A Strange Kind of Feeling

Yesterday was my last counselling session and I don’t quite know how to feel. On the one hand I’m terrified it’s over; on the other, I have this odd sense of happiness that I don’t know how to place. It’s not a feeling I’m used to.

I sent an email to two of my teachers on Tuesday because my mental health has got to the point where I’m finding it hard to function. It started with the words, “I’m finding it incredibly difficult to write this email. However, expressing how I’m feeling in person is getting increasingly more difficult.” I still wrote it, a 700-word long email that took me an hour to put together. My mum encouraged me to talk about my feelings to the school after I’d spent a while crying to her. Without counselling, I know I couldn’t have done that.

That email was the culmination of many things. I’d gone to talk to my history teacher before the Easter holidays, terrified out of my mind because of how behind and overwhelmed I still was. In the holidays, I tried to give myself a mental break and it might not have worked to the extent that I’d wanted but it was a start. Yes, I didn’t get much work done but the alternative was to exhaust myself again.

Jane, my counsellor (or former counsellor, now) is amazing. In our last session, when I told her about the open conversations I’ve been having with my dad and the way I didn’t feel so “desperately alone” anymore, I said that – for the first time – I was properly proud of myself. That openness and honesty was because of me, not because of anyone forcing me. I’d done it when I’d felt ready, without intense amounts of pressure. It felt real, like the results were tangible. I suppose they are, really.

I can see them in the way I talk to people. As I said in my email, “I feel ill and worried pretty much all the time” but that doesn’t mean there aren’t people there. I may not be okay but actual evidence, rather than paranoid fears, has shown me that I’m capable of talking to people.

Of course, there are consequences. Because of the school confidentiality rules, it’s being shown to my other teachers and the head of Sixth Form. I knew all this before I wrote and sent the email – I think it’s part of the reason I did it. I needed people to understand, to hear it through my own words. Explaining it vaguely hasn’t been enough and trying to hint at how I feel in lessons is so exhausting that I just can’t do it.

Perhaps this will change things. There may only be around 6 weeks left of proper teaching; I may not catch up on all of my work but I at least want to make a difference for myself. I’m incredibly pessimistic so it might all go to shit but the pessimism isn’t all-consuming, all the time. Having no counselling on a Wednesday is going to be painful at first and I’ll need some kind of support but it doesn’t feel insurmountable anymore. God, 6 months ago, I wouldn’t even have been able to say that sincerely, or to wish for it!

There is hope for the future. Last Saturday, I spent the day with Pearl and two other friends and we watched Love, Simon, which was one of the most heartwarming things I’ve ever seen. Pearl and I got lost in the cinema and spent an hour, whilst waiting for my dad to come and pick me up, talking. I didn’t feel like she was going to hate me; I didn’t feel like I was faking part of my personality to stop her hating me. It just felt nice, and happy, and calm. Examining my emotions, not criticising myself for having a good day and letting myself feel is one of the things we focused on – without explicitly stating that – in the sessions I had with Jane.

All of this is a beginning. It won’t solve everything; it hasn’t even got close. However, these achievements – whatever they’re worth – show me I’m not the worst person alive, as I said to Jane yesterday. I’m going to go back to the GP at some point but at least I know that support is there. At least I’m holding onto that support.

I have to take things one step at a time, in my own time. The feeling of relief and the lack of violent upset that accompanies that is beautiful. At least to me.

From Elm ๐Ÿ™‚

When I was Made to Talk

I’m writing this just after 1 in the afternoon, half an hour after a counselling session ended. I should be working but I’m a rebel. If you know about counselling, you might be asking, “But your counselling sessions are after school on a Wednesday?” Yes, they are. However, this counselling session was in school and I had no idea about it until I was in the room with the counsellor.

I’m finding it very very difficult to get my words out right now, as I did in the session, and so this post may be a little unfiltered but I’m so upset and shaky that if I don’t write it out, I’ll internalise it all. Although talking does usually help, it has the absolute opposite effect when I’m forced to do it at such short notice. It only works when I can at least gather my thoughts. If this won’t help me, I hope it’ll help you to realise that disclosing things about your own mental health should be on yr terms with your permission, rather than someone else’s. This is all fresh in my mind as I write this; I’m going to go back to this later and post it when I get home.

Now, it’s not like I had no warning. Approximately 4 months ago, when I actually spoke to my Head of Year about how bad I felt, she put me on the list to have counselling from an external counsellor in school but I never heard anything since. I thought she’d utterly forgotten because she always made me feel like my ‘problems’ were just normal hormonal things. Also, I could have refused the counselling straight off when I got in the room but I felt too awkward and guilty to do it, or even to ask not to go next week. I just felt blank and washed out and drained before it had even started because instead of talking to this counsellor – although really lovely – I wanted to talk to the one I go to on Wednesdays, Jane.

