I knew I wanted to become a counsellor after having counselling myself in my twenties, struggling with crippling shyness and self-doubt that had plagued me since childhood.
I grew up near Birmingham and I remember a particular day, catching the bus into the city to meet my dad from work. I was on my own, aged about sixteen, and dad had told me to ask the bus driver to let me know when we got to my stop as I wasn’t sure where to get off.
I couldn’t talk to anybody about my fear of people, about how terrifying it was to speak out, to be heard. And so I got on the bus and I missed my stop. I couldn’t ask the driver, I couldn’t move from my seat and I stayed on the bus until it was empty.
I was the only person who hadn’t got off and it was dark. I wanted to cry and felt ashamed, stupid and I hated being me - and all because of the fear that I couldn’t give a name to.
That was over thirty years ago and even now, when I think about it, I remember the fear and the feeling that there was something wrong with me. I didn’t know about depression or anxiety or anything to do with mental health; nobody I knew talked about these things and so I didn’t have the words.
I reached my twenties, having buried myself in books and studying as a way to cope. But still people scared me; I couldn’t go into shops if I thought I might have to ask for something, I couldn’t ask for directions, parties terrified me.
By then I was at university and saw an advert for the student counselling service and decided to see a counsellor, thinking that she’d dismiss me, as I’d dismissed myself. But she didn’t. With her support I came to understand my anxiety, I realised that being an introvert by nature is absolutely ok. I learned to value rather than hate those aspects of my personality that mean that I am reflective and thoughtful, that mean I have a hundred thoughts in my head all at the same time and that have also given me profound and lasting friendships.
In short, I started the process of liking myself, probably for the first time ever.
My counsellor helped me to talk openly about my shame, about my feelings of not being good enough, about my conviction that I was a failure and she challenged my belief that there was something wrong with me. She listened without judgment or ridicule and didn’t think I was crazy or mad. And I knew that I would love to do something for other people like she had done for me.
I didn’t train to be a counsellor immediately but travelled, taught English in London schools for many years, had children of my own and worked supporting people in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction.
And now I have the most wonderful job, working with the bravest of people and striving to break the stigma around mental health. As the Roman poet Ovid wrote, “Be patient and tough; some day this pain will be useful to you.” I’ll second that.