Face Your Fears


Further to my last post about deciding not to take my meds, I was, however, very determined to go along with the suggestion of talk therapy. I had long ago rejected the idea that pills alone would eventually cure me and if you think they will cure you, then I’m sorry to say they won’t. I do believe meds can have their role but I do not believe they are a single solution alone.

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t looking forward to therapy but I was determined to go and make the best of it. The other terrifying thing is that it was group therapy. This idea I hated but my Psychiatrist insisted that he felt this was the best thing  for me to begin with. I strongly disagreed but wasn’t given an option. Why would I want to go and talk about stuff with a bunch of strangers? I mean, I wasn’t really that mentally ill and I felt like a charlatan. I was so certain that I would be judged as pathetic for being off work and not really very ill, that my anxiety was super high., (I can appreciate the irony of that last statement with hindsight!) To cap it all, therapy was a good 35 minute drive away on the other side of Southampton and somewhere I wasn’t really familiar with driving. Driving often made me anxious if I didn’t know where I was going and when I was going somewhere I was pretty sure I didn’t want to be, it only made things worse.

I arrived at the Marchwood Priory courtesy of my corporate BUPA insurance about 10 days after I was signed off sick. I was plenty early because of my nervousness and walked up to the doors feeling so out of place, thinking all the while that I was going to be discovered at any moment as having no genuine reason to be there. Worse still what if someone saw me there? What did the drivers on the road outside think of me for turning in to this place? Will the people in group just look at me scornfully? Did the Psychiatrist send me to group to show me what people with real illnesses looked like? What if some of them are proper, you know, mental? I am ashamed to say that I had so many stigmatic thoughts running through my head at this point.

I sat in the waiting room not making eye contact with anyone. Were they all like me? Or are they “normal” and looking at me wondering what is wrong with me? I made a coffee to distract myself, only finding out later that to my disgust it was not only instant but instant decaff (possibly the worst thing for a self confessed coffee snob). I met my therapist shortly before group and had to fill out some forms etc. The standard things and the depression and anxiety self assessment questionnaire. I always hated that form. She was lovely and put me at ease, so much so that I spilled my coffee all over my left leg just before group, great going you complete dick. Now I had to turn up to group with a bunch of people who weren’t going to take me seriously and looking like I had pissed myself in to the bargain. Sweet.

In to the Dragon’s Lair


I was one of the first in the room. It was a big room, with high ceilings and semi new chairs of assorted shapes arranged in a circle. It was like I had imagined and this did nothing to quell the anxiety monster’s fortune telling about how bad this was going to be, only giving more weight to the disastrous scenarios playing in my head. I began to be glad that the coffee was decaff as I was getting pretty worked up already and caffeine would have only fuelled that fire further. At least I wasn’t sweating profusely yet. Why did I have to think about that? I can feel myself starting to perspire now. The door opened. A perfectly normal looking person walked in, said “Hi” and sat down. Hmmm, maybe another staff member? As the room gradually filled up, I realised that everyone looked pretty normal, they also seemed to get on pretty well together and chatted pretty easily. Great, it’s going to be a clique and I’m the outsider again as usual.

The session started with an introduction and a check in with everyone. I bit the bullet and just tell them the abridged story, admitting that I have hidden this for years and need to get better quickly. I get a lot of understanding nods and words of support and am relieved. No one has challenged my right to be there and no one has called me on my bullshit reason for being there. I had overcome the first hurdle. I sat there listening and cannot for the life of me recall what the exercise was but I realised it wasn’t even remotely as bad as I had feared. These were all professional people with similar experiences and problems. It showed me that I wasn’t alone, wasn’t a freak and certainly wasn’t a charlatan for being there. Dammit, I guess that was the point the psychiatrist was trying to make after all!

CBT – Cognitive Behavioural Twaddle

So I had been put in to a CBT group and this was something else I wasn’t greatly enthused about as I’d tried that before and it hadn’t worked, so it was all nonsense right? Well, as it turns out this is also not true and was a combination of poorly administered CBT and lack of enthusiasm on my part previously. This stuff does work if you actually commit to it and suspend your scorn/derision for this technique. If you do not have any of these preconceived ideas, great! It is likely to be very beneficial to you if you actually are honest and truthful with the exercises. You shouldn’t ever have to share things with the group if you do not feel comfortable doing so. Those pieces of paper should be filled out with the things you don’t neccessarily want out in the open, the true, raw thoughts and feelings you have. I got in to the practice of keeping all of mine from a certain point, which I found to be very useful down the road a ways.

