Realisations and pain

I feel so broken. I’ve come to lots of realisations this week about my behaviour and my relationship with S.

I took him from granted. I relied on him way too much, to the point that I can’t regulate my emotions myself. I can’t self soothe because I never had to. And that dependency was something I learned from my previous relationship, the ex really broke me down so I lost all my confidence and ability to look after myself. That’s a long time ago now but it still has its effects. He wanted me to be dependent on him because that’s how he controlled me. Unfortunately I transferred this dependency onto S and I never realised until this week how serious and negative that was.

It’s hard for me to know what to do now; I feel lost. I don’t have a very good sense of self (another thing to thank the ex for!) I find it hard to know who I am and I tend to define myself by my relationships (a daughter, a sister, previously – a girlfriend) and my job, because I don’t know how else to do it. So now one of my major identities is gone, lost.

Unfortunately I think it’s one of “those too little too late” moments or “you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone” type things. I would give anything to turn back time and deal with things differently, but I can’t so I am going to have to live with it and try and learn from it.

I know my faults – I am very emotional and not good at regulating emotions, I get angry and lose control of my temper, I overreact and I get carried away with my thoughts, making up explanations which are usually wildly wrong. I put myself down constantly and have no confidence, I rely on others for my happiness. I pushed S away, and yet pulled him back, over and over (my therapist described it as the “I hate you. Don’t leave me” phenomenon). And all of it makes sense given my history, but none of it is S’ fault. None of it can be changed by anyone but me.

There is so much work for me to do on myself. Work I was hoping to continue while in the relationship with S, but plans have changed and I’m on my own now to work it all out. I’m glad that I’m still having counselling as this is helpful. I need to work on myself so that I never end up in this ridiculous situation again.

Feeling quite reflective today. Now it’s time for bed.

Love, Ellie xx

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Therapy 

I had a therapy session yesterday, the first one for about 4 weeks because I was away and then she was away. Since I last saw her, a lot has happened – I got diagnosed with fibromyalgia, I went sky diving, my anxiety has got worse, my depression has got worse etc etc. 

It was good to talk. It was good to be completely honest and open instead of wondering and worrying about how she would react, what she would think of me. I’m glad and I know I’m lucky that I have reached this feeling of trust with my therapist. I don’t filter my words and thoughts in that room. There’s no expectation. I told her I’m feeling rubbish. I feel low, lonely, angry, disappointed, hopeless…. all of this negativity. And she doesn’t tell me I should be grateful for what I have or tell me it’s going to be ok. She sits with me in the shit and she’s just there, listening, understanding. 

After last nights session, I had the best sleep I’ve had in probably about a month (coincidence, I think not!) I felt a sense of relief, an ability to breathe properly when I left. I needed to get things out. 

I cried and it was hard. And I named difficult things which I didn’t used to be able to do. I used to clam up and not be able to talk when things were hard, but now I can say them even if it’s through tears. 

Without a doubt I know therapy has helped me massively, and it still is. I can see that I have made a lot of progress, and even though my mood has done a nosedive since May and is showing no signs of improving, it helps to talk about it, and I’m not in the dark place I once was. 

I am currently en route to the middle of nowhere for my hike, so won’t be writing for a few days. When I get back I’m going to write a series of blog posts on things that help. (One of them will be on bullet journals, I imagine I’ll write one on therapy at some point.) I’ve already started writing the posts so I’m excited to share my experiences with you, and hoping maybe some of the ideas will help others too. 

Love,

Ellie xx

It wasn’t my fault 

Trigger warning – this is about abusive relationships/domestic abuse (holy shit I wasn’t expecting it to get this deep, I was going to write a nice blog about self care – will save that for another day) 

I often wondered why me? Why was I so stupid not to be able to see what was happening? Why did I have mug written across my forehead?

(For some back story, when I was 15-18 I was in an abusive relationship. I couldn’t see it at the time and for a long time afterwards I couldn’t see it as being his fault, I blamed myself. There’s parts of me that still do but that’s by the by.)

I realised recently that I was the ideal target. I was a little bit lost, disillusioned by the world and not feeling good enough. I was one of those teenagers that was pretty invisible at school, I had friends but we were invisible. And at that time I started feeling strange. Something I now believe was the beginning of my depression. I became more withdrawn, didn’t eat properly, didn’t feel good enough, started writing poems, came to a darker place than I had known in my cushty childhood. I felt like I didn’t fit in and I felt like no one understood me. Lost.

