Last week I was a guest at my therapist’s student class again. Unlike the first time in April, when he’d asked me weeks ahead of the event, this time it was on very short notice, less than 24 hours before the class. I gave a positive reply without hesitation. Appearances like that make me rather nervous, but I am a firm believer in doing something for the greater good. If my appearance helps students to see chronic depression as less abstract, if they can put a face on textbook knowledge, it makes me feel a little better about my own mental health history – one positive aspect among so many negative ones.
The class was about the same size and gender ratio as last time (women vastly outnumbering the men); very well-behaved and quiet. The April-group was maybe a little more engaging, but then, they had only seen one other in-patient before me. This month’s group had already met an elderly in-patient with treatment-refractory depression, a bipolar patient and a young woman with chronic depression in the very early stages of therapy. I was meant to be her counterpart, who could talk about the changes which happen when you go through psychotherapy in general and CBASP in particular.
I was with the students for 25 minutes only, so naturally we didn’t go into as much detail as last time, and focused less on my personal history and more on the importance of trust and the professional’s behaviour: that in the long run psychotherapy is more successful if time is allowed for establishing a trusting relationship between therapist and patient first. More often than not, patients battle anxiety in addition to the depression, and they are easily scared away for good if not handled carefully or not taken seriously by therapists and hospital staff.
It is rather ironic that despite my social anxiety, I am a somewhat capable public speaker. I know that you have to enunciate clearly and speak with moderate tempo, that you have to talk louder than in a normal conversation and that eye contact with the audience is important if you want to come across as competent. I have held a number of lectures in university in front of up to a hundred people, and have almost always been congratulated on my “professionalism” afterwards. But it is just a mask I wear and afterwards, I am terribly exhausted and crash, and it takes weeks to fully recover from this.
Generally speaking, I was not as worried this time around, even though there always is this phase a couple of minutes before actually getting started where I become somewhat panicky, cursing myself for saying yes and badly wishing I had avoided this situation. And I’m always afraid of “forgetting” crucial facts, of not being able to access the memories of the early treatment days properly. Fortunately for me, my therapist knows me so well by now that he can anticipate problematic situations and guide the conversation around them, or take the edge off by moderating.
The chart of my depression indices was shown again – I noticed that this time, it had the title of an article printed on the bottom, stating it was “in press”. (For those who are not familiar with the rules of scientific writing: an article being “in press” means it has been accepted by a journal for publication, but has not been printed yet at the time being.) From the very beginning I had known that my anonymised data would get published sooner or later, and in the beginning I was itching with curiosity. Now that I had stopped thinking about it altogether, that silent announcement took me somewhat by surprise.
I can’t help but wonder whether this obsession about the article in the early days had something to do with the urge to chronicle my own life, as mentioned in my last blog post. As if my own thoughts and ideas and feelings about the topic don’t count if I can’t back them up with written proof.