A mental as anything journey
I have been in semi regular therapy since around about the end of 2017/beginning of 2018. Therapy has done a world of good for me, but it took a long time for me to start and an even longer time for me to make it a regular thing in my life. I'm not good at habits, so continuing my attendance for the last two or so years has been a huge effort.
I'm proud of myself. I want to share that, but I need you to know that I'm not a mental health specialist of any kind, and am only sharing this story because it's been sitting in my mind, waiting to be talked about.
Trigger warnings for the post: depression, anxiety, suicide ideation, sad/bad/mad Emotions.
I can’t remember exactly when my therapy journey started, but the first time I wrote down a counselling session into my planner was August 2016. It would have been during all my final assessments for uni, a reintroduction back into my original degree after my year abroad, and sudden, heavy and mostly self imposed isolation after 4 years of almost constant human company.
I do remember that I was in the middle of a hands shaking, ugly crying, foetal position rocking, underneath a desk situation. I remember not being able to shake the image of a knife from my mind. I was alone, in my apartment, incapable of having anyone near me. It was midday, the sun was out, the skies were blue, the weather was lovely and all I could think about was not wanting to be alive. I was alone.
I didn’t know what to do, because the last time I had felt this way in 2012 there were other people in the residence, and I was hiding my depression from them so I couldn’t have any access to anything potentially dangerous. I was under a desk then, too.
I have no idea why this is an association of mine, but my safe places when things are capital B Bad are a) under desks, preferably desks that are up against a wall and b) inside closets, especially underneath hanging clothing. I think it started around when I was 9, but I can’t remember which stressor gave me that. Make of it what you will.
I remember looking through my list of contacts on my phone and feeling completely worthless. I was alone. Everyone would be too busy. It was the middle of the day. I don't even know which day of the week it was. Everyone I cared about had people they care more about and I shouldn’t be anyone’s obligation, especially in this state and I didn’t even want anyone near me. I have been alone for a long time and it hasn’t gotten easier. I was alone. I was alone! My mother wasn't in the country, I didn't have a partner at the time (honestly a rarity for those years), most of my friends at this point were either overseas or had (according to the depression or anxiety or whichever part of me had the louder voice) abandoned me for whatever reasons, and even whatever friends I had left were busy and, more importantly, they didn't know. I hadn't said anything about my brain business. No one knew how much, or how often I felt this way, and what a way it would be to break that news while feeling more intensely suicidal than ever.
Yes hello? It's Annie. I want to die right now and need your help.
Eventually, I called a fairly distant friend. I think they were still living in another state at this point. I knew this friend was more familiar with mental health than me, and I knew they were one of the few people in my life who was on meds for their own mental health situation. We weren’t close at that point, but I didn’t know what else to do so I called them.
By whatever karmic god gold stars were in power that day, they picked up.
I have no idea what I said. Probably something along the lines of Yes hello? It's Annie. I want to die right now and need your help but this was someone who I knew (thought, guessed, hoped) could understand. But I don't remember my words. I can’t remember what stress points I had at the time, either. I cried on the phone for what seemed like days, but at some point I must have been coherent enough to talk about whatever was happening at the time because I eventually calmed down enough to ask them what I should do about wanting to Not Exist.
This friend made appointments on my behalf while I was still on the phone, to something like 5 different therapy and doctor options. They offered to go with me, and I can’t remember what I said. We talked for what seemed to be a long time. I made it to one of the appointments several days later (??? possibly the next day, maybe perhaps a week, or the same week... I don't have chronological memory), with a mental health specific GP in the city, and got my first mental health plan.
I told my mother maybe 3 years later that this friend saved my life that day. She couldn't look at me, and I knew it was hard news to hear. There was silence for a moment, and then she said, "I need to pay for a meal with this friend of yours," which, really, is Chinese for "I'm really grateful for this person".
The first therapist was an old, white lady. She reminded me of the first English teacher I ever liked from high school, whose name I no longer remember. She had a very approachable, mother-of-a-friend vibe about her. I was freshly out of Not Okay mode, which usually means I overcompensate for not being able to do anything by doing Everything. Fresh out of a breakdown also means I am disoriented, and I spent the sessions erratically sharing my life with this woman who sat with a clipboard of blank paper.
Her office was in the city, in a building surrounded by people wearing suits and going about their Big Business, with an empty foyer that had a big signboard with all the business names on little metal slates. I was intimidated and also half an hour early. Someone came out of one of the lifts and a group of people who had been out buying their lunches or coffee or something walked past me and went into the lift. My body practically vibrated with discomfort.
I went for a walk around the block.
When I eventually made it back into the office, I was still ten minutes early. I filled out a form (which I can't remember) and must have waited (which I also don't really remember). I remember the chairs were green. Everything there was a minty colour. The consultation rooms were eerily empty, and grey and blue. The chair I sat in felt too big for me. I felt like a child sitting in an adult sized chair.