So at some point we started talking. I don’t know why because we used to hate each other, but we did. I spent hours and hours online chatting. Never in person. It was a new experience, someone paying me attention, listening to me, comforting my pain. And it grew into a relationship. 

I always thought it was much later that it became abusive but the signs were always there. He was controlling but manipulative with it. How could I be so unreasonable to want to spend any lunch breaks with my friends when I was in classes with them and never him? I obviously didn’t care about him… It only got worse but I couldn’t see it. My need to please was so great, my fear of failure, of not being good enough was overpowering. And so I blamed myself for everything. Took it all and wished I could be a better girlfriend. 

I was so young and I didn’t know any different, it was my first relationship. And I was in too deep. I relied on him. He isolated me from friends and family. Damaged all my other relationships. Stopped me doing my hobbies but made me feel it was my choice. It goes on. 

And looking back I think ‘what if’ and ‘why didn’t I see it?’ But it’s not that easy when you’re in the middle. It’s not that easy when you’re 16 and you believe that no one else would ever love you. 

And after a lot of therapy, I am still remembering things that happened. Little bits of information are coming forward in my mind. I wish they wouldn’t but apparently it means I’m ready to deal with them now. I don’t have to push them down. I can move past it. 

But today I can sit and say I know it wasn’t my fault. And I know that he had a shitty childhood but that wasn’t my fault either and it’s not an excuse for how I was treated. And i can see it for what it was, and say (with only a little bit of guilt*) that it was abusive  relationship, it was domestic abuse. And it wasn’t my fault. 

Love 

Ellie xx

* because part of me doesn’t see this as valid because I know others have been through much worse. And because others might say well you were 16 how bad could it have been? And why didn’t you leave if it was that bad? (Ok this bit of me is still quite headstrong but it’s not as strong as it was!) 

When things go right & CBT

Things seem to be going right at the moment (not to jinx this!)

Today has been pretty productive:

For my psychology dissertation I am using a computer program to make the experiment (a dot that moves, pictures that come up, and it records reaction time etc.) So today’s first victory was making a dot move across a screen (no, I’m not joking!) It’s not quite right in terms of timing yet, but there’s a dot and it moves so I’m half way there with that bit!

I also had an email back today from my project supervisor, and he has only made a few suggestions for changes on my ethics proposal, meaning that with any luck I will be able to finish it and hand it in early next week (ahead of the deadline on Friday.)

I also had a response back from my old school about doing my research there, using the pupils as research participants, and they said yes!

I also rang work (I will be starting work again once I’m home for summer) and sorted out some hours, and they’ve said I can have a few days off in mid-July so it turns out I probably will get to go away with S afterall! 🙂

This week I have also heard back from my school in Germany and my mentor teacher seems lovely. And she’s sorted out somewhere for me to live for the first few weeks of my stay in Germany, so I will be able to find somewhere for the rest of the year when I get there!

More good news on the Germany front – apparently if you register at a university you can get a card that gives you free travel (bus, tram and train) around the region… this sounds amazing!!

And today was also my CBT. We talked about the progress I’ve made this week – about going out last Friday and Saturday and that I managed to think mindfully that I was safe, and in doing so actually enjoyed my nights! We also spoke about these negative thoughts, the next thing to do is to try and stop them when I identify them. At the moment I seem to have a negative thought (now I become aware of it) but then it turns into a negative spiral and I end up feeling really low, paranoid, sad, lonely (insert other negative emotions here!) SO as I become more aware of these thoughts, hopefully I will start to be able to look at the thought, accept it, but stop it (because it is a thought and not a fact!) and thus not “Put the same DVD on”/”Get on the negative thought train”/go into a massive negative spiral. It sounds so easy when it’s put like this, but in reality it really isn’t. BUT I am determined to continue to make progress even after my CBT is finished.* I have bought a book and CD about mindfulness, (but silly Ellie sent it to London instead of Lancaster so I don’t have it yet) so I will write about that when I get home and start using it. Apparently the book has a mindfulness program that you can follow (I think A said 8 weeks?) so that should be interesting (and hopefully helpful!)