After a few sessions I was surprised about how much I had relaxed and was comfortable opening up with some pretty deep fears and thoughts which I normally tried to keep very deeply buried, as I was sure that these were the ones that would single me out as being a total weirdo. I was quite surprised when I found others agreeing with me or empathising and sharing their own similar thoughts or feelings! It felt pretty good to realise that I was just like these other people who I viewed as perfectly sane and normal. Maybe I didn’t need to hide so much and could actually be myself? I just needed to figure out who that is now, I have adopted so many fronts and masks over the years that I felt a deep sense of uncertainty about my authenticity. Something else to add to the list of things to figure out along the way.

Group therapy turned out to be a significantly better experience than I imagined and it was defintely a case of the fear of something being way worse than the reality. Read, “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway” for more on this! I now am a firm believer in the power of group therapy and CBT as treatments for depression and anxiety. Believe me, I could not have been more skeptical about this at the outset. In particular, because I am male, I had one of my masculine masks firmly welded on at the time. It doesn’t make any difference if you get a private group like the one I attended, or an NHS one in the UK as the practitioners are pretty much the same.

If you get offered group therapy then take it and approach it with an open mind and let go of preconceptions. They may just get you started on your own path to recovery.

What am I Reading?

Well truth be told it is still the Mask of Masculinity by Lewis Howes! I am writing this post pretty much immediately after the late one previously and am not reading particularly fast at the moment. I have a looong reading list to get through though so will be sure to move on to something else really soon.

Recommended Podcast of the Week:

Well, not technically a podcast but it got me headed down the path of discovering what gems there are to discover in the world of podcasts for people suffering from mental health problems. This is a TED talk by Andrew Solomon and it really got me thinking and acknowledging the possibility that someone who is depressed can also lead a successful and inspirational life. Watch it here and let me know what you think.

Look after yourselves,

Bear x

The Journey Begins

An Apology

e9050faa7983d36c669594b5cd829fa7--jack-frost-cat-artA quick apology before the start of this post; I am late with this one, I know I am. A whole bunch of things cropped up, the good the bad and the ugly but these things happen in life and I couldn’t find the time to finish this and publish it. Life gets in the way sometimes but I am proud to say that I have coped with everything it has thrown at me in the past few weeks and I see this as a sign that my recovery continues on the right path, Yay Me! Thank you for your patience and on with the post…..

A Journey of 1,000 Miles Starts with a Single Step

I was conflicted. I had achieved  what I had yearned for; time. Time off from work to heal and get better. I was overwhelmed with guilt and shame and relief. What would the neighbours think when I was at home all the time? What are my colleagues saying about me at work? Will my parents be embarrassed? Will my wife think I’m weak? Will I be able to admit it to my friends?

It was difficult to say the least. The anxiety from all of these things was distracting and while previously I used to fantasize about having days where I didn’t need to do anything and I could play video games, watch films or sleep in; but it just didn’t match up to reality. Sure I tried these things and secretly ate a load of crap too but none of it really helped. I couldn’t focus on games, I found they made the anxiety worse sometimes, like I was a failure if I didn’t succeed a mission or died in the game. Can people see how crap I am at this game? To counter the anxiety I changed the difficulty setting to easy so I could be a bit more casual about it. I felt ashamed and pathetic doing this too. I still couldn’t focus and felt deeply unfulfilled.

This wasn’t helping at all and so after a few days I decided to crawl out from my pit and take action. It turned out to be the best thing I could have done as my mood was not improving and rest was not making me feel less tired. Time to get busy and throw everything at this illness. I’d been band aiding it for 16 years and I wanted to bury it once and for all. My Mum had been pestering me for ages to go and see Karen, a fabulous acupuncturist in Winchester and I hadn’t bothered. She has treated me before and I felt like a failure going back so avoided it but I bit the bullet and went for it.

