how to lose friends & find a therapist.
--A love story.
Guys. Today is a little different. Today is my first post that someone specifically requested. (Total sidebar: I would *love* everyone’s post ideas or requests. While it’s fantastic for my self discipline to produce content every single week, it’s also very, very hard to produce content every single week. Any suggestions or questions are deeply appreciated. Aannndd, we’re back!) I’m both extremely honored someone values my opinion and extremely terrified that I’ll somehow mess it up. I’ll be too self important and too pedantic. I’ve been both, often, and it’s very annoying, even to me.
But last weekend, a new friend (Hi! Thank you!) approached me, asking about my therapy story—how I knew I needed help and how I found the right therapist. I couldn’t believe how careless I’d been to exclude such an important part of my mental heaIth journey, to exclude others who might need similar guidance. I promised you my stories, and that’s a BIG one.
I personally wish that I’d realized earlier how desperately I needed a therapist. And the truth is that I didn’t understand the magnitude of that desperation until a friend suggested it to me. Almost a year ago, immediately after I realized the scope of my anxiety, a few, short weeks after my most severe panic attack, I was at a(nother) wedding. I had no concept of my triggers. No real comprehension of how my mental health had escalated to such a terrifying levels. I could no longer predict my behavior because I no longer had control of my mind.
At the rehearsal dinner, I confided to a friend that I was scaring myself, that I’d become brittle and unhinged. I felt insane. And just so, so alone. And we swapped stories, of the terrifying, overwhelming, shame inducing trauma we’d endured and the horrifying mistakes we’d made. She’d been seeing a therapist for several years, and when I mentioned I was considering it, she strongly encouraged me to try.
But the cost overwhelmed me. There’s no getting around it, therapy is *very* expensive. My anxiety is heavily triggered and motivated by financial stress, and the idea of adding to our already inordinate pile of bills with more (higher) bills impacted me profoundly. But the truth was, I had very little choice. My marriage was suffering. And my career was suffering. And my friendships were suffering. And I’ve no doubt that if I hadn’t sought professional help, eventually I’d have isolated myself to the point of divorce or suicide or both.
To my extreme and eternal embarrassment, I sleep walked while staying in the wedding hotel. I awoke in the hallway, outside my room, shaken awake by a member of the staff. It was not the first time I’d done so—always in an unfamiliar place—and as I would learn several weeks later, sleep walking is relatively common in those with anxiety disorders. But I also cried constantly, my helpless husband just listening as I sobbed for reasons neither of us understood. I fixated on my body, hyperaware of every change, every unexplainable twinge. I made dozens of doctor’s appointments (sans health insurance), at one point even going several times a week. I never slept. I couldn’t make decisions. The consequences of every choice felt overwhelming and insurmountable. I felt frustrated and angry and misunderstood and lonely and crazy.
I ruminated for weeks before approaching Kyle about it. Our conversation is forever imprinted on my brain. As I stared at the kitchen wall, afraid of his response, afraid it’d be too much, he just said “Do it. If it’ll help you, I want you to do it. We’ll find a way to pay for it.” That’s it. The end. No argument. No wheedling. Have I ever mentioned to you that my husband is a saint? Because he is, and if the pope refuses to canonize him, I may renounce my faith.
So, truthfully, while my journey to enter therapy was a very long one, once I made the decision, it happened so quickly. I extensively researched therapists in my area, approaching it with a detailed list of my criteria. I, personally, didn’t want someone to merely medicate me, so it wasn’t necessary to see (and pay for) a psychiatrist. Let me be clear. I think that mental health medication is an incredible tool and helps many people. But I had been uninsured, and the consequences of becoming dependent on medication for my mental health terrified me to my core. I felt strongly that if it were possible to improve by other means, I wanted to pursue those first. Medication—for me—was a last resort and not a first defense. Because loneliness pervaded my experience, I also needed a therapist who specialized in anxiety and depression, someone who would be more conversational and less clinical. I waded through site videos and online reviews, looked at photos and bios, before deciding on a specific practice.
At the same time that I was pursuing therapy, a friend struggling with similar issues also felt motivated to get help. I recommended the practice I’d found, and he scheduled a session before I did! Did I mention it became difficult for me to make decisions? Bolstered by his positive experience, I made an appointment and immediately connected with Phil. He makes me feel seen, and he pushes me to get uncomfortable and to deeply explore my motivations. In our first appointment, he insisted that I consider other therapists and ensure the fit was right. I ignored him entirely and made a second appointment.
Eight months later, I’ve never regretted that decision, one of the few times that’s ever happened to me. I may not be good at anything else, but I am good at therapy. I’ve found more joy in biweekly therapy than I believed was possible. I am never a burden to Phil. I never need worry how my words or my delivery will impact him emotionally. I am free to be exactly who I am, with someone qualified to guide me through the experience. It’s a lot like having a best friend, but also not anything like that.
First let me say, my experience is unusual. Most often, people see several therapists before they find The One. I am lucky in that regard, and I know it. Secondly, I fully expected that I’d need therapy forever, and truthfully, I don’t. The extent of my mental and emotional wellbeing can’t be overstated. Phil has said more than once that soon I will be ready to move away from him. But moving forward, it’s always there when I need it. I know someday again, I will. And I plan to use it prophylactically, protection against becoming emotionally pregnant.
I’m firmly in the camp of not advising anyone on anything. Let me just state for the record, that I’m completely unqualified to direct people’s choices, even my own most days. But I’m also firmly in the camp of seeking help when you need it. And sometimes, with all the external and internal noise, it’s impossible to know you need help until someone else tells you. So this is me, telling you, that if you need help, seek it out. Find a Phil. It will be work, but if you embrace it, it will be best work you ever do.
**If you need a jumpstart in where to look, Psychology Today is an excellent resource. Emotions Anonymous, while not dedicated therapy, also offers support for those struggling with their mental health. Both were recommended to me by people who know what they're talking about.