There seem to be lots of options available to those with mental health problems – medication, therapy, apps, regimes, courses, retreats – but it can be difficult to fight your way through them all, especially when your mind is claggy and you’re moving at half-speeds. I’ve also found that all of these tend to be presented as absolute solutions so the feeling of failure is intense when something doesn’t work. I’ve learnt to approach things with more caution, with hope but tempered hope, but I’ve found out the hard way through failing many times and that failure leaving me in a worse place than before. There are still things I haven’t tried and I will continue to battle to motivate myself to keep moving through all these options until something provides some relief but the failures weigh heavy at times.
I tried pills first but visits to the doctor can be frustrating. As a child, I was frequently told off by my mother for appearing to be fine the second I got into the doctor’s surgery. “Look sick!” I remember her hissing at me more than once, no doubt fearing being seen as the panicky young mother bringing her perfectly healthy child in at the slightest hint of sickness (even though I had been crying with pain at home or had a forehead you could fry an egg on). I recall her interrupting and speaking for me when I replied with a cheery “fine!” as soon as the doctor asked me how I was. I still have this problem obviously because I’ve had trouble convincing most of the medical professionals I’ve seen of the seriousness of my mental state, to the state that for a while I questioned myself and wondered whether I might not just be making it up. But I’m not.
I’ve been on medication twice and haven’t managed to stick it out either time. The first time, ironically, was when, looking back, I wasn’t too bad. They provided a little kick in the right direction but also made me groggy and indecisive. I fell out with a good friend through my inability to make a decision on a career opportunity she pushed my way. And so I came off them as soon as I could. Now I recognise that indecisiveness and blurred living as a regular feature of life and have to question if it was the fault of the pills or not but it’s too late now to start dwelling on possible past mistakes or misjudgements. The second time, I lasted about the same amount of time but overwhelmed with thoughts of suicide and dense blackness extending across and beyond the horizon, I gave up again. I was prescribed anti-anxiety meds too but only because I think the doctor wanted to get rid of me. He gave me the lowest dose he could get away with and they did nothing at all to calm me in moments of crisis. The same doctor also wrote “reflective” and “mild depression” on my notes. I took reflective to mean he thought I was making it up or exaggerating and since then I haven’t seen another doctor. With that on my notes, I feel like I stand no chance of persuading them to help.
I’ve also tried therapy. I’ve discovered that many people can call themselves therapists and that approaches and people vary, just as in any other area of life. It was not for me. CBT was the first attempt and was a disaster. I was not, am not, in a place where I can be relied upon to do the tasks. It was an achievement in itself to get to therapy. Just to get out of bed and showered is an achievement on many days. On non-work days, I still often don’t manage these simple tasks so joining a meet up group, planning my meals for the week, going for a run, calling a friend and asking to meet for lunch or a drink are all impossible. And as for the “be gentle with yourself”… So I went back the following week and told her I hadn’t done her tasks, couldn’t do them, and her exasperation seeped through the carefully controlled façade for a second. Ditto the next week. The week after I postponed; soon after I cancelled, made excuses about conflicting work schedules, not brave enough to admit my failings.
The next therapist was not so much about the tasks and more about the smiling and nodding and the uncomfortable silences and the stating the obvious. I told her my stories. She nodded and smiled. She said things like “I want to know about you” in a way that told me that telling my stories wasn’t what she wanted even though she kept asking me to tell them. She often referred to me in the third person. On the first session she asked me what was wrong and pointed to my flushed face, neck and chest. I told her I was nervous. She smiled and nodded and said she understood which made me wonder why she’d felt the need to point it out and make me even more embarrassed. She told me I needed to express my emotions more. I told her I was English. She replied, a little snappily I thought, that her husband was English and he wasn’t repressed. The next session she asked how I was and automatically, without thinking because I was taking off my coat and settling down into the armchair, “fine”. She smiled and stared. She stared. The silence grew. My neck flushed. She grinned wider. I couldn’t break the silence. I didn’t know what to say to make the situation stop. I didn’t go back again. Work commitments, you know.
And so on. So, pills not for me, therapy not for me.
On to the next thing.