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can we please normalise therapy?

Well well well, here we are again. are going to start to talk y'know. Anyway, as you may have very keenly noticed, it's been well over a week since I last bothered you {the posting schedule clearly isn't up and running yet}. Turns out, I am immensely popular and, as a result, I've had very little time to write over the past couple of weeks {and by 'immensely popular' I mean I've been ill, watching far too much netflix, and have had my nose buried in a v good book. Sorry x}. Also, despite having a fair few drafts I need to post, I really wanted to write something new and post that instead {Catherine Bleach: Queen of giving herself more work than is necessary}.

So, boys, gals, and non-binary pals. Today's post is moving away from my usual sexual health related ramblings {don't worry, I've definitely got more coming on that topic - lucky you x} and into the realms of mental health and healthy communication. "Wow, how interesting. You're an endless fountain of knowledge and originality, Catherine." I hear you say? Well, that's where you would be entirely wrong. However, as someone who has worked hard to be emotionally mature {sometimes - teehee} and to better her communication skills, I've had it with the various stigma surrounding therapy and discussions about mental health.

*DISCLAIMER* : This post is just going to be a collective rambling about my experiences with therapy; things I wish I'd been told sooner; and why a change in how I view therapy completely altered my relationships with my own mental health, family, and friends, and gave me a huge wake up call to the importance of clear communication. I'm planning on making a set of posts that go more into detail with stats and things about counselling and MH in the near future, but wanted to start off with something a lil more personal. Sorry if that's not what you were looking for - feel free to turn back now x

Now, time for the backstory you didn't ask for:

Even though I'm far from being an expert, I have {like an awful lot of people} been in and out of therapy since I was about 5 {that has to count for something, right?} and I always thought there was something terrifyingly wrong with me {well, who's to say there isn't?}. It wasn't until I was about 17 that I began to play an active role in choosing where I wanted to attend therapy {a huge privilege that I'm forever grateful for}.

It was then, thanks to a few strangers in a waiting room, that I realised that everything I'd previously been told about therapy was really very damaging and fed into a whole host of internalised issues I had yet to address.

Whether it was through court based therapy sessions {if any of you attended CAFCASS sessions, I'm sorry. That stuff was godawful}, the NHS, or school counselling, I was always taught to be secretive about my experiences with therapy. I was either very discretely removed from the classroom under the watchful eye of countless confused classmates or I would dawdle about at school after hours waiting for "my lady" to turn up. Both of these situations usually ended up with me sitting in silence with someone for an hour while they desperately tried to get me to point to smiley faces on a chart as I avoided eye contact. I was never told that these people were there to help and so I tried my best to ignore them. It was like counselling and therapy were dirty words. Once I left whatever room I'd been put in for the hour, it was like I had never been there. No one asked me how it went or what I thought of the experience. All of it was swept under the rug.

Fast forward 10 years and I was at the horrid horrid H E I G H T S of puberty {and boy oh boy was that a messy one}. I still never spoke to anyone about anything because I just assumed that that was how things were meant to be. I had never spoken to anyone about counselling sessions at school or what the lady at the hospital had told me so why should I start opening up now? Of course, this was a massively damaging mindset and made my relationships with various family members v tense {of course, I was also a moody, grumpy little know-it-all at that time too so that can't have helped either - sorry Joanne x}.

All of this because I had never been told that therapy was normal and okay and nothing to be ashamed of.

Anyway, I hit 17 and decided that it was time for me to admit that I wasn't helping myself anywhere near enough and that something clearly wasn't working for me. I know I've said this once already, but I honestly cannot stress enough how grateful I am to have had the opportunity to move away from previous counselling services I had used. I know this is a privilege that is not an option for a lot of people.

SIDENOTE: (expect a post soon with a bunch of v useful MH resources that anyone can access for free at any time. Things like these helped me massively whilst on NHS waiting lists or when I was unable to get involved in any face to face counselling sessions and are another brill way of helping yourself).

Anywho - after a bit of research {and by 'a bit' I mean an awful lot of research, some crying, and a little bit more research}, I found a 'natural health' clinic that offered everything from hypnotherapy to psychotherapy and acupuncture. Naturally {pun intended}, I was sold on the idea. I had only ever been part of 'group talk' sessions or one on one counselling that seemed to have no clear end, guidance, or goal. So, to find somewhere that was not only super duper open about their services and exactly what to expect, but that was also offering a wide range of services that I had never even thought of using before was an absolute blessing.

