Do you have a knee-jerk reaction to the idea of therapy? What are your preconceived notions of therapy? What’s your personal experience of therapy?
I’m guessing I first saw a therapist* when my parents split up, when I was about eight and was briefly taken in to Child Protective Services. I have no recollection of it, but I think even then that was pretty standard protocol.
I’ve seen a few different therapists as an adult, starting in college, and I’m currently in therapy now. The therapists I’ve seen have varied pretty significantly in their methods, their skill at employing said methods, and their usefulness to me. I sincerely appreciate my current therapist (and I’m not just saying that because she might read this sometime). I feel like I’ve been making valuable progress and I’m so glad I made the choice to go to therapy again.
For me, therapy is a safe place to talk to someone I trust about the stuff that I don’t talk about very often. It’s a designated time and space to vent, to face serious stuff, to talk about feels. When I share with my therapist the junk in my head, I don’t feel guilty for unburdening myself; that’s the point of being there. Therapy is a place to be honest, uncomfortably so sometimes, and a place where I can expect honesty in return. My therapist isn’t there to feed my ego or “make” me feel better, but to help me work through the stuff, to offer me perspective, to remind me to walk in the other person’s shoes from time to time, to share what insights she might have, to point out where I might be shortsighted, to offer tools and techniques to help manage my depression. It’s also a relationship where I feel comfortable saying, hey, feel free to prod me back to the real stuff, don’t just let me rant and rave endlessly. This is also really important — I respect my therapist’s intellect. That’s important because it means that I actually listen to her input.
So, here’s a few things that I really value, not necessarily news to me, but that have been especially useful these past several months.
1. Practice mindfulness.
When I’m feeling lost in Depression, when I feel swallowed up in the belly of the beast, when I’m overwhelmed by feels, I can choose to return to the present moment and be mindful of my surroundings, of my breathing, of my physical reaction, of what I’m hearing, of the details only of the present moment. I can meditate, pray, and just focus on the one moment.
2. It’s okay to live in the tension.
I don’t have to have all the answers to all the questions to be able to make it through life. It’s okay not to have all the answers. It’s okay to be unresolved. It’s a pretty natural thing.
3. Look for the innocuous.
Rather than reading the worst possible meaning or an antagonistic tone into an e-mail, particularly, try to take your emotions out of it and look for the least inflected meaning possible. Don’t assume that you know what someone else was feeling when they wrote it. Don’t assume that it’s personal. Don’t assume the author knew how you’d react. Instead, assume that it isn’t personal, it isn’t an attack, it isn’t emotional.
4. It’s not all my responsibility.
It’s okay not to be the first one to respond to an e-mail. It’s okay not to do all the overtime. It’s okay to say no. It’s okay to do less. Just because someone else isn’t doing their part doesn’t mean I have to add it to my own.
5. Breakthroughs are great, but slow progress is just as awesome.
I’ve still got issues to work through and hard work to do, but I’m making progress which is occasionally punctuated by an Aha! moment here and there. Each lesson learned or tool acquired goes in my emotional utility belt.
It’s worth the effort to fight Depression, to seek emotional well-being, to feel unstuck, to lighten the load, to contextualize the past. I’m worth the effort.
You’re worth the effort, too. So, for whatever it’s worth, if you’ve been contemplating therapy, I encourage you to take the next step and give it a shot. Have the patience to find a therapist that you’re comfortable with, that you trust, and that creates a safe space where you can be honest. Take heart. There’s hope. There’s progress in your future.
*If you think of SNL’s Jeopardy skit and “Sean Connery” misreading this as “the rapist” when you read it, trust me, I can relate. That’s one of my favorite SNL skits!