21 September 2016

Going pro

Image courtesy of cbenjasuwan/
A couple of weeks ago, I did something that I haven't done in decades: I sought professional help for my mental health issues - specifically, my generalised anxiety.

Those of you who regularly read my blog will know two things about me. The first is that, every now and again, I experience a period of exceptionally high anxiety, more often than not over some anticipated problem, rather than an actual crisis.

The second is that I've got by with little professional help - just one short course of treatment from an occupational therapist more than 20 years ago, when my OCD first took hold.

Although I've read a lot of books and online resources, I've never properly tackled my anxiety. My default approach is to grit my teeth and drag myself through difficult times hour by hour, managing to hang on only because I know I've survived them before.

The reason I'm seeking help now is that there's no end in sight to my current stress, as the cause is my parents' declining health and corresponding difficulty in managing on their own. 

My sister lives half an hour's drive away from them, so does what she can on the ground, while I - being 100+ miles away - have tried to make myself useful with research on care options, funding, Power of Attorney and so on. It's a steep learning curve, but being proactive and getting informed creates an illusion of control amidst all the worry, sadness and frustration.

Tearfully telling a friend about it all, I said 'I feel such a wuss. I mean, everybody goes through this, don't they?' 'Yes,' she said, 'but everybody goes through it with tears and anxiety.' A friend once again being kinder to me than I am to myself. 

She's right, of course, just because everybody goes through it, doesn't make it any easier at an individual level. In the same way, everybody experiences bereavement, but that doesn't make your own losses any more bearable. 

Having closely followed this year's Paralympics, it occurs to me that, likewise, you wouldn't expect somebody who had lost an arm in an accident to take it in their stride just because millions of other people are amputees!

When I found myself wailing to another friend 'I can't imagine ever feeling happy or relaxed again', I realised that I needed to do something; I had to arm myself with some proper tools to cope.

After my GP had listened to my woes and my response to them - or, at least, what she could hear of it all through the sniffing and the crying - she said, 'I had another patient in almost exactly the same position and cognitive behavioural therapy [CBT] really helped'. I left the surgery with a self-referral form for the Mind Matters Barnet service.

The form is largely taken up by an Anxiety and Depression Questionnaire, which asks how often you feel, for example, 'Little interest or pleasure in doing things' and 'Down, depressed, or hopeless'. I scored a lot of 3s, ie 'Nearly every day'. 

A telephone assessment quickly followed, once again accompanied, on my part, by sniffing and crying that rendered me almost incoherent at times. A few days later, I was told that I had been approved for CBT...but that there was a four month waiting list.

So, in the meantime, it's back to the teeth-gritting and getting through life hour by hour - with just the tiniest of lights visible at the end of the tunnel.