While in North Carolina, I decided it was time to go back to therapy. My functional medicine doctor had been encouraging me to return back to therapy for quite some time and I finally gave in. He made a good point that if I could not get my mental health under control, then I won’t be able to get my physical health under control, which I am so desperate to do right now. I feel as if my depression has been on the back burner and my anxiety has been creeping its way to the front without me truly realizing it. Part of it was denial. If I don’t admit I have a problem, then I actually don’t have a problem right? Wrong, very wrong. I also felt that I have been so focused on not being depressed or sad that I ignored that antsy, restless, worrisome, stressed out side of me. Depression and anxiety often go hand in hand. Typically if you have one, you have the other. Yay us. So long story short, I have been heavily neglecting a vital part of myself and in return it has raged out of control.
I don’t want to spend too much time talking about my anxiety because I could probably write an entire post about it and today I am focused on what my takeaways from 3 months of therapy has been for me. Let’s dive in:
- You have to put yourself first. The road to self-love and healing is not a selfless one. You can’t continue to put other people’s wants and needs ahead of your own, then expect to get better. I understand some people who have children or are caretakers for family do not have a choice but to put those people first. Everyone else out there? They can wait. I have tiptoed around so many people’s feelings and have done things to sacrifice my wellbeing for the sake of others. Let me tell you, it has not helped me. If you are unable to fill your own cup and be happy on your own, do not expect to be able to fill others cups. Constantly filling others cups, while neglecting your own, will only continue to deplete your empty reserve. Be selfish for once, but with grace.
- With that being said: not everyone in your life is going to understand the changes and space you need to grow and heal. People might be angry, upset, or hurt when you tell them that you need space, but guess what? You have one life here. Do you really want to spend the rest of that life with shattering, crippling anxiety, or depression? I sure don’t. My therapist reminded me that real change takes time. It could take months or even years to rearrange my distorted and toxic thought process. If your family or friends cannot be patient while you work on yourself, then they don’t deserve to be in your life.
- You have to learn to say no and speak up for yourself. With true change, comes homework. My therapist gave me homework after every single session. Trust me, some of it was difficult and took me hours to complete. Sometimes I had to turn down plans in order to have a mental health day. It sucks saying no and to miss out on something that could have been fun, but we all need those days to just sit and relax for longer than a minute. She also told me that I need to become more comfortable with talking about my emotions, not reacting with my emotions. This is something that takes a lot of practice and patience. When you are constantly keeping yourself busy, you are cheating yourself out of improving yourself.
- Living with anxiety, depression, or any mental illness is okay and is a part of who you are. We spend so much time trying to “fix” ourselves and honestly I used to have this mindset about my own mental illnesses. We try to get rid of the anxiety or depression and are disappointed or self-critical when it’s been weeks, months, or even years of living with the mental illness. The reality of the situation is that your mental illness is now a part of who you are. My therapist described it as this: we have many different versions of ourselves. We have the version that acts one way in front of our parents, another that acts a different way in front of our best friend, another with our significant other, another with strangers, etc. (you get the point). Who we are when we are anxious or depressed is just another version of us. I have spent so much time trying to figure out how to not be depressed or anxious, living with that doomsday attitude of “this is going to be my life forever” that I haven’t worked on consoling and healing those parts of me. Without my depression and anxiety I would not be the person I am today and I am sure they have more of a role to play in the future as well.
- My anxiety is the mentality of a 3rd grader. This concept was really confusing and hard to understand when she first explained it to me, but after thinking about it for a few days after my appointment it made complete sense. Can you pinpoint the exact moment or period of your life when you developed anxiety? I could not pinpoint an exact situation but thought back to elementary school and my life up until 3rd grade was a breeze. Between the pressures at home to be successful in every part of my life and the pressure from school, sports, and all the extracurricular I was in, it was just too much for a 3rd grader. If you pinpointed what age your anxiety started, ask yourself this- how did you react to the anxiety at that age? For that 3rd grader, I thought it would be the literal end of the world if I failed a test. I feared disappointing my parents, teachers, coaches, and anyone else in my life that I stressed about every little thing a little more than a 3rd grader should. The consequence? This mentality has carried over into adulthood. Since my anxiety developed in 3rd grade, it reacts to everything the same way a 3rd grader would. Which is totally not reasonable or realistic. It will not be the end of the world if I am late to my appointment. Is it inconvenient? Sure. The end of the world? No. My therapist told me to talk to myself when I am feeling anxious as I would to a 3rd grader who is experiencing the same thing. It’s weird, I know, but I promise it has been helping (when I actually remember to do it). A simple,”Thank you for caring, but everything is going to be okay,” can go a long way when you are feeling anxious.
- Absolutely EVERYONE can benefit from seeing a therapist. Society has placed such a harsh stigma on seeing a therapist that many people opt to not do it and suffer in silence. A therapist will be able to look at your life from an outsider’s perspective and offer you tools to make the changes you need to live a happier, healthier, and more fulfilled life. Even though you are paying them, most of them genuinely want you to have a better life and will do what they can to get you there. You are never too young or too old to start. You deserve so much happiness and if you feel like you don’t have it, go see a therapist.
I hope this in some way encourages at least one person to reach out and start seeing a therapist. Keep in mind that not every therapist is a good fit for everyone, so you might have to see one or two before you find someone that’s right for you. There is a great website, Psychology Today, in which you can find therapists in your area. It lists their specialities, how much they charge, what insurance they accept, and their location. Take the time to browse the different therapists and find one who specializes in what you need help in the most. It’s never too late to start living a better life, just remember that.