This content mentions sexual assault, trauma, depression, anxiety, panic attacks and loneliness or isolation, which some people may find triggering.
Over the past 10 years, I have had numerous different therapists and different types of talking therapies.
The therapeutic relationship that's comfortable for you
Like all relationships, with some I clicked with and we lasted the full duration, and others we didn't, and the therapeutic relationship was cut short.
Finding the 'right' therapist let alone the 'right' type of therapy can be an anxiety-provoking task, an overwhelming experience and one in which you can get lost in webpages and overloaded with information.
With this blog, I hope to show you that this is a normal feeling and that it is worth persevering and finding what works for you, as we all have a right to good mental health.
So, my journey into therapy started in my second year of university. I didn't know I had 'mental health problems' but I was aware that I seemed to struggle with things in a way that my friends didn't.
Early mental health signs that were missed
I had worried throughout secondary school about my stomach rumbling and other children laughing at this. After needing the toilet on a long coach trip and feeling sick with panic the whole way back, I didn't want to travel on long journeys anymore.
I used to check all the rooms in the house about five times throughout the night to make sure no one had broken in. I wanted all the mirrors removed from my room after hearing ghost stories…these are just a few examples of how my anxiety leapt from one topic to the next, slowly limiting my life bit by bit.
A lack of mental health awareness
My school, my family and I did not understand what was going on and did not know how to recognise indicators of mental health problems. This meant we unintentionally only dealt with the surface issue: my visible distress.
We colluded with my distress by adding locks to front doors when I was scared, keeping me out of assembly so my stomach-rumbling fear wouldn't come true and allowing me to avoid school trips, so as not to get panicked on the journey.
Although these solutions were caring and well-intentioned, they actually made my anxieties continue and get worse. I wasn't learning how to cope on my own or challenge these thoughts.
Starting university at risk: where it all became too much
This meant that when I started university, I was still experiencing all these anxieties, but now in an even worse environment as my core support network was no longer there.
I missed numerous seminars and lectures due to the tummy-rumbling anxiety, which undermined my confidence and led to low self-esteem. I felt I couldn't cope on my own, and the guilt and stress from this led to a 'breakdown' in my second year.
The 'breakdown' was one of my darkest times, in which I experienced a dissociative panic attack (where the mind shuts down due to overwhelming stress and you feel disconnected from your mind, body and surroundings) followed by three months of spiralling depression and acute anxiety, where I wanted to take my own life.
However, I truly believe the 'breakdown' saved me, because the only thing left to do, was to reach out, say that I was scared, and get help. So that is what I did…
The beginning: reaching out to friends and housemates
I called a friend and told my housemates that I didn't know what was happening, but I think I've 'gone mad and the men in straight jackets are going to need to take me away'. My mum then arranged private emergency therapy with a psychologist back in my home town (on her small wage!) and a school friend drove up to get me and take me home.
My recovery started there.
My first psychologist
I remember sitting in the room with the psychologist wondering how I got here and whether he was going to lock me away. I felt vulnerable and scared.
What unfolded was far from the nightmare in my head. We built a brilliant therapeutic relationship, in which he helped me get out of crisis.
He showed me that anxiety and intrusive thoughts are common, he gave me techniques to challenge them, and after six weeks of seeing him two times a week, alongside school friends' support, 24-hour care from my mum, and patience from my partner at the time, I got out of the darkest bit and returned to university to complete my second year.
At my worst, my favourite bit of the day was going to sleep as then I didn't have to experience life trapped in this living hell. I would wake up and want to be dead, and I couldn't walk to university without having a panic attack. I was lonely, isolated and terrified.
Therapy allowed me to start challenging these thoughts, sit with the strong anxiety and tell myself it would pass, and very slowly, at a snail's pace get myself back to seminars and lectures.
My road to recovery
The recovery process was long. I needed both professional support and personal commitment towards getting better. This included a determined attitude and daily practice. It was hard and, some days, still is. But, from everything I've learnt, I now have this immense toolkit in my head that just keeps getting bigger, and an insight into myself that helps me be more compassionate.
