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,