Nathan* had been seeing his clinical psychologist on a weekly basis to help him manage his anxiety.
When COVID-19 restrictions came into place and the idea of telehealth was first raised, he felt unsettled and decided to delay therapy indefinitely.
But within two weeks, the 43-year-old found himself “really struggling” without his normal support.
Nathan talks about what he did next, and what he has learnt about managing his mental health as a result of COVID-19.
The initial reaction
“When my psychologist called to discuss moving to video consultations, I was pretty quick to dismiss it,” Nathan says.
He explains that his reaction was about the lost sense of normality in seeing his psychologist in person, as well as his fear of the unknown when it came to telehealth.
“I really enjoyed the drive there and the security of the environment. I’d probably only just learned to trust the relationship and I was worried talking to him on a video call would be impersonal... that it would have such a negative impact it wouldn’t be worth it. I really hated the idea.”
“So, I told myself it’d be OK, I would just stick to my routines and keep doing the things that helped.”
Those things included cooking, going for daily runs and being in the garden, as well as guided meditations, practicing self-compassion techniques and keeping a semi-regular journal of his thoughts and feelings.
The return to old coping methods
For the first week, Nathan describes himself as being “quite determined” and the approach worked.
But it didn’t last.
“The pressures of work and working from home got on top of me... and then there was the added stress of my wife’s business being impacted by COVID-19, the sense of obligation to socialise with friends and family online, and my three-year-old son being at home all week.”
I quickly slipped back to the ways I've coped most of my life: shut the feelings down, be strong, put on an act and don’t think about it. And drink.
“Soon I was in a pretty bad place – I really couldn’t stand being me.”
Nathan says he was aware of what was happening, which just made his anxiety worse. Because with that understanding came a sense of failure and shame about his perceived inability to just be ‘normal’.
At the gentle encouragement of his wife, Nathan contacted his psychologist three weeks after he had cancelled his weekly sessions.
Reaching out for support
In that period, the government had expanded Medicare-subsidised telehealth services so that Nathan’s mental health care plan could continue as it was.
Before his first telehealth appointment, Nathan and his psychologist spent time discussing the ways that they could tailor their approach so that it would suit him.
“I thought being in my backyard for the sessions would work, as I’m generally most comfortable outside,” he says.
“But he thought I’d be better off trying to establish an environment that felt contained and secure. So, we agreed I would find a private space at home and talk to my wife about taking our son out for that hour, which she was happy to do.”
“He also suggested I shut down all of my work applications, email and the like, then go for a short walk beforehand to clear my head of the day-to-day stuff.”
“I was pretty uncomfortable for the first 10 minutes of that first session, but not at all since.”
It’s the same face, the same person listening to me, and the same reassurance I’d been getting previously.
“I’ve been back in weekly sessions for the last five weeks, and while I definitely still struggle at times, I’m managing the challenges in a more positive way,” he says, noting that “celebrating the small improvements has been really important.”
What Nathan has learned
“For the second time now I guess, I’ve realised that it doesn’t pay to be too proud or to feel like I have to figure it out by myself,” he says.
“Going back to therapy means I feel back on track somehow, I’m more present with my son. My wife and I are communicating much better. And I feel confident enough to check myself when things do start dropping away.”
“I’ve also learned that telehealth is OK. That it’s not about how I access the support, just that I do access it when I need to.”
Read more about consulting your mental health professional using telehealth here.
If it feels like things are getting out of control, for immediate support call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
If there is immediate risk of harm to yourself or others, always call triple zero (000).
*Not his real name.