On my way home from CBT, I bought a card and a box of maltesers for my friend (pres**) as it’s her birthday tonight, and I am going to her house later for predrinks (jelly shots? Yes please!) and then out to a bar/pub and our student club. BUT I am being nice to me (yes, really!) and I am saying that I will go to predrinks and the bar/pub but I might not go to the club if I don’t feel like it. I am very tired and have had a lot going on this week, so I will see how I feel later. Quite proud of this development – compromise: I am still not letting down my friend (because I do want to celebrate her birthday with her) but I am not forcing myself to go “out out” if I don’t feel like it later. 

Final good news for today was that I rang a Mental Health Centre where I am going to be doing some volunteering over the summer. Originally they had asked me to do Fridays (as it’s their busiest day) but unfortunately work said they can’t give me Fridays off (because it’s a busy day!) so I was worried about what they would say when I said I can’t do Fridays anymore. But the man (who I met in the easter holidays) was lovely, remembered me, and said it’s fine to do Thursdays. In fact he said Thursdays are the nicest day to be there, so that’s exciting! I will be volunteering at a mental health drop-in centre where people can come and chat, have some tea, do different activities etc., and Thursday is the women only drop-in.

Oh yes, and another good thing! Tomorrow I am off to Warwick to visit one of my best friends – Monkey. That will be great as I haven’t seen her since easter, and Leamington Spa is a really nice place as well!

So I probably won’t be back (on WP) until Monday as I’ll be in Warwick and socialising rather than blogging, but this afternoon’s plan involves a nap and catching up on reading blogs before I go out!

Lots of love,

(from a pretty positive) Ellie xxx

*Next week is the last session with A! Arghhh!

**Not sure if I have mentioned her before. She is called “Pres” as she is the new president of one of the societies at uni.

CBT: Get up and get out!

No don’t worry – these were not words said by my therapist to me (or vice versa.) Yesterday I was feeling pretty down and really didn’t feel like doing anything. But my appointment was at 2pm, so having finally dragged myself up at about 1, I called a taxi and went to my CBT session.

And I’m glad I did, I felt a bit better afterwards. And once you’re up and about, things normally feel a bit better. If I stay in bed hiding all day, what have I achieved? Nothing. But by getting up and out and going to CBT, I have (hopefully) helped myself a bit. So that’s the advice: Get up and get out! 

I was pretty tearful in my CBT session yesterday – the realisation that it’s coming to an end is scaring me. Then I have to cope by myself!! I have 2 more sessions left, then I’m back home in London until September, and then the big move to Germany – eek! The fact that I won’t have A to speak to anymore is a bit scary, especially because I think the CBT is helping, but there’s still a lot that hasn’t been dealt with.

A said there are some things I am still not ready to deal with. She said in the future I will be and then I can have some counselling/therapy to help me deal with it. She said when I get back to Lancaster I can get re-referred if I need to.

A gave me another CD with some guided mindfulness meditations on it. There is one called Mindful sitting practise and one called 3 minute breathing space. I’ll write about these sometime this week when I’ve done them a few times.

We talked about the way the mind works (according to CBT.) We have the situation or event and the emotion/feeling, but inbetween there is the thought which triggers the emotion. So I am working on spotting the thoughts and seeing – is this a fact or a thought? This is of course easier said than done, but it’s work in progress.

We talked about my insecurity and constant fear about S leaving me. This is rational to some extent because my previous experience (with the ex) has shown me that people can leave me. However, this does not mean everyone will leave me, and it does not mean I am not good enough (which is the thought that goes with the event: ex leaving me and the feeling: depressed/lonely/scared.)

A has asked me to write down how I am feeling each half day, and more importantly the negative thoughts that come with the feelings. Then I can look at them and say – fact or thought? Do I have any evidence of this? The chances are, probably not!

The other thing I am meant to look at this week are when I have these thoughts that S is going to leave me. We have established that seeking reassurance doesn’t really help… it may help for a brief moment, but soon afterwards, the thoughts will be back. And I know they must be irritating for S, to constantly reassure me that he’s not going anywhere, he’s not going to hurt me, and yes he does love me. So the aim here is to identify these thoughts and look at them without engaging with them. Using mindfulness, the idea is to see the thoughts as thoughts (and not facts), not engage with them, and ignore them. But baby steps – this week I’ve just got to identify them as early as possible.

