Dear S,

Image from https://depositphotos.com

It is in my nature to blame myself.

By extension, it is also in my nature to engage in unhealthy levels of self-flagellatory introspection as a means to identify a route out of an unhappy interpersonal situation. Unsuccessfully, of course. Because no amount of intellectual consideration can truly influence the behaviour of other people.

Sometimes, you just have to accept that there are things that you cannot change.

And there it is: I can’t change you.

I can’t change…

  • your negative opinion of me
  • your decision to distance yourself from me on a personal level
  • how sensitive I am to rejection (only how I react to it behaviourally)
  • how I perceived your comments and actions towards me as a personal attack
  • how your behaviour towards me ground away at the limited amount of resilience and self-esteem that I had
  • how you routinely humiliated me in front of others that I respect
  • how you left me powerless to defend myself against you, or to action changes to counteract the damage that you caused
  • how you are so protected by others in power
  • the as yet unspecified incident(s) in which I apparently caused you such offence that you felt the need to belittle and/or dismiss me in every exchange thereafter
  • the lack of recognition of my efforts to make it up to you
  • the consequences of the months and years of holding my tongue, keeping my head down and simply absorbing your shit because there was no safe place to voice my concerns
  • the post-natal depression that suppressed my resources at the time I needed them the most
  • the lost hours that I should have been with my children instead of you
  • the effect that your behaviour has had on my personal life, especially my relationships with my family
  • the guilt I feel that I allowed this to happen
  • the past.

In reading this, I can see that if the names were reversed, you could be writing this letter too.

But the difference is, you are the person in power in this relationship.

You should be better.

You will not win.

Still Trying

This is my first blog post for a little while. I have had to take some time out to fight a few demons. Restorative introspection, I suppose.

My anxiety – already increasing slowly over the last six months – suddenly shot up to a degree that I have experienced only once before. Perhaps it was the realisation that after another attempt at accessing treatment, all I achieved was being added to a waiting list for an unspecified period. The uncertainty was eating away at my resolve, as it always does. I was finding the relentlessness of life exhausting.

For several days I was constantly tense, either already shaking or on the brink of it. The slightest amount of stress would tip me over into an anxiety attack. I was having trouble sleeping and undertaking mundane tasks. I didn’t feel able to go out with the children. I couldn’t form thoughts coherent enough to write down. 

However, I think I have now reached a point where the anxiety is more manageable. I am still having palpitations a couple of times a day, but for the most part the shaking as subsided along with the sweating, rapid breathing and sleeplessness. My mind is quiet enough for me to process thoughts again. I am able to rest. I am able to exercise some degree of self-care.

I am lucky; I had another option available to me. I realised that I had a choice – I could either wait for the NHS therapy referral to come through or to access the workplace counselling service provided by my employer. I was assessed and referred within a few days and I am now waiting for confirmation of my first session, which should be within the next week or so. I still feel fearful that my manager might judge me, but I don’t have to communicate with them in the near future so at least I have the luxury of deferring that particular worry.

So I’m still not writing what I want, but for now, I have hope again.  

Therapy: An Intermission

I had a follow up with my therapist/assessor today, Rose. Essentially the purpose of the call was to confirm that she had obtained approval for me to be referred to their counselling team.

I am now on the waiting list.

So yeah, that’s all for now. Just waiting. It could be weeks or months before they get in touch to offer me an appointment. I did ask whether there was a ball-park suggestion for how long I would have to wait, but she really didn’t want to commit as there were ‘too many factors to consider’. That’s ok, I get it, mental health services are understaffed and underfunded. It is not unusual for people to wait over a year to receive treatment. My only concern is that I am hoping to move out of the county in that timeframe.

At the end of the call I felt more depressed than I had in weeks. I had the dawning realisation that I was on my own again, albeit for more positive reasons than last time. I had the distinct feeling of my hopefulness from the last session being drained out of me. I went for a walk. It was raining, of course.

