Goodness knows this post has been a long time coming! Now that I’m in a much better place, I’ve decided to share my counselling journey with you all, hoping that somebody out there who may be going through something similar may know they’re not alone and find the inspiration to take charge.
DISCLAIMER: this is my personal journey and my thoughts and views on the issue and so on. I acknowledge that each person deals with things differently, and this is how I dealt with mine. I also accept that some people may disagree with the methods I took and/or some of my views, which is perfectly fine too 😊
Many people who know me might tell you that I seem like I have it together. I’m constantly smiling, try to stay on top of things, I’m occasionally sending positive energy towards my family, friends and acquaintances, and I’m generally an optimistic person. However, only a select few know that deep down within me, there’s been battles with self-love, stress management and all that. Only a few have actually seen me at my breaking point, and I must say it was ugly.
Now, it’s important that I mention that a few months ago (in October to be precise), I collaborated with Juanita Agboola in a video to raise awareness of bullying and its effect on a person’s mental wellbeing. Juanita is a university friend of mine who founded an organisation called “Half Full Not Empty” which aims to raise awareness of mentally related difficulties that affect people, such as anxiety, depression and so on, and also to provide support to those who may be experiencing these or similar difficulties. In that video, we spoke about the importance of looking after one’s mental health, through positive lifestyle choices and also reaching out to someone when experiencing any problems that may be affecting your mental wellbeing. Only a month later, I found myself needing such help, and as an RA, I’d been trained to signpost students to the Wellbeing Services available on campus that help them to deal with any issues affecting their studies or their livelihood in general. During this time, I had been experiencing insomnia, mini panic attacks especially in my sleep, anxiety, stress and I wasn’t eating. I was very emotional, constantly cranky and trying so hard to look composed on the outside.
One day, I had a breakdown when I got lost in the depths of some estate in Colchester at night when it was dark, rainy and cold. I’d just been turned away from a walk in GP where I’d gone to discuss my mental health and sleeplessness. They had informed me that since I wasn’t a registered patient there, I needed to see my personal GP (who happens to be in Aylesbury, sigh). So already, I was feeling upset because I had hoped to speak to someone, maybe even get some sleeping pills or something to help me sleep at night. My phone was on 5%, and for some weird reason, I couldn’t make phone calls. I tried to call two of my friends to come pick me up, but the calls didn’t go through. They later told me that the call came through on their end, but they couldn’t hear me. I then texted asking for help, sent my location to my friends, etc. as I didn’t want my phone to die while I was looking on maps for a way back to town. My phone gave up too soon and shut down, and I was so terrified as I thought I was going to get mugged if I stayed out there for long, so I braced myself up and knocked on the first door I could find where the lights were on. My state of mind wasn’t right at that moment, because on a regular day, I may have been able to remember the basics, call a cab and get home. But I had no clue where I was, so I didn’t even know what I would tell the cabbie.
Anyway, a middle-aged lady opened the door for me with a confused smile on her face, and I told her that I was lost and my battery was flat and I didn’t know where I was or how to get back into town without passing by the alleyway I’d come through when it was still light outside. Before I even finished speaking, I just broke down and started crying. She let me finish speaking, snot and all, before inviting me in to keep warm and figure out a plan. Her husband offered to walk me where I needed to go, and her son offered me a charger. She was making dinner in her kitchen, so I sat in there with her as she spoke about life in Colchester and how she moved down here after getting married, etc. She tried so hard to make me feel comfortable, even offered me tea. I was quite surprised and overwhelmed, because not everyone would be willing to just let a stranger into their house, especially in this cold world we live in nowadays, so I must say I was very grateful. After a while, we got ready to leave and the husband, named Simon, walked with me. He asked about my background, and I told him I was from Zimbabwe. He beamed at me and said one of their good friends is from Zimbabwe too, and she’s Ndebele, loves to cook, etc. I strangely felt at ease, stopped panicking and I was all warm inside. That simple act of kindness really touched my heart and made me feel tonnes better. To digress, I think it’s crucial to show kindness to anyone we come across. I understand that most of us live very busy and fast lives, but we never know how far a simple smile can go, especially since we have no clue what kind of battles the people we come across are fighting.
