It has been five years since I lay curled up on the floor of the girl’s toilet at school. I didn’t remember someone bursting into my cubicle and begin to stab at my chest but there it was, the pain that sees normal take a nosedive into the toilet and drown a slow and painful death. My lips were numb, my breathing heavy and help, a word that should only have one syllable but now had twenty, was choking me in the back of my throat. It has been five years since my parents urged me to meet with a psychotherapist and I finally said yes.
It wasn’t long before I was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety and my therapist advised that I should be taken out of school for the rest of that year. I think that it is important to highlight here that I was incredibly privileged to have the funds to access private therapy. For far too many, the only option is to proceed through the NHS. Here, they can be waiting up to six weeks for an initial assessment and a further eighteen weeks until their first treatment. In some cases, therapy may not be an option at all.
However, what I have come to realise is that this is not the be-all and end-all. Of course, everyone is different but for me, talking therapies (such as CBT) were a short-term fix. Yes, the therapeutic practices I were introduced to were useful and freeing. I became a detective for my past which enabled me to trace back to the source of suffering. However, what I realise now is that it can only get you so far. You can work as much as you like out on paper, but at some point, you are going to need to feel how it works for yourself. In other words, talking therapy didn’t cure my depression, it just allowed me to see why it was there.
‘talking therapy didn’t cure my depression, it just allowed me to see why it was there’Beth Pratt
I confess that five years on, I do miss the gigantic box of tissues that sat beside me during every session and the verbal massage my therapist’s soft voice provided. Of course, there was the post-session freshly squeezed orange juice or warm gooey brownie from the deli down the road to allow my tear-stained face to dry before I entered back into the real world. But looking back on it all now, I realise that the nerves that I seemed to face before each session were really there because I was trying to come up with something juicy enough to tell my therapist. There are only so many times you can say “I feel like shit, I don’t feel joy when I look at my dogs (I mean come on, that is when you know you are not okay), I have no energy or motivation to do anything… And, oh yeah, at times life doesn’t feel worth living and I’m thinking about ending it.” Inevitabley, we parted ways.
I started at a new college in the city and A-Levels took over. It was coming up to three years since I had first been diagnosed, yet as life continued and the trauma of the past dissipated, I still couldn’t seem to flee the grappling hands of depression. In hindsight, it was a mistake to continue straight onto university a year later while my mental health was still an issue. I had succumbed to the university highlight reels exposed to me through social media which did little to prepare me for the culture shock of university… your time as a student are the best years of your life, right? Years of hiding my illness from people had left me unable to understand myself and it was only after I dropped out that I realised I only knew how to be lonely rather than alone. Inevitably, I relapsed as I was plunged into a new world of solitude back at home.
What I have come to realise is that solitude is something that has to be refined, developed and created. Taking a year out provided me with time to reflect on what I value and how I can be more intentional with my everyday life. I broke free from patterns that no longer served me and was finally given permission to pause and reflect. I soon discovered alternative therapies such as physical therapy and spiritual therapy which were the real game changers for me and didn’t rely on a £80 per session therapist to do the work.
Information is power
Ultimately, the media we consume should be nourishing and the content we choose to follow should help and not hinder. Cultivating a mindful practice of active content consumption has enabled me to, amongst the chaos, make space for gentleness, compassion, understanding and love. During my time at home, I turned to books and podcasts. I learnt about my hormones and the science behind nature, exercise and sleep which soon granted me the motivation to change those aspects of my life for the better. I deleted social media apps that related to past experiences that I no longer wanted to be associated with and ensured that I just had the phone numbers of everyone that I loved and I knew loved me back. I unfollowed people who I didn’t care about but most importantly I knew didn’t care about me and recognised followers that triggered me to fall into unhealthy comparison patterns and removed them from my feed. Now, whenever I am about to post something, I ask myself whether I feel it important to share. If instead, it is in search of pride or approval, I take the time to validate myself instead because when we recognise our worth, we won’t feel the need to prove it.
Rise and shine
Establishing a morning routine has been imperative to sustaining my mood since our bodies thrive around regularity. There is an intimate relationship between sleep and mental health because a good nights sleep provides you with overnight emotional therapy that shaves off our sharp emotional edges. Therefore, I wake up at the same time each morning to anchor my sleep and improve the quality and quantity of it. I read for twenty to thirty minutes and then I meditate. Meditation is something that is so simple but utterly transformative. I have been able to achieve peace by taking deep, intentional breaths to provide an immediate sense of calm. My breath has become a comforting companion in moments of fear and continues to encourage me to be mindful of the present when the time feels as if it is rushing by. Reading has helped me to de-stress. It slows my heartbeat and eases muscle tension and as I have gently made my way through a variety of books, I have seen a positive change in my state of mind. Journaling continues to provide that refuge for me because whenever I feel a thought or feeling begin to eat away inside of me, I immediately write it down before it evolves into something more damaging. It sounds vague but is so effective in ironing out the creases in our brain.
‘I had been living the lie that once I moved schools I would be happier, once I went to college I would be more confident, once I got a boyfriend I would love myself.’Beth Pratt
However, the pinnacle of my recovery began with realising the fault in my mentality. I had been living the lie that once I moved schools I would be happier, once I went to college I would be more confident, once I got a boyfriend I would love myself. I had relied on these things to heal the hole in my heart because the internal conflict had always been that first I have to fix my broken self in order to feel fully happy again and be appreciated by others (I think that undertaking psychotherapy can sometimes give you this attitude). I had been postponing acceptance until there was a certain improvement. Yet, once I began focusing on my wellbeing I suddenly felt warm and whole and finally came the only validation that mattered because it was from me.
I am continually trusting my intuition and reaching out to those who I feel randomly connected to because you never know what someone has experienced and how that means they can help you. My friends continue to be a constant reminder that when it seems you may never find love, you actually already have an abundance of it by your side. Right now, at this moment, I am thinking about moving towards positive things rather than away from negative things and always remembering that my achievements haven’t gone anywhere and so I am just as worthy of being celebrated today as I was yesterday.
In my darkest moments, life didn’t feel worth living because I didn’t know how I was going to get out of a rut. When endless doctor appointments discussing contraceptive pills, blood tests and anti-depressants seemed like my only hope, I wish someone had been there to tell me to sleep, drink water, run and to meditate to exercise my mind and soul. Now that these spiritual and physical practices are a part of my lifestyle, life feels more exciting than ever. Depression is still a part of me that I have to tend to now and then, but it is no longer ruling my life.