I want to preface this post by saying that this is not everything that I have experienced within mental health so far, this is just what I feel comfortable sharing on such an open platform, for now.
As it is Mental Health Awareness Week, I thought I would share with you my journey with mental health.
I suppose I don't know when it started; there are probably a million different contributing factors dating back to the day that I was born. I believe that we bring our pasts with us through life and if we do not attend to them, they can effect everything that we do and who we are. I was never diagnosed, I never had a hospital stay or an experience as an in-patient. In fact, this is where my gripe with mental health services is. I was barely seen. I wasn't noticed. I was 17, or thereabouts, when my disordered relationship with food started to manifest. I say "disordered eating" rather than eating disorder, as I was never officially diagnosed. However, I purged almost everything that I ate, without bingeing. This continued through my undergraduate degree. During my first year at university, I emailed the University Counselling Service, putting down in writing everything that was happening and everything that I was doing to myself, as I knew that saying it out loud was going to be difficult. I had one session with a counsellor at this service and was told that, unfortunately, I would receive no further counselling sessions as they were oversubscribed. A friend of a friend was going through something very similar, and had also been let down by the counselling service. She had turned to the University Medical centre and had been put on medication. I thought that it was worth a try, given that talking therapies seemed to me to be unavailable at the time. I went along to see the GP service and found myself sitting opposite a lovely looking lady. However, after describing what was happening, this lovely GP stated that it sounded "like a wonderful way to lose weight" and seemed undisturbed by what I had said. I was shocked, and left the surgery deflated and let down. After talking with the same friend, she told me the name of her exact GP, and I went to see him instead. I spent the next few years diligently taking anti-depressants which were being used as an off-label treatment for eating disorders. During this time, I also attempted to seek help through a mental health service in London. Again, I was seen for an assessment session and then never heard from them again. I had either been lost in the system or had been deemed "not sick enough". I finished University, and moved back home. I changed GP's and continued taking the medication that had been prescribed to me at University. I eventually moved to a different city, again switching GP and continuing to take medication. None of the GPs questioned why I was taking the medication, they simply accepted that their predecessor had prescribed it. I was living with my partner, after spending four years in a long-distance relationship, and I started working full-time. The events so far span seven years. Seven years in which I lived in three different cities and tried multiple mental health services. Seven years in which I worked for multiple amazing companies. Seven years in which I had earned a degree and a Graduate Certificate. Seven years in which I had completed university and flown the nest. After seven years, I took it upon myself to pay for counselling. I sought out my very own therapist, paying to see her every week, organising my work around our appointments. Four months after I started this therapeutic journey, I discovered that I had been accepted to study for my Masters in Psychotherapy and Counselling. I began this academic journey, and continued with my therapeutic journey. Therapy was a course requirement, as it is of any therapist training programme. However, I continued to see my therapist even after I had met the required hours for my course. I continued to see her for three years, and would have continued had I not moved to a different city. I am now seeing a different therapist, a requirement of one of my counselling jobs. However, I believe that I would still be in therapy regardless. I truly believe that therapy, if one can afford it and make time for it, can only benefit your life. However this does not stop me and other people from prefixing "going to therapy" with "as a course requirement" or "as a requirement of my/her work". There is still a certain stigma attached to going to see a therapist. Going to therapy must mean that there is something wrong with you, right? However, therapy doesn't have to be undertaken only when there is a problem. Therapy can be used to enhance one's life, to enrich one's relationships, and to become attuned to one's own needs. Although I felt let down by 'the system', there is a shift in thinking, coming right from the top. Members of the Royal family are advocating or increased funding for mental health services, many of them being patrons of various services and charities. Primary school children are often readily exposed to the idea of counselling through play therapy and emotional awareness sessions, and therefore I hope that the stigma was only continue to decrease in the future.
If you would like to book an initial counselling session with me, please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org