“I should have a therapist. I have plenty to therapise about.”
– Norah Jones
Let’s talk about therapy.
Or better: let’s start by talking about therapy they way I would have done it two years ago. I’d begin by rolling my eyes, I’d snort blatantly and recall a quote or two from a movie of Woody Allen’s. I’d tell you that that stuff doesn’t work, and if it does, it certainly doesn’t do anything to me.
Now let’s fast forward to today: I’m ready to swear to you that therapy has been the most life-changing experience of my life so far.
What made me change my mind? Months of anxiety, climaxing into a total breakdown and dragging me to a therapist’s office, for the first time of my life, as a desperate last ditch effort.
So life-changing I was saying, but how exactly? What did really therapy do to me, in order to put me back on track, make me start a new phase of my life and give me so much trust about a practice I couldn’t talk about without raising my eyebrow? What was therapy to me?
First of all, therapy was my safe place. When I entered my therapist’s office for the first time, my anxiety had already reached a level in which everything, literally everything, scared the hell out of me. Going out of my house, meeting people, answering the phone, receiving emails, eating, moving from a room to another, there was nothing I could do without being triggered to a state of raging fear.
That office immediately felt like a safe place. That woman immediately felt like a supporter in a world of enemies.
Therapy soon turned out to be actually healing. No matter how skeptical I had been and still was, since the first session I had been feeling somehow a little relieved during the hour I spent there and, once I got out, some of that relief managed to walk with me and follow me home. That little relief summed up every other week and, in a couple of months, signs of my healing were already showing up; symptoms were slowly releasing the grip they had on me. Therapy wasn’t the only player in this game of course, meds were supporting me along the way, but unlike pills, that were working subtly without me noticing exactly the when and how of their effect, therapy was laying its cards on the table: I could feel it helping me out during and in between the sessions.
Therapy was my lifebuoy in the middle of the ocean. It rescued me while I was in the middle of my storm and it represented an anchored spot I could look at whenever – in between sessions – I felt like I was about to get lost again. Whenever something bad happened or fears resurfaced, I knew I was going to meet my therapist again in few days, I knew I only had to swim on a little bit and then I’d find my rescue buoy in her office and rest there to regain some strength, before diving back into my everyday life again.
Session after session, I realized I had no familiarity with my own emotions. I found (and partially still find) very difficult to observe, interpret, manifest and verbalize my emotions and feelings. Much of the work with therapy lays in the exploration of your emotional-self and, in order to do it, it is essential to let your emotions emerge as they flow through you, during the sessions as well. To my great surprise, I realized that my therapist’s office was a gym where I was allowed to train feelings I had never permitted to myself, in public especially. I was allowed to express her my trust, to show my imperfections, to be vulnerable, to talk about stuff that hurt and embarrassed me, about rage and pain, and all of that was possible because I had felt, since the beginning, that she was there to help me without any judgment or reservations. In other words, therapy was the first place where I could train myself into being a real person, the real myself, and being completely accepted, exactly the way I was.
Therapy was my school, where I’ve learnt some of the most important things so far. I learnt there that well-being is not a bonus, it’s not something you are simply lucky to have. Well-being, feeling at ease in your own skin, feeling good both physically and psychologically is my right, I do deserve that and – most of all – pursuing that state is not a sign of egoism, it’s rather my duty and my natural mission, I am entitled to strive for it.
Therapy was finding human warmth during a very tough time. Much of the stuff you may discover about yourself and the way human psyche works can be probably learnt and retrieved in tons of books and online material. But having someone greeting me into her office, shaking my hand as I got in, looking at my face while I talked, showing signs of the emotions my words were producing in her, softly patting me on my shoulder while I was leaving her office for good, it all made the whole process warmer, deeper and, I believe, more effective. Anxiety had struck me so bad, that I was either scared about people around me or unwilling to show myself to them in such a difficult moment. Facing at the same time a professional who knew how to help and a person who showed me her empathy infused me with trust and hope.
Therapy was like acquiring a brand new compartment for my tool box. Therapy helped me learn the art of introspection, and exactly like learning how to ride a bike, introspection is a process that can’t be reversed. Therapy may be over, but the ability of examining my thoughts and feelings will stay and possibly get stronger with practice. Therapy itself is now one of the tools in my box; I know now that it helped me a lot in time of need and I know I could get back to it, should I need it again.
Therapy was the fuse that triggered the first changes in me and started a virtuous chain reaction. Change, you know, is contagious; one change leads to another and, for me, it all was initiated by therapy. It was because of therapy that I discovered the importance of taking care of myself, then got interested in yoga and meditation, then became more and more curious about psychology, then collected very interesting reads, then realized how much unaware of anything emotion-related I was, then discovered the importance of giving space to my emotional-self, then slowly started learning to embrace my vulnerabilities, then began opening up to them, and so many other thens. The person I am now, despite being a continuous work-in-progress human being, is very different from the one I was before everything started and all of this was definitely primed by therapy.
Therapy was an experience I won’t forget. Meeting my therapist meant meeting a person who helped me stand again on my own two feet after I had fallen, who lit a light to show me that there was a way out of that dark, who held me while I was getting on my bike again and gradually let me go once I re-learned how to ride it. I won’t forget that process, I won’t stop being grateful to her.
Therapy was a lot of work. I don’t want to paint it like a bed of roses, therapy requires a lot of work and commitment. It requires time and money. You may stumble upon stuff that’s not pleasant to acknowledge about you and people you care about. Sometimes it drained me physically too, the way I’d feel after a day working in a mine. But no matter how tired I felt at the end of the day after an appointment, I always felt it like it was a good kind of tiredness, a productive one, like the one I feel after a very intense workout.
Therapy work was a great investment for me; my work was rewarded by healing from the anxiety symptoms that had stolen my life, by learning to be a more genuine version of myself, by acquiring a little more confidence in myself, by understanding how fears had prevented me from living a real and full life, by making peace with some of my feelings, by refocusing my goals for my future, and that’s just part of the benefit I got (and I’m still getting) from it.
Therapy was fun. As weird as it may sound, I had my fun moments during therapy. Once the worst was over and anxiety symptoms began to fade out, discovering some of the cause-effect reactions in my body, learning more about who I am and why I am like that had its share of humour. And, having always been prone to making fun of myself, I remember sharing a laugh or two with my therapist too. No need to say how much this meant to me in terms of toning down the tension when the subject got tougher and increasing trust and proximity with my therapist.
Therapy meant a lot to me. Weird as it may sound, I’ll never stop being grateful to that breakdown for dragging me to my therapist’s office. The results that came from that experience go way beyond any goal that I could have set back then, in my worst moments. What I got from therapy is priceless both for what happened during those months of treatment and – most of all – for all the changes that were triggered by it and that are still producing results now, years later.
If you, or anyone you know, is resisting the idea of starting therapy, please take a moment to consider the huge gift that may come from that experience and give it a try. In retrospect, I myself would do it again. Hands down.
If you’ve stumbled upon this page and reached the bottom of it, you’ve just made me happy, but if you really wish to make me thrilled and proud, please feel free to leave a comment here below. I’d love to read your feedback, suggestions, opinions of any kind (and I’d love to reply to them too). Come on, just scroll down a little bit… 🙂