Adventures in Therapy

I’ve been having fun for the last nine months or so, trying to get some help to sort my head out. And by “fun”, I mean “want to scream at something and am probably more screwed up now than I was when I started.”

So, I figured: I’m feeling depressed and grey and numb and I’m coping, yes, but I’m not necessarily getting any better. Let’s see if someone else with more knowledge/experience/solutions might be able to help?

Talking Space

TalkingSpace is offered in the UK via the NHS, as a starting point for any mental health issues. You can self-refer, which is nice (saves going via a GP!) and they cover a wide variety of issues and problems.

However, the downside is that They Have A Checklist. You must work your way through this Checklist, because they need to make sure they’ve offered you all the (cheaper, quicker) forms of help, and make sure that you’re Doing Them Properly, before they can even think about offering you anything else.

And saying that you’re already doing X doesn’t count, because you don’t know what you’re talking about, and you might be doing it wrong.

(I can understand the rationale behind this, because even the most experienced person can learn new things – and I have always tried to be open to new therapies and new courses, because if I even learn one new thing, then that’s a bonus! But it also feeds mightly into the “You’re Doing Your Own Mental Health Wrong” and being outright dismissed when you say that you already know something… not guaranteed to help anyone’s mood.)

I’ve summarised my frustrations with CBT before but, of course, by turning up with Depression and Anxiety, that’s top of the list of solutions. And being told to do it again… fine, I’ll do the online course. I’ll get the tick in the box. I went through the entire course in a week, making helpful little notes as I went, and I think the person at the other end of the phone was both irritated and resigned when we had the next phone appointment; I had told him that I had 15 years experience of CBT, after all…

We had a conversation on general life; am I exercising enough? Relaxing enough? Eating well? Sleeping well? (Yes, yes, yes, yes.) He then suggested that maybe I wasn’t using my personal relaxation time correctly, and not doing things that aligned with my values. (Because of course, I can’t even relax in the right ways.)

Another check sheet. Another list. I sweetly pointed out how everything I did to relax did align with at least some of my values.

“Well, it sounds like you’re doing everything right…”

Ya think?!

It’s not like I’ve lived with this for half my life. It’s not like I’ve learned to function with it, and I am doing my best to GET MYSELF WELL. I am doing my best to make sure that everything I do benefits myself – and that means staying well, staying healthy, exercising as best I can within my body’s limitations for that day, making sure I relax, making sure I keep working and doing and keep my brain active.

I. Am. Goddamn. Trying. And for every single mental health service to start with “Well, you’re not doing it right” gets exceedingly wearing.

(Although, I admit, they are obviously coming from a place of wanting to teach you something, because if you knew it all, you wouldn’t be asking for help? Hence my philosophy of being open and saying yes to things, in the hope that maybe I can learn a new way of doing something, or find a way that works better for me. But sweet zombie Jesus is it frustrating to constantly be told I don’t know my own brain.)

BetterHelp

So during the six months that it took TalkingSpace to work through their Checklist, I took things into my own hands, and tried BetterHelp on the recommendation of a friend.

It was… ok. It’s quite easy to get set up on, and the major benefits of it are that you can pick your therapist (and switch very easily), and also schedule sessions very flexibly. It’s all done via the website/app, so the therapist never knows your phone number, and you have access to a chat feature and “I need to contact you outside of a session” messaging whenever you need.

The downside of it is that (at least I found) most of the therapists are in the US, which meant odd scheduling hours, and it was quite hard to pick someone; I could understand if you need someone specifically for family therapy, or don’t want someone religious, but I just… needed someone to talk to? It is also somewhat expensive – I had a code for two free weeks but only managed to schedule one session in that time, which isn’t really enough to get to know someone. So, mixed feelings at the start.

I got to talk a bit in the first session; there was a questionnaire to do, which helped a lot as I felt it covered a lot of the background info, so the therapist was fairly up-to-speed on everything. We spent a while chatting about everything; home, family, mental health background, what I felt the problem was. The therapist was fairly chatty too, so I learned a bit about them, but it was in a good back-and-forth way, so that was nice.

