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!

 

 

Writing Writing & Writing

WURDS!! There are things! With WURDS! All of the things!

The first Thing is a short story, just from a random idea that I had while standing in the kitchen (also when you ask a writer “so where do you get your ideas?”… I get mine while stirring pasta, apparently.) It’s currently at 3000 words and I’m just mulling over where I want it to go; my original ending idea was a mild twist but it seems to be taking a slightly darker turn, and I may do some world-rewriting to fit that in. It’s a silly and fun and off the top of my head, and I AM WRITING AGAIN!! (Also, it includes necromancers. What is it with me and necromancers? …And cake. Same question.)

The second is that I have had my editorial letter for No Man’s Land (which has hopefully fairly permanently been renamed Every Ghostly Scar) back from the amazing Rebecca Brewer and I am just SO HAPPY. It’s always hard to read an editorial letter, but I knew the book needed work, and it’s so good to see someone else rip it to bits – but also so gratifying to see that it actually only needs a bit of work on the characters, a couple of scenes added/deleted, a couple of threads tidying up… the book and story overall seem to be in good shape, which is such a relief. I do love the book so much, and it’s so good to hear from someone impartial that they liked it too! So I’m going to take a day or two for mulling that over, maybe have a further chat with Rebecca about how to do some of the things (and also what needs to be done, because some of the ambiguity that she picked up on is deliberate, and I want to know how annoying that is) and then get working!

I’ve also been thinking about another project for a while, based on a rewriting of a children’s book – I’m not going to say more than that currently! But I’ve finally bought myself a paper copy of said children’s book so that I can scribble all over it and see if the idea has any legs.

And finally on the writing front, I’ve been playing with redesigning covers for the GreenSky series – I’m doing some more text-based ones, just to see if they work. They all need more work (I’m adding backgrounds at the moment) and I think it’s going to be a long-term project, but it’s something to keep me playing anyhow!

I’m aware that I’m still feeling broken, and that my writer’s block is still definitely there – so I’m taking everything cautiously, and don’t dare yet plunge into the morass of my unfinished stories. But TEH WURDS! They are back!

2019 & the Decade; A Review

I wasn’t entirely sure that I wanted to do this, because… well, 2011 to 2019 feels like it’s been a pretty shit decade for me.

Life events from 2011 to 2019But… actually, you know what? It hasn’t. In this decade, I’ve been a librarian, a web developer and a book witch, and I’ve now been an editor for a-year-and-a-half. I’ve read I-have-no-idea-how-many books, and I’ve written over fifteen books and numerous short stories. I’ve played and GM’d several RPG campaigns, and written ridiculous numbers of words in side-stories. I’ve added heaps of skills of my DIY toolbox, not least the incredibly useful one of knowing when NOT to drill into a wall. I’ve played a bunch of board games and want to play many more. I’ve crafted and sung and travelled. I’ve got my library degree. I’ve had some amazing commutes and lived in some lovely places. I saw friends get married and have kids, and I’ve got to see them grow. I’ve been to numerous cons, including WorldCon in Dublin. I’ve run my own business. I’ve loved and laughed and made an incredible number of friends.

In my personal life, I started the decade by getting married. I’m unfortunately ending the decade still married (yay for long divorce proceedings!) but it’s all looking hopeful for the New Year. And in the last year-and-a-bit, I’ve met my wonderful other half and moved into a house full of books (only some of which are my fault.)

And speaking of which, obviously this decade has involved books, books, conventions and more books.

Otter asked me how many books I’d read, and… well. I honestly wouldn’t even know where to start with a number! Let’s just go with “lots”.

Book Polishers advertI also started running my own business – Book Polishers has now been with me for two years, and I’m still trundling along with it. It sometimes feels annoying to work a full day and then come home and do the same, but it’s also a bundle of different subjects and people, with much more involvement in the actual book format – so it’s still something I enjoy!

On the writing front, I’ve published five and finished nine books in the Greensky Series, plus a number of short stories. I’ve published four short stories in the No Man’s series and have three books waiting for me to do something with them. Madcap Library is ongoing, and my random Dresden fanfic is up on Wattpad. I’ve also done NaNoWriMo and won twice! Beyond that, I have a pile of short stories and ideas that are waiting for me to get some inspiration again; it would be nice if writer’s block would let me go, but I’m content that I’ve done a lot of stuff this decade.

I’ve also been blogging here since 2014. WUT.

In more fluffy news, we had cats, cats, a daft lizard, and more cats (Frankie & Benny, Spike, Cashew, Peppermint, and Peter & Jodie)…

…and I’ve done all the DIY (by which I mean “caused general chaos”), all the crafting and all the baking.

And I’ve travelled.

I’ve also spent this decade with some downs; losing Ryan, losing my relationship and a house I loved, moving a lot and losing a lot of friendships… it hasn’t been fun in many ways. But it’s definitely been a lesson in trusting myself, trusting my gut, and also learning that I can live with my mental health problems – and that I am stronger than I thought I was. I’ve learned to take care of myself, and learned that doing it pays off. It’s actually been incredibly satisfying to be able to put my knowledge to use: to have friends talk to me about mental health and be able to give them good advice; to have my partner ask about a DIY thing and to know what to do; to be able to talk books and writing and craft, and be happy with my knowledge! I’ve still got so much to learn, but it feels like everything has been worth it so far.

