Today is World Mental Health day – a day that is dear to my heart for raising awareness about mental health and the struggles millions of us face around the world each day.
Ever since middle school, I struggled on and off with depression and anxiety. The weird thing is, I never felt comfortable talking about those struggles with people. I can be an open book about any other struggle or insecurity I have, but I hid my depression and general anxiety as if it was something to be ashamed of.
I found a lot of healing in yoga, self-help books, and creative outlets such as writing, but I don’t think I ever felt as secure with myself or as at peace with my life as I do now, after going to therapy for half a year.
My view of therapists when I was younger consisted of some stranger sitting in a chair, doodling in his or her notebook, or staring at the clock. Then I majored in psychology, and I realized how much dedication, compassion, patience, and heart goes into becoming a therapist. With my newfound respect for the entire practice, I hoped that happiness and contentment didn’t have to feel so fleeting. Maybe it was something I could find within myself.
So I started going to therapy in April, and holy shit my therapist has changed. my. life. She’s amazing. Not only has she helped me see myself in a new way, she has helped me re-frame the way I view my life and loved ones. Now, she isn’t some magician- I didn’t just walk into her office a depressed caterpillar and come out a happy butterfly- it takes a lot of effort to change your thought patterns and learned behaviors. But if you’re ready to invest the time and energy into your well-being, you will eventually walk out of your therapy sessions a happier, more secure person who feels capable and able.
I’m open about going to therapy because it changed my life in such a profound, yet subtle way, and I think if more people opened up about their struggles, more people would feel OK about getting help. In fact, I remember there was one day I was feeling extremely depressed, unable to get off my couch, and I scrolled through my Instagram, trying to distract myself from my thoughts. Filtered pictures of beautiful people living their beautiful lives flooded my feed, but a former co-worker’s picture and caption was all about her own struggles with depression and anxiety. In that moment, I felt so much less alone and hopeless (@boldlybipolar is her instagram). I made my first therapy appointment a week later.
So I’m going to be as open with my struggles as I feel like, because it’s not something anyone should feel ashamed about – mental illness is something millions of people struggle with every day and if you’re struggling, you should be excited to get help, not afraid. Life is too short to NOT invest in yourself and reach your full potential as a human being. So here are 5 important lessons I’ve learned from going to therapy:
- Everything is subjective to your perspective – I went into therapy with the exact same life I’m currently living, but the way I now view my life, and consequently the way I feel about it, is different. If you’re not happy about a situation, try changing the way you perceive it and/or handle it. (Way easier said than done, but my therapist is really good with helping me do this =)
- You are in control of how you handle your life – There are so many things in life we can’t control; we don’t choose our families, where we’re born, or what genes we’re born with (among many, many other things), but we are in charge of how we choose to react to our circumstances. When you’re suffering from depression or a panic attack, it feels like you’re not in control of your mind. When I experienced anxiety attacks, I’d tell my boyfriend it felt like someone hijacked my brain and I couldn’t find myself. Going to therapy empowers you because it makes you realize what you can control.
- An objective point of view is essential to healing – No matter how amazing your support system is, nothing compares to opening up to a person who went to 6+ years of schooling in order to learn how to help people they know nothing about. The human mind is incredibly complex, and no matter how soothing or wise a loved one’s words may seem, sometimes you need someone objective to challenge or validate you in order to help you truly heal.
- There is a purpose to feeling pain – Whether your pain has made you more empathetic, grateful, or perhaps has taught you a valuable lesson, don’t experience pain in vain. Find the purpose of your situation, and if you can’t find meaning, create meaning. At the end of the day, I’m proud of who I am. But I am who I am because of all the shit I’ve felt and experienced, not in spite of it. And because I’ve experienced the lowest of lows, I am so freaking grateful for the simple highs – the laughter of my niece, the beauty of a flower, the peace of a sunset… okay, it’s getting corny – but it’s true!
- People still love the hell out of you when they see your flaws – I often call my boyfriend my greatest blessing because he not only has been my greatest source of love and happiness, but because he has taught me how to truly love myself and others. My depression and anxiety made me feel vulnerable on a daily basis – so vulnerable, that it made me hyper-aware of my insecurities and flaws, and too scared to ever want to show them. When you spend 7 years getting to know someone, however, there’s only so long that you can hide your vulnerability. Opening up to him was the one of the best things I could have done for myself, because when I realized someone else could still love me even with my flaws, I realized it couldn’t be that hard to love myself. So I started becoming more open and transparent with people, and when I realized that it only strengthened my relationships with others, I realized there was no point in pretending to have a happy, perfect life. Life is too short to put on a mask every day and pretend to be anything but who you actually are. We all have flaws. You find people who love your flaws only when you’re ready to accept and reveal them, and in turn you learn how to love yourself.
I still get upset at things. My mind can still wander to dark places. But for perhaps the first time in my life, I feel at peace inside. It used to feel like sadness was my default setting and I would get bouts of happiness – therapy has taught me how to make peace my default setting, so I know how to deal with the fits of sadness. So if you’re struggling, please don’t hesitate to get help. The best investment you can make in life is in yourself.
F R E E Y O U R S E L F.