Anyway, I finally found my way home, frozen and exhausted, and that night I wept and told myself I needed to take action to seek the help I knew deep down that I needed. I signed up for a counselling session, filled out some online survey they sent me and with each question, I realised just how miserable I was and how long it had been since I was genuinely happy. They put me on a waiting list, and during that time, I went to an “initial assessment” where they determine whether or not I needed a professional counsellor or if they could recommend something else. A week later, I received the most devastating news of my life to date: my grandma had died, which devastated me beyond words and made me even more upset. My grandma was such a beautiful soul, and I thought 2016 had hit me with enough bullets already, but apparently it wasn’t done. I remember not knowing what to do with myself, at about 3 am on a Thursday morning. I cried until around 5 am, then called one of my friends to come and take a walk with me. I went home later that day, and I didn’t even get to see my mum before she left. I would have loved to go to Zimbabwe too for the funeral since I hadn’t seen my grandma in 4 years, but unfortunately, there wasn’t enough money for everyone to go immediately.
After about two weeks of being on the waiting list, a counsellor contacted me and invited me for our first session. The day came, and I turned up, a huge smile on my face, ready to hear all she had to tell me about my life. Little did I know that I’d be the one doing 95% of the talking! I’d watched movies and TV Series before where the characters went through counselling etc., so I expected it to go that way. My experience was overwhelming, to say the least. My counsellor started by asking me basic questions, then referred to the questionnaire I’d filled out online, where I’d mentioned the problems I was facing. We dug right in, and I found myself getting tonnes and tonnes of issues off my chest, and I couldn’t stop talking. The more I spoke, I just teared up, and I was bubbling over by the end of the first session. I was already looking forward to the next meeting.
On my third session, just before Christmas, my counsellor advised me to try and be around family and talk more about my grandma to come to terms with her passing away. She also encouraged me to confront my situations head on, especially those involving my relationships with other people. I was the kind of person who’d let things “slide” until they became overwhelming. I didn’t like confrontation as I didn’t want to offend people while I’m highly charged with emotions, and the funny thing is I’m the one who always used to encourage people to let things out to be able to let it go. Sigh. Over the Christmas break, I started burying myself in daily devotionals (Bible verses with teachings written specifically for what I was going through), and I must say I found new hope in that. I spoke to my sister about my grandma, and we sang her favourite songs, spoke about our memories of her, etc. After Christmas, I felt so much better. Of course, there were still many things to cover and all that, but I felt a weight had been lifted when I finally spoke to the people I needed to talk to. I hadn’t realised I was carrying such hatred within me, and it was poisoning me while I pretended everything was ok between us.
When I got back to uni in January, I had another session during which I spoke about my new found hope in Christ, etc. I was so excited, and I told her I was so happy I was no longer “that person” who did all those miserable things that made me feel this way in the first place. I was glad I had “dealt with the problem” and “abandoned all things that had led me down this path”. She looked at me blankly that I was quite puzzled. My counsellor advised me that for me to be able to move on from any situation and past disappointments, I needed to be compassionate with my past and weaker self, I first needed to understand WHEN I changed and WHAT triggered the change within me, i.e. the root of the problems. That way, I can revisit that place and try to fix things from there. Failure to do so may result in me falling into that trap again as I won’t be able to recognise the trigger. The thing I’ve noticed a lot, especially amongst Christians, is that sometimes we’re hard on ourselves. We condemn ourselves and yet we claim to be Christ-like. Christ was compassionate, forgiving and loving, therefore if we claim to be Christ-like, we also need to forgive and love our old selves, no matter what we put ourselves through! I don’t know if my counsellor believes in God or not, but what she said to me really made me stop and think long and hard. If Jesus came down to save us, to wash our sins away, wouldn’t I be a bad Christian by not forgiving (myself and others), especially condemning myself, because it’s like me saying Jesus’ blood wasn’t enough to save me? Of course, salvation goes beyond the blood but also through our actions and choices, but primarily, the blood takes care of the first and biggest step.
