I’ve never felt shy or shameful about physical therapy. By contrast, just the mere idea of psychological therapy used to hold major stigma from my perspective. Physical therapy became a part of my life when I was 15 years old to lessen the symptoms of scoliosis. A decade later I returned for a knee injury. Ten years after that, I would go again to recover from back surgery. My mindset toward physical therapy has always been one of dedication to rehabilitation and commitment to returning stronger, smarter, and more flexible on the other side.
When I was a younger person, I thought people who went to talk therapy must have experienced deeply destructive trauma far worse than mine, suffered severe mental illness, or were perhaps downright “crazy.” I couldn’t imagine what would ever happen to land me in therapy, and how much a failure that would prove I had become.
On The Crazy Train
Fast forward a dozen years and you’d find me in the trenches of motherhood, marriage, and adulthood I had no training for. Add to that my undiagnosed post-partum anxiety and a severe degree of sleep deprivation, and “crazy” is exactly how I felt.
Every day, I got up early, worked out, and “functioned” to the best of my ability…never feeling like I measured up. I lost my cool with my kids more than I wish I would have. I laid in bed and criticized myself at night, for everything from how the chicken was cooked to how I phrased something to a family member or friend. My mind held me captive in my very own torture chamber. The thought patterns that grooved pathways into my brain threatened my wellness on a daily basis.
Something had to change, and I knew it. It felt like I was losing myself. I discovered Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), read several life changing books (i.e. Unoffendable by Brant Hansen and Untamed by Glennon Doyle), and routinely listened to educated podcasters (shout out Armchair Expert). I started diving in and doing the best I could to rewire my brain, proactively taking steps to heal the hurts that had become impossible to ignore.
People Who Love You
Early in 2020, my sister in law attended a women’s conference where she listened to several brave women share stories and testify the strength and wisdom their struggles delivered to them.
One particular speaker reminded my sister-in-law of me. The woman got up on stage and shared her experiences of living with anxiety as a mother of four and woman in the world today. My sister-in-law was moved to tears and went into the bathroom to collect herself. A short time later, the woman who had spoken walked into the bathroom, too.
My sister in law approached her to tell her how much her story had meant, and she told her about me. Right there in a public bathroom, my sister in law and this woman prayed for me. Then, a final offering: the name and contact information for the speaker’s therapist, highly recommended.
When my sister-in-law tentatively told me this story, feeling like I may not be receptive to the therapist’s info, instead I cried cleansing and grateful tears. How does one human get so lucky to have such loving people walk alongside them? I took the therapist’s number down in notes on my phone, but it would sit there without consequence for nearly a year.
It’ll Pass, It Always Does
On October 28th of 2020, after months of homeschool and distance learning with my kids, being isolated inside our homes and conditioned to be scared of anyone on the outside during the COVID-19 pandemic, my kids returned, masked, to in-person learning. It snowed 18 inches that day.
I had mixed emotions. Sadness because my kids had to be masked, but joy that they’d finally be with their peers. I was shocked the district didn’t call a snow day. I faced the morning with a sense of bewilderment, hardly knowing how to step into my time without my children at home for the first day in months. Enter Halloween decorations.
At the base of my stairs that day, I stacked two long rectangular bins full of Halloween paraphernalia on top of each other and heaved them up off the floor. Instantly, I felt my nerve pinch and the pain radiate down my leg. “Here we go again,” I thought. And moved on with my bodily arrogance. Sciatica had been a part of my life for 10 years. It’ll pass, it always does. PSA: I definitely should have only lifted one bin at a time and taken two trips. Don’t do dumb things like I did.
Way Past Rock Bottom
This time, the sciatica didn’t pass. It worsened. A very long and painful MRI revealed a herniated disc pressing on my sciatic nerve. For a year, I spent every single day in excruciating pain, unable to sit or sleep hardly at all. From experience, I learned chronic pain will uproot your life, change your personality, and plummet you into depression. It is an invisible demon that wreaks havoc on every corner of your existence.
