It’s a few years now since a series of events over a period of time, including failed relationships, fertility problems, leaving a career and learning my dad had cancer, led to an accumulation of stress and sadness that I was unable to continue to manage on my own.
When it got to the stage where I burst into tears in a restaurant with my friend for the second evening a row, a friend who worked in mental health gently suggested it might be time for me to visit the doctor… and I already knew she was right.
I felt tired all the time and teary for what seemed like no reason. I felt isolated and distant and preferred to be in on my own. I had no motivation, no interest, no confidence. And this was all very unlike the usually sociable, confident me. At the same time, I felt guilty. I knew I was ‘lucky’, I had a lovely home and family and a close knit group of friends. I was financially secure and had choices in life, so I didn’t ‘deserve’ to be depressed. There were physical symptoms too. I became uninterested in food, had heart palpitations that I used to call sparrow heart, and had trouble breathing properly.
When I got to the Doctors and was crying before I made it through the door, he immediately wrote me a prescription for antidepressants but also referred me to the Westminster Talking Therapies Service. Within a couple of weeks I started my talking therapy with my therapist and was encouraged by the CBT approach. I knew what my issues, background, and patterns of behaviour were but I couldn’t fix them. CBT appealed to me and ultimately worked for me, as it it aims to change behaviours and ways of thinking. I could finally do something productive. Learning to practice mindfulness was very much part of the treatment and I still recall and use some of the little exercises the therapist taught me.
I felt very comfortable with my therapist from the beginning. She was non-judgmental, ‘normal’ and friendly but professional. And importantly for me as I was moving a lot between two countries, very flexible and would conduct sessions by telephone if I was away. I wasn’t happy with the idea of group therapy and while she suggested it, the therapist didn’t push me into it which I appreciated .
After just a few months I came off the medication which I had been reluctant to take in the first place but continued a little longer to finish the course of CBT. Of course life continues to throw us curveballs so it wasn’t all happily ever after from then on, but I did have a more effective collections of tools to help me deal with things. Probably the three main things that I took away from the CBT were:
To not be so black and white in my thinking – it’s not helpful and actually there’s a lot of grey space in-between
To recognise it’s ok to feel sad/down/lonely – acknowledge it, let it happen, but don’t be over harsh on myself. Try to imagine what would I say if it was my friend in the same position and try do small, nice, manageable things for myself
To understand it’s not all about me – more often than not, things other people think, say or do is a result of whatever else is going on in their own lives rather than my fault or in criticism of me.
In the years since the CBT, I have overcome 5 failed cycles of IVF, accepted I won’t have my own children and cared for my father through aggressive cancer, before he recently passed away. Despite some horribly sad times, and definite periods of hibernation, I have been relieved that I have never gone back to that dark place and think the treatment I had helped to arm me to cope with these circumstances.