A used the analogy of the “thought train”… so once the thought comes into mind, it starts a trail of destruction, with each thought encouraging the next, until I’m in a massive negative spiral and I truly believe that S is going to leave me because I’m just not good enough. So instead of this, I should try to identify the thoughts early and get off the thought train. Another analogy was “putting on the same DVD”, so once you have had the thought (put the DVD on), the same thing happens (the same DVD plays) and it results in the same behaviour and feelings each time. So instead of letting the same thing play out each time, it is better to catch the thought early, and throw away that DVD 😉

Anyway, enough about DVDs and trains… me thinks this is more progress.

Oh – and A said she thinks if I use the mindfulness stuff we are learning and use the book I have bought (The Mindful Way Through Depression), I will be ok in Germany without any therapy. I hope she’s right! But I have my blog too, which I think is therapy in itself!

Mindfulness: Body scan

I have started work on mindfulness, which I wrote about in my latest CBT post.

I have got to do a guided meditation called the body scan everyday this week as homework. Yesterday I listened to it for the first time, and somehow I think I managed to fall asleep! Oops! The track is 43 minutes, and you lie with your eyes shut so it is easy to fall asleep, but that definitely is not the plan!

I underestimated how hard it would be to try and keep concentration on each part of the body as instructed. There were lots of intrusive thoughts and mind wanderings… “I can’t concentrate”, “I can’t do it”, “I wonder how much longer this is”, “kind of bored now…” etc.

I repeated it again today and although it was still hard, I think it was better than yesterday. Hopefully it will become easier each day! And I managed to stay awake for it today, which is always a bonus! 😉

The point of the body scan is to pay attention to each part of the body and breathing. To become aware of all of these processes instead of doing them on autopilot. Presumably the point is that once you learn how to shift attention within the body, you can then use the skills to practice mindfulness in everyday life, staying in the moment and paying attention to reality rather than going onto autopilot and repeating the same behaviours we usually do.

So far I am not sure how helpful mindfulness is going to be because I’m struggling to do it, but I have been told that it normally takes a while to get it, and that’s why I have to do the body scan everyday as practice. With the CD, A gave me some paperwork – an introduction to mindfulness and the body scan. There is an example of a participant’s report about the body scan, and it says “For the first 10 days it was like a burden. I kept “wandering off” and then I would worry about whether I was doing it right.” This sounds very similar to my experience (so far – it’s only been 2 days!) and that’s reassuring. So I will definitely be keeping this up, and of course I’ll keep you all updated on how it’s going!

Now it’s off to bed for me because I’m taking part in a psychology study for a friend and it involves being at uni at 9:00 tomorrow morning. This may not sound early, but getting up before 8:00 is a difficult thing for me! 😛

Lots of love,

Ellie xxx

Tear-free CBT

That’s right people, I got through a whole session of CBT without crying today! There were a couple of moments where tears weren’t far away but no crying today. Not that it’s a bad thing to cry in therapy, but it’s exhausting. Today was definitely easier than the last session, but I guess that’s because what we talked about wasn’t as painful today.

We spoke about how I have grown up, and why I have always felt this need to do everything perfectly.

My mum had to work and work to prove she was good enough. When she was at school she wanted to be a teacher, from the age of about 11. She did her O levels and A levels, and had to retake some, and she was told she’d never become a teacher. But she did it, she got her grades, went to college and became a P.E teacher. It’s so sad that the thing she wanted to do for so long became one of the things that made her ill. And now she lacks the confidence to teach again, doesn’t want to go back there. My dad is a very hard worker too. He always gives everything 100%. He is the person who gets into work early and leaves late. And so you see my parents have both been very successful and they want the same for my brother and I, and that’s why they always try to push us to do our best. Unfortunately in my case, with a mixture of family pressure and going to a school where everyone is very bright (like a grammar school), I ended up feeling that I will never ever be good enough.

And I also realised that maybe part of it is that I’m trying to prove that I’m good enough, trying to prove that going to college wasn’t a bad idea. I left my school at 16, much to the dismay of my parents, and went to a college to do my A levels instead of the school 6th form. But I did it, I got my grades. I went to uni, I finished my first year with a first… Maybe I feel like if I get a first I’m proving that college was a good thing, that I wouldn’t have been better off going to my school’s 6th form. But the thing is, it’s done now anyway. Maybe I would’ve done better at 6th form, maybe I would’ve done worse, or maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference. We can never find out.