I got into the room and asked what I was here for and I was told it was for counselling. I relaxed a little as I thought I’d been in trouble; however, I still felt wildly closed off and unwilling to open up. Maybe if I’m approached it better, I would have had a better reaction but I had no time to do that. From the outset, I just knew that I wasn’t comfortable, above all because I hadn’t had time to get comfortable.

She read out some paperwork, about confidentiality (which didn’t help as I wasn’t feeling stable at all), then I signed a form about information from my sessions being used, of course anonymous, and we started. Right off, I felt disconnected and unprepared and so what I said was utterly raw, very jumbled, neither made sense to me nor her and I don’t know if it was the truth or not. I’m having a day where, with the exception of 2 hours’ solid work in History, I’m questioning my own thoughts a lot and so articulating them is so, so difficult.

Because my brain really hurts and I’m exhausted, I couldn’t have told you what I exactly said. When these kinds of things happen to me, where I panic, I often block it out to make it stop feeling overwhelming. I spoke about myself, my perception of how I feel, paranoia, how I have a distorted view of how I think, the conflict I’ve got between standards I set for myself and the expectation of failure and also not fitting the expectations of what people want me to be. I got so overwhelmed that I stuttered – something I hardly ever do – and felt absolutely cold. I mentioned the acting I did recently, how that made me feel; I talked about how behind I am in work; I talked about my general mental health and how afraid I felt that people hated me. All of this I know. What I don’t know is what she said to help; I don’t know the outcomes of the session. Instead of feeling like I could express myself, it all came out in a sick rush and I felt like I was a brick wall. I barely presented myself realistically – and yes, you could argue that the rambling, unhinged crap that came out of my mouth was me but today, I really didn’t feel well and also felt utterly out of it and unable to organise my thoughts.

After the session ended, I spoke to the counsellor casually but then just got out of there. Stepping outside, the first real thing I felt was the sun on my face and I was trembling because my thoughts were terribly confused, like they’d been shaken up. When talking to family about it, I could barely get my words out again; I texted one of my friends and couldn’t tell him much about what happened because I was in such an internal state. Part of the reason is that I wasn’t prepared; another was that because of confidentiality, I couldn’t talk about the thoughts that were really on my mind. The fact is, despite her being a really nice and patient person, I couldn’t trust her. I couldn’t trust the school and so, although she’s an external counsellor, I couldn’t trust her either.

As I’d previously expressed a need for the counselling, I don’t blame the school for how I felt. I know they thought I knew but I can’t help but be a bit upset – perhaps misplacing this upset – because it made me panic, after it was done, to an extreme. If I could have prepared myself to talk today, maybe I would have got more out of the session. If it had been in an environment where I felt secure, I could have spoken more freely. If I didn’t have the worry of confidentiality, I could have talked about more serious things without being afraid.

When I’m made to talk to someone and I’m not prepared for it, or when it falls on a day where my thoughts are really bad and talking about them is tricky, I shut off and just try and get through. Hopefully, this isn’t going to stop me from opening up in the next few days. I learned today that sometimes, I really can’t talk because I haven’t processed any of my thoughts but that’s okay. It’s not your fault if talking doesn’t help, whether always or only sometimes. People should respect your boundaries – and I know the counsellor had no time to be able to understand mine so of course I don’t blame her. I don’t even know my boundaries until they come up.

Don’t ever feel like you should be forced to talk if words just won’t come out and you can’t form them yet. It can be tricky to know when you truly feel like talking and when you don’t but if it feels utterly wrong to you to talk at this present moment, when you can’t understand what you’re feeling and it all shuts down, you don’t have to.

I don’t think I’ll go the week after next. On top of the fact that I already have counselling, the emotions brought up were too overwhelming and I felt too unhappy to constructively listen to anything. It didn’t feel freeing, or like I could trust it, or like I had another person to talk to. It just felt unpleasant to make myself talk about things that just weren’t prepared in my head.

What are your experiences with school counsellors? This counsellor was very good at what she did but just not for me and not now.

From Elm ๐Ÿ™‚

We Aren’t Weak for Breaking

I’m not sure why, on Saturday when I got home from dropping my friend off at the station, I walked up to the room we stayed in and burst into tears.

Or… Perhaps I do know but I just don’t want to admit it. Perhaps I don’t want to admit that the house felt too empty, that I missed having someone there to talk to – that I was so fucking lonely again. The sheer feeling of sadness I felt, where the next few days stretched in front of me with nothing happening that would brighten me, made the tears fall like they hardly ever do when I’m by myself. I hated it, tried to get rid of the thought that nothing was worth anything, that I wasn’t worth anything but the more I ignored it, the more it grew.

