27.03.2022 | And Maybe, Just Maybe, I’ll Admit That I Could Use a Little Help…

Lyrics: “Haven’t Been Doing So Well” ~ Frank Turner, 2021

Abstract: 25 years after the idea first floated in my mind, I recently started the process of getting psychotherapy / cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for the variety of mental health issues I seem to have been struggling with all my life.

[The following post is quite a long and winding road to that conclusion, so I thought I better state it up front for a change]

When I look back on the over four decades of my life, I don’t recall a time when I haven’t struggled with self-esteem issues, self-doubts, self-loathing and too much worrying about things I did or didn’t do. Beating myself up, because I was convinced I did it all wrong and/or will continue to mess it all up in the future as well. For the first twenty years of my life I thought that was just the way my life was supposed to be. I didn’t know it any different after all.

The first time I got an idea that maybe I was not supposed to feel like this and that maybe life shouldn’t feel like such a struggle was when I read “The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem” (Nathanial Branden) in my early 20s. I remember I followed that with some German self-help books about self-esteem and it was all quite eye-opening for me. I started to figure out why I might struggle so much with certain aspects of my life. And If I’m honest I’ve known I could benefit from therapy since then, which was the late 1990s. But “therapy” just wasn’t done in my family or my social circle. It was a thing for hip people in Hollywood or any other high-flying celebrity with proper drug problems.

So I’ve read tons of books in the years since and tried to incorporate some of the things I read about in my life and to get a handle on things. And that did work occasionally, but more often than not, it didn’t stick and I fell back into old thought patterns and habits and (mentally) self-destructive behaviours. Clearly that way wasn’t working.

About ten years ago English folkpunk singer/songwriter Frank Turner entered the scene and besides writing catchy tunes and being a great performer, his lyrics made me feel like there finally was a person who understood how I felt, because many of his songs were about similar experiences / emotions I knew from myself. Which was and still is a bit weird, because our lives could not have been and still could not be any more contrary. I guess, it just proves that mental health issues are universal. It absolutely blew my mind how much I could relate to so many of his lyrics. From the “Mmh, maybe I’m not supposed to feel like that” revelation (see above) captured here

When I thought that suffering was something profound,
That weighed down on wise heads,
And not just something to be avoided,
Something normal people dread.
(Tell Tale Signs, 2013)

To the comforting assurance that…

You’re not as messed up as you think you are:
Your self-absorption makes you messier.
Just settle down and you will feel a whole lot better.
Deep down you’re just like everybody else.

(Reasons Not To Be An Idiot, 2008)

And so so so much more over the years. And for a long while, I thought I just need to listen to Frank sing about this stuff and that will help me figure out my own issues. I don’t need therapy. Again: Clearly not really working. The thing is, unbeknownst to me Frank himself had obviously operated in similar fashion for years. But he recognized it as a sham much earlier than me. Here’s a quote from a recent article, but he’s been stating it for a few years before that:

For a long time, I didn’t go to therapy — I was aggressively of the opinion that my record collection was therapist enough.

The first time I heard him state it my gut reaction was: “Screw you, Francis! I don’t want to believe that (your) music is not enough!” and only on second thought I realized that of course he had a point. I still wasn’t ready for any step in that direction though.

At the end of 2020 I read by chance that a university research group was looking for people to evaluate the use of a mental health app “Mind Doc” (Website in German). I signed up and after my evaluation period ended I kept using the app to track my mood and to have my mental health evaluated every two weeks via a few questions I answer three times a day. The app also offers some basic lessons and exercises about a variety of mental health issues. For a time I worked through those as well. The app is actually part of a online (video call) psychotherapy network with proper licensed therapists, which is a great service, because the few local therapists have such long waiting lists. But my health care provider hadn’t been on board then and even though my biweekly evaluation came back with “poor mental health” more often than not, I still didn’t make any move.

That evaluation didn’t surprise me though, because I’ve noticed that all through last year and even in 2020 I’ve been struggling with my mental health much more than ever before. There was and still is a global pandemic and two years in I’m still considered a high risk person for Covid, thanks to the immunosuppressants I need to take for my MS. The whole long saga of my mum getting sick and and then passing away by the end of last year. At work I’ve got so much more to do in a role with more responsibility, which feel overwhelming more often than not. With all of this a “Poor mental health” evaluation was to be expected for someone with a general disposition for it.

In September 2021 Frank released a new song: “Haven’t Been Doing So Well”. I wrote a very long post about why this song meant and still means the world to me. In that post I also talked about the “music is not enough” bit and many of the things I touched on above.

And that’s what I’ve been trying to do over the past few years as well: using some help, not professionally via a therapist. Yet. But by trying to establish better routines for my mental health. (not always as successful yet as I would like). By trying to be more mindful. By trying to read more about it. To work through it on my own as good as I can. It often feels like 3 steps forward, 5 steps back, but when I look back on all those years since that first “OMG you don’t have to feel this way” moment in my mid-20s, I know I’m doing better. I’m a work in progress…

And still… it all wasn’t really working. Or helping. Especially the past few months I noticed that besides being lethargic and listless – which I could still maybe blame on worrying excessively over the pandemic – I also felt like I was turning numb to a lot of things. I realized I just don’t care that much anymore and I feel like I don’t feel emotions as intense as I used to. And that started to scare me a bit. And then on the other hand I had also become quite emotional and I start crying out of anger or frustration much more easily than I used to. That doesn’t scare me as much as just annoys me to be honest.

By the start of 2022 I found out that my health care provider will in fact from this year forward pay for this particular kind of online psychotherapy service. I still hemmed and hawed and suffered for a few more weeks until I finally took the plunge and started the process of applying for it. 25 or so years after the “maybe therapy could help” idea floated in my mind. Better late than never, right?

Last Saturday I had a first in person evaluation meeting with a therapist nearby, who signed off on me as a suitable candidate for online therapy. I informed my GP, because she needs to sign off as well, which she promised me of course she would. Yesterday I told – well in written words, because that’s so much easier for me – a few close friends about it and all were very supportive. Of course they were. I worried about nothing. As I’m wont to do….

Now I “just” have to find a therapist from the pool, who a) has appointments available that fit my schedule and b) whom I feel might be a good fit for me. Just like with any other type of psychotherapy there will be trial sessions at the start and then it usually would be 25 sessions, either weekly or later spread out further, so till the end of the year maybe. The therapist I saw in person also suggested to use the time till I match with a therapist to think about what I really want to focus working on.

After I’ve now got the “inform GP and social circle” checked off I think I will spend a bit more time to actually figure out what I consider my main issue at the moment. The process so far went much quicker than I expected. I’m not sure I’m ready to really start with it yet. I’m not trying to talk myself out of it, don’t worry, but I think I might need to prepare myself a little bit. Anyway it definitely felt good to actually do something to get out of this funk. And to put it all down in writing here for you to read hopefully makes me a bit more accountable. We’ll see… It’s all a bit scary, but also a bit exciting.

And until my first appointment I will keep reading these kind of books, because it can’t hurt, right?

"Unwinding Anxiety"

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