It’s Mental Health Awareness Week and it’s been a long time since I’ve (over)shared on here but – as I near the end of a 3 month course in CBT on the NHS – I felt like maybe I should talk about it, because if it inspires someone else to get help, that’ll be my biggest achievement in lockdown, other than rediscovering Weetabix.
A lot of amazing things happened last summer – I got married, I got a PB in a half marathon (lol at that time we were allowed to run with thousands of strangers and take sweets out of strange children’s hands on the way round), I got a writing agent. But I also experienced the most debilitating and all-consuming period of health anxiety I’ve ever had. Which on one spectacularly sunny day in July meant I sat my husband down and suggested we cancel our holiday the following week because I was so convinced the doctor was going to give me a cancer diagnosis.
It has taken until February this year to get help (I applied last May) because of those lovely play-hard-to-get NHS waiting lists and I was really skeptical because I had an absolutely abysmal experience with CBT on the NHS when I was 24 that left me feeling worse than when I started. But – I’m happy to say – it has been a little bit life-changing. I’ve learned that a lot of the anxiety symptoms I’ve been trying and failing to deal with for years are a form of OCD. What has felt like a safety or coping mechanism and way of reassuring myself (my next blog post will be on all the inappropriate places I’ve checked my boobs) has actually been making it worse.
Together, with the help of my therapist, I’ve conquered habits I never, ever imagined at the start that I would be able to break (I also now like showers instead of finding them triggering – major breakthrough!). It’s been hard – doing this in lockdown has meant I haven’t been able to avoid confronting myself but that’s why I ordered myself a kilogram of pic n mix. It’s also been gentle. When I first had CBT it was a 5-week course where I got handed a million sheets of paper that somehow both overwhelming and patronizing, by a woman who had mega Professor Trelawney vibes (which if you’re worried about dying an early death is not the most comforting #thegrim). This time, my therapist and I started with a lot of talking about where some of these worries and behaviours might stem from, and then – over many weeks – slowly worked through some mechanisms that might help me deal with them. We’re at the stage now where we’re consolidating everything I’ve learned – the idea being I can “become my own therapist” in time.
Don’t get me wrong – I am not miraculously healed. This is an ongoing battle that requires a lot of work on my part multiple times a day at the moment; but theatres aren’t opening again until next millennium so at least I’ve got the time. I literally could have grown and birthed a child in the time it took to get those sessions. But in a weird way there is something nice, if you feel anxious about the idea of getting help, about applying and knowing you’ll have a bit of time to get used to the idea. It was 100% worth the wait. Something in me changed last summer – where I realised I didn’t want to live like this anymore. Thankfully, I was safe and prepared to wait until I could get help. I understand for some people the stakes are a lot higher. But if you – like me – think maybe you don’t want to put up with some of the shit in your brain for the rest of your life, then I can’t recommend it enough.
I’m here if anyone wants to talk. Sending love. X