On Thursday 1 February, Happiful and Counselling Directory are supporting Time to Talk Day – an important initiative led by Time to Change
In anticipation of Time to Talk Day, we’re encouraging our own teams and the wider Happiful Community to take time to talk, knowing the huge difference this can make. And, as an example, our colleague Lucy Donoughue is sharing her own story and championing the power of talking, after seeking help for depression last year.
Talking is so powerful. Most of us do it every day, but when it comes to mental health and mental illness, a conversation can be one of the most difficult things to start. I know this because early last year I felt that I’d lost my voice entirely. At my lowest moment, sat on the edge of my bathtub crying before my second counselling session, I didn’t know how I could ever get the jumbled mess from my head to my mouth, let alone begin to change things.
I hadn't realised that I was depressed until a few weeks before this moment. For months leading up to the bathtub breakdown, my mood and personality had been changing. I felt disproportionately angry, incredibly irritable one day and desperately weepy the next. The commute into and through London filled me with despair – even more than usual – and I slept a lot. I had put on weight, argued continually with my husband, had no energy, and my inner critic was out of control. Despite this, I was still managing an external front of sorts, socialising and working, helped through by last-minute cancellations of social plans when my duvet and need for isolation called.
I believed my symptoms added up to physical illness and went to my GP several times, requesting tests for my thyroid, early menopause and other issues that Dr Google (steer clear!) had suggested. Every test came back negative. I understand now that it’s quite usual for people to want their symptoms to result in the diagnosis of a “physical” illness, or something that could be cured by a course of antibiotics and a week off work.
Work was part of the problem – although there were other contributing challenges that I am still working on. I had loved my job, the people and appreciated the opportunities I had been given, and to this day I have the utmost respect for the organisation I worked for. However, after managing a long period of departmental change, as well as the other pressures that came with my role, I felt far away from the creative and positive person I believed I had been when I walked into that office five years earlier.
Gradually, I had begun to feel like I was living the life of someone else. I felt trapped. I could see that things had to change, but I didn’t know how to change them or where to start. I couldn't think straight. I couldn't see any light.
After being prescribed antidepressants at a further appointment with my GP, I knew I had to do something more, but couldn’t wait. I reached out to a local counsellor, Helen, who was able to see me that week.
I’m lucky to have wonderful friends and family, but at that point in time I couldn’t talk to them about everything I had to try to say – they would, understandably, try to make it better, to reason or solve the problem, and I had to do that work myself. I had to talk to a professional, say the previously unsayable, and have it reflected back at me. I had to give myself time and space to consider what was happening and why. It wasn't easy at first, hence the bathtub breakdown before my second session, but I started to sort the jumble in my head and articulate what was going on.
Working with Helen, I was able to make some significant changes. Within a couple of months, I made the decision to leave my job and started to look for a role in mental health advocacy – something I have been passionate about since my teens, and from my personal experiences of OCD. I was also able to start speaking to my friends and family about what was happening and, in some cases, apologise for the impact my depressed behaviour had had on our relationship – particularly my husband, for whom it had been tough on too.
Looking for work threw up further challenges and I was glad to have weekly sessions with Helen to explore those too. My confidence was low and I got off to a bumpy start with a few of the interviews. I’m thankful now that this was the case, as I would never have had the opportunity to work with the Counselling Directory, helping people to connect with local counsellors to start their journey to improve their own mental health.
Talking really can help, whether it’s with a professional counsellor like Helen, with a colleague, a friend or a family member. It can start with Time to Talk Day and end up with a longer conversation and a new path for you, or for somebody who needs you to start the conversation with them.
Let’s all harness the power of talking.
Visit Counselling Directory to search for counsellors near you and for more information on mental health.