Success story- how can treatment look like, client’s story

Some positive vibes coming: this a story of my client who kindly gave me permission to share it with others.

I thought I wanted to share with you one of my client’s stories.  Just to lighten up those who might me having doubts about their journey: ) 

Sebastian (not his real name) came to see me in July 2022. I was recommended to him, so I think he must have had a bit more hope in this process. He was seeing a clinical psychologist in his local area, but he told me he didn’t like him, and it seemed to him that he was not knowledgeable enough.  

Sebastian seemed to me quite defeated, hopeless and scared. Lost in the journey he never thought he would be on.  “How did I end up here” kind of attitude, “this shouldn’t have happened- to me” story, I often hear. 

 

I am proud to report that Sebstain is doing super well ( I believe a big part of this was EMDR therapy). He has been very motivated to complete his homework, and he has put an enormous amount of work into this process!!! He kindly gave me permission to share his story, so here it goes: 

“My name is Sebastian and I experienced my first significant mental health condition at the age of 45. I was working in a high stress job, with frequent travel to very remote Indigenous communities. A lot of the kids, families and communities I worked with were dealing with significant trauma, and on top of that were caught in a flawed and under resourced justice system.

 

Over the 7 years I worked in that role I increasingly convinced myself that I could make a difference in terms of reducing the numbers of Indigenous kids being incarcerated and change the attitude of the racist or disengaged non-Indigenous people working in the system. Basically, I took on the system thinking that I could single-handedly create change. While doing that at work I also increasingly told myself that I could be everything to my beautiful wife and 3 kids when I was at home.

 

At this stage you’re probably thinking this isn’t going to turn out so good. I ignored the physical and mental signs that were telling me to stop until I eventually had the first of several panic attacks just over two years ago, and they were big. Physically and mentally, I felt like I’d been thrown into a swimming pool full of spiders and that everyone was telling me not to struggle. The anxiety would last for days and consisted of me feeling dreadfully uncomfortable and telling myself that I was a failure and not worthy of my family’s love – then I would have depression for a while and was unable to see a future for myself. There were days where I was debilitated – I couldn’t drive my kids to school. I felt I was in a dark tunnel and that it would never end. There were moments where I felt all I could do was survive the next breath.

 

Seeing a psychologist and eventually a psychiatrist were deeply shameful things for me at the time – I still couldn’t accept that this was happening to me. I got diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Panic Disorder, which were also confronting terms to deals with. My psychologist told me I have an “all or nothing attitude”, and although this is what both made me successful in my work (and also caused me to burn out spectacularly), it also led to me to research and work my butt off to make positive changes in my life. If you told me two and a half years ago that I would be doing yoga in the future I would have fallen over laughing but I am enjoying the positive changes.

 

If you have done any reading or listening to podcasts you will have heard an abundance of information – some that really resonates with you and some that is just not helpful or even detrimental. For me, finding the line between “not avoiding things” and pushing myself too hard, too soon has certainly been a challenge. All the “wellness” info was difficult to wade through at first, but I picked up the same concepts being mentioned repeatedly:

  • Connection

  • Breathing

  • Being in the moment/mindfulness

  • Movement and exercise

  • Self-compassion

  • Nutrition

These are mentioned repeatedly because they work (even when your anxiety is busily telling you they’re not), it was just a matter of me finding the best way to get them to work for me. For example, connection for me is my wife, my kids and the ocean. I find a lot in common with the ocean – its ever-changing conditions are like our emotional states and it feeds us both spiritually and with the odd mackerel or mud-crab.

 

Like the ocean tide, my anxiety ebbs and flows, but I can finally feel it is receding overall. The last two and a half years have been easily the most challenging and terrifying of my life, but I have made a lot of positive changes and my relationship with myself and others has deepened and improved as a result. The avoidance/push too hard balance is still something I am working on but I know I’m getting better at it and building trust in myself. My goal is to keep growing and ride the waves of this beautiful life with an adventurous heart and a different understanding of what it means to be courageous and what it means to a man in today’s society.

