I’ve been putting off writing this post, or any posts really, for a while. I think I’ve been pushing things aside and trying not to engage with whatever might be going on in my brain, for fear that it might render me distraught and useless. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to blog, it’s just I haven’t felt inspired or given myself any time to think about how I’m doing. I’ve wanted to write about therapy for a while, but I really didn’t know where to start or what to say. So, I figured the best thing to do was just start writing and see what happened.
My therapy journey
I’ve been in psychodynamic therapy for a few months now. Since May, I think. I can’t believe it’s been that long, actually. I don’t go every week, more like every two or three weeks. Before that, I was in therapy with a trainee psychologist for three months as well. This year has been pretty heavy on the therapy front, which is absolutely fine by me because I’ve waited long enough for it. I tactically ended up playing a pretty good game when I was offered therapy in the short term with a trainee. Once our time came to a close, she referred me straight up to her supervisor and I was seen within a couple of weeks. I’d possibly have still been waiting in May if I hadn’t agreed to work with a trainee first.
Therapy isn’t easy, as I’m sure anyone reading this either knows or can imagine pretty well. This model of therapy is particularly strange, because it’s so different to what I’ve experienced before. Prior to this I’d been referred to counselling several times and had embarked upon some ill-fated CBT. I’d been to group therapy (worst thing ever). That was based on CBT techniques as well.
The thing is, when you spend as much time in your own head as I have, you know a lot of that stuff. I understand that my thoughts and behaviour aren’t helpful. It isn’t a revelation for me to know that they need changing. The thing with that sort of therapy, though, is it at least feels proactive. There are things to ‘do’, even if they haven’t always been helpful to me. I’ve felt as though if I just do this, if I try to exercises people tell me, I’ll find the magic cure.
Psychodynamic therapy is not like that. At all. There’s no ‘homework’, no exercises, no thought diaries. Mercifully, I don’t have too fill in one of those fucking stupid questionnaires every time I go. You know the sort. The ones that try to assess on a numerical scale how anxious or depressed you are. You have a score each week, and if it improves it’s considered a success. I hate those things and sincerely hope I never have to fill one in again.
Seeing my therapist is strange. It’s just conversation. Yes, it’s about feelings and thoughts and that sort of thing. It doesn’t feel very clinical. It’s not just me talking, either. He has his input, which is usually pretty damn insightful. Who knew, someone with a doctorate in psychology would have an understanding of how I might be feeling? At first I think I was a little thrown, and worried that I wouldn’t have anything tangible at the end of it to help me cope.
I don’t feel that way now. I have a greater awareness of how my coping techniques have helped and eventually hindered me to the point where I just stopped being able to deal with things. He’s always said that nothing is to blame. My habits of blocking myself off from feelings, positive and negative, served to protect me. I built up walls and dams to protect myself and others from what I perceived to be unwelcome, frightening emotions.
I worried, on some level, almost constantly about how I would be seen by others if I expressed any emotions that were too strong one way or another. I didn’t want to appear upset over something in case it was an overreaction. Nor did I want to be too happy should something change or I be let down and have to deal with the subsequent unhappiness. It’s safer to lock it away and not deal with it. Ironically, particularly when I was younger I always tried to act as though I didn’t care what other people thought.
To an extent, that’s true. I don’t care what people think of my tattoos, for example. I don’t care if people know about my strange taste in music or that sometimes, I don’t like to analyse or try to work out what’s going to happen in a film or TV show. Really, I just want to watch it. Clearly, I don’t care too much about how people may interpret my ramblings about my mental health, otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it in public. I care about so many other things, though. I want to appear nice, helpful, pleasant, intelligent. The thought of someone thinking badly of me is horrific. My social anxiety in this sense is rooted very, very deep.
That’s caused me problems, and leads me to suppress emotions until I appear reasonable, well-balanced, like everyone else. I never apply these standards to anyone else, of course. I’m a big advocate of allowing yourself to feel things. If you want to cry or shout, let it out. The rules don’t apply to me, though. I’m different, a special case who shouldn’t allow these things because they’re just inherently wrong.
I would never have discovered these things if it hadn’t been for therapy. I think I’m clearly emotional because, you know, I spend a lot of time being depressed and crying. The stifling of proper emotional reactions over the years led to that, though. It’s left me in a place where the wall is too effective. I stopped being able to cope. I’m trying to learn how to let myself feel things, but there’s a huge gap (or so it feels) between my subconscious and conscious mind.
