Words like ‘mindfulness’ and paraphrases related to positivity and our state of consciousness have become very trendy. Inspirational quotes are splashed across social media platforms, people are tuning into podcasts, attending ‘power of the mind’ seminars. If we’re going Tony Robbins style, then that means walking across hot coals/fire in order to change our perceptions and overcome fear. Some methods are more radical than others!
The cynics and perceptually strong amongst us might scoff at such behaviour and tell us to ‘pull ourselves together and get on with life!’. Others may prey on peoples vulnerability and use mind games to superficially connect, but never the less, we are seeing more self-help books hitting the shelves, the media are exposing subjects associated with mental health and the government are injecting money to help those who are susceptible and vulnerable. In a very positive way people are waking up from the stigma associated with depression and anxiety. Perhaps society is finally accepting that within our progressive and fast paced, modern day world, people still have everyday problems that need addressing. We are told that 1 in 4 people suffer from mental disorders and we are starting to talk about our feelings with each other more openly…even us men!
I found myself at a dinner party recently, sharing my own experiences of dealing with stress and anxiety. Although it felt a little awkward I could see that a certain aspect of what I said resonated with others in the room. I could see that beyond their eyes was an element of understanding. I wasn’t intending to talk about my insecurities or expecting people to stand up and tell me about their deepest, darkest fears and thoughts either. These aren’t the kind of dinner party antics I’m used to. The conversation had just swayed that way and before anyone could say ‘let’s have some port and cheese and talk about Freud’, I was babbling on about stress management and coping mechanisms. Twelve months ago I would never have admitted that stress was affecting my life at all, let alone speak about. So for the purpose of this article I’m going to backpedal a little and tell you how I ended up metaphorically naked in front of our dinner party guests and what made me visit a psychotherapist.
Approximately eight months ago during a conversation with my doctor I revealed some truths about my life and stresses and how they seem to manifest in physical form. He pondered for a moment and then softened his voice as he looked at me with genuine concern. ‘You’re a physically fit man, Chris, which is great…but what about your mental health? Are you taking care of yourself?’
‘Well I use exercise to relieve stress and get rid of my frustrations’ I hesitantly replied, positive that this wasn’t quite the answer he was looking for. And it wasn’t.
‘Exercise is fantastic and definitely keep that up, but is it really dealing with your problems?’ he said in his usual calm and suggestive tone. ‘I think not!’
‘So what do you suggest?’ I replied, half expecting to see the door to fling open and two men appear with fettered chains and a straight jacket.
‘Well, I know this psychotherapist’ he said. ‘She’s really very good and I’d like you to see her’.
I nodded my head in agreement and promised that I would give her a call, despite my reservations. Behind a relatively calm exterior, I had let the world and its problems sit heavily on my shoulders and my coping mechanisms, such as exercise, were not working the way they should. Deep down I knew I had issues that needed addressing.
It took me two weeks to phone the psychotherapist. I’d had one of those days where I thought the world had gone mad, or I had, or both and it left me feeling vulnerable. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t about to throw myself under the next London bus, but it pushed me into making the call. I tried to remain calm about my requirements, but it somehow unnerved me and the conversation was more comparable to a law abiding citizen trying to arrange a drug deal. I was spluttering about appointments and times, already skirting around the inevitable. It turned out that she had some availability (lucky me!), we put a date in the diary and I put down the phone. Easy. Much easier than expected actually and that first little conversation felt like a dark cloud lifting. I was finally doing something about my problems.
I’m not going to entertain you (or bore you) with details about my personal life, but I can say this. I saw my psychotherapist for eight weeks and got some serious stuff off my chest. Every week I would line up in my mind exactly what I wanted to talk about and ended up talking about something entirely different. The process was slow at unravelling, but revealing and interesting and above all, helpful. I became acutely aware of my emotions, what triggered them, how fear controlled aspects of my life and what I could to change my perceptions and behavioural patterns. I became the self-help cliche, reading books about therapy like ‘The Power of Now’ by Eckhart Tolle and ‘The Four Agreements’ by Don Miguel Ruiz, on the way to therapy. I listened, spoke and read continuously and began to understand myself and those around me. Problems didn’t magically dissolve with psychotherapy, but with self-awareness I found some clarity and I now know how the past has shaped my life. My thoughts and anxieties are normal and shared by many. It’s how I deal with situations in the present that count.
What I’ve come to realise is that the mind is very similar to the body in the sense that it needs exercise and the right nutrition (books, communication, having the right people in our life etc) in order for it to stay healthy, function properly and grow strong. I’m sure we have all noticed how negativity breeds negativity, the same way eating and drinking rubbish and not exercising breeds illness and obesity. I would encourage anyone to see a psychotherapist, (counsellor, spiritual healer) whether you consider yourself a sane individual or not. I believe we all have a bit of so-called madness in us. The process of speaking to someone isn’t about judgement, blame or questioning who you are. It is simply about helping you understand yourself, so you can cope with life’s challenges and peer out at the world with the acceptance that it isn’t perfect. It provides perspective, a sense of calm and the knowledge that you can find happiness amongst all the chaos. I plan to go and see my psychotherapist again, without hesitation. Not because I’m desperately unhappy or depressed, but because the way I think affects every other aspect of my life. I want to be happy, be the best possible version of me and not be held back by irrational thoughts that can be controlled with the correct training.
Very best wishes,