When you constantly feel on edge, anxious or on the brink of losing your shit at every waking moment, it’s time to get help with those red flags. And that can mean counselling…

I’ve thought long and hard about sharing this with you all, because it’s a really personal experience when you go for counselling. I mean how much more personal can you get than sharing your fertility story…well a lot more to be honest. But this feels really important, because I’m well aware of the stereotyping, the judgement and the overall stigma around it. There are a lot of misconceptions about it, especially in the UK, where I’m from and I want to demystify what it’s like to have counselling. It’s simply not fair that people are not seeking and getting the help they need because of this.

Find a comfortable or safe fit

The first thing I would say is do your research, because there are a lot, MASSES in fact, of counsellors out there, and like any relationship, you won’t gel with everyone. You need to be able to trust that counsellor with your personal story and your personal view of the world. If you don’t trust them or you get a vibe that you don’t feel safe, it will be impossible for you to invest in the counselling process (more on that later).

Let me give you my very first experience of counselling, and you’ll be amazed that I now find myself training as a counsellor when you read this. Long story short, it was shit. I was struggling after my miscarriage – I was very fragile, very depressed and shut down. As a consequence, I didn’t have the head space to really do my research, I just found one and thought ‘you’ll do’.

When I turned up, the room was the box room in her home and as I walk up the stairs I was assailed by images of smiling, happy and very much alive, children. I was defensive, I was shut down and I was struggling with the fact I needed help. The counsellor looked me up and down and the very first words out of her mouth were ‘have you thought about anti-depressants?’. I mean ‘wow’ – where the fuck was the empathy? It had taken me all of my courage to reach out for help and that was the first thing out of her mouth.

And as you can imagine, it all went south from there really. The second session (oh yeah, I went back), we talked about the issue, but I didn’t trust and I fended her off by avoiding the real reason I was there and then the third session, I told her I was over it. The relief in the room was palpable – and she happily saw me off after trying to up-sell me hypnotherapy for fertility.  

Did it put me off counselling? Oh yeah. I sat in my misery for a long time after this shitty experience and felt unable to request help from anywhere else. It was a horrible experience because knowing what I know now, I would’ve simply left that first session and found someone else, but you can’t know what you don’t know.

The nuts and bolts

It’s hard to know what to expect when you first go for counselling, but usually what’ll happen is you’ll have an initial assessment with the counsellor and then if you feel happy you’ll agree to work together.

Here’s the thing though, all counsellors are different and will use different ways of working. The counsellors I have seen have invited me in for an initial assessment to talk a few things through. This will not only include the terms of their ‘contract’ (fees, times, cancellation), but will cover things like confidentiality, how they work and whether they have signed up to a code of practice (such as the British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists).

However, where I currently volunteer for a charity, the initial assessment happens over the phone with another member of staff and then we pick up the threads in the first session when I first meet them.

Sounds dull, but it’s absolutely necessary for you to know how things will work. What it isn’t, as the younger, more defensive version of me believed, is a way to pry into your business before you’re ready. You say as much or as little as you can and then you both work out if you can work together.

When I first met my second counsellor, after being told I couldn’t have children, I don’t recall being given all of this information. Doubtless I was, but I just remember feeling under pressure to blurt out all of my stuff when I first turned up. I needn’t have worried, because by the time I got there I had shut down again and could only nod and shake my head. Strange way to work out if you can ‘talk’ to someone, but I knew that this experience would be different to my previous one because I felt ‘safe’.

I ended up working with this counsellor for nine months and it was during this experience that I discovered that this was what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a counsellor.

The process   

If you’ve never had counselling, it can be hard to describe how it works. It’s not just a question of turning up to talk about the issues you’ve had that week, which it can be, nor is it the counsellor sitting back and trying to look clever…well not in my experience anyway. If that’s what you’re after there will likely be a counsellor that fits the bill.

I guess for me counselling has been a way for me to be able to be ‘me’ in front of someone else and to try things out. It’s been a way for me to be able to peel away the accumulated layers of shit that have gathered over my 44 years on the planet, to get back to the essence of who I really am, before all of the things happened that moulded me into something different. It’s enabled me to accept me, as the whole me, including the quirky, ballsy, shadowy and negative bits. Sounds implausible doesn’t it, but it has genuinely re-built me from the ground up again.

I’ve had two counsellors since the hysterectomy – partly because it’s a necessary part of the counselling qualification I’m doing, but also because I’ve really struggled with my fertility issues, my childlessness and my body letting me down. I’ve also had to face up to some of my other baggage. It’s not easy, but I have changed. So much so, that my current counsellor is a bloke, which at one time wouldn’t have been possible.

He’s laughed, supported and cried with me and despite not being part of our community, he gets what’s happened and why I have been the way I have been. Because I think that is the key thing about being unable to have the family you want, regardless of the reasons. For me, it exposes any shakiness in your self-esteem, leaving you without a true sense of who you are, as well as bereft of any comfort or a knowing of what you represent and bring to the world. It utterly lays waste to your identity, your values and your beliefs about fairness, justice and equality. You suddenly find all your comparisons to other people are on every single occasion coming up lacking.

And that level of fucking awfulness is beyond the comprehension of many outside the community. But, a counsellor will accept you for you without you feeling that you need to start comparing with other people’s circumstances to diminish your own. That’s not where true recovery lies, because it takes a level of guts and determination to decide that you want to do something about it and then peel those layers away.     

Is counselling for you?

I have no idea. Only you will know that and, let’s face it, it might not be. You might not be ready to work on yourself. You might feel that you don’t deserve it or that you can’t ever possibly be happy with your lot without children. That’s not fine, but I accept that we are all at different places in our journeys.

But please, if you’re struggling and you don’t know what to do. If you’re struggling with the emotions or feeling that life will NEVER get better. Or if you’re struggling to see the point of you, don’t deprive yourself of the opportunity to try it and see if it can help you. It’s only by looking for help that you’re able to try something that can equip you with new tools for coping and a new way of viewing you and your world.

Trust me, I have been where you have been and I have hit rock bottom on more than one occasion. If I can build myself back up, because you deserve it.

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