A (Half-)Life in Therapy: The Fabled Post of Therapists

As any of you who have read this blog since I began it in May will know, it has long since been my intention to write about each of the different therapists of one description or another that I’ve seen over the years. The idea was inspired by the same type of post by Introspective at Conversations with my Head, so hat-tip and thanks to you my dear.

It’s now September, so you can see how successful I’ve been to date in getting around to this. But here I am, finally, with all the fascinating (!) details.

Be warned; this is very, very long. I’d suggest you don’t even bother reading it if you wish to remain awake (possibly alive). If you really want to, try it in two parts or be prepared to be sitting at your screen for a while.

I was about 12 or 13 when I began to think that I had mental health problems. With the benefit of that wonderful thing called hindsight, I can see that I might have been a bit batty even as a child – I was a complete narcissist even then, and once tried to amputate my foot. I was an insomniac and experienced nightly hallucinations. I thought it was normal at the time.

But with the onset of adolescence (though not puberty, for I experienced that mostly in its entirety a bit earlier than most), I began to feel increasingly depressed. I felt hopeless, like my life was worthless, that the future was bleak and dark, that everything was utterly futile. Even I had the sense to recognise this as a bit unusual.

The realisation that I was depressed came one day when we were visiting my grandfather in hospital. In the corridor, there was a sign detailing the diagnostic criteria for a depressive episode. I hadn’t had five of the criteria for a few weeks; I’d had them all for several months.

I remember going back and looking at the poster over and over again, in the hope that my mother would notice that there was something on it that was piquing my interest. I never succeeded in that endeavour, but sooner or later she did, somehow, realise that my marked change in behaviour was quite long term, and off she marched me to the GP. Thus commenced about 12 years, to date, of on-off psychotherapy.

The GPs

Not therapists obviously, but it was of course one of my GPs that initially made the diagnosis of clinical depression; I was aged 14 at the time. To be honest, I think they just gave me a diagnosis and medication just to get rid of me. I am still of the view that I was initially seen as an angsty adolescent that they wanted off their hands. Best to give me Prozac, then say toodle-oo. Except it wasn’t so simple. Mum had me up at the practice more times than enough and eventually they sought the involvement of…

The Counselling Bloke

In all honesty, I remember very little of this guy. I don’t remember his name, and I don’t remember the precise point at which I saw him. I remember that he was a counsellor, of course, but I can’t recall whether he felt I needed more specialist help than he could give me, or whether we just closed the meeting and mutually agreed there was no point in continuing the brief alliance. Whatever the case, I’m fairly sure that I only saw him once, and I found the meeting utterly fruitless.

I do remember what he looked like; he was a short, thin, dark haired bloke, and actually reminds me a bit of C. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that he in fact was C; although I’m not sure of C’s age, I’m guessing he’s in his mid-thirties. That would make this meeting just on the side of possible; he could have been an undergraduate or new graduate gaining some work experience. Perhaps I am creating a phantom memory, but it doesn’t really matter either way. The meeting was still useless.

The Trainee Child Psychiatrist – Anna

I’m not sure how I ended up with Anna, but it could have been one of two ways. Either the Counselling Bloke referred me, realising I needed more help than he could give, or Mum and I went back whining to the GPs and they eventually referred me. I don’t remember, but it doesn’t matter.

According to Anna herself, so my mother says anyhow, people under the age of 18 aren’t allowed to see psychiatrists. This seems ridiculous and unlikely to me, especially given that Anna – by her own admission – was a “medical doctor” (Mum asked her one day if she had a PhD in psychology), so surely the only mental health specialism of medicine is psychiatry?

Anyway. Whatever the case, she was based at a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Unit and I saw her for quite a few months. I liked her, and despite the bizarre situation and the fact that we never really made any headway, she liked me too (more on that in a minute).

I remember few of the specifics of the psychotherapy. I do remember her giving me stupid, patronising little sheets to fill in. You had to complete the end of the sentence, eg. “I secretly…” or “I really hate…” or whatever. Though in thinking about it, this maybe only happened a couple of times.

I think she was trying some sort of cognitive behavioural approach with me, because I remember thinking at the time that whilst she was well intentioned, her methods were unintentionally condescending (even though she herself wasn’t) and I just knew they were never going to work. I did apply myself to the therapy, though, and tried to work with her, but I never let my guard down and was always very careful in what I said to her. She knew I was bright and I think she actually found me quite entertaining; I remember one incident where I had the woman doubled-over laughing (thanks to some scathing remark I’d made about someone that was intended to be amusing, but I hadn’t predicted just how funny she’d find it).

I don’t remember the exact reason that my sessions with Anna came to a close. We must have agreed to have a break, though I don’t remember that happening exactly. All I do remember is that, whilst I hadn’t seen her for a week or two, I was expecting to see her again, when a little card arrived in the post from her, explaining that she’d been offered a new job on the other side of Northern Ireland and would not be able to see me again. The letter was kind, stating that she’d enjoyed working with me and wished me all the best for the future.

