Why I Therapy – Mental Health Awareness Week 2018

pexels-photo-265702.jpegIt’s Mental Health Awareness Week this week so I thought I would do a couple of blog posts along this theme, sharing my experience and knowledge of mental health and therapy.  If this isn’t your bag, feel free to ignore, but also, if you think it’s helpful, or remotely important, feel free to share with others who might feel the same.  Thanks.

There still sees to be a bit of a stigma about talking to a professional amongst certain people in the UK.  Some people seem to imply that you must be “crazy”, “a bit wrong”, have “loads of serious issues” or, that you are a bit weak, certainly weaker than them, they manage just fine without needing to talk to a stranger, thank you very much.

I call fear and nonsense and maybe an unhealthy little dose of pride.  People are often fearful of that which they do not understand.

I have integrative therapy with a lovely lady called Debby every two weeks and I have done so for almost a year now.  I just talk about whatever I want to talk about for fifty minutes and we explore why I react in a certain way, why I think or feel like that.  I am better for therapy not because anyone around me is doing anything differently but because it has furnished me with a greater understanding of my feelings and reactions to things that have happened in the past or are happening now and I can now choose to respond to them or view them in a different way.

Therapy can be hard; you are working on your understanding of yourself and changing and growing in the process.  That can be scary – self-examination leading to change and growth requires a willingness to be vulnerable, to explore parts of ourselves or experiences we might prefer to keep under wraps.

Some people seem to think that therapy is a bit self-indulgent unless you have “real issues”.  I get that.  It’s something I struggled with at the beginning, I mean, I am a very lucky, very privileged middle class white woman with no mental health diagnoses, a happy marriage that is a partnership, a loving and extremely close family and lots of friends.  What could I possibly need to go to therapy for?

That little judge-y voice in there – the way I talk to myself sometimes – that’s part of me I don’t like very much.  It is something I have explored with my therapist – why do I place such high expectations on me and my behaviour, why do I feel I need to subscribe to “should’s” that I would never prescribe to others?

Ann Voskamp writes in her book The Broken Way:

“If we all listen long enough to the voices about who we should be, we grow deaf to the beauty of who we are.”

I just adore that.  You might be telling yourself that you are defined by something that happened to you, or that you “should” feel a certain way about your experiences or your situation.  You might feel that you have expectations to uphold, a role to play.  You might feel completely unable to do that, that you are useless at the roles you are playing and you might be feeling very alone, very fearful and be believing lies about who you are and who you can be.

“Harry Potter: Professor?  Is this all real?  Or is it just happening inside my head?

Dumbledore: Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

For a long time I lived in “should”.  At first, that was fine, no real cracks were showing, I was firmly along a path in a career that was wrong for me, telling myself it was right.  As time went on that charade started to catch up with me, it’s very draining living a false life.  It lead me to become very anxious, to lose my voice, to retreat into myself as protection and to react with fear, something that was very unlike me before.

I tried to ignore and supress or swallow my “negative” feelings, not just about my career choice, but any negative feelings about any aspect of my life – I couldn’t quit, I shouldn’t be angry (ever), I always overreacted and I should never feel sad, it was all my fault, I was handling everything wrong and I just needed to TRY HARDER.

I won’t go into the grisly details of this period of my life but needless to say, I was not myself and I certainly was not living my best life, nowhere remotely close.  I became a bit of a shell of myself to be perfectly honest – putting on a brave face to acquaintances, distancing myself from all but those closest to me and never being truly honest about how I was feeling.  During this period my anxiety was at its worst: I had heart palpitations and a mild panic attack and so I went to see my GP to explain how I was feeling as a first step.

My GP was really good, I know that isn’t everyone’s experience, but they gave me time and listened and didn’t make me feel silly for crying.  The GP offered Cognitive Behavioural Therapy on the NHS – which is strategies to change the way you think and behave.  This can be really great and very helpful but for some people it may not be enough and a talking therapy either alongside or instead of CBT may be preferable.  I didn’t take up the offer; I just knew that my anxiety was largely being caused by circumstance and I needed to make some changes to improve that, which I did.  I will say though that it was the first time I had someone completely impartial listen to me say how I was feeling and they didn’t try to fix it with platitudes but accepted it and suggested some help – that for me was liberating.  I felt as though my feelings had been validated and that someone had acknowledged that the situation needed to change.

With thanks to my incredibly supportive husband (then fiancé), family and friends (shout out to the Berlin crew who were there at one of my lowest points), I was able to start to accept how unhappy and anxious I had become and make some changes (including quitting my job and starting therapy). Since that time I am so MUCH happier, more secure and less anxious and I’ve found my roar again.  I am more “me” because I have learned to feel my emotions, not supress them and because I have a greater understanding of myself.

Talking to a professional is completely different to talking to family or friends.  A good therapist helps you to see yourself more clearly, because you work towards being more you when you are with them.  Therapists listen, they do not judge and they do not give you advice.  They might provide you with tools to use or a different way of thinking about something but they do not tell you how you should think or feel (I did quite enough of that by myself).  I have found that sometimes it is so helpful to have someone completely impartial empathise with your feelings and your experience, your truth, it has certainly given me the confidence to become more accepting of myself.

