“Therapy has helped me manage my anxiety,” my friend confessed. Going every week, for months on end, brought her to a place of acceptance–and progress.
“Good for you!” I enthusiastically replied. But as for me? I didn’t need therapy for anxiety management. Of course, this was a lie. The real reason I wasn’t in therapy? I was too scared to go.
Why did I have to “surrender” to therapy? Why was it my last resort? After all, medication, natural remedies and practices such as meditation, along with therapy, can be a powerful combination when a person is combating the anxiety beast.
The generational assumptions regarding therapy only made my increasingly debilitating anxiety worse. Therapy stereotypes and misconceptions I’d heard throughout my entire life swirled around in my head like a tornado. Why would I air my dirty laundry to a stranger? Why couldn’t I just pray harder? You know, “let go and let God?” Did I have anxiety because I lacked faith? What was wrong with me that I couldn’t just take a proverbial “chill pill” and live my best life?
I’ve had anxiety my entire life. My earliest memory of it was when I was two years old and in a car wreck with my family. I remember being so incredibly disturbed, our family car smashed in a twenty-vehicle, bumper-to-bumper accident, in Chicago. I immediately had to use the bathroom, and my mom rushed me to nearby laundromat and begged the owner to let me use the employee-only restroom. I remember what the woman looked like, and the intense heat from the vibrating dryers couldn’t relieve my chills.
From then on, I had issues. I would wake at 5 a.m. to anxiously watch my dad leave home for work, praying he wouldn’t die in a tragic accident. I had meltdowns when situations were seemingly out of my control. I liked order—and chaos was my enemy. I started having major stomach aches in middle school that continued into my twenties, and then my anxiety decided to swap out stomach issues for panic attacks. In essence, I was a ball of nerves all of the time—and it sucked.
The first time I went to therapy, I was 33 years old. We were in the midst of waiting to see if the baby we were matched with would become our daughter. We still had two more months to go, and my anxiety was at an all-time high. I had three little kids at home asking me if they were going to have a sister. The newly decorated nursery gave me a sense of hope, yet it also tormented me.
I could no longer manage the racing thoughts on my own. Though I had decided to finally start taking anxiety medication, I knew my anxiety management would be more successful if I did the thing I’d avoided for so long. I needed to go to therapy.
I considered making an appointment for weeks—but even the thought of calling to schedule one was giving me anxiety. Once I finally mustered the courage to call and I wrote the appointment in my calendar, the inked reminder haunted me. Not knowing what to expect pushed my anxiety into overdrive.
I decided that I was going to dress as comfortably as possible—not bothering to change out of my workout clothes. I wasn’t there to impress anyone, and it was important to me to show up as my true self. With my heart pounding, I drove across town, the whole time reminding myself that this was a good thing.
It turns out, therapy was anti-climactic. I didn’t leave a changed woman. I did feel a little lighter—not because she cured me of my adoption emotions in a single session, but because I had faced my fear of going to counseling.
I regret I didn’t give therapy a shot in my twenties when my panic attacks started.
There is something freeing about talking to a stranger—who is a trained professional—about your struggles. After all, everyone who loves us judges us to some degree—even if it’s out of earnest care. But a therapist is paid to listen, suggest, and guide. There is safety in that.
I’ve learned a lot about anxiety over the past several years, and especially since going to a therapist who specializes in anxiety disorders. I know now that anxiety is often genetic. After doing a lot of research, I can name at least four of my biological relatives who struggle with it. Anxiety is also common. More than one-third of women will face an anxiety disorder diagnosis in her lifetime.
Like many women, I cope with what I should be and what people say I am versus the reality. After adopting four children, surviving a near-death experience due to an undiagnosed disease, and especially after losing my breasts to cancer, many people have told me I’m strong, brave, and relentless.
But most days, in the midst of real-life chaos, I don’t feel I am any of those things. I’m just as broken, scared, and fragile as the woman sitting in the car behind me in the school pickup line. And my anxiety only amplifies the everyday stress of mothering and working.
Talking to someone about struggles, emotions, and decisions is powerful. Therapy has helped me take ownership of my pain and claim my ups and downs, rather than always trying to avoid and hide from them. I have somewhere safe to “put” these things versus pretending they don’t exist.
Therapy has helped me take ownership of my pain and claim my ups and downs, rather than always trying to avoid and hide from them.
I regret I didn’t give therapy a shot in my twenties when the panic attacks started. Perhaps if I would have, it wouldn’t have taken me so long to realize that therapy is really rather ordinary—another appointment on the calendar. But what makes it different from any other scheduled event is that it’s a self-care tool that can make a difference over time.
Now that seeing my therapist has become comfortable, I’ve talked openly to my family and friends about my struggles with anxiety and the ways I cope. I’ve stopped evading my truth. I’m a person with anxiety—and there are many more people just like me.
Talking about my disorder—with both my therapist and my nearest and dearest—has lessened anxiety’s power and given me back the most amazing gift: myself.