I used to see a therapist weekly. That therapist saved my life.
I have lived with panic attacks, crippling anxiety, depression and mental illness for most of my life. I am also a pretty successful, go-getter, able to keep many balls in the air at once and keep my mental struggles a complete secret from virtually everyone around me. I grew up getting straight-A’s, was super involved in high school, danced, got tons of scholarships, maintained a 4.0 in college, graduated early, got a job immediately, had a steady boyfriend, was very social, was a certified fitness trainer, volunteered, received tenure in my job and even began traveling the world. To outsiders, I appeared to have it all. I was the girl who had my life together, nothing could stop me and nothing held me back.
On the inside, however, I was a giant ball of turmoil. I buried my anxieties under my busy schedules and successes. They were hidden from the outside, but festering, growing and slowly poisoning me on the inside. I could teach my first graders to read, choreograph a hip-hop routine for my dance team, write a well-researched essay for my night class in grad school, and then return home and completely fall apart. I would lose sleep, cry uncontrollably, shake, think I was having a heart attack, sweat and feel utterly helpless and very unhappy. For years, I thought something was wrong with me. I assumed I was doing something wrong, or dying. It wasn’t until my early twenties that I learned I was having panic attacks. It wasn’t until my 30’s that I sought the help of a therapist.
Like many people, I think therapists are great! In theory, of course. If a friend or family member were struggling and started seeing a therapist, I would be 100% supportive. But me? Well, that’s not for me.
I can fix this myself. I can google “how to stop a panic attack”. I can figure out how to have less stress and anxieties. I will workout more, which helps control my moods and anxieties. I have Peter to confide in, that’s enough for me. I can’t afford a therapist anyways. My insurance won’t cover it. I can write about my struggles online, open up to my followers, connect with similar people online and feel less alone, less crazy. I’ll live as open and honest as possible; living my truth and uncovering all my anxieties and secrets will set me free. Also, I can medicate.
See, I have SO many options! Seeing a therapist…well, that’s just not for me.
You know what? That long list of
steps excuse DID help. I did feel better. Opening up about my struggles and connecting with others was especially healing. My anxiety and panic attacks lessened, and I continued to learn how to heal. I was on the right path, for sure.
Then, Luna was born. (You can read that story of struggle, fear and anxiety here and here and here.). I was now facing the worst anxiety and panic attacks of my life. I leaned on that long lists of ways to help, which it did. I improved. Life got better. BUT, I was still suffering. I still had panic attacks, high anxiety, nightmares, etc. The worst part, however, was the fact that, as much as I wanted more kids, I was completely unwilling to get pregnant again. My fears, postpartum depression and PTSD were bigger than my desire to get pregnant. I literally could not fathom living with those fears and a pregnancy. It seemed utterly impossible. After almost 3 years of panic attacks and post-traumatic stress episodes, I knew it was time for a change. All of my previously done tips and tricks helped, but I was still facing a big battle.
My desire for a second baby was the push I needed to finally seek counseling. I found a therapist through my insurance (who, of course, barely covered the fees…) and reluctantly showed up for my first appointment. I showed up, which is the hardest and most important step, but I was not at all sure about what I’d just signed up for. I was nervous, anxious, judgmental, un-trusting and had set my walls up as high as possible. I wanted help, but this was kind of scary. I am 100% supportive of every and anyone seeing a therapist, but it’s very different when it comes to myself, and I think a huge majority of people feel this way.
I can tell you lots about my therapist and sessions, but I’ll save that for another posts. What, I will say, is that she changed my life. Therapy literally saved me, in so many ways. I didn’t know how much I needed a third unbiased party to talk to and offer advice until I got it. I didn’t know just how many uncovered emotions and pains I needed to pull out and address. I didn’t know how much I needed advice when it came to confronting others. I didn’t know how much her tips, tricks, homework, advice, support and kindess would heal me. I began seeing her once a week and I looked forward to every meeting.
As you likely know, I had a second baby. Is it weird to say, I have her to thank? For my second pregnancy, I was mentally healthier than I’d ever been in my life. Because I finally took the time and effort to care for my self, mentally, I had a much more positive pregnancy and delivery. Taking care of my mental health was and is just as important as my physical health.
I have been very open about my experience seeing a therapist. I talked about it each week on Snapchat and Insta-stories. I told family and friends, and never tried to hide when I had an appointment. I just couldn’t stand to hide behind the “everything is fine” mask anymore. Almost immediately, I bean receiving messages from friends, family and strangers. So many people wanted to hear more about my experience. People wanted to know if it helped, if it was uncomfortable, if it was worth it and if it was something they might want to try also.
So many people have reached out to me seeking the help and advice I received during therapy. They are facing their own struggles and anxieties and hoping that I might now have the answers to take that pain away. I have always been happy to offer whatever help I can, and share the tools my therapist shared with me, but I worry that they aren’t getting the type of help that they need. Through the conversations I’ve had with people, it has become clear, that many people, like me, are very apprehensive about seeing a therapist or counselor. Like me, they are 100% support of others going, but not so sure it’s for them.
Shame. I think there is still a lot of shame when it comes to getting help for our mental and emotional needs. Maybe it’s the era in which we, or the generation before us grew up. We decided that therapy is for “crazy people”. Maybe it’s our own pride, telling us that we can and should be able to “fix” ourselves; we don’t need to pay for someone’s help. Maybe it’s the culture, religion or heritage in which we grew-up; getting professional help is for the weak. Shame is very powerful. Let me just quote Brene Brown here…
Shame hates it when we reach out to tell our story. It hates having words wrapped around it – it can’t survive being shared. Shame loves secrecy. When we bury our story, the shame metastasizes.
Shame is incredibly powerful. Sharing your story can be difficult, but the that first step is the hardest. Once you open up, that shame begins to fade. With the help of a professional you will not only be free to share your story in a judgement free zone, but will be given the tools to heal your past, face your future and enjoy the present.
If you are questioning whether or not therapy is for you, let me ask you this… Do you see an MD (doctor of medicine) when you are sick? Do you go the dentist for you teeth? Do you take your child to the pediatrician? Your pets to the vet? Do you value your physical and mental health? What is keeping you from seeking a mental health professional? Your mental health affects every aspect of your life. It can literally cause physical and emotional ailments. Taking care of your whole self is vital to a healthy life. You are NOT weak. It takes a strong individual to admit they need help. You have nothing to be ashamed of, everyone has struggles. Everyone.
If you find yourself, wanting help, but aren’t sure exactly where to start, try these steps.
- Check to see if your insurance covers mental health, and who is in network.
- Check online reviews for a well-rated professional.
- Ask trusted friends and family for recommendations.
- Make an appointment.
- Be honest.
- If you aren’t comfortable happy with whomever you see, try someone else. A therapist, like any other doctor, should be someone you trust and whom makes you feel comfortable.
I hope this helps. I really do.