A few weeks ago, I had my last therapy session. It is wild to me that this is where I am. For so long, especially when I first started, I didn’t see myself ever stopping. Therapy is just so awesome. I’ve never experienced anything like it. It was helpful in ways I probably haven’t even begun to realize yet.
When I started therapy, I felt so completely bewildered and disconnected from myself. I had the firm, ingrained belief anxiety was a thing I should be able to control. If I couldn’t control it, then something was wrong with me. I walked around carrying the pressure, the tension and the feeling of not knowing myself anymore. It was really hard. Asking for help was hard, too, because in my family you do everything yourself. You’re never not capable and you always keep it together.
In the last few years, we’ve all, my parents, my sister and me, been working really hard to give each other the safe space to not be OK. I’m so proud of us for that. I’m proud of us for encouraging each other, for being open about our struggles and for really digging into our separate issues. It’s made this process a lot easier for me.
Therapy did so much for me it’s hard to put it all into words, but I want to try. I feel so grateful I’ve been able to go through this process with someone who has such a wonderful balance of empathy and questioning. My therapist was consistent about encouraging me in my efforts to manage anxiety. She was really good about asking me questions and giving me challenges in order to help me really get to the roots of why this was happening.
Therapy is, by and large, one of the best things I have ever done. There are multiple reasons for this. I could write about it forever, but instead of boring you guys, I’ll just make a list of all the pros to therapy:
1. Therapy gave me a place to be lost.
It was always unequivocally OK to be lost, overwhelmed and hopeless. Those feelings subsided over time but that was a lot of what I felt the first six months. It was always OK. More than OK, it was welcome.
2. Therapy let me go at my own pace.
My therapist never rushed me or made me feel like she had an agenda to accomplish. She let me talk about whatever I wanted to talk about in my own time, and for however long I wanted. This doesn’t mean she let me be all over the place. Sometimes I was, but she would gently nudge me back to center with a question or an observation.
3. Therapy held me accountable.
Because of how I am, I would have felt super ashamed of walking into therapy and not doing anything to fix my own problems. My therapist knows this about me (as she should) and she was really great about checking in with me about what strategies I was trying and how they were going. She never made me feel like a failure, and she always encouraged me to keep trying. Just by asking, she helped me stay accountable and get to know my particular brand of anxiety inside and out. I also had to show up. I had to be physically present in order to get the help I needed. Committing to this week after week helped me to follow though in other areas of my life.
4. Therapy challenged me.
If you’re really working at it, therapy is hard. There were so many times when our conversation necessitated me talking about something from my past I didn’t really want to talk about or realizing some things about myself that were tough to admit. Some things, like how stubborn I am, I will be the first person to tell you about. Other things, like the fact that I cry every time I feel almost any strong emotion or am in conflict with someone, made me feel ashamed and were really hard to talk about. Therapy let me work through that. Now, I know I’m not crying because I’m weak or too sensitive. I’m neither of those things. I cry because that’s how my body reacts to stress and that’s OK.
5. Therapy helped me accept my “flaws.”
First of all, Leslie Knope said it best, “One man’s nightmare is every other man’s total package.” Aside from that, therapy helped me realize anxiety is not a flaw. It’s biology. It’s not something that’s wrong with me. When I realized this and started trying to manage it, I learned how to make room for anxiety and accept it as part of my life. I assumed, and still assume, it will always be something that happens to me and so I’ve made space for it. It has a little corner of my heart where it lives. It’s always going to have a home there and that’s a good thing.
6. Therapy made me give zero f*cks.
Seriously, once I got through all of the crazy “WTF is happening to me!” times and realized anxiety isn’t a flaw but just a thing that happens to me, I stopped caring about what people think about it. I just do not care. Again, anxiety is not a personality trait and it is not a flaw. It is biology. It’s genetic.
It is not something you can chose to have. So f*ck anybody who thinks about it like it’s a choice and who looks down on those who are dealing with it. Screw those people who choose to judge you and us on something we can’t control. Anxiety doesn’t negate that I’m a capable, hard-working and a conscientious human being. Anybody who thinks poorly of me simply because I struggle with this, in the same way that someone struggles with other conditions, can get out of my life.
7. Therapy allowed me to find myself again.
OK, so that sounds kind of corny, but it’s true. Anxiety is so isolating sometimes you start to wonder if you were always this “crazy” person and you just didn’t know it. It can be so disorienting and it can make you feel a big disconnect with who you thought you were and this “anxious person” you seem to be now.
In particular, I had a lot of trouble maintaining my sense of self in different environments. In work, I was really outspoken and confident. With my friends I was funny and entertaining, but with my family, I was quiet and barely talked at all. Therapy has helped me rediscover the cornerstone of who I am so that I don’t feel like I’m five different people and scattered in a million directions. It has helped to ground me and to feel like I’m myself even when I’m anxious.
If you’ve started therapy, good for you. I hope it’s going well and you’ve found a therapist who helps you meet your goals and who you have a good connection with. If you haven’t started therapy yet but want to, then that’s awesome. Go you. You can look on Psychology Today as a starting point. If you’re in NYC, you can message me privately as I know a few awesome therapists and would be glad to put you in touch with them.
If you feel like something is wrong but you’re not really sure what it is and you’re not really sure you want to go to therapy, that’s OK too. I encourage you to go. I know without a doubt my relationship would not be as joyful, fulfilling and resilient as it is without the work I’ve done in therapy (and also my boyfriend’s magical, unicorn presence). I wouldn’t be as close with my family, and honestly, I wouldn’t be happy.
I’ve learned to manage and accept all of my emotions, not just the good ones. I’ve learned not to think poorly of myself when I’m not happy. Please, consider therapy if you are at all feeling like something is off. It make take some time and you may have to meet with more than one person to find the right fit, but it can change your life.