Writing as Therapy

CBT (Cognitive behavioural Therapy)

I recently completed 12 weeks of CBT. Some of the sessions were exceedingly difficult. I would even go as far as to say the initial sessions made me feel worse. It was a number of sessions in before I started beginning to feel positive.

I know now this was to be expected as my counsellor spent time unearthing my core beliefs to enable me to work on the correct solutions. These solutions are what are ultimately allowing me to manage my anxiety and depression. It was not however an easy trip to get there and accepting my core beliefs wasn’t something I readily did.

Its good to talk

It is difficult to put yourself out there, open up to someone and talk about what is causing you to feel, think and behave the way you do. However, I found that once I could do it, there was a realisation about how cathartic it was and then it was like taking the lid off of a pressure cooker.

During my sessions, we explored different strategies and opportunities for me to use to manage my anxiety. Some things I tried didn’t work, others did. I had to experiment with different ways of dealing with my thoughts, feelings and behaviours. I’ve blogged previously about meditation which is just one of the methods I use.

We talked a lot about having a focus on something that was totally unrelated to all the things that we had explored that had brought on my anxiety. Of course, I still had to face all of these things as they are part of daily life, and I have strategies in place now that help me manage these.

regression

However, one thing I feared and discussed with my therapist was that I’d had a similar experience in the past and similarly, I had strategies in place. Over the years as I felt better, I let some of these good behaviours slip and ultimately stopped doing them.

I didn’t realise this at the time, but now as I reflect back, it was an unconscious decision not to do some of these things, but directly associated with improved mood and lack of anxiety.

I now liken it to the times you go to the doctor and they give you a prescription to take for a specified period of time, but you stop taking them as soon as you feel better. The result being that your symptoms return as you haven’t taken the advice of your GP.

I had fallen back into old habits that I believed were helping me but were essentially exacerbating my issues.

I’ve now realised that for me to stay on an even keel, I need to ensure that I keep up the strategies that work for me and not let them drop. I needed something to ensure that I maintained my focus.

This is where the writing comes in.

Returning to what I said earlier about having something to focus on, we explored the things I usually enjoyed doing. We talked about my love of reading, of listening to music, of going to gigs and so on.

At my lowest points though, I couldn’t read books. The words didn’t make sense, I couldn’t concentrate as I was thinking about too many other things. Even listening to music or going to gigs didn’t give me the same enjoyment as they had. I felt guilty all the time if I was doing anything that I deemed as non-productive, but that is for another blog.

Writing a diary

During the weeks I was having sessions with my therapist, I had kept a diary. The main reason for this was to record how I was thinking, feeling and acting, trying to identify what was causing this and as the weeks went on, recording what I was doing that made a difference. Again, this wasn’t easy to start with and I found it hard to write anything on some days as I felt nothing.

As the weeks passed, however, I found that it was actually the writing itself that was one of the things making me feel better. It was a channel to get the negativity out of my head. It was something to focus on that was different from the norm and allowed me to empty my head of thoughts. Something that I hadn’t been able to do for some time.

I reflected about this over the following weeks and about what we had talked about in my sessions. Core beliefs, thoughts I’d had, decisions I’d made, ways I’d behaved and things that should be giving me joy. An idea formulated in my head.

I started working in a bank when I was 16. I have always loved music and being creative, but my parents, with the best of intentions, had instilled the belief in me that I needed to get a “secure job, a job for life”. 20 years later I was still there, I’d got to the stage that I was scared to do anything else as I knew nothing else. Redundancy gave me the opportunity to go and do something else, but I stayed in my comfort zone, different industry but same type of job.

It would be wrong for me to regret anything I have done, that would be like me giving in to my anxieties and living in the past. However, I wish I had been courageous, followed my dreams and done something music related when I was younger, even if it hadn’t been my job, just something that would have given me a sense of achievement.

I used to listen to John Peel and think that he had the ideal job, listening to music for a living and sharing his love for it with others, discovering new bands and being excited by them.

starting a blog

So, I decided, that if I couldn’t be a DJ, I would start a blog. My theme would be music and mental health.

I’d use the blog to write about the music and the bands I loved and that brought me joy. I’d use it to share what I love with others but also, and importantly, it would give me a focus on things that weren’t work and normal day-to-day life. A release of sorts.

I would also use it to write about mental health and things that had affected me. About things I’d done to control my anxieties. Writing about it would also help me to keep focussed on what I need to do to control my anxieties and no allow myself to go back down that road again.

When I started, it was essentially a vehicle to focus my mind. To give me something to think about to avoid “just thinking”.

But, I enjoyed the challenge of setting up the blog, of writing and editing my first posts. I enjoyed the satisfaction of sharing these and having people actually read them.

I hadn’t really fully considered that side of things. It was intended, as I’ve said, as more of a release. Once I started though, I realised just how much I enjoyed the writing, and the more I did the more I wanted to do.

The other thing writing has done for me is opened up more opportunities. I’ve had posts reproduced on other sites, I’ve had opportunities to write reviews for music sites and magazines. I’ve also had bands approaching me to ask me to review singles. It has improved my self-confidence.

What differences do I see?

Well, when I leave work now of an evening, I leave work.

I used to take it home with me. And what I mean by that is not necessarily physically taking work home, opening my laptop and sending e-mails. But taking it home mentally. Spending all night analysing what happened during that day, berating myself for anything that went wrong, focussing on the negatives, planning the next day in my head, down to working out word for word conversations I would have.

As a result I didn’t communicate at all well with my family. I could watch TV programmes with my wife and have no idea what I’d watched. I’d not sleep properly as my mind was overactive and would snap and shout at my kids for no reason.

I now spend my journey home from work thinking about things I am looking forward to. I do actually look forward to things. My communication is better with my family. My mind is not overactive, I’m not over-analysing or over thinking everything. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not perfect and have to work hard sometimes to not go backwards.

The thing with my blog though is, it is MY blog. There are no deadlines or actions plans or to do lists. I control what goes on and when.

It is not like work where I have targets, deadlines and constantly changing requirements. However, I know I am also more productive at work now than I was. I’m focusing on what needs to be done rather than dwelling on what has happened or what might happen.

In the past, the more time I spent over thinking, over-analysing, worrying, planning, re-planning, changing and checking, the less productive I became. I’m not saying that I think I won’t ever do any of these things again. I know I will and I have done since. But I know that when it happens, I can deal with it. As long as I focus on the right things.

For now, things are going well and as long as I am writing and have this release. I believe that will continue.

What’s next?

Around 20 years ago, I started writing a book. I never got further than the first chapter though. Maybe that will change……