Earlier this week I had my 22nd and final therapy session. When I began my counselling journey 8 months ago I really had no idea what to expect. Part of me was hoping for a fancy chaise longue that you would see in films, so the sight of gaudy green carpets and a blue chair that reminded me of school was unsettling from the start. I’ve never been one for wanting to be the centre of attention, so sitting in a room and having to do the majority of talking for an hour took a lot of getting used to.
After the first few sessions I began feeling frustrated that I couldn’t remember what was being discussed with my therapist and concerned that if I wasn’t remembering the sessions then I wasn’t really getting the most out of them. Three or four sessions in I decided to start making notes after the sessions in an attempt to analyse what I had discussed, but after a while this became too draining. I found that I would be dwelling on things throughout the day, playing them over and over in my head until they were all I could focus on. It ended up being very detrimental and would often leave me feeling physically and mentally exhausted, I’d struggle to focus at work and if I had had a particularly bad session I would be carrying that negativity around with me all day.
Of those 22 hours many were spent in silence looking at the floor, or in tears as I struggled to cope with the thoughts and words that were coming to me
I made those notes after my sessions for about four weeks until I stopped, some weeks it was too much to relive what went on in those sessions for the rest of the day. On an evening I would find myself in tears trying to recall the topics that had been discussed and going through what at times were quite difficult emotions over and over again. In April, about halfway through my treatment, my therapy sessions were relocated to a new office, and with it, I had the opportunity to change the times of my sessions. Previously they had been at 11:30am, meaning I would go to work for a few hours, and often struggle to keep my mind away from the fact I had a session later that day. If it was a particularly tough session then you could guarantee that when I got back to work I would struggle for the rest of the afternoon. When given the opportunity I changed these to take place first thing in the morning, meaning that whilst I could potentially be struggling for the rest of the day, at least I also wouldn’t have an entire morning to be anxious about a session beforehand.
Over the last 30 weeks I’ve helped uncover some core foundations to my mental health issues, some I was already aware of but others I was learning about for the first time. Of those 22 hours, many were spent in silence looking at the floor, or in tears as I struggled to cope with the thoughts and words that were coming to me. It took me about 4 sessions before I could even give my therapist eye contact when I was talking to her. At times it was a very, very difficult process and given how it would often leave me feeling I’d question if it was even worth it. Some days I would go into the sessions knowing that in an hours time when I left the room I would do so feeling much worse than when I entered.
When you go to the doctors for help with depression they can be quick to suggest some simple treatments that may work for those with mild depression, but can be frustrating for chronic sufferers. I’d try to not be insulted when asked by doctors if I exercised, often go as far as to wearing an Ultramarathon t-shirt to my appointments to try and prevent that question from being asked. I’m sure for many it may be enough to help them, and at times I even wonder how low my low points would be if I didn’t have running to fall back on. This year I’ve started regularly doing yoga, taken up meditation (often in a graveyard with goats), begun barefoot walking and generally starting to practice mindfulness as and when I can, but it remains clear that to conquer my depression I will need more professional help and that there is still a long way to go on my journey.
As the sessions came to an end on Wednesday it was clear that I would have a big decision to make on my treatment and that my next step would be a very important one. At the minute it very much feels like I’ve spent 22 hours opening up a wound, but it’s a wound that must be treated and not ignored. Simply carrying on without sight of the next step would leave me in a very vulnerable position. There were a few options available to me; to continue with my therapy sessions (after self-referring), an 8-week mindfulness course or a 12-week MBCT course.
My inability to make decisions was a constant theme throughout my therapy, and so being presented with these three choices at the end of my final session with little time to truly think them through was somewhat uncomfortable for me. The easiest choice would have perhaps been to have simply carried on with the therapy sessions (after self-referring back into the system) and to have maintained the status quo. However, at times I felt that I was simply retreading old ground in these sessions. I could sit in that room for hours and try to avoid certain topics, or simply go in week after week and talk about the same issues without doing anything about it. As difficult as it was I knew that I actually needed to learn how to deal with certain situations, rather than avoiding or collapsing when faced with them.
This left me with two choices, neither or which at first glance seemed very appealing as both involved group sessions. I’ve likened my social anxiety before to trying to jump onto a playground roundabout whilst it’s spinning. If you manage to jump on when it’s still spinning you feel awesome, but if you try and miss you’ll end up busting your face up, so most of the time I just don’t even try. It didn’t help that my only other experience of a group session was a complete disaster when I turned up to an empty room and no explanation as to what was going on. Of the two options, the MBCT (Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy) course seemed like the best choice. Alongside mindfulness the MBCT course also features work on dealing with crisis situations, something that I have needed for a long, long time. Currently, my ‘coping’ mechanism in such situations is to not, to find a place where I can shut myself away and let the emotions take over me, so finally having the tools to fight back against my depression is long overdue.
The child-like fear of monsters under your bed never really goes away, for me they were just hiding in the deep, darkness of my depression.
Before I began my therapy sessions I had no idea what lurked in the darkness, and as such it was easy to fear. I never knew when or where the demons could be summoned, so the idea of turning my back on them was too scary to think about, as such, I never gave the idea of medication much thought. In a sense, I guess I wanted to go into my therapy sessions feeling as raw as I could, I didn’t want any medication to mask how I was feeling, no matter how hard that made things at times. The child-like fear of monsters under your bed never really goes away, for me they were just hiding in the deep, darkness of my depression.
Now I know where those monsters lurk and what they look like does it make it any easier? Not really, in fact at times it is much tougher, but it does mean that I know when to be wary of them. On Friday I took my first step on a new path for the treatment of my depression, medication. It’s something I’ve resisted for a long time, for lots of different reasons. For someone that has been suffering from depression for 10 years, the idea of turning to medication for help seemed like a very definitive solution. It felt like I was accepting the fact that I will always suffer from depression and that I will always need to rely on medication to feel ‘normal’. It felt like I would be simply giving up.
In many ways, I’m fortunate to know many people that are or have been on medication to treat their depression as it means I have a strong group of people to talk to for advice or support. On the other hand, this has also been one of the things that have put me off taking this route as I have seen the difficulties people have gone through trying to find the right medication that works for them, battling the side effects and the struggles of coming off them. When the side effects of anti-depressants can include depression, anxiety, and insomnia, three of the conditions you already suffer with it builds on your fear and reluctance to take them as you wonder if it will only make these conditions worse.
Eventually though I realised that I could no longer keep ignoring them as an option. Sure, it’s a risk, for a few weeks there is a good chance that I will feel a lot worse than I have done for a while, there is also a chance that the particular tablets I am on won’t work for me and I’ll have to experiment with different dosages or different prescriptions and go through the painful process again and again. But there’s also a chance that they will make me feel better, that those rough first few weeks on the tablets will be worth struggling through for the opportunity to be able to see through the fog and not constantly feel like I’m drowning.