The colour of madness

It’s been a very long time since I’ve blogged and this will probably be short as I’m typing it out on my phone at the bus stop. An hour ago I finished my first session of therapy in five years, and my first with my new therapist, Katya. She’s a consultant psychologist and psychotherapist at the day hospital, and we met a couple of weeks ago for an assessment at the end of which she said she would like to offer me 16 sessions of CAT (cognitive analytic therapy). I did have CAT in the past, but that was many years ago, I think as far back as 2004. I was delighted that we were going to start so soon; I had waited two years for the assessment and had anticipated another gap between assessment and actual therapy.

There’s lots I can’t say because we discussed some things that are just too personal to blog about, but there were a few things I wanted to share. Firstly, that she was open to hearing about my identity. She found it interesting and she was not critical of my labelling myself disabled and bipolar. I then – with some trepidation – brought up my identity as a “mad person”. You can always tell when professionals are uncomfortable with service users using words like mad and mental to describe themselves and their experiences, but Katya took it in her stride and liked the idea of people with lived experience reclaiming those terms. Next she asked me what I thought about the recovery model, so I told her. The word “neoliberal” was involved. She accepted that I do not believe that I will ever be recovered, that there will never be an end point, but perhaps if I am lucky another very long remission.

I liked that Katya was open to learning new things, so next I taught her Spoon Theory and she was into that too. It came up because we were talking about how I see myself as quite a giving person, and that I like to give time and care to friends who are mentally unwell. She asked if I was still able to do that when I am very depressed, so I thought it useful for her to have the concept of “having no spoons”.

The most interesting part of the session came when we teased out my different mood states, and she identified that it’s more complex than just “high”, “low” and “stable”. Katya noted that I sometimes seem to have “little highs” which are on the border between euthymia and true hypomania. When she asked me about lows, I tried to explain that I differentiate between what I think of as “bog standard depression” and the state of acute anguish I sometimes feel, and that the latter is so different to the bog standard that depression may not even be the right word for it. I don’t know if a word has ever been coined that could pin it down.

Katya asked me, “So if you had to describe bog standard depression as a colour, what would that be?” I didn’t have to think too hard before saying, “Grey.” She made a note, then said, “And what about the anguish?” I immediately chose red, what I called “a howling red”, and she pointed to various objects around the room to try to find a red that matched my idea. “What about hypomania?” Hypomania is to me either a vibrant spring green, or a fluffy pink (like candy floss, although I didn’t think to say this at the time). “And normal mood, when you’re feeling content and capable?” I chose yellow with, Katya noted, no hesitation. Lastly she asked me to pick a colour for my “little highs” and I told her that they were also yellow, but TOO yellow, a sort of yellow that hurts your eyes.

And just like that it was the end of the session, a session I had woken up dreading for no obvious reason, but ended up enjoying. Katya was also pleased with how the session had gone. She thought I had done really well voicing my feelings as colours and that it was a useful starting point for examining them further. 16 weeks feels like quite a short time within which to make progress, but I left the day hospital feeling optimistic and even a little excited about next week’s session.


About purplepersuasion

40 something service user, activist, writer and mother living with bipolar disorder. Proud winner of the Mark Hanson Prize for Digital Media at the Mind Media Awards #VMGMindAwards
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