This post is part of our #TherapyHelpedMe series for Mental Health Awareness Month. Talkspace shares stories of how therapy helps people of all backgrounds work through the daily challenges of modern life.
In my early twenties, I was lost. I could tell something was wrong with me. My friends were all away attending universities, learning and excited, actively participating in being alive. I was living with my parents, playing hours of World of Warcraft and having panic attacks in my car before attending local community college classes.
I had always been a bit of an odd duck. It took me longer to reach the same milestones as my peers: I learned to drive later, I got my first boyfriend later, I attended college later, and I got my first job later as well. And worse, I was not interested in a whole lot. I did not find my existence to be meaningful or my life to be particularly enjoyable.
I felt a lot of shame about this. And the thing about shame is that it eats away at you. It distorts your self view, and everything you were already struggling to accomplish becomes exponentially more difficult. I had this insidious inner voice telling me I was useless, a waste of space, a waste of time, and a waste of resources., it would be better if I were not around because I was actively bringing down everyone around me.
Some part of me understood this negative inner voice wasn’t “normal.” Other people did not seem to wake up hating themselves and hoping for it to end. Beyond this, even though my shame was rooted in what I perceived to be a lack of accomplishment, I could see my self-hatred was pushing me even farther away from being functional, and accomplishing the things my friends were. Without any real hope of change, I decided I wanted to know why I was different. I needed an explanation.
Looking for an Answer
Where does a reclusive nerd look for knowledge? The internet, of course! Even though everyone likes to joke that “nobody lies on the internet,” I actually found quite a bit of helpful information, which began to add context and meaning to my predicament. Through social media, I found a mental health community that taught me important terms like “mental health,” “depression,” “self-care,” and “anxiety.”
ANXIETY. Oh my god. There it was: the dark, menacing figure that had been darting just out of frame, like the gruesome antagonist of the horror movie that was my life. Laid bare in the open. It had a name. It had weaknesses.
I found people who had a hard time leaving their houses. I found people who had a hard time making phone calls. I found people who also felt loads of shame about how difficult normal, everyday things were. After years of pain and isolation, I discovered I was far from alone.
So, I then tentatively made an action plan. If this ANXIETY thing was what I was experiencing, I wanted a certified professional to figuratively stamp it on my forehead.
Finding the Help I Needed
I went online, found a therapist who accepted my insurance, and made an appointment. The psychologist I found was a woman in her 60s with kind eyes, double-pierced ears, and a warm office with especially comfortable couches. What was most wonderful about her was she believed me. She listened to my story and validated my struggles. There was no skepticism or blame.
She asked what I wanted out of therapy, and I told her I needed a name for what I was experiencing. Pretty much right off the bat; “You show many symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder.”
Now, the usual person would be like, “Oh shit. I AM ILL, OH SHIT.” But my reaction? Absolute relief. And why? I couldn’t blame myself anymore! I had no concrete reason to be frustrated with myself. All that shame about my difficulties was entirely unwarranted. There was, and is, a legitimate reason why I struggle.
Also, I had a name for the problem. What does a name grant you? Excellent benefits like treatment programs, access to people with similar issues, tried and true coping mechanisms, a way to communicate, and a label for daily struggles. “I am scared to leave my house” was merely a manifestation of an anxiety disorder. Another piece of my monster.
Therapy after the diagnosis was very helpful as well. My therapists have used a combination of approaches to get me functioning again.
What Has Worked Best for Me
- Mindfulness: Becoming aware of my fear, labeling it as fear, realizing it is separate from me, leaning into the feeling and understanding I can survive through it
- Cognitive behavioral therapy: Recognizing negative thoughts, mentally catching and correcting assumptions, setting short-term goals and planning how to cope through stressful situations
- Reframing: Reviewing past trauma and putting it in context, validating past difficulties and hurts and understanding how past occurrences affect current feelings and behavior
I am nearly thirty now, a self-proclaimed therapy veteran, and life is so much better. Even though I sometimes have terrible days where it’s difficult to remember why I choose to fight, most days are actually good. I work, I have close relationships, and I create. Through what I have learned in therapy, I have managed to invent my own purpose for being here. I now have a life I actually want to live.