How a new home and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy helped recovery

| | By Ellen Tatum
How a new home and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy helped recovery
My name is Ellen and I am fortunate enough to live in beautiful North Norfolk.  I was diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder in February 2018, which finally brought to an end 35 years of precarious mental ill health, which included suicide attempts and severe anxiety.  At first I did not want to accept the diagnosis as I believed my illness wasn't as severe as bipolar. However, I gradually came to accept it and with the help of my family, friends, GP and mental health team began to work upon my recovery.

Before my diagnosis I had been living in North Norfolk and working as a podiatrist from my home clinic. Although I suffered from terrible periods of debilitating depression and anxiety I managed to stay fairly stable for many years. However, after time the periods of mental ill health became more frequent.  When my marriage of 21 years began to break down my mental health took a turn for the worst and I had a full blown psychotic breakdown. At times I was lucid and able to function, but at others I completely lost touch with reality and began to believe my life was in danger.

Eventually my husband removed my 13 year old daughter from the family home as she had begun to be affected by my erratic behaviour. However, this served to fuel my psychotic belief that she had been abducted and this was part of the plot against me. Meanwhile I developed an unhealthy obsession with a friend and local personal trainer at the gym I attended, sending him many unsolicited texts. The police became involved and I was arrested for harassment.

Things began to change when I split from my husband and started living independently in my own flat. I love my current flat and moving here has been very much part of my recovery. Another important part of my recovery was attending a course called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy run by the NHS. I found this to be most helpful and it inspired me to meditate daily which helps me to focus on one thing at once.

My recovery hasn't been linear but it was certainly helped by moving to my flat in Cromer.  I had been living in a barn conversion in a rural location and, whilst it was a nice house, it was isolated both physically and digitally as Wi-Fi wasn't available. This increased my physical and mental isolation and deepened and prolonged my depression. 

My friend Claire could see that the barn conversion wasn't helping my mental health and helped me look for a flat in a town. The moment I looked around my flat, Claire and I knew it was for me. Tastefully furnished and with lovely views to the aptly named Happy Valley. Importantly, broadband and Wi-Fi were both available and I was able to reconnect with my Facebook friends.

I had never lived independently in my adult life, going from my family home to live with my husband. So setting up internet banking, bill payments and running my own finances was initially overwhelming.  But bank and utility company staff were kind and helpful and I soon felt empowered, realising I could do things independently and my confidence started to return.
I also enjoyed only being a 6 minute walk from the town centre where I could go to the local shops, library, cinema or coffee shop if I felt in need of company.  It felt very important to me to be part of a community where I knew people. It was also lovely to be able to go for a walk on the beach if I fancied.

Another big part of my recovery was attending the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) course run by the NHS. It was an educational, not a therapeutic, course based on mindfulness.  I learnt that human beings are not supposed to be happy all the time, instead we are meant to experience a whole array of different emotions.  Instead of stifling difficult emotions, including anxiety and fear, we learnt we could sit with these emotions and nothing happened! 

We were shown a very useful cartoon where our thoughts were represented by passengers on a bus and we were represented by the driver. Instead of allowing the passenger to dictate the direction the bus travelled or desperately trying to block out the passengers, we were encouraged to drive the bus and take all the chattering passengers with us. Eventually these passengers would calm down and amazingly the driver had achieved her goal by taking the thought passengers with them on their journey.

This was a revelation as I had either hid away at home listening to my negative thoughts or if I did go out I would feel tense and anxious and wanted to get back to the 'safety' of home.  I decided there and then to try to get out more, to take all my chattering unhelpful passengers with me. I found that on the whole I was slowly able to do more things outside the home.

The Acceptance and Commitment Therapy course was quite intensive of- four weekly sessions of 3.5 hours. However, it was well presented with handouts and 'achievement' homework based on your values to attempt.  All in all I would recommend this course, especially if perhaps you have struggled with other courses such as CBT in the past.  Acceptance and Commitment Therapy might just 'click' for you, like it did me.

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