So that’s that. Last Thursday I finished my 12 weeks of high intensity cognitive behavioural therapy. After 12 hours worth of me relaying my concerns to my therapist and her offering alternative perspectives, reasoning and glimpses into my thought patterns, it all came to an end. And quite frankly, I’m unsure how to feel.
There’s a part of me that is happy it’s finished (which admittedly, I had felt for the last two sessions) and it’s nice to know that, in terms of medical help, I’ve done pretty much everything I can do. It feels nice to know that I’ve learned a lot about myself and that I am now equipped with tools that can help me whenever I feel my anxiety creeping up on me.
But then there’s a part of me that’s almost frustrated. Perhaps it’s through a feeling of unfinished business, like there is so much more to go through and learn about why I think what I think (whether there actually is anything more to learn is unknown of course which no doubt just compounds the feeling of incompleteness).
What I’ve learned
As I said, I’ve learned a lot about myself. It’s probably easiest if I just list everything:
- I’ve learned a lot about my thought patterns when I’m in situations that make me anxious and why they are not always beneficial
- I’ve learned that those patterns CAN be disrupted, as long as I recognise the signals that I’m falling back into any unprofitable habits and remedy them with certain techniques
- I’ve learned that as much as I’m convinced that what I’m thinking is the weirdest, oddest mentality imaginable, the reasoning behind my thought patterns actually makes it quite understandable
- I’ve learned how to break myself out of my safety behaviours like rehearsing my lines or avoiding conversation
- I’ve learned that I’ve learned that my fear of a situation and my adapting of my behaviour a lot of the time will actually lead to my feared consequence
- And, perhaps most important of all (at least to me), I’ve learned that what I’m thinking about certain situations is not always the reality.
What I think about CBT
Although, at points, it truly felt like the most laborious task imaginable to try and put into practice what I’ve learned, I do feel like it was all worth it.
Over the past 12 weeks as I’ve learned more and more about the ways that I’m approaching situations and how to shift them into a healthier behavioural cycle, I feel like my confidence has improved and my mood has lifted to a more positive place. I now feel as close to my most confident that I’ve ever felt – which, strangely enough, was the summer of my cancer diagnosis. And all of that was reflected in a social anxiety test which I took at the beginning and end of the course. In my first questionnaire I scored something like 26 which essentially meant I was clinically defined as having social anxiety. Taking the test at the end, I am now at 12. I believe the clinical threshold for being diagnosed as having social anxiety is 20, but I could be wrong. Either way, that’s a pretty big improvement.
Don’t get me wrong, and as is reflected in my end-of-course questionnaire, I don’t quite feel 100% back to ‘normal’, hence the feeling of uncertainty not that I’ve finished the course. I still feel anxious when I’m in social situations or at work and I still find myself sometimes slipping back into my unhelpful thought patterns. But now, it feels like 1) my levels are a lot more in line with the general population and 2) I can handle myself if I do slip into my thought patterns.
Also (and this is something I gradually realised after the first two or three sessions), I don’t think CBT is meant as a ‘cure’ to your problems. From my perspective, CBT is about teaching you how to recognise your anxieties and ways in which to manage your condition to the best of your abilities. In that sense, I think CBT is a remarkable service which anyone with anxiety should at least give a real chance. Yes, I might have just been lucky with my therapist and yes, you could see me as having a ‘mild’ case of anxiety compared to some people out there, but there really is nothing to lose from giving CBT a go.
What I think the future holds
It felt odd walking out of the building for the last time. I had an unexpected pang of emptiness, similar to the feeling when you’ve just finished your final day at school and you’ve left the premises for the last time.
I think a bit of it at least is a feeling of fear, like I’m being sent out into the world with no more professional medical support. It was pretty much the exact feeling I had when I left hospital for the last time after my final consultation with my oncologist.
Honestly, I don’t think I will ever be able to rid myself of my thought patterns for certain situations. I think I will always be wondering what someone is thinking of me when I’m talking to them and I think I will always have days where I feel like I’ve completely failed at curbing my anxiety. But now, at least, I’m prepared. I have knowledge which I never had before about myself and how to deal with anxiety.
(Disclaimer: my therapist knows I write this blog so hopefully she’ll get to read this at some point)
One thing I haven’t yet said is thank you. Thank you to my therapist for sitting through all those hours of me talking what must have seemed like absolute nonsense. Thank you for teaching me things about myself and giving me the tools to help myself, which I will never forget. Now it’s down to me to make sure I never return to where I was when you first met me.
I’m very aware that this whole post has sounded very much like an advert for CBT and a bit preachy at points, so er… sorry about that. But then again, I figured it would be helpful for someone else who perhaps is unsure of how to go about getting help or whether it would be worth it. I sure hope someone has found it helpful at least!