You can have everything, but if you don’t have good mental health, then really you have nothing | My counselling journey
If you follow my blog you’ll know that I’ve recently decided to face my fears as my anxiety reached an all time high. I was referred for counselling by the doctor in December 2017 after visiting him, sheepishly, to ‘confess’ my irrational fear of the sickness bug and germs.
It’s now the night before my first session (15 March 2018) and I’ve decided to record my journey – but I won’t be publishing anything until the course is complete.
How I feel ahead of my first session. Petrified! I’m really pleased to be going and finally addressing the issue but I’m also worried that she may a) laugh at me for my ‘not very serious’ problem or b) tell me I’ve absolutely lost the plot and refer me to a doctor. Truth be told, since ‘the horror week’ at the end of January I’ve been pretty miserable. I’ve been worrying that I’m always going to feel this way now as I’ve felt it before and I’m stuck in a bit of a rut with it. I don’t know how many times I’ve done the ‘depression checklist’ to see if I’m depressed rather than anxious. But this has only happened since ‘horror week’ so I’m convinced my sparkles there, I just need to wipe away a bit of the dust!
The start of my counselling journey…
Session One. My counsellor, Rebecca, met me just as I was holding my jumper sleeve over my fingers whilst electronically checking in at the reception (seriously the one place you’d not want to catch an array of germs in). She told me this was my introductory session and I would be there for six in total, she went through the formalities of bits and bobs – it was about three minutes in when I started crying. A mixture of relief, overwhelming-ness at expressing ‘silly fears’ and fear itself. She was exactly how I imagined a counsellor/therapist would be – but more ‘normal’. I explained how I felt, how I’d been feeling and she listened and took it all in – she said how brave it was to attend the session and that she can see how upset this experience is making me. I left after 50 minutes feeling ‘good’ and looking forward to the next weeks – honestly, I wish I could just do a weeks crash course!
Session Two. So I had a good start to this week – my colleague told me he was feeling ‘a bit sick’ but put it down to something he ate, I didn’t go into a complete meltdown and just got on with my day, Sofia told me she had tummy ache and was crying in pain just before bed – not wanting her to sense my instant worry I told her she was OK and she could come downstairs for abit longer – miraculously three minutes later she was fine [looking back, I think she was blagging me to get a late night]. Tuesday night we had a big networking event at work and one of our guests left quite suddenly, on Wednesday she called me to apologise that she had to dash off early as her son was vomiting and unwell at home – my anxiety set in immediately. I picked Arlo up from nursery and he didn’t look right, had eaten ‘little’ of his tea and fell asleep with over an ounce of milk left. That was it. The tears, the irritability and the worry set in and there was absolutely no reasoning. Thursday he woke up teething and full of cold – so a logical reason for both ‘triggers’ of the night before, but I couldn’t shake the worried feeling all day.
I explained all of this to Rebecca at this week’s session, we had a good chat and she thinks it’s not only control, anxiety surrounding important events but also that I’m a pleaser of people and don’t like to let people down, which is all linked. I think she’s hit the nail on the head. The other interesting thing we talked about was the ego states and the ‘parent/adult/child’ model. Also that I take a lot on, I’m so busy doing and thinking about what I have to do that I’m not just being. There’s no ‘space’ to let my anxiety drift out as I’m so exhausted from lack of self care. She has also linked this back to the onset of my panic attacks at Uni, where again there was limited self care happening. The ‘be’ not ‘do’ has really struck with me and I’m aiming to live abit more in the now where possible. My ‘homework’, though she doesnt usually set any, is to have half an hour of self care this week and ‘make time for me’. It’s interesting that this anxious period really escalated towards the end of last year – I hadn’t linked it but I’d gone back to work around this time. I wasn’t expecting such an eye opening session and I left with a lot of thinking to be done!
Session Three. This week was a bit shit, even a lot shit. I didn’t really want to go. Why? Because I felt like she’d uncovered things about myself that I didn’t want to know. We discussed it and she said that’s normal, most people discover this a lot further into the journey. I told her I was going there for my anxiety over sickness but actually now it’s uncovered more issues that I didn’t even know were there. I like to just ‘get on with things’ and if I can’t I ‘beat myself up about it’. She said to think about the term in a physical sense and that’s what I’m doing to my mental state. She told me to stop being so hard on myself and show myself empathy. She said to stop feeling like I need to take on all of the responsibility. One of the things that worries me about the sickness, is not only that it is a waiting game to see how far it will spread, but what if it did spread and I caught it this time. How would I be able to look after the children?
Session Four. I had a more positive week this week. I’ve been making tiny changes, like not worrying about getting the ironing done, not stressing if I didn’t get everything ticked off my mental ‘to do’ list, reading a book and social media detoxing a little. I heard a friends boy was sick through tonsilitis – reaffirming that not all children are sick through ‘the bug’ which did make me feel a bit more rational. Then Stuart came home and said his colleague had had to leave work as his daughter was sick. Perhaps it was too close to home but I instantly felt the feeling coming back – irritated, fearful and sick to the stomach. I was worrying that Stuart would ‘catch it’ even though it was more likely a side effect of her earlier injections. So I got annoyed. For two reasons; 1. that everytime I think I’m moving a step forward I realise I’m not. 2. I felt guilty of thinking of myself and how this would impact me and my family rather than showing empathy for a sick child.
