What therapy has taught me
I want to start by saying, there is absolutely nothing wrong with needing to speak to a therapist. Before I even considered starting therapy I wholeheartedly believed I was not about to be the sucker that pays somebody to listen to their problems. It’s six months later and let me tell you, I am the sucker that pays somebody to listen to their problems. It’s more than that though, I have grown so much from the past few months. I know how difficult it is to open up to a stranger that you only meet with a couple of times a month. That’s why I waited until I absolutely needed to go to therapy to start taking the necessary steps towards healing. I’ll go through my whole experience with therapy here. I hope this helps someone take those first steps towards taking care of yourself.
Up until a few months ago, the only therapist I knew was the notes app on my phone, I have one long note disguised as a grocery list that spans from 2017-late 2019 (don’t act like you don’t have one too). So this whole experience was strange at first and not like what I saw on tv at all. Growing up, my mental health was never something I struggled with. Sure, there were signs but I knew how to play to my strengths. My attention span and memory were non-existent. I got good grades in school despite not knowing what was going on in class 90% of the time. I would start on big projects the hour before they were due, and I always did well so it was never seen as a problem. I continued on like this until my junior year of high school. Everyone says junior year is the hardest, they’re absolutely right. That year, I started PSEO and had my very first panic attack.
I remember doing an assignment for my math class after I’d been studying for hours. I was reading the questions and completely blanking and all of a sudden I started spiraling. It was close to finals and I started worrying about what would happen if I failed the class. I remember my teeth wouldn’t stop chattering and it was really cold. My entire body was shaking and no matter how tight I wrapped myself in my blanket, it still felt like I was sitting in a freezer. You might be thinking, why put yourself through that much stress over a class? I don’t think it was just the class but the accumulation of a lot of stressful things and I think that was my body telling me it had enough. I didn’t change my horrible sleep schedule, or my diet, or my study habits. I was stagnant in life. That was probably my first low and I remember it so well because I had never experienced anything like that and it was scary.
Fast forward to a year later, after a summer of not dealing with my mental health, I started my second year of PSEO. I took as many credits as I was allowed and I worked full time, later that year I started working another job full-time. So at one point I was working two full-time jobs plus overtime, and taking 20 credits. I thought I was thriving, it was my best semester yet, I wasn’t getting adequate sleep but it was okay because at least I didn’t have to sit with my thoughts.
I wish I could say I came to the conclusion that I needed to speak to a therapist on my own, but I didn’t. I was sitting in my doctor’s office for something unrelated and I mentioned something that alarmed her. I felt really comfortable talking to her because she’s talked me through a lot. (Tip: finding the right primary doctor is just as important as finding the right therapist!) So when I mentioned this event to her, I was speaking casually but she wanted to refer me to a counselor just in case. This was when I started considering going to a therapist. During this time I was also starting the process of getting evaluated for ADHD. There had to be an explanation for why no matter how hard I tried or how much I loved learning, I was miserable in school. The overall evaluation process took 5 months and it felt like I was holding my breath that whole time. Now I know how common ADHD really is, but back then I thought it was this huge thing and that there was something wrong with me.
I found my therapist through a friend. When I first walked into the office I noticed how it was so different from a regular clinic. It felt more like a house and everyone was friendly. During the first session, we talked a lot more about my therapist than me because I wasn’t ready to open up to a stranger. Here I am opening up to a bunch of strangers, that’s what we call growth. As the sessions went on, I realized this may not be the right match for me. Around that time, she was leaving the clinic to work somewhere else so she transferred me to a colleague. I met my new therapist and right away I felt comfortable with her. She knew how to communicate with me, it felt more like a back and forth conversation and that eased my anxious mind. I didn’t tell anyone I was seeking counseling for the first few months and slowly I told my closest friends but I was still afraid of judgment because I seemed fine on the outside, so I thought people would think I was doing too much. We made so many breakthroughs during those months. I started out thinking self-care was getting a facial and pedicure to knowing that self-care is making the decisions in the best interest of your physical and mental well-being. She had to help me relearn so many things and there were so many sessions that I was back at square one.
I decided to stop doing therapy regularly when I noticed that I was thinking as my therapist had taught me. I was challenging negative thoughts on my own and I was no longer dependent on that hour to get me through the week. I’m so grateful for all the opportunities God has given me to grow and I wouldn’t trade them for better times because I’m here now. There were a lot of parts that I left out but they don’t add to the message I’m trying to share. Therapy is such a taboo topic in many cultures. I think it’s something about not being able to work out your problems on your own. Sometimes you just need that outside perspective to start to see things in a different light. A few of the biggest takeaways I got from the experience are:
You can’t control anyone else. I used to find myself getting upset over things I had no control over and letting outside factors disrupt my peace. Now I know how to separate my own emotions and stay more objective. This also helps me with empathy, because it’s easier to understand someone when you put your own experiences to the side.
I learned what self-care actually meant. Every single week for months my therapist would ask me what I did to take care of myself and my answer was never what she was looking for. She wasn’t asking if I went out with friends or if I went shopping, she was asking about the hard things. The things that I don’t want to do but will benefit me in the long term.
I became less closed off about my mental health. Yes, I have ADHD. I’ve made it this far with it and a diagnosis is just a name for what I’ve always been. Actually, it has some benefits. I can work really well under pressure, I always have a new idea running through my mind, I love filling my head with knowledge, and I’m very analytical so I pick up on very small cues. ADHD can be comorbid with other things like anxiety and depression and I’ve found a way to manage both through diet and lifestyle.
I know myself, I’m grounded. Before therapy, I didn’t know what my values were so I made decisions based on temporary circumstances. Now that I have a strong set of values and morals, I am confident in my decision making.
Get the help you need. Speak to someone you trust. Lean on your friends because when they say they’re here for you, they aren’t saying it for no reason. Lastly, be kind. On days where nothing was making me feel better, surprising a friend or helping a stranger never failed to lift my mood.
I hope this helps someone. Not knowing what's going on with you can be frightening and our own minds can be our biggest enemies but if you’re reading this that means you’re already taking a step in the right direction. When you’re at your lowest, it feels like that’s just how your life is going to be from here on out but trust me, it’ll get worse before it gets better and there will be more difficult times to come but God chose you for these challenges because he knows you’re capable of coming out on the other side. Those are the words I wish someone had said to me.