I go to a therapist.
Once a week, I take an elevator up to my therapist’s office, and sit on her sofa, and tell her about my week, what is going on in my life, what I am pondering, what is upsetting me, what is making me happy, really all kinds of things. Sometimes the things we talk about are very serous. Sometimes they are not. Sometimes I cry, but most of the time, I laugh a lot, too.
In the past few weeks, I’ve seen or heard several of my friends talk about therapy. They have been wondering if they might benefit from therapy, or they’ve been feeling unhappy and don’t know what to do about it. Some of them have been scared to tell people they would like to try going to a therapist. Some of them tried going to a therapist once and didn’t have a positive experience. So I thought I would write about my experience with it, because I think that talking about these things, and knowing that people you know do them and do have positive experiences with it, can help a lot in trying to figure out whether it’s the right thing for you to do.
How did I start going to therapy?
I was sent to therapy as a child. It was a pretty bizarre experience and something that my elementary school strongly recommended, but my mother pulled me out of it because she didn’t like what was going on there. I can tell lots of stories about my childhood therapy experience, but that’s really a different post.
Anyway, when I was about 25 years old, I started experiencing some pretty bizarre things. I had always struggled with my emotions in ways that people might called depression or anxiety or other things, but I’d never been diagnosed with anything. Then, right after I turned 25, a few things started happening.
–I had difficulty eating and lost my appetite. My appetite became very small. I was always the kind of person who forgot to eat, but suddenly, eating outright repulsed me. When I did eat, I often vomited immediately after. This frightened me a lot, because I come from a family with a history of eating disorders. I didn’t think I had an eating disorder, because I didn’t look in the mirror and hate my body, but it worried me a lot. I dropped a lot of weight, almost fifty pounds.
–I became very emotionally closed off. I had a hard time having conversations with people about things. I would start feeling symptoms of nausea and apprehension when I had to have serious discussions.
–I started getting unreasonably upset about small things. The biggest way this manifested was as a sort of paranoia, where I was convinced that people were angry at me, didn’t like me, or were repulsed by me. I would get uncomfortable if I was on the subway and a person moved away from me. If a friend was too busy to do something, I would become convinced they hated me.
–I became discontent with my job. I had a great job, but I was having difficulty focusing and doing my work.
–A couple not-so-great things happened. The worst one was that someone I had looked up to for a long time and had become relatively close with on the internet did something pretty horrible and hurtful to me and a group of my friends. I was having difficulty finding support or help to address it and didn’t know what to do.
Anyway, I had a bit of an emotional meltdown, and finally, my mother found me a psychiatrist (the kind of doctor who can prescribe medication). He diagnosed me with depression and gave me a medication to take.
The first medication didn’t seem to do anything but make me vomit more, so he changed me to another medication.
That medication actually made me hallucinate and exacerbated the paranoid feelings I had been having. The doctor lowered my dose, but that didn’t seem to help. After a few weeks of hallucinations and emotionally (not physically) violent freakouts, he changed my medication again.
The third medication seemed to be better. It kept me from feeling as paranoid but didn’t really do anything about the other, more physical symptoms.
I went away for Thanksgiving and completely forgot to bring my medication with me. When I came home, I stopped taking it, and not only stopped taking it, but stopped going to the psychiatrist. I had been somewhat disappointed in the experience– I had thought that the doctor would talk to me more, but he really just listened to me list symptoms and prescribed medication.
About six months later, I had moved to Boston, and I was still having trouble with the same types of symptoms. I had always felt a little more “depressed” around February and March, and it was definitely that time of year. So I found a clinical psychologist who was more focused on talk therapy and started going to him once a week. Within a few minutes of talking to him, he said that he felt a depression diagnosis had been wrong, and I was pretty certainly suffering from an anxiety disorder. That experience in general was definitely better than the psychiatrist I’d gone to, but there were still problems– the doctor was an older man and would sometimes doze off while I was talking to him. He also would get our schedule confused and sometimes would fall asleep in his office between patients and not wake up when I knocked. I finally got frustrated with his lack of reliability, especially since I felt like he became even less reliable after I decided from a budgetary perspective that I needed to cut back on visits, and stopped going.
I moved back to New York about two years after I moved to Boston, with a stopover in Richmond, VA, of several months. I was living in Westchester with my parents. We had some family difficulties at the time and they were definitely getting to me. It was a pretty rough time, so I ended up seeing another clinical psychologist.
I really liked that doctor. He was around my parents’ age and much more about two-way communication, and giving me “homework” assignments, things to think about and do during the week, and that was definitely the kind of therapy relationship I thrived in. I really liked going there. But due to the circumstances at the time, it became difficult for me to go regularly, and I eventually moved back to Manhattan.
That was about six years ago, and in the meantime, I developed a lot of strategies for overcoming my anxiety. It also lessened a lot as I found myself new situations and experiences. But about a year and a half ago, I was starting to feel symptoms that seemed similar to the ones I had had several years before, and I was concerned about my mental health.
