I sit and write this from a coffee shop as I wipe away floods of tears after my second ever CBT session. As memories come flooding back about how my ex boyfriend’s mum made me feel in the final months of our relationship, how a girl I came across when I moved to uni made me despise the way I look and various other underlying issues which have contributed towards me sitting in a room with a therapist after almost 4 years of struggling with generalised anxiety disorder.
My anxiety started in 2014 when a girl was incredibly nasty to me in the city I moved to for uni. She caused a lot of drama for me when I was already feeling overwhelmed about moving away from home. I started having panic attacks but never really knew what they were, I felt tired all the time, I lost a lot of confidence and I just knew I didn’t feel like the person I was before. I managed to control it though, I made friends with an incredible group of girls and in my second year and third year, was in a very, VERY happy relationship. From 2014 to 2018, I still struggled with my anxiety but it wasn’t half as bad, I’d have the occasional panic attack but it didn’t seem bad enough for me to seek help from a GP.
It wasn’t until December 2017 when a situation happened between my ex and I that his Mum felt the urge to get involved with that my anxiety seriously flared up. My ex had a habit of telling his Mum about every single tiff or argument we had and one day when we had our biggest fight, she’d had enough of me and painted me out to be a monster. She told him various nasty things, how I’d “brainwashed” him to stay with me and how she “couldn’t believe he wanted to be with me.” Feelings came rushing back from 2014, a fear of not being good enough for someone who I loved so dearly. There were a lot of issues in our relationship and since we broke up, I’ve had time to reflect on that and I’m in a much better place in general but she just simply would not accept that he wanted to stay with me. It was hard. I was having panic attacks through the night, crying most evenings – especially on the days where he would tell me what she had said about me. It was draining. Eventually, I found myself crying upstairs at work because of how it was all making me feel. I think this is the moment I knew it was going to end and she’d “won.”
When all this first began, I went to my GP and explained what was happening to me and how it was similar to how I was feeling back in 2014. She finally prescribed me with beta blockers and referred me to a wellbeing college. I had to do an assessment over the phone and after half an hour of answering multiple choice questions, they informed me that cognitive behavioural therapy would be the right choice for me. I then joined a waiting list which I was on for MONTHS. During this wait, my boyfriend and I broke up and even the day after, I felt as though a giant weight had been lifted off my shoulder. I was upset and heartbroken like any person would be but I didn’t feel anxious, I stopped waking up every single day feeling the pressure to be this perfect person just to try and prevent him from telling me the things his Mum was saying. I felt free.
Over the past few months, I’ve done things I never would have done before without taking my medication such as a festival for the day, concerts, loads of night’s out and a trip to Berlin! I’ve never felt so wonderful.
So, CBT is a talking therapy that helps you change the way you think and behave. “It is based on the concept that your thoughts, feelings and actions are interconnected, and that negative thoughts and feelings can trap you in a vicious cycle.”
I walked into the hospital thinking that it would be very positive and future focused, which in ways, it was. But there were a lot of moments that felt like counselling. My therapist is incredibly calming and there were many moments where I broke down in tears remembering things that have hurt me and affected me over the years but I was as open as I possibly could be because I want and need the help.
I talked solidly for about 40 minutes and he asked so many questions to dig deeper and deeper into certain “traumas” I have experienced until he summed my issues up into three words:
The one that jumped out at me the most was low self-esteem and he focussed on this a lot in the second session and I realised that the way I’ve let boys treat me and they way I’ve allowed people to make me feel like a horrible person has broken me down bit by bit. Sometimes, I receive a compliment and struggle to accept it because I can’t physically believe it’s true. I used to be confident when I was younger and I never used to worry about anything and now all of a sudden, I’m the girl who’s having a panic attack on a night out because I think everyone is staring at me and thinking I’m fat because one girl said it. It’s incredibly challenging to explain how my anxiety affects me because it comes in waves depending on what I’m going through. And when I’m faced with something that upsets me or makes me feel stressed, it gets worse. The anxiety is at the top and the worry and low self-esteem stem off it.
It helps to talk. And I seriously urge anyone who thinks their anxiety isn’t serious or believe it’s just a phase to at least have a casual chat with your GP about how it’s affecting you because they’ll know whether it’s severe enough for medication or therapy.
My sessions are in the middle of the day on a Thursday and I thought I’d be able to skip back into work feeling positive and focused on controlling my thoughts but both times, I’ve left feeling upset, zoned out and even had a migraine because you have to think about and talk about things that you’ve tried so hard to cope with by blocking it out and erasing it from your memories and although I might be making this sound daunting, it truly, truly helps.
Useful contacts for anxiety: