I know I don’t have all the answers. It’s in that light that I decided to give therapy another try.
It’s not that I needed convincing — it’s not that I don’t believe in or find therapy useful, but I am simply too poor to afford consistent mental health support. And part of me thought… You’ve been here before. You’ve done therapy a few times. Is this a failure? Did you just forget everything?
Without the cash to fund private therapy, I have often had to make do with my own efforts. I research, I read, I practice meditation, I journal and write creatively. I do everything I can to cultivate mindfulness and live my life as well as I can. I think and write constantly on these topics, not just to share what I have learned so far with others, but also in an effort to heal myself.
But there is something unique and different about actually engaging with a therapist. Something that pushes you to different places, and towards different tools for bettering your mental health.
However, on the NHS here in the UK, I am entitled to a particular number of free sessions with a mental health practitioner. If there is any improvement in that time, we’re done.
I’m very grateful we at least have this much support available — I recognise not all countries do. But because these things are necessarily limited, I know I will be set free again to wonder how long it will be before I self-refer myself yet again. And I have done. Twice.
These are the thoughts I have, again and again — that my efforts are all important, all helpful, but certainly never final. I will always have to keep practising good mental health, because my ‘natural’ tendency is to periodically sink into the darkness…
Self-compassion isn’t linear
Learning about yourself and how to work through your issues is obviously not the same thing as being prescribed a course of antibiotics. And in particular, if we feel something is up, showing ourselves the kindness to try again is a good thing. We aren’t just magically ‘solved’ — rewriting automatic thinking takes a heck of a lot of time and effort.
My latest self-referral came in September. Some months later, I am finally being seen to and engaging in the therapeutic process of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, again.
This is not my first attempt at a course of CBT, and it may well not be my last. I understand the basics of CBT; I’m not actually that forgetful. But the idea that we must learn to ‘be our own therapist’ is limited at times. A refresher, a reminder, a guide and a support, are all useful. They all encourage us towards better practices.
Even though therapy is a thing we can do at any time, it doesn’t always quite work. There are so many factors in play — timing, connection with the therapist themselves, and our context more broadly. Maturity, availability, vulnerability… these things take time. It isn’t as simple as me + therapist = healing.
While the tools of CBT are useful, the act of self-compassion to self refer in the first place is vital. The first step in the journey towards better health is to recognise that it’s okay to ask for help.
Everything contributes to the whole
I am learning from all of my experiences on this journey, and I share them on this platform regularly. I hope they all weave together into a helpful picture of what we can each do for our own mental health. Everything that I try, everything that I learn, comes into the fold. It all contributes to the image I have of ‘good mental health’.
I want to encourage anyone who is afraid of embarking on therapy to give it a try, and not to treat that ‘try’ as ‘final’. Most people will find something beneficial in sorting through the clutter of emotions and thoughts that we each face in our lives.
In order to demystify what goes on in the room a little, I wanted to say that in my latest round of therapy, I have so far:
- Talked through a lot of history and disclosed a lot of thoughts, feelings, and behaviours about what is troubling me.
- Started working on breaking down the thoughts, feelings, bodily reactions and behaviours that relate to particular instances of low mood. This is CBT in a nutshell.
- Come up with a diagram which includes many of the triggers and concerns that contribute to the ‘depression mode’
- Started to identify more of the thoughts I have about myself that I don’t always consciously realise I am repeating to myself. These contribute to the items on my diagram.
- Looked at ways of reframing these thoughts, and challenging to what extent I believe in them.
Setting it out in this way, it doesn’t seem so dramatic as what I feel it has been. In the room, the thoughts I look into feel enormous, insurmountable. But breaking things down, offering up the time and space to work on this stuff, has made a profound difference already.
I don’t anticipate that my work will be done any time soon on this project that is my health. But I feel confident that with every session, I come away with more tools. Every tool in the kit contributes to the whole.
What is ‘failure’ anyway?
Given that health isn’t linear or objective, what would ‘failure’ even mean? We all have needs, and we all need help with various things. We don’t hesitate to ask for help for our physical problems. Obviously the stigma surrounding mental health persists. However, ‘failure’ isn’t really sensible if the measure of ‘success’ isn’t clear.
A few observations and take aways:
- There is no shame in doing more work on your mental health, even if you have done some already. It doesn’t make you ‘stupid’ or a ‘bad student’.
- It’s never wrong to ask for additional support. More help is always better than less help.
- Good mental health is a lifelong journey. It requires cultivation, it requires practice.
The journey doesn’t rest with a few sessions of therapy with a professional. It’s ongoing, and the search for mental and physical health is one that we have to continue to cultivate. So while I have felt really unsure about embarking on this process yet again — the process of opening up, of trusting a new person, of offering up intimate secrets as fodder for homework exercises and increased scrutiny — I am glad to have had the courage to do it all again.
What You Need to Know About Depression (And Becoming More Resilient)
Advice from over the 10 years since I was diagnosed with Major Depression & Generalised Anxiety Disorder.
If you’re wondering whether it’s a good idea to take the plunge this year: do it. Exploring self is not wasted time. It’s not selfish or flippant or any other such thing.
Give yourself the gift of your time, your effort and energy to become the best version of yourself possible.