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October 5, 2014 | by  | in Features Homepage | [ssba]

An A-Z of Fluctuation

An alphabet makes sense as the structure for this, my justification goes, because it is in order, but it is not really in order.

Because YOU are in order, but sometimes you are not really in order.

Cognitive behavioural therapy is, I think, the most often practiced – it looks at how you think and how you act. But there are many different kinds of therapy. I’ve gone and seen a psychologist on and off for the last few years, since this point a few years ago at which mental health for me became something of a daily lottery. This weird alphabet thing is me trying to reiterate that it’s something to be open to, should you find yourself in more than just a low point.

Distressingly enough, it’s never obvious how the session environment will strike you on any particular day. Sometimes you go in there relatively chirpy. Other times, you are dealing with the Mind Fog, and you must part the Mind Fog to get any thoughts from your brain to your mouth. There are also those times you are mired in Mind Concrete and you are pretty much a cinder block that people keep trying to interact with. Fair warning: sometimes you cry. An ab workout for the best of us.

Engagement with mental health is something you don’t really do until you need to. No one is good enough at forward planning that they know they’ll spend May through October unable to do much, or that they’ll be into someone and then spend four times the length of their attachment in a grieving process, or that something awful will happen to someone they love. The first time you hit a lower low than ever before, it’s sort of a mystery what you should do about it.

Foremost among the misconceptions is that therapy means you’re weak or can’t ‘harden up’ by yourself. I cannot state more strongly that these are not true. I reckon you’re weaker if you don’t acknowledge your weaknesses.

Granted, you’d be forgiven for thinking that surely you can just talk to your pals or parents about stuff that bothers you. To an extent this is true, but they often don’t know the right language. They don’t always react that helpfully. They have their own feelings and relationships and ways of thinking, and sometimes it’s not the best stuff for you to hear when you feel like a damp sock.

Hearing from your friends or parents – by way of an example – that “They were depressed once” and “They just got over it, they didn’t take antidepressants or go and see a counsellor” is their experience, not yours. It makes me mad when people say that, like, if I took advantage of both, are they saying they’re somehow stronger than me? Eff that. We had different experiences, I end up telling myself (albeit with clenched fists).

It’s not an instant fix. Which seems like a drawback, because we like instant results. There are some improvements you begin to see quicker than others – identifying certain thoughts as toxic and trying to dispel them becomes habitual, for example. You entertain more and more the thought that if your emotions aren’t trivial to you, then maybe that means they’re not trivial at all. (Sometimes you need someone to tell you that your emotions are not trivial.) Longer-term, you remember how much worse you have been and the ways you’re more aware of yourself now. This doesn’t sound like a plus! But it is.

Just therapy, nothing else, isn’t necessarily going to be all it takes – therapy works in tandem with medication, or exercise, or Colin Firth. Doctors might be more inclined to suggest that you team whatever else you do with medication, because it’s their prerogative to get you feeling better as soon as possible. Medication doesn’t necessarily equip you with tools for dealing with how you might react to or think about a particular situation. Don’t get me wrong: I’m so for it I’m basically five it, it’s just not that preventative.


Law students are often reminded to look after themselves because of research indicating high incidence of anxiety and depression among them and in the legal profession generally. They’re lucky that their professional bodies are working to address this. But I reckon all study is generally stressful as shit. Surely there’s a high incidence of anxiety and depression across faculties? You’re spending a lot of time worrying about not being good enough, or other people being better than you, or whether you will meet some threshold. Never let Law students tell you they have it harder than you.

Maybe your worry is along the lines of, what if everyone found this out about me? Your mental health doesn’t have to be this public thing that other people know the ins and outs of. I don’t reckon you should be particularly hesitant to share some detail with those close to you, but that’s just me. Parents can be conservative about it – a bit put out that “No one in the family has ever needed this before, are you sure you can’t work through it on your own?” “Do we not talk to you enough?” Friends can be confused about what it means or feel awkward about it. You could not tell them. You could even try to change their perception!

Nor do you have to be someone who externalises their emotions all the time, to get something out of a course of therapy. It’s not about ‘getting in touch with your feelings’ or becoming a better communicator. It’s more: you have these thoughts that are bad, or that have this negative effect on you, or that stop you from doing things. Channelling these thoughts into something else, removing the distortions, is something you can only really do by yourself anyway.

Or you can be someone who consistently blurts their guts out, and talking to a therapist comes naturally because talking about your feelings is easy. That’s cool too. The point is, all different kinds of people can feel bad and can gain something from talking to someone who knows how to talk to people that are feeling bad.

Prozac Efron is an idea for a band name that I came up with while writing this. Which is why, in all likelihood, I will never be given any responsibility in any field.

Quickly, before I get serious again – I tried pretty hard to formulate a gag about the effect of mental-health issues on a relationship being shrinkage all round. I am sorry. Nicola Braid did a way better job.

Realistically, there is

So little



V important serious-at-the-end-type upswing: I didn’t want this to get all “Sense of an Ending book review”, but sometimes you have this idea that things in the past happened a certain way. And that’s the way they happened, because they didn’t bloody happen any other way (I’m not a History major). Then all of a sudden, one day, you realise that it’s completely possible and in fact more likely that they happened another way.

What I have taken from therapy is some variation on the previous point: that I have a brain that takes things that happen and distorts them a bit. I cleverly convince myself they mean something and then I all but set that in stone. I am working on changing this. It is hard.

Xeric (adj; of an environment or habitat: containing little moisture, very dry.) My apologies if this page has got a little xeric. Xeriously. Xery xeric xndeed.

You can’t be happy all the time. No one is. But you shouldn’t have to be unhappy all the time.

Z is not an appropriate letter with which to begin a closing sentence. I will just repeat that you don’t deserve to be unhappy, friend.


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