When I began therapy I had all intention of following my sessions with a few posts but I couldn’t decide what part of my appointments I wanted to share. I didn’t want to broadcast what was said throughout the session, I am mindful I am not alone in the room. I toyed with a few articles about how to find a therapist but it felt isolated without writing anything else. I have no reservations about sharing my therapy journey with anyone who will listen but I never felt it was needed until recently when I read an article about why millennials were accessing therapy more than any other generation.
We are Generation Y, or more commonly known as Millennials. We are the demographic cohort born between the early 1980s all the way through to 2000s. Meaning in 2019 Millennials can be any age from 22 to 36 years old. We are known amongst many as the ‘snow flake generation’. Oversensitive, narcissistic, weak and lazy individuals who ‘come up’ with labels for new sexualities, and genders. We are mocked for our progressiveness towards a more sustainable and equal future. Yet we are the most politically, culturally, environmentally and socially aware generation there has ever been. We campaign for social and equal rights and we are articulate in our communication towards these issues along with sharing our weaknesses and vulnerabilities. We are also recognised as one of the biggest contributors to breaking down the stigma attached to mental health. So why are so many of us turning to therapy? Is it because we are more openly discussing our Mental Health? The hashtag #itsoknottobeok is shared on every platform, or are we more open with our peers about how we are feeling? Could it be the demands put upon us and the rise in technology, 24/7 access to everything and increasing levels of perfectionism, that is causing us to burn out at a faster rate than previous generations? That is to be discussed on a future blog but for now, I wanted to share my story as a millennial as to why I finally turned to therapy.
I have previously mentioned I work for an Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy*, an organisation I am hugely passionate about. It is the reason why I have so far dedicated 6.5 years of my 20’s to a role because I wholeheartedly believe Counselling changes lives.
I was talking to our new Chair of the Association, a woman I really admire, when I shared with her my journey with therapy and how I would love for more of our work to be available to the public because it took me so long to understand, even working where I do, that therapy would help me. She replied with ‘Jade you have to share this, it would be so powerful’. No one has ever said a story from me (I am as average as average can be) would be powerful. It did, however, make me aware that being ‘average’ means I sit amongst a whole cohort of people who for a number of reasons could be holding off seeking help for their mental health as I did. I thought about it and thought you know what, she is right.
So why did it take me so long to seak out counselling myself? The honest answer is, I didn’t feel worthy enough of a therapist’s time. Even working where I do, I still felt if I went to therapy I would be taking up therapy space which could be used by someone far more deserving than me.
I struggle with anxiety, in my mind, what Millennial didn’t? However, the anxiety inside of me wasn’t the natural worries of how my career was going, whether I was going to meet the one or whether I was recycling enough to save the planet. My anxiety affected my life on a daily basis if I am honest most days it was a minute by minute basis. I never slept well, I had panic attacks during the day and in my sleep. Panic attacks which I kept from friends because I didn’t want them to know how much my mental health was deteriorating. I would cancel plans knowing that I had been over stimulated with too much conversation throughout the day, desperately seeking refuge in the sanctuary of my bedroom with my nose in a book or WhatsApp (even as an introvert we want some connection). When work or life became stressful I craved the control I had with my eating disorder. I was left feeling disappointed in myself, often believing I had ‘lost’ this control instead of seeing it as a recovery from an eating disorder which gripped my life for years. I would catastrophise every plan I had in my diary. Turning any exciting occasion into a potential disaster. I would cancel dates at the very last minute believing they were going to be a waste of my time or cause me pain, believing I would have a better time at home anyway. I struggled with troubling intrusive thoughts which made carrying out the simplest of tasks unbearably long. The worst of all I agonised over this constant need to be perfect. I spent every waking hour doing something. I always had to be learning, developing into the best version of myself. I regularly felt overwhelmed by a constant amount of information I was absorbing. The truth is I wasn’t giving important projects the attention to detail they deserved because my mind was all over the place. This is just a short list of some of the feelings and thoughts I faced on a daily basis. Yet, I still didn’t feel my mental health was bad enough to take up a therapist’s time. Even with the counsellors and therapists, I spoke to on a regular basis at our events addressing that mental health has no hierarchy, I still didn’t feel as though this was anything more than what my friends were going through.