I wished her well and fully understood her reasons for moving on. Our therapy hadn’t much worked anyway, but nevertheless here I was left high and dry again.

The Education and Welfare Officer – Elaine

Actually, I’m not sure whether it was Elaine or Lorraine, but I’m going to go with Elaine as it’s quicker to type.

Elaine wasn’t a traditional psychotherapist; she was actually a social worker attached to the local education board, and was involved in my situation as – owing to my mental health problems – I missed a lot of school. Nevertheless, our relationship became one that more closely resembled a therapeutic one; she was more like a counsellor than someone involved to keep tabs on me. I would meet her each week on a Thursday – it was during GCSE Maths which of course was especially gratifying 🙂

As is the wont of social workers, especially (though not limited to) those not directly trained in managing mental health issues (or so I’d imagine), Elaine’s discussions with me would centre around practical measures I could take to help myself, rather than an psychoanalytical exploration.

Although she wasn’t much like Anna in her actual therapeutic approach, she was to some extent in her reaction to me: I distinctly got the impression she recognised that I was not being deliberately awkward as some of my teachers believed, and that she believed that I was a bright, not unpleasant kid, with some genuine difficulties. She liked me. I would take her in photographs of events I’d been at the odd time and she’d always compliment me on how well I looked in them. She took me out to lunch a couple of times as well. She was the only one (other than my best friend D) to whom I would show my prolific self-inflicted injuries (which were more than just silly little cuts, but long, occasionally complex words all over my body). I don’t remember whether Anna ever asked to see them or whether I just avoided it with her, but I’m pretty sure she never saw any of it.

I don’t remember, again, the exact reason why this relationship came to a close. I don’t think Elaine left her position; I think it must’ve been something to do with me taking my GCSEs and therefore potentially leaving school, and ergo, her remit. As it happens, despite my previous intentions, in the end I elected to return to school for sixth form, but by the time I got to that stage, things were more (not entirely, but more) settled anyway.

It was during my time with Elaine that I seriously tried to kill myself (the first attempt, a gesture in retrospect, had been about a year beforehand, catalysed by a break-up with a boyfriend). On this occasion, although I decided upon doing it on a whim, it was something I had been thinking about for a long time and I really intended to die. I took a massive overdose of everything I could find in the house – paracetamol, ibroprufen, various prescription medicines of my mother’s, my Prozac etc etc – thinking it would be enough to off me (I know better now, but I genuinely believed it would kill me then).

I am reminded that my time with Anna and Elaine must’ve overlapped, because I now recall Anna coming to see me the next day in hospital, after I’d had my stomach pumped. When I went back to school the next week, Elaine took me out for lunch. I remember asking her why she was rewarding my behaviour; she responded that she didn’t feel that she was ‘rewarding’ it, but she was upset that I had felt so desperate that I’d seriously tried to kill myself, and she wanted to do something to cheer me up. Well, as anyone who’s been there knows, it takes more than skiving off school for lunch – but I appreciated the gesture, as well as the rest of her tenure as my EWO.

It actually pains me to write about Elaine, because it reminds me very acutely of what was probably the bleakest period to date in my life. It was only through thinking about what I was going to write about on this post that so much came flooding back to me; clearly I had compartmentalised much of it (I was whinging about this to bourach here recently). In a way, one could argue that this past year of my life (ie. 2008 – 2009) has been even worse in the sense that I have experienced a lot more than ‘just’ depression, and that would most assuredly be true. But now, at least, I have a support network, and a network that understands this whole mess is not something of my choosing. I very distinctly didn’t have such support when I was 15/16. I had a few friends, yes, but with the best will in the world it was hard for them, not having been there, to understand a disease so often (and often unfairly) solely associated with adults (I’m not even sure they’d understand it then, but anyway). Although she recognised that I was mentally ill, my mother couldn’t fully grasp the enormity of my despair either, and reacted aggressively to my illness at times, although in fairness she did champion me a lot with the GPs/counsellors etc. I was picked on by a couple of teachers too, though in fairness there were a few good ones. All in all, it was a horribly dark period in my life, and rather than discuss the specifics thereof, I think I’ll just leave it be. Maybe another day.

After doing my GCSEs I existed in a relatively sane frame of mind for a while. My dosage of Prozac had been upped, and a lot of the wankers that had made my life so miserable at school had either left or had grown up a bit. Additionally, I was only having to do subjects I liked and was good at for A Level, so things were a lot more settled for a while. Things were far from perfect; I continued to miss a lot of school, and didn’t do as well in my A Levels as I could have done – but things were certainly better in those two years than they had been in the previous five. In fact, it is only through writing the above about Elaine that I am shown how much I wear rose-tinted glasses regarding school. I tend to be quite defensive of the place should anyone slag it off, and when I think back upon my time there in an abstract sense, I am sometimes overcome with fond nostalgia – this is based almost entirely on not absolutely hating those two years of sixth form. Clearly at least part of me blocks out the unbearable misery that were the preceding five years.

