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Returning to Therapy as an Adult When It Left Me With Trauma as a Child

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Editor's Note

If you have experienced emotional abuse, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

When you spend most of your life not knowing what’s wrong with you, a diagnosis can be a welcome surprise. My previous therapist would have said, “Nothing is wrong with you, you just have different challenges.” While she wasn’t incorrect, it is hard to feel that way most of the time. Therapy did not become a mainstay of my life until my early 20s. In my opinion, after learning everything I’ve learned, it should have been much sooner than that. Unfortunately, my only experience with therapy as a child left me with trauma surrounding it.

I remember it, even though I often wish I didn’t. The situation arose when I told my elementary school guidance counselor the truth about how I was feeling. Unfortunately, confidentiality was not a thing for her. I trusted her not to say anything because I asked her not to; guess it was silly of me to believe that. There are a lot of reasons I didn’t want my parents to know, mostly them being the source of a lot of it. They wouldn’t like to hear that, but I’m not in the habit of lying. We didn’t talk about things at home to someone outside of home. It truly was a moment of weakness for me, one I would come to regret.

As you could guess, my parents were notified. I was absolutely horrified. My parents were not happy and had to remind me my life wasn’t that bad and that I was just ungrateful. Begrudgingly, at the suggestion of the guidance counselor, they scheduled me for a therapy appointment. Secretly, I was happy, I just wanted someone to talk to. That hope was quickly crushed the day of my appointment.

It was not the type of therapy appointment I wanted or even needed at that point. While there is something to be said for family therapy when the family is dysfunctional, I did not want it. How was I supposed to talk about my problems openly while my parents were right in my face? I was uncomfortable and unhappy, I said nothing pretty much the entire session. My parents spoke for me, saying what they believed my issues were. The ride home after said appointment was silent. From that moment on, I learned to keep my pain to myself.

It was an invalidating experience. One I’m sure many like me have been through. My parents never brought me back and I never asked to go back. I avoided my issues for as long as I could. When I met my husband, I knew I could not avoid it anymore. If I truly wanted my relationship to work, I would have to work on myself — whether I liked it or not. Searching for a good therapist was hard for me simply because I lacked the ability to trust anyone, even a medical professional. After building my solid brick walls and creating a fortress around myself, breaking it down was the most terrifying thing I had to do.

It wasn’t immediate, all good things take time. I grew to trust my therapist had my best interest at heart, even when I didn’t. It was suggested I do a psychological evaluation so I could continue with treatment better suited to my needs. Having a name to my ailments gave me minor relief, but also left me with so many questions. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) I understood, my childhood memories solidified that for me. Bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder (BPD) threw me for a loop. Truthfully, it scared me. I feel like PTSD is widely understood, and the other two come with a myriad of stigmas and false assumptions. Ones I did not want to endure.

I kept my diagnoses between myself and my husband for a while. I continued my treatment and worked to find the right medications all while maintaining full-time school and work. At times, I wanted to give up and go back to burying it all. Something people often don’t tell you about recovery from severe mental illness is that it is messy. It is ugly, chaotic, frustrating, and not always solved by just crying about it and then moving on. It is a journey, one rife with obstacles you never expected to encounter.

My journey continues to this day. I managed to move past my most difficult obstacles, but my healing is not yet complete. Trauma is complex, childhood trauma even more so, at least for me. Managing the symptoms of my disorders is a day-to-day process. I’m never quite sure what will set me off or send me down another dark path. I can only take it one day at a time. One step at a time. Knowing where to start is half the battle. Continuing to live in spite of the hand you’ve been dealt? Now, that’s real strength.

Unsplash image by JD Mason

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