Second session was a bit more frustrating. I found it harder to talk; the therapist spent more time talking, which was ok, but again not the most helpful thing when it’s talking about how I should feel, or making assumptions. The break point for me came when we were chatting about strategies, and they suggested dreaming more – which, of itself, is a fairly good suggestion… but not a great one for me. I have always found it very hard to visualise anything in the future (I never had any sort of career plan, for example) and that, combined with the fact that I have had things that I’d had as life goals, and then walked away from them… it’s not really something I enjoy doing. Then add in the fact that (not being immodest, but…) I could probably do anything that I wanted to, IF I wanted to – and that’s the problem. I can dream about owning a bookshop-cum-coffee shop*, but a couple of minutes’ thinking tells me that it’s a really daft idea, particularly in the current economic climate – and the fact that I hate dealing with people most days. I want to run the book side, and have someone else run the coffee side! Add in locations, rents, business problems (I already run Book Polishers, so I know some of the business fun) and dealing with the general public, booksellers, book buyers… it’s not a fun dream. I could do it: I just don’t want to. And so dreaming, for me, becomes impractical – and it’s not fun. There aren’t any “pie in the sky” things; it’s too easy to bring them down to earth.

And then the therapist spent fifteen minutes telling me about their dream, and what they wanted to do. (Run a heated greenhouse cafe in a wintery US state, which does sound fantastic – being able to go somewhere warm and humid with beautiful flowers when it’s cold outside? Bliss!)

But… seriously? I am paying for this service. I am the one trying to fix myself. I am the one needing help. Why am I spending a quarter of the phone call listening to someone else tell me their dreams?! (It feels so self-centred to be annoyed that someone isn’t focusing on me, and I have spent a lot of time trying to balance my innate desire to stay in the background and listen to people with the knowledge that for this to work, I need to be the centre of attention. It’s horrible and it’s so hard.)

But, after that, I changed therapist. I had a five-minute call with the second person; five minutes of broken connections, crackling lines, and awkward chat via the app; and then I gave up. Cancelled the service, and went and hugged my cat. I can’t afford it, both monetarily and emotionally; I can’t face starting over again with someone else, explaining everything AGAIN, paying money I don’t have for something that might not help…

My friend (who recommended the service) said they went through four therapists before they found their good one, and I get that – people aren’t always going to be compatible. But it’s just extra time and emotional energy on top of everything else. I might go back to it at some future point when I have some spare money, and try to find someone in the UK (for a hopefully better phone connection!)

*Called Lucien’s, for some reason – I can’t remember why I picked the name. I was trying to work out if I could do a lending service instead of a bookshop, because a coffee-shop-library sounds more fun than a bookshop, and means you can sit in the comfy chairs and read! A friend suggested adding cats, too, which is an excellent idea.

Employee Assistance Program

I got a tick on my “Mental Health Bingo Card” from this chat, at least: “Well, you sound fine.”

Yes. Yes, I do sound fine. That is because – like a lot of people who have to function in society with bad mental health, because otherwise we can’t buy food or pay rent and it’s perfectly clear that the damn Tory Government doesn’t give a fuck about helping, so don’t expect any social assistance if for some reason you can’t function in a job, and if you don’t have a pile of savings or for some reason don’t want to live off your parents when you’re trying to be an independent adult – I am very, very good at pretending to be fine.

And if I say I am not fine, it’s because I am most definitely. Not. Fine.

This chat line was via Rebellion, and was offered as a multi-problem service (they can help with debt, family issues, mental health, etc.) You could ring a helpline and get put through to your service of choice! Yay. So I rang one evening when I was feeling moderately ok but definitely not Well, and thought I’d see what they had to say.

Not much, as it turned out. I got sympathised with, but told that I “need to have a problem to solve” – apparently “being depressed” is not a specific enough problem. I’ll actually accept that as a somewhat fair thing, though, because they’re only able to offer six counselling sessions (which is a rant all by itself, because of course six sessions is enough to cure any problems!) and I can see that having an end goal in mind for that would be beneficial. My issue, of course, is that if I knew what my problem was, I’d be trying to solve it myself… and I’m asking for external help because I don’t know what the problem is…

My particular Person At The End Of The Phone was, however, also very fond of the sound of their own voice, so I think I got ten minutes of talking versus their twenty. It’s always fun when you phone someone for help and they spend more time telling you how they think you feel, rather than actually, y’know, asking you. (And then maybe letting you tell them? That’d be good too.)