I was actually planning to work on a more positive blog post tonight, but when I sat down in front of my laptop to type I realised that I really needed to clear my head of this gloom before I could focus on happier things.

So, back to getting by then. All the more reason to set time aside to write. Right?

A Little Optimism, For A Change

It turns out that self-improvement is a time-consuming business. I am making good progress towards achieving some lifestyle changes that I have been wanting to implement for quite a while, but in doing so I find myself with very little time to write! Hopefully as the changes become part of my everyday routine they will require less planning and I will get the time back again.

I am trying not to feel bad about my lack of new content as I don’t feel I would write very well at the moment, but it still weighs on my mind.

I am in the midst of another heavily-scheduled week, but watch this space for future updates on the following:

  • Dairy free diet
  • Sustainable living
  • Therapy

It would be great to get some of my writing out of the draft phase.

How do you find time to write when you are particularly busy?

Therapy (Version 2.0): Part 1

My thoughts and observations following my assessment session for on 15/10/2019.

Covered in this session

  • Introductions
  • Identified what was to be covered in session
  • Identified main issue to be addressed
  • Established level of immediate risk
  • Next appointment time agreed.

Reflections

Wow, what a difference a change of therapist can make.

Those of you that have read my previous blog posts about therapy will be aware of how negatively I tend to approach it, but despite not having a session for almost a month I have managed to maintain my determination to get better. I’m not saying I haven’t considered giving up on therapy and going it alone – I have, whenever I feel less bad – but my mild panic attack the other day opened my eyes to how much I am struggling. I can only assume that if I didn’t have the benefit of 20 years of experience with mental health issues and various therapies that I would be in a much less functional state right now.

Back to the assessment though. It was a pre-planned phone call with a trainee therapist called Rose. She introduced herself and talked through the format of the assessment, which was undertaken much more comprehensively than for the online therapy.

Most of the session was similar to before, ie. the therapist asking for personal about the areas in which I have been struggling.

I briefly explained to Rose my history of mental health issues. I also explained that I now believe that my current struggles are related to the postnatal depression (PND) that I developed over 2 years ago and never received treatment for. My PND was compounded by interpersonal issues at work (some would say bullying). The bad experiences at work resulted in me feeling such severe guilt, anxiety, stress, self-doubt, depression and low confidence that I believe I am essentially traumatised by these events and that is why CBT isn’t right for me just yet. Rose suggested that a better path for me would be some counselling, followed by CBT once I am in a position to focus more on the here and now.

Finally, I thought, someone is actually listening to me!

In addition to immediately having more of a rappor with Rose, I also had the benefit of a few weeks of soul-searching and reflection on the last therapy to build a more articulate depiction of my current mental state. I felt I had a better grasp of what I did and didn’t want from therapy and therefore felt more in control of the assessment process. I felt that recommendations were reached with mutual input, rather than me being forced along a standard path of treatment, as if that was the only option.

Overall I felt much more was covered in a shorter time than in the online sessions. We overran the allotted time by 15 minutes but at no point did I feel rushed.

Conclusion

I found it much easier to built a rappor with Rose due to the assessment being done over the phone rather than the clunky chatting format. Her approach was friendly and quite passive (in a good way), rather than insisting on validating everything I said in a patronising manner, which is how I felt my last therapist approached things.

I feel so relieved to talk to someone that actually seemed to listen to what I was saying and understood it.

However, I am fairly sure that my positive experience has a lot to do with the therapist undertaking the assessment (Rose), so if I am referred to another therapist for the counselling then I may find myself in a similar position to the last therapy, where we just didn’t ‘click’. This may cause me some anxiety initially, but hopefully it will prove to be unfounded.

Mood at start of session: Anxious

Mood at end of session: Positive

Has anyone else had a similar experience with therapy? I would love to hear from you.

When Anxiety Bites

Warning: Post contains gratuitous introspection and bad jokes.

