“What will I talk about? Will I seriously have to lie on a couch? Will she ask me pointed questions or am I expected to talk the whole time – unprompted?! Is this just a paycheck to her or is she actually going to listen to me and care about this situation? More importantly, how LONG is this whole process going to take because I don’t have time for this. ”
These concerns played on repeat in my brain for weeks before I committed to going to therapy.
It’s a scary word, right? Having to sit in front of a complete stranger for a full hour and bare your soul to them does NOT sound like a good time. Oh wait – AND you have to pay them? Forget it. Especially if you don’t even know what to talk about.
I have several friends in my life right now who are considering trying it out for the first time, so I thought I’d share a journal entry I wrote on the topic a little over year ago.
June 27, 2015
I’ve been in therapy for the past year. Can’t believe how time has flown by. After this experience, I can honestly say that I think everyone should do it – “crazy” or “normal”. And let’s be real, it’s the normal ones you have to watch out for anyway. 😉
The past year has been split into two 6-month segments. The first segment was with Shalom and the second segment with Mercy.
***Please note, these names have been changed to to indulge my love of metaphors. : P
Shalom was tough stuff – the kind of person who will DEFINITELY tell you exactly what she thinks if you ask her. If you don’t reallyyyy wanna know if the dress makes you look fat, don’t ask her. She was the tough love I needed to fight through the layers and layers of thick dismal clouds, swirling overhead to confuse my perspective on life. Unfortunately, her time at the clinic came to a close in December and so it was goodbye Shalom and onto Mercy.
This was a tough transition. While Shalom was a sort of hawk, scouring the skyline of my mental health for potential predators and then diving right in to tackle them, Mercy was a timid mouse – she knew she was filling someone else’s shoes and had a disadvantage from the get go. I was skeptical about Mercy at first. She was not tough stuff and I was certain I needed it. The most annoying thing about the transition was that I would have to tell her my story ALL over again where as Shalom already knew it.
However, I still managed to learn a lot – and very different things from both therapists.
Things I learned in my time with Shalom:
- A therapist is not a genie. She doesn’t show up and POOF! Your anxiety evaporates. POOF! Your relationships are healed. POOF! Your past is erased. A therapist is there to provide a safe space for you to talk about life. They are the protector of that safe space.
- Life is not a movie. As much as I love to relate snippets of my life to iconic moments on the silver screen (*see the Aladdin reference above) and wonder if I really am on the Truman Show, my life is not a movie. I repeat: MY LIFE IS NOT A MOVIE. It is millions and billions of moments strung together and separated into an eclectic myriad of memories. It is living and breathing – it is perceptive and feeling. There are moments of elation and moments of pure nothingness. My life is not a movie, because my life continues on. Because I love metaphors, I have always seen movies as mini-lives. There is, of course, a beginning, a middle and an end to both movies and, of course, the physical life. Movies help us see life on a scale we can digest, sitting in the viewers’ seat and watching events and sometimes entire lives all shrunk into an hour and a half. (okay three if you’re Peter Jackson). Since moving out to LA this idea has escalated in magnitude in my mind. So the first time Shalom told me this, I was resistant. However, I’ve finally come around to the idea and it’s a pretty powerful realization.
- It’s impossible to be 100% present 100% of the time. So give yourself a freaking break. It’s impossible to absorb every minute of every second of life. Our brains literally cannot absorb it all. I had convinced myself I couldn’t be a writer because I couldn’t remember some things as well as others, etc. Who cares? Even writers have faulty memories sometimes. NO writer is perfect. Have I learned nothing from the greats? A bunch of screw ups, drunks, manic depressives, etc. None of them were fully present in every moment of their lives. If they were, we wouldn’t have their incredible stories. Some writers are spacey – they need that space to create their stories. Some writers are forgetful. It doesn’t mean that you can’t write if you are forgetful. If so, Shondaland and Thursday nights wouldn’t exist. Shonda Rhimes herself even says so. When it comes to being a writer, perfection doesn’t exist. It’s only about pushing on.
