Words by Hadley Stewart

Photo © Jakob Owens on unsplash.com

My therapist told me she doesn’t read my articles. “That wouldn’t be appropriate,” she said during one session. I have been in therapy for almost two months now, and whilst I’m far from being an expert, I’m very much a therapy convert. Often, perhaps thanks to American TV shows, therapy is seen as something that is done for status. A bit like wearing a designer coat or having a membership to one of those fancy clubs in London. But most people who are in therapy aren’t doing it to make themselves sound more interesting at a social gathering.

I had been thinking of starting therapy since before the pandemic. Then the coronavirus arrived and forced us all into solitude, with sometimes only our thoughts to occupy us. I had formed a support bubble with a friend, where the boundaries of friendship had blurred into something more, and my heart would eventually get broken, then taped back together, then broken again. The last heartbreak happened the weekend after lockdown restrictions lifted, on a street in East London, with us shouting at one another and me bursting into tears. The following Monday, I started therapy.

I was no stranger to the idea of therapy. One of my closest friends has been in therapy for years, and I’d always admired her ability to articulate her feelings and emotions with other people. She had never sought to glamorize therapy either; it was hard work sitting down for an hour a week and diving into emotions and memories that were filed away. I had prepared myself for what I was getting into.

Although what had happened during lockdown was the catalyst to prompt me to start therapy, there were other things I wanted to talk about. I had behaved in ways that I didn’t recognise. Before the pandemic I would have stepped away from this friendship sooner, now I felt like I’d be hurting him and his feelings by doing so. I had justified his ‘hot and cold’ behaviour towards me to my friends, and felt defensive when they suggested this support bubble was far from supportive. And I had overshared things with him, in an attempt to get him to open up about his own experiences. It felt as though there was something more lurking under the surface; something which my therapist and I are currently working on.

I feel lucky to be able to engage in talking therapy, as it remains something that is still relatively difficult to access for many people. Whilst some people have the privilege of unlocking the therapy room door thanks to their financial situation or their employers, others are spending months on a waiting list. For LGBTQ+ people, we see higher rates of poor mental health in our community compared with the rest of the population. But our paths to therapy are littered with obstacles, from negative experiences with therapists who do not understand the needs of LGBTQ+ clients, to those who wish to engage in so-called conversion therapy. Arguably the group in society that could benefit the most from counselling, psychotherapy or other talking therapies, is still one of the most disenfranchised.

It seems clear to me that LGBTQ+ people need more options when it comes to looking after their mental health, but the health system which we rely on is currently unable to provide this. I fear that as the true physical and emotional consequences of this pandemic emerge, things will only get worse. This article won’t change that – these are decisions that are down to those who govern our country, but I hope that anyone who feels like they need to talk about what’s happening on the inside can begin to take those first steps. That could be looking for a therapist, speaking with your GP, calling your friend, or even contacting Switchboard.

The past year has taught many of us about the fragility and vulnerability of life. Perhaps now is the time to
surround ourselves with people who embrace, respect and celebrate us. And if all else fails, let me share with you a soundbite from what my therapist said to me, “It’s time to put yourself first, and ask yourself what is good enough for you.”