Why People Who Seek Therapy Are The Strongest People You’ll Ever Meet
It’s easier to hide from your problems than it is to face them, head on.
I just had my first appointment with a therapist.
Really, I should have made this appointment months ago, because I’ve been struggling to hold it together for a long time now, but the idea of going back to therapy less than a year after feeling like I was ‘fixed’ enough to stop, made me feel like I had failed in some way.
People think of therapy as something only broken people with broken spirits do. And believe me, I’d much rather meet with friends for Friday afternoon drinks instead of leaving the office to sit in a therapist’s chair and delve into my deepest, darkest fears and insecurities for an hour – and pay hundreds of dollars a year to do it – but do you know what I’ve realized?
I really need it.
As a 25 year-old who’s struggled with mental illness since I was in my early teens, I think of myself as a sort of experience-based mental health expert; at least when it comes to my own brain. I know how my anxiety affects me; a constantly too-fast heartbeat, an inability to ever calm down, teetering on the edge of a panic attack at every moment of every day, leaving me physically nauseous and on edge, constantly feeling an ‘impending doom’ type of dread, even when nothing is happening.
I know how my depression manifests; waves of crushing dark thoughts which overwhelm me and leave me feeling mentally exhausted to the point where I sleep constantly and can’t muster the energy to get out of bed.
A fan of dark humor and using laughter as a coping mechanism, I will often joke with my best friend about how there’s no point for me to go to therapy because I can sum up how my brain works for the therapist in a short 10 minutes.
“It all started with the abandonment I have felt since my dad left and decided he didn’t love me, and the intense low self-esteem which comes along with that, paired with watching my mother live in a violent relationship, affecting my views on what’s normal in love…” and so on.
Why pay someone to tell me what’s wrong with me when I already know where all of my problems come from?
And I thought this year would be the same. I thought I’d be able to handle everything by myself. But, at the beginning of the year, after an unexpected relationship breakup threw me off my axis, I found myself sitting back in my doctor’s office, desperate for some help because my depression was back.
I used to know how my mental illness would affect me, I had my own set of coping strategies for getting on top of it before it got out of hand; but this time it was different. It was darker, harder to manage. I felt myself slowly drifting down into a whirlpool of self-loathing, ambivalence and hopelessness that held me in its grip like a vice.
I was having suicidal thoughts for the first time in years, and I was terrified, because, even after all of my years of managing my mental illnesses, this was new – and not in a good way.
My PTSD nightmares were back, and the depression made it impossible to fight against them in the ways I’d learnt to depend on. And with the nightmares came the insomnia. Too scared and too anxious to fall asleep, but desperate for that blank state of being, because it was the only reprieve from the near-constant tugging at my heart, my relationship with my bed became torturous. It became a kind of prison from which no amount of twisting and pillow adjusting would bring relief. My mind quickly lost its grit.
I started having multiple panic attacks a day. The mental capacity for performing my job fell away, and I started to live a lie at work; forcing false smiles and assuring my boss I was on top of everything when I felt anything but. Relationships became difficult. Even basic conversation was a strain of epic proportions.
I was falling apart. Crumbling. Mentally tearing at the seams. And I knew I needed medication.
My doctor agreed. And so I started back up on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs. And I was relieved I’d finally be getting better.
But as the weeks passed, it became apparent the medication alone couldn’t spring me back to my old spritely self. It merely act to dull the searing edge of the battle that was going on inside my brain, lulling me into a drowsy enough state to finally begin recollecting a few desperate hours of sleep.
But the darkness lurking in the back of my mind wouldn’t relent.
I still didn’t want to exist anymore.
I still couldn’t pull myself out.
I needed more help.
And so, I finally accepted I needed to make one of the most difficult choices I’ve made it my life, and return to therapy; the only place where my problems couldn’t be masked over with a false smile, muted with medication or left to rot in my subconscious.
In therapy, I had to face myself in the mirror. I had to face the demons that set off my depression, head on.
And so I made another appointment.
And another. And another. And instantly I felt lighter. And stronger.
The truth is, I’m a stronger person for seeking out therapy than trying to tackle my mental illness by myself, or with medication alone.
When it comes to mental illness, I firmly believe medication is only half of the solution. I need to be able to mull over my thoughts with a trained professional, to work on ways to understand my depression and PTSD, and strategies to continue to manage them, for the rest of my life.
And even if I didn’t have a traumatic past, I’d probably still go to therapy as a way to cope with the rollercoaster of ups and downs of everyday life. Because talking through your issues is beneficial for self-development, no matter who you are or what your story might be.
Research from the University of California has shown that talking about your problems has a significant therapeutic effect on the brain and makes feelings of sadness, anger, and pain less intense. As well as working through negative emotions, therapy is also a way to figure out how to deal with everyday problems or stresses.
“You don’t have to be severely mentally ill to get help. Talking with a professional can get you through difficult situations in life and you’re stronger if you do that,” explains Stanford University associate chair of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, Dr David Spiegel.
“We’re social creatures, fundamentally, so talking to people can be a real source of support and help.”
And this makes sense.
People want to be the happiest, best version of themselves they can be; and often, therapy can help get you to this place. I know it’s helping me hold myself together enough that I’m still me while I try to fight my way out of the darkness.
I know this, because if I compare my current state to how I felt at the beginning of the year, the two are worlds apart. While my mental health is still a work in progress; it’s on the right track now, because I have someone to help guide the way when I’m struggling to see which way is up.
No more breakdowns at my desk, or lying to my boss about my mental health, or skipping work completely just to hold pity parties and cry myself into hysteria in my bed. While my manager has had to slide the box of tissues across to me more than once in the last few months, I’m still functioning. I’m still working. Laughing, and existing.
I sent a text to all of my friends recently, apologizing for being distant these past couple of months, and got replies to the tune of “It’s okay, we hadn’t noticed it in a bad way, we just know you’re going through some stuff and hope you’re okay.”
This is contrasted against the literal interventions they were holding for me at the beginning of the year, to try to bring me back to reality.
Nowadays, I can leave the house and go to their birthday parties, out for nights on the town, and to Sunday brunch. And this is all because I finally realized I was strong enough to know I needed some help, made the appointment, and have continued to do so.
Now I know for sure that the people who seek therapy aren’t weak. Because opening that door and facing your shit head-on takes grit. And that’s my greatest strength.
Featured image via unsplash.com.
Comment: Have you ever gone to therapy? Did you find it helpful?