After a lovely Christmas with my work colleagues, where I organise secret Santa, make everyone wear a silly hat and generally fill the office with cheer, I move on to my new job. Its a bit daunting as these new colleagues know nothing of my brush with insanity, so I don't have the safety net of love and understanding. But I'm feeling ok.
I'm doing two and a half days to start off with. Within the first week I get a letter telling me that my CBT course is due to start in the last week of January, every Thursday for 12 weeks. Its called, "Behavioural activation." It sounds like the search for my "On" button or some kind of Pavlovian brain washing into happiness and joy. I wanted to go on the course so much, but now it is rushing toward me with pace, I get cold feet. I wonder if I am up to the challenge of joining a group of mentally disordered folk, and find myself spending time speculating about how awful it might be. I also have to negotiate telling my new colleagues that I'm going to be off half a day a week for the next three months. I start off by stating I've been ill and am having some treatment. Its not dishonest, but its not telling the whole truth either. I'll see how things go before spilling my guts to all and sundry.
I turn up on the Thursday morning at the red bricked, barred windowed home of the psychotherapy team, and buzz for entry. My mouth is dry, my heart pounds and my feet drag like concrete. Its taking all of my will to force me into the building where I am met by a group of faces all looking as freaked out as me. When I sit down I can see everyone is crippled with fear and embarrasment, and we are all either staring at the wall, the floor or a fishing magazine. Its horrible. The two group facillitators appear with their, "Oh so mentally well" faces and invite the group upstairs. We shuffle as though shackeled togther like convicts up the steps and sit is a semi circle of chairs. I wonder if we are all scanning the room, subconciously looking for the least mentally ill looking person to sit next to. We can't tell so end up rushing to the nearest seat available.
As I sit on my orange nylon covered chair, I feel the wave of despair crashing into my soul. I've hit rock bottom and realise the seriousness of my condition. The hot tears prickle my eyes and roll down my cheeks as i crumple onto my lap. I'm tempted to run and hide but there is nowhere to go. I feel shockingly exposed amongst these fellow sufferers mirroring our desperation. We're all as sick and helpless as each other. I don't think things can get any worse. Reality is a cruel mistress indeed.
We have some rules to this interactive mad fest. We mustn't talk about eachother and break anonymity outside of the room. People can talk to you or comment on your feedback/homework, but we must always remain loving in our honesty. You must turn up every week to the course and do the homework, otherwise there is no point. Oh yes, and its going to feel uncomfortable, anxiety inducing and we will feel resistance to change. Great. We start off by scoring ourselves on a few scales - depression, social functioning, anxiety. They tell us that at the end of the course our score will PROVE to us that we are better. We will be activated and returned to the real world as functioning human beings. Or, we will give up the course, and crawl back into the comforting although despairing cave we came out of.
When we leave most of us are trying not to run - power walking without breaking out into a sprint. No eye contact, and scuttling to our cars for the safety of isolation. What a God awful hour of my life that was. But now I've jumped the first hurdle, next week won't be so bad. I hope. I have reading to do and some questions to answer. I am exhausted and feel emotionally hung over. Whoever thought group therapy was glamourous and for the famous was completely wrong.
But seriously, it felt like sitting in a bad sitcom with all different personalities filling the breach.I know I'm going to be the over excited chatty one that gets on everyones nerves as I can't stand silences. There is definately someone there who is really well and looks embarrassed to be taking up the precious time of the NHS, and a few who look non committal and may not stay the course. We've got a contrary pedant who will drive us all to distraction and a few that look like rabbits caught in head lights. Saying that though, I feel relieved to have been in a room full of very average people, all struggling the way that I am, and for a short moment of peace, I realise I am no longer alone. I have friends landing on my desert island.