We also talked about mindfulness. A says that I am getting much better at identifying the negative thoughts as they happen, but now we need to focus on the here and now – ignoring the past and future, so that I can react in a suitable way to these negative thoughts.

I explained the cycle I spoke about in my previous post. How S said something as a joke which made me paranoid, then the paranoia made me scared he was going to leave me, then I realised I was overreacting, so I was scared he was going to leave because I worry so much… And on and on and on.

As we are coming to the end of the CBT sessions, A said it would be good to do some work on mindfulness, and that is something I can use after my sessions have finished, to help me.

According to Wikipedia*, mindfulness is the focusing of attention and awareness, based of the concept of mindfulness in Buddhist meditation. It says mindfulness can be useful in the treatment of pain, stress, anxiety, depressive relapse, disordered eating and addiction.

It appears, from the definitions to involve bringing attention and awareness to the present moment where thoughts/feelings etc. are acknowledged and accepted.

A handed me a pen and asked me to look at it while she talked about it, asking questions (which aren’t to be answered.) What does it look like? Are there any marks on it? What about writing? Does the nib have any ink on it, or any marks?

At one point she asked me to hold the pen by my ear and listen to it when shaking it. At this point I thought “well, this is a bit weird!!” A said that is an example of when your mind wanders and thoughts go to other things rather than focusing on the pen (in this case).

This week’s homework is to do the “bodyscan” each day which is a guided mindfulness practise, involving listening to a CD (Kind of like meditation I think). I’ll be writing about that as I go along too!

So today’s session was quite helpful I think. I’ve made some realisations about my perfectionism and where it comes from. And I’m starting to accept that it’s ok not to do everything perfectly (because in most cases perfection doesn’t exist.) We also talked about my little experiment from last week – actively giving 80% (rather than 100%) to see what happened. You might remember, I did it when climbing. I decided that instead of pushing myself hard to finish the route, I would just come down and try another time, and the world didn’t end 😉 (In case you were wondering!) A said she thinks the key to all of the stuff with the ex is anger, and that when I am ready to access all of the feelings, I will be able to feel this anger that’s been locked away for so long. It also explains my anger outburts, which are almost always disproportionate to the thing I am actually angry about. (Like when I went completely crazy shouting at my housemates over the bins situation… but it wasn’t actually about the bins, it was about everything that has made me angry ever!) Anyway, progress is definitely a good thing, so I’ll let you all know how I get on with the mindfulness this week!

*obviously the source of all knowledge!

CBT and climbing

Today’s CBT was difficult. Really difficult. I’m going to write another post about the difficult bit (probably will use a password again for that post.) I cried for literally nearly the whole hour. I think we ran over a bit too, too much crying (oops).

My homework for next week (Monday!) is to do some “experiments” on myself. I have to consciously aim to give something 75 or 80% (instead of 100%) and see what happens. What I expect I will feel, and then what I actually feel afterwards.

But I couldn’t understand the concept really. She said about giving 75%, and I was confused. I said, I don’t get it… why would anyone ever not try their best? What’s the point in doing something if it’s not to the best of your ability? Surely you should always aim to get as close to 100% as possible? I think I was missing the point entirely. She just wants me to try it, to prove that the world isn’t going to end, that it doesn’t make me a failure.

Well, I’ll give it a go anyway.

And then I went climbing after my CBT session. Today was quite a nice day, so I had a nice walk through the park and down to the bus stop to get the bus to uni (where the climbing wall is).

I met my climbing partner (owl) there and we went bouldering for a bit. My hands are falling to pieces, literally. S says it’s because I have soft hands so they get damaged easily. I ended up with a painful bit of skin peeling off one hand (sorry for too much info!) and had to put a plaster on it. I’m hoping in time my hands will become more resistant, because at the moment everytime I climb I end up tearing my hands to shreds! My head of year for Psychology was there (climbing too) and he helped me with one of the routes I had been stuck on for a while, so that was good.

And then we put our harnesses on and started roped climbing. We decided to do an easyish route to start with, but I was really struggling. I felt really weak and quite anxious. I managed to do it though, and then Owl climbed the same route (in less than half the time!)

