When I started private counselling for my anxiety, I was in the midst of one of the worst periods my mental health has ever seen. I barely left the house. My thoughts were so irrational. The thought of going anywhere left me in a state of dread and that first therapy appointment? My gosh, I thought I was going to die. But starting private therapy was invaluable for me; my counsellor and I got along really well, I trusted her and felt I could fully open up to her. She really did help me in so many ways and I often wonder where I would be today had I not gone to see her in that time when I was so desperate for anything to help numb these unbearable feelings of constant dread, anxiety and fear over everything and nothing all at once.
But there’s one thing that she said to me which has stayed with me massively. She said that despite all this work I was doing, I may always have to deal with having a level of anxiety for the rest of my life. And that’s true – I might. We’re under the impression that therapy or counselling or medication will magically cure us over the course of a few months then all of a sudden we will wake up and all our fears and anxieties will be gone. Like they were never here. Poof. Wrong.
Since being on Twitter and talking about my mental health more, I’ve met an awful lot more people in this online mental health community that suffer from an array of different conditions. And whilst I absolutely adore this community and the people on Twitter can be so utterly supportive, there’s a phrase I see thrown about a lot.
“You won’t feel like this forever”
I’ve probably said it to people myself – I’m no saint – but I was thinking about that phrase the other day and wondering whether we should be saying something so concrete and certain to vulnerable people who are all battling mental health conditions and wishing, hoping and praying for them to go away. My counsellor told me I may have a level of anxiety forever. And she’s a licensed professional.
So why are we telling people otherwise?
Why are we, un-qualified strangers on the internet, telling people their conditions won’t last forever when there’s absolutely no way of knowing that.
Why are we giving people false hope?
And false hope is one of the most damaging thing for someone with a mental health condition. The hope that a certain medication will be the one that makes us “normal” again. The hope that starting counselling or therapy will be a huge help and make us feel 10 times better. The hope that one day, we won’t fell any type of depression or sadness or anxiety or panic or mania ever again. And that’s just not the case.
It’s true, there are people – lucky people – who have been “cured” of their mental health condition and don’t experience any of the feelings they did before. But there’s an awful lot of other people who aren’t. There’s a lot of people who just have to “manage” their mental illness, find coping strategies and mechanisms and support networks. So why would we tell them “it won’t last forver” when that is in fact what it might do?
I know the majority of people mean no harm or insult by telling someone that; we’re just trying to offer some sort of vague support to someone we kind-of know online who is going through a rough patch. But maybe we should think a bit more carefully about what we’re telling people with mental health conditions. Just be a bit more careful about any sort of false hope we’re giving them which could be even more damaging later on, should they cling to it. Maybe instead of, “it won’t last forever” we could say, “I’m here to support you if it happens again”.