I had grown up with a fair amount of privilege, privilege which I was unaware of until recent years. I am not talking about money. My parents were not rich although I grew up in a nice house, on a private road and then moved to a barn conversion my parents built on a farm in the countryside and we never went without. We had everything most children would dream for. The privilege I am talking about is that which excels us in life due to the card we were dealt when we were born. I grew up in what I call a Waitrose town. I am white, we were fairly middle class, I was fit, healthy and whilst I was bullied at school I had a relatively normal childhood. My childhood was as privileged as it could be without a private education yet I still have the luxury of putting ‘Grammar school’ on my CV.
Millennials may have been flocking to therapy, we may be the cohort seeking out mental health help more than many generations before us, but really what did I have to complain about? I had checked and checked again my privilege as we are told to and I decided I was not the worthy candidate for therapy.
I am not bragging above, as children, we were told not to talk about money, don’t discuss what cars your parents have on the drive, hobbies, clothes you could buy etc because it was in bad taste. Yet I believe by ignoring these we forget that we are not all born the same. It is as important we recognise that we are not all equal as it is fighting for equality because without recognition we cannot see how we can create change. Unfortunately, society is still built this way and we can still leapfrog ahead because of it. I have so much to say about privilege in life and even in therapy but that will be another post. The one thing society, money, possessions, skin colour, location, all the demographics cannot change is how your mind works and this was something once I got my head around I finally could feel worthy enough to seek out help.
At the beginning of this year, my panic attacks and anxiety felt uncontrollable. I said things and acted in ways I felt I had no control over. Daily tasks were becoming difficult, I didn’t know how to effectively handle situations. I had no confidence in who I was as a person socially or professionally. I felt messy and my concentration was all over the place. I decided at this point I needed to speak to someone.
My first therapist didn’t work for me, (again another blog post I am sure) but finally, I found the right one. She has literally been a catalyst which changed my life. After the failure of my first few counselling sessions, I went away and thought about what I wanted. My first approach was a desperate bid for help. I contacted the first counsellor I found who specialised in anxiety and eating disorders and they were local. This wasn’t enough. After I went away and thought about it. I knew I wanted CBT. An approach which doesn’t work for everyone but I knew was for me. I didn’t want to spend time at length discussing my past, I wanted immediate coping mechanisms to help with my anxiety which is what CBT offers. If you are looking for more of a personal approach, however, where you can explore in more depth where these problems are coming from I would not recommend a CBT approach (I am not a therapist so don’t quote me on the above).
My appointments with my therapist have been on a weekly/ bi-weekly basis since June this year. She has been able to help me identify habits I had which I never noticed. She has given me various coping mechanisms for my anxiety such as body scans and breathing exercises etc which I can do whenever needed. We have discussed my old eating disorder without dwelling on it for long. She has taught me to not worry about how other people feel, a burden I carried for various reasons from making sure friends were having a good time, to carrying all the responsibilities of birthdays and Christmases. She has been able to help improve my sleep by reducing my anxiety. I have finally begun to feel happy about myself in a way that means I don’t feel the need to compare myself against my friends. I finally feel confident and not the token idiot in group situations. The Intrusive thoughts I had are so infrequent these days I almost forget what it felt like to have them. The panic attacks are a rarity and manageable, I have a better understanding of what triggers them. It is difficult to articulate exactly what therapy has done for me because it has been a steady journey. It feels as though I have been watching someone gradually chip away at something and then suddenly step back to see what they have created. I am not quite finished with my sessions but I can see how much I have changed and I can tell how different my life now is.
Reflecting back to the beginning of the year I think of the what if… I had carried on thinking I am not ‘troubled’ enough for therapy? It leaves me wondering how I would be now? Therapy has changed my life and I can guarantee with the right therapist it can change yours too. Don’t ever feel like you are not worthy of help. I regularly think of where I could have been years ago if I had only had more courage to ask for help sooner.
*As with all posts I write about my Mental Health as someone who is not a trained professional within the sector all views in this post are my own and not endorsed by my employer.