This is a personal client story – John’s name is the only thing we’ve changed.
John started to experience what he calls a ‘build-up of issues’ during his time as a master’s student, which culminated in a ‘meltdown’ that lasted years.
“I’d pushed myself relentlessly hard at university and the plan had always been to take a year out to use the time to apply for a PhD position,” recalls John.
“I was fortunate; I got all sort of offers from everywhere I applied to. It sounds silly, but I was overwhelmed, and the decision of where to go to continue my career seems to have been the trigger that sort of took me over the edge – I just could not make that decision.
“I now know that this was the culmination of issues that I hadn’t recognised, but at the time I was really quite unwell. I ended up having what I’d call a meltdown, obsessing over which option to take every day and asking myself whether I was making the right choice. “Every day it was the only thing I could think about – ‘what if I have made the wrong choice?’ kind of thoughts.”
The decision and its consequences were so paralysing to John that he found himself completely stuck for more than two years, during which he was not attending university and moving forward with his life, the very thing he most loved and wanted to do.
“That’s what this was all about – making the right choice and moving forward in my career – and yet it ended up being the thing I lost for a time,” he says. “I had three years of not moving forward, of just feeling stuck – it was almost like I had a sort of tunnel vision; I was in this very narrow world, both in my mind and, as a result, socially. I was seeing people I’d grown up with getting on in life and I was stuck in the same place,” he explains.
“I was seeing people I’d grown up with getting on in life – but I was stuck in the same place.”
“I’d put all my eggs in this academic basket and was telling myself everything was fine, and when I didn’t feel right I just told myself ‘as long as I keep doing well everything will be okay’. But then I wasn’t OK and I was no longer doing anything except going over it again and again.”
It was around this time John started going to see Johnny at Blue Talking Therapies. Johnny helped him see things differently, in a broader context with less of a black and white way of thinking.
“I love studying and reading books; I’d happily do nothing else,” laughs John. “Johnny helped me to realise that it was this all or nothing kind of thinking that was making me unhappy and showed me that minor changes could help me find the middle ground.
“He helped to bring me down in terms of stress and up from the depressive stage, where I was really worried about everything – that I had made bad decisions, that my life was kind of over, that sort of stuff.
“I was really worried about emailing people about my career and university options and things – I was putting pressure on myself to push forward and yet couldn’t move. Johnny helped me work at things in a different way. He’d say ‘‘at some point in the future, you want to be in a Ph. D programme at university – now let’s work backwards from that’.”
“Now I feel much more able to observe myself rather than get stuck in it like I did.”
’m open to different options and possibilities for the future. They seem less threatening than they did and I also now feel I can ask for help and that’s OK. I’ve got some space between the moments when life is overwhelming, and I can do things differently. When something doesn’t go well with work, I don’t now see it as a judgement on me as a person, it’s just something that happens,” he enthuses.
“Doing a PhD can be incredibly stressful at the best of times, but sometimes stress and anxiety can be seen as something of a badge of honour, a sign of how hard you’re working. I can easily become very unhealthy.”.
“University can be one of those areas where it’s almost like the way they seem to treat young lads at football academies; there’s this idea that if you’re not giving it 100% all the time, you maybe don’t want to progress your career enough. … That isn’t a helpful mindset for my mental health.”
“What is really great is that people are now more open to therapy. We know how to look after our bodies but we also need to look after our minds; mental health is becoming more of a normal thing to talk about and people like Johnny – a down-to-earth, local guy that I can relate to – really helped me.
Johnny – and the CBT tools he gave me – has allowed me to recognised things more which have really helped enormously. I’ve never had the sense that he’s going to judge me. He sees everything from a behavioural point of view which isn’t overly clinical either, just very, very friendly and helpful. He makes you feel listened to as a person, not just as a patient.
“He really has a really good way of bringing his expertise in a way that just sounds very conversational; I’ve managed to make a much healthier link between who I am, why I’m able to work so well academically and embrace the positives of being slightly obsessive about it.
“One of the things that Johnny sort of reiterated to me, that really resonated early on was, that I had to learn how to sit with the anxiety. Accept that this is something that has a beginning, middle and an end – especially during something that can be as stressful as a PhD – and with time you can learn to sit with it and let it take it course.
“I think you can spend 80 years of your life just battling with yourself internally, or you can get to a point where you can live with yourself, on a day-to-day basis, and really just enjoy your life.”
If John’s story has resonated and you’d like to chat to us about your situation, please do get in touch.
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