This time, I started going to a psychologist who is a woman closer to my age. I had mixed feelings about that at first because I felt like I wasn’t sure I wanted a doctor whom I would see as more of a peer. But I’ve been very pleased with that relationship and have continued going to her ever since. I go exclusively for talk therapy, which is more comfortable for me because of my bad experiences with drugs in the past.
Do you feel better now?
Yes, much! Thank you for asking!
If you’re better, why are you still going to therapy?
So, I have asthma. Sometimes I don’t have an asthma attack for many months. There have been times that I’ve gone over a year without an asthma attack. But other times, I have chronic wheezing that does not abate for many months.
If I have an asthma attack after months of not having one at all, which would be wiser: continuing to keep my rescue inhaler prescription up to date so that I have one when I need it, or not having one and having to go get a checkup with my doctor and get a new prescription? Best case scenario, it’ll take a few hours to get a prescription refilled, which isn’t usually the end of the world, but could be pretty bad. And having the rescue inhaler for the times when I get a little wheeze that isn’t a full-blown asthma attack might actually be helping me go longer between full-blown attacks.
So I feel the same way about therapy. I could stop going to therapy and only go when I feel truly awful, but going to therapy every week means that when I feel awful on Thursday, I know that I’ll get to talk to someone about it on Monday. And that probably keeps me from getting as deeply unhappy when I feel unhappy as I would if I wasn’t sure when I would get a therapist’s appointment, and had to go to the trouble of finding a therapist and scheduling one every time I was starting to feel bummed out.
You talk about how you prefer talk therapy to drugs. Do you think that’s best for everyone?
Of course not. I don’t think talk therapy is right for everyone, but it is definitely right for some people. I don’t think drugs are right for me, but they are right for some people. As with my asthma comparison, some people take maintenance steroids for asthma all the time. Those are right for some people, but not all people. Some people use natural medicines to control their asthma. Those are right for some people, but not all people.
Different people’s depression, anxiety, and other brain sicknesses are caused by different things, and therefore require different kinds of treatment. I’m not a doctor and don’t purport to know what’s best for everyone– just what’s best for me. Heck, my experience alone shows that the wrong therapist can be wrong, even when therapy is right for you, and the wrong drugs can be wrong, even if there’s a drug that is right for you.
If you feel like you might be suffering from a clinical, severe, or prolonged depression or anxiety (or something similar), I would recommend going to a doctor about it. But don’t be shy about determining that you don’t like a doctor or think a different type of treatment might work better. It might take a few tries. In fact, it will almost definitely take a few tries. Don’t be discouraged, and keep trying to find a doctor who works. It can be REALLY discouraging, when you’re feeling depressed, to feel like all the doctors you see are wrong for you, and of course, depression as a disease can convince you that nothing will help, which makes it much easier to give up looking. But if you think it’s something you might benefit from, don’t give up. When you go to a therapist you don’t feel comfortable with, try to articulate on paper for yourself what you didn’t like, so that as you continue your search, you can narrow things down more easily and better describe what you would like.
What happens in therapy?
Different therapists are different, and many therapist will tailor what goes on in therapy to what you WANT to go on there. In my therapy sessions, I talk first about the things I’ve done over the course of the past week, and how those things have made me feel. I make a point of listing any achievements in terms of personal self-improvement or things that I normally have trouble with on the social anxiety front.
Then I usually talk about anything I’ve been thinking about, whether it’s a bad thing or a good thing. Sometimes it’s the things that I’ve been unhappy about, sometimes it’s realizations about why I think the way I do about things, sometimes it’s themes I’ve seen cropping up in my life, sometimes it’s my hopes and dreams. It really varies.
My therapist offers some commentary and sometimes asks some questions, but really only when I am having trouble expressing something or am losing direction in my train of thought. She offers a supportive ear in a non-judgmental and objective way. Even when I’m really unhappy, my therapy sessions usually make me feel better.
I’m worried about overcoming the stigma of going to a therapist. What do I do about that?
My answer is a very reassuring pfft! There is stigma about going to therapy. It can be a problem in certain careers. But that’s part of why I decided to write this post. The best way in my mind to overcome stigma against something that you know SHOULDN’T be stigmatized is to normalize it.
I tell everyone that I go to therapy. I mean, I don’t drag it up in conversations where it doesn’t belong, but when I’m making plans with friends, I tell them outright that I have therapy on Monday nights, so I can’t socialize that night until after eight. I tell people about things that I thought about in therapy, or ways discussions in therapy helped me with a problem when it comes up in a discussion. I just talk about it like it’s as normal as going to work or going to my Monday night bar night (which is incidentally right after therapy).
If people see that you are not ashamed to go to therapy and that you think of it as a positive, normal experience, they will be less likely to think negatively about you going– or at very least, less likely to make negative comments to you about it. It can be embarrassing to talk about at first but remember that it is normal! We humans have a tendency to act like our problems make us weird or freakish. But most people have some kind of problem, and more often than not, when we talk about our problems like they’re normal, we find out how very normal they are.
I have another question about therapy that you haven’t answered here
I hope this helps! Please feel free to pass it on to anyone who might find it useful.
Mirrored from Antagonia.net.