No matter where you live around the globe, there is still a lot of stigma around the concept of going to therapy. Even in the most modern and progressive cultures, some people still strongly believe that mental health issues are not real, or that it’s only the bat shit crazy that should seek therapy. Personally, I find this situation quite hypocritical – because it’s the same cultures that preach the idea of always helping others.
So how come it’s ok to help others, but it’s not ok to help yourself by seeking professional help when you need it?
Many people seek therapy only when they’ve reached their wits’ end. Some of the most common reasons are: depression, suicidal thoughts, abuse, trauma, break-ups, anger issues, eating disorders, OCD and anxiety. In my case, I wasn’t sure exactly what I was dealing with before going into therapy for anxiety. I previously had a few depression episodes whithout realizing it / fully understanding what I was going through. What I later identified as anxiety was something I have been dealing with since childhood – and I still do, to this day. Anxiety was very much a part of my identity when I started going to therapy. At that time there were many things going on in my life which were taking a toll on me. The dormant, unaddressed trauma inside me was officially awakened and ready to come for me.
I would love to sit here and write an inspirational story about how I just waltzed by sheer will into my therapist’s office and started CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) for anxiety right then and there. But the truth is, I didn’t. I wasn’t even 100% sure that the thing I was dealing with was crippling anxiety, nor did I know that the therapist I’m about to start seeing specializes in CBT.
Back then I was working as a video editor for a local TV station. It was a very toxic and psychologically abusive environment (you can read that story here) which triggered all the unprocessed trauma I’ve worked so hard to sweep under the rug for years. My anxiety levels were through the roof – crippling. All the shouting and constant tension in the work environment, the unrealistic expectations, unfairness and lack of support were getting to me really bad. I think the management’s logic was “the louder I shout, the faster she will edit those videos” – but as you can imagine, that just made me freeze like a computer and made my heart beat out of my chest.
When I finally announced my boss that I can’t take it anymore and I’m done with being treated like shit, he convinced me to stay because “what else would you do with your life? Do you want to be a cashier in a supermarket?!” and then he proceeded to tell me to seek therapy for “my mental problems” – because obviously, I was the only one who had a problem. He also offered to help me find a therapist and used his contacts to find me one. Considering that at the time I’ve been wanting to start therapy for many years (but I postponed it due to money constraints), it wasn’t hard for me to agree to start seeing a therapist ASAP – I knew I was able to afford it.
Prior to starting my therapy journey, I didn’t know much about how it is to go to therapy, or how you should choose the right therapist. There weren’t many people in my circle that seeked therapy or knew much about this. Frankly, whenever I expressed my strong desire to go into counselling, the people around me were like “stop blaming everything on your childhood! Just get over it already”. So I just stopped talking about it with the people I felt wouldn’t understand. Aside from this, I knew from different sources that it’s important to find the right therapist – someone you can trust and makes you feel comfortable. As previously mentioned, my therapist was already chosen for me by someone else and I didn’t have much information about her – I was just confident that it must be somebody regarded very highly on a professional level.
Generally speaking, I don’t consider myself a very lucky person – I mean, I’ll believe it when I see it. However, it was a very lucky occurrence for me to find a good fit for me on the first try.
It’s difficult to pin-point the exact specifics of what made this long-term collaboration work so well, because there are many contributing factors. Me wanting to be there and spending many years prior researching my symptoms and learning on my own about depression, anxiety and things related to the type of trauma I experienced when I was a child definitely helped. Without realising it, I prepared myself mentally and gained a base knowledge that helped me go into therapy ready to lay it all out on the table and pull out all the skeletons from my closet. I was prepared to do the work, and go deep into the darkest corners of my mind and soul.
I can’t say I remember much about my first session – but that’s because of the way I’m built. Usually, I remember more about how something or someone made me feel rather than the little details. Before going in, I knew for sure that my crippling anxiety was in bloom because of my job, and that I was pretty much in a constant state of stomach pains, stress, sweaty palms, trembling hands and feet, my heart was beating fast and my hands hurt because I was tensing my fingers whilst video editing. Although I didn’t know what to expect, and I was in a pretty bad shape, I was also hopeful and excited to start therapy because for many years I believed seeking professional help will provide me with an answer for most of my problems.
The first appointment was essentially testing the waters. The therapist was going to start to assess me and decide if they can offer the help that I needed, see if I was open to receive help and if she’ll take me as a client. For me, there was the hope that this is the right therapist for me, that she would understand and hear me, and that the good vibes I was getting from this session were legit because therapy has to be a two way street in order to work. Although it was the first time I met my therapist, it didn’t take long for me to feel that I was in a safe space where I can freely say what I really think and feel out loud. The person who was listening to me had the expertise and objectivity to understand what I was communicating, and to relate to what I was saying. She was offering me constructive feedback and advice without judging me, and without trying to diminish or dismiss my feelings. Based on that, it was pretty clear to me right then and there that I had found the right person.
What followed next was a very complex and interesting therapy journey, with lots of deep digging, analyzing what I found, developing healthier patterns – which I strive to follow to this day (but fail miserably at times), uncovering issues I didn’t know I had and learning to accept what I can’t control.
Right before writing this article, it has become clear to me that trying to squeeze out all the stages of what I went through before actually getting into therapy is not realistic. From experiencing trauma, to it catching up to me over the years, to hiding depression episodes, living with crippling anxiety, acknowledging that I need help, the attempts to get it, the falling into old patterns again – I think these are all things worth mentioning for you to get the bigger picture. So I’ve decided that my therapy journey will become a series on my blog, depicting all these stages in a (somewhat) chronological order.
Therapy might not be for everyone, and many people don’t have a nice experience on the first try. I’m not here to preach about this subject or convince you to try it – that is something you and only you can decide for yourself. My goal here is to offer you some food for thought, some of my insights, and to encourage you to seek professional help if you need it.
I hope you enjoyed this article and I would love to hear from you! If you want to share your views about therapy with me, or share something about your own mental health journey, please leave a comment below.