If you read my “7 Things You Might Not Know About Me” post, you may have learned a few things. And you also know that I am all about being open and honest with my readers. Part of that is telling you about the good and the bad, the easy and the challenging. And that also involves talking about mental health and why I go to therapy.
This isn’t something that’s necessarily easy to talk about. I mean, who wants to talk about their mental health (or lack thereof), am I right? But it’s such an important topic. Mental health issues are just that: health issues. They are nothing to be ashamed of. You are not less of a person for experiencing them and/or seeking help. Taking medication for such conditions does not make you weak. In fact, I think someone who recognizes they may have a mental illness of sorts and seeks to remedy that as best they can is incredibly strong. The stigma needs to go, and it needs to be replaced with empathy, compassion, and understanding.
My History with Mental Illness
I’ve always been a bit of an anxious person. As a child, I had pretty intense separation anxiety. I also always feared the worst would happen in any given situation. I grew up with those ideations, but I figured it was just a normal way of thinking. So I ignored it.
When I got to college, things got worse, just as they do for many people. My anxiety went through the roof. Every little assignment, every little decision felt like life and death. There always seemed to be a sense of doom, or if there wasn’t, it was looming in the background. Other times, instead of caring too much, I didn’t care at all. I would isolate and recede into myself. I had no motivation or desire to do anything, let alone school work.
Now don’t get me wrong. There were good times when I was in school. Loads of good times. I really did have a great collegiate experience. But it seemed like my anxiety and depression influenced every single day and everything I did. Which, as you can imagine, put a bit of a damper on things. But still, I did not go to therapy.
It wasn’t until grad school that I finally made the leap. After an alcohol-induced mental and emotional breakdown, I finally decided it was time to get some help. And it was the best decision I’ve ever made. I was able to talk to someone outside of my own world, someone who could provide tools to help me work through things and provide alternative perspectives. And it was empowering. I was finally taking control of my spiraling mental health. I finally had some sense of control over my feelings and mental health again. And part of that was understanding why I was feeling and thinking the way I was. That’s when I got diagnosed with generalized anxiety and depression.
Anxiety and Depression
So what exactly are anxiety and depression? I think we all know they are two of the most over and inappropriately used mental health terms out there. No, “anxiety” doesn’t just mean “stress” or “worry”. And don’t get me wrong, I know stress and worry can be incredibly difficult to deal with as well. But the feeling of true anxiety is a feeling of sheer doom and panic. It’s the feeling that the world is coming to an end, even if to others a situation seems relatively minor. It’s the feeling that nothing will work out and everything you do is wrong. And it can be incredibly debilitating.
Depression isn’t just being sad. And again, I know dealing with sadness can be incredibly difficult as well. But true, clinical depression is not just being unhappy about something or working through sadness. It’s the feeling of empty. Instead of caring too much about everything like with anxiety, depression is not caring about anything. It’s a sense of dread surrounding things you’d normally love. Depression is feeling numb, uninterested, and just utterly apathetic. Sometimes there is sadness involved. Sometimes it even physically hurts. And depression can be incredibly debilitating, too.
And dealing with these two things for years without any help was hard. I’m honestly not sure how I made it through relatively uscathed. But it took going through hell with both of these conditions to get me to therapy. And now I’m handling it all better than ever before.
The above section about anxiety and depression are just to give you an idea of what I was feeling on a daily basis when I did finally decide to go to therapy. And like I said, it was the best decision I’ve ever made. I was able to get diagnoses, tools, someone to talk to, and eventually medication when those things weren’t quite cutting it. And even though I’m in a much less turbulent part of my life now, I still go to therapy on a regular basis. About every third week. In fact, as I’m writing this, I’m waiting to go to therapy. And today I can definitely use it. It’s been a day, but that’s okay. I now have the tools to get through days like this so much easier.
Therapy has helped with come to grips with my chronic illnesses as well (interstitial cystitis and fibromyalgia). I went pretty much right after I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and was able to work through some of my feelings (i.e. grief, relief, anxiety, confusion, etc.). It’s still something I bring up regularly because it’s something that affects nearly every aspect of my life. Therapy has given me the tools to help understand why I feel the way I do in certain situations, even when I’m not actually sitting in front of my therapist. It’s allowed me to take control of my feelings again, but also give myself grace when I’m not quite feeling up to par. My therapist’s couch has become something I look forward to nearly every session, because as life’s challenges build up, I know I’ll have a place to spend an hour dissecting it all.
Don’t get me wrong. Therapy isn’t all epiphanies and breakthroughs. You don’t always come out feeling better than you went in. Because therapy can be hard. Working through your feelings is hard. Digging deep is hard. And sometimes, it’s frustrating.. But in the long run, it’s one of the pillars of my self care routine. Without it, I’m not sure how I would handle dealing with chronic illnesses, unemployment, daily struggles, and everything else life throws my way.
Should You go to Therapy?
I’m not here to tell you that you should go to therapy. It’s a very personal choice, one that you need to make for yourself. And not every therapist is perfect for every person. Sometimes, it takes a few tries to find one you mesh with, one that gets you. But once you find one, I promise you it’s worth it.
I’m a firm believer that literally everyone can benefit from therapy, no matter how emotionally and mentally stable you are. You don’t have to have a mental illness or life crisis to go to therapy. In fact, using it as mental health maintenance allows you to better handle those things if they do arise. No, I’m not going to tell you to go to therapy. But I am going to tell you that you will find benefits, just as I have. It’s just not a quick fix. But if we’re being honest, quick fixes never really work that well, do they?
If you do want to try therapy, click here to find a therapist near you.