[Content note for depression, suicidal talk]
This weekend just gone contained World Mental Health Day, which I acknowledge each year but I always feel like I shouldn’t co-opt. I’m not really sure why, because I have mental health problems and am a long, long term veteran of therapy and medication. So this year I am (belatedly) going to write a bit about it.
It’s really hard for me to condense my experiences into one (readable) blog post. I suppose I tend to think that WMHD is not “for me” as I haven’t had any major events, like in-patient treatment; plus the fact that I’ve kept working through all my issues makes me feel they have not been “as serious” as others’.
To jump right into it: I had psychoanalytic psychotherapy from age 26-32 (in 2009), then a break until this year when I started with a more integrative therapist about 5 months ago. I was also on antidepressants for the best part of a decade, before taking a break but having to start again earlier this year.
Going into therapy both times have been off my own back, not prescribed by a GP or other health professional. It’s possible to get therapy on the NHS, but you usually have to wait a long time, and then you get a short series of sessions. I started therapy thinking I might go for a few months, never once thinking I would end up going twice a week for 6 years. It was hard emotionally, and it was expensive, and in all honesty sometimes I wonder why I did it. It was also hard socially, because I made a decent low-20k salary but didn’t have the accoutrements my colleagues & friends had. Why wasn’t I going skiing, why didn’t I have a flat-screen TV, why did I take the bus rather than the tube? I simply couldn’t tell people, you know?
I was also having go work to pay my mortgage, and didn’t have a long-term partner to rely on financially. I had days where getting out of bed was a struggle and life seemed hopeless, but the knowledge that I had to pay the bills (moving back in with my parents was never an option) drove me to do it. I did have two weeks signed off work sick after my dad had a heart attack, but that was the extent of it.
I do feel proud that I survived those years, but also jealous sometimes that others with similar issues had long-term partners or parents they could rely on. And sometimes that jealousy expresses itself as bitterness, because I am quite angry that I couldn’t rely on my family for support. Sure, if I had asked to move in with them they would have acquiesced, but it wouldn’t have been easy and I would have been expected to “pull myself together” as quickly as possible.
As for why I entered therapy in he first place. The only thing I can really say is that I was failing to cope with life. My upbringing was outwardly fine, but once I got to university aged 19 and realised that my childhood hadn’t been like other peoples’, I had bouts of sadness, crying jags that lasted for whole days, etc. I remember trying to get help from my personal tutor, but he & I didn’t have a relationship so I didn’t receive any.
In my mid-20s I had my first very intense, “true love” relationship, which turned out (looking back) to be very destructive. I wasn’t raised with guidance on relationships, except for a few basics which indicated I should do anything necessary to please & keep a man. Obviously this led to some terrible choices. As this relationship was breaking down I knew I needed some sort of help, but not what; and at that time I was also reluctant to take antidepressants (I don’t feel this way now). I had a consultation with BACP, was referred to a local therapist and the rest is history.
It was only once I was in therapy that I really discovered the root of everything. For example, I say above that I wasn’t raised with any guidance on how to be in relationships, but obviously at the time I did not know this. It took many many hours of unpicking to uncover it all. I went into therapy thinking my family was pretty normal; I came out realising that yes, ALL families have their problems, but the particular problems my family had/has have affected my life in XYZ ways. If that makes sense (it does in my head).
Psychoanalysis definitely wasn’t a magic bullet for me, but I finished up when I was 32 (with much relief, I have to admit), had a couple more destructive short-term relationships (for good measure I guess), then life gradually became better. I met my boyfriend when I was 34, we very quickly bought a house together (within 18 months) and I felt happy enough in my life to give up antidepressants about 6 months after we moved in together.
Unfortunately life isn’t always smooth sailing, and starting from about a year ago I started to slide back into depression. The difference this time was that I started having suicidal thoughts, which I hadn’t had before. Back in my 20s, I wanted desperately to “disappear” back then and never see my friends/family again, but this time I did have suicidal ideation. Life had no joy and I felt I was merely existing. Eventually I caved in and saw my old therapist for a session, and together we decided that I should try therapy again although with a slightly different slant – this time I know most of the why I feel this way, but now I needed help with the how to deal with it.
Now I am seeing an integrative therapist once a fortnight (as opposed to twice a week) and it is very helpful. The main difference between this type of therapy and the psychoanalysis I had before is that the therapist guides what we talk about more. In traditional psychoanalysis, I did most of the talking and some sessions were merely me sobbing uncontrollably; in the sessions I have now, we deal more with practical reactions to difficulties. I realise this is not an exhaustive list of the differences (I am no writer, unfortunately)
I’m also back on antidepressants and they help me cope day-to-day; I no longer feel suicidal or there I’m just a blank entity doing repetitive actions in a grey world. Unfortunately my GP will only prescribe them to me on a 28-day basis, so I have to see him every month.
I still have many issues to sort out with my family, not least now my parents are older and we may not have many more years together. I don’t want them to die without feeling more at peace with our relationship. I have also been working through the fuzzy bombshell which was moving in with my boyfriend – after being completely independent until I was 36, building a joint life with someone (even the limited “joint life” my boyfriend & I have) has been very hard. It is still very very fundamental to my mental health that I can look after myself, on my own, and not have to rely on anyone else; and happily my boyfriend is very on-board with that.
Even now I still couldn’t point to one “cause” of all my issues. Depression and its ilk are chemical imbalances in the brain, but there are also social factors. For me, a lot of it comes back to my upbringing, my strange family life (which I don’t want to go into in details because I still don’t know if my family read this!), my unpreparedness for personal relationships, the endometriosis I’ve suffered from since I was at least 15 (probably earlier), working in a male-dominated industry rife with sexism etc. All of this has led to a bitterness and anger that I don’t want to let go of, and a mistrust of love & happiness. I would like to eventually embrace love & happiness, but these things take time.
I do feel sad and embarrassed that it took me until my mid- to late-30s and a lot of therapy to figure out things like: My body is my own! My life is my own! I do not have to do whatever it takes to keep a man! Being married is not a homonym for happiness! Sex is not a horrible thing I have to endure for a man’s sake! And honestly, I’m still not entirely there – for example, I’m still worried about my parents’ reaction to my tattoo, should they ever see it. But I’m trying to live my best life now, to do what I want (and this is scary!). I look back on my teens & 20s as wasted time, never living my life (just living the one my parents or male partner expected of me). But I can’t go back and change those times, I can only try to live my life now how I want to. Although you can’t solely look forward, you know? Because your past is still part of you.
I’m sure there will be people who read this and think “God, why didn’t she just cut negative people out of her life?” or “Why didn’t she just do XYZ?” (I have had many of these comments elsewhere; hi they are not helpful) and I do understand that it might seem baffling that it took me until so late in my life to work things out. What can I say? Everyone’s life experience is different, and this is mine.
God, as mentioned above I am NOT a writer, and this is the usual jumbled mess. I guess the TL;DR version is:
– I have found therapy really useful
– Not everyone with depression has a family/friends/partner to rely on; in fact the family/friends/partner are often a root of some issues
– I am immeasurably proud of the fact that I did this myself
– But sometimes I am sad & bitter that I had no choice
– I want to try to live my best life now, because life is short & getting shorter
If you’re interested in therapy, I started with the BACP and went from there – going for a consultation, finding a therapist. The second time, I tried two therapists out – one recommended by my previous therapist, and the other recommended by a friend. So ask around and see if your friends can recommend someone too. And of course you can go via your GP (although I have no experience of that myself).