It Was So Hard To Give Up Control and Let My Therapist In…But it Was Worth It

A year ago, my first few sessions of therapy were a challenge. Although I had started going to them voluntarily, I was sceptical it would make any difference. I’d always preferred to keep my worries to myself. I prided myself on being strong. Independent. Not too reliant on anyone. Not even my husband. Over anxious people often irritated me and I had spent much of my life working hard to be in complete control of my emotions. I also found it very hard to trust anyone, unless I had known them for a long time. I didn’t really see how therapy sessions could help me. Unbearable nightmares. Significant weight loss. Panic attacks. Extreme irritability. Many of the symptoms of depression were there. But how exactly could talking about them make them go away?
I was even more sceptical having met my therapist. She was clearly at least ten years younger than me. Probably didn’t have children. Possibly had little life and work experience. And, in those first few sessions, all she seemed to talk about was the obvious: the importance of creating a routine now that I wasn’t working; ensuring that I exercised every day; eating and drinking regularly; and talking to my psychiatrist about medication to help me sleep better. Was this woman for real? Was I really spending my time on being told what was: a) common sense and b) impossible right now? How could I create a routine when work had been my life for ten hours a day for the last fifteen years? How could I exercise when I lacked the energy to get out of bed? How could I eat and drink when I felt so sick that I couldn’t even look at food? And did I really want to go down the road of taking medication to help me?
She was also predictable at the end of every session. She’d remind me to call or to email if I needed to. That her support wasn’t limited to our weekly sessions. She was busy but she, or someone else at the centre, could always find time for me in a crisis.
I would look at her blankly. As if I would call her in a crisis! What would she do, tell me to go for a walk with the dog or distract myself doing something else? As if that would help me in a real crisis!
To my great surprise, things suddenly changed one day and my perspective on therapy was transformed. Having worked from home for a couple of weeks to keep me company, my husband decided to go into his office. It was an hour’s drive away but we were both happy that I was ready to be on my own and it was easier for him to work from there.
By 8.30am the house was silent. My husband had gone to work and my daughters had left for school. I sat on the sofa and tried to calm the rising panic in my chest. The silence was deafening. I had nothing to do. Nowhere to go. No-one to speak to. What was I supposed to do all day? I vaguely recollected conversations with my therapist. Perhaps this was what she meant about the need for routine? The emptiness of my day before me was overwhelming. What on earth was I going to do with myself?
An hour later I had walked the dog and done the ironing. Back on the sofa, the rising panic was even more intense. Thoughts began to bulldozer through my mind. How can it possibly have happened that I wasn’t well enough to work? Was I not good enough to teach anymore? Maybe I wasn’t good enough to be a Mum anymore either? I felt that I was a bad wife. Always stressed or irritable or tired or something. No-one actually wanted or needed me anymore. There was actually no point in me being here at all.
Heart racing, I looked wildly around the room as if in search of inspiration. My eye finally caught my phone that was tucked safely in my palm. My therapist’s words came to mind. Call or email when you need to. That was what she’d said, right? Did that really mean I could email her though? I mean, maybe she’d just said it. I didn’t want to disturb her. This probably didn’t really count as a crisis. Even though I wasn’t sure if I was safe in my own company. Phone her. That was the other option. But that meant calling the office first. So I’d have to speak to two people. And maybe I wouldn’t know the first one. No, I couldn’t do that. Email was the only option.
I paused and took a deep breath. ‘Please help me’ I wrote in the subject box and clicked ‘send’. Leaning back on the sofa, I worried about what I had done. Maybe she wouldn’t answer because she’d be cross with me. She’d probably think I was wasting her time. What could she do anyway? She was on the other end of the phone. It wasn’t as if a conversation would change anything.
Five minutes later, my phone rang. ‘Unknown caller ID’ appeared on the screen and, as I answered, I heard my therapist’s voice. “How can I help? How are you feeling Claire?” I took another deep breath. ‘How could talking help?’ I thought once again. Wondering immediately why I had bothered to email her.
After some gentle encouragement, I began to open up. Then, within minutes, she knew everything. My fear of being alone, the intense sense of panic I felt, my concerns that I wasn’t safe. I sobbed as I spoke and all the words just fell out of my mouth in a relentless cascade that probably made little sense.
With a level of calm that I hadn’t expected (how could someone be so calm when someone else was so hysterical on the other end of the line?), she told me to listen to her plan. I had to hang up the phone and call my husband. I needed to ask him to come home. In the meantime she would free up her schedule to see me. She would call me back in five minutes. Was I listening? Had I understood? Yes, I thought to myself. And thank goodness you are speaking to me like an idiot right now because that is just what I need.
Within fifteen minutes, I knew that my husband was on his way and that I would be seeing my therapist by lunch time. I had a plan to do even more ironing until he got home. That was all I needed to focus on. The ironing. My husband coming home. My appointment with my therapist. I took deep breaths. And focused on those three things. Nothing else. Just those three things. And some level of calm began to return.
I entered my therapist’s office a few hours later and began to sob before she started to speak. She had yet to see me cry and once again I was struck by her calmness. Edging the box of tissues towards me, she waited patiently for me to speak. “I can’t do it,” I whispered. “Life. I can’t do it. It’s just so hard. No-one needs me. No-one wants me. I’m useless. And I just drag them all down. That’s all I do. I drag them all down.”
In a measured and decisive manner, she moved from the chair in front of me to the chair on my left. We were much closer than we’d ever been before. Quietly and softly she began to say, “I know it doesn’t seem like it now, but this moment will pass. You will feel better. You do matter. You are important and you are needed. You can’t see that right now and that’s ok. That’s because you aren’t well and that is why I am here. I am here to remind you. You will get through this. It will end. You just need to hang in there.”
She went on, essentially saying the same thing but in different ways. Her soft words and her physical closeness began to have an impact on me.
After a while, I began to look at her in a different way. I did need someone else after all. Right now, I needed to hear those words and to believe them. She was the one who could say them because she got it. She’d heard it before and, ultimately, she didn’t care. Not in a brutal way, of course, but she didn’t care in the way that someone close might have done. It was a true revelation to me. That was why it was helpful to talk. That was why I was here. This young, unworldly person before me, could offer me something that no-one else could. And I had so much to learn from her.

