An interesting topic today: Therapy and our mental hygiene and mental health.
I want to look at why Therapy could be highly beneficial to any of us and my experience with it so far. I will be open about myself today once again, this time, I will share personal details that you may not be very at ease with and that’s okay. I trust that my openness will reach out to some of you and that you may start taking some steps to improve your life
I believe most of us, if not all, should go to Therapy from time to time. By Therapy, I mean things like: Counselling, Physiologist or even a Psychiatrist. Within these types of therapy, there are a lot of different type of techniques or treatments.
For a long time, I was thinking that Therapy isn’t for me, after all, I am quite okay in my head, I don’t have that much issue right? I had a good childhood, no major traumas that I couldn’t overcome and I am not highly depressed or anything like that. Turn out that I understood Therapy as something that is kind of “last resort”. Mostly because I was afraid of being someone in Therapy. As well, back in school in France and even later as a young adult, being in Therapy definitely meant something is wrong with you. Nowadays, I understand that there is something wrong with all of us anyway and that Therapy isn’t for crazy people and I hope you do too! It is important to keep our minds open while reading the below!
Why Therapy on a Self-Development blog? Therapy can help you with many aspects of your life, whether there are things you can’t handle and you need help, or simply if you would like to work out some certain issues. It is definitely a way for someone to grow and better oneself so it feels quite a natural fit after all
Where it all started!
I was introduced to a Psychologist around my 20s by my parents. At the time, I had challenges passing the first test for being an alpine ski instructor and my parents were worried I had a hard time handling that. The Doctor was a General Practitioner who was also doing some kind of counseling under a regular GP appointment. It turned out we discussed a lot of things but not really the challenges I had with the alpine ski tests! I didn’t know why I was sent to him, I just knew it could be beneficial.
One of the main things that came out is that, I was someone who is sacrifying himself for others so I could bring a lot of joy into my close friends lives. I was being “good” to others but not so much for myself. I was simply afraid that one day, if I become crazy and/or lose control, I could be someone who may like hurting others. I was good to people but I was as well hurt a lot by them. I wasn’t protecting my emotions and feelings well, I was advancing in life with “an open heart” and I was also highly co-dependent so I could easily let someone close to me hurt me.
This thought of hurting others was extremely scary at the time and I kept going with it until recently. The doctor assessed that I am not someone at risk to hurt others and we stopped there. I believe shortly after, I moved city for my studies and as I was quite scared, I preferred to keep that for myself. I should never let anyone know what could be in me, it was a big source of shame and worries to continue like that.
Fast forward 10 years
These years haven’t been too bad, these thoughts were rarely coming back. For a few days at the most and they would go away for weeks and months. Up to 6 months even so it wasn’t hard to live with that. It was actually quite easy and that was comforting in many occasions. I felt mentally healthy but scared and worried at times. The good thing is that I wasn’t loosing my mind nor turning out to be a sociopath.
May 2016 brought up a lot of changes! A few weeks after meeting my wife, we were already sharing around such topics: deepest fears, most shameful thoughts and all these dark sides of us that we usually do not reveal to others. I shared with her my fear of hurting others. Before I did share that with her, I thought she would leave me, she would feel disgusted by me or she would be afraid for herself. Still, I told her as we wanted an open and honest communication and at that point in time, it was really bothering my mind. I couldn’t be there with her, connected to the present moment. I would be in my head, worried, with thoughts I didn’t want which were coming back. It turned out that she was accepting of me and my thoughts, she hug me, kissed me, hold space for me and told me that it is normal. That we all these have these kind of things in our mind and my fears or shame aren’t that different of hers or anybody elses. You can’t imagine how peaceful it made me feel about myself, I was accepted. I was okay. I wasn’t a monster. That was indeed a first turning point and not a small one!
An important note is that at that time and for the 10 prior years, I was fighting my thoughts. I couldn’t accept them or myself for having them. I was trying to fight back, to make them disappear but it turns out that when we do that, we feed them. They come back stronger and bigger, more intense than ever.
“Thoughts suppression doesn’t work”
We shared such intimate issues in our first few months of our relationship. We kept digging old buried thoughts and experiences, we re-connected to previous traumas and other issues of the past. I felt overwhelm. We had a strong bound already, we felt so close to each other (for many other reasons too!), we were in Love after a week and we were keeping building up a relationship that looked how we wanted it to be. But we dug so much, that I was scared. I was afraid it may just go on and that it will be too much for me to handle. I wasn’t hitting rock bottom or was nowhere close to that, but we decided with my partner that we both needed someone to elevate some of the overwhelm that was hard to handle. It would cause worries, we had hours together that were dark. We were there for each other, supportive but the past kept coming to the surface. My company give us access to an EAP (Employee Assistance Programme) so I called the number and ask for an appointment with someone. After verifying 5 times that I wasn’t suicidal nor in immediate danger, I would know soon when and who will be my counselor.
