I signed up to the HelpStopMe service a few weeks ago and have been doing their Depression course online.
I was skeptical because I’ve had bad experiences with therapy in the past, mainly because it’s focused too much on feelings. I’d sit down opposite my therapist, who’d ask how I was feeling, and I’d say “fine” and wouldn’t really be able to elaborate. We’d go over and over the same ground, they’d ask about my experiences, I’d tell them, they’d ask how these things made me feel, I’d say I didn’t know, we’d get nowhere.
So I wasn’t sure what an online course could give me where classical therapy has repeatedly failed, but I figured it was worth a try. And I was pleasantly surprised: it’s actually really good.
I think one of its main selling points, at least for people like me who don’t really go for the “touchy-feely” approach, is that it doesn’t focus too much on your emotions, but more on actions. If someone says “How have you been feeling this week?” I find it hard to give them an honest answer, but I can answer “How many times have you been outside this week?” because that’s pretty straightforward.
I’m currently part of the way through module 13 and have just done the Depression Self-Test for the third time. They ask you to take this test periodically throughout the process, so you can work out how you’re doing. When I first started, I scored 19. A few weeks later, I scored 27. At the time, I was quite disheartened by this outcome, but I’d just had some bad news and I do find that sometimes with things like therapy you have to be prepared for it to get a bit more difficult before it gets better. This time when I did it I scored 15; overall a definite improvement!
There have been improvements in my day to day life as well. I’ve been doing more, but not in the manic-doing-everything way that I’m used to, just in a getting-more-done way. Rather than trying to cram as many things as humanly possible into a 24-hour period, losing sleep and berating myself when I don’t manage to complete everything, I’ve been splitting my days into sections (one of the recommendations from the course) and managing my time more efficiently.
There was a really useful module at the beginning – it took quite a lot of work but it was well worth it, so if you’re stuck there at the moment I’d recommend ploughing through! It involved taking an hourly inventory of everything you do for a week. Yes, it’s hard work. I did it in an Excel spreadsheet because I didn’t want to be constantly logging in to the HSM site. The idea is that you write down what you did, hour by hour, and then your level of happiness, from 1 to 10. There were some things that were unsurprising – when I called the water board to query my bill, my happiness went down – but there were other things that I never would have guessed. Like for instance, every time I spent time on the internet when I wasn’t working, my happiness went down. I’d thought I enjoyed things like playing around on Pinterest and Tumblr – and I do – but sometimes I’d do it just to stop myself thinking about anything, and actually it wasn’t healthy. I’ve now cut down on my internet usage (I know! Shocking!) and it’s really helping me feel better about life in general.
I’ve had several realisations throughout the course, one of which was that I’ve spent most of my life looking after other people – I’ve pretty much always had someone depending on me for something – and the past two years are the first time I’ve ever just lived on my own and not had someone need me for something. I then realised that, if I treated myself in the same way I’d treat someone else who depended on me, I’d probably feel a whole lot better. And that’s just logical. I like logic.
Another useful realisation happened when I was scoring my weeks on the happiness chart. Every week when you log in it asks you to rate how happy you’ve been feeling in the past week (something I don’t find easy). There was also an exercise towards the beginning of the course where I had to write down a number of things I had to do over the coming few days, and then estimate how happy each one would make me feel. I discovered that I didn’t mind admitting when something would hit the lower end of the scale – I gave out a lot of 2s and 1s – but that I couldn’t bring myself to tick an 8, 9 or 10 – there was some kind of misplaced guilt involved with the idea of enjoying something, or admitting to actually being really happy. I haven’t quite worked through this yet, but I think just knowing it’s there is probably helpful.
The course (at least, the bit I’m on at the moment) mainly focuses on challenging your beliefs in a way that seems rational, which I like not only because it’s nice and logical, but also because it makes me feel less like some kind of completely irrational weirdo. Sometimes just the thought of seeing a therapist can make you feel like there must be something wrong with you; doing an online course, though, just means you’re into self-improvement, and the way it’s set up means you feel like the things your mind tells you aren’t particularly weird, they just need to be questioned and challenged from time to time.
I’d definitely recommend HelpStopMe, particularly their Depression course which I’m taking at the moment. You can sign up here and take a test to see whether you’re currently experiencing symptoms of depression.
It’s currently just £39.99 and you can sign up at HelpStopMe.com.
Disclaimer: HelpStopMe allowed me to try their service for free, however they have not paid for my opinion or influenced it in any way. All views are my own.