My introduction to the world of therapy began about 20 years ago. Aged 29, I was diagnosed with a hereditary tissue disorder which was causing me pain and repetitive strain injuries. I had gone from being a healthy, busy, city worker to someone who couldn’t touch a keyboard without pain and who worried about every train journey in case I had to stand. Unsurprisingly, my mental health suffered and I found myself overwhelmed. I left a tearful visit to the doctor with a phone number clenched in my hand.
Two weeks later, I had my first counselling session. I had worried that I wouldn’t know what to say but I almost vomited out all my frustration and sadness. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t coping. My counsellor’s words at the end of that first session have stayed with me. She simply said, ‘You’ve faced a lot of loss.’ I had never thought of it like that and I realised almost instantly that I was grieving the loss of my health, career and with it, a big part of my identity. This all seems obvious to me now, but I use the memory as a reminder that we often need that other beside us to find understanding and clarity. The work we did together helped me make sense of my new normal.
A few years later, I was made redundant from the city job. I knew I needed a shift of career and counselling sprang to mind. I was still struggling with keyboard use and the stressful nature of the job hadn’t helped my health. But I thought with counselling I’d reduce my computer use, I could help others as I had been helped and – perhaps naively – I thought it would be less stressful.
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My second experience of counselling came with the two years of compulsory personal therapy required for my counselling course. I ended up staying for three years and would need a whole book to explain all the breakthroughs in understanding that went on there.
I now dip in and out of therapy at times of need, and when I need my words to be heard by another.
And the breakthroughs continue. My most recent counselling experience again came at a time of health crisis. A herniated disc confined me to bed for about four months. Like many crises, it was not until after successful surgery that my mental health caught up with my physical collapse.
I talked to my therapist about how needy I was. I was leaning on everyone and felt highly dependent on others, like I was reaching out and grabbing everyone and everything for support. Despite years of therapy and a true belief in self-care, I still saw this as a weakness in myself. My time with this therapist was brief and, again, one reflection has stayed with me. While I talked about how I felt I was grabbing for support she simply said, ‘You are very resourceful at finding what you need.’ These few words turned my thinking on its head. It made me look back over the ups and downs and realise that that’s exactly what I’d always done. I’d always effectively resourced what I needed to support me and find my way. I came away feeling resourceful rather than weak. I know I’ll return to therapy again, and wonder with interest what the next eureka moments will be?