But anyway, that obviously didn’t spell the end to the madness…

The First Assessment Woman

I’m not sure when this was. After sitting my GCSEs, the next time I really remember losing it big style was when I was doing my postgraduate course, but I’m fairly sure the First Assessment Woman was earlier than that. Perhaps I had been feeling low for a while in sixth form (or whilst I was an undergraduate) and had yet again been at the GPs’ ‘surgery’; given my history, they might have referred me to the Psychological Therapies people. Who knows. Whatever the case, I went to see this woman at the same hospital in which I now see C and Dr C.

I believe the meeting was intended to assess what the most appropriate psychological treatment would be for me given my history. It was, short of the Crisis Response Team (see below), the most useless and frustrating mental health-related meeting I have ever had. The woman quite openly sneered at me as I tried to relate some very difficult information to her. I think it was because I expressed everything with a distinct absence of emotion and she therefore didn’t think there was actually much wrong with me (or such was my impression, anyway).

When I related a very abstruse outline of the sexual abuse, she decided that that alone must be the entire cause of my problems and gave me the number of the local Nexus Institute. I remember protesting that I didn’t want to phone someone (so clearly the phone phobia has been ongoing for a good while then) but she dismissively said it could be in confidence “if I wished” (thus totally missing the point) or that I could see them in person, if I preferred, and that that was all, I was to run along now. I didn’t have the energy to argue with her and that was that.

I had a major breakdown whilst undertaking my postgraduate degree. I had, at this point, only the dissertation left to write and had finished the taught part of the Masters programme, so took a full-time job which looked to be like a very good opportunity, and which was, unlike my previous and subsequent jobs, directly related to my academic background.

Unfortunately, I had been in a slow, but with hindsight obvious, downward spiral, largely thanks to my own doing. I had been feeling pretty good during my postgraduate year, so cut back on my Prozac without medical approval. DO NOT EVER DO THIS!!! By the time I realised I needed to remain on the dose I’d been at, the spiral had already taken its grip and the return to the full dose didn’t make a difference.

In fairness to myself, it would probably have happened sooner or later anyway, because at no point had I seriously tackled the underlying causes of my mental health difficulties – surely a recipe for disaster. It’s one thing to be aware of what they are, but it’s different to fully face them and be aware of all the subtleties therein. To mitigate their effects, or at least begin to reverse them, in my view I need to do this. Of course it had been my choice to never get into this detail, as I’d already seen a number of different ‘therapists’ by this point and had failed to utilise the opportunities presented. On the other hand, until you’ve been there, it’s impossible to understand how difficult this is, and how skilled a therapist needs to be to get it out of someone with so many defensive walls built around them, like me.

Anyhow, as ever, I digress. The breakdown meant I lasted a sum total of one week in my new job, and eventually had to leave my course with a postgraduate diploma rather than a Masters degree.

I returned to my GP. LGP had joined the practice by this point, but I didn’t see him consistently until more recently; it’s dog eat dog in our practice, and you take who you get unless you’ve planned the appointment for weeks. So I went to another one, who simply told me to “fight against it”. Unsatisfied with this, I went to the practice’s Nurse Practitioner, who prescribed me a new anti-depressant – Mirtazapine (in part because it’s good for insomnia) – and referred me for wanky CBT. I saw ‘wanky’ now, but I was hopeful at the time.

The Second Assessment Woman

She was a CBT Nurse at the main bin in Northern Ireland, Holywell. She was certainly better than the first bint of her ilk (see above), although I disagreed with her ultimate conclusion. I remember that she asked me the one question that every single one of them has consistently asked me: “don’t you have any female friends?”

I said that I didn’t like other women, adding, remembering her gender, that I meant “no offence” to her. (To qualify this a bit, I generally don’t get on well with other women in real life, though I felt more harsh about this at the time than I now do. Online, this isn’t the case at all – most of my online friends are women. I do have one real life female friend at the minute, so maybe I’m making progress! It all goes back to a terrible case of black and white thinking; because many women express emotion, want children and dream of white weddings, stuff I hate, I behave like I think they all do. Rationally of course I don’t think that at all, but then rationality and I are not always the best of friends, regardless of my desires to the contrary).

Anyway, Assessment Woman Two listened to me and, in fairness, seemed non-judgemental and accepting of the fact that there was something wrong. She did seem puzzled by my customary lack of emotion and even apparent amusement at some stuff, but she let it pass. Her conclusion was to refer me for group CBT. I protested vehemently against this – I was terrified of the group thing. The woman said, though, that she felt it would be beneficial in two ways: (1) the waiting list was shorter for group therapy than individual therapy and (2) it would help me confront my fear of group situations face-on. I reluctantly agreed.

The Psychoanalyst – Ian

As the waiting list for even the group CBT was six months, I went back to my GP’s ‘surgery’ and asked for a recommendation for a private therapist in the meantime. The physician I saw that day suggested Ian.

