So last week was a crazy week, right? Crazy! For me, this actually had less to do with a reality TV star being named the leader of the free world and more to do with the fact that last Thursday, I had my first CBT session.
Like most of my friends on Wednesday morning, I woke up, saw the devastating news coming from over the pond, and then went to work. Unlike most of my friends, I spent the day talking to young teenagers about anxiety. I must admit, it felt like a slightly fruitless task in the face of the agonising global anxiety that had descended with the morning news, but I also had a slight out of body experience when telling the students about my mental health status. As I told them that I struggled with anxiety disorder and eating disorder when I was a teenager like them, I also imagined what it would be like to be totally honest with them and say:
“And actually, things have been pretty rough. I’m starting therapy tomorrow and, honestly, I’m not sure what I’ll do if this doesn’t work.”
But I didn’t say that. I told them that I still have to “manage” my disorders and that they have every right to seek treatment or help for everything from exam stress to suicidal thoughts. I know that was the right thing to do. Some students came forward to reveal their own struggles and as I listened to them, I was reminded of the importance of the work I do. I was also reminded of all the conversations I didn’t have when I was their age. All the help I shunned because of my own fears. I wondered how things would have been different if I had spoken up.
Because maybe if I had, I wouldn’t be exhausted by my own anxiety and hoping that this therapy will be the one that makes the difference.
I’m not saying the therapy I have had has been useless. It hasn’t. I know the value of it, I really do. But I also write this from a place of pure fatigue; I am tired from constantly managing my illness with my limited tools. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is designed to give me more tools. That is its purpose. So I signed up and gradually, as I have become more tired, I have acquired more hope in CBT. This will be the thing that flicks the switch. This will be the one that makes it all stop.
“So, your anxiety has sort of a cycle within a cycle.” She’s staring at the paper I have filled out, with a slight frown. “I will need to do some research into some exposure therapies specific to your phobia. It’s all just very… complex.”
Her words fall on my ears like quiet, ringing bells, reverberating in an empty room. I hear the sounds but understand no meaning from it. Since I have walked into my first CBT meeting, I have been biting back my rising resentment that I have to talk about all of this again. I am deliberately having no thoughts. But when she says the word “complex,” I have one, very clear thought.
Just give me a goddamn pill!
All I want is for there to be a cure for this. All I want is for there to be the blue pill from the matrix, that can wing me back to a time before any of this started. All I want is a pill.
Now, I know there is no pill. I mean, I already take pills and they are not magic in any sense. They are keeping me steady and numb, they are giving me perpetual dry mouth and I get ferociously anxious about them when my prescription is low, but they are not magic. They are not the cure. All I want is the cure.
I leave my first session with that strange, “complex” illustration of what’s going on inside my head and a penetrating malaise of disappointment. It was not what I wanted it to be. It was a re-hashing of all the ways I am broken. It did not tell me how to get fixed.
But still, I think, as I tuck the piece of paper away inside my journal, maybe this is the cure. Maybe CBT is the thing that will change everything. Maybe this, maybe this is the week that is going to re-order my mind and change the world for me.
Maybe CBT is the pill.
Then, today, a phone call.
“I’ve spoken to my superior and we think you need to work with the primary team, for more high-intensity CBT. Just because of the severity, and because it’s been going on for such a long time, like, your whole life.”
Her voice is light and friendly on the phone. I answer with gentle responses, hiding my fear in neutral “uh huhs.”
“I’ve referred you. The waiting list is about four months.”
Four months, I think bleakly. Four months until I get the cure.
“That’s fine.” My mouth is dry. It’s always dry. “Thanks very much for the call.”
It could have been the week that changed my world, but today the world is just the same as before, and I must trudge through it. For the next four months, at least.
I try to weigh up the good against the bad. I think about how it’s good that I’ve had a swift consultation and referral. I think about how it is good that my issues are being dealt with by the appropriate team. I think about how it is good that they recognize the seriousness of what’s going on with me. Then I think about how long four months is.
Then I have a break down on my partner.
Because I am exhausted of living this way, and the fantasy I have built up about CBT being my cure is starting to crumble at the edges. The Truth is sitting just outside, casually waiting to be confronted. He is in no hurry. He can wait all day, all year, for the rest of my life and for as many therapies and medicines I can drag myself through; he can wait to tell me that there is no cure.
He doesn’t need to. I know it already.
So I find myself in the same place as so many other people in the world this week. Waiting for hope. They might be waiting for the most powerful man in the world to make good on his election promises, or they might be waiting for a movement that carries their voice all the way to Washington again. Or like me, they might be waiting for CBT. It might take four months, four years, it may come tomorrow, but all I know is I am in the middle of woods with so many more miles to go. I cannot keep going alone. So I will wait here. In the absence of any cure, I will wait for hope.