I like to joke that for my 30th birthday I gave myself the gift of mental wellness, but it’s not actually a joke. I really did that.
The day before I turned 30 I went to the doctors and told them I was struggling with depression and anxiety. My doctor was fantastic. I was prescribed Citalopram, which I have used successfully in the past, and was offered the chance to self-refer to a therapy scheme run in my area.
That was nearly a year ago now, and today, March 18, was the last session in my course of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Over the eighteen weeks of therapy (give or take one or two as life sometimes meant my therapist and I couldn’t meet), I’ve explored a lot of things. I’m not going to share them all here, because the list is personal and it’s also very long. That said, when I went into therapy I was told it could be hard work. That, in fact, I would probably feel worse before I felt better. That is exactly what happened.
I also now realise how ill I actually was–and had been for a long time. As part of my therapy work we are given worksheets where we can record our mood and anxiety levels. No one specifically said it at the time, but I was scoring in the quite severe ranges for both. Seeing that depicted in graph form today, and where I am now in the “normal” ranges, actually made me both sad and appreciative.
I was sad that I had been struggling for so long. I was sad that I had been inflicting what amounted to emotional torture on myself for the past twenty years. I was sad that I could not see that I am a person who has value.But I am appreciative too. I appreciate the bravery it took for me to get help. I can appreciate the strength it takes for others in similar or worse situations to stick with their therapy. I am thankful for the services that were offered to me–free of charge, thank you NHS–that reached me and made such a difference in my life. Lastly, I am appreciative to everyone who has been accepting of this journey I have been on. It’s been rocky, but so, so worth it.
As I look back over the past twelve months, I feel a profound sense of change. I am not what I was. Of course, with any passage of time that is often true, but for so long I felt like I was stuck; that everyone else had a direction and I was simply going nowhere. That I was slowly dying inside.
I do not feel that anymore.
The other big thing that I have learned, something that I have to confess almost makes me cry to say, is that… I actually like myself a little bit.
I didn’t know that I hated myself before. But I did. I felt like I was a failure. That I was unworthy to even go out in public. I felt like I didn’t deserve life.
I don’t believe that anymore. Those thoughts are still there, and those core beliefs still sometimes whisper in my ear, but CBT has helped me to find other thoughts, to look at the evidence of who I am, and see myself. Really see myself. And I quite like what I see.
The point of this post wasn’t just to mark this occasion, though that was a factor, but also to say to anyone who might be reading this who is going through a period of mental ill-health, you deserve to be well. In fact, you deserve to be loved and to live your life in pursuit of your own joy. There is help out there.
That’s not to gloss over the fact that, even though I am in remission now there won’t be times in the future where I have to again deal with severe anxiety and/or depression. That likely will happen.
I also want to acknowledge that even though my recovery might sound relatively straightforward, it really was anything but. I’d had a lot of false starts and years (decades) of struggling. Other people will have an even more complicated time finding wellness. If that is you, all I can say is that I offer you my support, and please know that I intend to use my wellness to campaign for things like greater mental health awareness and to advocating for free and accessible therapy.
It’s also worth saying that therapy isn’t the end. It is now up to me to continue the work I started in therapy, to honour myself and the work I have done by making sure I keep up to my CBT and develop on those tools and resources I have been provided.
But I am hopeful that I am walking toward 31 years of age with a new energy and, perhaps most importantly, a new sense of self-compassion.
Today I said goodbye to therapy, and now I say hello to life. I’m looking forward to what it has in store for me.