Heart and Mind Therapy

Overcoming anxiety and depression is hard work, particularly if you have an aversion and cynicism to therapy like I did. I had a traumatic experience as a child, which took me well over a decade and some convincing from work to get over. When things got bad a few years back, I tried whatever therapy I could, mostly because I wanted to avoid medication. I worked with a counsellor and I was also introduced to a therapy, commonly known as the heart and mind method.

The Rosen Method, it’s official name, was one of the strangest experiences of my life.

You get undressed so that you’re in your pants/briefs/knickers/boxers/etc – like you would do for a massage. The therapist then touches you lightly as you go through talk therapy. What happens next is weird – but not in a safeguarding kind of way. Despite practising yoga on and off for years, it was the first time that I really understood that my body’s been trying to tell me about my feelings.

In my first session, the therapist was able to tell that I had a long history of being burdened with responsibility – just from looking at my shoulders. As I laid on my back, she asked me a bit about that, and as I spoke, she put her hand on my chest above my heart and observed how much emotion I kept locked up, in my chest. Well, that did it. The dam opened and I cried like never before.

It was ugly, snotty and completely unhindered.  

And so embarrassing. Luckily, she’s seen it all before and reassured me that people react very differently to different things during therapy. Some cried like I had; others laughed uncontrollably. Throughout the course of my programme, I discovered my armour – the things my body did to protect me. For example, it helped me understand why I would make myself as small as possible during a panic attack, balled up and clutching my chest. It helped me to realise how much moving, having my feet on the floor and dropping my shoulders would help me fend off an incoming anxiety attack.

It helped me understand that whilst my depression and anxiety felt like it was all in my head, my body was trying to help, and it would suffer too during a panic attack. I frequently had knots in my neck and shoulders, particularly after I’ve managed to unbunch myself after a panic attack. It’s why my therapist was able to see that I had a history of ill mental health – my broader shoulders indicated the number of panic attacks and stress I carried. That’s not to say that if you’re broad shouldered that you should get help, but it was interesting to see. My frame isn’t naturally so, and my therapist’s experience could see that.

After every session, my body felt heavy, grounded. For those who practices/d yoga, it was the same feeling as coming out of a yoga session. Just with some damp tissues and runny nose (in my case anyway). My mind felt less cloudy and my heart felt lighter. It didn’t fix everything straight away. I saw my therapist for eight months. There are days where I feel I should probably go back. It did, however, give me some insight and tools that I only really forget when I’m having an incredibly bad day.

I’m not saying it will work for you, but I am saying that if you have panic attacks and/or some really old stuff hidden in there, maybe give it try. What’s there to lose? For me, it was some of my insecurities and ignorance to how much I really do beat myself up. And a couple of quid each time. But do you know what, I’m worth that investment. And I have sneaking suspicion that so are you.

Whatever you do next, I’m wishing you the best of luck, with the biggest set of poms-poms and a glitter cannon.

Lou

The Prelude

My self-identity has been constructed around my work ethic – I’m the one who works too hard; the one who has to consult my work calendar before planning social events; the accomplished one; the ambitious one. My name is Lou and I’m a recovering workaholic. It’s been eight months since I last worked. Actually – that’s a lie. I’ve done two days of consultancy and responsibly undertaking my duties as a Trustee.

What have I been doing in all that time? Honestly – there’s been a whole lot of Skyrim, a tonne of Magic: The Gathering, learning to paint miniatures, and a lot of podcasts. There’s also been a lot of tears, numbness, negative spirals, trips to the doctors and panic attacks. So many panic attacks! After six months of not checking in with myself, my old, old friend, the Black Dog, returned and this time, like every time, it felt like it was going to stay.

From a young age, I suffered from depression, anxiety and suicidal tendencies. From an even younger age, I was a dreamer, an adventurer and ambitious. I was bought up on stories of mythical proportions, of legendary superheroes and of life- and galaxy-changing events.

I was a rebel girl, ready to take on the world.

I didn’t want to be a princess when I asked what I wanted to do when I grow up – I wanted to work in a city, maybe in advertising (it was the 90s ok!) It wasn’t until I was an adult that I had the shocking realisation that I was ill-equipped to take on the world, with all its baddies and villains around every corner.

I didn’t pay enough attention to the parts of the stories where I had a partner, sidekick or an ensemble to help me on the journey; or why it was so important to risk everything to find that vital weapon, equipment or artefact; or where there’s was respite, a chance for the hero to rest and recuperate. My heroic journey looked a lot like the Hulk, bare-fist fighting through life – except it’s not the Hulk with his gamma-ray based superpowers, it’s Bruce Banner, his human alter-ego.

Unsurprisingly, it left me battered and bruised at times. Surprisingly, I managed to defeat a few bosses through sheer will and, later, accepted some help along the way. I was the first person in my immediate family to go to university. I was accepted onto a postgraduate research degree straight from my undergraduate. I was a Director by the time I was 32 and a Trustee at 33. As I turned 34, I was tired: burnt out and exhausted. At 34! Despite working with 16- to 22-year olds most of my life, I know that’s not old. I know I shouldn’t feel like I’m ready to retire at 34!

So, in the past eight months, I’ve taken a career break and recovering from ill mental health. I’ve been thinking about my journey and talking to others about their own. Above is what it looked like from the outside. On the inside, it was every bit the epic challenge akin to the heroic stories I grew up with. It was messy, visceral, glorious and rewarding. And it’s not over yet – but more about that later. Within that time, this has been brewing in the background: a blog for me to commit to my recovery and well-being. From different conversations I have had, I know that I’m not the only who struggles to be both ambitious and anxious – or ambitious to overcome my anxiety. I’m publishing my musings in case it can help someone else who’s facing off against their own super-boss.

Like the ancient, magical tome adventurers discover deep in dark, damp caves, I hope that has some useful insight that can help you with your own  quest.

Lou