 

What worked for me

I wanted to include this section because I know that when I was really struggling, I just wanted to do or hear something that would help. Everyone is different, everyone’s journey is different, and the patchwork quilt I put together to help myself is not going to be the same as yours.

To help me figure out what I needed at different times, I categorised my anxiety as follows:

Red zone: I was overwhelmed/having panic attacks.

Strategies that worked when I was in the Red zone: the “S.T.O.P.” strategy, the “T.I.P” strategy, the “S.O.S” guided meditation on Smiling Mind & calming music. Things got so bad for me at some points that all I felt I could do was focus on the next breath and keep telling myself it would pass (even though part of me didn’t believe it). Trying to do anything more complex than these strategies was not helpful for me. The simpler the better, I was in survival mode.

 

Orange zone: Not at the panic attack stage but very strong anxiety, self-defeating thoughts that would race and generally had a “You are defective”/ “You can’t cope” base to them.

Strategies that worked when I was in the Orange zone: Remove the stressor – there is nothing productive about beating yourself up to achieve something that you are not ready for yet, talking (getting the racing thoughts out), guided meditations (the Smiling Mind app has good ones and it’s free), exercise, time in nature, calming breathing practices, journalling.

 

Green zone: Some anxiety but the self-defeating stories are not so strong.

Strategies that worked when I was in the Green zone: self-compassion (even if it’s as simple as having a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit), guided meditations, breathing practices, exercise, time in nature and journalling that included thought challenging or reframing, for example: I reframed “You can’t cope” to “I can cope, I have coped, and I will continue to cope”. I would also reflect on what was happening and why, for example, the panic attacks were just my body’s attempt to keep me safe and would pass over time.

 

Blue zone: No anxiety.

Strategies that worked when I was in the Blue zone: Nothing to do but enjoy life and all the benefits that come from the changes I have made.

 

Things that have really helped in overall sense have been:

  • Reflecting on the ways I had previously defined masculinity and courage and re-defining them in a healthier and more sustainable way.

  • Talking to a psychologist about where the self-defeating stories originated and healing that part of me.

  • I have also got a lot out of many of the interviews on Rangan Chatterjee’s podcast “Feel Better, Live More”.

  • Yoga ticks a lot of boxes for me: breathing practices, stretching, connection to body, improving focus and relaxation.

 

I hope what I’ve written has helped, it helped me to write it and I did it because I want to help people who are struggling. There are three quotes that have stuck in my head throughout this, the first was when I was in a dark place:

 

“Do you ever think “how did I end up here?” Like you are in a maze and totally lost and it’s all your fault because you were the one who made every turn? And you know that there are many routes that could have helped you out, because you hear all the people on the outside of the maze who made it through, and they are laughing and smiling. And sometimes you get a glimpse of them through the hedge. A fleeting shape through the leaves. And they seem so damn happy to have made it and you don’t resent them, but you do resent yourself for not having their ability to work it all out. Do you? Or is this maze just for me?” ―Matt Haig, “The Midnight Library”

 

I liked this one because I totally related to it but it also gives you strength in the fact that it reminds you that you are not the only person going through this. It’s a great book by the way.

 

And the second one is “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear”. I know this is attributed to Buddha and Lao Tzu and I honestly don’t know what they meant but my interpretation is that we are on a journey and that if we work on ourselves, rather than wishing we were at a certain point, we will get there quicker.

 

The last quote comes from a philosopher who is right up there with Buddha and Lao Tzu and I actually know what it means: “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. What do we do? We swim, swim” – Dory, “Finding Nemo”. Just keep breathing, never give up – it will pass and we’ll all be laughing and smiling outside the maze one fine day.”

I hope you enjoyed it 🙂  
Feel free to reach out if you want to start your own process.