Being 14 wasn’t an easy year for me. I got back in brief contact with my father through email, but it was exactly that – brief. He and my mum split not long after I was born and, by the time I was about five, he had completely cut himself out. I also found out that I had a rare, inherited condition that my mum had too, which is why she was in and out of hospital when I was growing up. I felt my family had kept this a secret from me for all these years, and my relationship with my mum, which had always been good before, took a turn and went toxic. When I wasn’t at school, I spent most of my time in my room, to avoid any confrontation or hurt.
I was really struggling to decipher how I felt. I didn’t know how to vent, or deal with the mix of emotions and feelings – the anger, sadness, fear, worry and even excitement and happiness. It all felt too much. Then, when I had just turned 15, my mum insisted I spoke to someone who could help. My guidance teacher at school, who had supported me through a lot before, referred me to a counsellor who came to the school each week.
I had no idea what a counselling session would be like, but the counsellor was lovely. She was so welcoming and down-to-earth and promised me that everything said in the room would be kept between us unless she thought I was in danger. Some days she would bring along her dog, a chocolate Labrador, and he would sit next to me through the session. Just his presence was so comforting.
When I first began counselling I didn’t feel ready to begin ‘the recovery process’. Talking to a counsellor felt like an admission of weakness. I didn’t just spill my life story out to her. It took time to open up, to fully trust her and to feel safe. Over the course of the sessions, she identified I had anxiety and depression, which I knew very little about then. I just thought it was who I am, part of being a shy, quiet person; that how I felt was normal for someone who had been through my experiences. I guess I wasn’t being completely honest with myself.
Even after I began counselling, I definitely relapsed. For the first eight months I had some terrible days – terrible weeks even – before I decided I was sick and tired of feeling the way I did. Only then did I manage to find the strength to open up. Through talking to the counsellor, I learnt that there’s no point in trying to force yourself to do something if you don’t want to, or if you are doing it for the sake of other people. You have to want it for yourself.
As time went on, the counsellor taught me techniques to help overcome negative thinking. What seemed like simple exercises have become tools for me to use whenever I feel down. She always reminded me to ‘take control’. Those are two words that will stick with me as I go through life. I wear a bracelet with ‘Take Control’ on it as a constant reminder.
It took a year of counselling for me to feel better again. It felt like I was emptied of the negativity that for years had dragged me down each day. I am better and stronger. Even though there have been times since when I’ve slipped back, or had overwhelming feelings, I remind myself that everyone has bad days and these are just some of mine.
If I hadn’t spoken to the counsellor, I don’t think I would have ever taken control. Counselling saved me. We can all benefit from a safe, confidential space to talk to someone who won’t judge you. I hope my story will give other people out there the motivation to ask for help. It’s important to know that everyone is deserving and you are strong enough to take control!
Kathleen Campbell now works at Bright Light, the Scottish relationship counselling charity. This article is based on her blog on the Bright Light website at www.bright-light.org.uk