Ian was a very well regarded psychologist who’d even practiced as a forensic psychologist. Without detailing my academic background too much, this appealed to me strongly at an intellectual level and although he charged £70 per hour, I was happy to ‘try’ him.

I liked Ian. In a way, he reminds of me of C, the psychologist I now see; he was qualified to PhD level in his discipline, was clearly intelligent and astute, and seemed to be able to read my mind.

It was he who first suggested to me that my narcissism was an elaborate defence mechanism, built up over the years to disguise inherent and strong self-dislike. I remember arguing, “but I genuinely do think I’m better than some people,” and him responding by saying, “you genuinely think that you think you do, yes.”

We did discuss some of the stuff that effected me as a youngster, but although this was closer to psychoanalysis than any other therapeutic situation in which I’ve been, he was still primarily interested in here-and-now of my psychology. I believe that this was not because he wasn’t intending to explore everything else in more depth, but because if he had an understanding of what was now the case, it would allow him to work backwards. C did something similar, but has a more structured approach.

Again, though, my whole ‘lack of emotion’ thing was pronounced and perhaps he therefore didn’t realise how serious the situation was, or at least was becoming. Furthermore, if I am entirely honest the whole thing was kind of like an extended intellectual discussion between two parties interested in the way people’s minds work. To this end, I don’t feel that it was necessarily a particularly helpful relationship, even if it was an interesting one.

I think Ian could perhaps have helped me had I allowed him to break down more barriers, but then again, just because we liked each other at an intellectual level doesn’t mean that we ‘clicked’ especially; I don’t think we did, and there is increasing evidence suggesting that the dynamic of the therapeutic relationship is what allows the most useful and effective type of work to be done (see here or here, for example).

I went maybe five or six times, approximately every fortnight, though it became progressively less frequent as time went on. Aware that I wasn’t working, Ian suggested that I do some reading and practical things, and suggested I came back in a couple of months to save myself some money. In fairness, he did genuinely seem to want to provide me with a value for money service.

I didn’t go back, but not because I just gave up.

The Hypnotherapist – Edith

Having heard that I was paying out £70 per hour, the McF dynasty decided to get involved, recommending a hypnotherapist that S and her daughter SL had both gone to, finding her effective and more reasonably priced than Ian at £70 for two hours. I must confess that I was cynical, but my mother offered to pay for the treatment so I thought, “what the hell?” My intention was to have it compliment the work with Ian, rather than replace it, and for a short while nearing the end of my contact with Ian, the two did overlap.

Edith was the sweetest, most gentle woman you’re ever likely to meet. She oozed empathy and sympathy and absolutely tried her level best.

For my part, I did open up to her, but still in a pretty detached sort of way. For instance, I remember one discussion in which I was supposedly hypnotised where she was “regressing” me to my childhood. She asked if I could see the little SI in my mind’s eye, and I said that I could. There was a conversation about the kid’s actions, behaviours – I don’t remember it fully, but in any case, despite outward appearances, it became apparent that Child Me was probably not very happy. Big SI was very bad and said that she didn’t care that her mini-me was somehow unhappy. Edith said, “doesn’t she need to play? Shouldn’t she be enjoying these years of her life?”

I can’t remember my exact response, but it was certainly a definitive no. She kept pressing the issue – “but can’t you empathise with that little girl, that innocent child” blah blah blah – but no matter what way she tweaked it, or however she phrased it, I didn’t like Child Me and did not empathise with her. Edith kept trying and trying to instill empathy in my unconscious, but it never worked.

I’ve always wondered if I was completely hypnotised anyway. Whilst I obviously recognise that hypnosis is generally not like you see on the Paul McKenna show or whatever, but that it is rather just a heightened state of relaxation, my experience in Edith’s was distinctly different to both that of S and SL. S in particular had found that her body took on the characteristics of her abusive ex-husband – she spoke in his voice, she lashed out a couple of times and emulated his stature. SL hadn’t quite such an intense experience, but more so than I had, and neither remember much of it, whereas I remember a lot of it quite clearly (and anything I don’t recall is more to do with the passing of time rather than the hypnosis bit, I think).

I’m not faulting Edith; if I wasn’t hypnotised, then it is probably because I resisted it. I don’t know about the accuracy of the claim that some people can’t be hypnotised – maybe that’s part of it? But still, once more, I wasn’t fully willing to confront everything in detail. Again, yes, this is arguably stupid, but I still utterly despised the notion of expressing emotions (I still do) and was incredibly defensive.

One issue of difficulty was that I had to point blank lie about McMF-paedo-fuck to Edith. This is because she lives close to the McFs, and of course she treated MMcF’s husband’s daughter and granddaughter. Although I have more than one uncle that is still alive (and did then too), it would just have been too awkward to admit that it was an uncle. She did directly ask me who was responsible, so had I said, “my uncle,” there was nothing to stop her from asking which one. I therefore had to lie and say it was the husband of a friend of my Mum’s. This meant having to remain on guard about this issue a lot, which no doubt didn’t help the hypnotherapuetic process.

