How to stay sane when you can’t afford therapy

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:

stay sane

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: 

stay sane

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.   

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Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday


  1. August 24, 2016 / 1:29 am

    I also use my blog as therapy — with insurance and medical costs, like you said, who could afford it? I am happy you are doing better and I hope for everyone, that we all can afford therapy someday. Especially when needed, and we all need it!! #fartglitter #mg
    Lisa Pomerantz recently posted…You gotta have heartMy Profile

    • thesingleswan
      August 24, 2016 / 9:07 pm

      Hi Lisa,

      I am glad that you agree. I am also glad that I am not the only one who uses her blog as therapy. I always feel a little sorry for my readers.

      Pen x

  2. August 25, 2016 / 2:46 am

    I can totally relate to thats sense of feeling invaded, it is such a violation after all you have been through of course you would feel that way! My blog is my therapy too, but I did also seek therapy, not soon enough, but I did. And I probably still should be but I am not. Your post really touched me! My dad is from Britain and he and his family have that stiff upper lip, but a few years ago it got so bad for him and he couldn’t function. I forced him to get help. He still never really opened up to his therapist but he atlases began opening up to me. Then when I went through my struggles he was my biggest support which was not how it was during my childhood he always worked multiple jobs and was not around a lot and always seemed so strong. But somehow this was our thing something only him and I understood. Therapy is amazing, but the key is to find the right person and also let go and allow yourself to be vulnerable. I am very honest with my blogging but some things I hold back because too many people know its me (like other school mums) it’s hard to talk about my past abusive relationship and how I was beaten, belittled, controlled, raped and stalked for years after it was over (well for me it was over). Take care of yourself and remember that if you need help don’t be afraid to seek it, you deserve to be free! #mg
    Mackenzie Glanville recently posted…the thing about life is we can’t control it #mgMy Profile

    • thesingleswan
      August 27, 2016 / 9:52 am

      Mac, thank you for such a long comment. You are really strong and thank you for sharing your story. The British stiff upper lip is a dangerous thing. There are so many people out there who have been through something terrible and often similar to the person next to them. We can help each other but the British stiff upper lip often means we suffer each of us on our own and in silence. Thank you for your comment Pen x

  3. August 25, 2016 / 2:28 pm

    You’ve got it spot on when you describe the “stiff upper lip” approach that we Brits seem to have towards therapy of any type. I went through a tough spell of post natal anxiety with my first and I opted for therapy over medication. It really helped, although I felt like I needed to keep it to my immediate family and friends for fear of being judged and that is wrong. Most of us go and get our teeth checked every few months, but yet taking care of our mental health is still often looked at like a weakness. The idea that having therapy could reflect on your abilities as a Mum is horrifying – but I can see why that thought would come into your mind. I applaud your honesty and bravery for telling your story and I’m so pleased that your blog gives you the outlet that you have needed to heal. Blogging can be so therapeutic can’t it? It feels like writing a letter to the universe sometimes. Thanks so much for linking with #fartglitter x

    • thesingleswan
      August 27, 2016 / 9:44 am


      thanks so much for your comment. I appreciate it. It can feel like writing a letter to the universe, but I am not sure that the universe reads. Loads of love Pen x

  4. August 25, 2016 / 5:33 pm

    I think writing your feelings down is a great form of therapy, and doing it in the public domain has the added benefit of perhaps helping others in a similar place.
    I’m sort of half way on the therapy thing – I think it has it’s place and can be a hugely valuable tool, although I do think in the US people use it as a sort of fashion accessory – everyone seems to have a therapist!
    I think in your case, the fact that you picked yourself up and dusted yourself off is something to be extremely proud of – with or without therapy!
    Thanks for linking up to #AnythingGoes 🙂
    Random Musings recently posted…How To Write Fiction In Any GenreMy Profile

    • thesingleswan
      August 27, 2016 / 9:35 am

      Hi Debbie,

      that is such a lovely thing to say. Thanks very much for your comment. Pen x

  5. August 25, 2016 / 7:59 pm

    I think I told you that I had counselling and it was what kind of gave me the courage and the confidence to leave my emotionally abusive relationship. So yes – I feel it was a hugely positive step in my journey. I am now on the brink of moving back to our home town on my own with the boys and I’m worried that the ex will start turning up on our doorstep and inviting himself in to nose around. It’s tricky to set the boundaries isn’t it, when children are involved. I might mention non- molestation orders if he keeps turning up uninvited… I think my 2016 is basically your 2015! X
    Sam recently posted…The Truth about… #86My Profile

    • thesingleswan
      August 27, 2016 / 9:33 am

      Hi Sam, Yes, you did tell me that you had counselling and I agree it was a hugely positive step. Good luck when you move. I am sure things will be great for the three of you. Not long now. Just hang on in there. On a positive note, my 2016 is sooo much better than my 2015. You only have a few months to go. Loads of love and hope to see you soon. Pen x