It’s been an… interesting decade.

Here’s to the next!

5 Happy Things – October 2019

No post on Monday because this weekend completely wiped me out; I didn’t make BristolCon and barely made it off the sofa on Sunday!

But, happy things for October?

1.I feel like an editor!

“Hi, [Agent]. If you’re after David, he’s probably covered in paint while entertaining a small child. It’s half term.”

“Actually, I wanted to tell you I’ve got the latest by [novellist] ready, but I need a million pounds.”

“Uhh… nope. I can draw you a treasure map, how’s that?”

“Oh, that would be a wonderful diversion. So no million pounds?”

“No million pounds. How about a hat?”

“A fabulous hat?”

We did actually get onto discussing another book – and it felt like everything was there. I could chat, knew what I wanted to ask, knew when to check with my colleagues… you know when you feel like something just clicks? It doesn’t happen often but it was really good – I felt like I knew my stuff!

2.Happy pills – literally!

I’ve been on anti-depressants for a month now; they are doing some good (I have been baking, although no small birds have been helping me yet) but I’m still feeling a bit grey. I had a discussion with my doctor about upping the dose, so I’m just going to keep trundling along for a bit and see how I do.

I can feel things slowly breaking up, though – I get flashes of what feels almost like spotlights. The sunlight through the trees, an offhand comment that sparks a moment of story or character, a brief moment of hope for the future – and then it goes again, but it gives me hope that it will lift eventually.

It is very weird feeling again when you haven’t been able to for a while, though. I’m expecting it to be a bit rocky when everything does hit in again!

3.BOOOOOOOOKS

Erin Lindsey’s A Golden Grave turned up in the post; I’ve finally got Kindle editions of  Three-Body Problem, Witchsign and Embers of War; I’ve started reading The House of Shattered Wings (I adore Aliette’s short stories and I’m enjoying the novel so far!); and I’ve had some wonderfully fun books at work.

Add to that my haul from FantasyCon and it’s been a good month for reading!

I need to do some reviews…

4.Cake

We’ve been given a bagful of pears, so I previously did a pear & almond & dark chocolate cake, and this weekend tried a pear & pecan cake – both from the BBC Good Food Cakes & Bakes book, which is one of my favourites. It’s got flour stains, folded corners, post-it notes, butter splashes and sugar in the spine. It’s well-loved, basically.

I also made sweetcorn muffins from Jack Monroe’s cookbook – I’m making more things from that, which has been fun!

5.Friends

It was really good to see people at FantasyCon, and it’s been lovely connecting with people on social media recently – I actually feel like I can cope with the world! (Ish). Everyone is absolutely lovely and supportive too, and it keeps making me cry (in a good way).

I’m also planning birthday and Christmas presents for various people, and that’s lots of fun! I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed it!

Also, I’m really looking forward to Christmas!

Random thoughts from a week on anti-depressants

Very random thought: do I want to do NaNoWriMo? Have I even got anything to write? (Currently, no. but I’m not ruling it out.)

Books books books BOOKS books. (I may be reading Gideon The Ninth. EEEEEEEEEEEEH.)

Side-effects of anti-depressants so far:

  • Additional happiness. I’m boppy. Happy. Dancing. W.T.F.
  • Talking at triple speed, complete with lots of hand waving
  • Dizziness
  • Extra-hard crashes when I run out of food energy
  • Slight muscle aches – sort of like general tiredness, but like gravity’s extra heavy
  • Green poop (ok, that one might have been blue food colouring. Do you know it turns your poop green?)
  • BAKING. ALL OF THE BAKING. (My colleagues are very happy.)

Random thoughts on side effects:

So far, the worst side effect has actually been the fuzziness; I feel like I’m wrapped in cotton wool and having to wade through it to do anything, including think. My words are usually slightly absent (if you didn’t know, which I didn’t until a year ago, memory loss is a side effect of long-term depression – and it explains a lot about the way I can’t always think of words and don’t have a lot of long-term memories!) but they’ve been more absent than usual at the moment. No eloquent soliloquies for me! BAH.

The most painful side effect has been the crashes. I’m used to a fairly slow (a couple of hours) onset of “need to eat”, and at the moment it’s down to about an hour;  I can be fine, push through, and then WHOMP I’m into shaky territory, and it takes about an hour to pull myself back up even after I have eaten. It’s annoying, and I keep forgetting about it! DOUBLE BAH. Luckily I do always keep snacks around but it’s just frustrating (and painful.)

However – AUTUMN! Autumn is here! It’s been lovely to have golden sunshine and I adore chilly mornings; there’s something about breathing cold air when the sky’s bright blue and the sun’s shining through the trees that is lovely. Even the rain is good; I like hearing it splotting down. (Good word, splotting.) And we’ve put the extra thick duvet on the bed and it’s like sleeping under a pillow. It’s amazing.

Also: three o’clock is seriously the worst time of the day. It goes so slowly!

NAPS ROCK.

That is all.