“Emotional pain cannot kill you, but running from it can. Allow. Embrace. Let yourself feel. Let yourself heal.” ~Vironika Tugaleva
Ah, therapy, my old friend. We meet again.
I really thought I’d released you from my life; that I no longer needed your help to maintain my sanity.
Boy, was I wrong.
Third time’s a charm, as they say.
The First Time I Went to Therapy
I was eighteen when I had my first encounter with therapy; my parents had just divorced under pretty devastating circumstances, and, at the same time, my first serious relationship crumbled at my feet.
It was a double betrayal.
My parents had hidden the divorce from me, and I found out on our “family holiday” that we weren’t actually a family anymore. My partner had hidden a secret tryst from me, which I discovered less than a week after our five-year relationship ended.
I was young, impressionable, and distraught. My whole life felt like a lie.
I spent weeks wrapped up in the safety of my bed, emerging only to find comfort in food. Everything felt pointless. I had no idea what to do with myself, so I sought help.
Finding the therapist was easy. A quick Google search was all it took.
But it took me a long time to build up the courage to make an appointment, fill out the pre-session questionnaire, and actually walk into the building.
I felt so much shame. I thought I was ridiculous and weak for not being able to handle my emotions or deal with what was happening to me, but I also knew that my mental health was on seriously shaky ground.
So I went.
I remember walking into the counselor’s therapy room, shaking like a leaf, terrified of being judged. My heart (and my mouth) were melded closed for the first few sessions; my therapist had to carefully wrench it open to encourage me to speak.
Finally, I did. And when I unburdened myself of all that had been weighing me down, I saw it.
Plain as day, written all over her face.
I walked out of that room and never went back, cursing myself for thinking therapy had been a good idea in the first place.
And so I hauled my wounds into my pink backpack, threw them over my shoulder, and carried them into the next phase of my life.
The Second Time I Went to Therapy
Six years later, when I began experiencing debilitating panic attacks on a daily basis, I felt more than a little resistance to the idea of going to therapy again.
By this time, my anxiety had steadily increased, and had become a totally normal part of my everyday life.
I expected to be unable to sleep, constantly feel exhausted, and always be plagued by fearful, intrusive thoughts.
I got used to the fact that I couldn’t relax, always felt irritable, and lashed out at the people I loved (despite desperately craving their support) because I was in so much emotional pain.
And, quite honestly, I thought my anxiety was my edge.
I was completing my Master’s degree studies, and I thought intense stress caused me to work harder; it was a sign I was on the right track. I worked all day and all night, utterly consumed by my projects.
In my head, my anxiety was the reason I was achieving top grades.
So I put it out of my mind until, finally, I hit a breaking point. I had a terrifying panic attack in my car, driving at top speed, and had to pull over to the side of the road to keep myself (and other drivers) safe. It was the third panic attack of the day.
In that moment, I knew I truly needed help.
This time, I was still nervous about going to therapy. But I was also ready to dig; to excavate all the junk I’d been hauling around in that pink backpack, sort through it, and burn away the excess.
And because I wanted to be the “perfect” client, I went above and beyond in my therapy work (a big part of which was working on my perfectionism, and my need for external validation, go figure).
I had a breakthrough. I found deep inner peace, for the first time in my adult life.
My therapist was also the person who introduced me to mindfulness, meditation, and yoga—healing tools that I’m still learning, practicing, and teaching to this day.
For that, I’ll be forever grateful.
The Third Time I’m Going to Therapy
Now, I’m in a very different place.
I’m totally in tune with myself, I listen to my body, and I’ve traversed the territory of my suffering.
And yet, I’m still human. I struggle.
Specifically, I’ve noticed a dynamic playing out in my relationship; I feel an intense anxiety around not being enough for my partner, and not being worthy of his love.
I worry that he’ll find somebody better and want to leave me. I convince myself that he hides his true feelings, or that he’s secretly planning his escape. I mourn the loss of his love, before it’s even happened.
No matter how much work we do on our relationship, and how much he tells me otherwise, there still seems to be an issue for me.
After much reflective meditation, I now know why; I still don’t feel like I am enough.
And although I can now recognize how when and where this unfolds, I still need to work on changing that pattern.
And that’s where therapy comes in.
The difference is that this time, I know where to go for help. I know what type of help to ask for. And, crucially, I feel zero embarrassment about sharing the fact that I need that help.
The first two times, I kept it quiet. And I stewed in my shame.
Here are three reasons I’m telling people about it this time around.
1. Suffering is a universal human experience.
To be human is to suffer.
It’s almost impossible for us to live a gorgeously rich and fulfilled life, yet emerge from it completely unscathed.
If we open our hearts, we suffer. If we live our truth, we suffer. If we stand up for what’s right—guess what—we suffer.
Our experiences might not look the same; you could read my story, without knowing the details, and still connect to the core emotion beneath my experiences, because they resemble your own.
You may not have had a nervous breakdown at university, for example, but you might have had one at work. You might have had one after having a child. You might even have just realized that you’re heading toward one.
Our universal experiences connect us.
When I reveal the depths of my own suffering, people open up and show me theirs. We dance in our shared humanity, releasing our heavy burdens as we move as one.
Remember this mantra: It’s okay not to be okay, and it’s okay to admit this to myself. We all suffer sometimes. Admitting I need help isn’t a weakness; it’s a brave act of reclamation over my mental well-being.
2. Hearing others’ stories normalizes our struggle.
Listening to other people’s stories—on their blogs, podcasts, or books—helped me to accept, and seek help for, my own suffering.
And all too often, I wish I’d heard these stories sooner.
If I had I known, for example, when I was twenty-two and running my own business after reading The Four Hour Work Week, that the author (and my idol) Tim Ferriss had planned to commit suicide when he was at university, would I have put so much pressure on myself to be successful?
Would I still have measured myself against him, and others of the same ilk, or would I have seen him as a fellow, imperfect, human being?
Would I have been more vigilant in managing my mental health, knowing how dark “striving” can become?
It’s impossible to know, of course. But what I do know is that when people share their stories, it helps others who are going through the same thing. Instead of judging those who choose to share (as I often worry will be the reaction when I share my own), we connect to them.
It normalizes suffering. And it normalizes talking about, and getting help for, that suffering.
Remember this mantra: There is always someone else who’s going through (or has been through) what I’m going through. If they got through it, so can I. There’s still hope for me.
3. There’s nothing to be ashamed of.
The third, and most important, reason I’m telling people about my therapeutic journey is simply this: I’m not ashamed of it.
I’m no longer concerned with being “perfect,” displaying a polished facade for all to see.
What’s far more important to me, especially in my work as a writer and a teacher, is to show my humanity.
To acknowledge my imperfections. To love my flaws. To let my students know that I too am a work-in-progress, and that’s perfectly fine.
We live in a superficial culture, one that often values appearances above all else. But if what we have to offer is only skin deep, and if our lives are not fulfilling but “look good” on the surface, we remain cold and hollow inside. If all we care about is what others think of us, we never get to live life for ourselves.
The only road to true freedom, in my experience, is to release concern about what others think.
So much of my anxiety was caused by perpetual imposter syndrome, especially in relationships; I was always worried about being “found out,” being seen as a fraud, being exposed for who I really was (a deeply loving person, not a “cool girl who doesn’t care”).
The people who love and appreciate us for who we really are, those are the people we want in our world.
Shame can’t penetrate the walls of our authenticity. No entry allowed.
Remember this: There’s no shame in acknowledging, and seeking help for, my suffering. The people who love me will support me when I need it. It’s safe to be who I truly am.