That seven letter word, if you asked me about it six months ago, seemed to have a lot of weight for me. Like many typical myths people have about it, I had some of mine too: it's for the weak, its ridiculously expensive, its superficial, and the list went on and on.
But then on that Thursday evening, I was sitting at the health centre, and was handed a mandatory survey to fill out. It asked me about my mental health. One of the question's was- on a scale of 1-5, how depressed do you feel?
The rest of the questions were easy, just like one confirms to an app's terms and conditions, I circled what I thought they wanted to hear, but that question about depression? Man, that one got me. It did seem a bit bizarre, however.
I mean- how can I give depression a number?
So, I circled three, handed them the form, and in less than five minutes, a representative asked me to come with her in her office.
"Do you feel suicidal"? She asked me, looking me straight in the eye. "Ehhr, I don't know. I mean, I don't think so? But it's just.." I couldn't speak. I wanted to say so much, but I couldn't utter a word. So, after five minutes of me just trying to bounce that prompt, I started crying.
And that's how I started therapy.
Its been almost a year and its helped me debunk many myths I had about it. Here are some things I learned from my experience:
#1 Therapy helps you grow
One of the biggest beliefs I had was that therapy would help me get back to an imaginary mean, a baseline of sorts. This is where, I thought, the whole world lives. In simpler words- I thought that people who go to therapy are, in some or the other way- crazy. And so, therapy can help attain normality.
My experience helped debunk that myth.
I learned that going to therapy isn't about coming back to the baseline, far from that in fact- it's about growing. Therapy helped me understand myself/ my biases/ my fears, far better than any book or person could. So, instead of think of it as a weakness, one can imagine it as an armor. It helps us face our biggest opponents- ourselves.
Secondly, therapy helped me make sense of my suffering, that is- why I do what I do. So much so, I started dancing around a possibility- that maybe, just maybe, no one is really normal. We have reasons for what we do, reasons, that, unfortunately, are layered deeply in our unconscious. To delayer them, we need a skilled therapist.
Our irrational behaviors, if examined curiously enough, have rational stems.
Unfortunately, culture teaches us what normal is: a standard template that we think everyone attains to, in order to be categorized as normal. This template imagines more polished and "put-together" version of ourselves.
Naturally, when we (or others) fail to follow this template, we get frustrated. Angry. Not only to others, but (and rather more importantly) to ourselves.
Therapy erased this "normal template" for me, making me realize that we're all unique, we all have different struggles because of the variety of environments we grew up in.
Sanity, therefore, is achieved much easier this way.
#2 Therapy isn't Superficial
It took me a long time to demystify this belief. My argument went something like this: Why would I pay someone to sit and listen to my problems for an hour? That just seems so.. fake.
And trust me- I whole heartedly believed this.
Until, of course, I actually started attending sessions. My experience, fortunately, taught me that the reason why these sessions aren't superficial is because therapist's, by nature (at least the good ones), aren't statues who just listen and nod to what troubles us. Far from that.
Instead, a good therapist is like a ballerina, she listens to you with all her attention, watches you every move (physical and vocal) very calmly and asks questions that can shed a whole new light to our suffering. She can (and I don't exaggerate this skill one bit), notice things that we so often do unconsciously and bring them to our consciousness.
Earlier, I mentioned that our irrationalities are sourced from reasons that are deeply layered in our unconscious. These are things we do, things, we've learned to do in our childhood (perhaps to save ourselves from a raging father or a depressed mother) that we still repeat. As The School of Life puts it brilliantly in their book Calm- "We are prisoners of our past patterns".
For example- maybe whenever you talk about yourself, you look down at the floor. Or, you hold both of your hands together. This seemingly trivial physical choice can mean so much. A therapist can, after a few sessions, tell you why you do it.
Now, I hope you don't get me wrong; I'm not saying that therapists can solve all your answers. However, what I am saying is that they can, in a very real sense, let us discover our individual truths by dancing graciously around our minds and hearts- like a ballerina. Not judging our doings as good or bad, but just watching it, perhaps like an archeological scholar in a museum- well apt with field knowledge to help us fill the gaps.
#3 Therapy doesn't have to be expensive
I know I know, this is pushing it a bit, but I think this point has to be addressed.
Being someone who used this excuse for not facing my vulnerabilities, I think I can present a fair argument about how this can be interpreted in real light. What I mean is- if we closely examine this argument, this is what we mean: I'd rather use my money on something else other than bettering myself.
Now, don't get me wrong- there definitely are folks who simply can't afford therapy, but, if you're reading this, fortunately, you're not one of them. You can definitely do some work, get yourself backed up by an insurance company that gives you good coverage, and take care of the $20-$30 co-pay each session.
So, maybe we're just using this as an excuse to go find ourself a good therapist. After all, how long are we going to wait? How long are we going to expect our problems to go away?
Most of all- if we don't address our problems, if we don't understand the roots of them, how can we flourish? For any process, it's imperative to get rid of the bottleneck.
Lastly, there are plenty of digital platforms like TalkSpace that offer you their professional services from $25/week.
If we can get over the typical myth that therapy is superficial, or, just for the weak, maybe we can finally come to terms about what a valuable asset it can be for us, making us more likely to find affordable ways to get access.
#4 Therapy is a two-way street
Just like no one can really help you until you're ready to help yourself/get out of your own way, attending a couple of sessions alone, isn't going to solve all your problems. You have to implement the insights your therapist and you generate.
And, quite honestly, that is the hardest part.
Our lives have become more automatic then we would've ever imagined, and although that entails less workload to our minds, to change, we need to learn how to live slowly. Before hastening to our old patterns (the same that destroy us and give us comfort at the same time), we need to learn to question our instincts.
For example: My therapist and I deduced that I had an unusual definition of love. More specifically, I equated love to doing. Thus, the more I do something for another person, the more that person will love me.
I know, quite toxic.
I literally wrote my first girlfriend a book (67K words) about the two of us in the future, as a birthday present. What did I expect in return? Just love and acceptance. Every time I wasn't given that, I thought to myself- maybe I just didn't *do* enough for this person. In a way, I was suffocating my partners, making them feel that I'm "too good" for them.
Then it dawned on me- I do this for acceptance. In a very real sense, I need a constant reminder from the outside world, a reminder which tells me I matter. And naturally, the best way to do that is to do things for people, to do someone's project, go out of my way to help someone through their break-up (for example).
You get the point.
People told me I am too nice, the really nice one's, however, are not kind to themselves.
This insight helped me go through everyday without seeking external acceptance. I started saying no, and beautifully, developed an inner voice (a very tiny one) which kept asking- What if you don't suck?
That requires work, from your therapist (and more importantly) and you.
We've all, whether or not we have mental illness', blamed the system before. Yes, it's unfair that the society at times doesn't believe in depression, or, that the system doesn't really reach out to the ones in need.
However, what has that attitude given us? Nothing but misery.
My point being: despite the system being unfair and the society sucking, it's our responsibility how we deal with the things that keep us awake at night. Because if we don't, unfortunately, no one will reach out. To get help, we have to be willing to admit that we need help.
We need to help ourselves before anyone can help us. And to do that, it's imperative that we take a second look at therapy. After all, aren't therapist's the real heroes that can *assist* us (its a two way street like I mentioned) in attaining proper serenity? These are the folks who help us find patterns, who equip us with the skills to live with something that is rather mutual to us all- emotional scars.
So maybe, just maybe, therapy isn't so bad after all.