The topic of mental health is still a bit taboo, which to me feels ridiculous - 1 in 4 adults in the UK will experience a mental health issue every year. We treat the common cold with some rest and medicine, so why don't we approach common mental health challenges in the same way?! It genuinely baffles me...
Luckily, I work for HumanForest, where we have a holistic mental health policy in place to destigmatise, encourage awareness and help with accessing support, so I’ve always felt completely comfortable in being open when I may not be having the best of days. As we launched our partnership with BetterHelp last week, right in time for the UK’s Mental Health Awareness Week, it felt like the perfect opportunity to chat a bit about my own experiences with mental health.
For me, it’s always been about managing anxiety. I’m a naturally high-energy person. On the outside, this means I’m enthusiastic, positive, tenacious - all the things that make me a good colleague and friend (hopefully!). But on the inside, the high level of energy needed to present myself like this to the world often works against me - my innate perfectionist and people-pleasing tendencies mean I can really, really sweat the small stuff, and my inner voice can be quite critical and mean.
I recognised this was getting significantly worse throughout 2019, while I was living abroad in Singapore. In hindsight, working a full time job in the arts, studying for an MBA, and living thousands of miles away from my nearest and dearest was a bit of a recipe for a mental health disaster! Things reached a peak when I started having panic attacks and I knew I needed to reach out to a professional.
But as Covid lockdowns began, I couldn’t get to a therapist all that easily. And the cost of healthcare in Singapore is high without comprehensive medical insurance, which I didn’t have, so I was worried about how I was going to be able to afford it long term. I’d seen ads for BetterHelp on Instagram, so logged on, filled in my details, and waited to be matched with a therapist.
It could not have been easier. Within 24 hours I was sitting in our spare room having my first online session. I was nervous at first - it goes against every fibre of my being to talk about myself and my ‘failings’! But as soon as I met my therapist and we started talking, that apprehension completely dissipated.
As the months went by, the flexibility of the platform really worked for me. There were times when I felt like I couldn’t talk freely in the apartment with housemates there (no offence gals!), so we were able to have our sessions over the phone while I went for a walk. Having our worksheets and notes saved in one online portal meant I could go back and refer to things we’d spoken about, or read through some advice and techniques in my own time.
I spoke with my BetterHelp therapist for about 6 months in the end and it was amazing how quickly I felt an improvement in my mental health. I went from feeling permanently stuck in the Sunday scaries, to letting that anxiety ebb and flow, handling stressful situations as they came and not ruminating on them for days to come.
Not everything worked. We tried journalling for a bit, but I just couldn’t get my head round it at all. Same with meditation. That inner voice was just too loud and annoying to feel any sense of calm! But one major lesson I learnt along the way was that sometimes there is a bit of trial and error when it comes to figuring out what works for you. Working regularly with my therapist and learning about what truly, deeply makes me tick armed me with a toolkit of really effective tips and tricks which I still use today.
Therapy got me through my MBA, the stress of working through a pandemic, and leaving a job I loved and moving back to the UK after 7 years away. It also helped me make peace with some bigger things that I didn’t realise I had been holding onto for so long. So yeah, I’m a BIG fan of therapy. Someone once described it to me as the best gift you could give yourself, and I couldn't agree more. I know that present Charlie will be eternally grateful to past Charlie for starting that journey, and future Charlie knows she can always go back to it when she needs it.
If Charlie's situation sounds relatable and you want to check out BetterHelp, get 25% off your first month via this link here!