The Less Sexy Reason I Go To Therapy
I wrote my therapist a card a few weeks ago. I slipped it into page 60-something of a magazine. It earmarked the interview where I had my first full-page spread in a magazine. If I had to give you the spark notes version of what I wrote in the card, it was thank you. There were more sentences, a list of reasons why I saw that page and thought of her, but ultimately it was just a really big thank you.
I have anxiety and depression, but it’s been a long time since we’ve talked about the overwhelming nature of both of those realities during our 45-minute sessions. I don’t know when we moved from, “Please, help me not drown in these feelings” to weekly meetings about my life and the realities I needed help navigating and developing a healthy point of reference for. But we did and I’m thankful for it.
Because it’s not sexy or trendy, but I go to therapy to learn how to adult.
Growing up is hard and whether you’re stunted by family dynamics or propelled into a faux adulthood by life’s events like I was, there’s always room to have someone else help point you in the right direction. From my therapist I’ve learned about healthy relationships, what I should be looking for in a partner, what I should be willing to give a partner, and what red flags I shouldn’t ignore about boundaries crossed in the giving and taking. Lately, I’ve talked about motherhood and whether or not it’s for me. I’ve explored why my feeling that it not being for me could be more rooted in my fears of dying young than in my fear of having someone to raise year by year.
I’ve learned how to be my age in therapy and what that specifically needs to look like for me. Being my age can include an innate inclination for being mature mixed in with a need to be surrounded with people who remind me to have fun and play. I’ve learned to dream and believe that my ceilings can become floors, over and over again. It’s helped me expand beyond a scarcity mindset and envision what an abundance mindset can mean for my life.
Some people are fortunate enough to have the kind of parents or guides in their lives who can help them navigate these pivotal inflection points in adulthood. I don’t. Honestly, I don’t think most of us do. It’s easy to assume that I’m one out of a small percentage of those who could benefit from a therapist helping guide me through adulthood simply because I’m a part of the percentage of the population who can say, “I lost my mom when I was still in my formative years,” but if you think that you’re just embracing a cop out.
The sliver turns into a chunk when we factor in those who are first-generation in a country their parents never had to navigate in the same ways they now do or when we add in children who had to live through their parents’ divorce, a family’s journey with addiction, an unexpected health condition, the societal realities that come with being different, feeling different, identifying differently and then having to figure out how to take up space all the same.
The world likes people who fit in boxes and who can be easily defined. So far I’ve spent most of my adult years trying not to be a part of the world that pushes that expectation on me. I go to therapy because I found the box to be too small for the dreams I had for myself. In a dimly lit office in Brooklyn, I found oxygen to counter the way I’d been feeling suffocated by the fears, insecurities, or magnitude of the wishes I’d harvested while I was standing in that same box.
Going to therapy isn’t always pretty. That not every session focuses on how I’m coping with my larger diagnoses doesn’t mean I don’t still wander Park Slope, post-therapy, teary-eyed for a few minutes from time to time. Every week I push past my comfort zone for the sake of my growth though because I realized that’s what liking myself looks like.
Sometimes that means that sprint means a better understanding of my mental health conditions, but most times it simply means striving for a better understanding of myself.
It’s not sexy. Very rarely do we openly talk to our friends, families or public at large, about the hard-work that comes with learning to accept that you have to constantly be growing to be a good partner and a good friend, to yourself and to others. Even less rarely do we talk about what that actual growth looks like and the mistakes it’s littered by.
At the end of our last session my therapist thanked me for the card. I sat at the edge of the couch and thanked her again. I admitted how impactful these sessions are, not just in helping me check my mental health, but in making sure I don’t grow stagnant in my own growth and that I challenge myself to take on the next chapters of my life.
Growth was being able to sit on the edge of the couch and express emotion to her in person without feeling the need to look away.
I don’t think that’s a skill that’s limited to those with mental illnesses or those who have lost a parent. I think it’s a human skill that we could all benefit from.
It’s not sexy, but it is human.