After 21 Years of Therapy, the Mental Health Retreat that Finally Worked For Me
An unsolicited treatment review by one of our clients – anxiety sufferer Kirsty spent 21 long years in and out of therapy before finally finding treatment that worked for her.
“I’ve been in and out of counselling, group therapy, psychiatric wards and rehabilitation my whole adult life – but somehow I’ve always felt like a flat tyre. It wasn’t until I arrived at The Dawn, did therapy ever acknowledge the gaping puncture wound in my tyre.”
When I checked into The Dawn, I did so because I had no place left to run to, and no energy left for the fight. I was not at rock bottom, but I know too well what my rock bottom feels like, and I recognised that’s where I was headed back to, so I mustered the last of my energy and I made one of the hardest phone calls of my life; I phoned a stranger on another continent to tell them that I’d lost all stability from my world, and that I desperately needed help.
Three days later I arrived in Chiang Mai. I was collected from the airport by one of the rehab support staff, and carried back to the safety and comfort of The Dawn.
I’m saying that word again, because I’m certain that it’s the most important feeling. I arrived at The Dawn and I instantly felt safe. I felt safe from my demons, I felt safe from the world, mostly though, I felt safe from myself. That first night, I slept for a full ten hours. Ten hours of absolute safety. And my journey back to health had begun.
The last six weeks of my life have probably been the most important. My future today looks very different than it did back in October before I arrived at The Dawn. I’m going to tell you all about how The Dawn taught me to have control over my mental health, but first let me explain a little about myself. My name is Kirsty. I’m from the south coast of the U.K. but for the last few years I’ve been living in Goa, India. From the outside, my life looks pretty sorted. I travel a lot, I have few major obligations, I have a large support network of amazing people who have my back at all times. I’m living the dream. I’m living my dream at least. So where did it all go wrong? What does my mental health disorder look like?
I have suffered from an eating disorder since I was fifteen years old. For a few years during my early thirties, I became so anorexic that I was fully consumed by my eating disorder. There was no decision made outside of anorexia, and she controlled every aspect of my life. Thankfully, I am recovered from anorexia, but I still use bulimia as a coping mechanism to deal with my anxiety. And my anxiety is rife.
I live with massive emotional swings. I’ll spend three weeks thinking that I am the centre of the universe and that all life revolves around my own. During these spells of euphoria I spend excessive amounts of money, misuse alcohol, make unsafe sessions, binge heavily on food, suffer from insomnia, my thoughts fire so quickly that my mouth and feet can’t keep up with my mind, and have moments of extreme anxiety, or rage.
The flip side of this mania is an all consuming sadness, or an empty hollow void. During these lengthy lows I am free from all desire. I sleep for sixteen hours a day, I forget to carry out even the most basic self-care such as showering, or cleaning my teeth. I isolate myself, don’t accept support. I shut my curtains and my world becomes just the four walls of my bedroom. My rock bottom happened four years ago when I was suffering psychotic delusions. I ended up on a psychiatric ward back in the U.K. and that’s when I first got my life back on track.
And life was great. For a while at least. I was always fighting an internal battle, but for the most part I was winning. Then six months ago the battles became harder and harder and I found myself losing them more and more often.
Treating the Root Cause of my Mental Illness
Here’s the thing with therapy, I’ve been in and out of counselling, group therapy, psychiatric wards and rehabilitation for my whole adult life. Twenty-one years of asking for help, and for twenty one years I’ve been receiving that help, but somehow I’ve always felt like a flat tyre. Therapy pumps me up and sends me on my way, so that I might keep on rolling and survive another day. But it wasn’t until I arrived at The Dawn, did therapy ever acknowledge the gaping puncture wound in my tyre.
‘See here.’ They told me. ‘Here, this big hole. Let me help you to heal it.’
And I surrendered. I trusted in the process, I trusted in the clinical team, mostly though, I trusted in Alan. Alan was my personal counsellor for the duration of my treatment programme, and his support, advice, and guidance has changed my life. I know now, that I will never see another psychiatric ward again. I have a bag full of tools so that I might continue to keep my puncture wound airtight. I no longer fight daily battles, but I’m fighting a war. I’ve gone full on head to head with my mental health. ‘Just try me.’ I shout. ‘I am ready for you.’ And I truly am ready, thanks to The Dawn.
I am not cured. There is no off switch to my mind. But now I have recognisable boundaries, ways to know when I’m heading toward emotional episodes, and more importantly, I have the tools to confront them and deny them a place in my life.
Game-changing Tools that The Dawn has Armed Me With
During my six weeks at The Dawn anxiety retreat I attended ninety-six group therapy sessions, fourteen personal counselling sessions, I shared eight half hour personal presentations with my peers, I attended eight hour long lectures on trauma. During all this therapy I learned more about my past, my illness, ways to control my mental health, and how to be safe in my future than I ever thought possible. I processed trauma that had been with me since childhood, and had dictated my emotions since then.
I learned that I can sit with my emotions, and allow them to pass me by without the unhealthy or irrational quick-fix coping strategies that I’d been so dependent on before now. Mostly I learned to keep my curtains open. Not to wallow. I learned to open myself up even when I’m at my most vulnerable, and in doing so, I learned to accept the support and love that my friends and family have been wanting to give me, but that I’ve always denied due to fear.
Perhaps you came here because you wanted to read about the facilities at The Dawn? You want to know how comfy the beds are, the quality of the food, what sports you might be able to play during your stay, what the weather is like in Thailand? These seem like redundant questions to me. The Dawn is as comfortable as it needs to be, and I have no complaints. To me what really matters is that I am alive, and that I desperately want to remain so, when for a long time I didn’t care either way.
The Dawn has taught me to live and there are no words that I can share here with you that can express my gratitude for that. So I’ll put it simply. Thank you to all at The Dawn.
Kirsty was a client at The Dawn between Oct -Nov, 2019