Counselling Without Diagnosis
I’ve had a fairly sheltered childhood. I’ve never experienced extreme trauma and I’ve had many opportunities in life. I do not have a diagnosable mental health illness. I am, what many would call, a high-functioning individual (sometimes a bit too high-functioning) who genuinely enjoys life. These are the reasons why it took me a long time to seek help, and why I have never been open about mental health problems – why should I get help if I’ve clearly had it good in life and when other people have it so much worse and deserve help so much more? So here is why.
As of now, only eight people know that I’ve been attending counselling for over a year (well, 12 if you include my counsellor and other mental health professionals). This does not include my family and quite frankly I’m nervous thinking that they might read this. Even when I was working for a mental health charity I found it extremely difficult to admit to my colleagues that I didn’t have it all together, even though I was advocating to erase the stigma around mental health issues. My counsellor was working for the student services in Dumfries, where I used to live, and every time I went to see her I was nervous about my PhD colleagues potentially asking why I regularly spend an hour in the library on Thursday mornings. (They never did.)
I am not going to go into too much detail of why I went to counselling, and what my struggles are. But just the fact that even during counselling I felt like an imposter and like I didn’t deserve to be there probably says a lot. Experiences in my early childhood and throughout my teenage years have left me with low self-esteem, inter-personal relationship struggles, a tendency to ruminate at times and a deep-seated need for approval. Taken together these things have the power to transform the high-functioning individual into someone that merely resembles her in appearance.
My counselling sessions stopped a few months ago because both my counsellor and I agreed that I was doing well. However, that does not mean that I’m ‘healed’ and that all my problems have gone away (as I naively hoped they would when starting counselling). But I’ve reached a point which might almost be more important: I have learned to accept and like myself the way I am, including all those lovely weaknesses, and am not judging myself for them anymore (mostly 😉). I’ve learned to cope. This has lead me to feel more comfortable in talking to my friends about things I struggle with (something I didn’t do before) and I have realised how many people struggle with themselves and everyday life sometimes. Once you start speaking about it, it really opens doors.
Now of course I have thought quite a bit about writing this blog post and if I should do it (I wouldn’t be me if I hadn’t thought this through at least five times, and be assured that a few friends will have been asked for their opinion on this piece before posting it). What if my supervisors read this? What if my PhD colleagues read it? Or, worse, what if my future students stumble upon this blog? What if people see me differently or judge me? Well, if you are reading this (which clearly you are), then feel free to talk to me about it. I am done hiding and, from now on, I will try to wear my struggles as armour. To everybody who doesn’t feel like they deserve help for whatever reason: you do deserve it. You deserve to be heard and to be helped. You’ve struggled long enough.
If you think you might benefit from counselling and mental health services, check out the university's counselling & psychology services. Even though it might take a while to get counselling, they have drop-in appointments which can be accessed immediately (booking on the day required).