Read how others have benefitted from accessing psychological therapies. These are real stories but all names have been changed.
The effect that stress was having on Anne meant that her whole life was being impacted upon; over 12 months she was on 28 different antibiotics for a range of infections, her hair was falling out, her nails had become brittle and were breaking and when she wasn’t at work she would sleep for up to 24 hours. She constantly worried about things at work and she rarely spent any quality time with her two teenage children.
When she went to her GP about what she thought was another infection it was put to her that she could be suffering from stress.
“I contacted First Step and they gave me a couple of options. I decided group therapy would be better because I would probably be able to avoid talking about myself. It took a lot of courage for me to go to the first session, I nearly didn’t. But I sat at the back, said nothing and listened. By the end of that very first session I honestly felt stronger.”
Anne was taking part in a free seven week programme called Ways to Wellbeing. The course aims to give some ideas for practical actions that can be used in your everyday life to maintain your own wellbeing.
“The second week was about wellbeing and sleep and it honestly changed my life. Sleep was a big problem for me, I would lie awake worrying all the time but when I was off work I would sleep all day. They gave us simple steps to take that put you back in control of your sleep pattern, we reprogrammed our body clocks. Things like have a warm bath instead of a hot bath, have milk before bed and eat two lettuce leaves – this may sound a bit random but it works for me.
Through the course I learned to de clutter my mind, so it wasn’t full of what were unhelpful thoughts, I still have bad days but I feel that I now have the skills I need to cope when I have bad days whereas I didn’t before and I got into a downward spiral.
I was continually worrying about everything at work and my mind was very jumbled. I was always stressed at work and at home I wasn’t very engaging , First Step have re-connected me with my family.
I found every week of the course useful and actually I was quite sad when it finished. That first week I didn’t make eye contact with anyone and I didn’t participate at all by the end of the programme I was sitting at the front of the class, I had cut my hair into a funky short style and I had gone out for a meal with my family. This doesn’t sound much but this was something that I found too difficult before.”
Laura Cairns is a First Step Practitioner who runs the courses she explains:
“Stress is a common experience and we will all experience stress at times. Not all stress is bad for us but when it gets out of balance it can have a negative effect on us. This may affect us physically for example poor sleep, or emotionally for example being irritable, it can affect the way we think for example excessive worrying and negative thinking and our behaviour for example avoiding situations.
The Ways to Wellbeing course aims to give you some ideas for practical actions you can use in your everyday life to maintain your own wellbeing. It will introduce you to goal setting skills, problem- solving skills and give you practical ideas to enable you to manage stress, worry and mood.”
“I feel like I am back in the human race again and I am living now instead of existing from crisis to crisis. Work is much better my colleagues have said they have noticed a huge difference. I now take a break when I am supposed to and I have confidence to say when I can and when I can’t do something.
If anyone is reading this and thinking that they feel like I did I would say to them don’t hesitate to get help, I wasn’t able to make the last week of the course so only covered the six weeks but those 12 hours of my life have completely transformed my life.”
Until recently, Sandy couldn't tie his shoelaces. He couldn't sleep and he couldn't touch everyday household items. He had the same CD playing in his car for 12 months because he couldn't bring himself to change it. Yet, this was not as a result of anything physical - Sandy has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), a condition that has been with him for much longer than he first realised.
Toilet training can be a testing time for everyone concerned and as children get older, difficulties become harder to deal with. In Sandy's case, things didn't go well and he was frequently punished for soiling his clothes and immediately plunged into a cold bath to make sure he was clean. As an adult, severe bouts of Irritable Bowel Syndrome triggered compulsive behaviour and rituals including constant hand washing to the point of broken and bleeding skin. His behaviour became so obsessive that it was interfering with his work and personal life. Part of his condition led him to hide the constant washing from the outside world which only made things worse.
"I worked a lot from home so the rituals were easier to deal with. But in an office environment, it was extremely difficult. The more I tried to hide my rituals from the outside world, the more I was doing them - to the point that I only spent 20% time working and 80% of the time worrying."
It has also affected his relationship with his wife and daughter.
"At home, everything had its place and I couldn't bear for certain things to be moved from their place in case I had ‘contaminated' them"
Obvious pressures arose from sharing this space with his family and the constant worry and rituals led to a tense atmosphere and his wife to describing his mood as ‘very maudlin'.
Over the last ten years, he has made attempts at seeking help and first went to a psychologist when he was living in South Scotland. But since moving to Carlisle, Sandy tried again and his GP arranged for him to seek help through First Step. The first appointment didn't go well for him, as he felt he couldn't confide in the younger female practitioner. But First Step accommodated his need for an alternative therapist and Sandy has never looked back since.
Through First Step, he has found acceptance that there is no cure for his condition but that he can manage to live with it. He has realised how his problem began and that he has probably had OCD since his teens. His treatment has focused around setting objectives to increase his level of exposure to the things that he is worried about. His therapist has visited his home and talked him through touching things that bother him, such as tying his shoelaces that he worries have become contaminated and realising that nothing happens if he ties them. He has learned a variety of coping mechanisms to deal with his worries such as taking a deep breath and knowing that it will disappear. He has also had to take responsibility for his own recovery and knows that it takes a joint effort to get results.
