Helen Moorhouse: Getting help for a mental health issue is no sign of failure – but ignoring it is
Published 16/09/2013 | 05:00
You don't think being told you're displaying textbook symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress would be good news but hey, life's a funny thing.
The person who told me – my counsellor, shrink, psychotherapist, call them what you will– was apologetic about 'labelling' me, as she called it. Go ahead, I thought. Label me all you like, because at last I knew that what was interrupting my life was something concrete. And I could do something about it.
I had just come out the other side of what was, to me and mine, a hideously traumatic time. I say 'to me' because when it comes to having an emotional wobble, it's different strokes for different folks. One man's bad day is another's unimaginable hell. The devil is not necessarily in the detail. He's too busy going 'ta daa!' with a surprise attack on your mind.
I had, to all appearances, come out the other side. Everything was meant to be fine, all had gone according to plan as far as the outcome looked. So why then was I – to borrow from the movie 'Wreck-It Ralph' – glitching? My outlook veered from moderate chance of tears to unstoppable bawling; steady anxiety with bouts of inexplicable terror. I felt removed from real life. Numbed and bewildered. I had everyday responsibilities that felt like scaling Everest. I wasn't running on empty, but a red light flashed all the same.
The results of a survey published last week by St Patrick's University Hospital in Dublin make for depressing reading, if you'll pardon the phrase. Almost every family in Ireland has been touched by some form of psychological difficulty, yet 60pc of people wouldn't employ someone who admits to suffering themselves; and 30pc wouldn't accept them as their friend. Four out of 10 people believe getting help for a mental health problem is a sign of failure. Wow.
Why a sign of failure? That doesn't make sense. Even as I glitched about the place, all snot and vivid flashbacks, I realised that real failure would be to not get help. Glitch Me was terrified, miserable, of no use to those who needed me. I had to sort that out.
My decision to visit a counsellor wasn't because I had a self-indulgent desire to re-live the drama of my experience, or to take an exploratory trip to 'Me'. I felt I simply had to.
So maybe it's the terminology that's offputting – 'psychotherapist', 'shrink', 'analyst'. Treating stuff that's 'mental'.
But you'd talk to an adviser, wouldn't you? About your car or your money, say. You'd talk to a physician about that rash? 'Adviser'. 'Physician'. Better words.
Synonyms for 'Counsellor' or 'Psychotherapist'.
There's nothing mysterious or spooky about going to see a professional. There are chairs, privacy, and a set amount of uninterrupted time.
You are not obliged to punch pillows, talk through dolls, scream or revert to a childlike state. Unless you really want to.
The professional is not there to get the goss on you and then tell their mates down The Drunken Shrink after work. They're not even there to tell you what to do.
What they are there for is to facilitate a conversation between you and yourself. Between Glitch You, and You You. And they can advise you on the fact that sometimes your brain goes off by itself, taking you into dark places and then being stubborn about letting you out. But it doesn't mean that you're lost in there forever. That's biology – chemicals mixed with experience. Not voodoo.
Inspired by the talking, your subconscious takes over – as much as your brain involuntarily does bad stuff, it does good stuff too, it just needs a little steer in the right direction.
And there's loads of us who have done it. Who have sought help either for a glitch or something more long term.
And, for me, it worked. It didn't make me superhuman or invincible, but damned if it didn't get me functioning again.
So I needed help with my health. So what? I'm neither a flake nor unreliable. Not a failure. Just Josephine Soap again, but without the glitches. Service Resumed. No shame in that.