I liken my recovery supports to the three legs of a stool. Each plays its role in providing a stable base from which my recovery can grow. Remove one leg, though, and the stable base for recovery is lost and recovery falters. In my previous post, I spoke on one of these legs, my use of psychotropics. In this post, I will discuss the second leg of the stool, talk supports.
Talk supports have played a substantial role in my recovery, but my use of them required a radical change in me. I’m a very private person. I was raised in a don’t ask, don’t tell environment where you didn’t disclose your personal business. I’d once been employed in a career where privacy was sacrosanct, and I grew to be even more private as a result. Finally, as a man, I had the prototypical male response to my suffering, I simply didn’t want to talk about it. Essentially, I was someone who guarded his privacy too much, and disclosed very little.
Nonetheless, I recognized immediately after my attempt that my silence had almost led to my death. I realized that the antidote to silence was conversation. I resolved to be more open about myself. Resolving to do it was easy, doing it was something else entirely.
The difficulty began with not knowing where to turn. Even though I’d been released from the hospital into the care of my parents, I was still very fragile. I had no other supports and didn’t know where to look to find them. To be blunt, I still didn’t even know what was wrong with me. What I did have was an appointment with my hospital counselor and a notepad. During that meeting I began my first tentative steps into meaningful conversation about me.
The meeting with the hospital counselor, though brief, was pivotal. He gave me three things: the name of an agency that might be able to help; a sheet of paper that was my introduction to CBT; and two words, depression and mindfulness. The agency was the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), and I continue to be affiliated with them to this day. The CBT form led to my purchasing the books Mind Over Mood and Feeling Good, both of which have helped me over these past 30 months. The words he used propelled my personal research and led to me purchasing yet another book, The Mindful Way Through Depression.
The next service I utilized was the CMHA. As I mentioned above, I still rely on their support to this day.
My relationship with the CMHA began with a simple phone call made two days after my attempt. For the second time in as many days, I told my story. For the second time, I was met with compassion, patience and understanding. No-one judged me, no-one berated me, no-one looked down on me. I was treated with respect, a respect that I didn’t have for myself.
That phone call led to an appointment where I applied for help. Yet again, I was telling my story, yet again I was shown nothing but respect. I can’t understate how important that was, especially since I had no respect for myself. Like all applications, time passed as it was reviewed. As I awaited a reply, I was in near daily contact with the young lady who took my application as she updated me on its status. Ultimately, I was met in my parents’ home, told my application had been approved, and assigned a Case Manager.
Apart from my initial application, which took place at the CMHA offices, all other appointments occurred in my home. I can’t fully express how grateful I am for this, not can I fully convey just how beneficial this was. I do know there were many times when I simply wasn’t able to leave my home so having someone come to me was invaluable.
Initially, my case manager met with me twice a week and we spoke of the issues I was facing as I struggled to come to terms with my survival and recovery. Emotionally, I was very fragile. Intellectually, I was fractured. I had to find a reason to live, had to rediscover myself, rebuild myself. The meetings with my case manager went a long way to helping me do this. All the while I was wrestling with my own sense of worthiness, here was someone treating me with respect and compassion, telling me I was worthy and offering solace when I doubted. As I stabilized, it became weekly then bi-weekly visits, growing to include visits outside my home.
Even though I spoke with my CMHA case manager frequently, it isn’t a counselling service. For that, I was directed to two services in my community, Durham Family Services (DFS) and Community Care Durham (CCD), which provided individual and group support, respectively.
My DFS counselor was very helpful. First of all, he provided a safe space. My parents had opened their home to me but they weren’t equipped to deal with someone as fragile as I was. Secondly, he listened. He heard me when I said I was typically a private person and he allowed me to grow into a more open individual. When I was able, he then steered the discussions. He recognized that I was actively working towards my recovery, the third leg of the stool, so he steered me in directions that would prove helpful with this work. Through him I was introduced to The Four Agreements, introduced to Ted Talks and reintroduced to YouTube. I’ll explore those in more detail in my next post.
Like my CMHA case manager, my individual counselor made a point of reminding me of my abilities. My self-esteem had been eroded so much by successive depressive episodes, that I had no belief in myself. Slowly, the efforts of these two people began to make an impression and self-esteem took root.
Alongside individual counseling, I also attended CCD which provided me with a different kind of talk support. For the first time I was able to see, and interact with, fellow sufferers face to face. There was, and is, something freeing in being able to talk about mental illness without fear of judgement. With them, I could talk about my illness, about my research, about my struggles, about treatment options, about anything. I could see and interact with people in various stages of recovery and from this I could draw upon hope. CCD gave me another safe environment in which to pursue my recovery. All the while I was with people who “got it”. As I said, freeing.
Alongside these supports there was also talk with the medical professionals I saw, my family doctor and my psychiatrist. I was, and am, fortunate that may parents’ doctor agreed to take me on as a patient. He provided a common locus for medical issues. My psychiatrist saw physical signs of a possible sleep issue, sent me for a sleep study and determined that my sleep apnea had worsened. I now know that poor sleep was a significant contributor to my mental health issues. Thanks to my psychiatrist, I now have a CPAP machine to help with my sleep.
Unfortunately, I had to leave my CCD group when I moved. I spoke to my psychiatrist, expressing my fear of relapse now that I was on my own. My psychiatrist enrolled me in a day program offered through my local hospital, just a few minutes walk from my new home. Once again, I saw people in various stages of recovery and benefited from the interactions within the groups. There was much that took place within each group that directed my work. It was clear that those furthest along in recovery were those who worked on it, and who shared. By this point, I’d already been conducting my own research, at times guided by my DFS counselor, so now I could take issues raised in group, add them to my efforts, share, and in this way I could help not only myself, but the group as a whole.
You will notice that throughout this piece I made no mention of talk therapy. This is solely because there were no such options available to me. Had there been, I would have taken them, especially as the talk supports I used showed me the value in opening up and sharing. I have no doubt that talk therapy would have added to my stability.
I continue to use talk supports today. The group I attend is a safe place where I can be open and forthcoming about my struggle with my mental health, and I do struggle. But I know, while I am struggling, that each week there is a window of calm when I attend my group, that helps me get through the struggle.
I hope you enjoyed this piece on talk support. Next time I will discuss the third leg of my stool, the work and effort involved in my recovery.
About John Dickson
A lifelong battle with Major Depressive Disorder resulted in a suicide attempt. That attempt taught me the danger of being silent about my personal struggles with mental health. I've had to learn to be more open about my struggle. I now choose to reach out with the hope that someone will be inspired and end his/her own silence. I'm a dad, a blogger and a new convert to the power of social media.