"It's a bit like giving up cigarettes, you have to want to do it for yourself and my therapist has been really clear about saying ‘if you don't want to change we can't do it for you'. The support is there to do it and if you put the effort in, it will pay off."
Sandy's wife and daughter have also noticed a big difference.
"My wife has commented that she hears me laugh a lot more and my daughter even says I'm relatively chilled!
I know that if I had sought help earlier, I could have nipped it in the bud and the problem wouldn't have been as deep. I still have bad days - we all do, but my quality of life is 95% better than it has been over the last ten years."
“I’ve turned my life around - so can you”
Kerry’s doctor referred her to First Step when she was struggling to manage her anxiety and she has since turned her life around. Now she wants to raise awareness of the condition and encourage people to seek help if they find themselves in the same situation.
“My anxiety was crippling. I couldn’t get out of bed, answer the phone or have visitors and I couldn’t go any further than the garden. I wasn’t living - just existing. When my husband had an accident at work I couldn’t physically go and visit him in the hospital because of my anxiety. It made me feel like a failure as a wife and a human being, I felt suicidal and thought about ending it all (thankfully I didn’t). My husband was very understanding, but some people weren’t - they couldn’t understand how tough it was for my husband and me. I’m not telling you this to make you feel sorry for me but to make people understand what it’s like living with anxiety and it’s not just a case of pulling yourself together.
Anxiety comes in many forms and it can be past experiences or childhood that can contribute along with the day to day life and worries. I knew when I had hit rock bottom I was going to have to do something about it, so I decided to ring my doctor who kindly came to my home and I explained the way I have been feeling. He prescribed medication, but because I was anxious I couldn’t bring myself to take them so he asked me how I felt about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
The first session was nerve wracking waiting in the waiting room but when I came out I knew I could achieve more than I believed and I really started to push myself. I started my medication and my confidence started to really grow. I see my therapist regularly, she’s great, and the therapy has taught me to take chances and also to think more rationally about situations. Now I can happily go for a meal with my husband, have family visit my home. It has really brought me closer to my family and I know I have been really lucky to have good support - not everybody has that.
So if anxiety is making your life difficult for you or a friend or family member I urge you to help them or yourself to talk to someone about how you’re feeling. That’s the first step. I know I might have more anxious moments than some people in the future but now I know I can manage the illness, I have turned my life around so can you.”
“My GP encouraged me to try First Step and I’ve never looked back”
Tiffany was referred to First Step Services after being encouraged by her GP. Initially, she was sceptical but hoped that they would be able to help with her problems of anxiety, worry and her inability to make decisions.
Tiffany felt First Step has helped her in many ways. She has gone from being in a position where she could not make any decisions but now has the ability to make “spot on” decisions. She is now in work and there may be an opportunity for her to become a supervisor, previously she was too afraid to contemplate an interview. She has the ability to try new things without too much worry. Prior to her involvement with First Step even choosing clothes was a problem feeling “What if I get it wrong”?
A First Step practitioner worked with Tiffany, encouraging her to try out different experiments, making decisions, right and wrong ones to enable Tiffany to realise nothing bad would happen.
As a result of this Tiffany reports that her self esteem and confidence have improved as have her relationship with her daughter and partner. She is now making plans to learn to drive whereas before she was too afraid. There were times when Tiffany felt that the therapy was difficult, was reluctant to attend at times and required a great deal of commitment but with the support and encouragement from her practitioner she was able to carry on.
After suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for a long time, Ray first came into contact with First Step following a referral from his GP. He had carried around his problem for twelve years, unable to speak about it to anyone. Ray recognised that he needed some support but wasn’t quite sure what could be done. He thought he
“Would give First Step a try to see if was any good and it was”.
Prior to contact with First Step Ray thought about his problem all day, everyday, dreaming about it, taking over his life and suffered sleep deprivation as a result. He didn’t think there was anything that could be done, or that anything was available to help. Following sessions he doesn’t even think about his problem anymore. Ray’s feels he is much more comfortable in himself, his life was on hold but now he has started to live again. He feels much happier, notices that he smiles more and his relationship with his girlfriend has improved.
Ray commented that his therapist has done an “amazing job”, working with his problem. His first impression was good,
“She makes you feel at ease and was able to talk to her about anything”.
“I entered therapy as a victim and left as a survivor”
Pete first came into contact with First Step in March 2010. His GP recommended First Step, gave him a leaflet with information about what the service provides and made the referral. He had tried other services in the past but they hadn’t succeeded in providing the appropriate therapy.
He had suffered depression and anxiety and had not previously disclosed any information about a traumatic assault which happened whilst he was in his early teens but felt he wanted to get to the bottom of this.
Following his initial extended assessment his practitioner identified he was suffering form Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Pete described his practitioner as “absolutely brilliant”.
He rarely experiences flash backs as he did previously, he now has the tools to deal with any odd ones which occur. Pete’s ability to cope is much improved; he is able to be more open and understanding of others. As a result of his recovery Pete is now an administrator of a website for those who have suffered similar problems. He is also part of a collaboration involved in writing a book.