All in all, an incredibly frustrating experience – but hey, I can “call anytime!” For more of the same? No, thanks. Hard pass.

(I did pass my experience and thoughts on to our work HR, though, so at least they have one black mark against them if HR do decide to look into alternatives.)

Psychological Therapies

Speaking of frustrating, my brush with NHS Psychological Therapies was… also fun.

I was referred to them via TalkingSpace, with the aim of trying something – and I’m up for that, because at this stage I don’t know what will help. I can’t remember the name of the therapy it was supposed to be, which is annoying, but it was basically to do with examining your emotions as they happen (which I have only figured out afterwards, when trying to analyse the appointment.)

The therapist was nice, but the first consultation was an assessment, and she… just tried to get me to talk. “What would you like to talk about?” she asked.

I. Don’t. Know.

I did point out that I could spend an hour talking about the print production process for fiction books, and could she give me some pointers on what would be most useful for her? (She did start asking some slightly more useful questions after that.)

She also, infuriatingly, would ask close-ended questions. “That must have been frustrating for you.” Yes, it was. And? Do you want more information? If so, what aspect would you like more information on?!

I was actually getting fairly angry towards the end of the second session, because she simply wouldn’t tell me what she needed from me: the first session was assessment, yes, and she suggested a therapy. Ok, great, I’m up for trying that! The second session… I couldn’t understand if it was the actual therapy, or still assessment, and if she needed more or less detail on situations, or what she actually wanted me to talk about… she’d had a “yes, I’ll try it” from me, so – did she need more information? Another yes? What was I supposed to be doing?

What it boiled down to, I eventually discovered, was that she was trying to get me to display my emotions.

So, let’s summarise the problems with this.

  1. I try not to display emotions in a professional or meeting setting, because that IS NOT THE TIME;
  2. I have spent YEARS making sure that I am able to be professional and calm and collected in front of other people even when I feel terrible, because randomly crying on someone is not helpful, and is often actively unhelpful (especially if you’re a woman, and double especially if you’re a woman in a professional setting);
  3. I was deliberately trying not to display my emotions because, silly me, I’d assumed that she was actually wanting to talk to me, and spending half the session in floods of tears doesn’t seem like a good use of anyone’s time;
  4. And most importantly, I am not going to cry in front of someone that I have met for an hour, via Zoom, and frankly don’t like very much.

But apparently I am not suitable for that type of therapy because – I am summarising here – I can’t cry on demand.

It’s just another bundle of straw on the ever-growing pile of fury at mental health help, really. I’m not doing it right. I’m not saying the right things. I’m not feeling the right way. I’m not Being Depressed in the Correct Way. I just Don’t Understand and needed to somehow do the right things, despite not being psychic and knowing what the right things were? Asking gave me a black mark, too, as apparently I needed to be led, and needed the right answers to be pointed out? Or something like that. I don’t know.

Anyway, fuck that particular therapy.

And now?

Thankfully the NHS therapist was quite happy to refer me back to TalkingSpace (I caught a definite whiff of “Getting rid of a potential problem client that Won’t Do What I Need Them To Do For This Therapy”) and TalkingSpace have said they’ll refer me on to a traditional counselling service, as they think that just talking to someone might be helpful.

I might have rolled my eyes quite hard at that, because that’s what I’ve been asking for all along. But hey ho, they’ve got a Checklist, and it looks like I’ve now reached the point where I might be getting useful things.

In short: I have been through various therapies, and have got no further forward, and a lot more pissed off. Yay for mental health help!

(The counter to all of my frustration, and the only thing keeping me sane, is that it is so hard. With a broken leg, at least you can do an X-ray and see how it broke and how to mend it and if it’s healing. With mental health, it’s an ongoing process, changes day-to-day, depends on the person, and depends on so many other random factors that I sometimes wonder how on earth our salty lump of bacon even pilots our fleshy meat sack without doing a Windows Update every ten seconds. So anyone trying to work with someone else’s mental health is hugely impressive, as trying to figure out my own has been hard enough.)

