Recovery – Give Yourself Some Credit Too!

During an incredibly difficult fifteen months, while I have battled depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, I have been incredibly grateful for the support I have received. Throughout this period, I have thanked many people for their vital role for helping me reach the seemingly unreachable…that glimmer of hope called recovery.

These have included my husband and daughters for their immense patience, love, understanding and thoughtfulness. Day after day after day after day.

My parents and in-laws for dropping their lives in order to prop up ours.

Siblings and special friends for reminding me that I am important. That I do matter.

Friends, relatives, colleagues, acquaintances and strangers who’ve responded to me personally or through my blogs, showing empathy or giving encouragement.

My company and my boss for their willingness to wait until I was ready to get back to work and their flexibility in helping me do it in the right way.

Medical professionals, from my incredible therapist to random nurses who I only met once, for their professionalism, skill and care.

Even my dog. For whining at me until I got my butt off the sofa and walked him.

It has been difficult. At times it has been agonising. And I have no doubt that without this tremendous support, I wouldn’t have made it through the hardest year of my life. I will be eternally grateful to all of these people and, if I haven’t managed to tell them that yet…well, they know now.

Yet reading this list, it is startlingly obvious that I have not credited the most important person for their role in my recovery: myself. Although most of the time it hasn’t felt like it all, I, myself and I have actually been fundamentally important on this road to recovery.

For the times I dragged myself out of bed to have a noisy family breakfast when all I craved was silence.

For the times I met a friend for a coffee when I just wanted to be alone.

For the times I got on my bike and rode to the beach when I longed for the sofa.

For the times I kept writing, even though the sting of a rejected blog hurt so much.

For the times I engaged in painful, embarrassing or downright unbearable dialogue with my therapist when all I wanted to do was run away.

For the times I decided I could go on no longer but reached out for help before it was too late.

The list is endless. No-one else could have done any of that for me. No-one else could have made that difference in that moment on that day.
Therefore I deserve some credit, some appreciation, some gratitude…and I must remember to give it to myself.

For all those suffering from mental illness, don’t think for a second that I am suggesting it is all about choice. There are people out there who believe that happiness is a choice. They are the people who have either never experienced mental illness; or who have put their recovery down to choice without noticing the many other factors involved.

What I am saying, however, is give credit to yourself when it’s due. For every time I cycled to the beach, the temptation of the sofa won five times. For every time I opened up to my therapist, shame or fear won ten times. That is why I am congratulating myself on my own role in my recovery, for all those crucial moments when I did manage to win.

Yes, I couldn’t have done it without all those incredible people in my life.
But actually, I also couldn’t have done it without incredible me.

Juggling: Part Two. I Now Know It’s OK To Drop A Ball!

For this to make complete sense, read my first Juggling poem earlier in my blog. 🙂

JUGGLING – a year on: post therapy

Well I didn’t decide to give up, my mind just took control,
And for a full year of my life, held a dominant role;
I plummeted into severe depression, ceasing to be me,
Wife, mummy or teacher, I could no longer be.

My hair thinned, I lost weight, I could no longer care,
Detached from all who loved me, life’s joys I didn’t share;
Moving from the sofa was an impossible feat,
I often longed for my heart to cease to beat.

The situation was extreme, from intense pain I couldn’t hide;
Nightmares of past traumas, led to my attempted suicide;
It broke so many hearts but mine was numb to it all,
My emotions had been dead since the day of The Fall.

With therapy and love, as well as vital medication,
I’ve managed to turn a corner with anxious trepidation;
As I tiptoe towards the future, I feel hope once again,
And I’m more able to cope with that intense pain.

It’s been a traumatic journey but I’ve learnt what life’s about:
Human connection is crucial, as is the courage to reach out;
I don’t need to prove anything or to always be strong,
And if I drop the odd ball, nothing will go wrong.

It’s true that life is challenging and we’ll always need to juggle
But please be self-aware and ask for help when you struggle;
I always thought I was invincible, I’d cope with any strife,
Please don’t believe in that, you might just save a life!

Wise Words From An Unexpected Source

I am luckier than most. I know that. During my first personal experience of crippling mental illness, the support I have been given has been amazing. My husband, extended family, friends, therapist and boss have been incredible. Over time, I’ve learnt to open up to them; and on every occasion that I have done, they’ve responded with immense empathy, love and care. I know I wouldn’t have survived the year without them. And I am so grateful.
There are two very important ‘people’ in my life who I haven’t looked to for support and haven’t been particularly open with. In response to excellent advice from my GP, I have answered their questions but told them nothing extra. Those ‘people’ are my twelve year old twin daughters who are teetering on the edge of fierce independence and yet are still little girls at heart.
Over a year of my severe depression, their world undoubtedly changed an awful lot. Their Mum changed an awful lot. From being energetic, active and talking too much in the morning, she became still and silent, spending far too much time on the sofa.
Their questions were random, sporadic and infrequent. I answered them all, as honestly as I could. They ranged from: “Why can’t you go to work if you look fine?” and “Why are you always in the bath?” to “Can people die from depression?” That one was certainly tough.
Although I have striven to be honest, on the whole I have tried to protect them. People have often asked how much they know, how much they understand. And the answer is, far more than I thought, far more than I ever imagined.
As I look back over the year, I realise how much they have taken in. How much they have learnt. And how much I can learn from them. Often it has been their simplistic understanding that has taken me aback and reminded me of what’s important. Here are a few comments they have made:
“I’ll give you a cuddle for a while on the sofa but then you need to get up and do something. Let’s bake a cake.”
“Mum’s in hospital so she can have new medicines to balance out what’s going on in her head.”
“Why do you worry that we’re upset that you’re off work? It’s great to have you at home when we get in every day!”
“Don’t try to hide your tears Mum. You always cuddle us when we cry. Why won’t you let us cuddle you?”
“You’re unwell because you went through a really difficult time and you didn’t talk about how you felt. So your brain kind of exploded. You must talk more Mum!”

4. Girls
Their reactions have generally been the opposite of what I had expected. And it’s not because they have been trying to be strong and resilient, or to hide their feelings, as I might have expected. It’s more that their view on the situation has often been far more light-hearted than I could have imagined. Yet, at times, through their reassuring hugs and their surprising comments, I have also seen empathy, understanding and a lack of fear that I admire and am proud to witness.
As my therapist once said, remember that in seeking help, you are being an excellent role model to your daughters. They are learning that it’s ok to reach out; it’s ok to have strong emotions and to talk about them; and, ultimately, they will learn that by asking for support, you were able to get better. I am still holding on and trying to believe in her last point. While I do, I must constantly remind myself that I have a great deal to learn from my daughters.

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.