How Therapy Saved My Life
By Melissa Lipari
The first thing a lot of people seek out when they are facing issues with mental health is therapy. Therapy is a fantastic outlet for those who feel like they can’t face their mental health alone - it’s a safe space for all of your thoughts and feelings to pour out. For an hour once a week, once a month, or maybe more frequently than that, you don’t have to worry about what others might think or say about you - you are in your own bubble with a trusted professional.
Some people are more apprehensive about therapy than others. The idea of having to come to terms with your feelings and deepest thoughts is pretty terrifying. It also might be weird to talk your heart out with a complete stranger that you are paying to listen to you and comment back. The whole concept is abnormal to many.
However for me, I have always loved therapy and I think it was a defining factor in my mental health journey that has truly changed my life for the better. Without therapy, I’m not sure if I would be here typing this right now. Therapy has saved my life, time and time again, to the point where it has taught me how to actually start living my life. But, it took many years to get to this moment. This is my short love letter on how therapy saved me.
I religiously went to therapy for a large portion of my life. I started going when I was around 13, then stopped during my senior year of high school, then went back my freshman year of college. From my freshman year to my senior year of college, I was at therapy once a week, every other week, every 2 weeks, until I slowly phased it out of my life.
I loved my therapist with all of my heart, she became like a second mother to me. She never judged me, she was always kind, and she was the nudge in the right direction that I needed to make right with everything that I felt was going wrong in my head. She helped me get a grip on my Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) - something that I am eternally grateful for.
I found out at the end of 2019 that my therapist was moving, which meant no more in person meetings. This left me at a crossroads. I felt as though I was ready to stop therapy all together. I had been already weaning myself off in preparation for a busy year ahead of me. I spent a large part of Winter Break of 2019 bettering myself, patching myself up from the daily anxieties that I was facing, while many of my friends were partying in Florida. Make no mistake: I willingly made this choice and I’m so glad that I did.
I could take the route of Telemed (not knowing a few months later that Telemed would be the medicine of the future) but I liked having to hold myself accountable for showing up to an appointment. I liked having to take the 20 minute drive, where I could think about what I wanted to say on the way there and then process everything that I felt on the drive back. I loved the feeling of walking out of my therapist’s office with air back in my lungs and relief washing over my entire body.
As you can probably guess, I chose door number one, which was to end my therapy journey and start 2020 with a new mental health goal: to get through my obstacles on my own. My toolkit of anti-anxiety methods was pretty full and I had been implementing those tools for months, maybe years in some cases. I was making sure to eat as clean as possible, since what you put in your body directly affects your mental health. I was trying to exercise as much as possible, whether that meant going to the gym a few times a week or walking miles in New York City on the days that I had class because raising your heart rate and getting endorphins pumping is extremely important. I was meditating and writing in my journal daily as a way to unwind after a long day or to log my feelings when I wasn’t at therapy.
I also started seeing a psychiatrist in 2017, which aided in my anxiety management tremendously, as it gave me the little extra boost that I needed in my brain to get through tough situations or my complicated past. I felt like I was ready to face my problems head on, without the guidance of my therapist.
As someone with generalized anxiety disorder, I don’t have just one trigger. I have many triggers that have sprouted throughout my life. It started with public speaking when I was 13, became separation anxiety when I moved away to college, then turned into being anxious to leave my comfort zone as I grew into a young adult and had to step into the unknown territory of “the real world”. I still feel a lot of these triggers to this day, as I must disclaim that my anxiety has not magically “poofed” into thin air, I’m only human.
I still face anxiety all the time, the difference now, is that it’s not at the forefront of my mind. It pops up now and then when my past triggers present themselves or new obstacles stir that gut-wrenching feeling in my stomach, but it isn’t all that I think about anymore. I have mastered the art of distraction, one of my most important tools from therapy.
I have utilized hobbies, hanging out with friends or family, and virtually any form of mind diversion as a form of distraction. Which has kept me from having all-consuming anxiety in the last few months, something I can definitely thank therapy for. Therapy itself was also a distraction in many ways. It allowed me to confront my problems, but it was also a place that upheld me to a schedule, responsibilities, and communication, that led me away from the darker thoughts that I sometimes found myself facing.
I came to realize that routines and schedules were a large defining factor in my personal mental wellness. I never thought of going to school or doing my homework as distractions or routines, I just thought of them as things that I had to do. Once I looked at them in a new light, brought forward by therapy, I gained a new perspective on how to navigate life.
Everything became an integral part of my routine, from brushing my teeth in the morning to my skincare routine at night. I learned to not tip the scale if something went missing from my routine, an aspect that took a lot of practice and self-control, and rather looked forward to doing it all again tomorrow. Fresh starts became my mantra instead of being bogged down by the baggage of the past.
I could probably go on forever about all of the ways in which therapy has changed the way that I think, act, and feel but I don’t think anyone will really understand unless they’ve had an experience like mine. Yet, I encourage everyone to seek help from a professional. Even if you feel like you don’t need it or if you’ve had a few bad experiences with therapists, just try it out or try again. I have loved therapy for many years but I had my skepticism at some points. I would be lying if I said that every moment was perfect.
Therapy is hard work, it takes a lot of self-discipline and drive to want to fix yourself. I went through months of my life where I found myself trying to pull my mind from the sink-hole that was my anxiety and thought that maybe just succumbing to it all was the best option. Looking back, I know that sometimes succumbing to the pain and the hurt is the easiest part. It’s much harder to pick yourself up than to just stay down in my opinion. If I could give one rule of thumb, it would be this: don’t let the idea of therapy being hard-work discourage you from trying it. Going to therapy was the hardest but also the most rewarding time of my life.
I believe that we all have the right to better ourselves and live a full life. Below, I have listed some resources if you are looking for a way to start your therapy journey. We all have different ideals of what our therapy process will look like, so take into consideration each one and see which fits. Personally, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) worked the best for me but mental health is not a “one-size-fits-all” kind of situation. You have to put in the effort to find what works for you and what will bring you inner peace. But once you find that inner peace, you’ll likely thank your past self for giving this all a chance.
Mental Health Resources:
Alternative Resources If You Can’t Afford Therapy:
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