19 August 2013

A problem shared

At the point at which I first sought help from my very understanding GP, I didn't know what was wrong with me. All I knew was that I was being driven to behave in a way that I didn't want to and that was having a detrimental effect on my life.

After I'd tearfully described the terrible year I'd had to my doctor, she responded, 'Well, no wonder you're in a pickle,' and referred me to an occupational therapist. 

Prior to this, I'd laboured under the misapprehension that occupational therapy was only used for people with physical injuries sustained through work (the 'occupational' bit). Occupational therapists, in fact, not only treat a wide range of physical injuries and disabilities, but also psychiatric conditions, and may elect to specialise in mental health.

I was uncomfortable about explaining my situation at work and covered my absences, for the appointments, with the vague term, 'medical treatment'. There is still stigma around mental health issues today, but an increasing openness. At the time I underwent that initial treatment, in the mid-90s, such issues were cocooned in silence. 

Image courtesy of: Ambro/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
I was nervous about the first session, being unsure what to expect. Therapy conjured up visions of people lying on couches pouring out their angst - mainly Woody Allen characters.

My trepidation only increased when I met my therapist - let's call him Dan - who appeared to be barely out of his teens. As soon as I heard his American accent, though, I was reassured. Our US cousins were accustomed to therapy and 'shrinks', even back then - whatever was wrong with me, I was sure it wouldn't faze Dan.

I was right. No matter what I presented to him by way of weird behaviour, he had encountered something yet more weird. On one occasion, I described my compulsion to pile my crockery with the pattern facing the same way; he told me that some people wouldn't use their crockery at all, to avoid any disruption to their ordered environment.

In spite of being reasonably comfortable with Dan, I still sometimes held back. 

He first put the name, obsessive-compulsive disorder, to my problem, and, for one homework, asked me to write up a list of my compulsions for us to discuss. I prepared the list - then promptly edited it. Seeing my activities itemised in black and white made me realise, a) just how many there were, and b) how ridiculous most of them seemed. 

A lack of honesty with your therapist is hardly conducive to a good relationship, or helpful to your recovery, but I still had a lot to learn about all that.

At least I'd made a start. And not on a dreaded couch, just an NHS plastic chair.

No comments: