For the past six months, I have been meeting regularly with a counselor (therapist, clinical psychologist — I confess, I’m not entirely what her title is because she never wanted to present herself as a doctor to me).
Since graduation, or potentially even before then, I’ve struggled with my stress and anxiety. It was easier to curb these emotional reactions during school because the predictability of class deadlines and the general structure of the academic timeline gave me something concrete I could always trust to be there.
The lack of a similar structure and predictability in what us young people/millennials like to call “real life” or “post-grad life,” only gave my emotions more reason and more space to fluctuate. My highs found my head in stratosphere and my lows sometimes literally brought me to the floor, wishing I could melt into it. Sometimes I could bounce from one to the other in the space of an hour, or find myself stuck on one end of the spectrum, unable to completely understand why I was there.
In some of those moments, I felt utterly incapable of getting a handle of my emotions, so I decided that I would just brute force through them — because life and time would go on, whether I was on board or not, so I figured I might as well just follow suit.
It was a solution that worked on the outside, but on the inside, I knew I was using a few too many tissues each day to get through it. After several months of letting my struggle grow, I finally, with the support of three Very Important People, brought myself to seek help.
I hadn’t wanted to go.
The fact that I had to sit on hold for about ten minutes, waiting for an actual person to help me schedule my first appointment, was already a deterrent. Then having to say to the stranger over the phone, “I’m struggling with my anxiety,” while desperately trying to keep my voice from shaking was another hurdle in and of itself.
I didn’t want to admit that I needed help. I’d already tried to do so once, in school, but a couple negative, unsuccessful experiences had made me determinedly declare that I didn’t want, nor need, this help. I would manage fine on my own.
But my three Very Important People buoyed me through my doubts and negativity, encouraging me in their own, gentle ways to at least go to that first appointment. I did, and I sat there in the office telling my counselor that I didn’t want to be there because of my aforementioned bad experiences.
And she listened.
Over the course of the next six months, she listened to me and spoke to me about anything and everything that was on my mind on the day of my appointment. Some days, I hadn’t wanted to go. Other days, I ended up wishing that I had made my appointment sooner; I’d come to want and seek her counsel on the important, stressful things in my life.
As the weeks passed, I knew that there would be a “last” appointment. But I figured it was just somewhere ambiguously down the line. I wasn’t sure when it would happen because in my mind, I didn’t feel like I was ready to leave yet.
Then life happened, because life happens.
The appointment that I’d scheduled for this week ended up being — or at least has the possibility of being — my last appointment with my counselor. It was sad. I hadn’t expected it to be sad, and the quick hug she gave me before I left only punctuated that emotion.
It wasn’t that I wanted to see a counselor for the rest of my life. I’d just come to regard her as, in her words, someone “who’s there to cheer [me] on.”
For the past five years, I’ve constantly reminded myself to fight the stigma against mental health problems. This has been easy for me to achieve when it comes to my friends. But for myself, it has been a long process on which I have constantly struggled.
It has taken six months and a direct question from my therapist — “How did you feel about coming to see me at our first appointment, and how do you feel about it now?” — for me to actually and genuinely square this in my mind:
Seeing a mental health therapist is not a signal that I “need help” (with all negative connotations of the phrase). A therapist is someone who is there to provide me the support and tools I need to help me conquer the challenges in my life. Her support was not blind, as I’d previously assumed it was, but carefully considered and often even scrutinized from the position of the devil’s advocate.
I hadn’t expected to have my counselor support system taken away so soon. But she also pointed out to me, “You’re [also] reaching all the goals that you mentioned when you first came here.” Perhaps, as my counselor, she was also able to recognize my readiness before I was ready to.
As a writer whose goal it is to capture difficult human emotions and experiences, it has taken me a remarkably long time to feel comfortable being explicit about this particular topic. It is something that I will have to continue working on, and I am comforted to see that mental health is becoming an easier topic for people to openly discuss.
Blogger’s Note: I am aware that my particular experience with my counselor is not representative of everyone else’s experiences. I only hope that by sharing my experience, it will encourage just one other person to reframe their mindset about mental health.
Because all important things are worth saying again (especially for myself), I’ll sign off with the four most valuable things I learned from my three Very Important People, plus my counselor over these past six months:
- Finding a therapist who works for you, and not just with you, is incredibly important.
- Not all problems will come with immediate solutions.
- There is nothing wrong with going to a counselor/therapist/psychologist.
- It’s okay to make mistakes.