Having said all that, Edith must have done me some good. One thing she did do was set anchors, though as far as I know this is as much about neurolinguistic programming (NLP) as hypnosis. Occasionally I’ll still grab my wrist in a certain way to try and calm myself – that was one of the anchors.

Whether it was partly this, or partly expunging myself each week to her in general, even if still in a detached way, something must have helped in some way, because it was after seeing Edith for a few months that I started looking for work again.

(For the record – when I got a job, thinking I was back on track, I didn’t return to Ian. I did eventually receive a notification to attend a CBT session back at Holywell, but it was in the mornings, and that clashed with work, though as I was part-time back then, afternoons were ‘do-able’. I let Holywell know this, but was told that the group sessions only took place in the mornings and that therefore I’d have to wait another while for individual therapy. I never heard from them again).

A initially advised me against going to the four interviews I got at this point, as I would totally lose it each morning before the interview of that day. But I somehow forced myself to go to them all, and in the end was offered two of the four positions (I had temped briefly at the full-time one, and had other experience in the area, so no doubt that helped). Ultimately, I took the part-time one, because (a) I felt really encouraged by the staff I’d met at my interview, (b) it was in part working with animals and (c) I felt that a part-time position would be a better way to ease myself back into work.

Unfortunately, it didn’t entirely work out well, as despite appearances some of the staff weren’t quite so nice – but that’s another story. I did keep in touch with two of my colleagues from there (AC and DL), and thus am still grateful for the experience. Anyhow, I applied for another part-time job, got it, then a few months later got promoted to a more senior and full-time job. This is my ‘current’ job.

Things were fine for about a year, though the year had many stresses – V’s death and the will fiasco, a change of manager, a lot of stresses in the job itself that really shouldn’t have happened. Eventually, I was becoming increasingly agitated and depressed, and even dreading going to meetings as I knew I would only have a pile of extra work laid at my door, when it wasn’t possible to do any more. I was becoming increasingly neurotic and disillusioned with life in general, and one day I cracked and rang my mother in tears, begging her to put an appointment on with the bloody GPs the next day.

This she did, and that was the last day I was in work.

The Crisis Response Team (CRT)

I initially saw the Nurse Practitioner that day but when she heard I wanted to die and I couldn’t see a future for myself (amongst other things), she said, “you know, you’re really ill,” and decided to involve one of the partners in the practice.

He, in turn, decided that I needed to urgently see specialist mental health professionals and arranged for someone to come out to my house that day.

I am not sure that I have enough pejorative terms for the two women that turned up. Whilst the first one was friendly enough, when the other (apparently the more senior) one took over, she was incredibly passive and didn’t stand up for me, so I hold her as well as her colleague culpable for my annoyance.

Despite outlining how unbearably bad I felt, despite trying to tell them why, despite all the efforts I made to convey the longevity and seriousness of my condition to them, the more senior woman said I should “perhaps try meditation”. I actually laughed, thinking this was some sort of twisted piss-take, but her facial expression conveyed the information adequately that she was not joking. For the record, I have no problem with meditation, but don’t believe it’s a substitute for proven medical intervention.

She continued by asking me to analyse a scenario. Bloke A is in the park with his six brats running around screaming and doing my head in. What’s my reaction? “That Bloke A should die.”

“Alright,” she said, “now assume you approach Bloke A and tell him to shut his children up, and he apologises to you and says it’s just that his wife died that morning. What’s your reaction now?”

“My reaction is that while I am sorry for his loss, Bloke A should die.”

She looked puzzled and said, “but don’t you see that there are different ways of looking at things?”

“Yes,” I said, “I’m not stupid. What is your point?”

Apparently I was not recognising that there was an alternative viewpoint to the behaviour of Bloke A’s children and his inability (or unwillingness) to discipline them.

“That is incorrect,” I protested. “I do accept that there’s an alternative viewpoint. I still think he should die as his grief isn’t my problem. In fact, I’m offended on behalf of his wife. Shouldn’t he be taking his kids to see her parents or something? Or, in an alternative viewpoint, let’s assume the wife’s parents are dead – surely she has some family? Shouldn’t he be engaging with them and sharing grief? Or if he needed to be alone, why isn’t he alone? I appreciate that it’s possible that neither he nor his wife have any friends, family nor colleagues, but I think even you’d agree that that’s unlikely.”

But apparently I still missed the point.

After a long and protracted argument, about the above scenario, meditation and other issues, I admitted defeat and told the two of them that I was disgusted that my national insurance went towards their salaries.

This comment was ignored and they agreed to refer me to a…take a guess…wow-ee, a CBT therapist! Deja vu, anyone?

As they left, they told me it was “lovely” to have met me (so they’re liars as well as morons). Perhaps needless to say, I didn’t return the ‘compliment’.

