I have been going to therapy for five years and I am not ashamed of it. However, if someone would have asked me about it…
I would probably lie; or flat out change the subject.
I was 20/21 when I first experienced a panic attack at college. To be honest, I sort of do not remember where exactly I was. I just know it was on campus when I felt this sharp pain in my chest and this weird out-of-body experience where I could not tell if I was going to faint or my body would just drop at any given moment.
But throughout the first year of therapy, I soon found out that I had anxiety and signs of depression growing up. The signs were just different and more of physical symptoms with getting sick a lot from the common cold to fevers to the flu, as well as having years of stomach issues where I would get full without eating of too little or not at all.
In other words, my symptoms for Anxiety had only shown up in other common ways while in college from clammy palms, feelings of lightheadedness to chest tightness and developing asthma because of, what I later found out was common by my therapist, feeling out of breath—almost holding your breath.
For a while, anxiety sort of left me paralyzed prior to calling and making an appointment with a therapist. Signs of both my anxiety and depression being out of my control was waking up with a rapid heartbeat and going to bed feeling like that. For about a month, during my Christmas break—thinking that I had the flu, after all, anxiety can often be mistaken for many people as the common flu—I was at one of my many lowest points and would just wake up and roll over to sleep. And I am one is bound to not be much of a sleeper; and I realized it was something I needed help on when my mother woke me up, asking if I was planning to get out of bed.
I told her I was not sure, and I think started crying. To be honest, a lot of my memory with my earlier anxiety days in college and even childhood is something that I learned part of my brain has blocked out. Because even something such as a mental health disorder can be considered as trauma, at least that is what I had learned.
And that is okay to not be okay because there have always been too many ongoing stigmas when it comes to sadness, pain, and how to cope and deal with it.
I later found out that the feeling of paralyzed and that my life was almost out of control due to the anxiety was fight-flight experience aka the predator vs prey. This is commonly known as someone who is having a panic attack wants to run away to a safe zone. I suppose my safety net during those final two years of college was home, which explained my lack of being in social settings or having to talk myself that I would be okay and not, if I can be blunt, die from a panic attack.
Five years later, I am still going to therapy on and off and continue to credit both my therapist and, what we have worked on since the first day I stepped into their office, cognitive behavioral therapy.
Cognitive behavioral therapy can vary per individual; however, on day one of therapy, I learned that it was treatment without medication. It is viewing—I suppose you can call it—the “bigger picture” from an objective perspective, sort of like a viewer who is trying figure out the plot turns and twists of a movie or tv show. That is also the irony itself—looking at not just your own life but others’ and being asked, “Why do you think they said that or did that” or one of my least favorites, “Why do YOU think you said or did that.”
I know, that can be pretty controversial itself to say but in the five years and counting of going to therapy, I have my bad days where I force myself to go, regardless if I am feeling happy or miserable.
The irony of going to therapy for me is that I WANT to go. And that has been a huge growing step for me, looking back at my earlier twenties and seeing how nowadays, I will actually pull the, “Hey, I need to talk” or even flat-out texting my therapist what has been bothering me or something that I am having a difficult time in wrapping my head around.
This is coming from someone who was more terrified to admit and just flat or embrace on how I was feeling. Aka, I think in my present day it would be nearly impossible for me to hide something from my therapist.
I remember in my earlier days of first attending therapy of being asked how intense my panic attacks were getting and how I coped with it. The first few weeks were shit because my older habits were to leave (fight-flight) wherever I was. Other times, I started listening to what my therapist had advised me and would sit it out, especially in college where I felt a lot of intensity from the anxiety.
And the more I kept coping with it—what cognitive behavioral therapy is—I would start asking myself what I was doing prior to the panic attack, what thought, or situation made me feel triggered, and identifying something or flat out telling myself that I was safe and okay.
Believe it or not, I remember on day one of what would later become treatment for my anxiety, and at the time acute depression (which is common to form with a majority of people who have anxiety), I was in denial aka almost trying to tell my therapist how I was not having panic attacks and that it was something I just wanted to “get over it and cure it.”
Looking back, especially when it was only a few weeks ago when my anxiety resurfaced, and I had to pull over to call my mom whom I just spilled out to about what was triggering my panic attack, I had many days and nights where I felt like a failure and that anxiety or my mental health, in general, would prevent me from pursuing my dreams; as cliché as that sounds. But it was the truth—my truth like a majority of others I know have a difficult time to comprehend themselves: will we be okay?
My answer to that is always a yes and then on other days, it is a flat-out no.
And I suppose that is where cognitive behavioral therapy has played into because of the “who, what, why” and having someone (my therapist) direct me towards the healthier path both physically and mentally, especially when I am clueless on why I feel this way or that. My therapist did this recently when I had approached them about the irony of writing stories and making movies about mental health and my passion for being open on it. In fact, I think that can often cause/trigger my own anxiety because of older habits of thinking with, “Am I being too open to the point of scaring or pissing people off?”
Yet, that is something I had learned with cognitive behavioral therapy is doing what is best for YOUR life, regardless of how your family and friends feel. When it comes to one’s mental health, regardless if someone has a history with anxiety, depression, trauma even
The fact that I now see how it has always been helping me cope and just do my best with handling life. Nowadays, I find myself having an anxiety attack without people noticing. One of my biggest fears that I learned was more of a physiological aspect from cognitive behavioral therapy—that anxiety is not always “visible” because when I started telling some friends or family on what was going on when I first found out that I was 1 in 5 who has a mental health disorder, often I would hear responses on how I either looked tired and just stressed in the earlier days of learning to cope with it; or just flat out dazed in my later days.
That can explain a lot of my own growth personality wise with being so closed off and not saying a word to talking more in general. Especially since I found myself apologizing not too long ago for just going on and on about a particular individual in my life. My therapist sort of gave me a smile like they were proud. They eventually told me that it was me recognizing my own progress and wanting to establish my own thoughts and feelings on something, whether a situation or a person and not brushing it aside.
But I am also human too…so like everyone else, sometimes you just want a day and not think of anything.
Nowadays when I go to therapy, lately I go to just check in and make sure that I am taking time for myself and tell my therapist how I had some anxiety or a full-blown massive attack, I tell her that I am more so annoyed vs scared. I learned a lot of that has to do with a lot of the mental side of the whole, “Take a bunch of steps forward and then take all of those steps and move backward.”
In other words, anxiety and depression can flat out suck. Although it does appear to be the end of the world for many, as it can for me sometimes in my own life, it truly is not.
This reminds me of those last few moments at the end of my first therapy session. My therapist broke the news to me that they highly recommend I come in weekly for a bit. I was pissed but also a part of me knew that I wanted help from someone who was not my friend, relative or a part of my life. Aka the whole objective perspective aspect of being honest with myself and telling my deepest darkest secrets to someone who would not judge. That was the moment when my therapist said to me, “This is the last time you will ever feel this much pain with what is bothering you and the feeling of anxiety and depression consuming your life.”
Usually, in a vulnerable state such as that, I believed and still do. That was the moment when I realized that I wanted help.
Asking for help is never a sign of weakness and something to never be ashamed of. Like ever.
I recommend that everyone tries therapy at least once in their life. It is not for everyone but for many, it can be a lifesaver. It certainly feels like that to me every time I leave a session. Besides, the first session has usually been considered as a consultation where it feels like an interview and giving a brief history of your background, especially easing into asking someone more personal questions.
But again, it varies per therapist as there are psychologists (such as the one I have been seeing) and do not treat patients with medication; whereas, psychiatrists are known for prescribing medication.
Try it out and see if it works for you and if it does not, that is also nothing to be frowned down upon.