was wearing – I felt listened to and I left with a workbook. I can’t remember anything else.

The workbook was my first step into CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) which was to last for 10 weeks. I worked through it on my own and with Jim to explore my feelings and reactions.

Now, I am not a counsellor or Psychologist so please go easy on my if my facts are not 100% correct..

It helped me realise how my thoughts and beliefs made me feel and behave. It helped me not listen to my inner self-talk, almost to talk back to it and tell it that it couldn’t make me listen.

I really looked at how my anxiety was triggered and how it made me feel and the outcome of those feelings for me.

For example, and this was one of the lightbulb moments for me in a simple form – worrying about Mark not being home, or Natalie not answering her phone was not changing the outcome, and instead it triggered really extreme anxiety which massively effected my behaviour.

So realising that worrying was the trigger for that particular situation, and deciding not to worry and not listen to my inner voice, broke the chain reaction which would normally end in self-destructive behaviour.

This therapy along with the professional help I received from my counsellor over the 10 weeks had a profound impact on me. I put everything I had into it supported by Mark & Natalie, and I repaid myself in dividends – it didn’t completely heal me, it did however give me a foundation to rebuild myself on and a framework to do it with.

After a 3 month break, I returned for a further 6 weeks. It wasn’t plain sailing and there was a lot of very difficult conversations to get me to that stage as we discussed where and when in my life this all began.

I still use that framework today – it is part of my life. I have never gone back to where I was that fateful morning and I know I never will. I have moved on now way past the point of no return, and I am thankful for all the help I have received.

What makes me really sad though is this.

The therapy however difficult was no-where near as hard as getting over the stigma of seeking professional help.

Sneaking in and out of the Health Centre in case anyone saw me and might ask me where I was going or where I had been.

Counselling is far more accessible now and far more accepted by people in general, and in fact I have a few friends who are counsellors, and I wouldn’t hesitate in picking up the phone to them or someone else if myself or someone I knew needed to talk – they are open about what they do and talk about mental health in a way that I never experienced when I was really in need.

The quote by Glenn Close above tells a story of where we need to be and we are still a way off from that. We are further down the road to ending the stigma from what I experienced, however it still exists and it’s everyone’s responsibility to stop it.

When I plucked up the courage to tell a “friend” that I was seeing a counsellor for a mental health issue she thought I was making it up.

“You don’t look like someone that needs therapy” was her retort.

I don’t even think she realised how that made me feel – I didn’t tell anyone else for a very long time!

I leave you with this .....

If your friend told you they were seeing a therapist, what would your answer be?

Be kind, be kind, be kind - that's all.

I urge anyone who thinks that they need help or would benefit from talking to someone, to reach out to their GP or you can go online to www.mind.org.uk where they have details of the many agencies in the UK and Ireland who can help you.