You may have heard before that a problem shared is a problem halved, and that’s what I’m here to talk to you about today (problems, not fractions, that is).
I struggled recently for a couple of weeks, trying to meditate regularly, look after myself and take each day as it came, but ultimately it wore me down. I was crying regularly, overwhelmed, not finding joy in many things and considering we’re in a pandemic, that is not the icing on the cake that anyone needs. We’re all just trying to get by.
So after persevering for two weeks, I talked. I spoke to people who I respect and trust, and who I thought would lend an ear and possibly even help me see it from a different angle.
When the thoughts are swirling around in my head, it’s difficult to identify a resolution, the problem builds up and up, and left to fester too long, it becomes unnecessarily out of hand. Talking can stop it in its tracks.
Even while I was talking, I could feel the weight slipping off my shoulders. It was emotional to talk about it, but getting thoughts out into the world instead of swirling round my head and growing by the hour, was exactly what I needed.
After some breathing exercises and a cup of tea, and calming myself down, I felt much more able to take on the day.
I can’t recommend it enough. It differs between people what they might need: a sounding board, advice, another perspective… But getting the words out into the world is the first step.
This recent situation spurred me on to talk about the therapy I had in the Autumn of 2019.
I have always been quite an open book, I wear my heart on my sleeve and I’ve always had a sturdy support network that have helped me along the way. Sometimes though, there are bigger talking points that maybe need some professional guidance and that’s where for me, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy came in.
Once every two weeks, I’d attend an appointment and spend an hour untangling my thoughts and discussing different ways of looking at them, and what I might say to others who were having those same thoughts.
Firstly, it’s important to note that I didn’t go to CBT until I was ready. I didn’t notice the problem and immediately sign myself up. For years I had considered it but I would procrastinate making appointments, speaking to NHS or private services, because I shyed away from it and sometimes even convinced myself I didn’t need it. There were people in the world much more in need than I, I was going through a rocky patch. I would settle on making the call or online referral and then do absolutely nothing about it.
Once I was ready, in late 2019, I referred myself online. I had stumbled across the form after looking up self-help resources on my GP practice’s website. Once I filled in the form and clicked send, I had made the first step.
It was a surreal feeling as it was now out of my hands. I had committed to it although I wouldn’t have to think about it for a while because it wasn’t until three months later that I had a telephone assessment to identify the correct route for me.
It was a difficult phone call of course and there were questions where I would pause to gather my thoughts because it can be tricky delving into your own mind and verbalising it all. I took a deep breath; telling the whole story was the only way I’d help myself.
I received a letter with my appointment which would happen the week before a week in Crete so it was sandwiched nicely before cocktails in the sun. I could switch off whether it had gone well or not, and have time to contemplate it too.
I had been taking notes for a few weeks about situations that I wanted to discuss so I took my notepad, a pen, some water and some tissues. I later began to take an A4 folder to house all the worksheets that my therapist would print and walk through with me, which I still refer back to today.
Don’t get me wrong, I would get through a fair amount of tissues because the conversation digs deep but I really would feel a sense of relief after each session, and I would be armed with techniques to use in similar situations.
I attended a one-hour session every two weeks for 12 weeks at my local doctors’ surgery, each week taking another topic to unpick that I had noticed in the two weeks between appointments. In between appointments, we would agree a task that I would try and bring back the results next session. That said, there was a big focus on taking it at my own pace. If for any reason, the situation hadn’t arisen in those two weeks, it wasn’t a problem, there was simply no situation to practise in.
When my last session rolled round, it hadn’t quite registered in my mind that this would be my last appointment but somewhere deep down, I had already accepted it. I had a folder full of tools and I felt ready.
I haven’t been back to therapy since then but given my positive experience, if I felt it necessary again, I do think it would be the first thing I considered.
Of course this is my experience via the NHS, there are many options, both with the NHS and privately, and different solutions suit different people. I would implore anyone needing some guidance to start with the NHS website. Do some research, find out what’s out there in your area or online, and when you feel ready: reach out.
I was lucky in that the first treatment I tried was helpful for me, but I want to conclude with a little reminder that CBT is not for everyone. I’ve heard many anecdotes of people trying different treatments and going back to their GP when it wasn’t quite working and exploring something else. Like life, sometimes it takes trial and error but until you speak up and find out, you’ll never know.