None of us like change particularly and I’m no exception. This year has seen me wave goodbye, at least for the foreseeable future, to the therapist who has anchored me through an incredibly tough period of my life. Each Monday I would drive to Budleigh Salterton for our session. No two were ever the same. Sometimes I seemed to just want to talk, other times I struggled with feeling like I wasn’t really there at all. Disassociation often left me foggy and distant. At other times I was so shut down that I couldn’t even imagine what emotions are. I cried, laughed, swore and got angry in her presence and she just held the space so that I could do that without feeling in any way threatened.
I should say right now that I didn’t stop because we had reached the end of our journey in therapeutic terms. I stopped due to a lack of funding. It was Noelle’s belief that I should have had at least three sessions a week straight after my last breakdown. The NHS allowed me six or eight sessions, one per week. The next ten years were paid for personally. For a while I could claim Disability Living Allowance, which more or less paid for my therapy. It was at that point that the government changed the rules and many of us dropped off the radar as far as DLA was concerned anyway. The problem there is that many people who need support can manage what are considered the basics of life: cooking, cleaning yourself and toileting. There are many other reasons for giving support, but the government doesn’t want to hear about those.
Noelle and I soldiered on, despite a psychiatrist’s suggestion that anything over five years was a waste of time. It never felt that way, and perhaps our best work was all done in the last year, helping me understand more about how I got to this point in my life. Perhaps more importantly, Noelle helped me with a huge range of decisions, like where to live and the importance of normal social contact, decisions that I needed to make at times when I couldn’t fathom out what to do for myself.
Her home is warm and inviting. From the bottom of the stairs to the therapy room, there are personal pictures lining the walls and photographs taken by Noelle herself. I used to look at these with great envy. They represented something that was illusory to me; a life of family and connection to others that I haven’t ever felt I had. In the therapy room, I would always receive a pint of water, a hot water bottle and the comfort of a sofa. Noelle sat opposite in what I nicknamed ‘the captain’s chair.’ Our talks were interspersed with tears and tissues, drinks and laughter. This was my Monday for nearly eleven years.
Noelle’s seemingly boundless knowledge on a wide range of therapeutic issues and other theories and ideas meant that I learned a great deal. Her gentle patience allowed me to speak out about things that would otherwise have only been known to me and nobody else. I learned that I was always safe there, and on the couple of times that she trod on my toes, therapeutically speaking, she was quick to apologise.
Saying goodbye was hard. Perhaps as hard as anything I have ever done. Noelle had become a friend and ally, one that could not be replaced by another without a great deal of work over many years. I’m not talking about unhealthy attachment, more a case of reliable dependability. Whatever I took to our sessions, Noelle was always stoic and level, balanced, and with great intelligence about the subject in hand
Finishing was hard because, as I mentioned previously, we hadn’t reached the end of our therapeutic journey. We weren’t done and plenty of work was still staring us in the face. It was also hard because I admired and respected Noelle more than perhaps anybody I have ever met. Because of that, she got to know me better than anybody else ever has. And that is the beauty of a good therapist, they allow you to talk and explore feelings and issues without judgement, always with a view to helping you understand how and why you got there as well as how to move on.
To aid my finishing, I decided that Monday morning would become a time when I treated myself or did something interesting that I might otherwise put off. This can be anything from lazing in a bath to reading a book, taking a bike ride, walking on Dartmoor, or visiting a National Trust property. It’s Monday morning now, just after 11.00a.m. I’m writing this as I woke up thinking about Noelle and our sessions. After I finish this I will go out for a stroll, despite the filthy weather outside.
Whatever I do and wherever I go, Noelle with always be with me, guiding me along whichever path I choose to take. I will always have a wise voice talking me gently through the options available. I used to joke that she was like a talkative parrot sitting on my shoulder, advising as me as I went. I’m trying to see our parting as a celebration, an opportunity to stand up on my own again without support. That isn’t something that will come easily as I’m still wobbling along in life. But acceptance is important, as is the kind of grieving that I’m currently experiencing.
I also try to remember that many other people haven’t had a Noelle to help them through. I was lucky in that she was the therapist allocated to me at the start of this particular event in my life. I am also lucky that I have been able to fund continuing therapy, even though it might not have been at the ideal level. Again, many people cannot even think about doing that and have to struggle along on their own. How is that possible in this rich country of ours?
I wonder when the time will come that mental health is treated as an equal to physical illness? I cannot see it happening soon, although there are now many more people talking out about their experiences than when I began to do that, late in 2009. The government make noises but do precious little else to show any real belief in the words they so easily spout to the media. People like Noelle are continuously battling the system. Once an NHS therapist, the government decided that talking therapy was a waste of time, other than in the short term. Some of us with multiple, deeply embedded, long- term trauma based issues are not well served with Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and the like. It is well recognised that talking therapy over many years may well be the only way forwards for us. If that’s the case, why is it not available at all as a treatment through the NHS?
Even when I was promised another session with a psychiatrist, it got cancelled, and the follow up psychologist never put in any kind of appearance. When those types of things happen, it’s very easy to feel that you are not worth people’s time. That is a dangerous place for somebody who is emotionally unstable but cannot do anything about it.
I feel I have a debt of gratitude to Noelle, and all those like her who are out there to help us through crisis and beyond. I have lived from Monday to Monday for as long as I can remember. Sometimes those weeks have been extraordinarily long and at others they have flown. There have been times when minutes pass like hours and a single night seems to span a whole year. During that time, I always knew deep down that if I could just get through to Monday, this would change, even if that just meant starting over the next week. My life was coming at me in manageable chunks.
Without Noelle, there would have perhaps been no cycling as I know it. Amongst others, she gave me massive support when I was building up to cycling around the UK coast. I knew I could call her at any time during that event and that alone helped me to move away and make that lengthy (6500km) journey. I used the skills she helped me acquire to fight the daily battles with my mind and the negatives it threw at me. I managed to slowly move toward taking charge and managing my life again. I learned how to use my medication to best affect and how to care for myself. I understand better when to stop, rest, move and balance the things people take for granted as easy to do. I still had to do those things myself, but it’s so much easier when there is somebody at your side, helping you make big decisions and small.
I finish with a big thank you to Noelle for all of the support and guidance she has given me over many years. It’s irreplaceable. There is now some grass where there was once just rubble and the walls of my castle are stronger than before we met. I’m still surrounded by debris, the life I used to have, but I’m less inclined to try to stick it all back together to recreate my previous life. I’m more accepting of what has occurred and I hope I’m moving slowly away from it.
Until next time……………………