Monday, 2 October 2017

Professional Help - A Snapshot of my Experience with Psychologists

I was talking to a close friend earlier in the week (credit for this post idea goes to you, Mim!) and she asked me about my experience with mental health professionals - strategies I found helpful, how the whole idea of therapy works - quite a lot of questions really, and I found I couldn't quite articulate answers properly at the time, so she suggested that I do a post about it.  This has made me really think about things that have and haven't worked for me - and maybe pass on little tips that could help others (although I am by no means a professional!) - these are merely my opinions.  This post is focussing purely on the psychologists I have dealt with.  {Sorry in advance about the weird formatting of this post (and some previous posts haha), I always seem to stuff it up and don't have to patience to try to fix it!).

I have been seeing mental health professionals on and off for the last eight years.  I have seen four different psychologists, all with very different ways of viewing and trying to help manage my intense anxiety.  Some if it really didn't work, and often that was my fault for not trying hard enough.
One psychologist insulted me by saying if I simply meditated and exercised then I wouldn't need medication (I had been diagnosed with major depressive disorder and severe generalised anxiety disorder/agoraphobia the same week and had just added clonazepam to my mix of medications).  One was really tough-love in her approach, one was no tough and all love and one was all tough and no love - but finally, I found one that seemed to fit.  I understood enough about what did and didn't work for me that I was assertive enough to state that up-front, and we worked together on some strategies that didn't make me cringe at the thought, that challenged me (of course) and also really made me think deeply about how mean my brain could be and how to try and control that more effectively.  The point of that little spiel is to point out that it's really important to find someone you connect with, someone who respects you, someone who is willing to respond to any concerns you may have had in the past and someone who tailors a recovery plan specifically for you.

Trying to re-train your brain, is really hard work.  Seeing a psychologist (in my experience) isn't just going into a room, sitting on a comfy couch and spilling all your problems, then they offer a brilliant suggestion to take away all the worry and pain - you have to actually commit to working it out.  It's always unpleasant and uncomfortable and exhausting, but if it helps with the anxiety/depression, I have obviously found it to be completely worth it.

I'm not a fan of breathing exercises.  I know "deep breathing" is supposed to do wonders for anxiety but it truly doesn't work for me.  That might sound ridiculous, but it's true!  If anything, it makes me more panicky.  I have tried lots of different techniques, in lots of different circumstances, and it has never helped me.  As soon as this is suggested to me, I roll my eyes and practically beg for a different option.  I can't be doing it right, surely - but I just find the whole thing stressful and pointless and it has always been the first suggestion given to me.  The most recent psychologist I saw, laughed along with me when I explained how difficult I find this particular practice, and suggested we move right on to something else.  Finally!

The one thing that really did strike a cord with me, and did help me to see my insanely negative thought patterns, was to write down every time I had a negative thought - the most common being "I am a terrible mother".  I would then draw two columns, one with the heading evidence for and the other with the heading evidence against.  Physically writing down horrible things your brain is saying to you, is upsetting.  Physically writing down that there isn't really any concrete evidence to support those horrible things, is comforting.  In the end, I was able to flick back to the pages where I had already written down the thoughts (I have a lot of circling, repetitive thoughts) and I could see right in front of me, that it just wasn't true.  Not to mention the fact that writing things down is therapeutic for me, even if this was in a more scientific way than usual.  I haven't done this for a while, and talking about it now has reminded me how very beneficial I found it on my road to gradually healing and feeling like a capable mum/person again.

Exposure Therapy is something I really, really struggled with - but ultimately, it did help.  It's pretty self explanatory really, exposing yourself to situations that make you uncomfortable/anxious and continuing to do so, until that feeling fades.  I still get anxious about going out in public with Isaac, but since implementing gradual exposure therapy (a 10 minute walk here, a 5 minute supermarket shop there, meeting friends at a park etc.) I am now much more confident to at least leave the house.  Going anywhere with a toddler is stressful, but the anxiety isn't so much about leaving the security of my own four walls, with the intense fear of having a public panic attack - but wondering what mischief Isaac can cause wherever it is we are going.

Sometimes, it is simply so helpful to talk to someone who isn't emotionally involved in your life.  I have had some really positive revelations thanks to suggestions from a psychologist who didn't know my family, had never met my friends and didn't know me on a personal level.  They are able to focus on the problems you are having without any other opinions getting in the way.  It is refreshing and can ultimately be very freeing.

There are so many other strategies and therapies that have been suggested that I've tried and usually failed; which goes to show that there isn't a blanket solution for everyone and there are lots of options available.  Have I found psychologists useful? Absolutely.  Have I found some of the strategies and sessions a bit pointless/expensive? Definitely.  Would I recommend seeing a professional to anyone who might be struggling and feels like they need some help? Yes. A thousand times, yes.

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