39 is fine: Thriving, surviving and therapy
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. The theme is 'Surviving or Thriving', and I know a lot of us appear like we're thriving but actually we're just surviving.
A friend I saw a little while ago and I had a great chat about going to therapy and how much it had helped us.
Yet I still falter when I tell people about going to therapy. There is a stigma attached to it, I think, and one that keeps us surviving instead of thriving. We are scared to say we've been, or want to go, for fear of judgement. I didn't tell anyone at work, for example. What if they thought I couldn't do my job?! I would slink out early, saying I had an appointment, hoping everyone assumed it was with the gynae which would have been less embarrassing somehow.
Monday feels like a little while ago now. I wrote this then but have sat on it, so I'm updating it on Friday.
I woke up on Monday feeling fab. I'd slept well after a lovely weekend in the countryside dog bothering, drinking wine and laughing lots. Then, suddenly, after getting dressed, I got rather emotional. The thought of a week of freelance work suddenly overwhelmed me. People think working from home is 'the dream' but it can be quite isolating.
I tried to articulate it to The Boyfriend as I was at his place. 'I feel... frightened, and worried...' were the words that came out.
A hug and some tears later, what then came out was 'I'm scared I'm going to go mad again'.
Now then. I am NOT a huge fan of the phrase 'going mad'. Feels a bit Dickensian. Send her to the madhouse!
This is not the way to speak about mental health, clearly, in 2017. But those were the words that came out. And they are true. They were more true on Monday but just because they’re less true today, doesn’t mean they won’t come back.
The last time I worked from home, I got a bad case of cabin fever. It's a peril of freelance work, I know this - and I know I'm not alone, that other writers suffer and conquer this in different ways.
A recent piece in the guardian focused on depression in freelance workers (Read it here: https://www.theguardian.com/careers/2017/may/09/freelancing-made-my-depression-worse-heres-how-i-learnt-to-cope).
Was this a road I was starting down? Self-loathing via Homes under the Hammer and a swathe of unanswered emails?
'This isn't last time,' said The Boyfriend.
But I was still scared. When you're a freelance writer sometimes you spend hours, days, weeks, emailing people and nobody replies. People on features desks are busy - they might not like your pitch - some are just non-repliers (hmph). I also accept that sometimes my pitches, like those of a cold caller, aren't strong enough, or get missed.
When I was on the features desk at Metro I prided myself on the fact that I replied to just about every email I was sent, especially from a writer. Because I knew how it felt. Now I'm back on the other side, and not everyone is as welcoming as I was on the replies front. (I must add that many are, and I am grateful!)
I may post an article on Facebook or Twitter and it make it look like I'm thriving, and in that moment I am. We all are, in those moments when our work is going well, or we are having a great time with mates, or our baby is looking cute.
But a lot of the rest of the time we are just surviving.
So, how to survive and turn it into thrive? Well, sometimes you need some help. When I went to therapy, it was because I was angry. Angry mainly with being single, but with life, for not delivering me what I had expected. I wanted to be settled down, not alone. I was overwhelmed having just bought a flat and facing the idea of doing it up alone not in a relationship. I felt like I'd failed a bit at life. I needed to sort through feelings of loneliness and self-doubt surrounding being single.
I went to see a therapist who I had met at a one-day course and used as an expert in articles. It was one of the hardest but the best things I ever did. It cost £135 for each two-hour session, which I mention as people often want to know what it costs and also I think this shows how much I wanted to try and help myself. You can get referred for therapy via your GP, so this isn't the 'set fee' by any means.
I talked and talked about things I didn't even know I felt, about hopes and fears and anger and past relationships and friendships. About why I didn't like myself, and why I wanted a boyfriend more than anything in the whole world - and had done since I was about 8.
It did me the world of good - and while I know it's not a final fix, that we'll all go through ups and downs, I think it laid the foundation for stronger self-esteem. I'm convinced that I would not be in a relationship if I hadn't gone, as I'd have brought my self doubt to the table on the first date like I had done so many times before.
So I was shocked to feel down this Monday morning. The same feelings, in a way, but about a new topic. Why am I not running some amazing website? Or writing my next book with a huge advance sitting in the bank? Why am I not on telly talking about my work? Why I am not at networking events talking about my amazing success as a journalist/businesswoman/mother?
And would voicing these feelings show me as weak, as a different person to the one The Boyfriend knows so far?
Well I'm pleased to say that he gave me a hug and said one of his catchphrases 'there's two in the team' and added some good advice which I knew deep down but needed to hear - things like I can work in cafés and libraries, and that work can come in and suddenly we freelancers can be super busy - it's feast or famine. And that I need to crack on and just keep writing and pitching. I've applied for some jobs, five. Apply for five more, he said. He's right. It's early days and I need to be patient and believe in myself as much as I can.
It's easy to pretend we are thriving when we're just surviving. It’s also easy to not realise that we ARE thriving. We thrive more than we realise, I think.
I used to see therapy as a course I'd finish and then be fine. ‘Cured’, if you will. But now I realise of course that’s not the case. And that it's ok to check in, to book a catch up appointment if I need to. Like you would with an osteopath, or the gynae (!).
I think at 40, if you don't feel ok in yourself, this is the perfect age to try and say so and
dare to take action on it. There's no shame in going to see a professional and I hope if you're thinking about it you might act on it today. So you can go from surviving to thriving. Not every day, perhaps, but more days than before.