It was a feeling which made everything hollow; I lay down, sobbing and shaking until I could barely think clearly. I spoke to myself, telling myself what was real and what wasn’t, that I felt panicked. All of the pent up emotions I’d had the past week, which I hadn’t let myself release, suddenly came pouring out in 5 minutes’ worth of tears.

Then, I got up, washed my face, grabbed the duvet and pillow and brought them downstairs. I let myself go blank, only feeling cold rushes of despair and sadness at varying intervals. Those spanned from then until now: I’m terrified right now, lonely, but I’m also forcing myself to be numb. I shouldn’t do that.

When you feel an overload of emotion, one of the most harmful things you can do is to ignore it, push it aside or try to remove it. It can make things worse: if you don’t learn how to cope or not cope with those emotions, the next time they come around they’ll affect you worse. This applies to people, like me, who don’t understand how to register emotions or who can’t deal with them when they creep up on you unexpectedly. With Saturday, I was so shocked at my worsening state; as I went through London with my dad, I could feel things getting more and more blurred in my head. However, I was surprised: in no way did I expect to just walk up to that room, feel the stinging pressure behind my eyes and cry, when I realised that I had no idea what to do now. I pushed that aside. I tried not to acknowledge it because being hopeless or sad constantly drains me to the point where I don’t want to move. Maybe I should have let those emotions wash over me.

I understand how difficult it is to feel vulnerable or to let yourself break. It’s shit; you feel everything is shivering and it all recedes into a fog. However, it’s important to process and truly tell yourself that these feelings are natural and that you aren’t weak. The biggest problem I have with crying or showing any form of sadness to the quiet of an empty room or my mind is that I tell myself I’m pathetic. I’m not. It’s just me proving to myself I’m not okay because when there’s no one there to bring out the tears but they still fall, you can’t say to yourself that you’re being attention-seeking or that you’re making it up.

The first step is showing yourself that you don’t feel well. That’s difficult enough and it might take you a long time but as soon as you’ve done that, you can look at ways to help yourself. People may say immediately to seek support but if you don’t have a small idea of what’s up, talking to someone about it might panic you more. I know it certainly will me but it’s okay because I’m taking tiny steps to figure things out.

You are strong but it’s fine to not be sometimes. You aren’t some attention-seeker; if you want to cry alone or to cry whilst with someone, you do what you want. As long as you remember that showing others, or yourself, how you feel is okay.

I’ve known I feel unwell for a while but I’m ringing the counselling service today because I don’t think I can take feeling so unhappy and lonely all the time. I have no idea how to work through it; I’ve tried enough in both healthy and unhealthy ways. The next step for me is to get external support. If it’s the next step for you too, even if you’re afraid, you know – if you’re seeking it – that you need the help. If you’ve had moments like I have, where your raw thoughts and fears are displayed to you with unwavering proof, don’t doubt yourself or say to yourself that “it’s just a phase”.

If you want to talk to me about anything, my email’s always open – you can email me at elmblog2403@gmail.com. I’ll always be here, regardless of my own mental state, because being here for others is something I love doing. There are no exceptions to that so if you ever need me, don’t be scared to ask.

Love from Elm ๐Ÿ™‚

Antics of a Soon-To-Be Peer Mentor

Unless something goes horribly wrong in the next… 5 days, I’m halfway to becoming a peer mentor. I completed 2 of the 4 hours of training today and it was so so bloody fabulous; I’m still smiling from it.

If you don’t know what a peer mentor is, take a look at this post and if you’re still confused, then let me know and I can explain it better. I was looking forward to today’s training so much – not knowing what to expect, of course. That was good, because how it turned out was so much better than I could have hoped for.

Oak – a friend of mine who’s also got sight issues – is also doing peer mentoring, so I walked up to the place where it was with him, another one of our friends and the friend I made on Wednesday, who recently moved to this country. That part’s boring: we took our seats, got some water to stay hydrated, and waited around for some latecomers to turn up.

The man who led our training was called John. I don’t know why, but I thought it would just be him talking at us, that it would be dull but I’d suffer through it. Oh, how wrong I was!

John is one of the most engaging “instructors” I know. He first organised us into groups – both years 10 and 12 were there, meaning that I knew barely anyone in the room. I’m very glad that no one I knew was in my group: there were 5 of us, 3 from year 10 and 2 (including me) from year 12.

At first, it was kind of awkward. We had to say what WE thought made a good listener, all of the qualities. I contributed, heart in my mouth, but they took my ideas and wrote them down. Slowly, the other people in the “circle” spoke up, letting ideas flow from us. We all wanted to be there, and we showed that with our words and our voices – we had moments of laughter, especially later on, but we weren’t acting like it was all stupid. I didn’t know them, only knowing the existence of the other girl from my year, and not knowing anyone’s name until I overheard it, or asked like I did with the boy on my right. I spoke confidently, but with a quiet voice; the part of me I wanted to show was out there, so that the unknown people in my group could see it.

