About 8 months ago, in May last year, I had a mini-breakdown.
It had been a long time coming. Too many years of suppressing problems and not actually dealing with the stuff that had been hurting me, and certainly not dealing with it right. I’d gotten to a place that like, or a place that was worse, before, but this time was different. Despite only having one class at Uni, I just couldn’t keep going. My stomach problems, which had always been tough, had gotten worse. Stress and insecurity and panic all combined to make the thought of even simple tasks near impossible. I had too many sick days. It was bad.
So I went to my GP, mostly about the stomach issues, and she was wonderful. She listened to me talk and cry a bit and suggested that perhaps I see a Psychologist to talk through some issues. And so, a little nervous, I booked an appointment the following Saturday, a few hours before I was due to go out with friends to a show at the opera house and dinner.
The first session was really tough. I was in tears the whole time, explaining and telling stories and making connections between things. For about the first 4 weeks, she mostly just listened to what I, clearly, had needed to say. Then, we started working on things. Sometimes, it required training myself to think differently about a situation. Sometimes, just having a feeling validated was a wonderful thing: to hear someone else says “it’s ok you feel this way.” Then there were more practical steps, like actually finding half an hour a day to read, rather than constantly being on the go; being more mindful of the commitments I make to other people, since I have a tendency to overdo it; working on winding down before bedtime so I can actually sleep through the night and wake feeling refreshed.
And things started to get better. I was better able to articulate myself in situations, I had a stronger sense of what I should do and how I should react to certain things. I learnt to make a stand when I needed to, or, more gently, just to articulate my needs without feeling guilty. I learnt strategies for coping with situations in which I felt uncomfortable.
It was hard, but really rewarding.
And now it’s 8 months later and, after my appointment on Saturday, my Psychologist doesn’t feel I need to see her again for another 2 months. I’ll have to keep an eye on things as uni starts us, being mindful not to bite off more than I can chew, but mostly, I’m feeling really optimistic. And my Psych said she really notices how much calmer I am. That’s what I feel, too: an abiding sense of calm, and security in my own capacity to handle situations, rather than constantly being on the edge of panic.
Mental Illness is a funny thing. It’s a phrase with so many stigmas, and it doesn’t really fully represent the range of situations that it encompasses. It’s like saying you’re ill: you could have a cold or you could have cancer. My situation? It wasn’t cancer, but it wasn’t a cold either. I’d say it was like appendicitis: acute, serious, but not too dangerous if you catch it early and intervene.
I am tremendously blessed to live in a country where getting the care was relatively affordable. I was put on a Mental Health Plan by my GP and it was covered under Medicare, meaning I only had to pay about a $30 gap per visit. While I understand that is too much for many people, and I wish that it was even more affordable, not being under tremendous financial pressure to get the help I needed was actually kind of great.
At the start of my sessions, I made a conscious decision to be really open with the fact I was getting therapy. I felt self-conscious about it at times: there seems to be a notion that if you’re in therapy, it’s either because you’re really, really unstable, or you’re some sort of indulged, LA-type who just wants to talk about themselves. But most of us aren’t either of those extremes: just people who need a bit of help to get back on the right track. And even if we were either of those things, that’s ok too. Therapy is about any person who feels lost or lonely or depressed being able to get the help they need.
So I told people that I was in therapy and, short of really personal questions, was happy to talk and answer any queries they had. So writing this now is kind of my final act of saying that therapy was great, and it really helped me.
One thing I’ve found frustrating is people trying to explain away the effect of therapy, as if it were other things in my life that made things better. But I can say, absolutely and resolutely, that it was therapy that did this. It was therapy that helped me learn to stay calm, to deal with tough situations, to feel less guilty, so have more healthy and productive relationships. And for that, I’ll be grateful for a very, very long time.