And no, this isn’t one of those blog posts where I reassure you that I am fine, you are fine, being you is being normal, blah blah blah. There is a time and a place for those articles brimming with positivity and “you can do it!”s and “nobody is normal!”s and general lifting each other up happy stuff – but not today. I’m sorry if I tricked you into thinking this was one of those because I am normally on the “life is shit but let’s be optimistic” side of things.
I am pretty normal, yeah, for someone who has experienced things that have made therapists go “…wow”. I won’t go into the details, but let’s just say that I’ve been through a lot and I’ve survived, I’m here, and in general I’m okay.
I wasn’t okay.
I wasn’t okay a few months ago though. I couldn’t stop crying. Often I didn’t even know why I was crying, other than this feeling that I just shouldn’t exist and that I am not worth it. I went on a three hour walk and I ended up sitting on a bench at the edge of a park. The sun was shining, children were playing, everyone else seemed happy and content. Except me. It was like I was sitting in a dark fog and couldn’t find my way out.
As I sat there, a strange serenity came over me. My body felt numb and it was as though time had stopped and I was watching everything happen from the edge of the universe. It doesn’t matter, I thought to myself. It doesn’t matter if I walk in front of a car. That car over there. Because I have done everything I can, I’ve pushed myself to the limits, but it turns out my limits just aren’t that high. I can’t go any further. But that’s okay, it doesn’t matter anymore – if I walk in front of that car, it’s alright because I know that I have gone as far as I can. I haven’t any more to give.
Yeah, I know. I know how that sounds.
As silent tears slid down my cheeks, whilst I convinced myself that it was actually alright and I was ready to go, another part of my brain was screaming in pain. Maybe anger, a little bit. That I had let myself get to this point. My eyes blurry with tears I dialled the number of a therapist that someone had recommended. I mistyped but I kept going until I had the receiver next to my ear listening to the ringing and praying she picked up. It went to voicemail. I held the phone in my lap, dumb, my cheeks wet and my whole body like a buoy at sea, bobbing about listlessly.
I can’t quite remember how I made my way home, but I did it. I was terrified that I was even contemplating walking in front of a car and it horrified me that I’d let these feelings build up inside me – and that I valued myself so little. I got home and collapsed into a ball on the bedroom carpet, and I cried for two whole hours straight.
I called my GP and they immediately made an appointment to see me. Four months later, and now prescribed a wonderful drug called Sertaline, I’m making progress. Anti-depressants get a bad rep, but I’ve really found Sertraline helpful. It’s an SSRI, which means it increases the amount of serotonin in my brain – the stuff that makes you happy. I can’t say I’m exactly skipping about London singing, but I’m certainly not crying constantly. A few years ago I was prescribed mirtazapine, which I found worked less well for me, so it’s actually good to find something that helps. It is worth saying that there are some side effects that have had an impact on me – weight gain, headaches, issues sleeping – but luckily those side effects don’t include sitting on a bench on a beautiful day thinking about ending my life.
Today, after months of waiting, I had an assessment for therapy. I’ve had therapy before numerous times and I think it’s really important. Being able to talk through the thing I’m struggling with helps me get clarity and understand what’s going on for me. I heartily recommend it to anyone, whether they’re in a good place or they’re not.
The appointment for assessment was over the phone and the lovely man I spoke to said it would take 30 minutes to 45 minutes, but when I put down the phone I realised it had been 1 hour and 20 minutes. I briefly outlined what I wanted to get out of therapy and spoke about some of the issues that have been on my mind.
I’ve always been a bit of a scaredy-cat when it comes to noises, and sudden loud bangs or things moving put me on edge. At one point in the conversation, he delicately touched on PTSD and asked if I had flashbacks or intrusive thoughts. And it made me think.
I don’t know about flashbacks, but I definitely have intrusive thoughts. I was on the tube the other day, casually sitting there minding my own business, when I man who was standing stepped into my personal space. Quite easy, mind you, when the train is full of people, but it put me a little on high alert. And my brain did this thing which it does often; it plays a game of What If. What If that man had a knife? What if he thinks I looked at him strangely and he attacks me? My head plays out the scenario whether I want it to or not. It’s gory, it’s awful, and I always end up dead. Whilst in reality, nothing is different. Nothing has changed.
I mention this on the phone. And then I ask: Am I normal?
He pauses. Then says it’s normal to have those kinds of thought, but it’s what you do with them that matters. I’ve been thinking a bit about that.
To some extent, everyone in the world has ‘intrusive thoughts’ sometimes. Though unpleasant, it’s perfectly normal and in most cases, the thoughts just pass. The problem is when intrusive thoughts manifest, repeat or worsen and begin to have an impact on day-to-day life.Bethany Smith, Anxiety UK
This was from a fab post on Anxiety UK where the author talks about catastrophising – escalating that intrusive thought into a worst-case scenario. And yeah, that’s me. That’s what I do.
So I suppose, to answer my own question: Is having intrusive thoughts normal?
Am I normal?
Yes, absolutely. It turns out that everyone has them, who knew? I guess the thing I’m learning is that I need to stop making the scenarios worse and playing the What If game in my head so I don’t get myself worked up into an anxious frenzy and remain on edge until I get home. Here’s hoping that therapy can help me work through that and get myself to a better place.
I think I’ll write a bit about my experiences with therapy, mostly so I can try to destigmatise something that is perfectly acceptable and in many ways necessary to be a well-rounded human. There is nothing wrong with being psychologically informed, people. I’m waiting to hear back after my appointment, and they’ll decide whether to throw me at CBT again or try a different approach – I’ll probably write a follow up to this when I’m booked in for my first session, which I’m hoping will be some time before 2020. I wish I was joking, but unfortunately budget cuts mean underfunded services and the waiting list is loooong.
In case anything I’ve written has made you think “woah I need to get in on this therapy stuff” or “ahhhh I’ve been having impulsive thoughts too” or even “I know that feeling of sitting on a bench staring at cars” then STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING RIGHT NOW, give yourself a hug, and have a read of the amazing materials that Mind, the mental health charity, have put together.
Resources and where to get help
Anxiety UK: https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk
If you need any immediate help, call Samaritans for a chat – it’s free, and someone is there for you 24/7: (UK) 116 123
Find out a bit more about my journey with depression and anxiety: http://quirkandfolly.com/2019/01/i-used-to-have-a-woman-in-my-wardrobe-and-other-ways-to-cope-with-chronic-depression/