  6. August 29, 2016 / 10:58 am

    It’s so true that we have the stiff upper lip approach. Therapy seems to be some kind of embarrassing thing over here. My mum went for counselling a while after my dad died when she was struggling with it all a bit and it really helped her. I am glad that you have come through the worst but a bit rubbish that your ex can still have that effect on you. Thanks for linking up with #TwinklyTuesday

    • thesingleswan
      August 29, 2016 / 8:27 pm

      Hi Lisa,

      thank you for your comment. I appreciate it. Pen x

  7. September 3, 2016 / 9:24 pm

    You’re absolutely spot on about Americans having a healthier attitude towards therapy. There’s still such a stigma in the UK about mental health and asking for help, it’s such a damaging taboo. Sorry to hear about your ex invading your safe space, it sounds like you’re well rid of him. #KCACOLS

    • thesingleswan
      September 4, 2016 / 8:36 pm

      I am indeed well rid of him and he often reminds me of the fact! Pen x

  8. September 3, 2016 / 9:55 pm

    I think a lot of us use our blogs as therapy – to clarify our ideas without boring our friends to death. I think counselling is good, to get our thinking in order. I have teens and I go to any talk offered by the school (on mental health, addicition, internet, mood disorders – anything at all, even if they aren’t relevant to me. Because one thing I’ve learnt is you don’t know you have a problem until it already is a problem, So i figure it’s better to be prepared so you know what to do should the need arise. Ironically I find myself able to dole out advice (screenshots I’ve taken of notes on a talk) to friends who didn’t go but now need help. Anyway, the point of all that, is we’re all a little more flawed than we realise, and we’re sometimes a little broken when from the outside, we seem fine. And the best bit, we don’t need to be. We could all be Kanye if we put our minds to it (and I mean that in the good way of great self esteem and confidence) #KCACOLS
    Lydia C. Lee recently posted…‘Don’t let people drive you crazy when you know it’s in walking distance.’ UnknownMy Profile

    • thesingleswan
      September 4, 2016 / 8:36 pm

      Hi Lydia,

      thanks for your comment. I love your comment ‘we are all a little more flawed than we realise’. It is so very true. We think that we are coping and doing just fine and then bam something comes along and knocks us sideways and we realise how fragile were our foundations. Thanks pen x

  9. September 4, 2016 / 7:25 pm

    I absolutely believe in blogging as therapy. With a baby who never slept more than 45 minutes at a time it really helped me. I am glad to hear you are out the other side . Thanks so much for linking up at #KCACOLS. Hope you come back again next Sunday
    Fran – Whinge Whinge Wine recently posted…Merry sodding ChristmasMy Profile

    • thesingleswan
      September 4, 2016 / 8:25 pm

      Fran, I take my hat off to you for finding the time to blog with a baby who never slept more than 45 minutes. Well done. Pen x

  10. September 4, 2016 / 7:41 pm

    I agree with you when you say the people in Britain should embrace therapy, it’s one of the few things that I, wholeheartedly, agree that the US does well.
    Your story pulled at my heartstrings because it reminded me a lot about the relationship between my parents. The best thing they did, was to divorce.
    It’s great to see that you are finding yourself in a happy place and moving on. You are a true example to your child. #KCACOLS
    Alex Fihema recently posted…An ode to all mothers, but mainly, the mother of my children!My Profile

    • thesingleswan
      September 4, 2016 / 8:24 pm

      Thank you Alex. This was a lovely comment to read. I appreciate it. Pen x

  11. September 4, 2016 / 10:50 pm

    This was such a nice read because it has a happy ending. Well done you for seeking the help. We all need it at some point, some sooner than others. I have suffered with panic attacks and anxiety since I was 13 and I am on medication for it and currently awaiting therapy. We all need to make the right choices for our own health 🙂 You’re doing great #KCACOLS

    • thesingleswan
      September 5, 2016 / 8:06 pm

      Thank you. I am sorry to hear about the anxiety and panic attacks, but I am really glad that you are seeking therapy. Well done. In a British society seeking therapy is a brave and strong thing to do. Good luck. pen x

  12. September 5, 2016 / 4:57 pm

    this is such a great post, thank you for sharing. I wish id found blogging sooner as a form of therapy. it really helps to write things down. I know what you mean too re perspective. something id lost in 2013 when the little man was born. #KCACOLS

    • thesingleswan
      September 5, 2016 / 8:04 pm


      Thanks for your comment. Yes, there is nothing like becoming a parent for turning your world upside down, making you lose your sense of perspective, and then when things settle down again, you find that your perspective is totally different. Pen x

