Mental Health Awareness Month: How Therapy Changed My Life
I’m really bad at associating months with holidays and events— ironic, for a blogger, whose unwritten duty is to remember things like when national grilled cheese day is. But the other day as I walked out of my therapist’s office onto a sunshine-doused sidewalk with spring blossoms scattered about, I closed my eyes and stood there for a moment; overwhelmed, not only by my gratitude to my situation that allows me to see a therapist regularly again, but also the fact that I started on this journey some 5 years ago. I was then reminded that May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and it finally felt like the right time to talk more in depth (longer than an Instagram caption will allow, at least) about my process with therapy over the past few years and why I think there is not a single person on this earth that can’t benefit from it in spades.
Nowadays, therapy is so much more commonplace and the destigmatization has come a LONG way. But there are still a lot of long-held misconceptions about therapy that I’d love to challenge in this post. Before we get to that though, let’s get a quick little backstory on my process with it out there.
How I first got into therapy
Back when I was competitively figure skating, a bunch of us worked with a sports psychologist for performance purposes. I was initially resistant to it, but the motivation that it might help me ‘win’ drove me to participate in it. Fast forward to me retiring, going off to college at NYU, having major unresolved baggage with my eating disorder and identity crisis (having to rediscover who I was after 10 years of elite sport being my whole life), I was thoroughly depressed and struggling my sophomore year of college.
Feeling like there was no escape, I thought to ask my old sports psychologist to give me a referral for someone who specialized in eating disorders in NYC. She gave me a referral, I reached out to this therapist, and then cancelled a few days prior to our consult because I was in a ‘good period’ with my diet and was fooling myself into believing that I had it all under control, so why waste money on therapy? Fast forward again through several years of struggling but being distracted by (or rather, distracting myself with) school, work, and my social life, I was finally at what I thought was a stable place in my life. I had just abandoned my first career choice and became a personal trainer, was feeling like my old self once again, and had such passion for this newfound purpose of mine.
Then my hip sidelined me from every crutch I was using. Exercise, my confidence rooted in an athletic body once more, and just being active in general. After confirming surgery was inevitable, I found myself at a crossroads of my eating disorder and depression lurking directly ahead of me. I was so desperate to not feel the depths of my pain that I had experienced and sick and tired of being sick and tired, so I frantically dug up that old email contact of that therapist from 4 years prior and asked for a consult.
I initially entered that office with the intent to ‘fix’ my one and only problem I (thought) I had: my eating disorder. Full of doubt, dubious of this therapist I had never met, and and clutching onto the hard armor of perfection I wore just about everywhere to the outside world… but with a glimmer of desperate hope that maybe, just maybe, life could be different than this constant struggle I lived in.
You have doubts about this? Or maybe you believe that therapy can work, but it’s not “for you?”
I was the poster girl for that.
The other huge misconception is that you need to be broken, have an obvious problem, or that your relationship is fractured or in trouble, in order to qualify for therapy— that by seeking therapy, you’re admitting that there is something you yourself cannot fix. Here’s the thing: while a lot of people will say that’s simply not true, that you don’t need to be broken to seek therapy— I actually say why not?
What is so wrong with admitting that you yourself or your partnership itself cannot seem to find the path to healthier ways to communicate, love, understand, and live? What is so wrong with acknowledging that we are ALL broken inside in some way, little or big? Life isn’t easy, and our experiences have left scars on us all. It’s just up to us if we want to do the work to not let those scars restrict our futures.
We ALL need help at different times.
We don’t intrinsically hold all the answers to our struggles inside of us; actually, let me rephrase that because that’s not quite accurate either. We DO hold all that we need inside of us, but most of us have trouble accessing the TOOLS needed to most efficiently use what we have within in order to heal ourselves and GROW ourselves.
Every single one of us could improve on our communication skills, thought patterns, how we speak to ourselves, and diving deeper into the roots of what drive our behaviors, motivations, and fears. The way I see it, it is all about expanding your vocabulary so you can liver a richer, fuller life that is filled with more depth and fulfillment than without that vocabulary— it has certainly given me the ability to actually take in experiences and comprehend my emotions in a completely different way.
