Part of who I am and what I want to achieve is showing that people like me can lead the lives they want. Mental illness doesn’t need to define who you are or what you are capable of.
A sensitive child
Growing up, I was acutely aware of my feelings and how sensitive I appeared when compared to other people. I remember being quite obsessed with death, I used to have nightmares about my nanny dying. I would feel upset when my dad played Queen songs as I knew Freddie Mercury was dead. If someone didn’t seem OK and if they looked sad I would feel troubled and try and work out what was wrong. I wanted to make them feel OK. Sometimes I would start to believe it was my fault. A few things happened in my childhood including being chronically bullied throughout school. Unfortunately, through no intention or awareness my parents weren’t able to meet my sensitive needs. I internalised these experiences and made sense of them the only way a child can – I started to believe that I was bad.
Depression and Anxiety
At age 17 I was diagnosed with depression and put on anti-depressants. It had taken a relationship breakdown to finally topple me over. I was dumped, I felt dumped, unworthy and horrible. He didn’t want me and the bigger realisation and pain was that I didn’t want to be me. I’d been riding my bike when suddenly so overwhelmed with emotion I couldn’t move. I felt paralysed. It was around this time I had thoughts of hurting myself. I hated who I was and felt an incredible amount of emotional pain.
I can see now that this pain had been building throughout my childhood and teenage years. Years of suppressed sadness had finally exploded out of me. Within about a year or so I started to experience panic attacks, just weeks before starting University. The panic attack came completely out of the blue as I walked to town. I went from perfectly fine to not being able to breath within seconds. My mind raced trying to find some rational reason for what I was experiencing. I couldn’t move, I dare not take another step as I convinced myself I was having a heart attack and going to die.
I’m not sure if there is a typical Uni experience but if there is I certainly did not have it. Having depression and anxiety gave a different experience to the one I was hoping for. I struggled to attend lectures and socialising was either nonexistent or exhausting. My flat mates weren’t very understanding. One even questioned why I was at Uni if I had depression.
Panic attacks, IBS, generalised anxiety and low mood were my norm in my first year. I would come home most weekends. To to feel OK i needed to come home, but the travelling was exhausting. I was getting through days, relieved when it was time to go to bed. Only then could I have a break from the relentless anxiety I was experiencing. Mornings were definitely the worst time for me. I didn’t look forward to what the day could bring. Rather I dreaded what the day would bring and how anxious I would feel.
“I was getting through days,
relieved when it was time to go to bed. Only then could I get a break
from the relentless anxiety I was experiencing.”
Throughout my degree there were times where I had anxiety free days and even had a job in my second year, it was around this time I decided to stop taking anti-depressants, gradually with the advice from my GP. I was living with more supportive people who seemed to help me cope. When I got home from Uni my experiences of anxiety would come and go again as generalised anxiety and a form of OCD called pure OCD, which was probably the most scary form of anxiety I have had would arise when I was feeling stressed or low.
By chance at a yoga class I stumbled upon a counsellor who was working with young people in the area. I had about a year of counselling with her in total. She helped me to realise a lot about who I was and the perception I’d had about myself my whole life. Counselling was hard, I’d known for a long time that there were certain experiences I needed to talk about and to heal from, I knew there were things in my life that were not good for me. I knew that I would change, that my life would change and I was scared, the unknown had held me back for so long there were times it was more comfortable to feel anxious because that had become my norm. Through working together I made significant changes to my life and started to regain who I was.
Blue Mountains, Australia
Starting to live again
By the end of the counselling my life had changed so drastically that after a holiday to California with friends I decided to save and plan for a solo trip to Australia. This was about 6 years after my initial diagnosis of depression. 8 months later I travelled to Australia on a working holiday visa, I spent 10 months with little plan and limited funds but I experienced so much. Being around a lot people from different Countries and backgrounds I learnt an awful lot about myself.
Even though at points travelling there were especially stressful times when I felt anxious, low and occasionally panicked. I had built the resources within me, through counselling to know how to cope and look after myself. The majority of the trip I was OK, more than OK, I was living a life I could only have dreamed of before.
My trip was back in 2010.
Training to become a counsellor
A few years after returning home and moving to Nottingham, I decided to enter counsellor training. I had serious doubts of whether someone like me, prone to feeling anxious and having felt so low in the past could be a counsellor. As I completed each course I started to gain confidence in what I was able to do. No one but me was putting restrictions on what I could achieve. I know that people will question what I questioned. Maybe they’d want to see a counsellor who has never felt depression or anxiety. Someone strong.
I now know that true strength comes from experiencing things that feel they’ll break us but we fight and we prove to ourselves and others that having feelings is no bad thing. Through my experiences I have become extremely passionate about the person centred approach. I carry my experience with me, it changed my life. I know I now have the opportunity to help anyone I work with change theirs.
Wanaka, New Zealand
Ongoing wellness and embracing who I am
Life still has it’s ups and downs and I have accepted that I am sensitive to feeling anxious or low at times. I know without counselling and the work I did in those sessions I would not have lived the life I have or be the person I am today. Having the resources within myself to manage and cope. Being a sensitive person is something I am proud of. I see this as a strength when it comes to being a counsellor. It makes me gentle when entering someone else’s World.
Counselling gave me the opportunity to get to know myself better whilst being supported and encouraged to face some wounds that needed healing. I’ve learnt that I need to be living a certain way in order to feel well. I fill my life with ‘medicines.’ Medicines like yoga, mindfulness, cycling, being in nature – especially walking in woodlands, eating well and being creative.
I share my experience as I believe in what Carl Rogers (the chap who created the person centred approach) said, “What is most personal is most universal.” Meaning a lot of what i’ll think and feel, to some degree and at some point it’s likely you will too.