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Why I became a counsellor: 'Mentally, I’ve gone toe-to-toe with Mike Tyson'

When I was younger, counselling was close to the last thing I would have considered, writes Danny McNeive.

Danny McNeive Counsellor

WHEN I WAS younger, counselling was close to the last thing I would have considered.

I’m a natural born cynic, and the idea of somehow feeling better as a consequence of talking to a woman in a floral dress with lots of beads around her neck just didn’t wash. Nor did the prospect of opening up to some smug doctor type.

Or a ‘down with the kids’ hipster who could talk to me ‘on my level’. Anyone, basically. And in any case, there was nothing wrong with me, so why would I?

Undiagnosed depression

Except there was plenty wrong with me. I lived through a large chunk of my life with undiagnosed depression and social anxiety. As a consequence, I could neither hold down a job nor a relationship for any length of time.

In work or other environments where I felt out of my comfort zone, I would break out in a sweat and feel like I had to leave the room. I would feel monumentally uncomfortable. Same in college. While I put on a front that I left college because the course was boring and I wasn’t interested, I knew the truth. I just couldn’t face it. I was tired of my forced joviality in the lecture halls and canteens.

Most of the time, I just wanted to be on my own or in the small circle of friends with whom I could be myself, whoever that was, as long as no outsiders were allowed to breach the circle. Apparently, people thought I was arrogant and standoffish, and I can see why.

Amazing how deceptive appearances can be, and how well the masks we wear can hide our true identities.

Things came to a head

Things came to a head in London sometime in the late 90s. I had been drifting around various temporary jobs, my issues preventing me from holding any of them down, even where the employers were well-disposed towards me.

Like in my school and college days, the hardest day of the week for me was always Friday. People were more relaxed, there was laughter and banter, and I hated it. I couldn’t hide. I’d break out in a sweat and become progressively less comfortable as those around me did precisely the opposite.

On this particular Friday, someone was leaving. There was a cake, much merriment, and talk of which pub to vacate to. I could feel myself getting progressively more panicked.
It’s a strange and deeply unpleasant sensation. Everyone in the room is letting their hair down, the jokes are flying, and you would rather be anywhere else.

The best thing that could have happened would have been someone walking in with some incredibly bad news. Then I would have been in relative control again, as everyone returned to their desks and order was restored.

I just wanted to disappear

But that wasn’t happening and now, as the sweat broke out and I tried my hardest to be amused by what was going on around me, I just wanted to disappear. I felt miserable, inadequate and like I’d been beamed in from another planet. Everyone else is relaxed and happy, why can’t I be?

I walked out, giving the appearance of going to the toilet, and never came back. I may or may not have collected my wages, I can’t remember. I didn’t care. I just wanted out. But I also knew I had to act. This couldn’t be normal behaviour.

It was around that time that a drug called Prozac had arrived on the scene and was being marketed as a miracle cure for all mental ills. Not being in my hometown, I felt brave enough to go to the doctor, who immediately prescribed me the drug. He said it sounded like I was depressed. I knew he was right.

In fact, I’d known since I was about 16. I was now closing in on 30, and I had finally acknowledged my truth.

A sticking plaster

Meds helped a lot. They enabled me to function to a degree I had never found possible before, but they were a sticking plaster. And the sticking plaster was torn off four years ago when my brother unexpectedly and inexplicably passed away.

As I struggled with my bereavement, I decided I wanted to change my path. Nick, my brother, had struggled with depression too, and it had had an even more debilitating effect on him. So, I decided that I wanted to be a counsellor. I would help people.

As I look back now after four years of studies, as a recently qualified psychotherapist and counsellor, I’m stunned by my naivety, and possibly arrogance. Help people? How on earth can you do that when you can’t help yourself?

The work I had to do on myself

I have learned all about the relative merits of person-centred, CBT and psychodynamic approaches, read about Jung’s shadow, Freud’s id and Kirkengaard’s existentialism, but what has really tested me has been the work I’ve had to do on myself.

Mentally, I’ve gone toe-to-toe with Mike Tyson. My demons, anxieties, blind spots, fears and prejudices have been exposed, and I’ve been forced to acknowledge and confront them.

It’s this work, more than any of the assignments, presentations and head-twisting theorists I’ve pulled what’s left of my hair out trying to get a handle on, that I hope will enable me to work as a counsellor. To ‘help people’.

But not before helping myself, which should be all of our priorities.

Danny McNeive is a Counsellor and Psychotherapist. He works from 4 Castle Crescent, Monastery Road, Clondalkin. He can be reached on 087 9253717, or through his Facebook page.

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Danny McNeive  / Counsellor

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