I went for 6 sessions while my wife went back to her own counselor. By the time the second session started, most of the issues why I went to therapy were behind. We reached out a point where there wasn’t much that could come up anymore, we shared so much in such a short time with my partner, that there was nothing major left to share. I kept the sessions as they are free and we used that to make some small work and exploring my childhood, previous relationships, struggles in life and how my relationship is going. Nothing really came out at that point in time.
In August, my thoughts of hurting others were very persistent, they kept coming back. When I am alone, when I walk in the street, when I am in an intimate moment, really they could pop in my head no matter what I was doing. I was accepted by my partner but personally, I was still fighting them. As we touched on earlier already, fighting is only feeding them. The month went by but it was tough. Some of you may remember that my partner is a formal Psychologist, she isn’t trained to have patients, but she can make diagnosis. She looked up online and the closest thing she could find was Intrusive thoughts. I highly suggest you visit the website, as roughly 80% of us experience Intrusive Thoughts so you likely do. But 2% of us have issues handling them or dismissing them. According to the website above some of the most common Intrusive thoughts:
“I fear… I could harm someone I love.” (Harm OCD)
“I fear… I will be punished for my sins.” (Scrupulosity OCD)
“I fear… I could harm a child.” (Pedophilia OCD)
“I doubt my relationship.” (Relationship OCD)
“Am I Gay or Straight?.” (Homosexuality & Straight OCD)
I won’t describe these, the website cover them well. You have explanations, symptoms, videos and all you need. If, like me, you are part of the 2% of people who have issues dismissing these thoughts, please watch the videos under the Resources menu. For everyone else, I would suggest to watch that video: Living with Intrusive Thoughts, Pure O as anyway, you have likely had these or you may have someone close to you that would benefit from acceptance and understanding.
These were the most useful pieces of information I could ever receive to handle the situation in an healthier way. I’ve learn that it is fully okay to have these thoughts and it doesn’t mean I will act on it. It is just thoughts and there are things I could do to manage them better! In the spawn on a few months, I went from keeping that for myself for 10 years, feeling ashamed each time they came back to feeling accepted and even feeling normal about them. It wasn’t over yet but it is such an important progress and I owe a lot that to my wife. I would never have searched these information myself.
To share with you how ashamed I was. I was afraid that if I look up my thoughts online, I would have the police knocking at the door a few days later and arresting me for having these thoughts. I felt that for nearly 10 years. That I could be a monster that society would want to put in a cage, just for having thoughts. This is indeed irrational but it doesn’t change how we feel sometimes.
“Thoughts do not equal reality”
Before I continue, I would like to address 2 points. Between May and September 2016, even if my wife accepted me as I am, it wasn’t always easy. We could kiss in bed gently and my brain could go “What if I strangle her right now?” and that’s pretty scary even if you have that for 10 years. To be clear, there is no intention to do so, no physical impulse nor really anything that would make me do it, it is a just a thought. An unwanted thought, a thought I would rather not have. She had moments where she was scared even while she knew that nothing will happen. The second point I would like to address is that for me, most of the time it was fighting to not have the intrusive thoughts. Let me explain what that means, I could have a few thoughts coming in then I would try to fight not to have these. I would force my focus on something else, keep repeating in my head that I shouldn’t think about this or that. I would just try not to have these intrusive thoughts, I wouldn’t have the thoughts themselves. I would keep my mind busy with anything I could find, to try to control the thoughts I had.
My intention of sharing such insights is that it may help some of you opening up to a therapist or a loved one and share with them the above videos if needed, so they can’t be reassured as well!
In September, I had 2 weeks of very regular Intrusive Thoughts. I never have been that scared, it kept coming back multiple times a day. At home, in the street, at work, while gaming etc. For a good 10-12 consecutive days.
At this point two main ideas were on the table:
- We looked into getting into counseling again, knowing that CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) would be very useful for me.
- Through discussion, we remembered that I need to stop fighting these thoughts, I need to accept them. Simple as that.
The second point got me out of that crisis while I was waiting for my assessment with a therapist. I worked on accepting my thoughts. I told myself many times that I accept these thoughts, re-watched the videos above and in a few days, it was behind me. The nightmare was over, I could rest and enjoy my days! Thoughts were still coming back but they were easy to handle now.
The first point is another long story! During the assessment we discussed of the nature of my thoughts, the recent crisis and how I got out of it. We also confirmed that CBT would indeed be useful. We also touched on (low) self-esteem, (low) self-confidence and the way I handle emotions (feeling I’m “disconnected” from them). Due to the nature of Intrusive Thoughts, the counselor wanted to have another appointment after she talked with her boss in supervision (which is a common practice and it is anonymous). While waiting for the next appointment, I kept working on accepting my thoughts and it really made them go away quickly. They did come back, but they were weaker, less bothering, easy to accept and dismiss. I was back to normal, even better than normal, I didn’t had to fight them anymore and be scared by them!
