One brave young lady
So I have this dream that the more we talk about our mental health struggles, the more we will normalise it. One thing Americans have got right is that out there, it’s normal to go to therapy it’s probably more abnormal if you have never been to see a therapist and I hope that one day we Brits will catch up with that. Unfortunately too often, the people I work with are already at a crisis point. Wouldn’t it be good if we could get to a point where going to therapy was no different than going to the gym or having personal training sessions? What’s the difference? One is for the body and the other is for the mind.
I have enlisted the help of one of my courageous clients to discuss her mental health challenges, share her journey through therapy and her experience of our work together. For this blog, I have changed her name to Lousie to protect her identity.
Louise first came to see me at the end of January 2020, experiencing very low mood, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and she was self-harming. She had left university as they were concerned for her safety.
Firstly Louise, thank you for talking to me today. What do you feel able to share with us about how you were feeling around the time of our first session and some of the behaviours you were managing?
Around the time I reached out for help from a therapist, I was struggling with suicidal thoughts, low mood and bulimia. I had always been an anxious child and struggled with anorexia and depression throughout my teenage years, however, I always thought I had it under control, and never once did I realise that my brain had conditioned itself to think these behaviours were normal. This allowed things to snowball and when combined with the pressure of university, my brain and I became overwhelmed with the mounting expectations I had for myself and the drastic change in environment. I had always been an overachiever, so university was always a goal of mine, and although I was educated academically, I was not knowledgeable of the pressures and changes which come with university life. This amplified my issues with my mood and eating, and I eventually came to a point where living seemed like a chore and I no longer wanted to engage with life. My behaviour became reckless, I was self-harming and actively planning my death, which concerned a lot of the people around me. We decided that I needed to take a year out to focus on myself and my recovery, which is where you come in Rachel.
You mention you were always an anxious child, can you recall how old you were when you first started to struggle with anxiety or low mood and how you managed that at such a young age?
As a child, I was always very anxious, which lead to me developing a lot of behaviours in order to comfort myself in a very confusing time. I struggled to eat because of the feelings of dread I was getting, and quite often withdrew from events such as parties I was invited to. I missed out on a lot of childhood experiences because my anxiety held me back, which I think contributed to the low moods I started experiencing when I was around 13. I began self-harming and restricting my eating deliberately in order to make myself feel more comfortable in my body and gain control over the turmoil I was experiencing while growing up. Very few of the habits I developed were healthy, but I had managed to convince myself that any method was better than losing control.
So from the age of 13, you found your ways of coping, which like you say were not healthy. What was it that made you seek help when you did?
During very low points in life, I think it becomes increasingly more difficult to see a way out as you become shrouded by your issues. With help from my parents and the welfare team at university, it became apparent that this was not something I could deal with on my own. Support from friends and family is valuable but to fully address my issues I knew I needed a friendly, non-judgemental specialist who offered a safe space to talk about anything weighing on my mind.
This is incredibly brave of you to open up about this Louise. I know we explored in our sessions some of the coping mechanisms you had adopted over the years, did you find this work difficult?
It’s very difficult to reflect on bad coping mechanisms which you have adopted, not only because of the traumatic nature of them but because our brains have a way of conditioning us to believe that what we did was necessary at the time. Accepting that the way you usually deal with problems is not always the best or most effective method can be quite difficult because it strips a sort of unhealthy comfort blanket from you. At the time you feel quite vulnerable however with time and the correct help, you begin to form more healthy and constructive habits which improve the way you handle life and the problems incorporated into it.
As you will recall, we started with counselling but then moved to hypnotherapy, what was it that made you want to explore hypnotherapy as a form of therapy?
Hypnotherapy caught my interest very quickly and was very effective even after only a few sessions. CBT encouraged me to analyse and conquer the underlying issues which led to me developing the problems I had, however, I felt like I had been analysing these issues for so long that I had started to dwell on the negative and what I could’ve done to fix them back when I was younger. Hypnotherapy offered me a way of coming off that path and allowed me to construct a new brighter one; one full of enlightenment, positive experiences, interactions and thoughts. It encouraged me to embrace the positives and change the way I perceive everyday activities, starting each new day knowing I can and do have the power to make it count.
