It doesn’t matter how much you do or don’t believe in mental illness and its solutions because once the spotlight is on you, shutting down seems like the safest choice. In high school and throughout college, I was aware enough that I needed help, but it was difficult being okay with the idea. You would think knowing we need to create a change would be enough for us to start those steps, but sometimes knowing makes it even harder. We become defensive and want to protect our personality, even the parts that hurt us and our closest relationships.
I went to my very first session when I was a sophomore in high school. My dad forced me to go, indicating that I was acting a bit differently. I don’t know if it was a coincidence but I was officially dating my first girlfriend. He wasn’t a conversationalist so maybe it was his way of trying to protect me. Arguing with my dad wasn’t an option, but I didn’t mind going to therapy because it was right next to my girlfriend’s house. I enjoyed my sessions but they weren’t really productive. It was difficult to be vulnerable and I was frustrated that change wouldn’t occur at the flip of a switch. I wanted my issues to be resolved as fast as DSL was improving the speed of the internet. Plus, in high school, I was in three back-to-back relationships that were progressively worse mixed with the other complications of growing up. I was introspective but I was still a kid and it was hard for me to put all of the pieces together.
While attending the University of Central Florida, I reached another breaking point and found myself signing up for counseling and psychological services. I was rapidly becoming agoraphobic and I was terrified of it affecting my school work. I started to avoid everyday activities because it would feel like the world was closing in on me. Movie theaters, grocery stores, libraries, restaurants, concerts, car rides, and more were gradually being checked off my list until simply opening my front door became a problem. My struggles with mental illness forced me to change my degree from film to sociology, which in its own way became a form of distant therapy.
It took a lot of nasty fights, enough tears to fill up a swimming pool, chronic depression, and brutal irritable bowel syndrome for me to accept the reality that getting help was critical to my well-being. Realization alone didn’t automatically make it easier for me to shelve out money and sit comfortably in that chair. Although, when I did become comfortable with opening up, the results were still slim to none. I bounced from person to person trying to find someone who would suggest something I wanted to hear, even though I didn’t know what that was. But in reality, I was still resistant and fighting the entire process.
It wasn’t until I hit an emotional rock bottom when I realized there was a key aspect I didn’t see before. Therapy is equally about accessing your emotions and listening to the other side. By listening, I don’t mean simply hearing what they have to say. By listening, I mean actually putting into action what is they think may help. Treat their words as a prescription and not a suggestion. When they say practice mindfulness meditation once a week, you do it. When they say to step back a moment and write your feelings when you feel like you’re getting overwhelmed, you do it. Read this book. Go to the gym more. Zone in a hobby. Get out more. Go to meetings. Come in once a week. Stand in the mirror and say you’re good enough until you believe it. Stop catastrophizing. Trust yourself.
Therapy sometimes feels impossible because you’re balancing the issues of your past with the issues of your present. It’s also important to remember that therapists are people too, so it is critical to find one that you feel connected with. Not all therapists are created equal and that’s okay. There’s one truth: therapy is a process, but once you’re able to enjoy the journey it makes it all worth it. Be sure to continue going even after the dust clears and you can finally see the end of the tunnel. You want to be certain you can handle it when it’s no longer visible.
Want to find a therapist but don’t know where to start?
- Health Insurance – Major companies have search directories to help you find someone in your area. My suggestion is to have an idea of who you may be more comfortable with, but don’t completely restrict yourself. The search results can be filtered by age, gender, location, specialty, and more. Remember this is therapy, not a date, so try to be more open-minded because you may be surprised who you end up feeling the most connected to.
- College Students – If you’re a student than your college or university is likely to have a psychological services department free of charge. Depending on the severity of your problem, they will either help you directly or connect you with a mental health counselor in your area (often at a discounted price).
- Step Recovery – There are different recovery programs, such as CoDA, SLAA, and Smart Recovery that hold weekly meetings all over the world. These programs are free and are typically offered in-person, on the phone, or an online chat. These options are good if you’re struggling financially, uncomfortable being one-on-one with a therapist at first, feeling alone, or if immediate help is needed. Sometimes waiting three days for your next therapy appointment isn’t good enough and you need some relief that day.