My current strategies?

  • Quit the job that was causing a lot of stress
  • Hug my cat
  • Make cake
  • Eat cake
  • Writing? I’m currently enjoying working on No Man’s Land/Every Ghostly Scar, plus I’ve had a few other odd bits floating around. So progress!

 

 

Five Happy Things: January 2021

I know it’s February – but have some posthumous January happy things! (I am considering that a very appropriate word, considering that getting through each month in 2020 was… well, a 2020 challenge. I’m bringing the same energy to 2021. Take that, January! We got through you!)

1.Animal Crossing

I had a bit of a frustrating start with Animal Crossing: New Horizons (the learning curve is far too steep for a game that’s meant to be fun) but Otter and Gem trundled along to the island too, and we’ve been planting flowers and catching fish and making snowmen. It’s felt productive and gives me a chance to turn my brain off, which is pretty much the perfect combination in a game at the moment.

Animal Crossing characters wallpaper

2.Therapy

I’ve started therapy sessions with BetterHelp, on the basis that I need to take some sort of productive step forward! (I can rant about TalkingSpace but that’s not a happy thing, so let’s just say that it’s been very much a tick-box exercise so far.) I also, after two sessions with the first assigned BetterHelp therapist, took what I felt was a scary but needed step and changed therapist (that’s another rant) to someone that I hope will suit me better. It was anxiety-inducing, but there’s no point talking to someone that doesn’t quite click… so I’m counting that as a win!

3.Website work

As you may have noticed, Writing&Coe has had a bit of a facelift! Nothing major, but I spent an afternoon updating the theme and hopefully making everything a bit cleaner & simpler. I’ve got some back-end work to do next, just updating SEO and sorting blog posts, but it felt good to be organising that.

4.Bobble-cat

A cat glaring while being scritched
Believe it or not, this is his happy face…

He has decided, over the last month or so, that he has a Schedule. Mornings are lap time (and he may allow me to get tea first, if I’m lucky) and then it’s a combination of yelling, napping on convenient humans, and glaring out of the window at the crows to make sure they’re not Up To Anything. It’s got to the stage where if I sit down on the sofa, he’s right there on my lap – and if I’m not available then he’ll reluctantly take other laps into consideration… or just snooze on his radiator bed, because at least that has the bonus of being a mere three steps from the sofa. It’s such a tough life when you’re sixteen.

(I should add that the yelling is less cute because he’s mostly wanting more food, and as he’d go through his daily biscuit allowance in thirty seconds if we didn’t ration them, the yelling is very rarely productive. This doesn’t seem to have sunk in yet, but then he is a Cat With Opinions… one of which is that he should have All The Biscuits. Debate is ongoing on the matter.)

5.Sending Presents

A picture of colourful iced biscuits in cake & bird shapesThere’s a couple of birthdays coming up, and I’ve also been taking the opportunity to send things out! My current (expensive, but so worth it) favourites are Biscuiteers, because both their biscuits and tins are fab, and they do letterbox-sized packages! There’s also Say It With Brownies, which are made on the Isle of Wight and are AMAZING, and my old favourite Bloom&Wild, who do beautiful flower arrangements and letterbox plants. It’s been a lot of fun choosing things for people, and I’m currently in the middle of arranging a surprise for an upcoming birthday, too – it’s been hard to track down what I want, but I think they’re going to like it!

We’ve also got a serious family discussion going on about getting my father a Horrible Cherub for his birthday. Apparently the last one sadly got given away, so obviously that means he needs another… (mostly joking, but I am tempted to find him one of those wonderfully awful plastic ones, just to see the face he makes!)

 

I’ve also managed to do some reading – review post coming soon!

Looking Back and Looking Forward: 2020

For the past few years I’ve done an “Aims for XXXX” post, but given the general shitshow of 2020 and the likelihood for 2021 being similar, I don’t think I can cope with that. My aim for 2020 was, overall: a year of slow building and small joys. I suppose it did sort of work, given the general overview of the year. Small joys was pretty much all I could handle.