So, what is my advice to you? Well, when you begin something new, such as therapy, try to abandon preconceived ideas. Both about yourself and about others. As you embark on a new journey, you might surprise yourself and others may well surprise you too. If you are open to that from the beginning, and allow your therapist in, it may well make your travels a little smoother…or at least get them off to a quicker start.

From a Lost Wife to a Lost Husband

 

To my husband,
This is incredibly hard to write but I am doing it because I understand that it’s easier for you to know what’s going on in my head than not to know. I will be completely honest and I am sorry if that makes it difficult reading.
I am going to explain how my day went from beginning to end yesterday as that will give you an idea of how I have been feeling over the last week.
I woke up with the feeling I have every day: my stomach feeling cramped and hollow, my mind feeling overwhelmed at the thought of a day ahead to fill. Determined to distract myself, I tried really hard to focus on the girls and their early morning chatter and demands – including a last minute change of lunch. Although it’s always good to be with them, their noise is hard to bear. Whether it’s the scraping of a chair or the slamming of a door, or a never-ending description of a dream they have had, I have to work really hard on not getting irritated with them. When they left, it felt like an achievement that I had managed to stay tuned into their conversations and not get visibly annoyed with them.
You all left the house and the silence I had been longing for was suddenly deafening. I sorted Bruno out straight away for a walk, knowing that I needed to distract myself. At the start of the walk, I tried hard to focus on the small things around me rather than think about the day, weeks and months ahead that loomed threateningly in front of me. I listened to the chirping of the birds, the splashing of the ducks and Bruno’s paws pattering behind or in front of me. As the walk progressed, I reached the part of the path where a canal is on either side and you can see the windmill in the distance. The path suddenly looked never-ending. Perhaps that reflected how I felt about this whole nightmare. I could feel my legs weaken and tears started to pour down my face. Within seconds I was sobbing uncontrollably and I had to pause on the bridge to try and pull myself together. At that moment, the only thing I could feel was that this was never going to end. That I would never feel normal again. That I would never get pleasure in even the simplest things. Had I had a box of painkillers in my bag, I would have taken them and curled up in a corner waiting for them to take effect. I just wanted to forget, for the pain to end, for it all to be over. And when I feel like that I lose all sense of who I am, of you, of the girls, of the unbearable consequences of what that would do to everyone. I just want it to be over and I am not me anymore. I really need you to understand that. Please don’t ever feel that I could act on these thoughts because I don’t care about you all.
After maybe ten minutes of standing there in that state, Bruno actually barked at me, bringing me back to where I was. I put him on the lead and slowly walked back to house. Every step was hard and I just wanted to come home and curl up on the sofa. But hearing your voice as I came in through the front door made me realise that I couldn’t. I had to get myself moving and distract myself until I was feeling better. I went to the chemist to collect my prescription. That wasn’t such a good move. I wasn’t ready for that at that point and, for the first time, I was strongly tempted to buy some painkillers and to take them. The chemist was busy and that, bizarrely, stopped me. Perhaps having people around me is a reminder that life goes on and that I need to be a part of it.
Coming home again was agony. I so wanted to curl up and try to block it out with sleep. But I knew you’d never leave me to do that in the morning which is why I proposed gardening. The sun was shining and I knew it would do me good to get outside and enjoy it. It worked. For an hour I pottered in the garden. Every time I began to feel overwhelmed, I forced myself to focus on the specific task I was doing: to feel the soil in my hands, to enjoy the warmth of the sun on my back. When we sat down to lunch together, I was feeling a lot better than I had been all morning.
