22 Days of Musing: 11

11. Reaching out of the pit.

So last night I was finally able to outline in brief (much as it may not have seemed so to you cats, and I apologise for how maudlin yesterday’s reflection was) the circumstances surrounding my descent into the depths and my conscious recognition that I was at absolute rock bottom. It was the realisation that not only was I entirely drained psychologically, but that this loss of energy had been a fundamental impact upon my ability to muster any physical energy as well, that made me realise some two weeks into that period that I’d been thrown into a depth from which I wouldn’t be able to climb out myself. At this point I was in the middle of my Ph.D. research, but the events triggered by the fiasco with the woman I refer to now simply as “the girl from the conference” took place in mid-January, in the middle of a month of holidays I’d been taking from uni. Moreover, these events had happened in and around the devastation of the 2010-11 floods in the region (floods of such severity that they were reported around the world; I received messages from as far afield as the US and Jordan asking whether I was alright), and these floods made travel – even within the inner city – difficult and subdued the mood of the whole state for some time. Once the floods had passed and I’d realised the necessity for me to reach out for help, I started opening up to a couple of close and trusted friends, one of whom suggested that as a UQ student, I might be able to avail myself of the resources at the university, including (and especially) the counsellors provided free as part of the student pastoral support services. On one level, in retrospect I’m very disappointed that it took a friend to suggest this; certainly everyone knows that when you’re feeling unwell you should go to visit a doctor, but cultural perspectives on mental health even just five years ago were not as open as they’re becoming now; having never been spoken to about the seeking of mental healthcare services, I never put together the series of equations that would tell me depression meant mental illness, mental illness meant illness, and illness meant I should go to see a doctor. But on the other hand, I was infinitely grateful – as well as relieved – to have someone who cared suggest to me that there was something I might be able to do to seek assistance for myself. This was my first contact with mental health professionals of any stripe, and naturally there was the anxiety that went along not only with making yourself vulnerable to someone by admitting that you’re psychically disintegrating and really can’t manage even your day-to-day life on your own any more, but also the added worry of whether or not I could even be helped in this manner. But the counsellor I ended up working with, Kerryn, was absolutely wonderful; it was she who began training me to work with my depression and anxiety, and to develop psychological techniques that’d allow me to unburden myself of the worst of the acute symptoms. I worked with her weekly for about six weeks with great success. After that, internal logistics of the counselling service meant I had to switch to another counsellor, and she was nowhere near as good; in fact, I took a substantial backward step as a result of the single session I had with her. (For instance, one would think that whatever introductory psychology classes she took would have taught her that “So what is it you want me to do?” is probably not the ideal way to phrase a question to someone who’s presented in acute despair and uncertainty for your professional assistance.) It was a cold but effective lesson in mental health treatment: it’s crucial not just to obtain assistance from people who are properly trained in mental healthcare, but because of the sometimes delicate nature of the issues involved, it’s important also to have professionals on your team who can be understanding and adaptable to your particular circumstances – someone with whom you can establish a rapport, and to whom you feel comfortable revealing the wounds and scars of your psyche that you might’ve previously worked diligently to keep cloaked. So it was after having recoiled from this second counsellor that I had to find other possibilities, but at that point I’d found out enough about psychological health care options that I knew I could see a doctor to investigate the issue further, and this I did in May of 2011; it was then that a more in-depth treatment involving counselling in concert with medication was first recommended to me. I think that’s something to talk about another day.

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