I’m trying to really discover where this fear comes from and why it’s intensified. So I’m doing a lot of thinking about everything. I’ve thought about things I don’t want to think about – losing my identity and with that, the spontaneity, ‘the fun’, the lack of responsibility, the thought that sometimes I feel my children are the reason I feel this way and then the guilt that every Wednesday when I walk out of work, I literally dread Thursdays and Fridays with my own children. Rebecca told me it’s not the children ‘burdening’ me but the amount of responsibility I have and am taking on. She said to think of responsibilities as rocks, you’re carrying a rucksack and soon enough you’ll feel weighed down with all of the rocks (responsibilty), until you start to take some rocks out and lighten the load. Take help, share the responsibility. I’m balancing lots of identities- mum, wife, friend, colleague and trying to keep everyone happy and cater to their needs. On a plus side of this week, we had some client feedback and I would usually have taken on the responsibility that it was down to me but I didn’t and it felt so good to just step back, acknowledge and find a solution. I’ve got to attempt to ‘free-think’, instead of pushing thoughts out of my mind or keep batting them away as I am annoyed that they’re coming – I need to acknowledge, process and let the thought go.
Session Five. I’ve been feeling a lot better, I think it’s just freeing up headspace, being more aware of my own needs, not sweating the small stuff – simple things that were majpor in my mind before – leaving the ironing, not taking on additional tasks that aren’t achievable and adding on unnecessary extra pressure. There were a few things I discussed with Rebecca this week like feeling responsibility for things, old friendships making impact on other friendships, but overall the initial reason I stepped into these sessions has slowly started subsiding. I discussed potentially not going to my ‘ending’ session next week as there may be someone on the list that’s a lot more in need and I’m feeling a lot better. Rebecca reassured me that she was confident with the amount of work I had put in so far, she was ‘adamant’ I would continue on my own personal journey but my time was just as important as anyone elses and I was more than welcome to come back for the final session. After thinking about it, I wanted to come back to not only complete it but also so that if I hit ‘difficulty’ again that it wouldn’t look like I hadn’t completed the previous course.
Session Six. The end! I had real mixed emotions about today’s session. Part of me didn’t want to go as I felt like I didn’t need it, the other part of me felt nervous about it being the end and not having my Friday morning ‘security blanket’ that I’d become so accustomed to, having that 50 minutes just to talk had become a time that I actually looked forward to. I ended the session safe in the knowledge that should my all-consuming thoughts return again that I shouldn’t hesitate to go back to the doctor for another referral. Rebecca also said something that really stuck with me – I was always mindful that my anxiety was, to the outside world, ‘silly’ and there were people much more in need of help than me but she said those people were people that had ignored their anxieties, not taken a step back to self care to the point where it had completely diminished and so they have gotten to that place of being ‘more in need’ as they didn’t address it early or know that there was help.
So, how would I summarise my six week counselling sessions for anxiety?
- I never thought someone like me would ever go to counselling
- I never thought I would be this open to talk about this journey, when I got the call to go to my first session it was going to be ‘my secret’ that noone needed to know about as it was ’embarrassing’
- I never thought I would embrace the process as much as I have
- I never thought about taking time out to self care, what even was self care?
But do you know what? Mental health starts somewhere. What may seem like a little niggle, turns into a worry, turns into an obsessive thought, turns into something that can no longer be rationalised, turns into an all-consuming thought, makes you feel like you are going insane…and I firmly believe that if you don’t seek help, if you don’t reach out to talk then this can escalate quickly into a dark place. It can literally happen to anyone, out of the blue. I’m quite certain that my anxiety escalated after my maternity leave ended with Arlo. I suddenly found myself back at work, balancing the kids ‘itineraries’ of nursery and grandparents, trying to be the best employee I could be – going the extra mile to prove that though I was part time I was still a hard worker, taking on too much and not taking help given. I would get up, get the kids dressed and fed, arrange the drop-offs/pick ups and on our days off we’d be rushing around to get out of the house to meet friends, to go to classes, to have days out…because I’d always done it. When you take a step back you realise that you can’t do it all, us mums are pretty close to being superheroes, be sometimes we even need our down days and we need to take time to look after ourselves.
So, with all that in mind I’m finding my new normal, I’ve stopped comparing myself, stopped thinking ‘I feel this way, is that normal?’- because what the bloody hell is normal?! I’ve stopped just agreeing to do things I don’t want to do but feel I need too and generally doing a lot of talking about how I feel and these counselling sessions. It’s surprising that what you may feel is the most silly worry, someone else has it too.
I believe that you can have everything you could want for in life, but if you don’t have good mental health then really you have nothing.
I found this book really helpful in realigning my thoughts of letting people down, doing things that I didn’t want to do but just found myself saying yes to please others – you can take a look here: The Life Changing Magic of not giving a F*ck’