This is an incredibly hard post for me to write, not just because its a bit personal but also cause I am reliving some of it and that hurts. However I wanted to share it with you as I think it will help other people understand CBT a bit more and how it helped me through my dark days. I have spoken to a lot of people recently who are suffering mentally and physically and I am getting a lot of people asking how CBT helped me, so here we go…..and this is a Birdseye view!
For quite some time I refused to admit I had a problem with anxiety, then after having a few panic attacks and wobbles I knew I had to do something about it. Yes its lovely talking to family and friends but they are too close, plus I think when you have a vestibular condition they just do not get it. They cannot quite grasp the concept, as its an internal/invisible condition, its very frustrating for all parties! So really talking to someone who is impartial, not judgemental and who is trained to listen is the best way forward and fundamental for recovery.
I was referred for CBT by my GP, luckily it was local to me in Guildford, although as my anxiety was so bad back then I had to be dropped off at the door by family. My first session was interesting to say the least, I think I spent most of the hour crying! I think I had kept so much in for so long, it was a big release to get it all out. Before my first session I was adamant I was going to be strong and not shed a tear, that completely went out the window!
My therapist has a calm demeanor, an instantly likeable character, someone who puts you at ease straight away. Clearly I was very comfortable in her presence as I do not freely cry in front of anyone apart from my mother and husband! I did surprise myself by doing so! The future sessions became less crying and more talking, I would go every week without fail, as I thought consistency would be key and I was so right.
She used a number of techniques with me. As an artist by trade, it was only natural that I used this for art therapy. She got me to draw/paint a picture after my first session of how I was feeling at that particular time, which I took into show her in session 2. It was frightening, in fact I have not looked at that painting since! It has been filed away for some time, but thanks to technology I have found it on my laptop! Below is the picture. This is incredibly difficult for me to share but feel some of you with this condition will understand it.
I will try and describe what is going on in the picture. At the time I felt my conditions consumed me, suffocated me, it was ME. I am the bright glowing core in the middle (the OLD me was the confident, outgoing lala that everyone knew), there are bits of me trying to get out eg the bits of colour coming from the centre (top right). I am trying to escape through the dizzy dark tornado. The black/dark brown surround signified depression and anxiety and my conditions, my dark days. The swirling pattern was my dizziness and vertigo. I was trapped with no easy escape.
Every week we would chat through all aspects of my life, I will not divulge it on here as that is really going too deep! It took me quite a few sessions not to cry, I think most of them I did cry but as my therapist said, eyes need to be washed by our tears, so that we can see clearly again. Every other week I would draw a new painting, as time went on they would get brighter and clearer, by the end of my time with her, I painted a rainbow! That painting had no dark bits in it at all! Unfortunately I did not take photos of those paintings only the first one. I also went from wearing black all the time, to wearing very vibrant clothes and jewellery. The transformation in me was amazing and something which was lovely for my husband to watch.
I still had my condition but I felt better inside, I had accepted it, I had given myself permission to. She also taught me how to deal with my anxiety better, I gave it a name so I could differentiate it from myself, I could actually tell it to GO AWAY! She taught me how to detach the anxiety from me, so it is not ME, so people did not see a walking anxiety mess, they saw ME. She taught me how to take the anxiety and shut it in an imaginary jar when it kicked in. I even had an imaginary key to unlock the ball and chain around my leg (the anxiety attached to me) and kick the ball of anxiety away. Even to this day, I use this technique if I feel it coming on. I sometimes wear an elastic band or a more fashionable hairband and pull it and ping it back on my skin, this centres me, this brings me back to the moment, back to real life. The same way as I use essential oils and hot stones or cold compress to centre me, it works!
Having a vestibular condition can sometimes feel like an outer body experience, like your world is skewed. Especially if you get Aura as part of your condition like mine. So the techniques she has left me with, I can use for life. My anxiety is a lot better then it used to be thanks to CBT, I still have wobbly days. Some days I wake up with a jittery feeling but it is normally due to me having a bad dizzy day. I know on those types of days I need to do more mindfulness, maybe double up on my sessions eg headspace for 10 minutes and mindful pilates too.
CBT is a lot more then what I have shared above….there were other techniques that were very life changing but again they are too deep to go in to. What works for some people might not necessarily work for others, but what I will say is CBT is something worth trying. It is not a last resort, it is something that should be implemented very early on or as soon as possible. For me it was fundamental to my recovery and it taught me a lot about myself too. It made me realise, although a pretty confident and outgoing person, I was hurting inside and actually quite a vulnerable person.
If you are thinking about doing CBT, then clearly you need it, do not spend too long thinking about it, I wish I had started it earlier but I am glad I actually did it at least. I often pop back to my therapist if I get off the right track, she puts me back on and off I go again.
I would love to hear from anyone who has tried CBT and if it has helped you and also if you are thinking of trying it please get in touch.