Today, three years ago, I had my first session with my therapist in Charleston. It may seem like a silly thing to celebrate, but for me, this marked the beginning of a life-changing relationship and time in my life. And so, to mark the occasion, I decided to write about it, as I like to do, in order to reflect and to give some tidbits of advice or whatever comes out.
Depression runs in my family. I remember being depressed as early as middle school, although at that time I didn’t know what it was. I knew that I always had a problem, and I struggled with wondering if I was important to my friends. As time went on, it got worse. High school, apart from the defaultly angsty time that it is, I saw it get worse at some points. The lowest point was my senior year; all of my good friends were a year ahead of me, and so they were all starting college when I was a senior. I got very depressed and wondered about my worth as a person. It was consuming. At one point, I was suicidal. I said something that tipped off one of my best friends at the time, and she confronted me. What followed was a chain of telling people to get it out in the open. She made me tell people, which I really disliked. I was actually super mad at her. But it saved my life.
The depression went away for a while, and then it came back in college. I fought it, but I could never get a handle on it. In the winter of 2013, my sophomore year, I started considering going on medication. At this point, I felt, if I couldn’t get a handle on depression and I was fighting it as many ways as I knew how, then surely there was a biological component. Doing counseling wasn’t even on my mind. I talked to certain people in my life, asking for counsel, because I didn’t want to rush into a decision like this. As God would have it, one of my friends had been in contact with a therapist in Charleston that she wanted me to see, and made me call her right after she told me, to make sure I would. I am so glad she did.
This is the backstory of what got me to therapy. I’m sharing it here because I don’t know if I’ve ever shared the whole thing. (Now, this is a very simplified version, and you’ll have to ask me if you want more details). But, I find comfort in logic and coherency. Little did I know that starting that therapeutic relationship three years ago would, as dramatic as it sounds, change my life.
I also wanted to write what about what therapy is like, because we all know the stereotype of laying on a couch and “Tell me how you feel…” while the therapist takes notes, and, while it is sort of like that, I never laid on her couch (although there was one) and she never took notes. Every session started with talking about my week, and evolved from there into other issues we needed to talk about or that my week contributed to. Sometimes we wouldn’t finish talking about a subject fully and would revisit it the next week. But that’s mostly how it went every week.
Therapy wasn’t something where I could consistently see leaps and bounds; I would argue the opposite. It was a very gradual process, full of ups and downs, and periodically I would “look back” and realize that things were changing, just not in overtly obvious ways. I remember, probably a year/a year and a half into counseling, one session, where she told me, “I wish I could sit the Jocelyn from a year ago next to you and we could compare the differences.” I made progress. But, just as the patterns of thinking I had developed over the years were subtle, so were the changes.
The biggest thing I got from therapy was a toolbox (read: a metaphorical toolbox). Through the years we worked on learning different tools I could use to help regulate my moods, to help handle my depression. By far the biggest was journaling, but the second biggest was speaking truth to myself, often through note cards that I would write things down on and try to read every day. I learned that I stuffed a lot of my negative emotions, and I learned how to express them. I learned how to communicate better with my family and friends, to vocalize what I need. I learned techniques like mindfulness and deep-breathing. I still even have a sticky note on my wall by my desk with a list of things I can do to take care of myself.
Overall, I can’t give you a quantitative assessment of what I gained from therapy; I can only attest to the fact that it changed my life; for one, it saved my life. About a month into therapy, we decided it was time to also try antidepressants. I talked to my doctor and got on one, but it wasn’t the correct dose. Consequently, I felt more depressed and more suicidal. There was a point where my therapist and I had an informal safety plan (i.e., if I was planning on acting on my thoughts, I would call her). I don’t say that to brag or incur pity, only to offer the reality of how dark that time was for me. In a time where I was working through issues and it felt as if nobody understood me, she did. And that mattered, a lot. Looking back, my faith and therapy are the reasons I’m alive. I can see how God orchestrated it, because if I had just gone on medicine like my plan was, I would not have survived those two months.
I am so indescribably grateful to my therapist. As I was reflecting on the incoming life transition I would soon experience over the past summer, and I was reflecting about leaving my therapist, this analogy occurred to me. Before therapy, I was in a room with a ton of junk in it, in pitch darkness. I was bumping into things and getting mad at myself that I just couldn’t stop. My therapist came in, turned the light on, helped me sort through the stuff, and gave me a toolbox that we filled together. That analogy is so poignant for me, because it perfectly describes what those 2.75 years of therapy with her were to me.
If you had asked me when I started therapy, I would not have anticipated how much it would mean to me. At that point in time I didn’t even think not being depressed was a possibility in life. I didn’t think I’d get better. I wasn’t even totally sure that I really wanted to change at the beginning. But my therapist was someone who had faith in me, who gently helped me work through my issues and revealed to me thought patterns and unhealthy habits that I had acquired over the years. She continually showed me love and grace, and she showed God’s love to me as well. Probably the things she said to me the most were, “This is a process, and that’s okay,” and “give yourself grace” at first. Later on it was the same things but with an added, “the process ebbs and flows.” I am so stubborn with that…my perfectionism hates that it’s a process. I can’t stand it. I see who I want to be, and I want to be that already.
I miss my therapist dearly. And that’s okay. I will always have a special place in my heart for her. I am learning to deal with these contradictory feelings, of missing her but also being okay with that. But she wasn’t meant to walk alongside me for my entire life, although that’s hard to think about. Overall, I am so grateful for the time (and hundreds of sessions, probably) that we had together.
Why am I writing about this? First of all, I’m sentimental, and this is how I process. Second of all, I believe that one of the gifts God gave me is openness, that my story is not only for me to keep, but to tell. And if this could help someone on the fence about therapy, or someone who is considering but is unsure, then so be it. This is a big part of my life and I don’t think I’ve written such a detailed post about this. Guys, therapy is great. Everyone could use therapy. Third of all, to dispel the stigma. There is an incredible stigma surrounding mental health which is extremely unfortunate. I always say that getting help doesn’t mean you’re weak; in fact, I think it shows that you are strong. Getting help is wise. It’s acknowledging that you can’t do it on your own. And everyone needs help. Having trouble with your mind doesn’t make you crazy, it makes you normal! Therapy is a great resource to get some tools to help you help yourself. (Side note: therapy also doesn’t have to be something you shout from the rooftops if you don’t want it to be; it’s completely up to you if you choose to revel to people whether or not you go to therapy). I am a huge proponent of therapy.
I’ll leave you with a picture I posted on Instagram after my last session with this therapist. It is a fitting end. (I am all about symbolism and analogies and what have you). Suffice it to say, I would not be where I am (or alive!) if I hadn’t taken that brave step into my therapist’s office three years ago today.