I am a big fan of being entirely open- something that may not always be a good thing. I feel personally sorry for the strangers I meet that really were not in the mood to talk to some random girl or the people in my classes that didn't want to hear about the drama in my life every class time. However, when it comes to taboo topics, I am more reserved when sharing. I don't want people to see me for less than ideal experiences or see me differently by any means. I want to talk about the things no one else does. I want to establish a sense of normalcy on completely average things everyone is too scared to share. I think it's important for people to feel like they aren't the only ones- that it isn't just them.
I want to talk about my experience with mental health care. It can be covered by different names: psychological therapy, counseling, seeing a shrink, cognitive behavioral therapy, etc. I want to talk about what to expect if you're considering it, my tips for getting the most out of it, and overall what it's like and how it helps. My goal here isn't to throw a pity party because it's not a sad thing at all. When you aren't feeling well physically, you go to the doctor to feel better. I'm doing the same thing just with a slightly different context. It's just me wanting to improve my mental health. I want to take that pressure off of my friends and family and work to better myself so that my life can be better and I can be better at life. I want to make changes to make things better for those around me because it's not fair that they should have to deal with extreme emotions or dramatic attitudes or the effects of my anxiety. I am also in no way saying I am an expert or my experience is the end all be all- I just want to share what I have learned to help others who may benefit from it.
First things first. If you are considering it, what should you expect? Expect to be uncomfortable at first. It's hard to open up to people you know- much less ones you don't. Expect to sit down across from whoever you are seeing and start to give them the rundown. This can be the beginning of life until the present update that gives them a broad idea of who you are and what you're feeling or it can be a more specific story about why brought you there. Was there a specific situation? Was there a general realization? Think about these questions beforehand so you can prepare yourself to answer them when you walk in and be more comfortable sharing.
Decide what you want. Do you want someone to listen and give occasional insight? Do you want someone to analyze what you're feeling to help you better understand it? Do you want someone to give you coping strategizes to better address what you're feeling when it happens? I think it's important to think about what you want to want and be able to tell your therapist what you want so that they can best serve you.
If you are beginning therapy, get a journal or even the notes app on your phone. I have found that in my experience, I typically get the most worked up late at night but have my appointments in the middle of the afternoon. During my appointments, I forget what was bothering me so much or I feel silly about it afterward. If you have a breakdown, an anxiety attack, get anxious, get upset, have a fight, etc., write down what the problem is. There is typically more clarity when it's happening then and there right in front of you than when you are thinking about it a week later in your session. For example. If you are freaking out because you feel helpless like something i.e a pandemic (maybe I don't know) is out of your control and there's nothing you can do about it, write that down. Then, when you're in therapy, you can bring up how you feel out of control and want some grounding techniques or to talk through things that can remind you that there are things you can control. This helps you to get the most out of your time with your therapist. I also recommend keeping track of progress. Write a word, a sentence, a couple pages after each therapy session focusing on what you learned. I find that in my own experience, I can lose sight of what I have accomplished and learned and feel like when things go wrong, I'm back at square one. I feel defeated. However, in reality, it's the opposite. I have accomplished so much and worked through so many hard things and can do it again but with an entirely new skill-set, I've developed myself. For example, you could write, "When I feel out of control, focus on the things I can: how I treat others, how I react, how I make it better, what I choose to do with my time, etc." This doesn't have to be a huge thing but can help to show a future stressed-out version of yourself, that you've come a long way and are far from where you started. Progress is not always linear but is progress none the less.
I want to share some of my experiences because I want people to understand that you don't have to be chronically mentally ill to go to therapy, you don't have to have a tragic thing happen to you, you don't have to know all the answers, and you definitely don't have to feel judged for any of it. When I first began, I was sad over high school drama. I didn't know how to cope. I had bursts of anger and frustration or sadness that I didn't know how to comprehend or handle. I worked to develop physical things that could help me to ground myself and handle what was happening mentally. I talked through what was going on and worked to make sense of it because what was happening wasn't unique and wasn't without some reason. When I went back, I was focused on myself. I wasn't handling things well. I felt withdrawn. I felt like my experiences were my own. I felt crazy. I felt like no one else was dealing with the emotions I was, and I struggled to cope with that. I wanted to be brought down to earth. I wanted a fresh perspective to see things for what they were candidly and not just how I viewed them from my point of view. I had to step back and see what was happening in order to fix how it was affecting me and how I managed that impact. The next time I went back, I wanted to go deeper. I wanted to understand why I was feeling the way I was and what developed these thoughts and behaviors. I wanted to learn what patterns caused the way I was feeling and what that meant for me going forward. I went again. I discussed topical issues. I realized there was a negative pattern of what was happening and how I handled it and responded to it and felt about it. I worked on individual issues that were big at the time to work to create a new pattern. I took a problem that I was struggling with. I worked to understand what it meant, why I was feeling the way I was about it, how it appears from an outside perspective, and how I should move forward with my thinking or my actions. This helped to create better patterns to instill to result in better outcomes.
I don't think therapy has to be an all-day everyday thing. It's like going to the doctor. You go when you want to get better, follow a treatment regime, and have follow up visits until you feel better. This timeline looks different for everyone. Some do well with just going when there's an issue. Some go for a routine check-up every so often whether that's once a week or once a month or whatever best suits their needs. Some need medication others can do just fine with health management.
I think it's important to normalize this… because it is normal, because wanting to feel better is not a weakness, because there doesn't have to be something chronically wrong to want improvement, because I'm not the only one who feels the way I do or needs the things that have helped me. I want to open the conversation. I want to share my experience because it was helpful. I enjoyed it. It made me a better person and made me better at life, and there shouldn't be any social standards to prevent that because I am a big fan of being entirely open- even if it's not always a good thing.