After watching Nadiya Hussain’s fabulous documentary ‘Anxiety and Me’ I thought it was about darn time I wrote about my experiences with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
I visited the doctors the year before last to find out why I felt so wired all the time. Overactive thyroids run in my family so that was my suspicion. My doctor took blood from me for various things, but then asked if I’d ever been treated for anxiety.
She asked me how often I was scared to do things, and when I answered always, she gave me the contact information for a local mental health charity saying “someone your age shouldn’t be scared all the time, sweetie”.
As she had suspected all my bloods came back normal. No more excuses, then. I needed to contact the charity, but had to wage war with myself to muster the courage. I’ll be wasting everyone’s time. Others will need that time far more than me. I’m just being stupid. It won’t work anyway. I don’t have any reason for how I feel. I should stop being weak. What if my family finds out?
What if my family finds out?
What if my family finds out?
Trembling and in secret I eventually contacted them and an appointment was set up. I lied and said I was visiting a friend that day. Instead I went into therapy for the first time.
The office was set up inside the town hall, smelling of old carpet and mildew like all town halls, and with the worn out decor of the late seventies. The entire walk from my car to the hall I was scared I’d bump into someone I know. Someone, perhaps, I’d gone to school with. But again, I didn’t. Instead I was ushered into a small room with brown curtains by a guy around my own age. He seated himself on a battered office chair and gave me a form attached to a clipboard.
I remember it being a nice day outside, hot and sunny. I’d worn a summer dress and my hair was down. I was even wearing lipstick. About as far from the mentally ill stereotype as one can get. I’m not sure if I did that deliberately.
I really did try to be honest on the form, but I didn’t want to admit quite how messed up my brain was. How scared I still am about…everything. At that moment my heart was racing, hidden by a smile and a floral print. The thing is, I have no reason for being messed up. I’m not from a particularly lucrative background, but we lived in a nice house and had a lot of good times growing up. I got bullied in school, but I wasn’t beaten or assaulted or roped into being a drug mule for a violent gang. And at this point I’m so used to pretending to be fine I found it incredibly hard to actually talk about the things I’d written down without cracking a joke to lighten the mood, or trying to play it off as no big deal. It certainly wasn’t one of those sessions where the patient breaks down in tears and sobs until all her broken pieces realign. If I’d done a documentary it would have made shit TV.
After the form filling and the talking I was given instructions to access an online programme, where I’d fill out my progress week by week and answer more questions, along with being given weekly coping exercises. Mostly this entailed meditation and a rate how you feel between one and ten system.
I hate meditating. I feel self-conscious, and stupid, and bored. Lying there breathing, if anything, annoys me. That’s what sleep is for, surely? I do a few yoga stretches before bed anyway, that’s the same thing right? I tried the meditation twice, but afterwards just skipped over that part. It wasn’t for me.
Now, we should take a beat to talk about my biggest fears amongst all the little ones (there’s a lot of little ones). For me, my main anxieties arise around failure and being unwanted/ unloved. I’m constantly scared none of my friends and family actually like me. That I’m letting them all down and I’m not good enough. I convince myself they are lying and all talking about how much they hate me behind my back (which is SO unfair to my friends, who are absolutely amazing people). I also feel the need to please everyone always (an obviously impossible feat) and if I perceive myself to be falling short of expectation I get panicked and sad. The times I feel the most tight chested and anxious, though, are all surrounding my own success (and lack of it). I think about where I should be, what I could have done differently, what would have made people prouder… It’s all bullshit, but try telling that my brain.
This type of CBT was doomed to fail from the off.
I could feel it wasn’t working but I didn’t want to let down my therapist, who tuned in online each week to type feedback to my responses, and thus I wasn’t 100% honest. I tailored my responses, whilst all based on true feelings, to make it look like I was improving week on week. Everyone was fooled. Even me for a week or two.
What didn’t help, was I kept it as my dirty little secret throughout. I told no-one, not my best friends, not my family, not even my dog. It is, however, the reason I started this blog so it wasn’t a waste in its entirety. It got me to talk in some form, even if I couldn’t speak to anyone in real life.
UNTIL, I attended a reunion with my former uni house mates (serious legends), and CBT was brought up as we ate our takeaway in the living room. Like the gremlin I am I was sitting on the floor mopping up curry with naan and listening more than talking. Much to my surprise, every single one of my friends had gone through CBT. And they were completely casual about it. My dirty little secret wasn’t dirty anymore. It was normal. Admitting to therapy wasn’t admitting to the weakness I thought everyone already saw in me. It was asking for help when I needed it. These were (and are) some of the strongest women I know. If they’ve struggled mentally, none of it can be weakness.
So whilst the therapy itself didn’t work, I’m still an anxious mess, I know now it wasn’t a failure either. It got me to start talking. To open up and create this community. And it is something so many other people go through. People like my bloody lovely mates who’ve helped me far more than any professional therapy ever could.