In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Week, we're delighted to share this heartfelt (and honest) piece by Ella Ward.
In this age of the over-share, I’m a bit bewildered at how stigmatised mental health treatment still is. I can bounce out of work early for an acupuncture treatment, but tell colleagues I’m off to my psych appointment and they go a bit blinky and weird.
So let’s be clear: I have been medicated for anxiety, I have been in regular therapy and I have been without either. All approaches have their merits, but I credit a lot of the good work my brain does to the mental pit-stops I make at my therapist.
I’ve had my fair share of red-letter ‘mental health moments’, and sure – they make for good dinner party stories. But without them I don’t think I would’ve jumped on the therapy train as early as I did. So in the interests of sharing being caring, let’s meet the brain boffins that have helped me get to the (relatively) stable place I am today …
The child psychologist
When you’re little, and your parents split up, the trauma hits hard. I was eight, I was cross, and confused, and sad. More sad than an eight year old whose Dad has left should be? Unclear. But Mum tells me I went to a child psychologist and came back better. Solved? No! Improved? Absolutely!
The London psychoanalyst
I was so homesick I used to schedule in a fifteen minute weep every morning, before toddling off to work. When the weeping started to ooze into other parts of the day, I figured I needed help. I found a psychoanalyst on the Internet, and because the NHS is miraculous, 23-year old me didn’t even have to pay.
Aleksi* worked out of his front room in Hampstead and I had to lie on an actual couch. He taught me that the one person you generally thought was great, was probably the one that fucked you up in the first place. He also taught me that self-diagnosed mental health, (ie. ‘I’m sad because I’m homesick’), is generally inaccurate and often unhelpful.
The post-natal psychiatrist
More weeping. Also in the morning, but this time on to the head of my five-month old, terrified the Bloke was off to work for another day, leaving us all alone (HOW DARE HE FUCKING BASTARD). I became obsessed with her sleep routine and decided sleep school was the only way to ‘fix’ my tiny baby. Which is where we went, and they did – but it turns out I was the one who needed fixing. She was just a baby. But you knew that.
I met Max* at sleep school. He suggested ongoing therapy would be a good idea, and because I had had two full nights of sleep, the fog cleared long enough to agree. He helped me go from loving my baby, to being in love with my baby.
The OH SHIT psychiatrist
Still Max. We’d been going steady since sleep school. But this is when I learnt that having a therapist ‘on tap’ is the actual best. I was diagnosed with cancer on the Wednesday and my monthly psych appointment was on the Thursday. I went, and brought my husband along too. Mostly because I kept weeping (are we seeing a theme here?) and forgetting what people had said to me.
If I hadn’t have had a pre-existing relationship with a therapist, I never would have sought help at that crisis point. But god, I’m glad I had. From that point I saw Max weekly, and I credit him for keeping me mostly sane during diagnosis, treatment and the winded shock of PTSD.
It’s during these spikes of shock or trauma that I’ve sought air cover under the bombardment of misery. But the most crucial, and supportive experience of therapy has been the ‘normal’ times. It’s the quiet, persistent work you do on opening up your mind and kneading your psyche, that allows the magic to happen. If you haven’t, try it – you might be surprised what you find.
Ella Ward is an advertising boss lady, mum, wife, and now (unfortunately) one of Those Cancer People. She’s currently oversharing on Instagram @_msellabella.