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Talking therapy made me realise I had nothing to hide

Monday, 25 October 2021 Saanvi

Saanvi blogs about how she felt she couldn’t tell her family about her mental health problems till she had CBT.

In 2018, I self-referred to my local IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) service. Although I didn’t know it at the time, it is one of the best things I’ve ever done.

"The taboo around mental health in the Asian community was also a constant thought."

My GP told me I could self-refer months before, but I didn’t. Why not? Because I felt ashamed, embarrassed and if anyone, outside my immediate bubble, found out, they would think I’m weak.

The taboo around and poor understanding of mental health in the Asian community and the notion that it would be really damaging if someone were to find out was also a constant thought. I think this is cultural and due to the lack of understanding about mental health in the community and it was the main reason why I didn’t tell anyone what was going on with me.

I’ve struggled with anxiety since my early 20s. I would leave work in the middle of the day because I was getting palpitations. There were days I couldn’t bring myself or have the energy to go to work and a loss of appetite meant I couldn’t stand for long periods because I was so weak. This was because I had a constant sinking feeling that something was about to go seriously wrong.   

I turned to therapy because I was struggling a lot again and was worried that what happened in my early 20s would happen again. The feeling of thinking I was having a heart attack almost every day was not something I could go through again.

Telling my employer

A few weeks before I was going to start a new job, I was given my first appointment. The first thing that sprung to mind was, how can I possibly go to therapy and start a new job? I can’t tell them I’m going to therapy, what will they think? I was too scared to tell my new manager. I had never told anyone in any job that I have experienced mental health problems.

I had to find a way to go as if I didn’t now, I wasn’t sure I ever would. And I did, by working different hours on the days I had therapy. In the back of my mind, I knew it would be easier to just tell the truth but that bought with it fear.

I went for half-hour cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) sessions which turned into weekly one-hour high-intensity sessions for a few months. CBT is a talking therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave. These sessions were during work time and I had no choice but to tell my manager - walking into that room, my pulse was beating so fast and I thought I was going to be sick. But I was lucky to have an employer who trusted me to do what I needed with no questions asked.

"Nearly every time I went into my kitchen, I would check door and window locks."

Through CBT, my therapist helped me realise that I also had OCD which was fuelling the anxiety. Nearly every time I went into my kitchen, I would check door and window locks and whether the gas had been turned off because I was frightened someone in my house would come to harm if I didn’t. I hadn’t realised how much I was doing this. We put different techniques such as having a dedicated time to check in place to help reduce this and they worked.

Talking made a difference

CBT challenged my constant thought of something going wrong and fear of the unknown. It challenged me as to why I hadn’t told anyone what I was going through when I said talking about it makes a huge difference.

"Friends have told me that they’ve been going through something similar but were too afraid to say."

Through therapy I’ve learned that it’s OK to talk about how I am honestly and not to pretend I’m feeling great all the time. It has helped me accept that anxiety is part of my life, and that it is nothing to be ashamed of. I speak more openly about what I’m going through with some of my family, friends and work colleagues. Recently some family members have experienced anxiety and they’ve asked me for advice on how to manage this which they say has helped. And after sharing my experiences, some friends have told me that they’ve been going through something similar but were too afraid to say. Because of this, I feel more comfortable sharing how I am. Talking about my anxiety has helped me feel less anxious as I’m no longer hiding it and it’s felt like a weight off my shoulders.

It has taken me a long time to get to this point. My only regret is that I didn’t take the step to therapy sooner.

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