The Cognitive Behavioural Therapist – Margaret

Given my previous experience of CBT therapists twatting about, I knew if the dumb bints from the CRT even did refer me (which it turned out they hadn’t), that I’d be waiting a while for it, so back I went to one of the GPs, and again asked for advice on a private therapist, though this time I specified that I wanted to try CBT rather than psychoanalysis.

Enter Margaret, at £90 an hour.

Although I liked her as a person, it was Margaret that gave me my intensely negative view of CBT. Initially, I was cautiously optimistic, but it didn’t last. As is apparently typical in CBT, now that I’ve read about the process more in-depth, she would have me analyse the likelihood of a perceived negative event. As a very rudimentary example, someone I know walks past me in the street without speaking to me. I can (a) assume (s)he hates me or (b) rationalise it – maybe (s)he didn’t have her glasses on, maybe (s)he was on his/her mobile, maybe they’re depressed.

Um…so? I know there are a million other explanations and I know that it is almost certainly not about me unless there has been a very clear reason for that, such as an argument. I already fucking know all that, I don’t need anyone to patronise me about it. The question is how does one really believe it? When I asked Margaret that, she said you just have to have an evidential base for the belief, which tallies with the literature on the subject, but that’s bullshit in my view as it’s already been recognised as utterly irrational by me; I already see and recognise that evidential base, but it’s doesn’t stop me from believing that the worst case scenario is the case, even if I don’t rationally believe it. If that makes any sense.

Another technique would be to directly face that which is most feared. As an example of this, I told her that I was freaking out about an interview for a job for which I’d applied, and she said I must go, as exposure to the event would be helpful.

I ended up in LGP’s office having gone totally batshit, and he gave me Diazepam for the first time.

In fact, I actually did go to this interview, and of course it didn’t go badly (in the sense that the panel weren’t Satan Incarnate; it did go badly in the sense that they were looking for someone much more qualified than me). But I already knew it would never be as bad as my panic was making it out to be. This happened another few times – I would utterly and completely lose it, even though I knew it could almost certainly not be as bad as my losing it would suggest. It doesn’t matter than I’m rationally aware of probable realities. It doesn’t matter that I know the worst that can happen is that the interview panel don’t like me or that I don’t get the job, and it doesn’t matter that neither of these things are likely to matter in the grand scheme of things.

I still fucking go mental when I’m under stress, or sometimes (mostly, actually) ‘just because’. Furthermore, in the case of the latter, I am not losing it because of any specific reason – as such, how can I rationalise what I fear? I mean, I don’t (consciously) know what the fear is in those moments. Even if I did, I already know anything a CBT-like approach could teach me.

Although I liked Margaret, I became increasingly disillusioned with the CBT approach, not to mention the fact that I was beginning to get into horrific debt – meaning that her employer’s ludicrously high charges were too much for me to pay. So that was the end of that.

My mother happened to be seeing the Nurse Practitioner at the GPs’ ‘surgery’ on an unrelated matter. The Nurse asked how I was getting on, and my mother said that things were not good. Upon a brief glance at my records, the Nurse saw that no referral had been made for me by the CRT for psychotherapy (I knew they were incompetent).

The Nurse therefore took it upon herself to make a referral. Fortunately for me, though, she cocked it up and didn’t make it specifically for CBT, like it was meant to have been when the bitches from CRT decided upon it.

I was really struggling during this period, and at my behest, had my medication changed to 40mg of Citalopram daily, which is the highest dose they were prepared to give me. It was at this juncture that the GP I saw decided to refer me to a psychiatrist, on top of the Nurse Practitioner’s referal to a psychologist. I finally saw her about five months later, despite the fact the waiting list was less than three months at the time. Contextual links follow later.

It was somewhere after my CBT with Margaret than I began to believe I probably had more than ‘just’ clinical depression and anxiety. I didn’t really investigate anything further at the time, but I recognised that for a while I’d been experiencing a wider set of symptoms. I assumed, rightly as it turned out, that seeing a psychiatrist would shed some light on this.

A relatively short period after my mother’s appointment with the Nurse Practitioner, I received a questionnaire through the post asking me to outline my psychological difficulties to help cut waiting times for a psychologist. I was prompt and, I hope, thorough in my completion of this document.

Some weeks later, I received a letter from the same hospital in which I’d seen the first assessment woman, asking me to attend an assessment with Dr C J, a clinical psychologist. Mum and I were both raging, as we wondered how many more fucking assessments it would take before they actually offered treatment? In both of my previous assessments, I then was simply moved to a waiting list for whatever the treatment deemed appropriate was. Still, I went along, because one has to do things the way the NHS wants.

The Multi-Disciplinary Psychologist – C

I’m not giving his first name. I’ve already told him I’ll keep all references to him here anonymous, and even though his first name wouldn’t give away his identity exactly, there’s always the chance that someone who doesn’t already know may find out who I am and work it out from there.

