Monday 5 February 2018

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT): My Story

I've debated whether to write this post for a long time, but it feels like the right time to open up and write something a little more personal than my usual posts.

In February 2017, I finished a course of 6 sessions of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). When I say this, my immediate worry is what people will think. Will people think I'm depressed or 'crazy'? When in actual fact, I just worry too much, particularly about problems that don't actually exist. I wanted to talk to someone about it to work out the best way to have more control over my thoughts.
Awareness for mental health is ever increasing and although my story is small on the grand scale of things, I thought it was important to share it. I'm writing this blog post because I'm constantly hearing about people who feel exactly as I did and I can't recommend CBT enough. I, like most people I imagine, just thought 'well, that's the way my brain works and that's that' - I didn't realise something could be done about it. I was always saying 'I'm such a worrier' and 'I overthink everything' just assuming it's totally normal and something I just had to deal with.

Then I realised, it really really wasn't.

(I will say now, I am not a medical professional, but this is what I have learnt from my experience. Please talk to your doctor for proper medical advice and support.)

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is most commonly used to treat anxiety and depression, but can be useful for many other mental and physical health problems.

It was a healthcare professional that recommended it to me, after chatting very honestly with her about how much I worry about things. She was kind, caring and said she felt like CBT was something that could really help boost my confidence and change my thought processes. I booked in with my doctor, discussed it with her and as I was also struggling with digestive health (which can be linked with anxiety/stress) she agreed it would be beneficial for me. She then told me it was free on the NHS and to my surprise, I could refer myself.

I was recommended ThinkAction. I called up and had to answer some questions and talk to a therapist so they could assess me and see if CBT would be the right fit for me. I had to talk through how I felt, as honestly as possible and the therapist agreed it would help me and booked me in for my first appointment, which at that point was to take place over the phone, rather than face to face. I had to fill in a questionnaire via email 24hours before each session to update them on how I'd been feeling.

The questionnaire gives them two readings - one for anxiety and one for low mood. It wasn't until I took my first questionnaire I realised quite how many boxes I could confidently (and quite upsettingly) tick. It asked about things I didn't even realise were negative, unnecessary thoughts that I didn't need to be having, but always put up with because 'that's just me'.

I would worry about everything. Talking on the phone, replying to an email, driving on the motorway, driving somewhere I didn't know, someone not replying to a message, plans changing, feeling inexperienced, job applications - big things, little things, things that haven't even happened yet - you name it, I've worried about it.

I was also experiencing low mood at the time, not depression, but I was unmotivated, uninspired, down and very easily upset over small things. It was the first result of the questionnaire that flagged this up actually, which I couldn't be more grateful for, as I didn't realise what I was slipping into.

For completely personal reasons, I choose not to call my worrying 'anxiety'. If I'm getting technical, it is a form of anxiety, but in my head, if I called it 'anxiety' I would have something to blame, a disorder to fall back on and I knew I would use it as an excuse, because that seemed easier than tackling it head on. So by not giving it a name, it couldn't win and it felt easier to beat.

Although I would put myself through the stress of worrying, the majority of the time, it didn't stop me from actually going through with the task at hand. I was not anxious about social situations, face to face meetings, interviews or parties/gatherings, however the thought of making a phone call would send my heart racing and mind spinning, but I'd still make than damn phone call eventually, sky high heart rate aside. Likewise with performing on stage, get me to sing in front of 200 people and I could do it and just experience very normal nerves, not performance anxiety. For this reason, I think people are quite shocked when I say I've had CBT. I can come across quite confident, but the people closest to me know the lack of confidence and overthinking that goes on behind the scenes.

