Monthly Archives: May 2012

The pointless counsellor


When I started this blog, I was hoping to knock out around one post a week. I thought it would be easy enough, but the last few weeks I’ve been struggling with being ‘out there’, posting under my real name and publicising the blog. I thought once I’d started this, the worst bit was over. What has actually happened is that I swing between feeling proud one minute and wracked with insecurity and embarrassment the next.

I’ve managed to overcome some of the negative self-talk by reading about a fresh spate of celebrity mental health revelations in the press. The latest being from Natalie Imbruglia and Frankie from the Saturdays. Both of them have opened up about suffering from depression and have chatted with various women’s magazines about the struggles they have faced. It must be such a hard thing to admit if you are a rich, beautiful and successful pop star. I’m really glad they did because it shows that depression can affect anyone. It also made me think that I have a lot less to lose and if they can do it, so can I.

So I will carry on telling you what happened to me at the end of 2009. I approached Christmas slightly comforted by the fact my counselling appointments were approaching, but that still left a festive celebration to get through whilst feeling like my brain was coated with mould. I had reviewed the prescription for diazepam and decided not to take one 2mg tablet twice a day, but would save them for the overwhelming anxiety rollercoaster episodes. I thought this might guard against becoming addicted. I did make a special exception though and took a few before I did my Christmas shopping. This sends me mental at the best of times, so I decided it would not be best practice to attempt it in the throes of a full-on breakdown. I can highly recommend it. I managed to get 90% of my shopping in one trip and was completely unfazed by the crowds, prices and Christmas songs blaring over the loudspeakers.

I can remember thinking everything about Christmas seemed totally irrelevant. My only goal was to survive it until the counselling appointment came through.

January came and I felt overwhelmed by the endless days of feeling terrible. I attempted a return to work as I couldn’t cope with being on my own all day feeling so lost. I managed two days before being sent home again. I thought I had managed to disguise the worst of what was going on in my head, but my boss took me to one side and said he didn’t think I was well enough to be there.

I had to go back to the doctor’s for another sick note. I asked to see a different GP and he was slightly better. He made eye contact, which is always a good start and was of the opinion that I need to be off work for at least the next month. His kindly manner fooled me into thinking he knew what he was talking about, but then he said that I shouldn’t worry about being on diazepam because “loads of housewives in the area were on it” and it was fine because it worked.  He also finished the session by saying, “Don’t worry love, you’ll be alright!” How the f**k did he know whether I was going to be alright?! I felt sorry for all the housewives in the area with him as a GP. Surely the goal is to find ways to manage your anxiety and only take tranquillisers when you have to? I was only planning to be on it until something better came along.

It was February 2010 when the counselling appointment finally came through. 3 months wait, which in relative terms is not bad for the NHS, but when you feel horrendous it is an agonising length of time. I should have known after all my experience of counselling thus far not to get my hopes up too high, but still I pleaded silently with the universe to send me someone good.

The first thing that happened was I couldn’t find the building. It was in Garston, a less than salubrious area of Liverpool and I had wandered along the main street for half an hour, trying to ignore all the boarded up shops and ‘scene of the crime’ tape outside Ethel Austin. It was about time that shop was cordoned off – I could only assume the incident involved a crime against fashion.

I eventually found the building tucked behind a ramshackle pub called the Dealer’s Arms. I know the NHS is strapped for cash but having to traverse such a grim area was adding to my depression.

Pamela ( not her real name ) called me into her office and I had barely sat down before I unleashed the great backlog of built up torment and unhappiness which had been brewing for months. I’d had a lot of time to think about why I felt bad and I thought I had explained everything very clearly. She listened, she nodded and empathised quite nicely at times. But I got to the end of the session and thought, “Is that it?” She hadn’t questioned me at all or offered any illuminating insights. I went home feeling deflated. I tried to be positive and think that at least I had someone to talk to. But she hadn’t been much use. Not really. It had been little more than a nice chat. Her main strength was pulling a very good concerned face.

I went back for my second and third appointments, hoping that once she got to know me a little better, things would improve. Sadly, she remained useless and it turned out she wasn’t even a specialist bereavement counsellor, which I thought I’d asked for at the doctors. She was just your regular bog-standard Diploma graduate. In some ways she was not only pointless but counter-productive. I was finding it really difficult bringing up my deepest darkest feelings about my Dad’s death, only to leave with everything hanging in mid-air. I wasn’t given any guidance about how to handle these emotions and I would go home feeling terrible after I’d seen her. I reluctantly came to the conclusion that she was actually making me feel worse. A LOT worse. I also realised that now I had begun to verbalise my feelings that I couldn’t push them back down again.