That’s the beauty of hypnotherapy, it takes the focus away from the problem saturated conversations and allows time and space to focus our thoughts and efforts on how we want this to be, moving clients towards their desired future. Can I just ask, what is your relationship with food like now?
my relationship with food has drastically improved and meal times are no longer a chore for me. I know that in order to be both mentally and physically healthy I need to let go of the irrational worries about body size and calories. I think I have finally realised that being healthy and happy is much more important than this false sense of control that dieting and calorie counting gave me. It’s so unbelievably refreshing to sit down on a Saturday night and eat dark chocolate buttons, and stopping when I feel satisfied, not when I feel like I’ve eaten too many calories. Finding my bodies natural balance has allowed me to become healthier and more energised, and that energy is what I use in order to better myself and maintain a routine which has been very important during my recovery.
I know that was a really challenging time for you but you have done so well identifying your unhelpful behaviours around food and learning to love yourself. How was that transition for you from talking therapy to hypnotherapy? Do you feel it helped and if so how?
The transition for me personally was surprisingly easy. Before I started, I thought changing the way I viewed each day would be challenging and something which would come with time, however after only a few sessions I found myself acknowledging the good in my life and developing new habits which made the world seem so much brighter. I always had the control and power to change the way my mind views the world, I just had to access it, and with help from you Rachel I was able to do that.
Thank you Louise, you put so much hard work in between sessions to get yourself where you are today. Do you recall there being a lightbulb moment in our work together or was it a gradual transformation?
Therapy is a journey, full of both lightbulb moments and gradual changes in your mindset and behaviours. I think my change has been gradual, and over time I have developed a new way of viewing the life that I live, however, there have been many lightbulb moments scattered in there. One enlightening and comforting light bulb moment that I recall having is the realisation that although I cannot control the events that occur in my life, I can control the way I perceive them and the way and respond to them. This has been a crucial part of my recovery as it has drastically improved the way I cope under pressure and given me the ability to be mindful.
Can you share with us a little about how your life is now, how you feel and if your mental health has improved?
I expected therapy to help me return to a normal life, one where it didn’t seem like my brain was my biggest enemy, but it didn’t… it did so much more than that. My life is not ordinary or even close to normal. I’m not living, I’m prospering. I notice the positives in everything, even things I thought I hated; the rain on my face, the cold feeling I get on my feet when I stand on the cold tiles of my kitchen. My life is not perfect, but my ability to craft and control the way I view all parts of it have made my existence so much brighter even on the not so good days. I am back at university and engaging more than ever with my learning, my friends, my family and myself.
It’s so wonderful to hear that. When you reflect on how far you have come in the last 12 months, what's that like?
Last year I was depressed, lost, hopeless and demotivated; Now I don’t even recognise that person. In all honesty, it's actually quite strange to look back at pictures from that time, I was so confused and frightened. Knowing that I have come this far in 12 months encourages further growth, and it’s so refreshing to know that I now have the skills and power to help me stay away from the place I was stuck in last year.
And finally, would you mind sharing what your experience has been like with The Therapy Shed? What would you say to anyone considering starting their journey towards their desired future?
My experience has been nothing but positive. Rachel you have offered a supportive and positive environment and make me feel very comfortable with tackling my issues. I would say to anyone who is starting their journey, accessing therapy is completely normal, and taking control of your mental health is one of the most empowering things you can do for yourself. Everyone has difficulties and we cannot change our past, but we can change the way we process it and the way we allow our thoughts to manifest. With help, it is 100% possible to reach our goals and become more resilient mentally.
Thank you Louise for sharing that with the readers. You have worked so hard throughout our work together and it’s an absolute honour to have shared this journey with you and watch you take control of your thoughts and situation and start to enjoy life. Truly wonderful and courageous.