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A Love Letter (of Advice From My Therapist)

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Mental illness has a way of covering your eyes and making it seem like there’s no way out of the fog. The love letter from my therapist is transcribed here in an annotated list; I received it in person. I am passing it on to you.

1. You don’t need to go from sad to happy. There’s a whole range of other emotions that will work instead. 

I was in crisis counseling, wondering how I could possibly survive the week. I didn’t see my usual therapist, I saw the therapist on call, and she told me something I’d never thought about before. “Sick people don’t try to get better overnight,” she explained. “It’s a process. But to be sick and rested is better than just being sick. Don’t try to go straight to happy; but if you’re scared or angry or calm, you might find yourself without the time to be sad.” She told me to put on a scary movie and just let the emotions take over me.

2. You don’t have to feel mentally ill “enough.”

It’s surprising how odd this notion was to me, how new, how unnatural. It seemed that I must fit a standard criterion to call myself “mentally ill,” depressed, suicidal or anxious. But I already did. I still don’t quite understand why I refused to call myself suicidal, but a high-functioning, low-risk suicidal person is just as valid and deserving of protection as someone of a higher risk. I vow to tell myself that more.

3. Don’t wait until the last minute to get crisis care if you need it. Your therapist will thank you for coming in sooner.

“Thank you for coming in today,” she told me with a smile. “I am really glad that you did.” I must have heard this at least 10 times in our hour-long session. And once more when I left for good measure. Asking for care isn’t a burden on your therapist. It’s their job; in reference to my previous point, it is never to early to seek help.

4. Push it back.

If you’re feeling suicidal, procrastinate for half an hour and do something else, something you usually love. Then re-evaluate and push it back again if you need to. I created a safety plan with my regular therapist the day after being told about this technique. I now use that safety plan to procrastinate. I would have to go through six different steps, each with their own subsections, to be finished procrastinating. By then, the urge has most likely passed, or at the very least, it has lessened.

5. Journals don’t have to be about documenting feelings — a much more productive and helpful way of journaling can often use cognitive reframing.

I bought myself a journal from the store. The cover says “I’m Trying My Best” in large block lettering over a calm yellow background. It’s perfectly set up for cognitive re-framing; now, instead of scrawling down “I am alone,” I can note how I may feel alone right now, but that feeling can be relieved by reaching out to someone. They can’t know I’m feeling unappreciated if I never tell them, and it’s not always their responsibility to talk to me. In reality, my friends are temporarily busy, and this does not affect how much they care about me.

6. “Another client I saw yesterday is going through the same thing…”

No validation of privacy here, just a validation of my feelings. And wow, does it feel good.

7. “How often do you take a break and just breathe?”

My answer was “not very often at all.” I am working to change that, with the help of meditation apps and a mental “happy place.” It’s hard, but what part of recovery isn’t? At the very least, I got a message of love from my therapist.

It’s not a Valentine, but it’s a start.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

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Getty image via paylessimages

Originally published: April 5, 2023
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