Why am I writing a blog about dating if I’ve already found the love of my life? Don’t worry, this isn’t a spoiler that I’ve found my life partner – although if she were single and we both swung that way I wouldn’t say no.
No, the real love of my life I’m talking about is someone I’ve mentioned a couple of times in previous posts, who’s always there to help me in my time of need, and knows just what to say. The love of my life is Julia, my therapist. She who assists me in learning all the lessons I write about.
Talking about my problems, or really anything, has never been a problem for me, I’ll tell anyone. Sometimes I wish I maybe had a little more of a filter, but it’s how I am. Sharing is caring, right? So going to “speak to someone” about things like my ex-husband cheating wasn’t that difficult. I know for some people the thought of having to be vulnerable or self reflect is enough to make them run for the hills.
I had been to see counsellors back in the UK, when my parents divorced when I was a teenager and also when issues first surfaced in my marriage, and while I always thought of them as positive experiences I never felt I had any real “a-ha!”, come to Jesus moments in those sessions. I never really came out feeling all that much different.
Yes, I had maybe learnt some new coping mechanisms or better ways to communicate but in terms of feeling wholly better about the issue at hand? I wouldn’t say that there was an overwhelming feeling of change. So I’d let the time between sessions get longer and eventually stop going altogether.
My life changed though when during a particularly difficult few months of my new life in Canada, I found myself in a fairly dark, deepening spiral of depression-like symptoms and knew I needed to do something about it. I had begun to experience severe social anxiety as a result, which I hated because it perpetuated the issue. The anxiety made me not want to go out, so I’d stay in and the feelings would deepen, and the anxiety would worsen with the longer I squirrelled myself away. It was a never ending cycle.
I didn’t know exactly what was at the bottom of it, but given some experience with depression in my late teens, I was aware of what the feelings were and knew I needed to seek help.
And that can sometimes be the hardest part – just knowing you need help when you’re reaching breaking point. Thankfully my friend who is a therapist (she of brilliance who helped me craft the final text to Filipeen) recommended me to another therapist she knew to be good. Given that my friend can’t counsel me, it was the next best thing to get a recommendation from her, someone I trust.
My first few sessions with Julia were, as is normal with a new therapist/client relationship, mostly me just unloading all my experience (we don’t call it baggage) and explaining what I was struggling with. There was a lot, I mean I think it was session three or four before I was no longer telling her about another life dramas I hadn’t gotten round to with her yet. But at the end of every session she would ask “what was something useful today?” and there would always be something. Either a question she asked that got me to think about something differently, or a comment she would make or a story she would tell of her own personal experience to complement mine.
There was always something, usually more than one thing, that was useful. So while I wasn’t having any massive revelations in the first few weeks/months, it was definitely feeling beneficial right from the outset.
The sessions were hard, I would come out of them emotionally wrought and exhausted. I got into the habit of having them late on Friday afternoons, and then I would take my tear stained cheeks home and hibernate for the night. But despite the rawness of those sessions, with tissue in hand, I would text my Mum on the walk home and say what a great session it was. Every single time.
I started seeing Julia at the end of the September and by the early-February I had made contact with my father who I hadn’t spoken to in 15 years, had truly processed my divorce and started to deal with the residual bullshit it had left me with, and had started dating again. She was a miracle worker. And for the first time in a really long time I could say I felt happy.
For me, there was something about being able to see the change, being able to feel the release of years of tension and anguish and hurt and guilt. One of my favourite things to do is carry guilt about situations I had no control over, it’s a skill. And the impact that had on my day to day life and, more importantly, my mental state was huge.
Mental health is no joke. One in five people in Canada will experience a mental health problem or illness each year and in the UK that number is one in four. Mental illness affects people of all ages, education, income levels, and cultures and around 10% of adults will experience major depression at some time in their lives.
I truly believe that as a society we need to do more to remove the stigma around mental health and also accept the fact that you don’t necessarily need to be manically depressed to need, or be benefitted by, therapy. Life is hard, everyone’s life is hard – yes, even the people who seemingly have it easy. They likely also have struggles. Everyone does. Why do we pretend we don’t?
I get that it’s not the most glamorous or comfortable thing to talk about, but we do need more to make sure we’re creating safe spaces where people can feel like they can be honest about it and where they can get help. I know I’m lucky that I have the ability to seek out and pay for my own therapy.
Even if you’ve never experienced a big life trauma such as a divorce, or the loss of a loved one, or addiction, abuse, or another life event which you may seek therapy for afterwards, I still believe there’s value in having someone, in a safe space, you can be vulnerable and self reflect with.
As you may be able to tell, I am a massive advocate of therapy and have recommended Julia to a number of my friends. I’m also super happy to talk to my friends about anything – my issues, their issues – but just talking isn’t the same. A professional has years of training and, crucially, they also have no bias. As friends, or as anyone who in some way is connected to that person other than for therapy’s sake, we can’t say that.
Support networks are important, don’t get me wrong. Having my friends and family support me after I’d had a tough session or when I was facing big changes was key and I couldn’t have done any of it without them. But without Julia I don’t know that I’d have gotten to where I am now.
That’s not to say that everything in my life is now perfect, it’s not and it never will be. Nothing is perfect. I still see Julia every month or so, for “little tune ups” as I call them or when something shakes me I’ll go more often, like after Filipeen I was there a lot more frequently, unsurprisingly.
In this world of ever changing situations, and relationships, and myself, it’s important to keep reflecting and growing and Julia provides me with the ability to do that, which makes it the best money I spend each month, hands down. And I don’t doubt, as this journey still has many more corners to turn and curve balls to throw at me, that my dates with the real love of my life will continue to be some of the best dates I have.