I’ve never had a problem talking about my mental health, but I struggled finding someone to talk to. For years I would pour myself out online, finding security in the anonymity and the knowledge that I would never have to face the people I spoke to, never know what it would be like to be judged by them. I had friends, but was always afraid there would be no going back after opening up about the demons in my head. So I put on a mask, a safe mask showing a witty, confident girl that everyone loved. But deep down, it wasn’t really me.
The longer I wore the mask the more I suppressed my feelings, and my mental health got worse. Over the years I’ve had doctors, relatives, and partners urge me to try counselling. My response was always the same, “I don’t like the idea of a stranger judging me as I tell them my life story, it’s too invasive.” Part of me believed it, but part of me just used it as a cover because I didn’t want to admit I had a problem.
I held down a job, I had a social life, I wasn’t really sick. I would come to learn that mental illness ranges in severity, and my biggest regret was not seeing a counsellor sooner.
I’d come close before but always chickened out before I could book an appointment, feeling like once I started having to see a counsellor, I’d failed. I’d have to wear it like a badge of shame and people would know that I wasn’t coping. I had to reach rock bottom before I could eventually see it through.
That was Summer 2016, when I’d ended a four year relationship and very quickly started one with a close friend. I was very happy in the beginning. But I’d been comfortable for four years and here I was starting again; getting to know someone else, learning to trust them, letting them learn me and who I was – that was terrifying. Pair that with starting a new job in the same week (I don’t do things by halves), and my mental health was a mess. I had low self-esteem, I didn’t like myself, didn’t trust myself, was overly paranoid, stressed, sleepless, crying, all because everything had changed in the blink of an eye. Even though it all changed for the better.
Ollie and I became more serious and it was daunting and overwhelming. It was time to meet his work friends, and I was in no way ready. I tried to override the anxiety, tried to trick myself into thinking it was all going to be okay. My hands shook as I curled my hair, my stomach did cartwheels under my dress, my heart pounded like it wanted to escape from my chest. I couldn’t do this.
It was only minutes into the dinner, but it felt like days. The noises, the faces, the questions, the one mean girl in the group who made fun of the way I twirled my hair when I got nervous, and talked over me every time I built up enough courage to speak. I pretended to take a phone call, walked out, and never went back in. I cried in the street as I tried to explain myself to Ollie. He insisted there was no explaining to do, that I tried my best, and he was proud of me. He had work in the morning and was initially going back home after the meal. But in the state I was in, he didn’t hesitate to stay with me all night as I sobbed into his shirt.
I felt so lucky to have had him with me on my weakest, lowest night. I’d bared all now; there was nothing left to hide from him, not a worse state he could see me in
I woke up one morning, still ashamed and depressed from that disastrous evening, and thought, “I don’t want to live like this any more”. I spent the day on the computer researching counsellors in my area. No more fear of judgement, I was beyond that now, I needed all the help I could get. I scrolled through a few websites before I settled on Alison’s. She sounded warm and friendly, and within a week, I was having my first counselling session.
“So, what does it feel like when you’re low?” Alison asked intently. It’s so comforting to have someone just sit back and listen, even if you do have to pay them. I searched the room as I rattled my brains for an answer – Alison always reminded me to dig deep into my feelings, to become aware of my subconscious.
“It’s just overwhelming. I feel completely consumed by sadness, loneliness, defeat, insecurity, hopelessness…” I trail off as I watch Alison retain all this information, not really knowing when to stop spilling out every detail of my life and emotions. I’d never had an opportunity to discuss all of this before.
I was exhausted after every weekly session, I could finally let go of old feelings and grudges that weighed me down. I felt like little toxic pieces of me were left behind after every appointment. And I held on to the hope that someday soon it would all be gone. Eleven months later, I left the safety and comfort of her office for the last time. I was done. Better. Healthy?
Treatment options for mental illness are not the same for everyone. I know a lot of people who said counselling wasn’t for them at all. If you take anything from this, please learn from me: Don’t knock something until you try it. I wish I’d seen a counsellor sooner instead of spending all those years bashing therapy, because it changed my life.