Following on shortly from my last piece, I went in to see my counsellor. As I'm sure you will have got from S0202, I wasn't in the best of places. A mentally challenging weekend had left me mentally beaten, battered and bruised. I found myself feeling pretty lost and defeated, but still something separate from depressed. And yet somehow, I ended up leaving that session with my spirits lifted, vitality renewed and ready to get back on the wagon.
After almost 5 years of varying treatment and talking therapies, I really feel like I'm making some progress. You name it, I've tried it. Hypnotherapy. Private counselling. Hypnotherapy again. More private counselling, as well as three rounds of NHS Talking Therapies on top. The worst bit is having to explain 16 years of anxiety to new people at the start of each course. Often it feels as if you are just talking to a labcoat - someone that is just marking your symptoms off a checklist and giving you the usual spiel on how to get better. My current therapist is different. He was very keen to explain from the start that he himself had experienced and suffered with anxiety for years. Not just anxiety, but almost exactly the same symptoms as myself. And he beat it. I kind of see him as my anxiety sherpa, leading the way to my own success.
Despite the recent efforts towards increasing awareness of mental health and the surrounding issues, there are many out there that still feel unable, perhaps even unwilling, to seek help. Mental illnesses are still thought of as being a weakness, a character flaw, something to be ashamed of. That just isn't the case. If anything, the day to day struggles can strengthen your character, and help you see the world in a different light. Personally, I found that my anxiety made me a more considerate person and generally more understanding of others. It encourages you to be more kind in all pursuits, after all you simply don't know what's going on another person's head. They might just need a friendly smile from a stranger to conquer their own demons for that day. Be more kind.
After half hour or so of explaining why I was feeling so down and beaten, he asked me a question I don't think I'll forget in a hurry. "Do you feel fulfilled with your life?" I mean, what do you even say to that... It caught me completely off-guard and really provoked some serious thinking. Do I feel fulfilled?
My immediate answer was no, and let me explain why. I've been dealing with various forms of anxiety for most of my adult life. It started when I was 14. I'm just about to turn 32. Virtually every decision I've ever made about the direction of my life, has been made under the influence of anxiety. Why did I stop going on holidays abroad with friends and family? Anxiety. Why didn't I finish my studies at university? Anxiety. Why did I keep it a secret from my family for months after dropping out? Anxiety? Why didn't I learn to paraglide when I had the opportunity? Anxiety. Why have I never sat through a friends' wedding ceremony? Anxiety. I was filled with frustration and anger as to how I had become such a slave to my mental health. The weight of the weekend's events felt even heavier.
But then I had a light-bulb moment.
I do feel fulfilled. I am an extremely lucky person. Sure, anxiety definitely did shape some of the decisions I made, but it also helped shaped me into the person I am now. I might not have become a teacher of languages, but instead I'm a successful accountant. Social anxiety kept me bound for so long, yet somehow I managed to put it to one side and become a part of the Ember team as Community Manager. I met my long-suffering, long-caring fiancée. I felt everything fall into perspective, and it gave me the reassurances I needed to drag myself back out of the hole I'd found myself in, to get back on the wagon and to be answering back to my anxieties with 'F**k It' once more.
The thing about Talking Therapies is, once you give voice to a thought, it becomes real. You hear it out loud and you really start to question it. The person you're speaking with hears it and questions it. You get new points of view that you hadn't even considered. To all those unsure of opening up, seeking help or just finding someone to talk to - talking about your mental health really does help. You got this. It gets better.