Therapy. Nobody talks about it, loads of people are doing it. When I first started seeing a therapist back in July last year, I was sceptical and uncomfortable talking about it. Fast forward eleven months, I had my last session last month, and I’m in a really good place. Mentally, I feel happier and stronger than I ever have, and my attitudes towards therapy have changed drastically. Not only is it something I’m telling everyone about, I’m also positive that everyone would benefit from a little therapy self care.
Some background for you, I was given a referral to the in house Psychologist on the Teenage & Young Adult Cancer Ward at Southampton General Hospital after my tumour diagnosis last year. My consultant was keen I see someone to get my head around my diagnosis, prognosis and the general trauma of being in and out of hospital. In the end, we talked not just about that, but losing my grandad, my dad’s accident, losing Connor’s dad, my relationship with my parents, and my relationship with anxiety.
Ask anyone who’s known me for a while and they’ll tell you I’ve always been anxious. Some of my earliest memories revolve around anxiety, as an inquisitive philomath, each time I learnt something new it would uncover something new to be anxious about. My memory of childhood is punctuated by all consuming fears I created for myself. The period where I wouldn’t use the downstairs bathroom in our family home, it being too close to the kitchen if there was a fire. The period where I was terrified of going to school in case something awful happened to my parents while I was there. The period where I would only sit on the ‘passenger’ side of the car, so that in an emergency I’d be closest to the pavement to make my escape.
Anxiety has been a part of me for as long as I can remember, so much so that I’d become used to my catastrophising mentality, it was such a well entrenched habit I barely knew that there could be another way of thinking, nevermind how to shake it.
I won’t bore you with the ins and outs of my therapy sessions, or the bizarre inner workings of my brain, instead I want to tell you what I learnt from my weekly hour long appointments with the TYA Psychologist.
Panic management. At my lowest point, I was having multiple panic attacks a week, sometimes a day. One of the first things I worked on with my psychologist was how to identify when these feelings of anxiety + panic are coming on, how to manage them, and how to prevent them from happening. I can’t tell you how good it feels to have gone the best part of the year and have only had two panic attacks. That seemed impossible just a year ago.
How to stop spiralling. In therapy, we called my catastrophising moments ‘washing machine thoughts’, you know those worries and fears that go round and round in your mind without really getting anywhere. They’re not useful or helpful to anyone, they achieve nothing other than causing distress and nervousness. We talked a lot about identifying these kind of thoughts and how to separate them, and leave them behind.
Being present. I spent so much of my mental energy every day worrying about the future or mulling over the past that I was missing out on the now. Through therapy, and now through meditation too, I’ve gotten much better at remaining in the moment, being present in the now, and feeling gratitude for what I have. It’s funny, you don’t realise how many of life’s little moments you’re missing out on with your head elsewhere. I’m much more present now, and a nice little side effect of that is that I have better, clearer memories of the good things in my life, because I’m paying more attention.
Confidence. Something I never thought I’d say, but wow I feel more confident. Not just in myself, how I look, what I have to say, but in my abilities. A year ago, I would never have dreamed of heading to Australia for six weeks while Connor worked, or pitching to magazines and new clients, but here we are. I feel happier in myself, confident in ways I didn’t know I could be.
How to stop giving a shit. I used to let little things bug me so much, it’s almost laughable now. I’ve stopped caring about a snooty remark from someone I don’t like, having to do a little job that I don’t particularly want to do, stopped letting someone cutting me up on the roads or bumping into me without apologising rile me. I’ve stopped putting energy into relationships that were a drain, and stopped doing things I don’t like because I feel like ‘I have to’. I’ve stopped caring what the people outside my inner circle think of me. I’ve stopped caring about stats and followers and trivial nonsense. It’s so goddamn freeing.
Gratitude. The things that bring me the most happiness everyday are the smallest things. The hot cup of coffee Con brings me in bed on a Saturday morning. The blooming flowers roadside on my way to work. The way the light bounces off my bathroom tiles in the morning. The way my dog greets me when he hasn’t seen me in a few days. The smell of dinner on the go when I get in from work. The satisfaction of finishing a good book.
All this is not to say I don’t ever feel anxious anymore, of course I do, I’m only human. But sometimes, it’s about recognising you feel anxious about something and instead of giving in or trying to fight that feeling, just accepting it and moving on. I’ve stopped giving anxiety the power of my mind, and honestly that’s the most freeing thing of all.
So what’s the takeaway from all this? Well I suppose for me, it’s that I feel happy, so happy. And I really can only attribute that to the work put in at my therapist’s office. I truly believe that so many of us can benefit from taking the time out to practice a little mental health self care, looking at our thought patterns and how we can improve.
I’d love to hear about your experiences with anxiety, therapy and mental health, I honestly believe the more we talk about it, the better we will feel!