Another long, dark evening. Not only the skies above. It’s what I’m feeling as that by now familiar, meandering walk, from the station to therapy stretches into the cold but happily dry distance.
The roads are just as unlit and dangerous to walk alongside, the paths as cracked and uneven as they have always been. A bit like my state of mind – and relationship that has clearly fallen apart. No contact for a month. It’s over. My heart is not merely broken, it’s crushed.
Arriving at therapy, it’s now getting into a phase of familiarity. The nods and embarrassed smiles of recognition are gone. We’re no longer trying to hide from the receptionists that we are mentally ill. It’s slightly less uncomfortable now. The heartbreak makes it feel worse tonight though.
In we go. Again I sit in the corner, this time making sure my bag doesn’t clang the fire hydrant. And again, it’s time for the weekly ‘how screwed up are you’ depression, stress and anxiety questionnaire. 20, 17, and 29 are the scores on the doors this week, with a stress level of 7.5. Imperceptibly lower, but going down all the same.
That may have changed almost immediately. The therapists go through a brief synopsis of last week’s session, which then extends to about 20 minutes as the same man that held court last week decided to foist another problem he’s facing in life onto everyone.
It’s not as if we don’t sympathise but we are all there for coping mechanisms for our own woes in life, looking for a way to deal with how awful we all feel deep down, to rid ourselves of our suicidal thoughts. We’re not there to sort out one man’s infidelity and over-reliance on the pub.
Eventually, he pipes down, and the issues being addressed this week are anxiety and panic. We all set our eyes downwards. Or maybe just me and everyone else wasn’t. I’m a soul full of anxiety, filled with panic. I want to listen, I want to concentrate.
I don’t want to hear the person next to me’s indigestion. Every couple of minutes, a barely suppressed exhalation of wind emanates from their lips. This person wears dowdy clothes, untidy hair, and a soft voice. I just don’t want to say anything to them because they look and sound like the embodiment of someone going through mental torture.
As the therapy wears on, I wonder what I’m doing there. Two trains and miles of walking in the dark, in the cold, in the rain. And when I get there, for one reason or another, I just can’t get a grasp on what therapy is going on because of the people around me.
Yet I know if I give up on it, that’s it, no one-to-one therapy, left to face the purgatory of what my own mind throws at me indefinitely. Must try to block everyone else out. Have to make the effort if I want to get better.
They come up with an acronym for fear – Face Everything And Recover. I kinda know that. Not being able to confront things has led to me being here in the first place. One thing I do learn, though, is that irritation adds to anxiety.
We’re given the ABC model of recording events triggering the feelings that make us so screwed up on the inside. The Activating event, Beliefs about the event, and the Consequences. There’s also another column, where we have to try to challenge the unhelpful thinking.
It’s hard but eventually I begin to see there’s more than 1 or 2 ways of looking at things. The question, though, is asking myself the right questions to question my beliefs – how? I’ll give it a go and see what comes of it. I have nothing to lose as my sanity departed some while ago.
There’s also what seems to be a minor tip. A breathing exercise. Breathe in through the nostrils, making sure the stomach expands, counting quickly to 7. Then breathe out through the mouth, counting quickly to 11.
To my pleasant surprise, it works. I do feel more relaxed by doing so. Maybe there’s something in what they’re saying, and worth putting up with dyspepsia next to me – and even worth hearing tales of a broken adulterer with a drink problem across the room.
With the message “anxiety doesn’t last forever” ringing in our ears, I’m tempted to respond with “neither do our lives.” Instead I ask about starting the online Beating The Blues course.
If I can get the same therapy from a computer at home, without the incumbent distractions of being in a drafty room, then tonight has been more than worthwhile.
And that, despite the burps, is progress.