The ‘assessment’ session with C ended up turning into three assessment sessions, because he actually took the fucking time to discuss each of the points raised in the aforementioned questionnaire in detail with me. Surely he must have been breaking NHS protocol by actually taking his time over it?

I didn’t know what to make of him at first. His intellect was obvious, and I respected that, but there was something indefinable about him that I found quite irritating. Nonetheless, when I told him I thought CBT was a load of crap, even though I wasn’t a psychological expert, he accepted that and said that I was certainly the expert in myself, and that if that didn’t work for me, then it didn’t.

By the end of the three sessions, whatever it was that irritated me about the man was beginning to abate, and when he said that he would continue to treat me, rather than someone else, I was glad. We initially agreed to six weeks (his optimistic suggestion), shockingly commencing the following week! Progress at last. He did warn that although it might be mutually attractive, we couldn’t let our sessions become some sort of intellectual endeavour (as had been the case with Ian, though C is not entirely familiar with all that). I did stress that I couldn’t abide being talked down to, nor could I bear to not communicate comfortably because I had to ‘dumb down’ what I was saying. C accepted that and stated that he would be glad to have an intelligent dialogue with me, but it wasn’t to become a discussion of my issues as a psychological abstract; it still had to be directly about me. Given my narcissism, I was happy enough to acquiesce to this.

During those first six weeks, I began to grow from being pretty indifferent to him, to becoming really rather fond of him. He seemed to have got the mix right between employing intelligence and empathy in his approach – this is a position I still maintain about him. At the end of those first six weeks, I burst into tears in his office and begged him not to abandon me, as he was the first therapist to really ‘get’ me out of the many I’ve seen. We agreed to another 10 weeks at that stage, and when those came to an end, another 12 (of which we have presently had two sessions, with the third tomorrow). I see him once a week, first thing on Thursday mornings.

Perhaps because of his balance between intellect and empathy, rather than just one of them being in evidence, I have opened up considerably to him and have even shown the dreaded emotion, though I still curb it to some extent a lot of the time. I’ve told him stuff I’ve told no other living being.

In essence the therapy is mainly psychodynamic, though he has tried – usually to my annoyance – to bring stuff like DBT into the mix. His rationale is fair; psychodynamnic exploration is important, but when I lose it I need practical help too. I’m still dubious about DBT, but at least it has an ancient philosophical background which CBT doesn’t.

The main thing I’d say about my relationship with C is that there is a bond between us now. I am horribly attached to him, and whilst I won’t delude myself into pretending that he returns that attachment, I do think he likes and gives a damn about me. He is the first of all of these people that I have actually experienced transference towards, which is demonstrative of the fact that my psychotherapy with him just might be the vehicle I need to a recovery of sorts, as of course the phenomenon is generally expected to manifest if the therapy is to have any hope. Transference does cause me to get annoyed with him over very little at times. He causes me to get annoyed with him at times; the way he’ll avoid a question infuriates me, but this is him trying to avoid getting into a intellectual discourse with me, for the most part.

But all this transference, bonding etc is not to say that the process is fun; quite the opposite. It’s intense, overwhelmingly so at times. It often (ironically) depresses or angers me, saddens me, has made me lose it a couple of times. Even though I’ve opened up to him on many issues, I am still incredibly defensive and tend to (figuratively) run away if he hits a nerve. Yet somehow he manages to get most of it out of me eventually, showing his subtle but evident skill. I always crack up though. But then I always expected that things would get worse before they got better, because I have not faced any of my ‘baggage’ in any real depth before.

Overall, it’s possibly the most difficult sustained experience I have ever been through, but nonetheless, I think the relationship is a very good one, and despite the regression in my condition since I met him, in conjunction with his colleagues in Psychiatry, I have a glimmer of hope that, over time, C may be able to help me get some control back over my life.

The Psychiatrist – Dr C

Again, no names. In this case I don’t even know their first names anyway.

Obviously she’s not a psychotherapist and exists mainly to monitor my illnesses from a medical point of view. But I want to hat-tip her anyway, for providing my diagnoses back in June. Dr C also changed my medication to Venlafaxine on that occasion, but was open to the possibility of adding further medication to the cocktail should it prove necessary.

Unfortunately it took a hell of a lot of trouble to finally get to see her (it was only in discussing self-harm and suicide ideation with C that I was ever seen by them) and now that I have met her, it apparently takes a lot to continue to be seen on a regular basis. Basically, I feel fucked over by her, just like I have been by the NHS on several occasions, but meh. I ought to be used to it.

At least, though, when she does bother to show up, she seems to be willing to tackle my case in a straight-up fashion and to do something that might actually have something like a positive effect, so in conjunction with C, I have my fingers cautiously crossed.

So there you have it. The life of the Serial Insomniac through therapy. I realise that I have whinged an awful lot in the early part of this post that people kept attributing my madness to teenage angst. For what it’s worth, I do understand why this was thought to be the case, for the laypeople anyway, and I am working towards letting go of my anger in that regard, though it’s not easy.

