Three years ago, I would have laughed at the idea of seeing a therapist, psychologist, counsellor, whatever. What do they know about me? What do they know about what I’m going through? What do they know about the pressures I’m feeling in my life?
They’re nothing like me. They’re not an accountant. They’re not a company director. They don’t work in a corporate environment. They don’t have to deal with private equity models or complex legal documents. They’re not a man! (Yes, I thought like that at the time.)
How are they ever going to be able to help me when they know nothing? I write this now after having this exact same conversation with a close friend this morning. Only this time, I was the one advocating that they should speak to someone.
So, did it change my life? I don’t know. Did it change my perspective? Without a shadow of a doubt. Three years ago, I was struggling. I didn’t want to admit it at the time, but I was. It was a midlife, mid-career, middling existence that I wasn’t happy with but wouldn’t admit. My marriage – failing without me realising. My career – floundering without me caring. My friendships – falling apart without me being present.
I didn’t know what to do and I was scared. I needed to talk to someone but didn’t know where to turn. Talking to people had always helped me understand, rationalise and accept things previously. Everyone around me was too close, too distant or too distracted. There was seemingly nowhere to turn.
So, I turned to the internet. I searched online in a counselling directory to find someone, anyone, with whom I could talk. I specifically searched for someone who didn’t have CBT listed on their profile. I had some CBT previously and it just frustrated the hell out of me. If I could change my response to a stimulus, I would have already done it or at least tried!
I came across someone, a complete stranger. I sent them an email asking to meet and they agreed without hesitation. Awfully trusting. Probably going to be a waste of money and I would be no better off at the end. Why am I even doing this?
Then the fear. I’ll turn up. I’ll sit down. They’ll ask some really probing questions. I’ll feel really uncomfortable. Then they’ll tell me it’s all ‘daddy issues’. (Which it is, but that’s another story entirely…)
I was sweating and nervous. I sat in the waiting room, fidgeting, trying not to succumb to the urge to just leave. And then a complete stranger invited me into a room and asked how I was feeling. Three years later my therapist, my friend (I don’t even know if I can say that, but it’s what I feel now), still invites me into that same room every Friday morning and still asks how I am feeling. It has become the hour I look forward to most every week.
During one of my first sessions, my therapist said something that will always stick with me. I’ve passed it on to everyone I’ve ever spoken to about therapy and to everyone who is even remotely curious. Many people see requiring a therapist as a weakness; that they’re not strong enough to get through it alone. They’re not ‘man enough’ to tough it out. Maybe even that they’re a complete and disastrous failure. It’s certainly what I thought walking into that room for the first time.
But my therapist pointed out that I had walked into a room and asked a stranger for help. That shows that you have accepted a weakness in yourself, embraced your vulnerability and shared it with someone else.
That is bravery, that is confidence, and that is strength. And that is why I will advocate forever that everyone should speak to someone.
Andy Salkeld is a chartered accountant and finance director for a tech start-up. His first book, Life is a Four-Letter Word: a mental health survival guide for professionals (Practical Inspiration Publishing), is out on 14 May. www.andysalkeld.com