Then we moved onto another one that was a bit harder. I’ve done it before so I know I can physically do it. But half way up I just started feeling really funny. Really anxious and shaky and emotional. And keeping my CBT in mind, I asked to come down. I didn’t push myself to finish it because I was feeling weird. Maybe if I had given it 100% I could’ve finished it anyway, but today I didn’t, and giving it 75%, I couldn’t do it today. I needed to get down.

I think climbing straight after CBT was definitely a mistake and I won’t do it again in future. Especially with today’s session being really emotional, I think it was all too much. I didn’t have the mental capacity to concentrate and push myself on climbing, and it had brought the anxiety levels up so I didn’t trust myself to try moves I probably could have done (on the bouldering) and couldn’t get myself to climb routes that I’ve done before.

So maybe even though I could consider today’s climbing as a bit of a failure, it was actually a good thing. I let myself off instead of pushing myself too hard. And this evening I went out for dinner with friends and then watched TV with housemates and it was nice. I had a good evening and I enjoyed myself, and it doesn’t matter that I didn’t climb much today because I don’t need to get everything right 100% of the time… how’s that for progress A? 😛

And now it’s very late, so definitely time for some sleep!

Good night,

Lots of love,

Ellie xxx

CBT – week ?*

This week’s CBT was on Monday. I filled in that horrible depression questionnaire (as I do before every session) and I realised how different it looked to when I started. A few months ago, every question would be answered with a 3 (nearly everyday) but now there are some 1s, some 2s and some 3s. It’s slow progress, but still progress and that’s what matters.

We discussed my exams and how they have gone. Some went ok, one went terribly and one went quite well. And I told her that I have accepted that I probably won’t get a 1st this year. And that’s ok**. I’m starting to look at things a little bit more rationally, and a little bit more “normally” but there’s still quite a way to go.

I told A that the ex and his new girlfriend are having a baby. We talked about it. About why it bothers me, about why it hurts and the thoughts it has brought up. I have to do some homework for my next session. I have to write a letter***. It’s going to be hard but it needs to be done.

I’m worried that I’m going to run out of sessions before everything is sorted in my head. And then what? Once I leave Lancaster for the summer that’s it. No more A, no more CBT, no more help. Once I go to Germany… who knows what happens if things go downhill again.

We sorted out my sessions for the rest of the term. It’s scary how little time there is left.

I don’t know what I’m going to do once the CBT finishes. There’s no point in thinking about that yet… but it is going to happen (and it’s going to happen quite soon!)

After my CBT session I went for a walk in the park with S. It was nice and sunny (for a change) and I really like that park. It’s probably one of my favourite places in Lancaster (or maybe anywhere?)

I feel like there was something else that I was going to write about, but I can’t remember now… That’s irritating.

* I have lost count of weeks, and I think I might not have written about some sessions… oh I don’t know!

**Kind of… The perfectionist side of my brain disagrees but I’m trying to be RATIONAL here!

***I will write about it/maybe even put the letter on here, but probably with a password.

CBT – Week 11

Today I had my CBT session, on a Friday for a change as I had an exam on Monday. It was still 9am though – an early walk up a hill!

We planned to tackle a difficult issue today. One I really struggle to talk about. I was meant to write about it for “homework”, but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t even bring myself to think about it properly. I just cried and felt awful. 

We are leaving it until after exams. Maybe I will feel stronger then, once the stress of revision and exams is over. I know it needs to be dealt with, but I can’t handle any more at the moment.

We decided not to have our next session until after most of my exams, the next one will be 20th May. A said she thought it was best because it adds more stress and I need to be able to concentrate as much as possible on exams. I will still have the rest of May and the whole of June so hopefully we will have time to sort things out.

We talked about perfectionism today.

I never realised before how much I have spent my whole life trying to please other people, trying not to disappoint anyone, trying to be “perfect” all the time, but of course it doesn’t exist. And that means that I am always striving to do better, no matter how well I do it will never be good enough (in my eyes) because I am not good enough, I am not perfect.

I knew I felt like that about academic work. I have always been pushed to do my best. From year 2 until now I have had exams every year. At the age of 10 I took entrance exams for secondary schools and I got into one of them (only on the waiting list though). At that school they pushed us to get the highest grades. It is one of the few places where getting an A would result in being told “that’s a shame, hopefully you’ll do better next time.” At this school I was surrounded by people who constantly achieved academic excellence, where As and A*s were the norm. I thought that was how the world was, that everyone achieved all the time and so I pushed myself harder to keep up, I didn’t want to be average, I wanted people to be proud of me, I needed to do well. It came to GCSEs and I got good grades, but in comparison to my friends from my school I felt like I had done badly.

