Tuesday 20 January 2015

The Truth Will Set You Free

This January marks my 5th year in therapy with the same mental health practitioner.

It sounds like a really long time, and I suppose it is, but it's been some of the most incredibly years of my life!

I've been talking to counselors since I was about 12 or 13. I contacted Kids Help Line one day because I was struggling to deal with everything and needed someone to talk to that wouldn't try to control me, but just listen to my pain and tell me what to do next in a positive and helpful way rather than just tell me to pray about it or shove a bible in my face.

When I was diagnosed with severe Scoliosis at 13, I felt like Mia from Princess Diaries, "In case I'm not a big enough of a freak already, let's add a tiara!". No one in my family knew what to do with the diagnosis or how to deal with it, so we just took it as fact and I did my best to block it out and pretend that nothing bad was happening until I had no choice but to.

It's hard enough entering teen territory, but when you add mental illness, a semi-dysfunctional family, an environment you just don't fit into and feel insanely restricted by, intense feelings of loneliness and inadequacy then throw in a seemingly rare spinal condition, it would be much easier to just say, "I'm done with this life, see you in the next one!"

I talked on and off with counselors for the first few years of high school. I also had an amazing confidant in one of the year advisor's who eventually became the one for my class and was by every measure, a second mother to not just me, but everyone at school. She'd been through more than her fair share of tribulation in life which aside from her personality in general, is what made her so much more understanding and compassionate than nearly anyone else I'd ever met.

Around year 10 my school got in a counselor for the students and I, naturally, made more than a few visits to see her and felt relieved every time I saw her at school or read her name on the sign in sheet at the office.

The school counselor was trained in counselor whereas the year advisor had been trained by life experience, each had incredible merits to bring to their advice giving, and it was just helpful to have someone non-judgmental to listen to whatever you needed to get off your chest.

After school finished I kept in touch with both ladies and made the efforts to see them as often as we were both available. Sometimes I'd go up to school with my brother who went to play in the band for the first period of the morning and I'd catch up with the year advisor who was more often than not preparing for her next class and a little bit thrilled to catch up and just have someone to assist her. She and I have always had a mother/daughter/friend kind of relationship which I've never not been grateful for, as I know she feels the same.

When I started going to TAFE the year after I graduted, I sought help from one of the counselors there who was experienced in her own right, but had a different approach to her counseling methods that previous counselors hadn't.

Halfway through my second year at TAFE I got to a point where I knew I couldn't handle life on my own anymore. There was just too much to deal with and I knew I needed professional help to get me out of the emotional pit of despair.

I had just suffered the worst heartbreak of my life to date and couldn't cope anymore. I told my teacher that I was struggling and I only really came to TAFE so I wasn't at home and didn't have anywhere else to go. She said she understood and helped me as much as she could for the remainder of the year with the work I had left to do.

I spoke to my TAFE counselor about what I was going through, but it just wasn't enough anymore.

I gave myself an ultimatum: I could either continue as I was, pretending that I was broken and dying a little bit more inside every day, or I could take the plunge and get my life sorted out once and for all.

A few days later I made an appointment to see the psychologist at the local medical centre. I figured that was as a good a start as any.

Many people who are skeptical of mental health practitioners gave me a warning when I mentioned quietly to them that I was seeing a psychologist, or making plans to see one, and told me that I needed to be careful because it was a lot of money and didn't always work.

That summed up my first experience with the medical centre practitioner. I broke down in tears telling him what the problems were and he essentially told me not to let it bother me because I was young and beautiful and had my whole life ahead of me. He even compared how lucky I was to some of his other patients who were disabled and struggling with their own lives. Needless to say I wasn't very impressed.

I then decided to contact Headspace and left a message for them. A few weeks later they called me back to find out a little bit more about what I was needing help with and some personal details, then advised me that the waiting list was about 6-8 weeks. More than I was expecting but I didn't have anything else to lose.

Two months later I got a call from one of the ladies there to advise me before they could put me through to someone I'd need to get a Dr's referral which they could do onsite for me, then they'd book me in for someone shortly after.

I remember going to the Dr's office and feeling lowest of the lows. I looked around me and out the window, holding back tears and thinking that this is where my life had lead me. Being stuck in a not terribly exciting doctors office with a head and heart overflowing with pain while everyone else was happily living their lives.

My first appointment follow not too long after that. I counselor was a lovely young woman, well dressed and understanding in her approach. She listened as I detailed how my heart had been broken and how much it was hurting and gave me some tissues to wipe away the pain that came out.

From that day I had hourly sessions with her once a fortnight for about 3 or so months when she advised me that her circumstances had changed and she'd be referring my case to someone from a different branch and they'd give me a call to sort out the details.

I'd grown quite attached to her during that time. She was one of the few people in my life who was really trying to help me and get me past all of the pain I was feeling. It wasn't an easy task by any stretch of the imagination, but I was starting to feel a little bit more human after each session, regardless of how I felt it actually went.

There was the month or so between her departure and my reassignment that she was concerned I wouldn't have sufficient support, but I assured her that Kids Help Line were pretty good in the meantime. Unfortunately my counselor's shifts never seemed to coincide with my availabilities so it was a bit of a struggle.