Another thing about the practice of therapy, is that it means different things to you at different times. The reasons I sought out therapy and what I reaped from it back in 2014 is wildly different than the reasons today. It is honestly just like learning to workout and train— your training and skills should evolve with you, and you tackle new obstacles, goals, and areas of your life as you grow and expand. The purpose that it serves will evolve, and that’s a wonderful thing. I like to think of it as ‘leveling’ up, rather than accomplishing one thing and then calling it one and done.
Things to know about starting therapy.
It is like dating.
You may hit it out of the park on that first Hinge date, or you may need to go through a dozen to find the person you fit with. The WORST thing you could do for yourself is to meet with one or two therapists who you just don’t jive with, and then decide that therapy is not for you.
Hate the player, don’t hate the game.
It is difficult to find the right financial situation. Don’t let that stop you.
Don’t get me too started on insurance and mental health coverage, but for some it’s easier than others because your insurance covers therapy or subsidizes it in some way. This is great! Definitely ask your insurance, go on ZocDoc and see what therapists accept your insurance. If this is not a path available to you, research and contact therapists that offer sliding scale. Depending on your income, you and your therapist can come to a fee per session that both of you can accommodate. If they cannot accommodate you, ask for referrals— most therapists are more than happy to do this because they want you to find the support you need, regardless of if it’s not them!
Consistency, particularly at first, is KEY.
This is similar to what I tell new training clients— you really can’t expect to intermittently train and expect progress or anything to change. It is a process you should commit to if you’re serious about wanting results. Of course it’s not cheap with your time or your money, but it will be the best investment you’ve ever made. Think of it as leveling up for a better you when it comes to ‘bossin at work, becoming a better partner in a relationship, a better family member, a better friend, and a better human— all because of this commitment to yourself. WORTH. IT.
You will have many moments of doubt + major discomfort.
You WILL have a million moments where you think this isn’t for you, this is a waste of money / time, you don’t feel any different, this just plain sucks and I feel worse about myself, etc. It’s just like working out though— you don’t walk out of 1 or even 5 workouts, suddenly seeing popping muscles and being able to lift an incredible amount more. It takes time. And just like how muscle has to first break down before growing, it is the SAME with therapy. Sometimes it feels like you’re stagnating or regressing, but STICK WITH IT and down the road, you’ll look back to see that those periods were just as necessary. It can also be highly uncomfortable, with many urges to reject the truth staring back at you. Be curious about it. Forge on.
All of the above is worth it x 900
What I have gained most out of therapy
Where do I even begin?
As I said before, the purpose of and the gains from therapy I’ve had have certainly evolved over the years. At first it was primarily about my eating disorder, but breaking that down and open led me to realize that it really stemmed from a number of other issues that also permeated many other parts of my life. It was eye-opening and a complete (sometimes highly unpleasant) revelation to understand how intertwined certain characteristics I have and identify with came from my experiences growing up. Of course we all know that our life experiences shape us, but therapy helped give me so much more clarity and educated me on how to use the those experiences to understand my present self.
I took a little break from therapy because of budget and I was also in a healthier place with my mind, so it felt like less of a necessity to justify in my monthly budget. But recently with a lot of transitions and things going on in my life, I started up again proactively to more deeply explore my behaviors as I go through these growing pains. This time, I wanted to really work on my mental health before I “needed” it, because by then, it’s a longer process to unravel and rebuild— it’s kind of like waiting until you’re super out of shape to get into healthy habits. It’s understandable because it’s human nature, but having a couple of years of therapy experience under my belt, I understand how valuable and how much healthier it can be by making sure I’m maintaining my mental health, rather than being on an extreme rollercoaster of ups and downs with it.
The biggest shifts in my life that have resulted from therapy are not necessarily glaringly obvious, tangible things like winning the lottery; but rather, a sense of freedom, empowerment, and steadiness through the storm. I have the tools to face the inevitable difficulties and pains of life in a way that I didn’t have prior to the assist of therapy. 2016 was proof of this, as I went through some of life’s meatier challenges like losing my dad to cancer, depression, getting out of a toxic relationship and regaining myself, and dealing with my own autoimmune health issues. Every day throughout that sometimes suffocating overwhelm from dealing with all those simultaneous things, I was insanely grateful that I had sought out therapy and had some tools at my disposal BEFORE this all began. This is also why I always strongly encourage not waiting until things feel insurmountable to seek help and healing.
I hope that sharing my experience here opens your mind and/or encourages you to seek out the support that you didn’t know you needed 😉I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences, below!