Things I've learnt in therapy
After my last blog for Mental Health Awareness Week, so many people sent me messages asking about my experience of therapy. So, I wanted to dedicate this post to sharing my experience and some of the things I’ve learnt along the way. I am fortunate enough to be able to afford private therapy. Below are some free mental health support lines.
Therapist number 1
I have worked with 3 therapists since 2009. The first was in the US when I contracted Swine flu. This started when I was an inpatient and carried on as an outpatient for the next year. This was, by far, the worst time of my life. I lost the ability to speak and eat and I now needed 24-hour care, so I lost my independence. To top it all off, a lot of my friends stopped talking to me – for more on this, be sure to check out next week’s episode of The Wheelchair Activist podcast. So pretty much everything 15-year-olds care about disappeared from my life! I worked with my therapist to try and make sense of this drastic life change.
What I learned from her is that recovery is very very slow and doesn’t always mean you go back to your old self. My life was suddenly unrecognisable and while I was working incredibly hard to relearn how to speak and eat, some things would never come back. I was now on a ventilator through a tracheostomy despite fighting like hell to avoid this. I’ll admit this is still something I’m working on accepting. But she taught me it was ok to be mad at how unfair it all was.
My favourite memory of her is when I did regain my ability to speak and spoke to her for the first time, she cried and, obviously, so did I!
Therapist number 2
I worked with this therapist for about 5 years, seeing her once a week or every other week. This was in the UK while I was entering my second year at university. At first my parents paid for this then I did once I graduated. It’s no great secret that I absolutely hated university; in fact, it started my career as a disability activist. But when I cried every day for a week before starting my second year, I knew it was time to see someone about it. My mom met her once and remembered she was nice and her saying she was a therapist, so we made an appointment.
It would take me hours and hours to tell you everything this therapist taught me. We were a perfect fit despite her not knowing much about disability. As it turned out, I didn’t either! She challenged me always thinking disability didn’t matter or didn’t play much of a role in my life. She encouraged me to start dealing with the trauma of the Swine flu, but that didn’t mean I needed to re-live it. She taught me how to cope with anxiety of being an employer and emotionally abused by carer. It was so helpful to have an outsider’s perspective to challenge ideas I had for years. Without realising it, she taught me I had a lot of internalised ableism.
My favourite memory of her is her analysing a dream I had about Winston Churchill being my dentist. She didn’t think it was strange at all.
Therapist number 3
This is my current therapist who I started seeing about a year ago. I see her once a week on Zoom and I pay for it myself. I found her through the Counselling Directory and she has lived experience of disability. The pandemic has been a really hard time for disabled people, and I am no exception. I decided to work with someone who is disabled so they would really understand the feelings of being isolated, forgotten about and gaslit.
Working with her has been such a validating experience for me. Even as “The Wheelchair Activist” I sometimes feel like I’m not doing enough or that I’m a bad disabled person for doing or not doing something. There have been so many moments where she’s perfectly articulated something I’ve felt, and I cannot tell you how good that feels. I am still learning so much from her about how I view my own disability. There are days when I hate it but there are also days when I’m grateful for the lessons it has taught me.
My favourite memory of her is when I was struggling with the loss of my dog Oliver. She understood that he was so much more to me than a dog and she said he represented hope for me. This meant so much to me.
What I hope people learn from this
I hope this blog shows people how valuable therapy is and that some part of my story resonates with someone who might be considering giving it a try. This is by far the most personal piece I have ever written and while I’m nervous about it, I hope it makes someone feel seen and empowered to seek help if they need it.