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Never give up hope: The light at the end of the tunnel.

For those of you that have read my last blog post you’ll know I’ve been suffering with severe anxiety since the birth of my daughter in 2016. Suffering is defined the the Oxford English Dictionary as “The state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship.” This is definitely the right word to describe what I’ve been enduring. I hadn’t even felt like I was living but merely existing.

However over the past 6 weeks things have been brighter. Yes, the anxiety is still there but not at the severity it was. I’m not counting my chickens before they hatch though as my husband has been off work a lot due to recovering from some surgery during this time. When my husband is home I feel the pressure is off me to feel solely responsible for my daughter, so I’m nervous about what will happen when he returns to work in a few weeks time.

However, for now, I am delighted to say I am experiencing moments of pure joy. I’ve been feeling happy. My daughter’s second birthday in December was one of the happiest days I’ve spent with her. Over the past few years anxiety has enveloped me so much I often said to my family, friends and mental health team that I couldn’t feel any other emotions. Now though, I finally can see light at the end of the tunnel of a life filled with a whole range of emotions, not just anxiety. Before, I honestly could only see a life of physical (I live with chronic pain) and mental pain ahead of me. I feel more optimistic now. I’ve been able to be present in the moment more rather than ruminating over the past or fearing the future constantly. There are times when I gave up hope, when I didn’t believe my husband, my friends or my mental health team that my anxiety levels would ever improve but for now they have. My anxiety hasn’t vanished, and it’s an unrealistic expectation to ever hope to your yourself completely of anxiety as it’s an emotion that is part of being human. Everybody experiences anxiety sometimes. My anxiety is still constantly there and at a level where it is impacting my quality of life negatively, but it’s not unwaveringly overwhelming me like it did for so long. For the first time in years I feel hopeful about my future. I’m thankful to myself for my constant dedication to my mental health and wellbeing. For me this means;

  1. Good sleep hygiene – I think the number one most important thing I think for anyones mental health is good sleep.
  2. Avoiding stimulants like caffeine.
  3. Daily meditation. I’ve been keeping up with my almost daily mediations (my prefered type are mindfulness body scan meditations).
  4. Trying my best to live mindfully (be present in the moment).
  5. Carrying on with activities even when I feel extremely anxious e.g. going to toddler groups, meeting up with friends.
  6. Being honest with my family and mental health team about how I feel, especially when I feel suicidal.
  7. Taking my medication.
  8. Having a most balanced view of things, noticing the good things not just the bad. Part of what helped me achieve this I believe, was for four months I recorded daily all the positive things that happened in my day. In CBT we talk about a negative filter, meaning sometimes people only notice the negative things in life and the positives pass them by. I was definitely viewing life through a negative filter, but not anymore.
  9. Challenging my thoughts. I filled in thought records, a tool we use in CBT to challenge negative automatic thoughts. Although this didn’t have an impact on my physical anxiety symptom of dread in my abdomen it helped to get the thoughts on paper and “out of my head”. When I get the same recurring thoughts, I tell myself they’re already on the paper. I used the Thought Record Sheet: 7 column (scroll down to download it) By clicking on this link you can also read about challenging your thoughts from the wonderful resource that is https://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/index.html
  10. Eating three meals a day even when my appetite is very poor.
  11. Making time for things I enjoy, e.g. reading, watching television, eating out with friends and family, going to the cinema.
  12. Limiting the time I spend on screens so I can be more present in my life and in the moment.
  13. Remembering and putting into practice things I have learnt in therapy.

As ever I am so thankful for my ongoing support from my wonderful family, friends and mental health team. Thank you just doesn’t seem enough.

One of my favourite quotes that has kept me going in my darkest times is;

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.” – Winston Churchill

I wish that for anyone who is reading this that is hopeless, that by sharing my experience I can give you even the smallest shine of light at the end of your tunnel.

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My secret shame for not being able to fix myself

I’ve been keeping a secret. Ever since the birth of my daughter nearly 2 years ago I have been suffering with severe, chronic and acute anxiety and still am. Along with this comes a deep embarrassment that as a qualified CBT therapist I haven’t been able to “fix myself”. On an endless refrain in my head I hear my old supervisor saying “teach your client to be their own therapist” which feeds into my shame of not being able to come out of the other side of this anxiety when I myself am a fully qualified therapist. I think I feel that as I have so many CBT skills that I should be doing much better than I actually am. My self-pressure and guilt of not being able to navigate the minefield of my own anxiety by “being my own therapist” is at some points suffocating.

My amazing mental health care coordinator has helped me to gradually see that I do an awful lot to help myself but I never feel it’s enough.

My psychiatrist printed off lots of CBT thought record sheets to try and help me manage my anxiety a bit better. Although this helped get many distressing thoughts out on paper than just in my head endlessly floating around, I am still left with my worst symptom, a constant feeling in the pit of my abdomen of complete fear.

I’m on several medications, I’d be on higher doses if I could but my physical medical conditions make this problematic.

I’ve seen an amazing psychologist yet am still so overwhelmed by crippling anxiety.