Allow me to explain, if I can, using the example of driving. When I’m driving, I feel fine. I’m not nervous. I don’t have butterflies, I’m not sweating. I’m definitely a little tense, but what’s new there? If something happens that I’m not expecting, my reactions are terrible. I’m hesitant, I’m not sure what to do, and often need prompting although the information is in there somewhere. I’ve never had anything too terrible happen, no crashes, accidents, anything like that. It’s extremely frustrating, though, because clearly there is a lot of subconscious anxiety affecting me but I’m not feeling it. It’s all working away somewhere, but doesn’t make it to the front. There’s some sort of defense there, and let me tell you, it is not helpful whatsoever. That’s now extended into my life – I feel anxious, but the racing thoughts aren’t there. There’s nothing. My body experiences it, but my mind has shut down.
In some way or another, I’ve been doing that for years. Shutting things further and further away until it seems as though my whole brain is slowly becoming unconscious to me, and soon I won’t be able to connect with anything at all.
Bring the connections back
It sounds terrible, right? It’s not ideal, I can say that much. Therapy is helping me, just by talking, to understand what’s happening and to find that awareness. To know that I need to bring the connections back, however hard it might seem. It probably doesn’t sound too helpful. I do think it will be, but it’s going to be quite the process.
This week, we spoke about dreams. My dreams are often so vivid, so creative, so strange. I’ve often wished I had that kind of creativity in my waking life. My psychologist suggested keeping a dream diary to see common themes and what my brain might be trying to untangle whilst I sleep. Apparently, dreams are a way for our brains to make sense of things, to process. If I can tap into that, maybe I can bring it to reality as well.
It’s their everyday
I realise this isn’t a particularly helpful explanation of what therapy is. The reality is, it’s incredibly different for everyone. I may not fully understand what’s going on, but the psychology team have chosen this therapeutic model for a reason. It’s strange to think of someone considering what might help, using their knowledge to assess what might be going on in my brain. Shouldn’t I be able to do that? It’s my brain, after all. It’s also fascinating. These people understand so much about different things that brains do. To me it’s so huge, but it’s their everyday.
It’s not easy. It’s hard work, and it’s confusing as all hell. I’m slowly learning to try to let myself feel things. To be more accepting of how I do feel. To have some self-compassion and not berate myself for how I feel and act. It feels like a long, terrifying road. I have a finite number of sessions with my therapist, and I’m over halfway through. I really don’t know what awaits me at the other side, what I’ll have learned.
Will I be able to change? How do I want to be different, to be better? What if I can’t manage it on my own? It’s a huge unknown, and I don’t like that. To me, it’s not an exciting wait-and-see opportunity. I think, frankly, it’s shit. I’m convinced I won’t be able to manage and I’ll be back at square one. That I need someone to hold my hand all the time. To learn independence from something so emotionally involving is a truly nightmarish prospect.
No, seriously. What’s it like?
So, can I answer simply what it’s like to be in therapy? No. Am I grateful and glad to be there? Of course. I’m learning. I’m equipping myself with knowledge about how my brain is working and trying to counter the unhelpful strategies I’ve employed. I shouldn’t be annoyed with myself for doing it in the first place. Instead I need to accept that I coped in a certain way for so long, but it isn’t helping me any more. As Ariana Grande would say, thank u, next. It’s time to move on.
I’m interested to hear other people’s therapy stories, and of course I’ll update this when I’m further down the line. I’m sure there’s a lot more left to do. Despite being so deep into the process, it always feels like I’m only just beginning. If you’re in therapy too, good. I’m glad, and I’m proud. It’s not easy to get to, to participate in, and I’m sure it’s not easy to finish, either. It’s an uphill struggle, but it’ll be so worth it. I do have some hope.
There’s the little seed in me that focuses on the future, on being ‘better’. I don’t know what ‘better’ looks like yet, and nor do I expect a miracle cure. It’s truly one step at a time into a scary, unknown world where I have to learn to cope differently. I’m in limbo, but it’s less of a sad, desperate limbo. It’s more optimistic. Maybe there’s an option other than staying there, or retreating further down. Maybe there’s up, maybe sideways. Most probably, a confusing, spiralling, out-of-control up, down, sideways, and all the rest. Maybe I’ll see you on the other side.