Imagine if there was a person you could talk to about whatever was on your mind without feeling the least bit judged. Imagine, too, that this person wouldn’t tell a soul about some of the darkest stuff you shared — the kind of stuff that floats around in your head, but you can’t always say out loud for fear of being misunderstood or harshly judged.
Not only that, but this person would also help you process it in your own time, in your own way, with sound advice — and always, always with kindness.
But here’s the icing on the cake: You wouldn’t have to reciprocate. You wouldn’t have to ask how this person is doing beyond common pleasantries (and only if you wished to do that, even). You wouldn’t be obligated to take on any of their shit, and yet you would still feel like they were your friend, your confidant, someone who has your back.
Sounds pretty rad, right?
This is what finding a good therapist is like, and it’s an amazing thing once you find someone you can trust and open up to in this way. Life-changing, really.
I honestly don’t know where I’d be without the good therapists I’ve had in my life. I started going to therapy when I was around 18 years old. I was suffering from awful panic attacks, and they were stopping me from living a functional life.
I found a local therapist who was able to listen to everything I had to say as I recounted the traumas with my family that led up to this heightened state of anxiety. I wouldn’t say she was my favorite therapist of all time, but she gave me some solid advice for dealing with the panic attacks — and most of all, she made me feel like I had a voice, that I deserved to feel better, and that I wasn’t alone.
I eventually did feel better and stopped going, but as someone with a lifelong propensity toward anxiety (though I didn’t quite know that yet!), this wasn’t going to be my last stint in therapy.
After 9/11 (which I witnessed firsthand as a New Yorker in the city that day), I began to suffer from daily, debilitating panic attacks. This time I found a therapist who really got me. She had the perfect blend of compassion and toughness to make me feel completely at ease and also light a fire under my ass that I needed to get my life in gear.
She was my therapist for a decade of my life (my 20s) and really helped me grow up. We explored every nook and cranny of my childhood. We talked about my current day-to-day life, dreams, goals, and of course, my struggles with panic and anxiety and how to cope with them in a healthy way.
I learned how to “talk back” to my anxiety, to tell it in a strong, but clear voice to STFU. I learned that the shit that went down when I was a kid really was that messed up and wrong, and that I was, in fact, resilient.
Resilient? That was a word I never knew could describe me. It was empowering.
My therapist gave me confidence to grow into a young woman who owned and understood her struggles, and taught me some pretty decent ways of pushing through the tough stuff. She gave me a safe place to expose all my feelings — even the most terrifying ones — and to know that I deserved to be heard.
I know that there are a ton of stigmas attached to the idea of going to therapy, the biggest being that if you go to therapy, there must be something wrong with you. Hmmm…how do I say this without yelling?
This is complete bullshit, my friends.
Each and every one of us — whether we suffer from a diagnosable mental health issue or are just a human being experiencing the stress of living life on planet Earth — has times when we need some mental health upkeep. People don’t think twice when they schedule their yearly checkup with their MD. Your mental health is as important as your physical health (and in fact, neglecting your mental health can lead to physical ailments).
And listen up: If you are suffering with any kind of mental health issue that is making it hard for you to function in your day-to-day life (whether you’ve been diagnosed yet or not), please, please, please see a therapist ASAFP. Exercise, meditation, and having a bitch-fest with a good friend is all fine and good. And yes, antidepressants and other medication prescribed by your doctor can work wonders as well.
But I believe that everyone deserves the loving care of a professionally trained mental health expert — someone who has spent years of training to help people like you and me feel nurtured and protected, no matter how weird or scary or depressing our thoughts are. (Believe me: I have told my therapists some weird shit and they haven’t batted an eyelash, which is some skill right there, let me tell you).
And yes, I get it about how expensive it can be. Keep in mind many decent insurance companies will cover it, and there are also some free services out there, should you need them. If you are a busy mom like me, there are even excellent online therapists and therapists who will Skype. I just started online therapy, and it’s a great way to start if you are an introverted person, or someone who is otherwise unable to make weekly appointments (a busy working mom, a single parent, the list goes on).
An important thing to keep in mind is that it might take a while to find a therapist whom you completely mesh with. It’s all about comfort and chemistry, and I urge you to “shop around” until you find someone you totally love. But it’s so worth it, and once you find “the one,” your therapy will be much more effective. You’ll start to look forward to it.
The bottom line is that you deserve a good, kind, awesome therapist who will truly listen, call you on your shit (when needed), and remind you of what an incredible person you are and have the potential to be.
And please, seriously don’t listen to the hype that going to therapy means that you are weak, less-than, or unworthy. Going to therapy means that you are ready to take on your life in the fullest way possible. It’s the ultimate self-care, and in the end, it will make you more powerful than you’ve ever been.