My anxiety revolves around fear of not being able to cope looking after my daughter. I have numerous disabling medical conditions meaning I’m reliant on my family and carers to assist me in my parenting role. It makes me feel so vulnerable. I suffer with awful chronic fatigue as a result of my medical conditions and my psychiatric medications only compound this. Combined with pain this means I can’t drive. I can’t use public transport without severe pain. I can’t lift my daughter up or down the stairs (and toddlers won’t always walk even when they can). I can’t hold her legs in the air to change her nappy and many other parenting tasks too. At my worst I feel suicidal and like a terrible person that was stupid to have a child. I go through phases of constantly berating myself for having a child knowing I’m disabled. I live in fear that something will happen to my relatives or my carers will be taken away (a real fear in light of social care cut backs) and I will be stranded with a child I can’t look after by myself. I’m all consumed by this fear. I’m scared my health will deteriorate further and that I’ll be able to do even less for her and in my eyes be even less of a mother.

I feel so guilty that I’m not “better”. It’s made me reflect on how I feel about CBT a lot. I have in fact used lots of CBT techniques without actually consciousluly realising. For example I’ve never avoided taking my daughter to baby or toddler groups however much I’ve wanted to hide away, even though I sometimes cry in them as I’m so consumed by anxiety. I think this is because I know that avoidance is a slippery slope to doing less and feeling even worse. However I’ve also had something confirmed I’ve always known, CBT isn’t a magic one-size-fits-all cure. I’ve always been passionate about the fact that CBT isn’t always the whole answer but it can help. I’m living proof of this. CBT alone isn’t enough for me, I need my medication, I need secondary mental health services input, I needed other types of therapy and still do in the future. Most of all though I want to learn not to be ashamed anymore. I don’t think this will be a quick process but I’m hoping on some level that writing this will go someway towards helping. I don’t know if I’ll ever be physically well enough to work as a CBT therapist again but if I do this experience will only go on to expand my compassion and empathy for others living with anxiety. My psychiatrist has reiterated several times how difficult it is to treat. I just never really appreciated someone (me) could be this difficult to treat. My psychiatrist is confident I will improve and says it’s a marathon not a race. I have improved somewhat but really wish I could sprint to the finish line.

Pollyanna Weekend

We were due to go away for a weekend break this weekend, just the two of us. Due to unforseen circumstances we weren’t able to go. Instead of getting down about it my husband said we were going to make the best of the situation.

So in the circumstances we had we decided to do some enjoyable things we wouldn’t usually be able to do. On Saturday a dear friend had our daughter for the night and so we got the opportunity to just be us and go out on and date night as husband and wife rather than Mummy and Daddy. I cannot remember the last time we did this. We also bumped into a friend whilst out which was really lovely. Today we went for a really yummy roast dinner and met a couple we really clicked with an enjoyed some great conversation. Later on we got to spend some really nice quality time with our daughter which we wouldn’t have had if we’d gone away for the weekend without her. We feel we got the best of both worlds; some well deserved husband and wife quality respite time and some quality family time. Also if we had gone away we would have probably spent a lot more money than we did just having two nice meals out. We flipped what could have been a negative situation on its head and made the best of the situation and have really enjoyed ourselves. As an added bonus we sold our holiday for a hugely reduced price to a lovely family who are having a fantastic time so it’s a win win situation. By making the best of not going away it has reminded me of the story Dr David Burns (one of my CBT idols)  tells in his book The Feeling Good Handbook about a couple who’s luggage got lost when they arrived at their holiday destination. Rather than focusing on how awful it was they turned it into a game of seeing how they could cope having so little. So just like Pollyanna who’s mindset is to always look on the brightside, we successfully enjoyed our Pollyanna Weekend. 

My personal philosophy word photograph

image

I designed this tonight. Thinking in this way reminds me of the fluidity of life and has help me through some very tough times. This is the best way I could succinctly communicate this in a phrase. What do you think? Can you relate to this or is it a new concept for you? Do you have a favourite inspirational quote or affirmation? Please share by commenting below or on my twitter or Facebook page.

Thank you

I just wanted to write a quick post to say thank you for all the feedback I have received for my blog. I really appreciate all the comments, tweets and Facebook messages and read them all. I have had an enormous amount of support and am so pleased that so many people find this blog interesting and keep coming back to read more! Keep letting me know your suggestions for future topics. I hope this finds you healthy and happy 🙂

Welcome to The Inner Workings of a CBT therapist

Here it is! I have decided to take the plunge and begin a blog that will hopefully give a glimpse into what actually goes on inside my head as a therapist. Before I started my training and indeed when in therapy myself, I often wondered, ‘what does my therapist really think about (fill in the blank) the price of fish, my dress, that fact I was ten minutes late?’ etc. I hope my blog posts are insightful, genuine, and respectful both to my profession, clients and humankind. My hope is to demystify therapy. Of course in my therapeutic work I always aim to be as objective as possible. However, luckily first and foremost I am a human being, just like anyone else with my own thoughts, feelings and life experiences –  which for better or worse influence every part of me, and whether I intend them to or not, my therapeutic practice. I would also like to promote cognitive behavioural therapy as the empathic therapy it is, and should be when delivered properly.  I am also interested in attempting to answer any questions anyone reading this is kind enough to pose, to try and let you know what really does go on inside this particular CBT therapist’s head. Welcome, and thank you for reading.