Why I now celebrate going to therapy instead of hiding that I need it
Sometimes I’m still a little nervous to say that I see a therapist.
When I was in college, I often felt too depressed to even get out of bed. I visited a few different counselors-in-training at my campus’s student health center, but I failed miserably to connect with any counselor in the way I craved. I gave up the hope of ever finding a therapist who could possibly understand my feelings of isolation and sadness.
Then, in 2010, I was fresh out of college and more than a little lost. I was teaching in an after-school program at an elementary school where I spent my days in a chilly cinder block office at the back of the cafeteria. I felt depressed during work hours, and when I’d leave for the day, I’d hold my car keys in a death grip and frantically lock my car doors as soon as they shut behind me. I thought to myself, maybe I have anxiety.
During one of those anxious evenings in my car after work, it was as if my body went into auto pilot, doing what it needed to do to save my life before I could even understand what was happening. I suddenly opened up a browser window on my phone, typed in PsychologyToday.com, and did a quick search using their “Find a Therapist” function. It led me to the profile of a kind looking woman with an office a couple of towns over. She used words like “body-centered” and “high sensitivity” and “intuitive.” She was certified in yoga and specialized in depression and anxiety. But honestly, I don’t even remember reading any of that before my gut just kicked in; I made an appointment.
And, gosh, was it a heaven-sent match. I’d soon learn that my intuition was right; I’d been struggling with anxiety and depression for the past ten years, since the age of twelve.
Two years ago, I was reminded of just how important a role my therapist has in my life.
I had landed in Vietnam, where I’d decided to move for a year to teach English. I knew nobody in that country, had no knowledge of the Vietnamese language, and had never been anywhere in Asia. When my plane landed, a man holding a sign with my name whisked me into his car as he expertly wove us through the massive crowds of motorbikes, magically avoiding collisions before he dropped me off in front of my hotel in a tiny back alley of Hanoi.
Despite Vietnam’s lush green rice terraces, mouthwatering dishes, and stunning beaches, I spent my first week in that hotel crying, making desperate phone calls to loved ones back home, eating granola bars dipped in peanut butter, and staying in my room to watch Asia’s Next Top Model. Through the open windows I could hear motorbikes honking, roosters crowing, and beautiful Vietnamese music playing over loudspeakers, but it was days before I could even step outside of my room. I’d moved to the other side of the world all alone, and I was consumed by a paralyzing anxiety I’d never experienced before.
One night, I was supposed to meet up at a club with a friend of a friend who happened to be passing through Hanoi. When she didn’t show, I trudged back to my hotel room, only to collapse into a puddle of tears in the elevator. I got to my room, fell into a heap on my bed, and emailed my therapist—it was the morning back home on the East Coast:
"I’m struggling. I can’t stay here for a year. What was I thinking? This is so hard. Can we talk ASAP?"
The very next night, I was on an emergency Skype call to her cell phone that I paid for with my credit card. I let myself cry, and by the end of the session, spending a year in Vietnam didn’t feel so impossible anymore. Thank goodness I had a therapist.
I’ve been in therapy for eight years now. I am so incredibly grateful for finding therapy when I did. Not only have I Skyped my therapist from the other side of the world, I’ve emailed her in the middle of the night and I’ve seen her twice in one week. I’ve quit jobs, adopted a puppy, moved away, and cried about my childhood. She has always been there for all of it, and I’m honestly not sure where I’d be without her.
There’s almost no price I wouldn’t pay for her expertise, understanding, and unwavering support (I’ve had the credit card debt to prove it). I’ve convinced more than one person to find therapists of their own after sharing my own experience in therapy. I’m pretty certain that every single person in this world would benefit from the support of a kind, knowledgeable, steadfast therapist, if they were open to it.
Our world isn’t getting any slower or easier or more peaceful. Societal pressures build, our political reality becomes more unstable, personal obligations grow, and, as a millennial woman, I see absurd expectations get higher and higher: We should develop an influential social media presence, create a side hustle with the ambitious entrepreneurial spirit we’re all supposed to have, make enough money to live on our own, stay healthy, and travel the world, and have bodies that rival those of Photoshopped Instagram models.
And still, therapy is stigmatized. People in therapy might be seen as weak or “mentally unstable.” Even with my love for seeking help, I still sometimes find myself telling people that I just have a vague “appointment” or a call with a “friend from home.”
Then I think back to that lonely hotel room on the other side of the globe, where I was taking half pills of Xanax, having a complete breakdown, and crying to my therapist over a laptop screen. And my goodness, will I be a courageous proponent of therapy and mental health care access for as long as I live.
Being in therapy does not make you less than. In fact, it makes you wildly brave. Life isn’t getting any easier, so let’s be in this together. Support people who need and want therapy.