Decision Point


My first appointment with Karen was a few days after I got signed off and started taking the Fluoxetine. We had a long chat about things and discussed medication etc. She has seen me on various meds and tentatively asked if I would consider going med free. This stunned me as I hadn’t really considered it as an option, like I had freedom of choice in the matter. I thought about it, as I had long considered that meds often made me feel worse and where they didn’t make me feel worse they really dampened my emotions so I felt hollow inside. I know part of the point is for them to take the edge off of the major low points but in my experience they cap the high points too so I lost the ability to really experience joy and happiness a lot of the time.

We discussed alternative supplements which might be of benefit and as she rightly pointed out I could go on my meds whenever I chose if I felt that it was the right course of action. She read me a passage from a book about pharmaceuticals and the negative effects; muscle weakness, headaches, appetite suppressant etc. etc., were ones I was experiencing. The one that gave me pause was appetite suppressant as I had poor body image and an eating disorder, this was something I counted as a major positive and I was tempted. I decided to think about it and we continued with the acupuncture and made another for the following week.

I realised I had a major decision to make and I cannot stress this enough, this is a dangerous thing to play with and I am in no way saying this is the right thing to do for everyone. Pharmaceuticals have their place for sure and I do not and will not ever recommend people come off their meds without supervision. Not Ever. That said, for me I decided to give it a try. Besides, I had tried so many in the past and never fully climbed out of the pit. I was sick of the effects they had on my ability to experience life, good and bad, plus the effect on libido was horrendous to boot. I had my safety net, close support and supervision, plus I was in no way suicidal at any point during this time. Your own personal safety is number one here people, don’t mess about with this if you are showing any signs of wanting to harm yourself.

The Alternative Way

Coming off meds was tough, tougher than I thought but I kept myself going by thinking that this was one less hurdle to deal with later. A week or two later I was feeling a bit better and had started experiencing a fuller range of emotions which was both good and bad but felt real. Since Fluoxetine is an SSRI, meaning that it inhibits the re-uptake of serotonin in the blood, I wasn’t able to start some of the alternative supplements while still having Fluoxetine in my system. Combining the two would not be wise. I initially started on Cordyceps, a type of mushroom (go shroom power!) which are great for boosting energy and lowering stress. There is an article here on the wide ranging benefits. To try and boost my serotonin levels we supplemented with American Ginseng which is believed to help regulate serotonin in it’s own right, more on that here. I am still taking these supplements today and do feel like they helped a lot but they do take time to get to work.

Acupuncture has been a massive help through my recovery and that is as much to do with the actual acupuncture as it is to do with the practitioner, Karen. She has gone above and beyond anything I could have expected to try and help me through this and I owe her a great deal. It is amazing when you find someone with such a big heart who puts you at ease and genuinely cares about you as a person. So much so that her support and treatment has been a major cornerstone of my recovery journey.

If you are interested in exploring the option of acupuncture in treating depression or anxiety, then do your homework and look for a practitioner that is trained in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Five Elements acupuncture. The best ones should offer a free consultation and The British Acupuncture Council has a searchable list of practitioners which would be a good place to start, unless you can go by recommendation.

Karen, the wonderful lady that she is, works out of Winchester Health and Beauty in Hampshire and I never hesitate recommending her to anyone. She is the first of the heroes we will encounter in this tale.

What I am reading right now?


The Mask of Masculinity by Lewis Howes. A fantastic book. I am finding it very thought provoking as one of my biggest challenges has been a lack of identity. I have fought so hard to hide my mental health challenges that I adopted many different “masks” as I called them. As if by magic, here Lewis identifies each and every one of them and deconstructs them. A very timely book and one for anyone to read, male or female as we can all adopt these masks. It just so happens that this is written from Lewis’ own perspective and experiences, it is a very open and vulnerable portrayal of his life and ever so powerful because of that.

Recommended Podcast

Really to go with the above, this one is Lewis Howes on “The One You Feed” podcast and it will give you a brilliant introduction to what the book is about and also to the ever amazing One You Feed podcast which has helped me in numerous ways over the past few months. Lewis Howes also has his own podcast called “The School of Greatness” and this is also worth a listen too. I will talk more about this one in later blogs as it has been incredibly inspirational but may not be as beneficial to people early in their journey!

Next Blog post coming really soon so I’ll get back on track. Look after yourselves and catch you next time,

Bear x