Today I had a full-on anxiety attack; the first in years. I experience perpetual low-level generalised anxiety related to “life”, but this was so close to becoming a panic attack – tremors, shortness of breath, literally running away from the situation… OK, so maybe it was a mild panic attack – it took me by surprise, is my point.

Reflecting on it now, it isn’t at all surprising. All the warning signs were there; trouble sleeping, irritability, disturbing thoughts. I have had a stressful week in parenting terms and I actually mentioned to my partner the other day that I needed a break. It’s quite hard to have a proper break with a newborn though, so I’m not sure what greater self-awareness would have achieved in this scenario.

On the plus side, I have something specific to discuss with my new therapist during my appointment this week, yay?

I was only half joking in my last post when I claimed that watching the documentary about “super morbidly obese” people was research. I mean, I do have a complicated relationship with food and impulse control, so I was actually curious to see whether the programme helped me to get into the mindset where I could focus more on my unconscious motivations for binging. It appears that I may have accidentally triggered myself in the process. Duh, well done me.

After six months of being off work (maternity leave, taken early just to GTFO) I am still only just starting to tap into what the underlying causes of my anxiety are. It’s going to take a lot more work to really drill down to the core issues.

My problems with anxiety have cropped up several times since my late teens, but the last time I had therapy was early 2015. So there is FIVE YEARS worth of baggage that I’m trying to sift through.

I feel that I’m an onion (not the smelly kind) and I’m having to peel back the layers of armour that I’ve built around myself just to get through life and present as a functioning human being.

So, I’m an armoured anxiety onion.

Ha, maybe my rings just need battering?

Maybe I should go to sleep.

***

Have you any tips for ways to tap into deeper motivations behind emotions and behaviours? If so, please leave a comment. I’m open to new ideas!

Therapy: A Decision

After a lot of consideration, I have come to the conclusion that CBT isn’t for me.

I started the therapy anticipating that this moment would come, but nevertheless it’s disappointing to be met with another dead end on my route to recovery.

Why wasn’t it working? A few reasons, including the time-consuming format (basically like WhatsApp), limited scope and focus on behaviours/goals.

More specifically, my behaviours aren’t actually an issue on a daily basis. After nearly two years of forcing myself out of bed to attend a soul-crushing job, I am well practised at doing things I would rather avoid. Also, I’m currently a full time mum to two little kids, so I really have no choice but to do everything I have to in order to meet their needs. Failure to do this would represent a much greater problem; luckily I am not in such a position.

So yeah, setting ‘goals’ felt a bit pointless because most of my day is taken up by small tasks that I would avoid (if I had that luxury). I live in a perpetual state of being outside my comfort zone.

I can talk the talk and come up with goals for setting myself more `me’ time or trying to reframe my negative thoughts, but the reality is that life is kinda something that happens ‘to’ me and once my little ones have been considered I have very little control of what I do or think about. Obviously I love them and cherish our time together, but it is rarely time spent in ways that I would choose. Getting to enjoy my children one-on-one is hard enough right now without trying to force in some alone time too!

Did I mention that most of my posts are drafted whilst breastfeeding…?

Anyway, this lack of autonomy will be resolved in time and I know it. But presently I consider that my problems are more emotional than behavioural. I can fight against my ‘flight’ instinct, but am not sufficiently equipped to manage the emotional fallout. I have an emotional resilience issue. And the result of this is my negative emotions spilling out into other areas of my life.

I only had a couple of sessions of CBT, but after each one I felt frustrated, confused, triggered – worse, basically. When I raised this with my therapist she made impractical suggestions like ‘go for a walk’ or ‘have some alone time after sessions’. I personally felt that the issue was predominantly her manner and/or the format.

BUT… rather than giving up on therapy completely, I am going to try getting referred for a different type of therapy next to see whether a change in format and focus will help me to find a more practical approach.

Wish me luck?