'Georgia is so lovely and hard working, but I wish she had more confidence in herself'
 said every teacher, at every parents evening, ever. It's always held me back and every single one of my worries, is actually half a lack of confidence in myself and my abilities. Although CBT doesn't tackle this directly, I was offered classes that could help and I have worked on this myself over the past year and I have made a lot of progress.
My first two sessions took place over the phone, as I was told the waiting list for 'face to face' was quite long. After my second session I realised talking on the phone was not working for me. I was trying to hold myself together and it was not going to work if I wasn't a true, raw and honest version of myself. If I spoke to my mum about how I felt, I'd end up with a headache and red eyes from crying, but on the phone I was composing polished answers and avoiding awkward moments. My therapist said it was completely fine and the waiting list wasn't as long as expected, I waited just two weeks and had my first face-to-face session, which was a lot more beneficial for me.

There is homework to be done, the therapists as helpful as they are, can only tell you the best way of dealing with your thoughts, they can't do it for you. You have to be willing to put the time in and want to make positive changes for it to work. They will give you multiple ways to help, with lots of helpful diagrams and leaflets and you will eventually find one that works for you. Some techniques worked for me, others didn't and in the end I had three techniques that I focused on and still do to this day.

The biggest thing for me what realising that 80% of the things I worry about are hypothetical thoughts. They haven't even happened, might not ever happen and I'm sitting there fretting about it, from tiny worries to absolute worst case scenario. It's the most time wasting and exhausting thought process because there is no solution... the problem doesn't actually exist! Through a method of thinking about best-case scenario and worst-case scenario and how unlikely both of them would be, I'm able to manage these thoughts a lot better.

I won't go into the techniques that helped me (we'll be here forever!) maybe I can elaborate on those another day, but I wanted to write this to talk about CBT and recommend it to anyone who feels the same.

It's now exactly a year since I finished my course of CBT and I am so thankful it was recommended to me. Although I don't write down my negative thoughts or worries like I did during the course, I have so much more awareness of how my mind works and it's noticing these patterns that means you're able to make changes. I notice positive patterns and negative ones. I still worry about things, but a lot less than before! Reminding myself what I have achieved and overcome has been very helpful and I always have the techniques I learnt from ThinkAction in the back of my mind. I still have moments where I get frustrated and upset over very small things and I usually end up snapping at my family - which looking back, I used to do a lot. It's generally when I feel like something is out of my control and I feel overwhelmed. But this is so much less frequent and I generally know how to deal with those moments - and quickly apologise if I took it out on anyone, thankfully my family are so understanding and always supportive. (Funnily enough, I've found listening to Harry Style's album from start to finish perfect for when I feel like this. It's got enough punchy songs to get my frustration out and enough sweet songs to calm me down. I mean, I'm not sure this was his intention, but thanks anyway Haz)

I had a bit of a dip at the end of last year, where I felt low mood creeping back in and stress about lack of motivation and not achieving enough that year took over - I talk about this a little in my blog post about 2017. My Birthday and Christmas was a distraction (of the best and most festive kind) and a time to get myself back into gear, to move forward from that feeling in the new year - and I most certainly have! I feel motivated, positive and I've had a complete shift in attitude. I still worry and lack confidence at times, but as time goes on I get to know my complicated brain that little bit more.
Talk to your Doctor if you are worried, they are there to help. Here are some helplines you might find useful:

ThinkAction -

Anxiety UK -

Phone: 08444 775 774 (Monday - Friday 9:30am- 5:30pm)

Mind -
0300 123 3393 (Monday - Friday 9am-6pm)

NHS Website - Links and numbers for Mental Health Helplines

Our minds are incredibly complicated and fascinating things, sometimes we can control them and other times, we can't. But just know, if you are suffering with mental health, you are not alone. You are not 'crazy' and people will understand what you are going through. Don't be afraid to talk to someone, be it a family member, a best friend or a stranger at the end of a safe phone call.
As cliché as it sounds, there's always a light at the end of the tunnel and having someone help you find it can only make it brighter.


It's hard to talk about this topic in a concise way, it was a difficult one to write, but if it helps just one person, sharing my story was worth it.


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