The first time I found myself in therapy I was very young. From what I understand, I was having night terrors and my anxiety was present enough that my parents sought out help. She had me call her Dr. Ruth or Rose or Laura–I don’t really remember. What I do remember is being excused from grade school for “a doctor’s appointment”, an old woman, an uncomfortable couch and the vending machine outside her office she’d walk me to each visit to pick out a snack.
One day she must have declared me cured because the visits stopped. The impact of it all was clearly minimal based on my vague recollection of anything that happened between those four walls. At some point I snagged my chocolate bar for the last time and didn’t think about her for nearly a decade.
Years later, the court-mandated counseling for my parents’ custody battle. I now know that the same court sealed my sister’s and my fate to what many believe to be an arrangement that needs to be eliminated from the textbooks entirely due to the trauma it inflicts on children.
We swapped houses every other day–Dad’s on Monday, Mom’s on Tuesday, Dad’s on Wednesday, and so on. Christmas was half with Mom and half with Dad. Our birthdays were mornings with Mom and evenings with Dad. Prom night: pick us up at Dad’s, but we have to drive to Mom’s before dinner. Everything, right down the middle.
We carried our favorite things in our school bags so we could have them in whichever house we were in that night. We drove back and forth to retrieve forgotten homework, favorite jeans, the CDs to play until the wee hours of the night while we felt like we were dying from the stress of it all. I don’t remember ever feeling like the doctor actually cared what was happening inside of me–the catastrophic pain and suffering as I hauled my shit and my baby sister around, pretending like it was so great that I had two of everything. Fortunately for everyone, once the divorce was finalized, the counseling could stop. We all went back to pretending things were swell without the added pressure of a weekly appointment.
About five years later, shortly after I graduated high school, I felt overwhelmed by everything I’d stuffed away and looked to Student Health for help. I met with a variety of counselors, never really finding anyone I felt like I could connect with, but what I did find was what I believed was finally the answer to my lifetime of struggling to balance the chaos of my own brain: pharmaceuticals.
I was diagnosed with major depression and minor anxiety. The nurse practitioner wrote the prescription, I took the pills, they wouldn’t work, I’d come back, she’d up the dose over and over and over again. I got tired of waiting for the pills to solve my problems, so I switched doctors. She said doctor number one was mistaken; I had major anxiety and minor depression. She wrote the prescription, I took the pills, they wouldn’t work, she’d up the dose over and over again until I found myself a year and a half down the rabbit hole with zero recollection of the life I’d lived in the last 18 months. To this day I do not know what I did, who I was, how I operated or where the time went during this season. Something, somewhere in the fog, convinced me to bail, so I threw the pills in the trash, picked myself up by the bootstraps and became a walking demonstration of “fake it till you make it.”
To an outsider it would appear that I kept it together for the next ten years without the help of doctors or drugs. But to me it was clear that I was hanging on by a thread. The difference in the storyline now was money. I was an adult with adult responsibilities. I had to find it in me to admit that I desired help and then also justify the cost. In a life with a new home, student loans, and a small business, this washed out just the way you’d expect. I’d talk myself to the edge and promptly back off it every. single. time.
When I look back, I could pin point hundreds of moments where I was screaming for help. I didn’t feel heard in the world around me and no matter how hard I fought myself, I could never find the answers. I’d bang my head against the wall, pick fights, drown out my hurt with whatever I could find.
I felt like a failure as an adult. Somewhere down the line I picked up the idea that grown-ups don’t feel. They grow out of their tears. This season of uncomfortably feeling so much was temporary and juvenile.
[spoiler: I was super freaking wrong.]
And then I started reading books about self-improvement.
And then a friend told me she’d been going to therapy. And I thought about it for nearly a year.
And then I got divorced.
And then I was stuck in an airport terminal. Rachel shared a prompt in the Facebook group to tackle something for ourselves–to let go of the doubt and just do the damn thing we felt called to do in that moment. I googled the recommended therapist and I sent an email to request an appointment before I had any time to change my mind.
This time it changed my life. This hour on the couch was the hour I had searched for 20 years to find. All those years I couldn’t understand why my brain was working against me, and it took minutes in the right room with the right counselor to realize:
Hey dummy, your brain will try and work against you, yes, but you have the power to work with it too.
I was the naysayer for most my life.
The money is better spent somewhere else.
They can’t help me.
It will just be about the drugs.
I won’t be able to find a good fit for me.
I don’t have the time.
It’s easier to not dive into that mess.
It will all be okay if I just keep chugging.
I was so wrong.
I can now look back and say, you probably can’t be sent to therapy and find value in it. It’s not like a friend buying you a pass to their favorite yoga class. Some piece of you must be ready to do the work and say the things that need to be said or you’re wasting your time. It can’t be assigned to you. If your spouse, your family, your lawyers push you into the room, the results, likely, won’t be fruitful. You have to stand on your own two feet and walk in the door. It’ll feel like you’ve got concrete strapped to your boots on the way to the elevator, but there’s relief up there, friend. I promise.
If you feel compelled to talk to someone, you should do it.
If you have the tiniest pull toward therapy, you should try it.
If you’ve been telling yourself that you don’t deserve it, you don’t have the money, or the time will be a waste, you need to stop.