Lessons I've learned from going to therapy

When I was younger, I knew that I was suffering from OCD. I knew that I should have been seeing a therapist, but I didn’t, because I was scared to ask for help. Sadly, I was scared that people would judge me and think that I was “crazy.”

As I got older, my OCD got better, but my anxiety got worse. It got to the point where my achievements would stress me out and cause me to think irrational thoughts. Panic attacks were something that I was experiencing regularly, and I was forgetting what happiness felt like.

One day, I heard someone say, “If you cannot get through the day without feeling hopeless, you need to ask for help.” I heard this a few weeks before I was told that I was the salutatorian of my class. After I received this “exciting news,” I broke down and cried for hours, because of all the pressure that I felt that came along with the title. That is when I stood up, called my mom, and said the three most powerful words that I have ever said: “I need help.”

A few months before my high school journey came to a close (and before I was destined to make a daunting speech at graduation), I started going to therapy, which I have been doing ever since. From my experience with this life-changing tool, I have learned a lot, and I would like to share my observations and experiences with you.

Your first therapist may not be your last.

My first therapist taught me a lot and she helped me ease into the next chapter of my life; but, ultimately, she was not the right therapist for me.

How did I know that she wasn’t the right therapist? I did not leave her office feeling even a teensy bit better than I did when I arrived. It’s as simple as that. After calling the health center at my college, they advised me that the best way to find a therapist would be to go here. I was terrified to reach out to another therapist and to start the process all over again, but I knew that I deserved better and that it would pave the way for a better way of living.

I did exactly what they said and met the most wonderful therapist, who I have been seeing ever since. Once you find the right therapist, you will just know, because you will realize that you deserve to feel better about yourself and that you deserve to be in control of your beautiful life.

Going to therapy can (and should) be just as normal as going to the doctor.

During my second session with my current therapist, we talked about how I was feeling ashamed to be taking medication for my anxiety and OCD. This is what my therapist said to me: “Anna, if you had diabetes, would you deny yourself insulin? No. It’s the same thing.”

My therapist’s response got me thinking, “Well, then therapy is just as normal and reasonable as going to the doctor for a check-up.”

Since our mental health is just as (if not more) important as our physical health, we have to start treating it that way. This means that we have to start paying attention to the thoughts that ail us. We have to start paying attention to our patterns and to what haunts us on a day-to-day basis. Such instances have to be treated as seriously as a broken bone or a scrape on our knee. In other words, our mental frustrations and scars have to be mended, too.

Self-love is actually a thing.

For some reason, before therapy, I never recognized “self-love” as something that one could actually take part in. I guess that I was so caught up in the seemingly negative aspects of my life that I had no room left for taking care of myself.

When it comes to loving yourself, this means that we have to see our flaws as complements to our strengths. We have to look at our flaws and say, “This makes me who I am, and isn’t that great?” We have to stop seeing things as good and bad, black and white. For instance, we have to stop seeing sadness as “bad” and happiness as “good.” When we are sad and we say to ourselves, “I’m sad. That means that today is a bad day. That means that nothing is going perfectly,” we are, essentially, making things worse.

On the contrary, we should be saying, “I’m sad, but that’s OK. All emotions are powerful and beautiful. My best friend hurt my feelings yesterday, so I am going to let my sadness run its course. This does not mean that I am going to be sad forever.”

Seeing everything as beautiful and important, especially when it comes to who we are, is the first step toward loving yourself.

There are more connections in your life than you think.

Growing up, my dad was physically present, but not emotionally or mentally so. It got to the point where it was better for me to pretend that my dad did not exist and that he had no effect on my life. Because of this, I buried my feelings and thoughts deep within myself.

As I’ve grown and evolved, a lot of toxic people have come into my life and have, subsequently, left my life in a detrimental manner. I’ve also had to deal with being a perpetual “people pleaser,” always feeling as if I am searching for everyone’s approval.

Recently, my therapist and I have started to discuss my relationship with my dad, which is hard for me. At first, I stubbornly insisted, “My dad has no effect on my life and on who I am as a person.” Then, my therapist started pointing out several connections between the toxic people in my life and my father. It got to the point where I knew that she was right.

We all have patterns in our lives. These patterns may have carried over from our childhood or even from our teenage years. Due to this, many of us still have a disappointed child or an angry teenager still living within us. This inner person from our past needs just as much attention as we do here and now, which is why it is important that we address our past selves and past situations. We must bring such feelings out of the darkness and into the light, which brings me to my next point. . .

The best way to heal is to be honest, to be open, and to bring our worries out into the sunlight.

The other day, my therapist said to me, “You do realize that your father has left you a legacy, right?” When I asked her to explain, she said, “You know that your father treats you the same way that his father treated him. You know that you are seeking his approval just as much as he is seeking his own father’s approval. So, how are you going to fix this?”

I spent a few minutes thinking about this question and responded, “I am going to talk about it. I am not going to be afraid of this legacy. I am going to do what my father, his father, and his father’s father never did: I am going to bring all of these issues out of the darkness and into the light, just like I’m doing with my OCD and anxiety.”

One of the questions that I always get about coping with a mental illness (or two) is, “Anna, how are you happy?”

My answer is always the same: “I am happy because I no longer feel the need to lie about my life. I am no longer afraid of what people will think of me. Overall, every day, when I talk or write about what I am going through, I feel my heart flutter. I am no longer controlled by my illnesses or by the memories of my past because they are out there in the world, instead of dimming the light within me.”

Every time I go to therapy, I leave with a smile on my face because I know that I am no longer being held prisoner in my own body. I know that I am not alone and that, most importantly, I would be just as willing to talk about what I talk about in therapy with anyone else—not because I am a devout over-sharer (okay, maybe just a little), but because nothing is ever going to get better if we don’t shed light on the fact that we are all human and we all have something that we are coping with.

When Anna Gragert isn’t trying to create a groundbreaking third-person bio for herself, she’s writing, taking photographs, blogging, catering to her little black cat, or putting the finishing touches on her Audrey Hepburn shrine. Some of her many writings and/or photographs have been featured with: HelloGiggles, Pea River Journal, RiverLit, You & Me Medical Magazine, The Horror Writers Association, Listicle, andThought Catalog. Follow Anna on Twitter to keep up with her adventures in all things creative. 

(Image via.)

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