I’ve been stumbling in the dark with my pen of late.
As well as working on a long assignment for my counselling course, I am trying and failing to write a novel that I started in the summer. The characters are walking through treacle, unable to progress until I do.
I find my writing has changed. It is no longer fluid, there lacks a heart. I have withdrawn somewhat and I feel I’m in hibernation. As soon as it gets dark I want to nestle down into my pyjamas and just crawl into bed.
My flat is covered with fairy lights, but they have lost their charm since I seek their twinkle so early in the day. They blaze stubbornly for hours and get bored by the six o’clock news. Usually when I’m feeling low, I write. Without wanting to get too poetic, the ink on the page acts like a balm. When I’m writing I just feel better.
Things have changed a little for me recently and my pen doesn’t feel so comfortable between my fingers. Unfamiliar, mistrusting almost. There are cracks in the bond. For the past few months I’ve been struggling. My energy plummeted with the sun in November. My body wearily combated flu, then cold after cold. Something else was happening too. With alarming frequency I found myself in despair – feeling overwhelmed with expectations, hope overpowered by guilt and the negative voices in my head. Tears were all too common and poured with an angry heat. A gentle nudge from my long suffering boyfriend took me to the doctors. We’ve since broken up, but I consider him my saviour for holding my hand through all of this. I wouldn’t have taken care of myself nearly as well as he did.
In the waiting room I felt frightened, nervous and like a fraud. Surely I didn’t need to be there? I saw a nurse practitioner called Pam* who was warm, friendly and not in the least bit patronising. I agreed to try some medicine for my mind and came home with a pink and white box wrapped in paper that reminded me of sugar mice. I popped the blue and white capsule in my mouth, feeling like Alice, lost and taking a chance.
Within the hour I was googling: ‘Is it OK to be a counsellor and have depression?’
I couldn’t find anything to say that it wasn’t, as long as the therapist takes care of themselves. Several anecdotes, articles and statistics of therapists dealing with their own mental health problems provided a profound comfort. I felt calm for the first time in a long time. I was OK. I’m OK, You’re OK.
The side effects were nearly enough to put me off entirely. Wonderland was colourless, heavy and my heart beat wildly against the change. Pam told me to persevere; ‘It’s unpleasant but it’s temporary.’ I felt numb, top to bottom. I felt like I couldn’t feel at all. My body frowned, sulked and toyed with the memory of temper tantrums. And then it settled.
I accepted the second prescription looking into Pam’s eyes, seeing promise and confidence. By Christmas I felt happier, and now everything’s just easier. I am so very grateful for this. My pen still feels awkward though, and there is something like a sugar coat on this brighter side of life that leaves a twinge of regret. I’m no longer numb, but find it hard to access all of my feelings.
Nerves once raw and ready have been blocked off. I have been referred for counselling. As well as the training therapy that is a requirement for my course, Pam strongly encouraged me to have separate therapy from the NHS. Just as soon as the waiting list goes down. Place your bets now.
The pills are a quick fix but those nerves are still there behind the sugar walls.
I believe in talking therapies. I believe they do an awful lot of good in the world. Even on the dark days, I still feel an ember of hope that I will be part of the counselling profession one day. I believe counselling will provide a long lasting change and understanding of myself.
I have faith that I will be a part of this journey for others in the future. Fingers crossed, it will provide a safety net whereby I can wean myself off the wonder drugs and gain access to those nerves again. But it will be on my own terms. No more stampedes of misery. Just enough so that I can fully feel again, and my pen feels at home between my fingers once more.
*Not her real name, I just find a lot of comfort in the name ‘Pam’.
Kate Eve Smith lives and works in Northumberland where she is studying for a Diploma in Psychotherapeutic Counselling. She spends much of her time exploring the county's wilderness and coastline, and on colder days puts pen to paper. You can contact Kate on Twitter here