Thrive with Michelle Winter

A year on from doing The Thrive Programme, I have stayed off antidepressants and therefore managed to conceive my first baby…who is also thriving!

Meet L who tells you about her experience of going through The Thrive Programme with me. A year on and her life has changed so much for the better. Here's her story.

I discovered the Thrive Programme during one of the the darkest times of my life and I credit it with pulling me, reluctantly, out of a psychological hole and into a lighter, brighter and more hopeful existence.

Like many, I started experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression in late childhood and saw my first psychologist at the age of 14. By the time I got to University, my moods were pretty erratic and as the years went on, the lows seemed to keep getting lower. Counselling sessions, medication and self-help books only ever seemed to work for a short period. I felt powerless over my roller-coaster of emotions and developed an eating disorder that soon took a grip of me and destroyed the little self-esteem I had.

Despite this, I worked very hard to project a confident and happy exterior - maintaining a wide circle of friends and putting constant pressure on myself to achieve academically throughout three degrees and then subsequently in a high pressure job in the NHS. I constantly strived for perfection and would torture myself over the tiniest mistake - replaying it over and over in my mind. I felt responsible for my family’s well-being and although we were very close, I was strangely closed off emotionally from them, only able to give practical support.

In my late twenties, I felt pretty desperate and realised I needed some serious support. I began years of different therapies, clinical psychologists, eating disorder clinics, self-help programmes and alternative therapies. The only thing that seemed to work was ever increasing doses of antidepressant medication, enabling me to get through the day at work but leaving me in a state of emotional apathy, caring about very little. I have a memory of “coming round” one afternoon, realising I’d been staring at a wall for the past hour! I eventually found a drug and a dose that allowed me to function but I was painfully aware that I was missing out on any real sense of joy, love or achievement. The drug-induced numbness wasn’t the peace of mind I was searching for.

In my mid thirties, I took myself off to Spain to a health retreat, convinced that meditation and a juice-only vegan diet were the answer. They weren’t. On my return I fell ill and had to have surgery. The shock of this health scare led me to make some lifestyle changes and I started to look after myself more physically. This had a positive impact on my confidence and I met and fell head over heels in love with my now-husband. His naturally sunny and optimistic personality was in stark contrast to my pessimistic, cynical approach to life. He had little time for my shit-tinted spectacles and opened my eyes to the possibility that I was creating a lot of my own negative thinking. I found this interesting but didn’t know how to change. Not long after we met, I experienced a particularly challenging situation at work and spiralled into yet another period of crippling anxiety - feeling tearful and paranoid.

Determined not to jeopardise my relationship and desperate for help, I called round a few community mental health organisations. After a few false starts, I found Thrive.  I met with Michelle, my Thrive Consultant on a rainy Monday night in the middle of winter. I was tired and grumpy and sceptical, considering myself a seasoned expert at “therapy”, but the session felt different somehow. There was no lengthy analysis of my childhood or reinforcement of my myriad of “symptoms”. Weird. I left with a brightly coloured book and instructions to read chapters 1-3.

From the first paragraph, I knew the programme was for me. It was so different to anything I’d experienced before. It was unpretentious and straight to the point, and even contained swear words! It seemed to contain little in the way of psycho-babble but the scientist in me was reassured by the frequent referencing of research papers and studies. It was even...funny! Most importantly, it seemed to be saying something I’d been suspecting for a while - most of my problems, stresses, symptoms were being created by my own beliefs and thinking. Instead of my experience of life happening TO me from the outside-in, it was being created BY me from the inside-out. This immediately opened up the possibility of real change at a fundamental level. I couldn’t change external events or other people but I could change my own thinking. I was fascinated and excited but it seemed too simple.

As the weeks went by and I worked through the programme with Michelle, I identified a lot of limiting belief systems and negative thinking styles. It was a revelation and I went from being quite a superstitious person to having no hint of superstition whatsoever overnight. If I could change a life-long belief that touching wood has some magical effect, then what else could I change? The possibilities seemed endless. There were some concepts that were more difficult to process - my previous experiences of therapy had focused very much on the influence of my childhood over my life and I found it challenging to move away from the cause and effect, blame thinking I was so used to.

One of the most enlightening concepts for me was around perfectionist thinking. I’d always known that I was setting myself ridiculously high standards but hadn’t recognised that I was caught up in a cycle of setting myself up to fail and never feeling good enough. I started to process my positives and celebrate my successes however small and the results were astounding. I felt less afraid to make a mistake and this felt liberating. I decided to gradually reduce my anti-depressants.

Family, friends and colleagues started to notice a lift in my mood and a difference in my outlook - several of them started the programme themselves. I made myself up some affirmations from the book and still keep them on my mobile phone for easy reference. One of my favourites is: The thought that’s in my mind right now: is it helpful? If not, then either change it for one that is, or bin it”.

My relationship with Michelle deepened and as the weeks went on it felt easier to open up and be honest. I wasn’t thriving every minute of every day but the highs were higher and the lows were more manageable and didn’t last as long. For the first time in my adult life, I could see a future without medication and this opened up the possibility of a family. A future with peace of mind.

I’m now loving life, 5 months pregnant and couldn’t help but smile when the sonographer described our baby as "thriving"!

Well done L.  You worked really hard and deserve to live the life you want.  It was a pleasure working with you.  Cant wait to meet your new arrival! LH, 39, Edinburgh

LH, 39, Edinburgh