The story so far: I’ve been diagnosed with Anxiety, and been given medication, to which I reacted badly and decided not to take anything at the moment, and to try out these talking therapies.
If you’ve been following the story, you will know that when I approached my doc about my anxiety, I was given a leaflet about talking therapies. I was hopeful about these, especially because the citalopram seemed not to suit me at all.
I rang up the number and it was engaged.
I tried a number of times that day and it was still engaged.
Eventually I got through … to an answering machine.
I left my details and also took their advice about self-referring online.
What follows is WEEKS of us missing each other and my anxiety getting terribly bad as a consequence. I work in a school, so there is no way I can have my phone on me, and certainly not appropriate to be giving my mental health conditions over the phone in front of kids! The appointments are made on a “we have one free, can you do this time next week” basis and I was not available to take the calls.
After 8 weeks of this infuriating dance, I eventually got hold of someone and got onto the books!
I was so incredibly nervous before the first session, I’d given my summary and answered some questions over the phone previously, and had been recommended CBT. CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) is all about addressing the present behaviours, challenging and changing them, with the hope of eventually changing the thinking behind it.
A typical CBT session at this practice commenced as thus:
Fill in the PHQ-9 and GAD-7 questionnaires. These are rating scales for depression and anxiety respectively. They ask you things like “in the last two weeks how affected have you been by …. lack of sleep/suicidal thoughts/inability to control worry”. And you get a nice little score at the end. Google them if you fancy a look. Anything over 7 points on either of them takes you out of the zone of “normal” anxiety/depression (if that’s a thing). I was scoring 14 and 15 most of the time – this made me “moderately severe” on both scales.
But my anxiety (or so I thought) was my main issue so we worked on different aspects to help this. I would be asked some questions about my habits, or my routine and we would talk about it in terms of behaviour, thought cycles and feelings, and aim to improve this part of my life going forward. For example, one week we looked at panic attacks, and when they were happening; another week we looked at my daily routine and tried to work in some fun activities; and another week we looked at breathing and relaxation techniques.
Then I’d be given some literature and a challenge to complete for the following session, usually a diary or recording of some sort.
It is an incredibly exhausting, emotional session.
I found the whole thing really interesting, and I did learn a lot about the facts of mental health, but honestly, I was there because I was a chronic people pleaser. I was getting myself way too involved with work and taking on jobs for everyone because I couldn’t bear to say no. I was over planning lessons because I wanted my kids to have the best lesson they could have. I wanted to be extra helpful during the day so I was taking on extra curricular duties and missing out on planning time during the school day. I didn’t have the self-worth to say no to anything.
And so, this routine of questionnaires, chat, homework, meant that I would often lie about how well I was doing because I didn’t want to be “bad at therapy”. I didn’t want my therapist to feel like she couldn’t fix me.
I kept this charade up completely, until I was lauded as “one of the most successful patients yet” and with a lovely graph of data from my questionnaires that went up and up and up. And I was still chronically depressed and anxious. Nothing had improved except now I was able to control my panic attacks better, but the anxiety that caused them was definitely still there.
But I had my graph and probably thought that I was actually better. I went back to work after the summer holidays and…. crumbled almost immediately.
At which point, I went back to my doctors and asked for more therapy and more medication… both of which worked much better second time around!