Next week I have my last therapy session in the UK. Though I have been receiving on-and-off treatment for about eight years now, I have never had to face the idea of finishing therapy like this before. I wanted to write about my feelings towards it, what the treatment process was like, and what I plan to do next. I also want to share some of the things I’ve learned from therapy and give you my best mental health tips.
Other mental health posts
»Balancing Work And Health: What I’ve Learned«
»Things You Don’t Want to Hear When You’re Depressed«
Finishing therapy: how I got here
As I mentioned, therapy and I have been in an on-and-off relationship. I first started when I was fifteen years old, and was diagnosed with depression not long after. Since then I have not continuously been in treatment, but I have always known that I was going to have to seriously deal with past trauma at some point. This moment came early 2017, when I relapsed and was diagnosed with chronic depression.
It took a year for me to find professional help and I finally started therapy here in the UK at the start of 2018. Now, over a year later, I am finishing up treatment before my big move back to the Netherlands.
The therapy process
When I started therapy in the UK, I was in a very bad place. My entire life was on hold as I had taken a leave of absence from university and I had severe issues with functioning in day-to-day life. I spent the majority of 2018 gathering strength, finding back my routine, and becoming myself again. Basically, I spent a long time “getting back on the horse”.
I received therapy with a person-centred approach, meaning the treatment process was largely up to me. I came up with my own plan on how to tackle my traumas, but this didn’t come into action until I felt stable enough.
What I’ve learned from therapy
Mental health knows no deadline
The very first thing I learned is that you cannot put a deadline on your mental health. Your mental health deserves time, care and attention as much as your physical health. At the start of my relapse in 2017, I tried to push away my issues because I was so close to finishing my master’s, so why could I not just deal with my health after finishing uni? This did not work and only made matters worse. So, please, go easy on yourself and take your time to deal with things. I promise it will be worth it.
Life does get better
Another thing I’ve learned is that tackling trauma is justifiably frightening, but it does get better. The first time I opened up my book of trauma, it left me unstable for a bit and I needed time to recover. However, the recovery process after my therapy sessions started becoming shorter and lighter. Trust me: life really does get better.
Excited about the future
I know it is a cliché to say that I have come out stronger, but it’s true. Everything I have been through has made me the survivor that I am today, one who has an expansive set of skills to deal with all sorts of mental health challenges.
A couple of months ago I could not imagine myself ever fully healed and able to step back into life the way I once stood, but now I do feel ready for big changes, like moving back home and starting a new job. I am actually excited about the future!
A future without therapy
How I feel about finishing therapy
At first, I was worried. With my plans to move back to the Netherlands, I could feel a deadline approaching. I had only just started to dip into past trauma this year and it was opening up a lot of old wounds. What if these wounds did not heal in time? What if I became unstable and severely depressed again? I knew I was not going to have immediate access to professional help back home (waiting lists etc.), so this was certainly very disconcerting.
However, I am healing much quicker. Recovery is not becoming easier, but it is definitely coming a lot faster. I am currently stable and I have plenty coping strategies and skills to look after myself. I also have a strong support network in the Netherlands.
I also want to be realistic: it is likely this is not going to be the end of it for me. I was diagnosed with chronic (aka long-term) depression, and relapses are not uncommon. Besides that, I am always going to carry my past experiences and trauma with me, so I’m sure I will have rough times in the future. But now I can say from experience: this too shall pass.
At the moment I am not choosing to look for therapy right when I get back, because I am not sure where in the Netherlands I am going to live, and I also know waiting lists are a disaster. For now, I have confidence that I can make it on my own.
After years of struggling with mental health, I have become very resourceful. I keep a diary and I also talk to friends about what I’m going through. Because I’ve had so many different experiences with mental health, I have also become interested in reading up on it more. My wish to be more engaged with this topic has also stretched to my professional life: as a teacher, I want to become more involved with mental health in education.
Tips I would give others
I wanted to share general mental health tips, but also a few specifically for those who do not currently have access to therapy. Hopefully these mean something to you.
- Take your time to heal.
See what I wrote earlier under What I’ve learned from therapy à mental health knows no deadline.
If you have the opportunity, take out time to deal with your mental health. You might even want to plan it in. Mental health is something that so easily slips up and is completely neglected, so it is worth taking time to become aware of your mental well-being and find ways to cope. Besides: your mental health is not going to wait for you. During my relapse I thought I could postpone my issues until after my master’s course, but that only made things so much worse. If you don’t address your health issues right away, they will come back to haunt you – and probably at a much more inconvenient time.
- Think about who is part of your support network and how they can help.
A support network is extremely important in tough times. Mind you, they cannot resolve your issues for you, but they can offer moral support. Sometimes someone sitting with you while you weep at The Lion King is all you need.
- Be safe: think of things you can do when you are struggling.
This is an important precautionary safety measure to take. Make a list of things that calm you down or distract you. Not knowing what to do when you’re shaking with anxiety or coming down with a depressive episode only makes matters worse and can also be dangerous. So, take the time to think of coping strategies/distractions on a good day when you are better capable of creating an overview of things to do.
- Don’t avoid your issues.
As I mentioned, mental health is easily neglected. I have seen many people (including myself) go slightly off the rails as they were trying to ignore their problems. You hope they’ll just magically disappear, and sometimes they do temporarily, but generally this does not work. Mental health issues tend to have a snowballing effect – so if you’re noticing something’s up, find a way to face it. You could write about it in a diary, for example.
- Keep a diary.
Keeping a routine can be difficult when you’re ill. I often lost track of the days and time and generally felt like I was just kind of floating through space. This made therapy difficult because I couldn’t even remember what day it was, much less what I’d been up to and how I’d been feeling that week. So, I started to keep a diary. This has helped me keep track of things.
- Be open about your struggles.
Though it can be scary, sometimes it helps to be open and honest about what you’re going through. Personally I have received a lot of support that way. Of course you don’t have to go into details about what it is exactly that you’re going through, but you can at least tell the people around you: hey, I’m going through a rough time right now, so I might not be my usual self.
Talking about mental health
Talking about mental health is important, but can also be challenging. You might not always feel comfortable discussing it with the people around you. Think of who you would feel comfortable approaching. You can also read up on it online – simply google what you want to know, and try to look for informative pieces from official organisations (i.e. the NHS).
Again, do bear in mind your friends and family are not professionals and they should also not try to treat you. If you or a friend is struggling, the best thing to do is to contact a GP.