It is only now, about 14 years after first really feeling that there was something psychologically wrong with me and about 13 after seeing someone about it, that I feel I might actually be finally moving in the right direction.

I expect it to be a slow process, but I’d rather have that than have no hope of regaining control at all.

Apparently BPD has a decent prognosis in the right circumstances, though I certainly won’t hold my breath. Bipolar disorder has no known cure. Either way, I’m not asking for ‘cures’. I accepted years ago that I will probably be on medication for the rest of my life; I am fine with that, and I am not against some sort of semi-regular ‘top-up’ psychotherapy after completing my main course, if that is what is required. Cures are not what I seek, as discussed in more detail here and here.

But I do want to be able to at least be functional, and I do hope that with C’s help, maybe – just maybe – I might be able to regain enough control to achieve that. I don’t know. The journey will continue to play out on this blog.

Lucky you, dear reader. If you’re still reading this post, then I’m amazed and don’t understand how you’ve not passed out or even died of boredom. Even by my verbose standards, this is fucking long. So, until ‘C: Week 23’, so long.

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13 Responses to “A (Half-)Life in Therapy: The Fabled Post of Therapists”

  1. […] a original:  A (Half-)Life in Therapy: The Fabled Post of Therapists    Posted in Hypnosis   […]

  2. What a post! Well constructed, well thought through and well written. I am still learning about you.

  3. RAWR, finished it in one sitting, while sleep deprived.

    Anyway, In order from complete bullshit to something that works: Neurolinguistic programming > ancient mystical beliefs > meditation > CBT

    However, that’s for the normal population, not BPD. For that, only ancient mystical beliefs might help. The problem with CBT, as cbtish points out, is that it really depends on the therapist. Not their personality, but how they practice it, and even then, I’m pretty sure it’s proven not to work for BPD.

    • In one sitting?! Go you! I’m impressed 😀

      I have given CBT a bit of a lashing here, but I do accept it can work for certain types of mental health difficulties, depending on the skill of the therapist. My cousin found it very helpful with her agoraphobia (co-morbid with bipolar), though what she told me about her experience sounded no different from my own.

      NICE and the British government love it because it’s relatively short-term in most cases and thus relatively inexpensive. The problem is, of course, that it’s not proven to work for some disorders, so it only ends up costing them more for these in the long-term.

  4. Wow – aren’t mental health professionals wonderful. Actually that’s not fair some of them are but so many of them fail so often. I wish I could take the teenage you out for a pint and tell you that you are a mental but it’s them thats shite not you. Surely it would have made sense to try to sort things out then not wait til now when things are so hard.

    This post made me angry but also hopeful about C. I really do hope he continues to help you.

    And yes CBT is a load of badgers ladybits isn’t it.

    Hugs xx

    • As far as I can see most mental health professionals are crap. Not all, but certainly many. Most are well-intentioned, but that isn’t enough unfortunately.

      I wrote before somewhere (here) about how pissed off I was that something tangible wasn’t done sooner. Couldn’t a lot of this been prevented? Even looking at it from their point of view, look at how much money they would have saved!

      I feel more compassion for the child and teenage me (especially the latter) now than I did. I do know she’d have been glad to have met you for a pint 😉

      Hun, I really, really hope you are feeling a bit better soon, but I’m sure it must be really difficult. Hugs and love to you.

      As ever, thank you for your comments and kind words. Please take care xxx

      PS. Thanks for inspiring this post xx

  5. Wow, what a lot you went through. It just drains my faith in the NHS and in attitudes generally towards MH issues. Gah.

    Glad though that you have found C so genuinely helpful, if frustrating at times! 🙂

    • Yeah, it’s annoying I have to say 😦 How many times have I said in this post, “…so back I went to the GP…”? My own experiences have always led me to believe that the Health Service pays limited attention to mental health issues, but the more I talk to other people, the more I realise it’s not just me.

      When they get it right, it works well, but…

      Thanks re: C – I’m not sure exactly how it’s working, but I think it is. Unusually for me, I have a tiny bit of optimism anyway!

  6. I read through it all in one go, and i’m still awake!!
    I know just how it feels to be passed from one person to the next…and i’ve completely lost faith in the NHS.
    I hope you get the treatment you deserve

    • Thanks Sophie 🙂

      Sorry to hear you’ve had so much trouble with the NHS too.  When it comes to critical care, it’s good (usually) but aside from that, the whole thing can be a disaster sometimes :-/

      Glad I didn’t bore you to death 😀  Thanks for your support. xxx

  7. As you say, long; and my brain hurts so I’m gonna have to confess to being a wimp and not getting through it all yet. But I’ll be back, for sure. For now though, it’s goodnight and take care and big hugs xx

  8. … and this is coz I forgot to check the “Notify me of follow-up comments via email.” — wish they’d make that an opt out rather than an opt in *sigh*

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