Tuesday, 5 June 2018

My Counselling Journey....So Far

If you've been following my anxiety & mental health journey for a while, you'll know that I've been attending weekly therapy sessions for the last 2 years or so.

I've suffered with anxiety most of my life, and although I'd tried therapy and counselling in fits and starts in the past - this was the first time I'd fully committed to attending regular sessions. It was a big deal for me, and I was really determined to make some progress this time after struggling for so long.

I started to attend the sessions on the advice of my health visitor after the birth of my third son - I opened up to her about how I felt my anxiety was increasing, and how I was starting to struggle to do normal things. In actual fact I was starting to become agoraphobic, and this was really starting impact on my life....so I knew it was time to act on it.

The sessions I attended were run through the NHS Depression & Anxiety service, and they were completely free. I didn't need a referral from a Dr, but my health visitor did put me in touch with the staff at the service just to make the process a little easier on me.

I started to see a lovely therapist for around half an hour per week, she decided I was suffering with generalised anxiety and panic disorder and so she started to do some CBT work with me.

I found this quite helpful, and it taught me quite a few techniques that I still use daily even now - but as the sessions went on, it became apparent to my therapist that there was more going on with me beneath the surface.

Over the course of our sessions, I started to open up more to her about some past experiences I'd had and some ongoing issues I was dealing with - this led to a further diagnosis of obsessive compulsive disorder, and post traumatic stress disorder.

After over a year of seeing my regular therapist, she decided that they couldn't do any further CBT work until I'd dealt with the underlying trauma as it was causing a sort of mental block on my progress - she referred me on to another therapist at the service who decided that the best course of treatment for me would be EMDR therapy.

I've spoken a little about this before, you can read about it in more detail here if you want to know more about it, but basically it involves using electric pulses to help reprogramme the part of my brain which stores memories. The theory being that when you experience trauma, your brain doesn't always properly store the memory - instead it keeps it right there ready to be accessed, ready to send you into fight or flight mode when something triggers it because the brain thinks you're in a dangerous situation.
 The EMDR process was going to help me to go through my past trauma, and process it properly - storing the memories away correctly, and letting my brain know that I didn't need to have these memories so easily accessed anymore because the danger was now gone.

Honestly, I was pretty skeptical about it at first but after a few sessions I started to appreciate just how effective it was. Memories that had me in tears at the beginning of a therapy session would end up feeling so distant with so little emotion attached to them by the end that I felt as though they'd happened to somebody else.

It was incredible, and as we worked through various triggering memories week after week I started to really feel the benefit of the sessions. I was excited to get to the end of the treatment.

Unfortunately, I suffered a period of high anxiety and low mood when I was 2 sessions away from the end of my 2 years of treatment - and so I missed one of my sessions.

And I was discharged. There was no further communication with my therapist, I was just sent a text message to say that I was discharged from the service - and that was that.

This was around a month ago now, and it's taken me a little while to process how I'm feeling.

On one hand, I feel really proud of how far I've come since starting therapy - I'm pleased I commited 2 years to it, and I feel as though I worked through a LOT of issues.

But on the other, I can't help but feel really disappointed to have fallen at the final hurdle. To have had the sessions stopped so close to the end.

By the very nature of EMDR therapy, you build up to talking about your most triggering and upsetting memories which means that my worst trauma experiences hadn't been discussed yet...so I feel like this is something that's still hanging over me.

If I was to re-refer myself, I'd have to start at the beginning again and that just feels like something I can't face right now.

I so wish I could be one of those people who finishes a course of therapy and says how amazing it was, and how it almost completely cured me and how I feel like I have a new lease of life and suddenly everything is rosy again...but the truth is, that's not the case and in all honesty I don't think there are many people who are able to say that.

Mental health issues are complex and ever-changing, and finding a complete "cure" for them is probably an almost impossible quest.

It's a long and winding road, and one I'll probably be on forever, but I'm proud to have taken some steps along it over the past two years and hopefully one day in the future I'll feel up to travelling that bit further on.

If you're on this road too, try to keep strong and know that if you don't come away from treatment feeling A ok...there's nothing "wrong" with you. It's completely normal. It's ok to be a work in progress rather than a completed project.

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