I’m an avid over-sharer, and an even bigger believer of always being honest – especially when it comes to mental health. In the same way that Georgia from Love Island is all about being ‘loyal, babe,’ I’m all about being open to try and end the mental health stigma. Which includes sharing lessons I learnt from therapy.
My Own Mental Health Journey
There have been periods of my life where I have severely suffered from anxiety or depression, and in worst case scenarios – both. One of my worst episodes was around a year ago when I was travelling around Vietnam for two weeks. Pre-trip I was feeling depressed but I expected the “life-changing trip” with my wonderful boyfriend, to rid me of these negative thoughts. Some people go travelling to find themselves whereas I was hoping that a long-haul holiday would change myself – or at least the sad part of me. I was desperate for the bustling streets, caving experiences and idyllic beaches bursting with beauty to make me feel alive again. But they didn’t. Most days, I struggled to get out of bed. In fact, the trip further intensified my depression – how could I feel so low in such a beautiful location?
Once I arrived back in Geordie Land, my nearest and dearest begged me to book an appointment with my GP. After discussing my dark thoughts, I was placed on a waiting list for Talking Therapies and given some print outs to look at in the mean-time.
I was on the waiting list for 11 months and was then offered six sessions of therapy. I finished my last session a couple of weeks ago, and have been processing it all since. All in all, I’m feeling a lot more positive – I am excited by life (and the ordinariness of it all). I am also able to handle my emotions a lot better, and don’t feel so overwhelmed. Unless it’s watching Afterlife on Netflix – and then I am back to being an emotional mess. But most importantly, I’ve started to accept my mental health and work with it rather than against it.
Six Lessons I Learnt from Therapy:
For those that are considering therapy or are just nosey in regards to the process (I know I was before I was part of it), I thought I would share the lessons I learnt from seeing a shrink.
1) You Will Start Cutting Yourself Some Slack
If I have one tip for therapy – it’s to be as honest as you can. Even if you’ve done something shitty and you’re embarrassed to admit it – tell your therapist. They’ll help you understand your reasoning behind it and, therefore, break a potential cycle.
I’ll be completely open here. Ever since I got the all-clear from cancer at 16 years old, I’ve felt incredibly guilty. I’ve spent the better half of eight years conflicted and angered over the fact that my treatment was a success – but for others, it wasn’t.
After finishing treatment at 16, I felt like I had to go all Home Bargains interior inspo and ‘Live Live to The Full’. So I went travelling, I took part in skydives, and I was also determined to finish college and university with the best grades. Essentially, I wanted to live an extraordinary life and justify (to myself) that I am grateful for my good health.
But this pressure is too much. I’m now a 24-year-old woman who has an ordinary life. I work Monday – Friday, I pay bills and one daydream of owning a Smeg Fridge. But, there’s always been an inner belief that my acceptance of ordinary was letting my former ill self down. That I was settling, and not making the most of life. Discussing this self peer-pressure has not only helped me overcome my biggest anxieties but only made me realise that it’s impossible to do it all, or be the best person. You can have flaws, and should, therefore, cut yourself some slack.
2) Becoming Attached to Your Therapist is Inevitable
In the same way that Ariana Grande will never be seen without a high ponytail, I will never leave the house without my thoughts diary. It is here where I would scribble down whatever was making me feel anxious or depressed at that moment. I would also try and make connections between my thoughts, and the actual shenanigans. Then like a total
teacher’s therapist’s pet, I would look forward to discussing my progress at my upcoming session.
Of course, this wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for the natural bond with my therapist. From the get-go, we completely connected and I found it easy to open up. Within the six sessions – this woman knew every significant memory of my life, my personal worries and also my not-so-great traits. She understood how my brain worked, and she made me realise that actually – I am fixable because I was never broken in the first place. She made the whole processing incredibly freeing, and my favourite period of the week.
So by the end of my six sessions, it’s safe to say that I got a bit emotional. It’s weird for someone to be such a significant part of your life, and then have them suddenly disappear. But I’ve surprised myself guys – because I am thriving without her. It turns out that the secret of a great therapist is acting as a safety blanket but teaching you self-soothing techniques without realising.
3) An Important Lesson I Learnt from Therapy: It Doesn’t Solve Everything
I hate to break it to those who were as naive as me but it really is true what they say; Sharing a problem only halves it rather than dismisses it altogether. Instead, therapy is a gradual process – and one that takes time, and a lot of hard work.
In fact, it’s a bit like having black hair and trying to go platinum blonde. You have unrealistic expectations and think you can go from one extreme (black hair ~ anxious/ depressed) to the other (blonde hair ~ not anxious/ depressed) in one session – but it’s impossible, guys. You might set the foundations in the first session (caramel hair ~ opening up about your anxieties) but it will take at least a couple of months. And even then, once you get to your desired state (bitchin’ blonde ~ good mental health), it takes real maintenance. You may even have the odd fuck but it’s okay. It’s all part of the process.
From a less metaphorical viewpoint, you may even have setbacks. You may find yourself reverting back to your old ways – such as overthinking or secluding yourself from the world. But this is totally fine – as long as you are aware of the situation, that is a step in the right direction.
4) Therapists Are Not Life Coaches
Another therapy myth is that they’ll tell you what to do – both in everyday situations, and life’s big questions. This actually couldn’t be further from the truth. I walked into therapy confused about my purpose in life but expected to leave as a well-presented woman with a life plan. You know – the type of woman that wears colourful two-piece suits to work, has nine side hobbies and actually remembers to update her LinkedIn.
This did not happen at all – and I’m actually really grateful for it. In fact, anytime I brought forward a possible drastic life decision – my therapist asked me to think out loud. It was through this that I realised that I was spending too much time hyping the emotions. I was magnifying and catastrophising every possible life direction – and I wanted her to do the hard work of deciding for me. I was simply being lazy and paying too much attention to my thoughts (that quite simply, were irrational). Instead by voicing my thought process out loud, I began to internalise my distress and think more clearly. It actually taught me how to handle bad days on my own – and without actually realising.
5) Not Every Problem is Deserving of Your Attention
Another lesson I learnt from therapy is that you are in control of what you discuss. When working out my thinking process – and the memories that have shaped me – my therapist essentially made me tell her everything. But when it came to discussing it all in more detail – sometimes, I didn’t want to. The good thing is that they – or at least my therapist – didn’t push me into revealing more.
Instead, she described the process as putting the thought in a box and closing the lid. Someday I might want to open the lid on the box but if I don’t – that’s totally fine too. As long as I am aware of the box and accept that the lid is closed – that is progress.
6) Most Important Lesson I Learnt from Therapy? Thoughts Are Just Thoughts
One of the most important lessons I learnt from therapy is that thoughts really are just thoughts. Just because they are in your head doesn’t make them true. My therapist actually taught me a really helpful technique for when I’m feeling anxious; Instead of focusing on my thoughts, I look for the physical ‘evidence’ behind these thoughts. If I feel like I am being mugged off – where is the evidence? Chances are there is no evidence.
…and there you have it – six lessons I learnt from therapy! I really hope this was helpful – and if not, I at least hope that this mammoth post distracted you from any negative thoughts for the three minutes it took to read.
If you do fancy reading my other mental health posts, you can also check them out here.