Originally published in October 2020 by Refresh Magazine
Exploring the positive impact that counselling has had after years of running away from my problems. Talking therapy is often exhausting but ultimately can lead to the self becoming unburdened and free.
I remember the moment my life changed. I can still feel my feet on the stairs, my body tense and my mind calculating how far my money would take me.
Most of all, I remember the jittery back and forth movements I made as I physically chose between fight and flight.
I had been running away from things for a long time. It didn’t matter whether I was not ready to admit that I had some big, scary problems or I was too afraid to try and make things better. More often than not, leaving everything behind always seemed like the perfect solution.
Conflict at home? Move to Edinburgh. A toxic relationship I couldn’t get over? Move to the other side of the world. Heartbroken after a fling went wrong? Move to northern China. The list goes on.
This time though, I was already removed from my life. Distance gave me clarity. Running wasn’t going to fix this. As I stood in my mother’s house, the walls plastered with familiar faces and alien grins, I knew something had to change.
I had to stay and do the work. I had to fight for the life I wanted and stop running.
Opening my laptop, I reached out to Google and saw the counsellor’s directory where I found someone to guide me through one of the most turbulent periods of my life.
I am happy to admit counselling isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution and there is no need to force yourself into something that doesn’t support your mental health journey.
For me, however, talking to a neutral party who had no emotional investment in my life was a blessing. I could give a complete picture of myself without fear of judgement.
Almost a year later, I’ve had sessions at least once a month and built a better understanding of myself. I’ve shed countless tears, spoken to my inner child, faced down some of the biggest bears I have ever seen and taken a brief hiatus when the work became too much.
With each session, I have gained insight into another part of myself. My counsellor has been a sounding board for my fears and insecurities, as well as my hopes and dreams for the future. With his help, I have built a tool kit to help me create the life I want and let go of the things that hold me back.
The transformation has been uncomfortable to say the least. I have made some difficult decisions and become more protective of myself. As a result, I have lost friends, cut out family members and established boundaries that serve me best.
It sounds like being selfish, but objections tend to stem from the people who benefitted from my lack of boundaries. They no longer have the ability to manipulate me or take whatever they want.
I didn’t start this process to become selfish or self-centered, and I am still fundamentally the same person I was before. I have the same values I have always had. I still treasure my friends and family, and will always do my best to help where I can. Now, I have a better sense of when to say no to something that does not add to my life.
That being said, my healing hasn’t been linear and I still struggle sometimes. Confrontation has become a particular worry and it takes me a long time to work up the courage to talk to people about how I feel.
I have so many lessons and coping mechanisms to help me ease into these conversations, but sometimes my irrational side still gets the better of me and I have to wait a little longer for the mental strength to ask for what I need.
But even in these moments, there is a voice telling me I can only give people insight into how I feel, I am not responsible for how they react. I can only try to be kind when sharing my thoughts, someone else’s emotions are out with my control.
If anything, therapy has helped me to realise I am only responsible for my actions, behaviour and opinions. I am not responsible for how other people choose to see me. And that has been one of the most liberating things of all.
I can prioritise myself and still be kind. I can be firm but gentle. But most of all my vulnerability does not make me weak. In fact, it gives me the strength to see who and what is most valuable in my life.
My bears still grumble from time to time, but I am so much better at soothing them now. Where they would once have run rampant, I know how to let them roar before I tame them.
This piece is published as part of Refresh Magazine's October Mental Health Edition. For more information on what support is available to you, please click here.