After supervision and during our second appointment, they suggested I go to a Psychiatrist for a proper diagnosis. A phone call later, a month of waiting time, 200 euros of Psychiatrist and nearly half of the day lost to attend the appointment, I was verbally validated as not in danger of harming anyone, nor having any major issues, not even really having intrusive thoughts. The diagnosis is the following:
“On the whole, I would feel that these thoughts are obsessive ruminations, possibly anxiety or stress related. I do not think he could be regarded as having OCD. I didn’t think that medication is indicated and suggested that instead he might benefit from CBT.”
What is a rumination you ask? According to Wikipedia: Rumination is the compulsively focused attention on the symptoms of one’s distress, and on its possible causes and consequences, as opposed to its solutions. This is typically oriented retrospectively, as opposed to prospectively. Some associated experiences are regret, shame, guilt, sadness, and grief.
In between, I was told that I couldn’t go to the center I went for an assessment, as my wife is receiving counseling there and even if it is anonymous, they do not take both partners at the same time and they redirected me to another organization. Which means another assessment, another 6 weeks of waiting list after that first appointment and so on! But I really want to. At that stage, the ruminations or intrusive thoughts doesn’t matter much, I found with the help of my partner how to handle them and they aren’t an issue since October. They still come back and they will likely all my life, but they are again easy to handle!
So why sticking to therapy? Why going through all these appointments and waiting list?
The answer is simple, I now understand the benefit of conversation therapy and if I do some CBT, I will develop better copping mechanisms as well! One of the good things in Ireland, is that you can have low cost but quality counseling. Whether free through your company EAPs if you are lucky or if you go to a regular therapist, in a lot of cases you can pay as much as you can afford. Full price is 60 euros, but they will make you pay anything between 5 to 60 euros based on your income.
I have been working on myself for years and I can now make further progress on aspects that matter to me for quite a reduced price.
We do not need to wait a crisis to start therapy, like we do not need to feel miserable to start self-development. My advise today is that if you have worries, low self-esteem, low confidence if you are anxious and stressed too much and if you are have troubles overcoming childhood issues, relationship issues or any kind of more serious disorder, today is the best day to start taking care of yourself and therapy is just a tool at your disposal.
What next for me in therapy? Should you consider it for yourself after reading that?
I personally will work first on the connection to my emotions. As ruminations are under-control, I will see for CBT a bit later this year!
One good example is that I rarely feel anger, I likely suppress it and I built in my head many “good reasons” to do so over the years. It is time to unlearn these reasons and build the highway to anger. Anger is a needed feeling, it tells us when we should stand for ourselves. I fear anger because I am afraid of loosing control. Growing up I hated witnessing the furious dude that is yelling at everyone when he is angry as he cannot control his emotions. I spent the last 20 years suppressing anger to make sure I am not looking like him. What is the price I pay for that? I didn’t fully grown up emotionally, I’m still a child with some emotions and I need to grow up. I let people step on my toes, I wouldn’t stand up for myself. It is even possible that my ruminations are caused by suppressed emotions and emotions I don’t handle well yet.
Starting therapy can be a bit of hassle at times. You may be scared of it or ashamed and as well, there are practicalities. You will have a appointment for an assessment, which may mean a few weeks of waiting time. Then after the assessment, a 6-8 weeks waiting time before you get assigned a therapist. At least, it was my experience in the 2 centers I have dealt with in Cork in Ireland. The good side is that they make sure that you have a therapist that is trained for the type of therapy you need and also that he will work well with you.
This lead to the next two points. First, DO NOT only go to Therapy when you are in crisis! You can’t really work on a problem when it is overwhelming anyway! If a crisis is triggering you to start: Amazing! But if the crisis is over during the waiting time to get your appointments, don’t give you and keep your commitment to support yourself. In most cases, you need to be stable enough to re-visit a crisis before you can work on it.
Second point, be honest and open, it helps healing tremendously! I hope you could see that through being open when sharing with my partner then accepting myself and then going to therapy, I moved from a secret shameful place to a place of acceptance. In many occasions, sharing something secret, shameful, worrying, threatening, bothering, stressful or anything of that caliber is making it okay, it is starting the healing process. If it is a small thing, sharing be all you need to do. If you do not have someone you feel comfortable with to share, seek some professional help. Seeking help is the courageous way of handling it and you owe that to yourself!
Lastly, educate yourself! Until we found what is an intrusive thought, how common and harmless it is, we were both quite scared at times when they appeared. Watching the videos linked above and talking about it together made the whole situation a lot better. Something we don’t know is usually scary so making ourselves familiar with it, is usually a great starting point!
To go further
I would like to make a brief reference to my previous post: Two lessons about Emotional Hygiene that can improve YOUR life!.
On top of that, I would like to share one YouTube Channel I am following. It is Kati Morton, she is a US based Psychologist and touches on every aspects of it. Even most of her advises and topics don’t impact me, it is highly educative. After following her for months, I could help people around me with simple techniques or advise them to watch some of her videos and it can make a difference in someone’s life. Most of us are like I was, afraid and full of shame to start making the first step. Being someone that is encouraging that may impact lives!