Lunch over, you started to work again. That sense of hopelessness welled up inside me again and this time I didn’t have the strength to fight it. I curled up on the sofa for a couple of hours, trying to sleep but battling butterflies for every second of it. Leaving the house to collect Sofia, gave me a lift again. I was looking forward to spending twenty minutes with her and was pleased that I had managed to give them both some nice things for their orange day at school. Our argument flattened me within seconds. By the time I dropped her off, I felt like I was a complete waste of space. She’d been argumentative and difficult but ultimately she was right. I could have popped home to get her hoverboard on the way, we weren’t going to be late as I feared.
During my session with Katy, for the first time I was able to explain how I had felt throughout the day. It was incredibly hard. It actually felt physically painful to say the words out loud when I described how I felt on the bridge; and it was only with her gentle questioning that I managed to do it. The only reason I can speak to her more easily than to you is that I know she won’t be emotionally affected by what I say. It breaks my heart to have to tell you all of this and I can’t imagine how it makes you feel. She made the point, however, that it must be harder for you to have to guess what is going on in my head than to know it exactly. That is why I opened up to you last night and why I am writing this now. But you must let me know if it’s too hard for you to hear.
For the last week, every day has been similar. I have good moments but I also have moments of extreme crisis. I would like to promise you that I will never take an overdose again but I can’t do that. When I am completely absorbed in how I feel, like I was on Bruno’s walk, I lose all sense of rationality and it’s at those moments when I could potentially do it. What I can promise is that I will try harder to open up to you. As I find this so difficult, here are a few points that would help:
• If I seem distant or distressed, ask me specifically if it is a ‘butterfly moment’
• Don’t expect more than a ‘yes’ if it is because I find it hard to speak
• Gently try to distract me and please don’t leave me on my own
• Remember that my energy levels are low so don’t choose an active option for distracting me
• If you can’t distract me or if I just want to lie down, hug me and let me cry it out
• When you need to leave me on my own, ask me if I’m ready
I’m sorry if this has been a tough read babe; and I hope it’s been helpful in some way. I will do my best to be more open with you but gentle questioning from you will help. I find it very hard to start any conversation about this.
Lots of love,

Your Lost Wife

My Raw Truth

Until a year ago, mental illness was something that happened to somebody else. Something that happened to people who’d had a really tough life or who were weak in some way. Something that didn’t happen to people like me. People who are strong, active, energetic and full of purpose. Something that could be avoided or resisted; or, if all else failed, fought against with pure determination.

Then, from nowhere, in this great forest of life, I was bulldozered over by PTSD and severe depression. Bulldozered, flattened, trampled on and then trampled on again and again if I ever dared to try to get up. There was no avoidance or resistance; and determination…well I didn’t even know what determination was anymore.

It has been Hideous. Horrible. Horrendous. And I’m still in that forest, gradually finding my way, but still aware of the bulldozer rumbling in the distance.

My Raw Truth will not strive to share a journey in a chronological and ordered way. That’s simply because mental illness doesn’t happen in a chronological and ordered way. There have been many times when writing has been my saviour. A thought has occurred and it has evolved into a piece of writing that has exposed one tiny element of the Raw Truth of my personal experience. The writing process has helped me understand myself  and has helped those around me understand what I am going through too.

I would never dare to suggest that my stories will explain the true nature of mental illness. There is no true nature of mental illness. It is different for every person it affects and, actually, it has been different for me too…day to day or even minute to minute.

But what I do hope is that through my raw, honest and candid stories, I will contribute towards lifting the stigma, the fear and the mystery that surrounds mental illness. Those who suffer from it, and we are many*, are just normal people who are unable to avoid, to resist or to fight it with determination and who simply need our care, compassion and support.

* 1 in 4 people will experience a depressive episode in their lifetime.