Therapy. Just the word by itself is enough to bring forth a wealth of stigmatisations, beliefs passed from elder generations, whose mental health care was admittedly pretty abysmal. I myself have heard many a horror story about therapy, psychiatrists and the care offered to people with mental health issues, I even know of people who find it shameful to seek help for mental health problems. When I was first offered therapy I was not even convinced that it could help me at all; In fact, I was not even certain I needed it. But I had no idea just what therapy entailed and I doubt many other people do either.
Cognitive behavioural therapy is often offered to people with Bipolar disorder, it is apparently proven to be very affective in the management of the condition. After being told by my psychiatrist (who deals with diagnosis and medication – not therapy) I was on the waiting list for CBT I spent a lot of time researching it, as I do with most things, in this case however knowledge was not power, the therapy I received bore no comparison to the idea of CBT I had gleaned from my research and I would never have imagined just how it would affect me.
I was desperate to quit therapy in the beginning, I sought help in the form of a cure, a quick fix, a new me, new life and instead I discovered a lot of hard work, gruelling management and perhaps most importantly and harder to face, I found a little slice of me. It was all incredibly overwhelming, I went in believing I had depression and came out with a mood disorder, an anxiety disorder and a lot of medication! It would have been so easy to give up in those first five or six weeks, my moods were more erratic than normal, I felt frighteningly out of control, I couldn’t fathom what I was getting out of sitting in a room for an hour once a week talking and filling out endless mood charts. It would have felt right to have walked away, I felt it was making me worse rather than better, I wouldn’t have blamed myself for quitting. I think perhaps the turn-around moment was when I finally accepted that there is no magic fix – I had two choices work hard and manage this illness or continue along the path of erratic moods and a life that was heading towards another psychotic break, which perhaps I would not come back from. I realised that for therapy to work, I had to work and I had to want to be better.
From the very start of my therapy I made a conscious decision to go in with as open a mind as possible and a loose tongue; I told the absolute truth, no matter how cringingly embarrassing it felt which was incredibly liberating. It had taken me a long time to get to the point of seeking so much help and so in my view it would have been a wasted effort if I had told her any less than absolutely everything whether relevant or not.
Now, I am coming to the end of my CBT and I will miss it terribly; it was a lifeline, it was like having a friend that knows all of your deep dark secrets and accepts you anyway, like having someone know you so thoroughly and just understanding, just getting it. It confronted the darkest parts of me and in some cases explained them; the more I learnt about my Bipolar the more my past, my life and my many mistakes made perfect sense. It was a jigsaw that only knowledge could complete and with knowledge came acceptance, eventually (still working on it!!). Therapy absolutely can’t solve your problems but it can, to some degree, explain how and why they have become problems in the first place.
Therapy can seem like such an abstract thing and so can Bipolar at times, it is an illness that can be so different from person to person that it is hard to say whether therapy would work as well for everyone as it has for me, all I can say is that it has helped me beat some pretty in-grained demons, it has helped me overcome some of my obstacles and the management techniques I have learned will help me continue to deal with my symptoms. I have learned so much about myself, the things I like, dislike, what makes me happy or sad; what triggers a certain mood, what I do within certain moods and why. Therapy has been invaluable to me.
Most importantly, therapy has given me the confidence (and shown me that I have the power) to manage my life. I do not need to live ruled by my illness but I do need to confront it, embrace it and be upfront about it.