An open letter to my Therapist

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Over the last year I have been seeing a therapist for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for an acute anxiety disorder.

This therapy has changed my life (without sounding overly dramatic here). And I have come to look forward to my sessions, after initially dreading them for fear of getting upset, of triggering those anxious feelings, instead wanting to hide away and carry on avoiding situations and facing real life.

I wanted to write an open letter to my therapist, as I draw closer to my therapy coming to a close. Even writing that sentence, I felt a shudder – does this mean I shouldn’t be suffering from anxious thoughts now, that I am ‘fixed’, but what if I still feel scared, I still feel those anxious thoughts and want to hide away at times?

Over the past couple of months I have turned a huge corner within my recovery. I have begun to feel like I don’t necessarily need my sessions anymore, I know deep down I am ready to move on and go on my own way, but at the same time it is a terrifying thing to admit when you become accustomed to my weekly hourly sessions.

It has taken around a year to get here; a year of hard work, dedication and commitment to CBT. I have learnt so much about myself, changed how I think about situations and people’s opinions, made changes in my life for the better, recognised unhealthy thoughts, recognised when to say no, when to push yourself, when you don’t have to push yourself. Recovery is different for anyone, as is mental health, and we will all have different journeys and experiences. Some good, some bad. But my experience has been so positive, that I wanted to write this open letter to my wonderful therapist.

I feel all kind of emotions about leaving my last therapy session. On one hand I feel proud, empowered, strong, excited for what the future holds, ready for a new path. But on the other, I feel ‘what if I last a week’, ‘what if I have an anxiety attack tomorrow’, ‘what if I have a huge setback’. But one thing I have learnt is that progress takes place outside of our comfort zones.

Dear V,

I am going to try and articulate how much you have saved me, and how much I appreciate your kindness, your words, your patience, your encouragement, your positivity and being a beaker of light when the world felt dark and scary.

I felt so nervous coming to my first session at The Wellbeing service, I actually wasn’t sure I would have enough to talk about. I had hidden myself away, avoided any triggers and thought this was the only way to avoid my anxiety attacks. I had wrapped myself in my little safe place, and I didn’t want to discuss anything that felt hard, felt scary and admit that I needed to come out of my comfort zone to recover. I thought my anxiety was my fault, that it was all pretend, something that wasn’t classed as an ‘illness’ and felt I would be judged.

I felt so comfortable straight away, you were so engaging and gave me real hope. You didn’t make me feel as though I had made everything up, that I was wrong to be having time off, that I was worthless, that I was a bum, a failure.

You told me mental illness is as depilating as that of a broken leg in which someone would have time off to recover. You were there when I felt guilty to cry in front of anyone else, worrying I would worry those around me, or in some cases, annoy them. You taught me that I owe myself time to heal. You taught me to recognise my anxious predictions and when to recognise my triggers. You encouraged me to follow my goals. You made me see that others judge from their position, that they only know their own reality – not ours. That if someone criticises you, it doesn’t define who you are.

You made me see the constant contradictions of anxiety, feeling invisible and forgotten whilst also thinking everyone is judging you and looking at you, the want to be alone and also the upset at being lonely. It was an eye opener to really look at your thoughts and really ask ‘does this make sense?’. 9/10 it didn’t.

You never told me a session was over when we were really getting somewhere, you would run over (oops!), but that extra time really made a huge difference. You always chatted to me about other things pre and post session. In the early days, I couldn’t remember how to have those normal ‘chit chats’, so as small as it may seem, those catch ups made me remember my ‘old’ self.

You taught me that we all have our ‘default’ selves, but we also have other ‘modes’ as such. I was concerned by a comment from a friend that ‘I was back to my normal self’, and felt worried about who I was. What was my ‘normal’ self. Does that mean I wasn’t being true to myself? I felt real, I just felt I was drowning. Our default self is the one that is the most known, but then we all have down days, down times, dark times and low thoughts, and that’s still us – it’s just not necessarily our ‘default’ self. But it is still us. We are who we are, and we shouldn’t need to act. You taught me that it’s great to be our true selves, and if others don’t like that – then do we really want them around anyway?

You helped me change my ‘bottom line’, to treat myself better. To realise the things, we say to ourselves we would never dream of saying to someone else. We are so unnecessarily harsh to our self, and why?

You helped me to open my eyes and be a better version of myself, to be proud of my achievements, you taught me to live alongside my anxiety, to understand it and to step out into the world feeling stronger.

Thank you again for your kindness and wisdom, for never judging, for not ever coming across as this is just ‘your job’. You care and that is sometimes a rarity in jobs and something that isn’t always recognised. Thank you for helping me and for that I will always be grateful.

Cathy x

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