Hi, I’m Victoria, and I’m not OK. I’m mostly OK, most of the time, but my panic disorder and seasonal depression mean that sometimes I’m super not OK — and that’s OK. I’ve struggled with excessive fear and sadness for much of my life and have spent a good part of the last eight years in short- or long-term therapy, working with a counselor to help me figure myself out when I can’t do it alone (spoiler: we can never do it alone).
Just because therapy is familiar to me now doesn’t mean that it’s lovely and easy and makes me feel great all the time, definitely not. Here is my honesty hour (or 50 minutes) (all you ladies in therapy should’ve laughed at that) (tell me I’m funny):
I cry a lot in therapy. I get mad at my therapist for not telling me what I want to hear. I learn things about myself that I hate and that scare me. I show up late because I don’t want to be there. I lie to my therapist to protect myself from dealing with what I’m paying her to help me deal with. I have good days where we don’t talk about much. I mess up my words or tell a funny story and we laugh about it. I draw pictures instead of talking when I can’t articulate what I’m feeling. I cry a lot in therapy.
Therapy is hard. But, sometimes, so is life. In a completely original analogy, just like physical exercise is hard, it gets easier with time, and you actually get healthier; as it is with therapy.
But, like you just read, even though I’ve been doing therapy for a while, I still come up with every excuse to not get help when I need it. I think that’s just a human response to pursuing change – we are creatures of habit, no matter how damaging those habits are.
If you’ve been considering therapy but haven’t been able to get from “I might need help,” to landing in someone’s office, perhaps you’re using one of these excuses to prevent yourself from thriving.
Here’s a list of (so understandable) excuses I’ve told myself that you might recognize — and why you should shut them down and make the call.
“It’s not going to do anything.”
When I say this to myself, what I really mean is either, “I don’t want this to do anything,” or “I can do it myself.” Either way, it’s just a way to deflect that I need something outside of myself to help me, which can be hard to admit. But to that I say, just do the damn thing. You have no idea if it’ll help if you don’t try it.
“I’ve never been traumatized”
Therapy can be seen as something for only those who really need it, who have been through something “bad enough” to warrant it. But all experience is relative, and if you’re feeling pain that you can’t soothe yourself, it really doesn’t matter that you can’t identify a “traumatizing” moment. We don’t say to people with the flu, “Oh, but how exactly did you get that?” or “But there are people with cancer who need help, so only they should get treatment.” We encourage them to get the help they need.
Just like we treat different physical illness differently, the same is with mental health. If you just moved to a new city and feel abnormally lonely, your therapy experience is going to be strikingly different than someone who is processing the death of a parent or a sexual assault. Whatever kind of situation you feel you’d like to work through, there’s a therapist that specializes in helping you out.
“I tried it once, and it didn’t work.”
There’s an unfortunate assumption that all therapists are equal, and that’s just not true. I’ve been to plenty of first, second, and third sessions with therapists that I decided weren’t going to be a good fit based on any number of things from their demeanor to the kind of therapy that they wanted to use. What’s helpful here is to recognize that therapy is a process, which means that you might have to test a few people before deciding to commit to one for a few months.
“What I’m feeling is normal, I don’t need that.”
On paper, friends, my life looks pretty damn great. I’m close to my family, have deep and meaningful friendships, a wonderful (albeit long-distance) boyfriend, and a job that I love. I’m financially stable, have a self-care routine, and spend lots of time feeding my passion projects. My whole life, and maybe yours too, has been a series of above-average circumstances. Earlier in my life, I felt like I didn’t deserve to ask for help because I thought that people with straight-As and happy parents don’t suffer – whatever panic attacks or sadness or nightmares I was experiencing must be normal because I didn’t have any “real” problems.
This is the gist of what I told myself for years about negative emotions: deal with it. Your life isn’t falling apart, so if you feel like you’re falling apart, then your feelings are wrong. Deal with it.
Your feelings aren’t wrong. Or right, actually. They’re just (very real and important) indicators of what’s going on below the surface. So, it doesn’t matter if your life circumstances “measure up” to those of the friends you know who are already in therapy. If you’re feeling something you don’t understand or can’t manage, get some help.
Conversely, our experiences so often feel “normal” because they’re all we know, especially when we’re children. It can be hard to discern when our behavior or thoughts aren’t normal, and I’m grateful to have had friends and family members who are willing to point out when I’m doing something I didn’t even realize. For example, I criticize myself a lot, to the point where sometimes I can’t do anything right in my own eyes. I didn’t know that other people speak kindly to themselves and don’t fall apart in the face of failure – so my therapist and I are working on changing that behavior.
All in all, sure, maybe what you’re feeling is “normal.” But if you had the opportunity to feel better than “normal,” wouldn’t you want to at least give it a try? I think you’re worth that (I’m saying it to myself, too).
“I’m too tired.”
Same. Same same same. I’m tired of scrolling and comparing, tired of a disheartening news cycle, tired of beating myself up for being so tired. I sometimes feel like I have all this weight on my shoulders and it’s exhausting and I need somewhere to put it all – therapy is that place. There, I’ve learned how to take power away from some of those stressors and, surprisingly, the tired fog starts to lift.
“I’m too busy.”
One of the beauties of therapy is that it’s flexible. I bet you can find an hour every few weeks — at least if you really wanted to. Our time is currency, so it’s all about what you think is valuable enough to spend it on. Totally up to you. I’ve found that, like education, the return on investment is huge. Call it self-care, call it maintenance – but if you think that spending your time on yourself is a waste, I’d take a look at that.
“I don’t know how to find someone.”
Psychology Today is an awesome resource to find someone based on your zip code and preferences. If you’re part of a religious community, many of them will have resources readily available through the organization. And lastly, I almost guarantee there’s someone directly in your life who is in therapy and would be more than happy to give you a recommendation.
“It’s embarrassing. What will people think?”
Phew, do I get this. It’s so stinking hard for me to say I need help, ever. I want to help myself. Or, I want someone to fix me. The last thing I want is for someone to help me help myself – but isn’t that what the best of life is? Growth is deeply personal, but never solitary.
Thinking intently about what others think of us is a major reason many of us are in therapy to begin with. I wish I could tell you that everyone is universally accepting of therapy as a legitimate, normal, and bold way to keep yourself healthy. But, there are still some people (perhaps the voice in your head is one of them) who will view you as weak, needy, or broken for going to therapy. They are wrong. That’s a lie. And your therapist will tell you — the very first thing they’ll say to you when you walk into their office — “Thank you for coming in today, I’m so glad you’re here.” And they are because they know the strength required to end up on their couch.
And in the end, what does it matter what other people think? “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” Eleanor Roosevelt once told us. If people look at you differently because you’re being honest about the fact that you’re not perfect, well, that’s their problem. And you’ll rise above it.