If you are feeling a bit lost, a bit scared or just sad talking therapy can be really beneficial.  I would say however, that always, your starting point should be talking to your GP, they will be able to talk through options with you, and if you are asking for treatment on the NHS will be the gateway for that.

I know that therapy can be a scary and daunting world to navigate and as such I will be compiling a little blog as a “signpost” to help navigate the world of therapy a little later this week.  For now though, if you feel like you need some help, even if you’re telling yourself that you shouldn’t – please ask for it, I know it’s scary to ask for help, we live in a culture that promotes self-reliance, but as Dumbledore says to Harry:

“Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it”.

We might not be at Hogwarts (sadly) but I do believe that Dumbledore was onto something here (“Great man Dumbledore”), so always, always ask.  Please.

***

*Please note that this blog is based on my own personal experiences and any opinion is my own*

**Harry Potter quotes are from The Deathly Hallows by J.K.Rowling and in my (not so humble) opinion an awful lot of wisdom can be found in Harry Potter, so if you haven’t read it – get on with it**

 

 

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A quick Q&A

My friend Madge said she’d like me to answer some basic questions about myself like “why do you go to church?”  Trouble is the answers to those sorts of questions are a bit complex!  I’ve done my best below, without writing an essay in response to each one.

Why is the blog called Nack and Nace.com?  What does it mean?

Nackley and Nacey were my imaginary friends as a child, more affectionately referred to by two year old me as “Nack and Nace”.  I was thinkng along the lines of imagination, thoughts and writing and thought it had a nice ring to it.

Why am I writing a Blog?

It’s a way to be creative, my job is not creative at all and I needed an outlet.  I enjoy writing, also I wanted to expand on my 100 days of gratefulness posts that I’d done on Facebook a while back and expand on the short little posts that I did there.  I found keeping an online “Gratefulness Diary” helpful, it’s very hygge which is something I intend on writing an entire post about!

What stops me from writing?

Time, or lack thereof!  Also, sometimes, wondering whether what I write will be interesting to others, so a bit of self doubt I guess.

Why am I a Christian?

Well, because I believe in God.  I try to avoid debates about whether there is God or not because I know there is in the same way that I feel and know love exists and I appreciate that others will say exactly yhe same thing for why they feel there isn’t a God.  Does this mean that I never doubt? No. does it mean that I have all the answers or find some things about Christianity easy to accept?  Hell no.  Does it mean that I can’t see things from the point of view of an atheist or that I don’t have atheist friends – nope.  All are welcome in my circle, so long as you are trying to be good, wholehearted person.

Why do I go to Church?

A lot of people, including Christians struggle with Church.  I get this, I do too – it can sometimes seem hard to find God there.  It can be rigid, judgmental, unaccepting and self righteous.  The thing is that Church is not God or Jesus, it is the meeting of imperfect people in a place (any place) where they come together to meet with God and Jesus.  Sometimes those imperfect people forget why they are there and they forget what the face of Jesus looks like (that’s love, by the way).  It can also be a bit magical though when you have a community of imperfect people trying to do wonderful and loving work and supporting eachother in their faith, they might not get it all 100% right but they can do a lot of good.

Why do I read the Bible?  Do I believe everything in it?

I read it because it is how I learn to know God and Jesus better, how I grow in understanding my faith.

I believe every word in it is inspired by God and God breathed but that doesn’t mean that I believe that it can be read at face value.  So much of the Bible needs to be read in context, with an understanding of the time in which it was written and the culture.  I am not a Theologian and I know there are many ways of interpreting texts.  I do my best and I try to remember what Jesus said and did and I take that as the basis for how I should behave and also how I should try and interpet stories, looking through a “Jesus Lens”, if you will.

Why do I call myself a Jesus Feminist?

I am a Feminist, I believe that women have the right to be treated as equal to men and that they aren’t a lot of the time.  I believe that Jesus thought so too.  In the Gospels there are countless examples of Jesus treating women with respect, allowing them to learn from him (unheard of before that time) and treating them as equal to men.  It is what I believe that God intended and what should be the natural order of things.

Why am I interested in Hygge, Mindfulness and Hapiness?

I think it is human nature to search for happiness and purpose in life. I struggle with time management, saying “no”, people pleasing and generally being “busy”.  I can find that I am suddenly existing rather than living, that I am stressed, tired and anxious.  It is so much better to live and to enjoy this wonderful, crazy life journey, noticing it and not having it just pass you by.  Using Hygge, Mindfulness and exploring my Faith help me to be more centered, more present and happier.

Christian Mindfulness is bascially just another term for being still and listening to God, Hygge is all about comfort and security, things that you also get from being mindful and from having a faith.

Essentially all of these things are about living in the present, being still and connected.  I am a big believer in human connection and making time for you; it is instrumental to our mental health and well being.

Do I have any vices?

Chocolate.  Specifically pralines.

Any other questions?  Shout.