For the first time in my life, I was taking my mental/emotional health and the way I chose to communicate about it into my own hands. I wasn't unknowingly being placed in a room with a uniformed stranger. I was fully aware of where I was and why I was there and I was excited to finally meet with someone who I had chosen to talk to. Again, this is a privilege that I'm very appreciative of, but I would encourage anyone to take an active role in any therapy they can make use of. Whether it's through trying out different types of session if you can or meeting to talk with different people until you find someone you gel with.

Any kind of active participation, no matter how small, takes you one step closer to a better relationship with therapy and a better understanding of why it should be normalised!

So, on top of weekly rambles with my therapist {Helen, you life saver} and the countless mugs of herbal tea she plied me with {anyone who knows me now understands why I claim anything can be fixed with a good mug of herbal tea}, I was also spending a fair bit of time sat in a waiting room before each session. In some ways, this was more eye opening than the sessions themselves. I liked to arrive to appointments early so I could collect my thoughts and get focused on what I wanted to talk about {a habit I'm really glad I got into!}. This meant I had quite a few conversations with other people who were also waiting to be whisked away to one of the various rooms in the building. Of course, a lot of these conversations consisted of strings of complaints about the weather and other pointlessly British things. However, the more I got to know a few people the more I realised that we were all there for an array of different things. I was a confused young woman with communication issues; one woman had lost her husband so had been coming to 'chat' for the past two years; another was in for acupuncture and migraine treatment; and one guy lived alone and just liked regular opportunities to 'clear his mind'.

Here's the kicker though, whatever we were in therapy for was completely valid and hearing about everyone's experiences with it made me realise that you don't have to have something "wrong" with you in order to participate in it. It's a privilege to be able to attend regular therapy sessions but, if it is something that you have access to, I can't recommend it enough.

The main point of this post {which has very much turned into another episode of "sit down and listen to Catherine ramble on about her life for 15 minutes"} is that therapy is brilliant. Once I realised that I wasn't struggling with therapy because there was something "wrong" with me but because there was something wrong with the way I was being taught to view it, I was unstoppable {I quite literally haven't shut up since x}. It hit me that therapy, in its most basic form, is just sitting down and chatting with someone who has no emotional connection to your life and its events and is qualified to encourage you to process its goings on. Therapists aren't going to tell you how to live your life or provide a cure all for your every waking issue. A "good" therapist is someone who listens and guides you towards developing better coping mechanisms/self care strategies. They encourage open communication and, as a result, can aid you in overcoming trauma through a range of techniques. However, this isn't to say that you have to have something bad going on in your life for you to require therapy. Talking about things, no matter how small, is a crucial part of processing them and moving towards emotional maturity and better communication skills {things which are as good as gold dust in a lot of modern relationships of any kind}.

Really - who better to talk to about worries, daily stresses, your dead cat, or your phobia of garden peas than a complete stranger {please make sure they're qualified and you're not just sat waiting for a bus} who won't judge you or try to push their opinions on you? Talking to family and friends can be great, but if you're looking for a truly judgement free safe space to talk about whatever you need to then therapy is there for you.

Overall, the main point of this unintentionally personal waffling is that, therapy in every shape and form really needs to be normalised. If I had known years ago that it was perfectly okay to be in therapy, I wouldn't have shunned half the help I was offered out of confusion and resentment. Flash forward to today, I'm 21; openly queer; I have a series of healthy coping mechanisms; I try my best to understand my thought processes; I'm far more spiritual than I ever thought I would be; I pride myself in good communication and emotional maturity; and I have a brilliantly supportive group of loved ones and healthy relationships. Although I am not currently making use of therapy sessions {I'm not saying you have to be in therapy all the time for it to work}, and I'm forever learning and growing as a person {I'd like to think I always will be} not one of these things would have been possible without my respect for it.

I just wish that 5 year old me had been told that it's 'normal', it's okay, and there's nothing wrong with you. So, just in case you've never been made aware of this, I'm here to tell you, my single dear reader, that talking to people is good. Therapy is good. If you need to talk to someone, but don't know who, a therapist will be there for you. You don't have to have anything bad going on. Take it as an opportunity to work on you and only you.

You've got this.

Miss you already x

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