My inspiration for taking on this topic is something I heard that made me wish I could shout my knowledge from the rooftops; this person said, “I don’t want to go talk to a stranger about my life and problems, that’s what my friends are for!”. No, emphatically no, that is not what your friends are for, ever.
In an earlier post I described mental health therapy as the feeling of drowning in the deep end (of your mind) where a lifeguard can swim out to you, but they can not pull you to shore. All they can do is tell you how they might get to shore or how you can tread water until you figure out how to get yourself to shore. And, maybe you belong in the deep end, where you have to just live with the waves and learn to always tread water. The analogy could go forever, because it is the exact feeling: drowning, with help that can not help you. Therapists are lifeguards, essentially, in-training. They can swim out to you and help you not die, but you have to get yourself treading water or to the shore.
I was 14 when I saw my first therapist. It was 1992, there was only one place in town to even get mental health therapy, and that place was old and sterile. The green, scratchy fabric chairs and florescent lights buzzing did not help the situation. I went in, and the lady asked me why I thought I was there. The first of MANY to ask me that, and every time after that first time, I thought, here we go again. And, I love to talk. But, having to recount the very things that you don’t really understand yourself to a person who knows zero about you, your family, or your life-only what you tell them is super taxing and stressful. Pay attention here: if you are going to lie in therapy, do not go.
However, if you are ready to be bold and honest with a stranger to better your life, therapy and therapists are who you need. Our friends are our friends for a reason; they accept us and they are most likely to agree with you or feel similarly to you, because they know you. Your friends know your family. Your friends know your co-workers. Your friends are there as a support system, not a life-saver. The only life-savers out there are us. Only you can save you. And, you’re there to support and enjoy your friendships-not make them be work. Friendships are not work. Therapy is work. The work you do for yourself, with or without the help of a professional, is what saves you. You are who keeps yourself above water and treading or swimming to that shore. Despite the swelling and crashing waves, this is your job in life.
When I was 29, I saw my (probably) 15th therapist and she told me I had low self esteem within the first thirty minutes of meeting me. I was too depressed to laugh at her, because she was dead wrong, but I never saw her again. Just like every other relationship humans have, a therapy/client relationship must be built on trust and mutual understanding. So, if you struggle with those two things, finding the right therapist could take years. It is an investment. It is a commitment. It is hard. It is hit or miss, which is frustration amplified when you are already dealing with chemical imbalances in your brain. It is very easy for a doctor to prescribe you a pill, but a therapist is who helps you manage all that comes with trying to balance freaking brain chemicals! It is not diabetes; there are no strips or devices to detect how much of my anti-depressant to take each day.
Then, 2011 brought the most rude of diagnoses, and only after meeting once for MAYBE sixteen minutes. She said the words coldly and frankly, leaving me in a million confused pieces. “You have Borderline Personality Disorder.” Usually I could just add them to the list, the diagnosis list was already pretty lengthy, but this was different. Basically, BPD is a nice way of saying you are inherently batshit crazy with little chance of change. This is my opinion, not fact, about Borderline Personality Disorder. I did not have that, and if I did, I was going to figure out how to fix it, and started with never seeing that therapist again.
At 32, I had my last therapy appointment. I had been seeing this particular therapist (I think he was my 24th one) for over a year and our rapport was quite helpful. I was an old pro at being in therapy, which I am sure helped, but he also stood out for me because he never diagnosed me with anything. He would always say, “you are a very thought-provoked woman, and a seeker” and never once spoke of me HAVING a mental illness. It was a new feeling and I did not quite understand it for a while. On our last visit, I came into his office like always, with my purse and a bag carrying my books about mental health, anxiety and depression, dressed in whatever I had slept in the night before and ready to cry. He greeted me, we said our pleasantries and got into the session. A few minutes in, he stopped me and said, I have your diagnosis, Wendy. I was then diagnosed as “smart and careful, intuitive and empathetic, and introspective to a fault’. He said, “You could easily run a major bank or company if you wanted. Stop reading about what you have been told you have for twenty years. Stop. Or, go back to college and become a psychiatrist.”.
I went home, put all my books away, and kept treading my waters.