Letters, I love them. Letters create words and stories which can live on forever. Written accounts of memories, experiences, feelings. Used correctly they are powerful and evocative. Used incorrectly and decorated with misplaced apostrophes, I’m like ‘OMG, WTAF are you doing?’ Totes joking, obvs.
Back in the summer I accepted the role of 3 letters in my life: PND. Post Natal Depression.
The day I was able to say it aloud for the first time I filmed myself talking about it. I didn’t publish it because it was too raw, I was too exposed. Through allowing those 3 letters into the fabric of my being, I sought support and alongside my friends and family that came in the form of CBT; Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Another combination of 3 letters in an acronym of my life.
What Is CBT?
In short, cognitive behavioural therapy helps you to change the way you think. It makes you challenge long-held negative core beliefs about yourself or the world. Through talking, it teaches you strategies for breaking out of a vicious cycle which is a connection of your thoughts, behaviour, actions and feelings.
Where some talking therapies go right back into your past and work towards the now, CBT is more about your current situation and how to move forward in a more positive mindset. In my case, we explored my past a little bit in order to figure out why I held the negative thoughts and assumptions about myself, but then we focused on my current situation and how I could regain some balance and control.
My Experience Of CBT
I’m a cryer, always have been and always will be. I didn’t actually cry in a session until about my fifth one, although I had done so after a couple when talking to Phil or my mum about things. They were emotive at times, but more often enlightening and empowering.
I found it incredibly interesting to realise what I had been subconsciously thinking about myself and why. Predominantly it was that I am unworthy of love and a burden to others. I was encouraged to think about what I would say to a friend who’d had two babies within two years, wrote a (somewhat) successful blog, did freelance work and was starting a business.
Would I tell them how useless they were for getting behind on the laundry or not hoovering the house enough? Of course not! Yet that’s what I would tell myself daily.
We spoke about the years of bullying I endured at school, the bad relationships prior to meeting Phil, my sadness at how difficult it was to build a bond with Toby and the general overwhelm of trying to be everything all at once. It made me realise that because I’d been treated badly in the past I expected it to always be that way. I know that Phil loves me yet at times I had convinced myself that he would be better off if he left me.
I learned about how my emotions, thoughts, physical feelings and behaviours are all interlinked. If I became nervous about texting a new friend and suggesting a play date then my thoughts would turn to how she surely didn’t actually want to be my friend. I would feel dizzy and sick at the thought of forcing my friendship on someone or being rejected and so in turn I would avoid sending the text. All of that negativity stemming from one ingrained, rather unhelpful core belief that I am unwanted.
So slowly we set about changing my core beliefs. We removed 2 letters from them.
Bye bye ‘un’. I am wanted. I am worthy. I am loveable. I am happy.
My therapist taught me a fantastic mindfulness technique. It helps me stay calm when I’m close to screaming at Toby or I want to launch my phone. Find something static to look at. Analyse it, its colour, texture, pattern. Simply moving your mind’s eye from a stressful situation to something completely unrelated means that in seconds a lot of the overwhelm and anger or sadness dissipates. Try it, it works. I won’t pretend that I never snap at Toby any more, but it’s certainly far less frequent now.
I have had 8 sessions of CBT now and we’ve ended them there. My therapist has told me that if I ever feel that I need more then just to call her.
I am so, so much better. My Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) and Hospital Anxiety and Depression (HAD) scores – used in primary diagnosis to asses a patient’s level of depression – showed me to be on the severe end of moderate when I first began CBT. On my last session we did the tests again and I was showing as ‘Minimal’ for both depression and anxiety.
It’s not just about a number on some paper though. I feel better, I’m acting more positively and with reknewed confidence. I am only really having ‘down’ times thanks to sleep deprivation and illness and they last minutes or hours instead of days. Noticing these sometimes subtle changes is incredibly important and empowering.
I don’t have a huge amount of self confidence but I’m learning to believe in myself more. Instead of doubting people’s love or friendship I’m embracing it. Instead of doubting myself I’m saying that I can do it, that I’ve got this.
The letters that define me? M and E.
I am me.
***If you think that you may be suffering with post natal depression or any form of mental health issue, please speak to your GP, midwife or health visitor. There is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of and help and support is out there.***