IN the mirror, I apply a sweep of bright red lipstick.

I don't know much about the woman I'm meeting. I found her profile on a website where you search for this sort of thing. But she has a kind smile in her photo and wrote that she understands this is a strange way to meet someone. I absolutely concur. I think we'll get along.

I've chosen my outfit carefully. I want to look together, smart, maybe a little bit stylish, but like I've made no effort too. As I nervously prepare to leave the house I’m already formulating the small talk I’ll offer up to ease the awkwardness of those first few minutes before we get down to business.

I know what you're thinking. But I'm not about to cheat on my husband. I'm off to my first counselling session.

Like one in six people in Scotland, I’ve long suffered from mental health problems. In my case, I got an unlucky double whammy: a long line of generational mental illness featuring big ticket items like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and then a childhood deprived and chaotic enough to ingrain the belief that the world was a harsh, frightening place.

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If you're reading this and you’re part of my dubious club, then first of all, congratulations, you made it through January, the bleakest, skintest, darkest month of the year. It’s no small feat just to make it to February and we’re so almost there with every day bringing a bit more light.

I recently told a friend that I white-knuckled my way through my twenties, on a roller coaster propelled by my messed up brain chemistry. I grew up in working class communities where mental illness was simply called being ‘highly strung’ and everyone had problems with which to contend.

The idea of talking therapy never even occurred to me, that was for rich women who wore pearl earrings and called olives ‘amuse bouche’ without any irony. My dad had been addicted to Valium and so I had a deep fear of mental health medication. Instead, I used crying on buses, extreme diets and enough booze to satiate a tanker full of sailors as my main coping mechanisms. Not so much crutches as sticks to beat myself.

But when I was 32 an amazing, astounding thing happened: Random House decided they would publish my first novel. Me, a girl who grew up in what other people thought were the worst parts of Coatbridge, who had left school at 15 to work as a waitress, I was going to have a book published.

Because that felt like a fairytale, I began to believe that maybe magic was possible. Maybe a different future was possible, and so I went to the doctor and I told him I was scared all the time and I couldn’t stop crying. That, though it looked to everyone else as if I was smiling and waving, I was drowning.

The doctor was gentle and entirely unfazed by my decade-long secret. First, he prescribed little pink pills to ease my sudden bouts of anxiety that would lead to me twitching and gasping for breath. Later, we supplemented these with lemon and lime Prozac capsules which settled over me, subduing my ever-present feeling of dread like a warm, soft blanket.


I want you to know that if you recognise some of yourself in these words things can get easier and better. It's been on my mind often that the cost of living crisis will have affected people who were used to certain things to cope: gym membership, therapy or simply a little bit of time off work when they needed it.

Add that to the constant, grinding financial pressure most of us are facing and it’s absolutely understandable to be struggling. I hope it will help you to know that it is possible to come through the hardest of times and not just survive but actually be joyful.

I do wish I hadn’t left it so late. I wish I had gone to the doctor sooner, sought out sliding scale or free counselling. I wish I had known that simply seeking help, admitting I wasn’t OK, would feel like a pressure valve being released. That the one step forward, one of the hardest I’ve ever taken, would be enough to motivate myself to take another step forward and then another until I reached ‘here’.

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‘Here’ for me has been no picnic, in the last three years. I had a much-longed for complicated pregnancy during a pandemic in a foreign country, found out I had an incurable near-fatal rare airway condition and then realised that we'd have to leave our adopted Prague and take our family of five – me, my husband, our Tasmanian toddler, a rescue dog the size of a small pony and neurotic black cat – home to Glasgow to access medical treatment.

But ‘here’ is manageable for me now in a way it wasn’t in the past. I want my son to grow up with a stable parent who models self-care. Ironically, now I have access to counselling regularly, I probably need it less than ever. Over a decade of mental health medication that works, dipping in and out of low-cost therapy, meditation, sleep hypnosis, exercise, plus, honestly, luck and cathartically writing about my own experiences, means I’m doing OK.

Back in Glasgow, I hurry through the drizzle. For once this counselling is not an Elastoplast on a broken arm. Instead, this is maintenance on the life I have built. I walk down into the office; two small green velvet chairs, a box of tissue on the table between us. My counsellor smiles, warm, professional, her accent reminds me of the strong women I grew up with. She asks, ‘How are you feeling?’

I smile and I tell her, genuinely, ‘Actually, I feel really good.’

Kerry Hudson is an award-winning Scottish author

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