Sunday, 17 May 2015

I'm not the kind of person that goes to a Psychologist. Repeatedly.

I didn't really mean to in the first place.

In October last year I was sucked into the End Of Year Rush.  I'd taken on far too much work.  I'd done it before.  Repeatedly.  Sandra, my business partner (and one of my best friends), warned me that I was stretching myself dangerously far and was going to snap, but I guess you don't have any concept of your limits until you are faced with them.

Unsurprisingly, I got sick. The doctor, a new GP I was seeing, confirmed I had a sinus infection and asked if there was anything else bothering me.  Feeling a little like I may be overreacting, I mentioned that, recently, I kept feeling like there was a wind stuck in my chest when I went to sleep.  This was causing me to wake up feeling panicky, just after I fell asleep, often triggering a nightmare (more like a night terror) that I would to die if I breathed in or swallowed.

The doc reacted with a lot more interest than I had expected him to.

Him: How long has this been going on for?
Me: About three or four months now.  But (trying to downplay it all) I have always had nightmares.  My whole life.  Spider nightmares mainly.  You see?  Nothing to worry about.  My mom used to have spider nightmares too, it's probably just a genetic predisposition, right?
Him: Let's just worry about you for now.  Do you wake up just once, or more than once in the night?
Me: More than once.  Maybe four to five times on a bad night.  But I have episodes.  It goes away.
Him: And how long do these episodes last?
Me: Probably two to three months at a time.
Him: How many of these episodes do you have in a year?
Me (realisation setting in): Probably two to three
Him: And for how many years has this been going on?
Me (starting to feel somewhat embarrassed): Um, probably for the last six to seven years?  Maybe longer?

What I did not tell the doc is that going to sleep had become an ordeal.  Something I had come to fear.  Several times a night I woke up, fighting breathing in, convinced I would die if I did, and on occasion would resign myself to having already died, panicking about what Alistair was going to do when he woke to find me lying dead in the bed next to him.  Absolutely terrifying - pounding heart, shaking like a leaf, sweating - night after night.  I suppose I did not want to sound melodramatic.

The doctor smiled.  So are you telling me, that for the past six to seven years, you've spent up to nine months of each year not being able to sleep through?  Often causing you significant distress?

Imagine how completely stupid I felt, having always believed myself to possess a healthy level of self-awareness.  Apparently not.

The doctor suggested that the level of reflux setting off these nightmares was as a result of something that was subconsciously bothering me.  I figured that it was mostly likely just a case of PTSD from two unpleasant cycling accidents, seeing that I still had flashbacks and had not been able to climb on my bike in over a year.

That was the first time I was wrong.  The first of many times.

The Psychologist at the practice was recommended.


The word was foreign in my mouth and sat awkwardly on my tongue.  I am a verbal person and what I have noticed is that, when I struggle to identify with a concept, I struggle with the vocabulary.  Like when my dad had Cancer.  And, as I would later experience, the words Anxiety;  Disorder;  Depression; Anti-depressants.  Instead, I preferred the word Therapist.  Much less nut-job, far more easy to admit to.

I walked into the reception that Friday for my appointment.   I mumbled, I am here for Karolyn, the Psychologist.  I very nearly said, "Oh, but it's just because I can't sleep, nothing serious!".  I looked around the waiting room to see who had noticed me, the Psychologist's patient, and no one was particularly interested.  Then the shame hit me - I am a progressive woman, damnit!!  How dare I be embarrassed?  Except that I was.  Because I was now the kind of person that had a Psychologist.

The next day I went to dinner with three people, very close to me.  I decided to try out the word again and told them I had been to a Psychologist.  It turns out, all three of them had too, and still do when they need a bit of perspective.  They thought it was great.  Turns out I'm not so unique after all!

Karolyn has been a godsend.  Different therapists have different approaches and hers works for me.  We have a lot of conversation.  She gives me her opinion. She is a logical, rational sounding board and I could see the results of her influence as early as the second session.  I had experienced an approach that did not work for me in the past (during trauma counselling after an armed robbery) and if I could offer any advice I would say this: if you need the help, find the approach that works for you.  It could be a particular Psychologist's style.  It could be an alternative therapy even - Body Talk, life coaching, acupuncture even - I have friends who have all had their own successes with their chosen form of therapy.

I think we all suspect when something isn't quite right.  Finding the courage to scratch the surface?  That runny-nosed visit to the doctor could not have been more perfectly timed.

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