I think Americans have a much healthier attitude towards therapy. A survey by the American Psychological Association suggests that nearly half of all American households have had someone seek mental health treatment this year. This feels like a lot, but it also feels right. Sometimes we need therapy to help us to stay sane.
In the US, therapy is a way of looking after your mental health, of re-establishing your equilibrium, of voicing your troubles in order to fend of anxiety, depression and upset. We need to recognise that mental health is just as important as physical health. And we all need therapy once in a while.
In the UK, the British ‘stiff upper lip’; our tendency to display fortitude in the face of adversity and to exercise self restraint in the expression of emotion, is endemic. Therapy, more commonly known in the UK as counselling, is seen as a weakness. We only go to counselling when there is a real problem, when marriages are truly on the rocks, as a cure for some personality disorder, or when we are seriously depressed.
We need to ditch our British ‘stiff upper lips’. We need to say when things aren’t going great. We need to be more proactive and more protective of our mental health. Sometimes we all need a little support when life threatens to overwhelm us, when anxiety is chasing us and when depression is knocking at our door and when we are struggling to stay sane.
Normally, I am a very balanced person. I don’t have great highs or great lows in my emotional state. In fact I have spent a lot of my life wishing that I felt the highs more acutely … and have recognised that this requires feeling the lows more painfully too.
This is what Pen’s emotions look like most of the time:
So, in a nutshell, I am generally quite a happy person. I am not ecstatic or over excitable, in fact I am quite a cool customer. I don’t generally get very down and if I do it is usually only for a day or so and usually tallies quite nicely with my menstrual cycle. I can stay sane. Easy!
But in 2015, the shit hit the fan. I realised that my relationship was breaking down and that trying to save it was not the right thing to do. You can read about my relationship breakdown here. This is how I felt in 2015:
My ex was an a**e. He was vile. He took my baby out of my arms while I was feeding him to see his mother (Cygnet’s Granny). He said that I was emotional and hormonal and not capable of making decisions. He looked at me with contempt and disdain. He yelled. He slammed his fists on the table in front of me. He would stand outside of my room shouting and another thing, and another thing.
I felt a failure as a person, as a woman, as a fiancée and worst of all as a mother. Accounts of this are in some of my early blog posts. How to stay sane was high on my agenda, but unfortunately not on my list of achievements. I never want to go back there.
Cygnet and I moved into our own flat eventually, but we were sharing a house with my ex for what felt like an eternity (but was actually only four and a half months). It has taken me a long while to rebuild myself, to relight the fire in my belly, just to recognise myself as me again.
I had decided that I was going to get counselling. In fact I wrote a blog post on how I had decided to get counselling to improve my emotional well-being because I was failing to stay sane. I never did. I was advised not to by a friend that if our case ever went to a family court, my counselling would only serve to prove my ex’s point that I was emotional and hormonal. There’s that British ‘stiff upper lip’ again.
I pushed on and gradually things got better. I am really lucky to have the support of my family. They really helped me. My flat began to feel like my own. I like my new area. I have made some good friends. The barrage of angry texts and emails from my ex has slowed down and I have gradually learned how to cope with his demands.
Most of the time things are good now, in fact those of you have read my post about happiness levels after divorce, will know things are more than just good, they are great! But, every so often I am thrust back to and reminded of that dark place.
This week, my ex lingered in the flat for longer than normal when he dropped Cygnet home. He sat down on the sofa and I knew that he wanted something. He asked to have a look in Cygnet’s bedroom. He claimed that he wanted to see what toys Cygnet had so that he didn’t buy the same toy for Cygnet’s forthcoming birthday. I didn’t feel I could say no without an argument. My ex got up and wandered off to Cygnet’s room.
He seemed to be there for an age and eventually I left the lounge where Cygnet was playing to see what my ex was doing. He wasn’t in Cygnet’s room but was in the hall browsing the pictures on the wall. It sounds like nothing, but I was thrust back to those dark times. I felt that my safe place had been invaded again. My ex had come back into it. It felt like he was marking his territory.
This sounds like something and nothing. This sounds like I am exaggerating and being melodramatic. Perhaps I am.
I should have gone to counselling in 2015. I should have sought help. I was extremely anxious. I was a little depressed. I wasn’t able to cope with my ex’s outbursts. I think I would have come out the other end of my low phase more quickly had I had professional help.
Now that things have normalised and I am back on an even keel, I focus a lot on my emotional well-being and I know what my triggers are to stay sane. I have identified my coping mechanisms and I know what to do if I feel a little off kilter. Sleep is really important, as is a bubble bath, a nice meal and treating myself to some Lindt 90% cocoa dark chocolate.
I buy myself a bunch of flowers every week. Although I only spend about £2:50 a week on flowers it feels really extravagant. It is really extravagant – flowers die within five days, but I like looking at them, they make the room look nice and they smell nice. They improve my mood and this is important.
After my ex invaded my flat I needed a walk. I couldn’t have one because Cygnet was in bed and I would obviously never leave him. I sat on my balcony, in the cool dark evening and drank a cup of tea. I sat in silence without my i-phone or laptop. It was restorative. It sounds lonely and morose but that half an hour in the dark silence on my balcony enabled me to re-find the balance that my ex had disrupted.
2015 also taught me the importance of maintaining a sense of perspective to preserve my emotional well-being. A lot of things sucked in 2015. In fact most things sucked in 2015. But Cygnet was awesome. My family were great. Work was okay. So although it felt like my whole life was falling apart, I knew that life wasn’t always tough and not everything was tough. Things had been great in the past, and there were moments of greatness in the present. I could be confident that things would be great again.
They say that keeping a diary is an excellent way to focus and to understand your emotions. I have used my blog as therapy this last year. And what an excellent friend and therapist Pen @thesingleswan has been. I have no doubt that Pen will help me to stay sane in the months and years to come.