Anxiety and me: Therapy saved me, and it could save you too
"I'm lucky to have a therapist who completely understands me, who listens to me, and who has helped retrain my brain."
Michelle Obama once said, "Asking for help is always a sign of strength." Seeking help is one of the toughest steps in mental health recovery, but the best one of all.
It's one I've avoided for years because it can be quite overwhelming. Finding a therapist is no easy feat. It takes a lot to pour your heart out to a complete stranger but finding the right one feels like the weight of the world is lifted off your shoulders.
I started therapy in 2019 after years of suffering from mental health issues, including panic attacks, anxiety, and bouts of low mood. I was always so hesitant about going because I never felt like I was sick 'enough'. I didn't think I deserved help, but then I realised that everybody needs someone to talk to.
I look forward to my therapy sessions. When I check my calendar and see an upcoming session I genuinely feel so relieved and comforted. I am beyond lucky to have a therapist who completely understands me, who listens to me, and who has helped retrain my brain. I can control anxious thoughts. I have the tools to battle low moods and panic attacks.
The only downfall is my postcode.
Seeking mental health support in Ireland is only simple if you've recently won the lottery. Going private was my only option because the waiting lists for HSE counseling is unbelievable. As of June 2021, there were almost 4,000 people waiting to access the counselling services, and some people simply can't afford to wait that long. The sooner you seek help the better and I had no choice but to use my savings to fund my weekly sessions because I wanted to get better, I wanted to live.
I wanted my brain to calm down and give me a break. I wanted to stop feeling anxious everywhere I went. I wanted to get on a train without my breathing going haywire. I wanted to enjoy my life without anxiety ruling it. I wanted my mind to stop telling me I wasn't wanted or worth enough.
Hours and hours of therapy sessions slowly started to undo the damage my anxiety disorder had done. Every week I talked and cried. I opened up and reflected and learned. I realised that I was getting better. I realised that therapy was helping.
And it was the best feeling ever.
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I felt like Charlie during the tunnel scene in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. And trust me, after years of dealing with a mind that hated me and made me feel like my existence was worthless, that feeling was everything.
And then COVID-19 hit.
Nothing quite like a global pandemic to challenge the progress you made, right?
The country shut down. Toilet rolls and bread were torn from the shelves. Stepping outside felt criminal. We didn't see our friends, our offices closed, the roads were empty. Life as we knew it was a distant memory.
My therapist had no choice but to continue sessions online or via phone. My tradition of visiting her therapy office in the city was gone and I was so worried it wouldn't work over the phone, but those sessions got me through the pandemic.
It was something to look forward to. I could pour all of my fears, worries, and anxieties out, all from the comfort of my bedroom. Therapy helped me develop a strength I never thought I'd have. It gave me confidence, a place to destress, and most importantly, hope. Finding hope in the darkest of times really was the greatest thing. My savings account may have dwindled, but my mental well-being improved.
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At my most recent session, my therapist told me I sounded happier and lighter. She said she could hear the difference in me, even over the phone. And that moment made me feel like a little kid getting a gold star off her teacher in primary school. I put the hours in, I never gave up, and clung onto every ounce of hope I had and it worked.
But I was one of the lucky ones. The money I put aside for my future was needed to help my present self, but not many people are that privileged. So many people are suffering mentally because of the pandemic, but the government is only spending 6% of the health budget on mental health.
The mental health pandemic is already happening. Affordable and free therapy is our vaccine, but when will the government acknowledge that and start making changes? How many people do we have to lose to suicide before they wake up and start investing in mental health services properly?
Telling people to drink more water and go for a walk just doesn't cut it anymore. You wouldn't tell someone with a broken arm to just cheer up and meditate so why say it to those with mental illnesses? They're just as, if not, more critical.
For those experiencing dark days and feel like there's no way out, hold on. As someone who truly didn't want to see her 25th birthday and felt like things would never improve, I promise you it can.
This Matt Haig quote helped me when it felt like there was no way out.
“You will one day experience joy that matches this pain. You will cry euphoric tears at the Beach Boys, you will stare down at a baby’s face as she lies asleep in your lap, you will make great friends, you will eat delicious foods you haven’t tried yet, you will be able to look at a view from a high place and not assess the likelihood of dying from falling. There are books you haven’t read yet that will enrich you, films you will watch while eating extra-large buckets of popcorn, and you will dance and laugh and have sex and go for runs by the river and have late-night conversations and laugh until it hurts. Life is waiting for you. You might be stuck here for a while, but the world isn’t going anywhere. Hang on in there if you can. Life is always worth it.”