“The most consistent experience I had during my treatment was anxiously plucking a hole in my beard, waiting for a phone call that would never come.”
In the middle of a pandemic, Tom shares his experience of seeking help for a depressive episode.
Winter is often hard on me. The shorter days are usually a sign that depression is going to rear its ugly head again.
It crept up on me again this January. After losing a lot of weight and struggling to do anything that wasn’t rewatching Bojack Horseman (“You’ve seen this before and it still got the better of you?”) for most of January and February, I managed to make an appointment with my GP (“Why did it take you so long? You fucking idiot.”).
By the time I was given an initial assessment I was beginning to claw my way out of the woods. I can’t help but think it would be easier for me to articulate and work on my symptoms while actually experiencing them. But then, I’ve never had the luxury so I wouldn’t know. By then it was mid March and lockdown was around the corner.
A few things dawned on me. I had no idea what my master’s project was going to be about; the data I had collected so far was no better than no data at all. I was probably going to be completely alone for an indeterminate length of time. And I would never be able to actually see my therapist.
It’s safe to say that when my CBT finally started, lockdown had really hit me and I finally found out what getting therapy in the midst of a depressive episode was like. Sort of. The charity treating me were struggling with their phone system so much that the few CBT sessions I had been offered were spread across four months. The most consistent experience I had during my “treatment” was anxiously plucking a hole in my beard while waiting for a phone call that would never come; only to receive the lame excuse that the phone’s weren’t working again.
They weren’t entirely to blame; not having to be anywhere physically didn’t help me stick to these sporadic phone calls.
The appointments being over the phone was weird. I still couldn’t say whether the disconnect made it easier or harder to be honest. It definitely didn’t help my ability to be present during the sessions. I probably spent about as much time completely spaced out as I did listening; it’s hilariously easy to pretend you’re paying attention on the phone (“You say you want to get better, but you can’t even listen to a therapist for half an hour? Liar.”).
Even though it would sometimes be days before I got the text apologising for a missed session, I was only ever given twenty-four hours grace if I missed an appointment. This is particularly laughable considering that I never even got six sessions. I suspect the lack of structure may have prevented me from benefiting from my therapy.
My last one was supposed to be well over a month ago. I’ve texted, called and emailed and heard nothing.
Although I’m definitely doing better now, I doubt it’s anything to do with the sessions I had over lockdown.
When I break a negative thought pattern, the techniques I’ve noticed myself using aren’t from my CBT; they’re from my mindfulness practice.
I’ve decided not to name the organisation that provided my therapy as the problems I encountered are almost definitely not within their control. The government’s mishandling of lockdown likely gave them no time to prepare, which would have been hard anyway considering the limited resources of mental health organisations.
Given that this pandemic doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, and indications that outbreaks like COVID-19 may be more likely than ever before, we may have to come up with new and ever more creative ways people can access effective mental health services digitally.
Digital mental health services definitely have promise. I’ve tried a lot of different mindfulness apps. Balance and Waking Up are my favourites and I use both. Balance has different plans, asks you for feedback and throughout the plans and adapts to your needs. It is also currently recommended by the NHS. Waking Up is great, especially if you struggle with the more spiritual side of other apps. It’s done by a neuroscientist who has spent his career researching mindfulness. His explanations of the science behind mindfulness are clear no matter your background, and personally knowing the science helps me stick with my practice. They will give you the premium version for free if you ask for it, no explanation required.