As it’s Mental Health Awareness Week now seems the time to share a little bit of my experience.
I haven’t spoken openly about my mental health before, so this feels a big deal. Even though we’re in 2018, sadly I still feel an element of shame, guilt and weirdness about saying that I suffer from depression and anxiety. Well, this is part of me and who I am, so here goes nothing.
I want this blog to focus on CBT as a coping mechanism because it’s worked for me. I’m not saying it will work for everyone or it’s the right treatment method either but more just outline my experience.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave. NHS
CBT hasn’t ‘cured’ me and even though I’ve learnt brilliant coping mechanisms, I’m not perfect and sometimes I try and use the techniques and it doesn’t work or I don’t practice enough but I know that it’s ok.
Also, sometimes in the darkest days I don’t want to do these good things and would rather let the wave crash over me because it’s easier to relent than fight and that’s ok too, there’s always tomorrow.
I first discovered CBT in 2011 after the end of a long-term relationship and I just didn’t know what to do with myself. I felt empty, guilty and unable to deal with day to day life.
The negative thoughts were relentless, kept me up at night, distracted me and made me jittery, paranoid and at a total loss of control. I felt joyless and when I smiled or felt briefly happy, I was ashamed because I felt I didn’t deserve to.
A friend recommended a therapist and I felt like I had to try something. The NHS could only offer me medication and said that the waiting list for counselling was six months and I was fortunate enough to be able to see a therapist privately.
I was apprehensive, but I do like talking and the thought of making myself better was a driving force. We discussed a minimum of six sessions and there would be elements of ‘work’ for me to do. I felt a little overwhelmed to begin with but being a task orientated person, I relished the opportunity to understand myself better.
I kept an unhelpful thought diary which was based on ‘fact v fiction’ in which you rationalise the thought you’re having. It’s an extremely clever way of being mindful of your thoughts, you dissect it, see it for what it is and writing it down is a cathartic experience. It didn’t always make me feel better but this process was a huge help.
Labelling was also a great way of seeing what kind of thoughts you were having, categories like ‘catastrophising’, ‘black and white’, ‘emotional realising’ and ‘should/must’ helped you track yourself and determine triggers and patterns.
Talk, talk, talk
Talking to someone who didn’t know me and had no preconceptions was liberating and gave me a sense of self. I felt lighter knowing that another session was on the horizon and the space we spoke in was safe, open and honest. I didn’t feel judged and this was important to me because of the paranoia and anxiety I was experiencing at the time.
I won’t lie, there were times I cried and found it exhausting and painful to talk about my feelings, but I persevered and am proud of that.
Focusing on breath is a great physiological way of dealing with stress. Breathing in for 7 seconds and breathing out for 11 seconds is a great way of feeling calmer and more relaxed. This is a mechanism that’s stuck with me and use if I feel very stressed or overwhelmed.
I learnt about mindfulness and bought a great book Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world that came with a CD including a 10 minute mindful exercise to do each morning and even though I was rubbish at it, after a while I got a bit better and it became my sanctuary.
I did a couch potato to 5k app and this was amazing in channelling my thoughts and making me feel connected to the present. The achievement of being able to run further and further was great too, it gave me purpose and passion – endorphins are your best friend.
Being nice to yourself
Another task was to get friends and family to write three nice words about me. This felt really weird at first but it was so lovely. I felt like a piece of shit but other people saw me differently and it gave me encouragement and strength to believe I was a good person who deserved happiness.
I realised how much I filter out the bad comments from the good too, I easily overlook the good to skip to the ‘bad’ and it’s bad habit that I’m still trying to get better at.
CBT is a process, a period of self reflection, understanding, compassion and hard work which if you’re willing and able to commit to, can be an incredible experience.
If you’re feeling rubbish and ever want to chat to someone I would gladly talk to you, I hate the thought of someone suffering and you’re not alone, ever.
Awesome illustration by The Meekshall