I got a call in early January from the receptionist of a mental health research institute which was some how related to Headspace, advising me of my appointment details and whatever else I needed to bring with me, namely a Mental Health Care Plan which was a bit of a nightmare to get from the local medical centre given their waiting times.

My therapist was a lovely woman who had a lively spark about her. As one of the receptionists told me when I asked which therapist was mine "you'll know when she comes out". She and I had similar personalities so when I was trying to convey something but didn't know what words to use, she somehow understood anyway.

For people who say therapy doesn't work, I would say that you've either not found the right therapist for you, or you're quite possibly not that committed to it in the long haul. It's incredibly rare to be healed in one session, especially if your issue is lifelong. Like the saying goes, 'Rome wasn't built in a day!'.

For the first 2 or so years of therapy I felt like I wasn't getting anywhere and wasting way too much money just trying. Even my closest friends told me the same thing. I questioned whether it was maybe time to consider seeing someone else or even just bring it up in a session and see what she says.

My therapist understood where I was coming from and said if I wanted to we could change how the sessions are run, but she'd been keeping them at a steady pace until she felt I was ready to open up or be pushed a little bit further.

After about 2 years of going in for a session, reciting a 'shopping list' of things that I'd done or bought during the week which were just blocking attention to the real problem, I started having a breakthrough.

I'd just had my heart shattered yet again and felt furious which I'd learnt was just a front for how much pain I was really in. When I talked about the person who I'd felt hurt me I fought back tears. Then my therapist moved on to the subject of my family which was always a tough one and asked me what would happen if I confronted them about how I felt, I told her they wouldn't understand, and then the tears finally fell.

From that session on-wards I gradually stopped hiding from the problem, although still living with my family at the time meant there was only so far I could go before it was too much to sit with when I went home again, so I just talked about meaningless stuff until I was in a better place.

Almost every session I'd come in and rip open an emotional wound and say 'this hurts, how do I fix it?'. My therapist has already prided me on my approach and commitment to healing and I told her from the start I was nothing but dedicated to getting better because there was no alternative for me. I'd been through enough hell to know it wasn't where I wanted to be anymore.

I also knew that the more things I was open and honest about, the more she'd help me with. If I'd done something I wasn't terribly proud of, I'd would tell her. She didn't chastise me, but rather asked me why I had and if it wasn't a huge deal, just encouraged me to not do it again because I was capable of doing better. Whenever I felt particular shameful about something, we'd spend a session getting to the root of the problem of my behaviors, figure out what was going on and what steps I could take to recover. Nothing was impossible and every little bit of effort was a milestone of great achievement, even if it felt like most of the time I was going one step forward and two steps back. She told me that was how recovery often was in therapy, it was gradual but definitely worth it!

Reflecting back on my time in therapy over the past couple of years I've noticed that it's made me a lot more honest not just about life in general, but I'm finally getting to the point where I'm validating my own worth, my own voice and my own opinions (hence why I created this blog). I felt silenced for so long and denied whatever I felt and kept it locked up inside until my therapist told me it was okay to let it out, then let it go and move on.

I've tried to convince my dad to talk to someone but he doesn't see the point in it. I guess for some people it's easier or more comforting to live in misery when they've done it for so long and found a way to make it work for them, rather than dealing with pain.

Like I've told my therapist many times, I've always associated drinking or alcohol in general with denying feelings and refusal to deal with a deeper problem. Granted this isn't always the case, but it's enough for me to rarely be tempted to indulge.

I've also noticed from my experiences in therapy, that people would rather block out the pain than talk about it. I used to avoid the pain or pretend it wasn't there as I'd seen the rest of my family do, but then realized it was getting me nowhere and whilst opening wounds that have been there for most of my life is incredibly hard, once I've dealt with them, they're not a problem anymore and I'm free.

I'm not going to pretend the whole process is easy either. As I said, it took me 2 years to get to the point where I was able to open up and admit my true feelings and show how much I was hurting. There were some sessions which were infinitely harder than that and the only choice I had was to just sit with the pain until it went away. No one likes pain in general, so sitting in it is far less appealing.

Many times I'd launch into one of ten things that I wanted to talk about and my therapist would stop me after the first thing and delve a little bit deeper into it in order to 'fully clear it out'. I would end a session slightly disappointed that I hadn't gotten through my whole list, but I knew it was for the better.

One of the things I've learnt through the years is not to invalidate yourself or how you feel. If you're upset about something, acknowledge that then tell the person that upset you, it could be the start of something new or you could finally see what kind of person they really are, but either way you'll be winning.

You have as much right as anybody else to feel, think and say what you do. No one can take that away from you regardless of what they tell you or how they treat you. At the same time, you can't use being hurt by someone else as an excuse for inflicting pain on other people, that makes you as bad as the person who hurt you to start with and the cycle will continue on.

Despite the number of times and the people that have hurt me over the years, I've never sought to hurt them back because I know what that feels like. It really REALLY sucks. No one deserves that, not ever, for any reason.

Don't be ashamed to feel pain. It will not last forever unless you insist on it, but then you've wasted so much time, energy and effort on something that doesn't deserve it. Be honest with yourself about how you really feel and what you really want because the truth will always set you free!

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