- I have a right to my own thoughts. I have been a people pleaser for a very long time. I smile politely at others and listen to their stories, silently praying that they won’t ask me about my own. I’m shy and a lot of that shyness is a result of a lack of self confidence. This realization is two fold…(see #5 below)
- There is a so-called“space” that is rightfully mine. Perhaps it’s something to do with my personality type, but I’m constantly giving up the “space” that is mine to others more outgoing, extroverted or seemingly more confident than myself. For so long I believed I should shrink into the background – that others have better things to say. This past year has been a year of venturing into the “space” that is rightfully mine and learning how to fill and keep it. This only comes by getting to know, being comfortable with and finally completely owning exactly who God made me.
- I do not like to repeat myself. Stupid as it is, this has caused some disruptions in my life. I learned this isn’t entirely healthy and is a selfish attitude because others don’t always know what’s going on in my head I should be gracious in re-explaining things. Just because someone didn’t hear me the first time does not mean they do not care enough to listen to what I have to say. The fact that they’re asking me to repeat it means they care. Either way…I didn’t know this about myself before therapy.
- I say “sorry” a LOT. Why is is it that so many women struggle with this? I don’t know any men who struggle with it nearly as much, but I do know a lot of women that say these two words all too often. For me, this is a crutch I refuse to lean on any longer. The enemy loves guilt and that guilt does not come from God. There are certain things that call for an apology… if I eat my roommate’s ice cream without asking for instance (totally guilty) an apology would probably help (Sorry, Hannah). My intense love for Neville Longbottom? I refuse to apologize. To anyone. Ever.
- There’s always a better word than “should”- the “shoulds” of the world will weigh you down until you literally can not move.
Things I learned in my time with Mercy:
- There is no easy one-answer solution to life. A therapist is not there to give you a list you can recite to make things go away. A therapist is there to walk alongside with you and examine hurtful memories and lies you’ve accepted as truth in your life. In reflecting with you on certain things, those lies begin to unravel and lose their footing which is a marvelous marvelous miracle. The more closesly you examine theses lies with someone else, the weaker they become until you are no longer burdened by the intense weight of their deception.
- Therapy is a long process and there are some habits and ways of thinking about yourself that will take years to undo. Sometimes you’ve been thinking apples are blue for 25 years, while they’re actually purple… or you know green or whatever. So you must allow yourself a grace period to unlearn the bad things you’ve come to accept as truth about yourself and about the world. This will take time to reverse so be gentle as you learn to rely on the actual truth as a default in your thinking.
- The opinions of others are only valid if you decide they are valid. Sometimes people say some REALLY dumb shit. Some super hurtful things and they don’t even realize the effect their words can have on others. This is when I have to consider the source and distance myself from their words. I must ask myself: “1. does this person truly know me? 2.Is their point valid? 3. What is their motivation behind what they’re saying? 4. Do I actually value their opinion on this matter in my life or am I blindly accepting their words as truth?”
So I guess Mercy wasn’t so bad after all.
I’ve been out of therapy for over a year now, and can I tell you something? I want to go back.
I honestly believe it’s beneficial for everyone, whether they think they need it or not. What an incredible way to press pause on the crazy chaos of life and come face to face with our darkest fears. To name them, call them out and see how small they actually are when brought into the light.
It’s helpful for me to reflect on the truths I learned in my time with Shalom and Mercy and realize that these are still things I struggle with a year out. I find myself in a pattern of easily believing the same lies I used to. But the main difference now is that I’m able to recognize them. I know what triggers the spiral into anxiety or depression. I’m able to separate myself from the lies and invite God in to heal those places in my heart and my mind – the places the enemy has invaded and told me I am worthless.
I’ll be forever grateful to Shalom and Mercy and forever a believer in the goodness of therapy.
If you’ve been considering it for a while now, maybe this is what you needed to take the plunge. Don’t complicate it- it’s just therapy.