A couple months ago I wrote an article “Fuck Mental Illness And Stop Acting Like It's Something That Shouldn't Be Talked About." Around this time I had been struggling immensely with anxiety and dysthymia (persistent mild depression) — after three years of being on antidepressants, I decided to go off. Needless to say, it wasn't the best idea, but it did lead me to seek counseling, particularly, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, more commonly known as CBT.
After yet another fight with my boyfriend over some trivial issue due to my irritability and a tearful apology from me, bawling over my incompetence of how to solve the issue at hand, he suggested I see a therapist.
I had been in and out of talk therapy for two years when I decided it was not worth my while. My time talking to my therapist back in Colorado was helpful, but for a very specific reason (a story for another time). I realized perhaps my point of view and my therapists did not align quite as well as it should have.
Flash forward a year from that moment and my sorority has "suggested" I see a therapist due to some ~extenuating~ circumstances. Was there a giant penis spray painted on a frat house? Apparently. Was it me? No one will ever know.
While being forced to see a therapist is really conducive to mental health and all, I went once and never went again — first, because I wasn't about to spend 250 dollars a week for the satisfaction of others and second, because my therapist decided to leave the country. Bye Martha.
Anyways, my experience with therapy has been….exhaustive. Does it help? Yes, to some extent. Could everyone benefit from it? I don't think it can hurt. Is every therapy the same? No, and you have to find the one that works best for you.
Back to the discussion with my boyfriend: “Izzy, have you considered seeing a therapist?" Needless to say, this was not met by me with open arms and an angelic grin (claws and my signature “don't-fuck-with-me" face sound more like it).
Regardless, I took his suggestion and, three months later, am really grateful he made the recommendation.
I got off my depressed ass and made myself an appointment with a psychologist at UCLA, who re-diagnosed me with generalized anxiety disorder and dysthymia and gave me the name of a cognitive behavioral therapist in Beverly Hills.
The next week I was driving down Santa Monica Boulevard, ready to drop some cash, and have my brain rehabilitated (not really, please don't be upset with me for saying this).
You may ask: "What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?" Well! Let me tell you:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, unlike classic talk-therapy, is intended to be short term. Length of time varies for each patient and from therapist to therapist. Overall, CBT is designed to teach patients how to recognize, manage and hopefully rewire any dysfunctional emotions or thoughts. It gives you the tools to feel better. If you want to learn more about it, I highly recommend this article.
It's really simple actually and exceptionally helpful. I attended five sessions (yes, five) before my therapist and I discussed the possibility that we may be ready to part ways. Truthfully, I was ready for it.
A typical discussion in CBT goes like this:
- Izzy, give me an instance in recent weeks which gave you anxiety.
- I was sitting in class, realized I hate school and then started to panic over the fact that I probably won't be able to find a career path I like if I can't find a major or classes I enjoy.
- How did this make you feel?
- Nauseous, anxious, on edge.
- How did you react?
- I had to leave the classroom to go dry heave into a toilet and cry about my hopeless future.
- What kind of thinking style are you using?
- I was jumping to conclusions and over-catastrophizing.
- Okay, so what may have been more conducive to the situation?
- I should have taken a deep breath, recognized I was jumping to conclusions and over-catastrophizing, and reminded myself that what I was thinking was not the truth. One boring class does NOT mean I will have an unsuccessful future.
Bingo. A simple discussion which culminates in the patient (myself) being able to recognize 1) where their anxiety stems from and 2) identify that the patient has the power to control how they react and think.
Granted, I'm making it sound easy: therapy and mental illnesses are far more complex. Regardless, CBT is one of the most effective forms of treatment I've found in my four year battle with mental illness.
Mental illness and how you treat it are NOT topics you need to be ashamed or silent about. There is no reason you should ever feel nervous and prevented from speaking out about your emotions or mental illness in general.
Tell someone if you want to. Seek help if you need it. Keep your head up because life has so much to offer if you open yourself to the possibilities.