Therapy cannot fix me. Only I can heal.

Two years ago, I was running through the rain with my boyfriend, to reach the shelter of the cinema where we were going to watch a movie. Before I knew what was happening, I slipped over, and landed backwards, straight onto my right elbow. It turns out that it was badly broken, and I’ve had two surgeries and lots of physiotherapy to get it to how it is today. Surgeons put in numerous wires and pins to try and get my bones reconnected again. These eventually had to be removed, as they had moved around inside my bone, and were dangerously close to sticking out through my skin. Yes, it was pretty gross; you could see and feel them clearly pointing out, ready to spike through at any time. It was a cool party trick though! For several months my elbow was stuck at 90 degrees, unable to move much beyond that point. Through lots of patience and work and saying kind things to it (have you ever tried talking to your right elbow?), it has gotten to where it is today. I can bend it, not fully straight, but it works nevertheless, and can put pressure on it again. Part of it is numb and has no feeling, but that’s not a big deal in the grand scheme of things. The scars from the surgeries are big and deep and purple, but I like them. They are just part of me. It still hurts occassionally, gets a bit stuck sometimes, and the shape of it is a bit weird compared to my left one, but it’s an elbow. It’s part of me, and my story. It’s not the same as it used to be, but it’s okay. It’s all okay.

Where am I going with this? Well I’ve been thinking lately, and elbows aren’t too different to brains. Sure, one is far more complex and diverse, while the other is lovingly nicknamed the funny bone, but they are both part of us. They both help to make us, us.

You know the classic, detrimental way of mental illnesses being treated differently to physical illnesses by society? How physical illnesses are generally prioritised and taken seriously, while mental illnesses can be seen as “not real”, or are bound in shame? Well, all this made me think that the way I should approach healing my elbow, and healing my brain – that they shouldn’t be treated all that differently after all.

With my dodgy elbow, it’s not exactly what it was like before it hit the concrete in the way no elbow should. The surgeries and physiotherapy didn’t leave it looking and feeling all brand new – in fact in both looked and felt worse than ever before during these times. To anyone who is currently experiencing physiotherapy, I admire you. That is some badass, painful stuff to go through! However, although my elbow came out of the other side of recovery remarkably different to how it went in; it coped. It is still an elbow. I have learnt how to adjust to it, and it’s little quirks. I’m thankful for all it does.

I’m going to stop writing the word “elbow” now, because not only has it gotten to the point where it’s starting to make me question if “elbow” is a real word, but also who would want to read a whole blog post solely about elbows? Anyway, in a similar way, therapy for mental illnesses cannot magically cure us. Therapy is hard work, heck it’s like physiotherapy for your brain. It will not mend our brains into invincibility, or take away all the bad things that have happened to it. Nothing can do that, sadly. But it does teach us how to cope. How to endure, and how to create meaningful, enriched lives that are not dictated by the mental illnesses and trauma. Therapy gives us the tools to find resilience for our demons, to become stronger in their presence, and to lead the lives we deserve to be living.

And I don’t think the lack of feeling “fixed” after attending therapy should cause me to consider myself as weak or forever broken. Therapy isn’t about that, it doesn’t leave you feeling brand new. It gives you the tools to better understand yourself, to call your struggles out by name and take away their power.

Courtney Bunting – The Reality of Therapy.

For some mental illnesses, recovery from them isn’t about returning to who we were before everything went bottom up. Sometimes it isn’t about, or possible, to be free of all the symptoms, forever. But it is possible to live a rich, meaningful life, despite these diagnoses. It is possible to learn how to manage them, and to continue becoming and blooming through them.

Through all this we learn:

I am creative.

I am strong.

I can keep living even when my brain is under fire.

Therapy does not fix us. This does not make us weak, but rather it empowers us to fight our own battles.


Avoidance, therapy homework & vulnerability.

As most children are, I too was quite dedicated in the avoidance of practising my extra-curricular activities. Although I loved the pool, I couldn’t bring myself to swim laps outside of lessons, unless it was just for fun. And while I enjoyed dance during studio time, beyond that, could my parents please just sign the sheet to say that I had rehearsed each day?

When it came to homework, however, this is a completely different cup of tea. I was meticulous from the get-go, finding it easy to finish all my homework on time, driven by the knowledge that this was something I could actually do and achieve. I think homework is blanketing, somehow, in this way. It can smother all the vulnerability and fear of not being good enough at other activities, because I was lucky enough to generally have a pretty cruisey time at school. With schoolwork, I am not constantly focused on my inadequacies to do with my body, how inferior I am socially, and how much I feel I overall lack as a person. Essays came naturally to me, and I feel safe burying myself within them. However, anything else, like practicing my clarinet or sports, things that would expose my vulnerability and fear of not being good enough to the world, were put in the too hard basket, and I avoided at all costs.

The saying “practice makes perfect” is voluminous in truth. The more time and energy that is poured into a certain sphere, makes the sphere grow in size. Therefore, as we practice skills we naturally gain more knowledge about them, consequently becoming better at performing them.

Therefore, it’s understandable why homework is such a key element of therapy today. Therapy homework allows clients to put the skills and ideas they are learning within sessions into practice; into our day-to-day lives where it actually matters. Therapy homework also lets us practice how to respond and cope differently as situations arise, and can help to destruct harmful thinking patterns.

There is a specific piece of homework that I have been avoiding for weeks. I feel embarrassed even writing about it, because it seems so simplistic and silly. I was originally tasked with making a list of things I have accomplished this year, relating both to my mental health and otherwise. However, due to my large avoidance of the topic, I now need to come up with only three achievements.

dark, night, person

Three! Three. This is a struggle for me because if I try and think of something, my brain tells me that it wasn’t good enough, and therefore isn’t something to be proud of. I also feel bad and guilty doing this, because I feel as though I don’t deserve to feel good about anything worthwhile that I might do. Thirdly, I worry that both thinking and writing these things down will come across as boastful or selfish. Logically I know that this isn’t the case, as I don’t feel that way about other people doing the same task.

Brains, huh! They are tricky things. In order to get better, I have to work on getting better, and to be able to work on getting better, I have to be at a certain stage of better already. It’s a tough cycle to navigate.

And this is why we practice the things we are trying to get better at. By faking feeling good about something I have achieved, with much perseverance, I will apparently be challenging my negative self-worth. This will work on building up something good instead. The practice of vulnerability within therapy homework makes these tasks so integral and key to recovery. And perhaps that is also why we avoid them. They dig deep, and mend what is most difficult to get right.

It is easy to do and practice what makes us feel safe; what protects us from vulnerability. This week, I’m determined to get my therapy homework done. For this is where the real work lies.