My life is now filled with empathy, and I have a passion to help anyone experiencing mental health problems. I wouldn't take away any of the hard times, as I truly have changed and grown with each experience.
This has been a 10-year process, and it will continue to be one for the rest of my life. I see my mental health, like I see my physical health, something that needs daily little acts of kindness and goodness to keep me on track.
So, what other therapies did my recovery include?
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
I saw a cognitive behavioural therapist for seven months on the NHS. We built a brilliant therapeutic relationship. He helped me to really tackle my intrusive thoughts through cognitive and behavioural exposure and I still use what he taught me today.
Cognitive analytical therapy (CAT)
This introduced me to psychotherapy in a structured way. It was a combination of insight into my childhood and learnt patterns and gave me tangible solutions to break and change these. That year with my therapist was one of the most transformative of my life and I refer to what I learnt still on a weekly basis.
I have had two lots of sexual violence-informed trauma therapy through the NHS and charities. This brought a new level of peace, compassion, self-kindness and self-forgiveness to my life.
I felt significantly softer, less angry and more content after this. Once again, it was truly transformative. I connected with both of my therapists.
With the first trauma therapist, we both cried at the end; tears of joy for the process we had gone through together. With the second we went away with a sense of pride at how much I had grown and become more assertive.
Healing with other women that had experienced similar traumas was incredibly rewarding. I will take their stories and strength with me for the rest of my life.
Learning with others helped to keep me motivated. This has brought knowledge of healthy relationships and the importance of personal boundaries into my life. All of us, including the therapist, had a slight tear of joy at the end, due to the process we had gone through together.
In the autumn, I am due to start a year-long journey with a trauma-informed psychotherapist. The initial assessment went well, and we already have a great therapeutic relationship. I am certain she is the right therapist for me, and she is certain it is the right therapy for me.
It will be difficult, and very emotional, but it will take the important whole-life approach, to deal with the trauma I've experienced over the past four years and allow me to let it go.
It is about knowing when to ask for help, and knowing you have a right to help
These are just a few examples of the wide variety of talking therapies available out there, and how, now with digital mental health, the choices are getting even bigger.
Some of the examples above were NHS and some were private.
This isn't about becoming dependent on talking therapies (I have had many periods without therapy), it is about knowing when to ask for help, and that you have a right to help.
I hope my journey has helped you, and I send you all my love and support for yours.
Where to start with finding therapy
You can speak to your GP, who can help to determine what type of therapy may be most useful for you and refer you. Alternatively, you can refer yourself directly to a therapy service.
Therapy services offered by the NHS are free and there are also private therapy services available. You may wish to look for a therapist that is registered with a professional body. You can look for registered therapists in your area on the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) website.
It may also be worth exploring charities or third-sector organisations, as some offer free or low-cost talking therapies, for example:
- Anxiety UK for talking therapies to help with anxiety.
- Cruse Bereavement Care for bereavement counselling.
- Rape Crisis centres for counselling survivors of sexual abuse and their families.
- Some local charity branches such as your local Mind or your local Rethink Mental Illness can offer you talking therapy.
- The NHS UK website has a comprehensive list of mental health apps and tools that you may find useful.
Please see our page on talking therapies for more information.
If you feel affected by the content you have read, please see our get help page for support.
A-Z Topic: Talking therapies
Talking therapies can help you deal with negative thoughts and feelings and make positive changes.
A-Z Topic: Trauma
Trauma is when we experience or witness a very distressing event. It can have long-lasting effects on our mental and physical health.
A-Z Topic: Depression
The symptoms of depression, the different types of depression, getting support and ways you can look after yourself.
A-Z Topic: Anxiety
What is anxiety and what are the symptoms; what is an anxiety disorder and what causes it; getting support and ways you can look after yourself.
A-Z Topic: Panic attacks
A panic attack is a feeling of sudden and intense fear. It can come on quickly and for no apparent reason. Panic attacks can be very frightening, but they’re not dangerous.
A-Z Topic: Women and mental health
In England, around one in five women has a common mental health problem such as anxiety, depression or self-harm.