I think that we, as a bunch of self-confessed free thinking yet directionless millennials, have largely been conditioned by society to normalise our mental breakdowns. Phrases like: “oh I had another breakdown last night lol” and “oops, just had a casual existential crisis” have become engrained in our lexicon, and I for one trivialise my anxiety as a sort of defence mechanism. It’s normal, isn’t it? Everyone feels anxious and worried. It’s nothing to be overly concerned about – we can laugh it off as a universal experience and revel in the communal hopelessness of it all.
Therapy never really seemed like a viable option. In fact, quite the opposite.
When I was younger, ‘therapy’ was a primarily unknown concept that conjured images of lavish velvet sofas and stern looking men scribbling notes into a leather-bound journal. As I got older and wiser, this stereotypical caricature did start to get replaced by a more accurate representation that I saw on the television shows and films that I consumed. Some of my friends even started talking about their personal experiences of it. At once, therapy transformed from ‘a clinical form of escapism and recovery for those who physically cannot handle the burden of existence’ to something more multidimensional. Still, it was out of my reach. I wasn’t at rock bottom, far from it. What even was rock bottom?
It was only in recent years that everything clicked into place. All through my life I’ve had ebbs and flows of feeling particularly good and feeling particularly bad, and a few years ago I reached a new low. It’s never a good sign having to lock yourself in the work toilet and trying to cry and silently as possible. The guilt of feeling like a ‘bad person’ was all consuming, and I couldn’t handle it anymore.
As with most of my minor life crises, I immediately turned to the infinite wisdom of my dear friends who actually had a huge impact at what I consider quite a formative stage of this slow journey of acceptance. After conversing with different friends, who all had a refreshing and reassuring take on the matter, the cogs started turning in my head and my perception of therapy started changing. My friends, either by recounting their own experiences or by validating mine, destigmatised the notion of getting professional help and gradually it became less of a taboo and more of a beacon of hope.
One of my friends told me that therapy was not something that I needed to wait until I hit rock bottom before pursuing. The whole purpose of therapy was to stop myself from getting there.
There’s still a voice in my head that tells me to stop making such a big deal out of my problems. I am in such a fortunate position of privilege, I have so many people around me that make me happy – to complain just feels gratuitous and spoilt. But this voice at the back of my head telling me I’m not worthy is a big part of the problem. Even if I’ve never been ‘on the brink’ of a serious breakdown, I can’t ignore the ever-pervasive low-level feeling of gloom and that something bad is just about to happen. I can’t deny the anxiety and intrusive thoughts that have fluctuated in severity my entire life. The linchpin though was when I realised that my anxiety manifested in such ways that were starting to hurt those I loved, even if not purposefully. That was my true moment of deciding, it’s time to do something about this.
My ‘therapy journey’ (I cringe just writing that phrase) didn’t start out very well. I did a few sessions of phone therapy that was very CBT focused. I know that this is often the method that works for a lot of people, but personally for me I didn’t find it helpful. The constant pressure to carry out exercises every week that didn’t seem to bring any immediate relief felt cumbersome, and so I decided to not continue with that.
Recently I reached out to a local therapist in my area, and we have started doing regular sessions. It was something I had been putting off for months, years even. It’s a daunting prospect finding a therapist. How are you supposed to browse the internet and just magically stumble upon the one person you are going to entrust with all of your deepest darkest fears and secrets? It’s a bit like the most volatile, emotional version of Russian roulette ever. Only instead of a loaded gun, it’s a one-hour weekly zoom call where you have to lay yourself emotionally bare. Easy, right?
Luckily, I found someone I really clicked with almost immediately. I just got a really good vibe, and my intuition tends to serve me quite well. I confessed my fears to her straight away – I told her that I worried I wasn’t “unwell enough” for therapy. That I had my worries, true, but doesn’t everyone? Maybe I should save the resources for someone who needs it more. She smiled at me and said that maybe I should view these sessions as a chance for me to grow and flourish. People don’t need fixing, they’re not broken, and therapists are not there to tell you what to do with your life (sadly – as I still don’t know what I’m doing with mine…)
But I do agree with her that everyone could benefit from therapy. Even if you generally feel on top of the world, there’s always something you could learn about yourself, something you could improve. Therapy isn’t just spending hours having Freudian conversations about your elusive ‘childhood’, it’s a relationship that you build with someone who is working with you to make you become the best version of yourself. Everyone is worthy, and everyone is deserving of achieving that. Even me.