Your teeth hurt badly, you go to the dentist. Your back’s killing you, maybe the osteopath or perhaps the chiropractor. Some other physical pain: probably the GP. And when your mind is troubling you?
No matter that the Sex and the City girls – and everyone else in Manhattan – were going to therapy way back in 1999, it’s still not a likeable answer for many of us in 2016.
Carrie and her friends, just like me, are in the social bracket that generally have a more positive attitude to getting professional help when our minds get ill: caucasian, female, 20s-30s, culturally assimilated, educated.
Just like Carrie and her friends, I’ve done the therapy thing. Four rounds of it to date, in fact.
Yet right now I balk at the idea of going back. No, let me be more precise. The idea devastates me.
I’m trying to get my head around why that is. Why, when I’ve happily spent my time and money on it before, am I now so averse to sitting back down in that armchair? (It’s always an armchair, by the way, never a sofa.)
Academics have identified seven key reasons that people avoid therapy.
Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first: social stigma. Obvious, but clearly not applicable to me, as I have no problem writing publicly about my up and down mental health. Linked to this is number two, social norms. That is, it’s just not what people you know do. That’s not the case for me either, as I know a bunch of people who’ve sought help.
Up next is a fear of treatment, something I’d never really considered. This is where people steer clear of therapy because they’re concerned about how they will be treated by the mental health professional. Again, not something I have an issue with.
The fourth reason is a fear of telling someone else about distressing or personal information. Far from this, I’ve always basked in the luxury of paying someone else to listen to my deepest anxieties for an hour. It isn’t easy, I’ve often cried and found it heartbreaking, but it can also be the sweetest release.
So now we get to the truth.
Number five: worries about usefulness and risks. I’ve never been delighted about handing over big chunks of money for therapy. (Side note – bless the NHS, which covered my first round after 12 weeks on a waiting list.) But since we signed a contract to put down the deposit on our new home in 2018, saving money isn’t just a nice-to-do, it’s a need-to-do. Of course my mental health is important, but I haven’t got a legal contract hanging over me saying I have to take care of it. Where I live, mental health care is still a luxury, not a right.
Number six: fear of emotion. When I look back on my experiences of therapy in the past I know that they have been enormously helpful. I genuinely believe it saved my life in 2012. Yet looking back on my diary notes I can see that the sessions also opened up Pandora’s boxes of problems, often seeming to make things much worse before they started to improve.
Finally, number seven. The biggie. Self-esteem. As I’ve said, I don’t give a thought to telling all of you about going to therapy. I know you’re intelligent, understanding and, hey, it’s 2016, so therapy’s like *shrug*, “whatevs” these days.
It’s not what you think that’s the problem. It’s what I feel.
What I feel most painfully is that I’ve failed. With all the help and support I receive, all the books I read, the meditation and yoga I do, and I still can’t cope? What does that say about me? More scarily, what does it say about my future? That I’ll be forever dependent on drugs and mental health professionals? I don’t want that for myself and I don’t want it for my family. I want to be a rock for my husband, not a burden. As I start thinking about becoming a parent in the coming years, I don’t want to be ‘mental mum’, the one who can’t be a pillar of strength for my family because I’m too anxious, too depressed. Logically, I know that therapy can help me be that strong person, can help me fight the anxiety and depression. Emotionally, it rips me apart knowing that I can’t do it myself. Me, without therapy, is not good enough. ‘Devastated’ is the only word I can think of to convey how that makes me feel.
It seems so natural to go to the GP when something’s up with the body, doesn’t it? Obviously I don’t blame myself or feel like a failure when my physical health is suffering. Now I just need to get my head around the fact that it’s no different with my mental health.