When the stress of working as a teacher at a busy, city secondary school built up for Rachel*, she felt she couldn’t go on any longer.
She was off work for 16 weeks after she reached breaking point during a period of change in her job and at the school where she worked.
But after a friend suggested she visit a counsellor, life began to turn around over the next few months.
Now Rachel is keen to share her experience of how counselling changed her life.
“I’d reached a point where my cup was just overflowing. There was nowhere to go. I’d hit a wall. I couldn’t see anything past it,” said Rachel, describing how she felt four years ago when she first took time off work with stress.
“I didn’t want to be here anymore. I wanted to take my own life. It was that bad.
“It was just one of those things where somebody suggested going to see a counsellor and I did. At that time when I didn’t want to live, it changed my life … because they got to the root of the problem.”
Rachel’s stress did not just relate to her teaching job, but also some historic issues in her personal life.
But it was not easy for her to open up to a counsellor about her feelings or her past.
“The first session I just went in and sat down and all I can remember was there was a crack in the wall. I just kept staring at it and I just thought is this right for me? Do I want to be here?
“The counsellor just left me in silence in the room where I felt safe and for some reason I started talking.
“I think it was just that there was somebody there from the outside who didn’t know me, who didn’t know my situation, who I could be open and honest with. I didn’t feel I could tell my family that I didn’t want to be here anymore.
Counselling became my outlet
“We didn’t talk very much in that first session. He just let me be and let me feel safe. It was the warmth, the welcome, the safety of it. Counselling became my outlet then. I was able to open up more and more every week.
“At the start it was just looking at the surface issues, why I had reached tipping point and then we got down to the nitty gritty of the root of the problem.
“Without going too much into my past, I had been through some things and that had amounted to my cup overflowing. I felt I didn’t have anywhere to turn.”
Rachel continued to go to counselling for six months, including when she returned to work.
“I still had that touch base of my safe place if work was getting too much,” she added.
She said counselling helped her in many ways, including helping her to recognise her triggers and be more aware of how to deal with them.
“I’m a lot more confident now,” she added.
“I still see negatives in things. But even when I see my counsellor now and I sit there and talk negatively, by the time I’ve left, I’ve seen 20,000 positives.”
“There are certain things that we thrashed out the first time I did counselling. If I feel I’m becoming anxious, I change what I’m doing. I get up and walk around, I do something different.
“If I’m doing something that’s making me anxious and I have to get up and leave, I always come back and revisit it. I try to understand why it made me anxious. It helps me to deal with things and move on.”
Another thing that helped Rachel was her counsellor encouraging her to write things down.
Now she keeps a journal and fills it in every day.
I take the small wins
“My counsellor said if you can’t talk to family, write it down. So when I’m having a really bad day I write it down. But I also do this when I’m having a good day. I can read through and think ‘that’s right, it was a good day’. I take the small wins - that’s what counselling taught me.”
Rachel is still seeing the benefits of her counselling sessions, four years on.
She now has a husband, a young daughter and new priorities.
But she is still acutely aware of what can happen when it all gets too much for her – and who she can go to for help.
This happened last November, when Rachel booked some further sessions with her counsellor to help her through a difficult time at home and work.
“How I handle these triggers and stress is getting a lot better. I don’t do well with change at all. There’s been a lot of change at the school where I work in the past few years and that’s been really difficult for me.
“Having somebody to talk things through with and see the tiny positives really helps.”
Rachel is keen to emphasise the importance of asking for help if you need it.
She hopes people in a similar position to what she was five years ago, will learn from her story.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. There are always people out there who are willing to help. For me, it was life-changing,” she said.
She’s also using her own experience to help others, as she’s now involved in a coaching programme at the school where she works.
She added: “I’m one of these people who’ll move heaven and earth to help anyone, but when it comes to helping myself, I very rarely do it. My counsellors have taught me to take the small wins, to turn things around and look at how things are affecting me as a person.
“If I take the small steps it doesn’t become a bigger issue. My counsellors have helped me a lot. Without them I wouldn’t be here.”
If you want to speak to a BACP counsellor or psychotherapist, you can find one via our directory.
*Not her real name.