Therapy Tales Part One.

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My therapy journey began at just 15 years old- when I went to see the school counsellor for talking therapy due to suffering my first anxious and depressive episode (before I was diagnosed as bipolar).

Since then- 13 years later, I have tried many different kinds of therapies to help heal me from my anxiety disorder and help manage my bipolar disorder. Therapy still has a stigma, which is wrong,- but it is vital to the healing and recovery of mental illness and general healing from stressful life events eg deaths, divorce, moving house, illness.

I have done many forms of therapy, starting off with talking therapies- where you talk to your therapist about whats going on in your life (and sometimes they psychoanalyse in order to help you). I then did 3 lots of Cognitive Behavioural therapy (CBT). This is where you unpack your negative thoughts and assumptions that cause your illness in thought records, where you learn to challenge thoughts and change behaviour. However, for me, CBT was frustrating. I felt like I couldn’t fully apply it and it didn’t click with my brain.

I felt that the anxiety and panic I was dealing with was very much in the subconscious- and so the CBT could not eradicate the emotional, deep response that had formed within me to certain situations. It was then I began to realise the power of exposure therapy- which is essentially, exposing yourself to your feared situation slowly, with support. The more I went out, the more people I saw and the more I did, the anxiety began to lessen. It boosted my self esteem too to know I could overcome my fears. It is something that has to be practised and you have to be kind to yourself too and in the right head space for it to work,.

Of course, therapy works in conjunction with medications and it is also vital to make sure you like your therapist and have a good relationship with them. If you dread seeing them and you aren’t getting much from it, they are likely to be the wrong therapist for you.

I have done many other therapies: art therapy (which I loved and recommend hugely if you enjoy it), meditation and deep breathing (which I still do and which really helps my anxiety) and of course the unique therapy that friends and family bring. There are more therapies out there including ACT and its always worth googling therapies.

Ultimately, don’t be too scared about sharing with a therapist. They are trained professionals, have seen it before and they are there to support you. It is also very much trial and error. Even though CBT wasn’t for me, I found other therapies which have worked.

Just be aware that NHS therapy waiting lists are months long, so if you have the money to get private care, do.

I have worked with both psychologists, psychotherapists, occupational therapists (during a period of group therapy) and of course psychiatrists in order to keep well. It is very much a collaborative effort and now I am much better, I can deal with it with my support network (with my psychiatrist in the background)

I hope you find the right course of therapy for you and know you can heal from whatever stresses you are dealing with.

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Guest Post by Richie: Dealing with anxiety, Live Your Now

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I was honoured to be asked to write a piece on anxiety for this wonderful blog.  I’m Richie, and I’m a mindfulness coach – one who happens to have had anxiety for as long as I can remember.  The thing is, I didn’t always know I had it.  I’ve been researching positive psychology methods etc for many years, but I wasn’t coping so headed to see a counsellor who referred me for a course of CBT after having pointed out – Sir, you have bad anxiety.

Me?

Yes I’d had panic attacks, people would describe me as quite reactive, amongst other things – and after all these years, to discover it was my “fight or flight” mechanism going into overdrive & attaching to situations in had no business being in, well, I was not impressed to say the least! How did I miss this? I felt initially extremely put out by this, I saw myself as a “fighter” – I got on with things, my panic attacks were just “stage fright” (I was in radio/music performance etc), my OCD a quirk of creativity and all that jazz! Right?

Wrong.

This is when I began to understand more fully the stigma associated to “mental health”. A somewhat wishy-washy term to people not familiar, or plain ignorant of the facts (as I myself was), as it’s often attributed to needing to just “chill out” or, “stop being so depressed” etc. At some point in life, many people will experience bouts of some kind of mental illness – after traumas, disappointments, or for some no seeming reason at all! But then, even the most healthy people can catch a cold.  And that’s the issue. Mental Health is a physical issue, that cannot be seen, and therefore for some is like trying to see oxygen.

My advice is simple on this matter; for brevity.

Acceptance & ownership

Firstly, accept it’s a physical thing, and take ownership and understand the physical things in the mind that are taking place. This helps separate you from the thought that you ARE your anxiety/depression etc. This is simply not the case.

If you catch a cold, you don’t say you ARE your cold. CBT helped me understand the mechanics of it, and have useful approaches, but for me (and we’re all different), I find mindfulness to have been the most helpful because it teaches to not identify as “being” depression/anxiety etc. This begins a process of dissociation of identifying as “being” depressed/anxious, and instead acceptance of what it is, how it functions, learning how it feels, and gradually gaining a level of understanding and feeling of when it’s occurring – and how it can shape/affect our feelings/emotions and therefore behaviours/reactions.

Experiment with techniques

Secondly, experiment with ways that can help you day to day – of course, seek professional help, but there’s also much that you can do independently. Breathing exercises (massively effective!), reminding yourself that the depression/anxiety doesn’t make you who you are, try things like mindfulness which teach us to detach from thought.

I also personally use meditations, guided or technological, hypnosis, even things like “EFT” (emotional freedom technique – or tapping), reading positive books, listening to uplifting music, and actively managing thought processes as and when I can.  Using mindfulness to compliment allows for being more in touch then, with which techniques are being more effective for you in the moment.

Is anxiety still there? Oh yes! But the more I practice these techniques (and you will find what works for you) and indeed, share them with others, the more aware I become of “anxiety”.

Reframing

Lastly; I have also reframed my anxiety, because without that fight or flight mechanism, our species would not likely still be here! So it’s important! It’s evolved in our species to protect us – and there are times that flood of adrenaline etc is critical. We certainly would not wish to be without it, but the chances a tiger is going to jump out and eat us are hopefully not too prevalent in your neighbourhood…

My experiences prompted me to begin @LiveYourNow & @Rmindrs on Twitter where I post daily mindfulness reminders, engage, and encourage others to talk – and hopefully create a few laughs too! (Laughter releases great neuro-chemicals!)

Be forgiving of yourself, understand you’re on a journey, and when you find things that help you, share them with others. The more we speak openly, the less stigma is attached, and the more others who may be suffering in silence may feel comforted and confident to speak out and seek assistance.  I have been witness to that now multiple times, and it’s truly a wonderful thing when we accompany each other, in compassion, on our healing journeys.

Thank you for reading! I hope it brings even just one person comfort/hope.

To your greatest life,

Richie – @LiveYourNow