Lucy Mangan explains why there’s no shame in returning to therapy – you don’t just get one shot.
I just feel so guilty. What about, you might ask, as many other kind people have done before you. But you misunderstand me. I just… feel guilty. That’s it. About everything. Oh, and nothing. Yes, I think that about covers it.
My guilt attaches to different things, sure. Work, for example (why didn’t I start this piece earlier? Why aren’t I writing it quicker? Why aren’t I getting it right the first time instead of having to go back and rewrite sentences? Why isn’t it better?). My weight, obviously (why am I so weak-willed that I eat when I’m hungry and drink when I’m thirsty?). My health and fitness (why don’t I swim twice a day? Why do I stay up too late?).
And my parents (why don’t I spend more time with them? Why was I not nicer to them when I was younger?). My husband and child (why am I not devoting my spare time, if not my entire life, to them?). All points of the scale are represented. And they take it in turns to be the greatest burden, seeming to take on mass and form and settle on my conscience until it is time to shuffle off – through the amorphous fog of the guilt about nothing – and make way for another great burden.
It’s exhausting, distracting and distressing. The latter doubly so, because I thought I had this dread state – this feeling endlessly, namelessly bad, with a jagged lump of something in my throat that will not dissolve no matter how many tears I shed over it – beaten.
Being burdened by guilt, I had thought until my mid-30s, was my natural state. It was me and I was it, indistinguishable and indivisible. Guilt was both my fuel and engine. I ran on nothing else. I wouldn’t have known how to. But then, prompted by an unconnected Life Event a few years ago, I went to (cognitive behavioural) therapy, in the course of which I realised that things did not have to be this way and was taught some skills to help me correct my mental course.
It was revelatory. I was liberated. Not immediately and not – it turns out, but we’ll come back to this – permanently, but I found myself living an inner life that much more closely approximated a healthy one.
But now I am slipping back into my old ways. Or perhaps my old ways are slipping back into me. I can’t tell. For weeks, maybe months, I have been feeling bad. And some days worse. Some days better, but not for long. And I have felt guilty about that, on top of everything (and nothing! Don’ forget the nothing!) else. I have berated myself for failing, for relapsing into this stupid, useless, destructive, pointless state again.
Until I realised, in a little, quiet moment alone on holiday in the very early morning by the seashore – looking at the sea helps me get perspective on the insignificance of me and my problems in a way I find perversely comforting – that I can go back. I can get a therapy top-up. Refresh my skills, see if anything new has been developed in the meantime that I should familiarise myself with, just as I would if I was in a job rut.
So, for all those sitting on the depression/anxiety/OCD/whatever the hell we’re calling our particular manifestations of mental misery shoreline with me, know this: you don’t get just one shot at a ‘cure’ and then have to live with whatever happens, whenever it happens, afterwards. The model is management, not vaccination. That’s not a failure. That’s just what we need. And it is nothing to feel guilty about.