Guest Blog is written by Chris Winson
Author and creator of the Blog underwaterbreathes.wordpress.com
If you are reading this then you are probably considering starting therapy or looking for more information about therapy. Perhaps I can help, by sharing how therapy helped me with my depression.
Sarah was not my therapist but is someone I have got to know from within the world of therapy, through an interest in a form of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy called Compassion Focused Therapy. Sarah invited me to write a short blog about my experience. So I aim to share my story of depression, what therapy is like and what helped me. The big caveat, especially to the last point, is that this is my experience. Depression can be different for people and what worked for me may not for you.
So one big thing before all that – well done for looking into therapy. It can sound scary and it’s a MASSIVE step forwards that you are seeking help. Honestly, give yourself a pat on the back.
Depression has been with me for as long as I can remember, although I didn’t admit nor seek help for a long time. I managed to carry on, functioning and hiding the times when all I wanted to do was curl up and cry. I had many periods but always managed to somehow work through them without seeking help. The closet I came was undergoing some telephone counselling several years back at a time of stress. Looking back now I see that I didn’t really open up during that properly. I can’t really explain why I didn’t open up.
Well, actually I can. My depression is driven from intense self-criticism and self-perfectionism, which meant that I had to be there for everyone else, in all my roles (husband, dad, manager, friend, family member) and even though I encouraged others to be open, I wouldn’t allow myself to admit how deeply I was in pain. Supporting others meant there was no time for me to be ill. I think I was also scared of what would happen if I did, that people might think less of me or not understand. I didn’t understand my own head, so why would anyone else?
This all came to a head in 2016 when eventually the mask I wore cracked completely and with the help of my wife and friends accepted that I needed help. So I went to the GP and was diagnosed with depression. Now at that time I avoided the word depression and really struggled to say it, even with medical professionals. My GP signed me off work, suggested taking anti-depressants and recommended talking therapy.
I was fortunate that I could see a therapist through a work scheme and so a couple of months after that GP appointment I was sat opposite a therapist.
I didn’t really know what to expect. Perhaps I half-thought I would lie down on a couch while someone sat there taking notes and then explained the inner mysteries of my head to me.
It’s not like that. So here are my highlights that may help you with therapy :
* Prepare beforehand. I spent my first session just rambling, about what was in my head right there and then. I forgot to say things, mentioned things that weren’t relevant and went off on tangents. I found making a short list of points to cover in each session really helped me focus. Keeping a daily journal helped too.
* Make notes. It really helps to make a few notes within the session, of things you think of or the therapist suggests. I found this helped me to reflect back on the session afterwards and also a record of things to do in-between the sessions
* It’s not just about the session. Talking therapy is a misleading title I think. Yes, you sit down and you talk. But you also need to work outside of the sessions on the points and exercises your therapist suggests.
* Be honest. You have to be honest, both about how you are feeling, even when that is painful and the last thing you want to say. I found once I had said out loud some of the thoughts I had, it seemed to help lessen the strength of their grip upon me. Also be honest about the work you do in-between sessions. Don’t say you have done the exercises when you haven’t.
Now depression doesn’t like therapy. It involves too many things that start to change the relationship you have with it. Depression likes being silent, keeping things to yourself while trying to solve things on your own and not being worthy of getting help. Don’t listen to it, it’s the ultimate liar.
The key is to be gentle with yourself as you go through therapy. No one can tell you how long it will take. It will be hard, I have sat in the car after a session crying and wondering why I was doing it. But as you work through that pain you start to see the way forward.
After my 1:1 sessions I also undertook an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) course, which is in a group and has the aim of building up the practices and skills to further enable the management of depression and anxiety.
Did it help me?
Simple answer – Yes. Now I mentioned CFT earlier and that is just one approach within CBT that may help you. To be honest it doesn’t really matter what the name of the approach or if it’s a blend of approaches, your therapist should create an individual approach for you, to help you and your specific circumstances. That is why you need to be as open and honest as possible, it will help them to determine the best way to help. The technical term for this is a formulation.
I mentioned I also started on antidepressants, which I remain on now although slowly reducing the dosage. I believe they helped in the short term to get me into a position where I could start to engage with therapy. You may not be on medication or wish to take it. That is completely an individual choice. It is the therapy that I believe which has provided the long-term, effective strategies for managing depression.
Being clear that doesn’t mean that you need years of therapy. Rather it’s the tools and technique you learn in therapy that you will help in the long term.
For me that involved learning to be more gentle with myself, to change the inner critic to an inner supporter, who rather than judging me, encouraged me. It involved establishing a regular practice of meditation (just ten minutes per day is great) and an ongoing improved awareness, of both myself and what was happening around me, to really help with the feeling depression brings.
Managing depression means recovery to me. It’s a few months now since I finished the MBCT course and no longer have 1:1 therapy sessions. I can have bad periods still, although not as deeply painful as previously. The difference is that I am more aware of those periods coming up and can find the coping strategies when they arrive. I am not perfect, old habits die hard. But I understand myself and my depression much more deeply and it no longer controls my life as it used to.
And that is what therapy gave me.
Good luck and be gentle with yourself.
To find out more about Chris, you can connect with him on Twitter via his Twitter profile chisi_98
Or read his blog https://underwaterbreathes.wordpress.com/
I really hope you have found this blog informative, helpful and reassuring and that you have learned that there is a way out of feeling depressed. Depression is often a hidden illness and we all need to work together to raise awareness and reduce the stigma so please do share this post you don’t know who you might help.
All comments are warmly appreciated too, we look forward to hearing your views Sarah x