It so happens that I’m currently reading a devotional called “How to regain your cutting edge”, and there’s a particular reading that stood out to me. It quoted a Bible verse from when the prophet Elisha had taken the Israelites to cross the river Jordan. Upon reaching the river, one man dropped the cutting edge of his axe into the river as he cut down a tree.
“As one of them was cutting down a tree, the iron axhead fell into the water. “Oh no, my lord!” he cried out. “It was borrowed!”
The man of God asked, “Where did it fall?” When he showed him the place, Elisha cut a stick and threw it there, and made the iron float.”
2 Kings 6:5-6 NIV
The devotional said, “Unless you are willing to deal with whatever issue caused you to [go through whatever you went through, or do whatever you did], you will never [move on from it]. It went on to say that the man mentioned in the Bible knew exactly where his axe head had fallen, therefore if you will be honest with yourself, you can probably point right to the time you embarked on that journey or the situation that led to your stress, etc. Now, if you’re a Christian, then you’ve probably been told to “pray about it” or that “it is well” when you found the courage to speak out about how you were feeling and what you were going through mentally. While it’s all well and good to pray, of course, it is also important to take action! It is also important for us Christians to realise that sometimes people go through things that drain their energy and try to get them away from God’s presence. Praying is difficult, at times half-hearted.
Going through a mental breakdown while Christian is a tough journey!
You know very well that God loves you, and He wants you to reach out, but somehow you find yourself being weak. Instead of people to condemn you for not “just praying”, I feel like it’s much more helpful for them to encourage you that beyond praying, try to do things that help you to feel good. I watched comedy, ate to my heart’s content (and I gained weight because of it LOL), read novels by my favourite authors and enjoyed being alone more than being around people. Being around people felt more lonely as I constantly wished I could be elsewhere instead. Obviously, I’d encourage someone not to binge-eat as that could create another battle for you later, but of course, do what you know you can handle. It was also important for me to be honest with myself to break out of any bad habits I’d acquired during this trying time. It took a lot of willpower, though, but I’m happy to say I’m in a much better place! Just a few days ago, I had my last session, and as I filled out the final survey, answering the same questions I’d been asked when I initially signed up, I was elated to know how much had changed within me. I didn’t think talking to someone could help me on a much deeper level, because on the surface, my problems didn’t seem “that deep”, but they stemmed from things I’d been ignoring for months and years even.
The lessons I took from these sessions are:
- I need to find out what makes me happy and how I cope well when I’m down. I should do this when I’m already happy, not to try to figure it out when I’m upset. Then, when I’m going through tough times, I can go back to that list of things that make me happy and do that.
- I need to maintain a healthy relationship with people that I can count on in difficult times. No man is an island.
- I need to remember to approach my problems from the roots, not on the surface. i.e., suppose I develop a drinking problem, instead of just stopping and hoping things will get better, I need to figure out WHY I was binge-drinking in the first place. If it’s because I wanted to “feel good”, I then need to know WHY I didn’t feel good in the first place. This could be because I felt lonely. Why did I feel alone? This could be because of a recent breakup, broken friendship, broken family bond, etc. Why did those relationships break, and can they be fixed? If they can’t be fixed, what can I do to make things right with myself and the people involved if possible(e.g. Acknowledging the part I played in the situation and apologising for it, even if I don’t get the acknowledgement back)? If it can be fixed, I’d then take the necessary steps to fix it.
- I need to remember constantly that I’m human, and I’m bound to make mistakes. I should, therefore, be compassionate with myself instead of beating myself down. Likewise, I should apply the same thing to others. I should also be compassionate with them and try to understand why they did what they did and take full responsibility for any part that I may have played in the whole situation.
- I need to remember to seek help when I can, especially here at uni where it’s mostly free!
All this is, of course, easier said than done, but the best thing I can do for myself is to try and not give up. Maybe one day I’ll share the specific details of my journey (maybe not :P), but this post is meant to just scratch the surface a little bit to share what I learnt from it all. I sincerely hope you learnt something, and please do share with anyone you think might benefit from this. Stay blessed 🙏🏾