I wasn’t sure what to do. The anniversary of Dad’s death approached – 21st February, followed by his birthday. The combination of the terrible counselling and date situation was starting to ferment dangerously. I thought I had felt what it was like to be at rock bottom, but I hadn’t. There were new levels of rock bottom below it.


Advice for coping with depression and anxiety.


I wanted to take a break from telling  my story to discuss coping strategies. I thought it might be worth sharing some advice I’ve been given, both good and bad.

Perhaps the most spectacularly awful piece of advice I’ve been given was to have a baby.. because, ‘it would give me something else to think about besides myself’. This came from an aquaintance. I’d told her about my problems in an attempt to become more open and honest on the subject of mental health. I think it’s worth mentioning here that this woman had recently suffered from post-natal depression..

Where do I even start?

My beliefs about having a baby are that you should to be in the best physical and mental condition possible when you conceive. There should be a longing and a desire to bring a child into the world knowing that you are ready to take on the emotional and financial responsibility of raising another human being.

My beliefs about depression are that it is not a self-indulgent state where you constantly think about yourself. When I am severely depressed, it is an all encompassing, mind-altering state of being. It isn’t possible to think about anything properly because your mind is ill and you are not functioning properly. At my worst, I was desperate for something to take my mind off how awful I felt. I kept busy, saw other people and tried to work whenever I could. But it wasn’t something I could choose to ignore. You can’t think your way out of it or choose to focus on something else. Once you are seriously in the grip of it, all you can do is try to create the conditions for it to improve. It takes the right help, the right medication and a LOT of time. I tried to abolish my depression and anxiety with willpower and it did NOT work!

To get pregnant in this state would be utter madness! I can’t imagine bringing a child into the world because I felt like crap and needed distraction. A baby isn’t a cure for depression. It seems to me that depression can be seen as a selfish illness, but isn’t all illness selfish? I wonder if I had multiple sclerosis or cancer whether people would be advising me to have a baby to stop me thinking about it? I’m not so sure because with a physical illness it is accepted that you have to put yourself first, look after yourself and not take on any extra stress. I think having a baby in this state is probably one of the most selfish things you could do. It’s not fair on anyone, least of all the baby.

The second worst piece of advice I received was to ‘smile at myself in the mirror every day’. This nugget of wisdom came from a member of the mental health crisis team and I’d waited six hours in A+E to hear it. It is shocking that such a cliche came from a person on the front line of mental health intervention. Maybe it works for some people, but the last thing I wanted to see was my own face grimacing back at me through a forced artificial smile.

Some of the most helpful advice I’ve been given was actually the most simple. For instance, accepting that this is how I felt. Not trying to run or hide from it, or desperately make it stop. Just simple acceptance and saying to myself that at some point things would feel better, even if it took a very long time. I think there is always pressure to act as though you are trying to be positive and this can be exhausting. I think I am very good at appearing just fine, when inside I am at breaking point. I’m learning now to change what I say to myself and other people. It is OK to say ‘I am depressed and that is how things are at the moment’. That doesn’t mean you are indulging yourself or that you don’t want to feel better.

From this, I felt more able to accept that I couldn’t necessarily choose how long it would take to recover. I received a very good tip to see myself as a ‘work in progress’, which helped with the frustration of not being able to stop my terrible anxiety attacks. I started to see that although I could take responsibility for my problems and take all the help available, the process of recovering would be gradual and was not something I could engineer by willpower alone. This advice came from a different member of the mental health crisis team, which also helped me to see that sometimes you have to keep trying to find the right person to help you. Over the 2 year period I was ill, I saw that doctors, counsellors, psychiatrists and the crisis team were human too, flawed individuals just like the rest of us with no perfect answers to suit everyone. I learned to keep asking for help in all kinds of ways until the people I saw and the discussions we had made sense. Sometimes I felt that I’d seen a professional and they hadn’t helped me at all, but then over time I realised that I was taking on board what they had said. Other times I felt that the same person had been fantastic and terrible in the same session. Being patient is important, also accepting that you might have to filter out the good help from the bad.

Anyway, you can always post the bad advice in a blog and have a laugh about it when you feel better 🙂

So what kind of advice have you all found helpful? Can anyone top trump my worst advice tales?!