“Therapy can be an excellent way to develop some tools to deal with your emotions and explore options for improving these issues and getting life back on track.”
It’s always at this point of the introduction email that I started to cry. To ‘get life back on track’ I’d have to admit my life had been woefully off track for a long time now. It’s stupid and scary to be twenty-five and trapped inside my own head.
Blurry eyed, I would skim the rest of the email half a dozen times in preparation for the first appointment with my new therapist. Online therapy solved one of my issues at least. Not having to leave the house was nice because I couldn’t imagine spilling my guts to a stranger’s face. Being around almost anyone at all had become all together overwhelming for more than a year now. This was my last resort, a chance to finally get well and get on with my life.
I didn’t know what to expect from the first appointment. If it weren’t for the support of my husband I probably would have ended up bailing on it. These days the tension of the unknown makes me sick to my stomach with fear. The logic of knowing that I’d be speaking with a doctor, someone actively trying to help me, someone I desperately needed help from, couldn’t quell the nervous dread that set in as the appointment drew close and my husband prepared to wait out in the living room.
“I’m not dying?” I started the script we’ve created for when I feel overwhelmed.
“Nope. Not dying.” He reassured me, even though the fear sat as heavy as cement in my chest and felt an awfully lot like what I imagine dying to be like.
“Definitely not dying?” I asked again because I was stalling.
“Definitely, definitely not dying,” he squeezed my hand and left me with a small smile.
I propped myself on our bed, made sure my phone was on the charger, and counted down the last minutes before I had to take the next big step in my life.
I’ve had a bit of experience with therapy, some family and some individual. All of that was about a decade ago and I honestly can’t remember much about that time except that it sucked and was largely awkward, especially the individual secessions .
But I decided to try it again because after more than a year of slowly breaking down, of being too scared to leave the house and too anxious to socialize with friends and family, I’m tired of being a prisoner in my own mind, charged with no crime but sentenced for an indefinite period, no parole in sight.
It’s exhausting being trapped.
My heart rate elevated as I entered the chat room and exchanged introductions with my new therapist, we’ll call her Fran.
She was familiar with my general history, a broken foot in 2015 and the slow spiral downward that followed – unemployment, estrangement from family and friends, panick attacks, loss of sleep and appetite, etc.
The application process I went through before being assigned to her had questionnaires that covered my level of depression (severe, occurring a couple times a week) and anxiety (unrelenting, occurring regularly and up to several times a day) and my risk of hurting myself or others (low, harmful thoughts occurring rarely.)
The session was easy until she asked about my anxiety triggers. There’s so much shame tied to mental illness still, and no amount of open mindedness or internet articles read can remove the feeling of being a wounded animal making yourself available to being eaten when you offer up your soft, sensitive underbelly and beg, “Please, help me.”
The tears, which sat on the edges of my eyelids these days, leaked out steadily as I typed the answers I could think of. As usual, being under even the slightest pressure sent my mind spinning in a dozen directions. I tried to remember the things that made my chest tighten and heart ache with a fear I had never known before last year. Specific incidences eluded my memory as I tried to cast my mind back to those feelings and largely came up blank.
For a few moments I froze as the clock ticked our sixty minutes away. My chance to finally convince someone that something was really wrong, that I wasn’t lazy or lying or exaggerating, that I truly needed and deserved help, seemed to slip through my stalled out fingers.
Eventually I typed out all the most basic triggers I could think of to share.
What I could share felt inadequate, problems that people have on the regular, problems people dealt with by themselves without intervention or break downs. It was hard to deal with the fact that even reaching out for help left me drowning in a sea of shame.
But then I realized that I’ve been in this sea all along, and if reaching out came with rising waters, well dammit, at least they were pushing me back towards shore.
Because good ole Fran came through for me in that first session. Opening up was difficult and more than a little scary, but she made me feel safe and she accepted. For the first time in a long time I felt like someone truly understood my inner turmoil and I didn’t feel the least bit judged. That was incredibly relieving.
Before I knew it our hour was up and we were winding the conversation down. To end the session Fran asked me to come up with a couple goals for the next few weeks that we’d be talking.
This online therapy is only meant to be a short term solution, lasting six to eight weeks max, so I decided to keep it to two basic goals rather than attempt to unload my mountain of issues.
Honestly, it was hard admitting that I really need help coping with my inability to work. That simple fact is the biggest shame I’ve had to stomach through all of this, especially as we planned our wedding. A monumental moment like that of your wedding should be the source of great joy, but a large part of that joy was stolen from me because of my struggles with mental illness and my inability to get help.
As that first session ended and we said our goodbyes it felt like a brick had been lifted off my chest. The rest of the wall was still firmly in place on my rib cage, but with that first brick removed it finally felt like maybe someday I could relinquish this weight and breathe again.
I’m going to try to end these blogs with a few questions to hopefully stimulate conversation in the comments. If you have any questions to add, please feel free!
Have any of you ever participated in therapy? If you haven’t, have you ever considered it? If available, would you ever consider online therapy? If you don’t do therapy, what do you do to upkeep your mental health?
Here’s a playlist that I’ll be updating periodically with songs that kinda speak to me and the essence of this blog. I’ve dubbed it “Get sad. Get mad. Get better.”