This year, my aim? Survive. Sanity optional.

2020 was, frankly, bad. I don’t cope well with working from home; I don’t do well without some sort of routine; and I definitely don’t do well with an additional pile of stress and work which shows no signs of reducing. My mental health has been spiralling and it’s taken a serious load of anti-depressants (which I did not want to go back on) to keep me at a remotely functional level.

It’s not been all bad – I am grateful that I have been functioning. I am grateful that I have a job that is good and varied, with coworkers who are incredibly supportive, and a culture that accepts mental health as an Actual Thing and takes some steps towards trying to help. I am grateful that I have a medical crutch that actually works for me, and a medical team who (mostly) listen and support me. I am grateful that I have a home, an incredibly supportive and wonderful partner, and we have gained a Very Grumpy and Very Cute cat. I am grateful for my family, my friends, and the place where I live. I know that I have so much to be thankful for, and that has helped mitigate many of the effects of both this year and my stupid brain.

However, I can’t entirely blame 2020 for the mental health dip. The last couple of years have been bad; the Grey has been getting worse, and my mental health was already low when 2020 started. I miss my writing. I miss having a big project. I miss the life I had before Oxford; I miss the relationships, friendships, hobbies. I know it’s all gone, and I am happy and certain that it was the right choice for me – but I can still grieve over what I had.

And it’s also, I think, at the root of some of the Grey. I can’t accept that I’m in a new place, because I’m just waiting for it to vanish again. I can’t make new attachments and loves because they’ll just get taken away. 2020 and Covid has made it worse on that front; I’m waiting for loss. Waiting for grief. Waiting for the world around me to crumble.

The fact that it hasn’t yet doesn’t really do much when it comes to the fun world that is emotional logic. I’m working on it all, but that’s been an uphill battle too. As my counsellor said, “you’re doing everything right, so…” and the advice of “well just keep doing it” is not the most helpful when I’m at the end of my resources and still feeling the same. But I’m trying, and working, and hoping. I’m still here, and still going.

So 2020 has been… not great. I am grateful that I am still here, and that I’ve fought my way through it – it’s felt like wading through treacle for much of it, and that has no signs of stopping. 2021 is, at least for the first half, probably going to be as bad – but I am keeping on going, and keeping on swimming, because that’s all that I can do. I have to hope that there is something more, and that even if the world does crack, or crumble, that I can keep going.

2021 is just about moving forward, and trying to heal a little. I’m hoping that my stories come back, and I’m taking tiny steps to try to find that path again. I’m hoping that I can lift my head, feel the breeze and smile as I cycle past the willows. I’m hoping that I can sip tea in the sunshine with a cat on my knee, and feel the peace spread inside. I’m hoping that I can fill in a few more of my cracks with gold, and dissipate some of the Grey.

I miss feeling. I miss being. And I am hoping that 2021 is a year of healing and of renewal, because goddamn do we need one.

A Brief Kate Update: November 2020

Another month… or two? Aren’t we still in March? (The weather currently is definitely March weather.) Still here, still going. What’s been going on in the past month or so?

Baking: Key Lime Pie and Pumpkin Pie, along with natas. The natas sort of exploded, but they still taste good! We’ve also been making lots of soups – borscht, leek&potato, tomato (with extra kale, yay… gotta use it up somehow!) and Otter has been learning how to make risotto. Working from home has been really good for eating more interesting meals!

Reading: A Memory Called Empire (LOVE!! – politics and Aztec empire and poetry and language and imperialism and colonialism and characters and such a good story), Aliette de Bodard’s short story collection Of Wars, And Memories, And Starlight (LOVE!! Every story is a different snippet of culture and feelings and they’re all brilliant), and I’ve just started Apocalypse Nyx by Kameron Hurley.

Sewing: I have picked up one of my Ghibli canvases again – I did a Totoro, and started one of Howl and Sophie – and have been enjoying the mindlessness of filling in space with colour. It’s quite theraputic.

