April is Stress Awareness Month.
In 2020 because of COVID-19, it certainly has a different, more potent resonance. The entire world, it would seem, is struggling to come to terms with Coronavirus. And the world is talking about mental health and the stress of living with this virus.
These are stressful times.
Counselling and psychotherapy are needed now more than ever before.
But I fear there is still a stigma around therapy. As a therapist, I have heard therapy described as many things and people still shy away from it for fear of being labelled as mad or crazy.
To be honest, I had my struggle with starting therapy. I didn’t believe it was for me.
So I thought I would share some of my own story.
Starting therapy isn’t easy. But if you are struggling with your mental health, I want you to know that things can and do get better. There is no magic wand. But with self-compassion, curiosity, and patience shifts happen, and gently you can deepen your connection with yourself and have a healthier life.
Here’s how I started in therapy.
Start Therapy – I’m Not Crazy!
I’m not sure that I even knew what therapy was.
I am of African Caribbean descent. That brings with it an ancestral heritage steeped in an oral tradition of storytelling, and for me, that’s what therapy is – storytelling. But what that heritage also brings is an intergenerational experience that puts mental health in a particular context.
It’s a story that was buried deep in my bones, soul, and psyche.
This story is rooted in the immense trauma and grief that was slavery; a history where ill-health would have life or death implications. If you weren’t healthy, you weren’t productive, and if you weren’t productive, you weren’t valued, and if weren’t valued, you would be rejected, and if you were rejected, then it becomes a matter of survival. And your survival wasn’t in your control.
But paradoxically on the other side of the coin, if you were healthy then that might have meant separation from your family (you were sold as a commodity), or the terror of sexual abuse.
So health, whether physical or mental, somewhere in my bones, there was a lot of fear, pain, and trauma attached to acknowledging being out of balance or let alone ill health. The impact of trauma is passed from one generation.
Of course, I am not a slave, but in a very unconscious way, intergenerational trauma impacts how we are and what we do in the here and now.
Naturally, the thought of starting therapy might make you feel apprehensive. Perhaps you’re triggering old and maybe unconscious parts of the self that you don’t even know. A good therapist will understand that.
I Don’t Chat My Business!
Then there were two other things getting my way.
First, the old narrative of ‘We don’t chat our business!’ Oh my gosh, I heard this so often! So would I be talking to a therapist? And while this resonated for me in the context of an African-Caribean woman, this lesson is by no means exclusive to this community.
The need for privacy and secrecy emerges for many reasons. With your story in mind, you can think about, secrecy around addiction, domestic violence, sexual abuse, and family stories that evoke shame or simply the guilt about talking to a stranger about a parent.
Of Being A Woman
Surprisingly the other thing that got in the way was being a woman.
While it’s true that men are more vulnerable to suicide, in England, women are more likely than men to have a common mental health problem and are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders.
We still live in a patriarchal society, and I think women historically, perhaps in some communities more than others, have just got on with it and not necessarily connected to their mental health. There hasn’t been the space. I was the adult woman who believed that it wasn’t okay to be unwell or vulnerable. It simply wasn’t okay to be stressed or anxious because that’s not who a strong woman is.
What I have come to understand is that there is strength in vulnerability.
Trauma and Grief
Fast forward to the birth of my child. Let’s just say things didn’t go to plan.
What I know now is that I was experiencing trauma and grief.
I was overwhelmed, didn’t know what was going on and felt confused and sad; these are common symptoms of trauma. But my overriding feeling was one of being voiceless. It was strange to me that when people looked at me, they saw someone very different from how I was feeling inside.
But equally, I was finding it difficult to say anything. I was caught in the shame of feeling disconnected from my mental wellbeing. I couldn’t speak.
The midwife would come and go, and I would, not speak. The health visitor would come and go, and I could not talk. I would go to the NCT group, and I would not talk.
Is Cleaning Therapy?
Eventually, events forced me to find my voice. I knew if I didn’t, things would only get worse.
I went to the G.P., and for the first time, I spoke. I’m not sure what it was about this doctor that made it safe enough to do so. And she said, “You, can do one of two things; get a cleaner or have some counselling.” She gently pushed a business card across the desk with details of a counsellor.
I did not take up her advice!
But she planted the seed.
So at first, I didn’t understand about the suggestion of a cleaner. But I have come to think that the G.P. was telling me to take care, to ask for help and that it was okay to ask for help.
You don’t have to do it all on your own, and sometimes it’s okay that some things are left undone.
Finally Starting Therapy – Of Sorts
And about the business card. No, I didn’t contact the counsellor. But what I did do was enrol on an Introduction to Counselling course.
That is where I met my first therapist.
Of course, she wasn’t my therapist because it wasn’t therapy. But in her teaching, she was showing me about counselling. She modelled compassion and care. Above all, she listened. And she gave me a positive experience of what being with a counsellor might be like.
Now many years later, I have the privilege of being that empathic presence in many other women’s lives.
Seeing Others Start Therapy
So starting therapy may feel hard.
But for me therapy is like exercise; it’s like reading a good book or having a bath. It’s like being nourished by a good meal, it’s just that instead, you’re nourishing your soul.
I believe counselling and psychotherapy are absolutely for everyone.
There is no stigma in talking. There is no stigma in feeling. We are meant to feel. Our bodies are designed to tell us when we are overloaded, when we are stressed, tell us when we need to slow done.
There is no better time to have therapy. There is no better time to be in connection and relationship. If you’re ready, reach out.
Over To You
If you want a safe space to talk, get in touch, and book your first counselling appointment. I offer video sessions online via a secure platform. Coronavirus (COVID-19) doesn’t need to put your therapy sessions on pause.
Or call me today on 07535 864836.
Leave a comment below; I’d love to hear from you.
P.S. PASS IT ON
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© Sandra Harewood 2020
Soul Centred couples counsellor Sandra Harewood specialises in working with couples and women with childhood wounding that impacts their adult relationships. Sandra provides a soulful space for her clients to explore and discover creative solutions to their difficulties and create a great relationship.