I only ended up going there for two sessions. On the first session I blurted out random childhood stories in attempts to answer the therapist's questions for almost the entirety of the session. I cried twice. I didn't feel better. She said something about a mood disorder at the end of that session, but confirmed my recent suspicion of depression.
I scheduled another session because when I paid for the hour and a half initial consultation fee (this was a private and not bulk billed clinic and I low key was not prepared for how much money it was) the receptionist asked me when I would like my second session and I panicked. At my second session I just word vomited even more, but I felt a little bit better. She said something about a mood disorder again. I didn't book another session.
I didn't go back to therapy again until 2018, some 2 (??) years later. This time, I went to a GP I had gotten comfortable with (the first time I had a semi regular GP since I was about 7) and he referred me to a phone call based collective of psychologists, or whatever you'd call a group of psychologists. It took me what seemed to be a long time (maybe a month) to manage to call the number.
My first session with this next therapist was in March, 2018, 17 months after my first attempt to get myself into regular therapy. In the meantime I had graduated uni, gotten a dog, gotten 2 internships and was in a relationship again. I was going to the gym fairly regularly. That semi regular GP left the practice and went somewhere else. It didn't even bother me.
I felt well.
That first session was another explanation session about my life. I had asked for an Asian psychologist, because I wanted to explore my own familial dynamics without needing to explain why certain things... just were the way they were. I booked in sessions every week for a month. And then things got busy and I didn't go back for 2 months. I felt well. I did events, went to therapy, went to the gym. I felt well... And then I didn't feel well.
I thought it was strange to be going to therapy, actively working on myself, learning about my past and what was up, working and socialising, going to the gym and walking my dog. I was in love and had a relatively stable schedule, became extremely interested in other people's writings about mental health and experiences, and somehow... I was still depressed.
I started cancelling social plans. I started going to therapy weekly again. I furiously applied for junior position design jobs, thinking that getting a job could swing my moods back up. I cancelled plans to be in events. I cleaned my apartment obsessively. I left entire weeks empty of socialising when my mum left again. It was June quite suddenly, I got a job and stopped hanging out with people during the week almost entirely. I woke up when the sky was dark, and got home when the sky was dark. When things got really bad, my vision narrowed down to daily struggles. I stopped therapy, I barely managed to walk my dog, I didn't see people besides my partner (who had, at the time, essentially moved in with me for weeks at a time), I overworked.
Eventually I learned that spending time and effort on working on myself in therapy was exhausting to do in tandem with the other Regular Human things I was trying to pile into my now fairly scheduled life.
I would attend therapy a lot, and then go weeks (occasionally months) without it. When I could make it to therapy, I would learn a lot about myself. I spoke about therapy to all my friends (possibly a little too much). I started sharing on social media about the different things I was learning. And then I would stop going to therapy for a while, if I felt like I wasn't learning or in the mindspace to learn. I would slip back into bad habits. I would drink, and feel messed up about my relationship, and not see anyone for a while. I would have a breakdown (sometimes several), I would overwork, eat badly and drink more.
My thoughts ebb and flow. I'm well, and sometimes unwell. I broke up with that partner of mine after 2 years, and stopped going to that therapist after a year and a half for a whole list of reasons. I wrote actual lists. I learned a lot with those two people in my life but spent months debating with myself about whether or not I felt like I needed to move on, while I would advise friends to immediately make those changes that took me months to decide.
It took another 3 months to try and start finding another therapist. In the meantime, I quit that job, took a 6 month sabbatical, did a little traveling, started doing activities like eating out and going to the cinemas on my own, learned to drive, hung out with my dog, started and stopped socialising as my brain required and... learned even more about myself.
2019 was a year of furious self improvement. I met people, sat in my loneliness, did shows, made art, got a better job, socialised, got depressed and took care of myself. I stopped wanting someone to save me. I learned how to have acquaintances. I started posting even more transparently on social media about my mental health, and started to talk to my mother about depression, anxiety and... got a diagnosis for ADHD.
Things started making sense. I started thinking and processing things from both childhood and my first few years as a young adult. I started articulating how I felt about bad things that happened to me. I started recovering, both in therapy and outside of it.
The thing is that I'm still depressed. I still want to die, sometimes occasionally, and sometimes often. I'm overly sensitive to changes in other people's moods, I can be impatient and obnoxious, I'm not well all of the time and sometimes I hide under desks to cry. I read articles about suicide ideation, about Rejection Sensitivity Dysmorphia, BPD, depression, anxiety and ADHD and nod my head to myself solemnly during my lunch breaks at work. I overshare, I'm impulsive, and anxious and intense.
But it's fine. I'm working on it. It's already been a journey but I'm going to keep going, probably.
It's all fine,