This article was written by Tanya Gardy and inspired by Evelyn Heunis.
My name is Tanya Gardy. I am 45 years old and I have a physical disability that severely impairs my mobility. I have Cerebral Palsy Quadriplegia and use a motorised wheelchair to get around. I’m also faced with depression, which I prefer to refer to as depressive illness, since, contrary to common belief, depression is a physical illness often caused as a result of a chemical imbalance in the brain.
In December 2016, I decided to embark on an 84-day course of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). It is a school of psychotherapy particularly designed to assist the person to become his or her own therapist. The word “cognitive” refers to thoughts and images; “behaviour” refers to everything you do, for example, deciding not to speak out before you say something that you may later regret.
What is CBT
The basic premise of CBT is that you feel the way you think, rather than think the way you feel. This allows you to feel better about yourself in situations that make you uneasy. CBT helps people change the way they think and act or behave. It is not a particular situation or problem that causes depressive feelings, but rather the meaning we attach to that situation. How we interpret and react upon our thoughts is what really matters.
A brief history of CBT
CBT developed during the 20th century and stemmed from Pavlov’s research, for example, that a response can be conditioned, or ‘learnt’, to react to a certain stimulus. In Pavlov’s experiments, dogs were given food when a bell was rung. After a few repetitions, the dogs started to salivate in response to the sound of the bell. The dogs had been conditioned to an external stimulus. This is known as classical conditioning.
Why I considered CBT for me
It seemed to me that I was in a psychological rut. I was seeing a therapist, but felt that I was going around in circles and getting nowhere. Due to the nature of my cerebral palsy, I am almost totally reliant on caregivers for my physical needs. My relationship with people was tense. At times, I thought that people resented me simply because I needed so much assistance. I found life a bind and even contemplated suicide (although I would never act upon it).
What CBT did for me
CBT gave me the freedom I was so desperately seeking, as it empowered me to become a stronger, much more self-reliant woman. It has also made me far more confident and content. I now feel that I can wake up every morning fully able to face whatever situation may come my way. I’m so grateful for the person I have become.
It is all thanks to the principles of CBT and my therapist, Evelyn Heunis, who was endlessly patient and tolerant, although she may have felt powerless to help me at times, I am sure. The environment in which we live also plays a vital role in our physical and mental wellbeing and it’s important that it be a caring, compassionate and nurturing one.
I am very proud to say that I love my life and am now fully equipped to manage any challenge that may arise. I just have to call on my CBT, which I have called the “Mr Muscle” superhero inside me!