As a teen, I scoffed at therapy. The questions swirled inside and weighed me down. How could anyone understand? Who could possibly help me? Why would anyone even care? I quickly learned all of the avoidance tactics in the book and spent most of my sessions tormenting and manipulating my poor therapists, and quickly one after another dropped me.
But now, over a decade later, I’m pushing myself to be a completely different person in my weekly therapy sessions. I’ve started lowering the walls and pushing myself to work towards healing. Being honest and vulnerable is incredibly painful, but beautiful and real at the same time.
Therapy can be a lengthy, winding journey. Sometimes you find yourself stopping in parts of your history or your soul which you never thought were significant. Other times, you’ll merely cruise right on by something that, in your mind, seemed extremely important.
The biggest thing that I’ve learned in the past 18 months of treatment is this, though: sometimes you’ll spend months focusing on the same overarching big picture concepts and really figuring out how all the tiny pieces of your life fit within them.
Although therapy is often very individualized and unique, there can be key concepts that someone can take away from their sessions and share with the world around them. For me, there are three major thoughts that we’ve been really placing the lens on to analyze in depth each week. Regardless of who you are and where you are on your therapeutic journey, I honestly believe these three big ideas can potentially benefit you just as much as they are healing me.
One of the most difficult parts of living with a mental illness is the ways in which the skewed thoughts and feelings impact your actions. My therapist stresses ideas like “staying in your lane,” “knowing your part,” and “acting effectively.” To do this, I must be constantly mindful and attuned to my emotions. I need time to analyze my behaviors and think through situations both before and after. I must constantly check the facts of a situation or encounter, not just let my emotional mind run away with things.
Effectiveness does not at all come naturally to me, and often it completely goes against everything my brain and my body are shouting at me to do. Through stopping to think, practicing opposite action, and consulting people I trust the most, I’m make more effective choices every single day.
My therapist’s approach is based in dialectical behavior therapy, a form of therapy that is based on both change and acceptance. For a perfectionist and control freak like me, I struggle with the desire to change (or “fix”) everything all the time. My therapist stresses that some parts of life are simply out of my control, and I must learn to practice acceptance in those moments. I must learn to take a deep breath, tell myself to relax, and say, “It is what it is, and that’s OK.”
I can now recite the Serenity Prayer in my sleep, but putting the concept into practice takes lots of effort and constant focus. The hardest parts of acceptance for me are learning what is currently out of my control and how to let go of the tight grip I hold on all areas of my life. Letting go isn’t comfortable or natural for me; I cling for dear life to everything and everyone who means something to me. I find myself breathing deeply throughout the day and whispering to myself, “This is just the way things are for now, so relax.”
Building A Life Worth Living
A life worth living — I love the phrase so much that I tattooed it on my arm back in October. The belief behind it is that when our lives are not what worth living or being present in, we dive into unhealthy behaviors as a means to escape the discomfort and dissonance. Now, my therapist reminds me that every action I take is towards making the life my heart desires, a life worth living.
Building a life worth living is a constant work in progress. This journey has required letting go of some life aspirations and expectations that I’ve placed on myself. Working towards this life worth being present in has meant creating moments that I actually want to be a part of, like sticking my feet in the sand or making someone laugh. Some days I still struggle to feel like I have a purpose, but those days are becoming less frequent as I continue my therapeutic healing.
Naturally, we also discuss the humdrum details of my daily life, the horrors of my past, and the demons of my present in each therapy session as well… but who wants to read about that?
Sometimes in therapy, we can get lost in the forest as we focus too much on the minuscule details of every single tree. It’s important to catch a glimpse of the overarching lessons and overall goals you are attempting to reach in your treatment. For me, I just want to maintain reasons for living and work towards being a better version of myself with every single breath I take while also accepting that I am imperfectly human, and that’s OK.
I may have wasted years of therapeutic intervention in my youth, but I refuse to waste one second of the opportunities I have towards healing now. I’ll cherish each and every Friday I spend on that couch, surrounded in the aroma of essential oils and coating of dog hair that comes with every session. I’ll hold onto these things I’m talking about in therapy and carry them in my heart for the rest of my life.