Today I’m going to talk about therapy.
As I’ve said before, I have been in and out of treatment since I was 14. This year I am turning 31. So, a long-ass time. I use the term ‘treatment’ quite loosely here: at age 14, for example, I was seeing a counsellor at my church, rather than a licenced therapist. I’ve also seen social workers, psychiatrists, psychologists, dieticians, general practitioners [GPs], and other types of counsellors.
I am a barrel of fun, let me tell you.
I often receive messages from people saying that they want help or they can recognise that they need help, but they are scared to involve a professional. There are a number of reasons why people might feel this way, and honestly, it can be scary scary scary to feel like you might be Crazy Enough™ to seek professional help. I can completely understand the reluctance that so many people have expressed to me, as despite being in and out of treatment for the majority of my life*, I still feel so much fear, anxiety, and yes, embarrassment and shame, when I know that it’s getting to the point where I need to seek professional help.
The reasons for this can be very individual, so I can only talk about my own experiences. In my experience, I’ve been reluctant to seek professional help due to the following thoughts:
“I’m not really that bad. I’m just having a bad day. Week. Month. Year. Lifetime.”
“They will think I am making it all up OH GOSH WHAT IF I AM MAKING IT ALL UP I A TOTALLY MAKING IT UP WHO EVEN AM I WHAT IF MY WHOLE LIFE HAS BEEN A LIE.”
“Other people have it worse and so they need the treatment more.”
“I’ve been worse before so I can’t ask for help unless I get that bad again, or even worse than my worst.”
“I’ve received help in the past so I don’t deserve more.”
“I don’t deserve help.”
“I’m not worth the effort.”
“I’m not worth anything.”
“I’m just exaggerating.”
“People will judge me.”
“People will label me as crazy and treat me differently.”
“It might affect my employment prospects because who wants to hire a crazy person?”
“It’s too embarrassing to talk about this with a stranger.”
“I’m being pathetic. I’m being stupid. I am stupid. There is nothing wrong with me. I’m just stupid.”
“My friends and family won’t understand.”
“My friends and family will think I am lying about having problems because I’m really great and faking happiness, or least okayness.”
“I’m not visibly sick so I must not be sick therefore I am lying or making it up or exaggerating.”
"I'll be okay soon. It's been over a year, but I'll be fine soon. I just need to suck it up harden up stop being such a bloody baby."
…And dozens, possibly hundreds, of variations on these. Reading through them, the underlying theme becomes clear: I’m not worth it, I’m a liar, I’m making it up, I’m exaggerating, I’m not sick enough, people will think I’m crazy, people will judge me, I don’t deserve help, I deserve to suffer.
If you’ve ever said any of the above or a variation of the above to yourself, you are not alone. I daresay that every person I’ve ever met who has received or is receiving treatment has felt at least one of these things or something similar. And there is a reason for that:
Mental illness is like fighting a war when the enemy’s strategy is to convince you that
the war isn’t happening.**
the war isn’t happening.**
I don’t need to tell you that the human brain is incredibly complex. We are capable of so, so much. More than we even realize. Our synapses fire at incredible speeds, controlling processes that we aren’t even consciously aware of. Think about it: how often do you consciously have to make yourself breathe? Or blink? Or digest your food? Chances are your answer will be very rarely, if ever. Our brains do so much outside of our conscious awareness all day every day, and one of the things they can do is lie to us.
You read that correctly. Brains can, and often do, lie.
Sometimes these lies are functional, such as when your brain fills in the gaps in your visual field. Sometimes they are fun to play with, such as with optical illusions. But sometimes they are awful and damaging and frightening, such as telling you that you deserve to suffer [you don’t], or that you are worthless [you aren't] or that you are lying or exaggerating or being weak when you feel depressed or anxious or otherwise mentally unwell [you’re not.] Your brain is also lying to you when it rattles off the reasons why you shouldn’t seek professional treatment when your mental health has reached a stage where it is impacting on your ability to complete daily tasks and live the kind of life you want to live.
I can tell you that as a whole, asking for help is not anywhere near as bad as you think it will be. Yes, some of your friends and family may not understand. But given time, the people who matter come to understand and support your decision because they love you and they want you to be happy. Yes, there is still a lot of stigma attached to mental illness and issues surrounding mental health. But this is changing and will hopefully continue to change, especially as more people come to realize that it is okay not to be okay. That it is okay to ask for help. Yes, some therapists and counsellors and mental health workers actually really suck at their jobs and can make you feel like utter shit. I’ve had quite a few of those. But for every terrible mental health professional you encounter, I can promise you that there is one out there who is wonderful. The majority of mental health workers do care about their clients/patients, and it is just a matter of finding the right fit for you. Finding the right treatment and the right treatment team is paramount to making progress, and will be a topic that I will address in future [otherwise this post will be far too long, yikes.]
What I am saying is, I understand why you might be scared or reluctant to seek help. I’ve been there myself. Hell, I still regularly try to quit therapy with my current therapist because the above thoughts have not gone away despite seeing him for so long. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told him I am not worth your effort, I am wasting your time, I don’t want to see you anymore. But as I said, these thoughts are lies [as much as it pains me to say that because everything inside me is screaming NO YOU ARE WORTHLESS AND HEY WOULDN’T IT BE FUN TO TEXT HIM RIGHT NOW AND QUIT THERAPY YET AGAIN???] and you can fight against them. You can fight back against mental (un)health. You can rage war on your Neurons of Mass Depression™. Sometimes you can do it alone, and that’s wonderful. You are a superstar. But sometimes you can’t. Sometimes you need help, and there is no shame in that. You’re a superstar for recognising that and taking the brave steps to say, I’m not okay. Can you help me.
It is okay to not be okay.
*Now there’s a depressing thought.
**I read this on Tumblr a long time ago and I tried to find the original source to credit them, but I couldn’t. If you know who originally said this, please let me know so I can credit them because the accuracy is so real.
TITLE LYRICS: I'm Not Okay (I Promise), My Chemical Romance
End note: I know treatment costs are a very real barrier that can prevent people from seeking help. In Australia***, you can get a referral from your GP for ten Medicare-covered sessions with a psychologist per year. Which isn’t much, I know, especially if you have longstanding problems, but it can be better than nothing. I will talk about this more when I write about finding the right treatment team.
***I’m not sure about other countries, I’m sorry. If you would like to share your knowledge of seeking mental health in your country, or if you would like to share your stories about taking the plunge to seek treatment, or you have something to say about what I’ve written, you can do so in the comments below, on Twitter, on Tumblr, on Instagram or on ASKfm.