I did my A levels, I got into uni, but I didn’t get all As, I didn’t get A*s. Must do better. And then I got to uni, started Psychology and German, and I convinced myself that I needed to get a first. I know it is not essential, and I would never think that a 2:1 was a bad mark if anyone else got it, but when it’s me I have much harsher standards. It’s a massive fear of failure, but my perception of failure is actually not being perfect.

If I do well it’s because the test is easy, it’s because I was lucky, or it’s because I get extra time*. But if I do badly it’s all my fault. I should’ve done better, I could’ve worked harder, I am a failure. It’s internal and external attribution, something I wrote an essay about recently actually. I recognised myself in a lot of the research I was doing, about how people with depression give internal explanations for bad things (it’s my fault) and external explanations for good things (I was lucky). 

I crave reassurance that I am doing well. I constantly get people to check that what I am doing is right and I never trust my own judgement. When I write in German, I tend to look most words up in the dictionary, even when I know them, because I doubt my knowledge and I don’t want to be wrong.

I realised today, I have never failed anything (academically) and yet I am never satisfied with how I do. 

I am indecisive too. I can’t make simple decisions. I don’t want to make a mistake, ever. It’s ok for other people to make mistakes, but not me. I have to be perfect (but of course I’m not). Big decisions are hard of course; they are for everyone. “What if”s are abundant in my mind and I am constantly worried about making the wrong choice. A said sometimes there isn’t only one right choice, sometimes decisions take you on a new path that’s different, but it doesn’t mean it’s wrong. And then it comes to small decisions, like what to have for tea** and I am anxious. It can take me a ridiculous amount of time to make the most simple of decisions. And does it really matter? No, of course it doesn’t. When decisions involve other people it’s even worse – where to meet for lunch or what film to watch… What if the other person doesn’t like my decision, what if it’s wrong, it will be all my fault if we don’t have a good time. I avoid decisions as much as possible. The phrases “I don’t know” and “I don’t mind” are very common in my vocabulary. I go along with what other people want. I’m a people pleaser.

My whole life I have done what I have been told – by my parents, by the ex. As I was able to start making my own decisions (approaching the age of 16) the ex was there, controlling me, manipulating all my decisions so that it made it look like my choice, but really I was doing whatever he wanted me to do. Looking back I am ashamed that I let someone control me in this way, but I couldn’t see it at the time.

And then we come to the issue of looks. I think I am ugly. Fat and ugly. S says my view of myself is distorted, that I don’t see what he sees. I say he is crazy, that there is no way he can find me attractive. There are so many things I wish I could change about myself. And since I put on weight from the mirtazapine, I’ve felt even worse. Some of the weight has come off since I changed medication but not all of it. Half of my clothes still don’t fit and it makes me feel terrible about myself. I don’t like trying on clothes while shopping now because I just end up feeling bad about myself. I am disgusted with me and my many flaws. I crave perfection and again it doesn’t exist. I will never be good enough in my own eyes.

I need to accept that S loves me for who I am and I don’t need to be perfect to be loved. It’s difficult though. I walked on eggshells for so long with the ex. The slightest mistake and I’d never hear the end of it, I had to be perfect to keep him happy. Late out of work and I’m in trouble, even though it’s out of my control…

Today I gained a lot of insight into my own mind. I knew that I can be a perfectionist, and I knew that it affected how I think about myself, but not quite how much. I think that counts as a good session, somehow I just need to change these behaviours now.

As a closing note, I will leave you with what A said I should do:

Aim for 75%, because you don’t need to be perfect (100%)***.

*which is another thing. I am entitled to extra time in exams because of depression/anxiety, but I always feel that I don’t deserve it. As if I am a fraud and I am at an advantage having this extra time that I don’t deserve.

**Or dinner (I’m picking up Northern words now!)

***Of course I said if I get 75% in my degree then I’ll be very happy – it’s a first. But that wasn’t what she meant. She meant I don’t have to aim for perfection because then I will always fail (in my eyes) but 75% is more than good enough.