Let me take you back about 18 years.
I was only a few years into a marriage and had relocated to Buckinghamshire. My friends and family were back in Essex but I thought I was in love and ready to start a new life.
My daughter was settled into the local first school where I had become a midday supervisor to bring in a few pennies.
From the outside it may have seemed that I had everything I wanted but this was far from true. Materialistically I was blessed, mentally and emotionally I was not!
Awareness doesn't always mean understanding.
Although my husband knew of my previous mental health struggles it did not mean he understood or empathised, so I tried my best to hide any symptoms that began to resurface. Having dealt with anxiety before I thought I believed my medication and self-care was enough to keep it at bay. It wasn't. Bit by bit the unhappiness and anxiety crept back in. It was clear that I wasn't living up to my partner's expectations which meant hours of tiptoeing on eggshells. This pressure increased the agitation I felt. A work colleague suggested I start taking daily walks to aid my mental health.
It took time but I began to enjoy my walks. They got me out of the house, away from pressure and intimidation. It didn't take long for it to become a kind of obsession. I had to walk and I had to walk fast. Maybe if I walked fast enough I would outpace the thoughts that were now an almost constant companion. Bla bla bla. What if this? What if that? Walk faster, walk faster!
After a particularly hard day I walked my usual path around the village getting faster and faster but it wasn't helping. Faster, go faster! Nope not helping. I have to do better. I have to be better. I must be better! I must be well! Do better! Be BETTER! BE A BETTER PERSON! BE NORMAL!
I didn't feel any pain, I just saw the blood running down my right arm. Deep scratches covered my forearm oozing blood that dripped onto the pavement. In my frustration I had thrust my arm into a hawthorn bush and dragged it along as I continued to walk faster. There was a moment of release as I watched myself bleed. I remember smiling as I registered the stinging sensation. This was a real pain, one that could be seen. I enjoyed this moment of visible pain and then decided it was time to get help.
Help! I need somebody!
Accepting you need help comes easy to some people but can be much harder for others. This could be for many reasons. I am not afraid of reaching out when I have very little knowledge about what I am experiencing. I also have good self-awareness. Some people are not so aware. They may not recognise changes in their moods or behaviours.
So here I was desperately trying to hide that I was on a downward spiral again. I spoke to my GP who referred me for counselling informing me that there was a long wait. I wasn't sure a counsellor would be qualified enough to help so looked up a local psychotherapist.
In preparation for my first session, I was asked to think about any questions I had and to note them down. I was so nervous. Anxious thoughts bounced around my head like manic ping pong balls....
What if my questions are stupid?
What if the therapist thinks I am stupid?
What if he thinks me uncurable?
What if I am the ONLY person he can't help?
What if I am a hopeless case?
What if it ends up being a waste of money?
The BIG question
In truth I don't know what I had expected the session to be like, but I went along like a child about to be reprimanded, afraid and dreading it! The therapist was a nice enough chap who held sessions in a summer house in his garden. He looked very serious, and my immediate thought was that I was far too silly and stupid to be wasting this man's time.
I can't remember the exact conversation but it went something like this:-
Hi Claire, thank you for coming today. Please have a seat.
I will start by telling you about myself and how I practice and then you can ask any questions you may have. Is that OK?
Ok My name is ******* **********(privacy) and I am a psychotherapist. This means I help people like yourself to identify and deal with emotional or behavioural issues that you are currently experiencing. Bla..... bla...... bla..... bla..... bla
I had got lost in my racing thoughts and was contemplating making a run for it. What the hell was I doing there? I was just an overly- sensitive woman who needed to give herself a kick up the arse!
God I was such an embarrassment!
How does that sound to you?
Oh great thanks, yes great.
Tell me why you are here today?
Oh ok, erm well. I er, my errrr, it's my arm, I hurt it!
So I can see Claire and why did you do that?
I don't really know. It just kinda happened.
I felt so stupid. I began to cry, babbling away about post-natal depression years ago and then anxiety that I thought I had overcome. The therapist nudged the box of tissues across the coffee table, all the while nodding in a calm and encouraging manner.
I sense you want to ask me a question Claire, please ask it.
Before I could ask, I took a deep breath, clenched my hands together and let out the question I was desperate and yet terrified to ask....
Can you help me?
The response I wanted was a simple yes or no. I needed to know what my options were. Either I was going to feel better one day, or I wasn't!
Claire I believe I have the necessary skills to help you. I cannot predict the outcome although I feel quietly confident that I can be of assistance to you.
He gave a half smile.
I gave a smile back.
What? What? He thinks he can help. He doesn't know? OMG what? You mean he doesn't have all the answers? But he's a therapist, he's meant to know! He is meant to have all his sh1t together! How can I be helped by someone who doesn't know if they can help me? How do I get better? Maybe I am the one and only person who can't get better and he can see this and is too polite to say? Maybe he is just in it for the money? That's it. He is greedy! He is a greedy fake, preying on vulnerable people like myself. He is a baddy. He doesn't CARE about me! I have to get away. I am destined to be ill always. Nothing will help me and HE doesn't care. He'll probably laugh at me when I leave. Tell his wife what an idiot I am!
Despite that complete mind fart, I did stay. We talked some more about the past and then how we could move forward. I thanked him for his time and the free introductory session and said I would be in touch. For those who need to know, I didn't go back to this particular therapist but I did find another more suited to my needs.
You may be wondering why I have written this blog? It is to help people understand that the people who offer to support you in your mental health journey are people too. Even today I may meet a psychiatrist or life coach and instantly assume they must have their life sorted, be totally in control or have found enlightenment. As soon as I catch these thoughts I smile and remember, you see we don't need people who are 'totally fixed, with all the answers' to help us, we just need people who CAN help and support us.
I've been looking at the word answers and it is so weird.lol