Watching: Up On Poppy Hill. It’s very sweet, but also a bit weird? Like… it’s sort of half a story with another half jammed on, and it all got a bit confusing… I dunno. The visuals are the star, as always in Ghibli, and I do always feel the stories are a bit odd. I’m not sure if it’s a re-watch or not.

Listening to: Cat yowls (his FOOD BOWL IS EMPTY) and compilations from AlexRainBird Music on YouTube.

Buying: Lost Stock! You can get a random (with some customisation) selection of clothes from brands that have cancelled their orders due to Covid – and it helps factory workers. It’s been really fun as well – I’ve gotten two boxes now, and out of eight items, I’ve kept five – and two of those were things I would never have picked up in a store/charity shop, yet they work really well! It’s been fun to push my style a bit, and get new clothes when I can’t get to charity shops.

I’ve also been sorting Christmas presents, which has been great fun (and given me something to focus on!) – and we can start decorating soon! We have no idea what Bobble is going to make of a Christmas tree – hopefully he’s old enough that trying to kill baubles has lost its charm.

Work: ALL THE AMAZING BOOKS. Personal recommendations: One Day All This Will Be Yours (which features an excellent and very informative analysis of the relative running speeds of Hitlers (plural) and Allosaurus), Northern Wrath (Vikings! Mythology! Adventure! And a cute fox) and my eternal favourite Grave Secrets, because who doesn’t want a zombie as a best friend?

We also have the UK release of Black Sun – whee! I haven’t read it yet but it’s next on my list, and I am so excited! I also got to read The Witness for the Dead, which is the sequel to The Goblin Emperor, and… just yes.

Playing: Townscaper, which is a very cute build-your-own-city thing that doesn’t have a game, but is just absolutely adorable; and Dungeon Cards, which also has a phone app, and is really good when I just need to not think!

And me… I’m not great, really. I’ve upped my medication again to deal with work burn-out: hopefully the New Year will bring some changes on that front, but for the last year it’s been “just keep holding on, one more month” and I have just run out of fucks to give – which sucks, really, because I want to care, but… urgh. [Edited to add: having been thinking about this, I don’t think “care” is the right word – I do still care about all of my work! I just can’t summon the enthusiasm I know I should have for amazing books, which frankly sucks. I’m still doing the work, but it’s just that everything is a slog – when at least some of it should be fun? Depression, eh.]

I’ve got more energy thanks to the meds (Sertraline) but it’s at the cost of a slightly fuzzy brain and a disconnect to everything. My memory still isn’t great (and likely never will be), I’m tired all the time despite sleeping a lot, and I’m still just grey.

I’ve been doing a CBT course, which went as well as expected, but I feel I have to do it to be able to get any further help. I’ve now been given a worksheet on “values” because I’m obviously not doing enough nice things that tie into my core values, and that’s why I’m not feeling very good. I know all the mental health stuff is trying to help, but I really hate the underlying message of “you’re feeling bad because you aren’t helping yourself enough! Work harder! Do better things!” /rant.

But! I am trying to hold onto the good, small things. I curl on the sofa in the morning with my mug of green tea, watching the dawn out of the window with a cat on my lap. I have been playing Carcassonne with Otter, and texting Sam interesting facts about Roman mosaics. (He has been sending back pictures of his Hallowe’en skeleton, who is currently installed on the couch. I figure it’s as good a place as any.) I am cycling to work down a bumpy path criss-crossed with roots, between drifts of golden-fire leaves and grey water, with the cows ambling their way across the meadow beside me. I am planning a visit to the Ashmoleon with my family in the Spring, and taking pride in the new paint and floor in the bathroom. I am trying to keep stepping forward, one thing at a time, and taking the light where I can.

A small black cat, staring judgementally

Right now it doesn’t feel like anything matters, but I am hoarding the moments for the time when I will be able to appreciate them.

Also, does anyone else’s cat like their fur being ruffled backwards?! Every other cat I’ve known would have clawed your face off if you even tried to ruffle their carefully-smoothed coat, but Bobble loves it! He’s such a strange kitty.

(The photo is when I was three minutes late in giving him breakfast. HOW VERY DARE I.)