Monday, 11 January 2016

Healing Diary: With Thanks to My Psychologist

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the new year.

I haven't written here for a while, it feels weird. Like learning to ride a bike again, it's a little unsteady, but I'm remembering those innate skills.
Today, I want to just write, get it out, because there are things that I want to say, but I am still working it all out in my head. I am not alright, I'm not at my best. I think I am becoming more reclusive. In the summer, it is too hot to go outside, so I spend a lot of time inside, and I stay up late meaning I am most "awake" when it's late, and when I wake up, I feel anxious. And not a fun, excited anxious, or even a worried "oh dear" anxious. It's that brain-strangling, vicious cycle of self-critical thoughts . . . the Mind Trap I described. Thankfully, I have not had a panic attack, but I have become so close that the mere fear of actually having another panic attack is the only things that reminds me that I have ways of avoiding a panic attack.

It's times like this when I see that I have come quite far. I have suffered 3 panic attacks in my lifetime. But, I am determined to stop it there. Three, and only three; and the best part is that I think I can.

And a lot of that is thanks to the help of my psychologist, Dr Mona.

I won't reveal her full name, or specifically what was said in sessions. Not because I am embarrassed, but because there are some issues of privacy.
See, psychology is private. I don't really mind talking about it, because I am choosing to share what I'm going through experiences, but it is private specifically for the sake of providing a safe environment for those who need it. Unless you are at risk to yourself or others, then what you say stays in that room.
Don't get me wrong, there is some information shared between doctor and psychologist, but never without your knowledge. At the end of any session, if Dr Mona wanted to share something with my GP, she made it very clear what she wanted to share and made sure I was okay with that.

So, what is this? Am I just here advertising? Well, I guess so. If you get her as a psychologist, in my opinion she's a good one . . . although, there's more. I think it's more something that I noticed in these sessions which I feel the need to share.

See, as a recovering Chronically Anxious/Depressed person, I know what it's like to be falling down and to get back up, so I try to help people in a way that is open and understanding. I've spoken to people in person and online about what they can do to manage their mental illnesses, and something I've seen a lot is a reticence to go to a doctor.
There seems to be two things people dislike the most, namely medicine and psychology, which I think is kind of funny since those two are the most common methods of dealing with mental illness. But, let's look at these a little differently, shall we?

Firstly, these are not two issues, they are one: Fear that You will Change (for the worse).

And all I can say to that is . . . no. Medicine, even anti-depressants, are not magical. They are not designed to change your thoughts, just your emotions. If you, for example, are depressed because you're lonely, if you take anti-depressants, you won't stop feeling lonely, you'll just stop despairing about it. It doesn't change who you are, just how you feel. Or, if you are agoraphobic and that causes you anxiety, if you are on anti-anxiety medication, you won't suddenly be able to leap out into the street, you'll still be agoraphobic, you just won't be freaking out about it.

Alongside that, while it seems weird, psychology is exactly the same. Dr Mona didn't tell me anything I didn't already know, she didn't force me to change my mind on any ideas. Psychology isn't any kind of propaganda or "education" into the "proper" way of thinking. She did teach me about anxiety, what it is and how it works as well as ways to manage it, but you are never told that what you're doing or thinking is wrong.

You may now be asking "If it doesn't change me, then why bother?"
Well, purely and simply, because anxiety and depression are not you. You are not defined by your mental illnesses, they are - if anything - an addendum to you.
It's an imperfect analogy, but I compare it to a broken leg. If you broke your leg, went to a doctor, they would put a caste/splint on it and do what they can to re-set your leg.
When they take the caste off, are you a different person? No, you don't even have a different leg, the bones just work properly again. Same with your mental illnesses, if you take medication and manage to get to a stable mentality, are you different? No, you're just not suffering from mental illness anymore.

Using myself as an example, I am still myself, I am still quite anxious and I still make a lot of the same mistakes. As I said in the opening paragraph, I have come close to having panic attacks this year. But, do you know why?
Well, I do. I do because I saw a psychologist, and I now recognize that I am not maintaining my mental health. I know that I am not getting enough exercise, I am not structuring my day and I am allowing my anxieties to take control. Most specifically, I am not finding the time to slow my brain down after doing something intellectually busy.
In my instance, I use my brain to write stories, I find connections, I find patterns, I structure stories and I organize my thoughts into these tightly-bound constructions of reflection, perception, understanding, intrigue & fantasy. So, when I stop writing stories, but I am still thinking like a writer, the world is not as tightly structured as a novel, so I become self-reflective and introspective. And when I do that, I look around my mind until I find a thought that doesn't fit into a structure or pattern, something which I don't understand and then I get frustrated because something about my mind is wrong which I can't explain or understand.

This is just me, it can be similar to the way others think but don't be surprised if you are different. This is just using me as an example, but the point is that I understand all of this because of the helping hand of my psychologist. I talked to her about many things, up to and including my blog and writing. By understanding me, and the way my mind-machine works, Dr Mona found ways of fixing it. Just like you put water in a car's radiator BEFORE it overheats, there are also ways of countering anxiety before you have a panic attack. For me, it come from structure and activity, separating those moments of intellectual stimulation from moments of personal introspection, as well as meditation, medication and breathing exercises.

So no, I'm not perfect, but the reason why I am able to function so well these days is because I got help. Even if these things seem like common sense, a psychologist is trained to talk to people who are mentally ill in a way that we find most receptive, and has the knowledge of how to help us be ourselves, who we are meant to be without mental illness causing disorder in our lives.

So, in conclusion, thank you Doctor Mona. And, I hope you don't take it personally, but I hope I never have to see you again.
I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, and just by writing this, I feel a little better. I don't think this is the end of the Healing Diary, but it is definitely further from the beginning.