All the stress I was under broke the shields I’d spent my entire life building up”.

There was a foreboding feeling that my relationships, work, and university were all suffering. I didn’t know what to do and ignored it. Growing up it seemed I was a bit more sensitive than the other kids. Being a teenager was a very turbulent time, as it is for everyone, I’m sure. I learned it was easy to dismiss my emotions as typical angsty teenagerism. But now I was on the brink of twenty that reasoning started to wear out. All the stress I was under broke the shields I’d spent my entire life building up. It came to a point where many nights I spent banging my head against the wall wishing the pain would go away. I’d not much practice dealing with my emotions and so I sought comfort in the most naïve ways. After getting a hold on my substance use my head became clear enough that I could ask for help. Through a friend’s recommendation I discovered
the retreat. There were a few questionnaires to gauge how depressed and anxious and shit I was feeling, that by then I could complete with almost top marks. I had no idea how bad things had gotten.

When I first approached The Retreat, I remember being quite nervous. Was I even meant to be here? Other people have it worse off after all. The door had a note saying ‘ring buzzer :)’ which somehow made me feel a lot more relaxed about everything. It was very straightforward. I said my name, sat in the waiting room for about 10 minutes while I thought about what I was even going to start with. A staff member greeted me kindly and then we went into a room upstairs.
There was a therapy sofa like how I imagined in a movie. It made me smile and I decided to sit in one of the two upright wooden chairs. I was told about how this first conversation would be about an hour and a half or so long. After being explained my rights to privacy and other more formal information the head clinician started to ask me questions. My thinking had not really prepared me. You know when you just can’t remember a word, but its meaning seems to be on the tip of your tongue? That happened a lot as I tried to explain how I truly felt inside. Not just to another person but to myself. It was very difficult. In the end I managed to get a few burning thoughts out and I left feeling somewhat relieved.

Every week I saw a therapist called Rosalie. She asked less questions than the first person I spoke to. I remember getting the train to York then walking up to the retreat. In that journey time I would be thinking about what was wrong with me and what I should say. Again, thinking did little good. I could not speak much for the first few sessions. There was a lot of awkward silence and one time I felt so claustrophobic that I just wanted to run out of the room. Rosalie asked if I wanted the window open. I nodded. The fact somebody could see how horrible I was feeling inside was a new experience. That gesture made me feel a lot calmer and a genuine conversation started opening up.

Throughout the therapy anything and everything was up for discussion. It progressed at a pace that suited me. I could face the bad things that had happened to me in my life and I did not have to do it alone. I would say there is not a big trauma in my story, just a thousand tiny cuts that accumulated. Sometimes it is not obvious what we should or should not have gone through. But it was the small stuff like opening a window that helped soothe those wounds. “Cats have whiskers as wide as their bodies so they can check if they can fit through a space” Rosalie explained. I understand now how our emotions have a similar function. Because my whiskers were cut off so to speak, I did not have the emotional instinct to navigate the world or understand the things happening in my life.

I slowly learned to be a human and started to feel more present in situations. Eventually I could go into university without having a panic attack. I was not going in blind anymore. One of the big things I learned through therapy was that I could stand up for myself. The last time I had done that was when I was ten years old. I got into a fight and always kind of felt guilty for it. Rosalie showed compassion to my younger self in that situation. Fighting people is not good but I am grateful for the energy I recovered from that memory. At first, I didn’t want help because I felt so helpless, hopeless and believed I deserved my suffering. I don’t think it would have been possible to lift myself out of this state alone. It must have taken a big heart to be able to face this part of me and try to communicate with them. Hopefully by writing this at least one person may consider reaching out and getting the help they deserve as a person.