John didn’t speak to us like we were idiots. He talked to us as if we were adults, laying out plainly what was expected of us, but in a way that didn’t make it seem like a lecture. After the feedback about being a good listener – fit with a painfully awkward moment where he misunderstood what the girl in my year was trzing to explain and I had to clarify, speaking into the silence of 30 people – he asked us to get into birth date order.

Mine was ridiculously easy, being the last day of the year, so I laughed, stood up and stayed exactly where I was. People organised themselves around me, asking me when my birthday was and exclaiming in surprise: the only person who got more attention for it was the boy who was born on Christmas Eve. He and I exchanged a few laughs, standing next to each other; I think he was in year 10. The point of that exercise was to improve communication with people we didn’t know, and it made me even more confident, letting me smile and not feel so on-edge.

Organised into different groups again, we lined up – though I had no idea what was going on. After John took about five minutes to organise us, making everyone laugh, we played a game of what I can only call glorrified Chinese whispers (Why IS it called that, anyway?). I’ve never laughed so hard: Oak was standing to my left, and to my right was the sister of a girl in my French class. She was lovely, and whilst the game was going on, we giggled and chatted about mentoring, life and our terrible memories. It was almost surreal to be talking to someone, her treating me with NO caution and just sobbing whilst cackling.

Put it this way – when it got to the end, the phrase transformed into “How many boarmongers were boarmongers were born?” and I have never been unable to speak for such a long period of time whilst I clutch my stomach. Don’t even ask me what the original phrase was, because I was laughing too hard to hear it. After we all calmed down, we returned to our original groups, and John tasked us to write what makes a good mentor. Not surprisingly, a lot of the things were similar to the first thing we had to do – as they were read out, I asked myself: am I any of these?

Whilst all of that was going on, I started talking to the guy in year 10 to the right of me – we’ll call him Steve, for the hell of it. He reminded me of a male version of Wren and Swan combined, and here’s some of the snatches of conversation we managed to have in between John talking.

“Woah, this paper’s weird.”
“Yeah, it’s kinda like cardboard and a bit like paper.”
“So a cross?”
“Carper. Or Pard.”

He also said that he had a crush on a guy for 2 years, then found out his name was also Steve. We flailed around for a while when I overheard him say “…And I’ll stab you!” out of context, and before we moved into our final pairs, John’s talking was sometimes punctuated by bursts of laughter. I still linstened to everything John said, though, because it was important.

After that, I worked with another girl for 5 minutes (she had to go to a concert and so she left early). She’s what you might call popular, but I found out today she was lovely – we commented on our awful posture, she laughed at things I said and it was amazing. After she had to go, John worked with me and asked me what qualities I thought I possessed that would make me a good mentor.

“Um, I think I’m a good listener, understanding… Empathetic? I’m able to deal with difficult situations and…”
“You know what I think you are, Elm?”
“Ahh… What?”
“I think you have something that’s so important – kindness. You’re resiliant, too, from what I can tell.”
“Oh god thank you, John!”

I’ve never been so touched at something an adult said. It’s one thing for your friends to compliment you, but for someone who doesn’t know you at all to do that? It kind of shows me that expressing my “true” self is working.

Next, we practiced some listening skills (I worked with the other boy in year 10 who’s good at computer programming, my friend who I made on Wednesday and then Oak.) Trying to draw round the former two’s hands was hilarious, because I got pen everywhere. YES, that can happen, as I discovered.

Oak and our other friend (there are too many people) waited with me for my taxi to come and pick me up. When you laugh extremely loudly in an empty school, it echoes eerily. In the cold air, it was nice to shriek at nothing in particular.

Something I found out today was that Willow HAS A BOYFRIEND! They met each other at college and when she told me today, I literally screamed and jumped up and down, getting some pretty weird comments from Oak. Oh well – I’m so incredibly happy for her, because she deserves this; I can tell that she’s over the moon and that makes me smile.

All in all, I’ve had a wonderful day. I really feel like I’m doing something with myself, with my life; this is going to give me something to look forward to. I’m not just existing, not just floating in a sea of work. The other mentors aren’t my friends yet, but we WILL work as a team, and I can already tell that I’m going to be able to trust these people, simply because I CAN show them who I actually am. No laughter to hide it, only laughter to emphasise it. No more faces to hide behind: just me, myself and bloody I.

If you can’t find a reason to live, then you can create one. This isn’t my reason, but it’s part of it. I’m not the perfect person or mentor, but I can learn.

Do you think I’m up for it?

From Elm ๐Ÿ™‚