  13. September 5, 2016 / 6:57 pm

    I suspect counselling would help, it couldn’t hurt asking a GP about it. I think you are right though, more of us need to loose this “stiff upper lip”. I’m extremely guilty of it, if something upsets me deeply, really rattles me, I become very withdrawn, quite and nervous anxiety creeps in. Knowing your own coping mechanisms is a really hard thing to find sometimes. Well done you, I hope you are coming out the other side if all this stuff with your ex.
    Winnettes recently posted…Second Child SyndromeMy Profile

    • thesingleswan
      September 5, 2016 / 8:02 pm


      Yes, I agree, I have exactly the same reaction. I withdraw into myself and my blog is my only real outlet some of the time. Thanks for your comment. Pen x

  14. September 5, 2016 / 10:07 pm

    This is a really great honest post. I totally agree with you about that therapy is a good thing. Also that blogging is a pretty good alternative if you can’t pay for the real thing! I didn’t realise how therapeutic my blog would be before I started. It sounds like you have had an extremely tough time and are coping really well. I hope things keep getting better for you. #KCACOLS
    The Mum Reviews recently posted…Have a baby, keep your job: Tips for standing up for your maternity rights at workMy Profile

    • thesingleswan
      September 6, 2016 / 8:32 pm


      thanks so much for your comment. Looking at the comments on this post, I would suggest that there are quite a few of us who use their blog as a form for therapy. thank goodness for wordpress hey? thanks again. Pen x

  15. September 6, 2016 / 1:09 pm

    Great Post Pen. I think we all get times where we stumble as you describe. I think it is often our own thoughts and actions that get us back to where we need to be. I think our inner strength can be remarkable when it needs to be. It’s also useful for us all to see posts like this on days when we may be having a bit of a moment. Thank you for sharing #KCACOLS
    Nicky Kentisbeer recently posted…Up On The Roof (Loft Conversion)My Profile

    • thesingleswan
      September 6, 2016 / 8:25 pm

      Hi Nicky,

      thanks very much for your comment. Yes, you are right, we all stumble at times and we all need the tools to be able to recognise how to help ourselves back up again. Pen x

  16. September 7, 2016 / 9:07 pm

    It took me a while to admit just how hard I was finding things earlier this year after my dad passed away. But like you I had great family and friends who helped me through it. I didn’t have counselling as I felt I would have been wasting someones time, but now I can look at it clearly maybe a little grief counselling would have been good.

    • thesingleswan
      September 8, 2016 / 8:35 pm

      I am so sorry to hear about your Dad. That sounds so tremendously tough. I am really close to both of my parents and can only imagine how difficult things must be. Take care of yourself. Pen x

  17. September 8, 2016 / 12:20 pm

    I definitely agree that the US has seemed to embrace the idea of therapy, and getting some help. My younger sister required some in-patient therapy at one point, and all of her friends were so supportive, it was really sweet. I think it’s so good that you’re finding little ways to make yourself happy, you’re teaching your son that YOUR happiness is important too. This will teach him to prioritize his. I really honestly had no idea how therapeutic blogging could be until I started doing it. Thanks for sharing <3 #KCACOLS

    • thesingleswan
      September 8, 2016 / 8:32 pm

      Hi Savannah,

      thanks for your comment. I am glad that your sister’s friends were so supportive. It’s really important. Pen x

  18. September 10, 2016 / 8:05 am

    It’s important to do whatever you feel you need to do to be happy. Listening to music has always helped me reset myself but I definitely also get a lot of enjoyment from writing. Sorry to hear about the tough time you went through. #KCACOLS

    • thesingleswan
      September 10, 2016 / 7:27 pm

      HI James,

      Thank you! Awesome name by the way – James Hopes. Pen x

  19. September 10, 2016 / 6:26 pm

    Considering there is no health service in the US I really don’t know how they all afford therapy.

    It is something that needs to be looked at. I’m sure in the long run that it would save the NHS money!

    Its great that you can use your blog as therapy.

    Alan Herbert recently posted…My Sunday Photo 7My Profile

    • thesingleswan
      September 10, 2016 / 7:27 pm

      Hi Alan,

      thanks for your comment. Pen x

  20. September 10, 2016 / 8:07 pm

    Excellent post. Counselling does have a bad rep and in some cases its down to crap counsellors. I’ve noticed that even the good ones have that same head tilt and tone of voice! I found it helpful to work things through.

    I’m interested / disturbed by the suggestion that counselling would be used against you in court. My limited experience of civil law has been that there is an expectation that parties should seek to mitigate their loss or seek to resolve problems outside of court. Counselling (as a voluntary move) I would have thought would be seen as a sign of strength rather than emotional weakness.


    • thesingleswan
      September 10, 2016 / 11:22 pm


      thanks for your comment. I agree that counselling should be seen as a sign of strength rather than emotional weakness. I am not sure that everyone would see it like that though unfortunately. thanks for your comment. Pen x

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