By January of 2021, I felt like rock bottom was above me and I was in the depths of hell. It was time to toss the shovel I’d dug myself into this pit with aside. I had to build a ladder instead. I searched back in my notes and called that therapist. One gift the pandemic gave us all is the ability to hold video meetings. It didn’t matter that this professional was hundreds of miles away from me. Theralink, therapy’s Zoom, was right at my fingertips.
No Pressure, It’s Fine
Filling out my intake information, I reflected on the old stigma I held about the endeavor I was about to partake in. I wondered how my first session would go, and if I would feel strange telling my deepest, darkest feelings and stories to a complete stranger via the screen of my computer.
I felt very aware that the help I received would be in direct correlation to the information I shared. Therefore, I had to do my best to tell the whole story. Be blatantly honest about my immaturities, my insecurities, my judgments, my narratives, the voice in my head, and what felt irreparably broken inside of me. NO PRESSURE. IT’S FINE.
Do you know how hard it is to not try and make your therapist like you? I mean seriously. It’s hard. It took me a little while to bust open my outer shell and call myself out so that she could call me out, too. Cue Elsa in Frozen 2: SHOW YOURSELF!!!
Being that vulnerable is probably akin to streaking down Main Street at midday. Many might choose running around public in their birthday suit rather than show the layers of themselves, buried beneath years of poor coping skills, justifications, and excuses.
Once a week for six months, I logged on to Theralink and poured out my soul. There were times at the end of my session that I would dissolve into crying, completely undone by the unpacking. Psychological therapy, like physical therapy, is tremendously painful at times, and takes a great deal of courage and commitment.
Digging Deep to Grow
I remember one session, my therapist was straightforward with me in response to a behavior I had confessed demonstrating. The next session, she apologized to me. She said she had been harsh on me, and that she thought about it for the last week.
I appreciated her compassion and willingness to consider her approach. Also, I told her I was not paying her to walk on eggshells around me. I didn’t believe she had been harsh. She was doing her job to help me see my blind spots and consider new methods or perspectives. How else would I begin to grow?
Talking about my therapist and the wisdom she offered me became commonplace within my household and my relationships. I feel a sense of responsibility to de-stigmatize the idea of talk therapy; for my children and anyone who will listen.
Within therapy, aspects of my upbringing were pointed out or framed in new ways that I had never considered. I felt like a house, with cluttered rooms so dark and tucked away inside me that I hardly remembered they were part of my architecture. My therapist flipped switches and shed light for me to see, revealing those rooms and making them far easier to clean up.
After six months, I decided to take a break. My therapist told me I could reach out any time. And I did a few months later, and then again almost a year after that. My therapy appointments are less consistent now. But, the freedom and support I feel knowing I can reconnect for professional, unbiased guidance is a tool I’m incredibly grateful to have in my toolbox. Therapy didn’t fix me, but it did teach me that I am not irreparably broken. I can continue to mend and grow into better versions of myself, so long as I am willing.
Normalization and Accessibility
Therapy is expensive, like most specialized healthcare in the United States. If private practice services aren’t in a person’s budget, there is the option of online. Betterhealth.com, an online therapy platform, is a fraction of the price of traditional therapy and it matches you with a therapist based on your needs. It is my hope that therapy will not only become more widely available and accessible to people of all backgrounds, but that it will become as mainstream as getting a physical from your primary care provider.
The Greatest Gift
Our brain health as a human race is crucial to our thriving. The stigmatization I held all those years ago about therapy was completely obliterated, replaced with a deep appreciation and respect for intentional healing of unhealthy disruptors to the wellbeing of the human mind. It’s brave, it’s humbling, and it is transformative. Being given the opportunity every single day to think again, rewire, reconsider, and continuously improve feels like the greatest gift I can give to myself and to those around me. If you have ever wanted to give therapy a try but never felt you really could, dive in the pool. Commit to your unending growth. It is worth taking the plunge.
Love this friend. Thanks for being vulnerable and sharing your therapy experience!
Oh, my, gosh! I wanted this piece to keep going and going. It’s inspired me to be sure I continue on a path of having a strong support network. You did a beautiful job de-stigmatizing the gifts of therapy. You’re story is beautiful and I’m so grateful for this blog!!!!!
Thank you so much Crystal, I’m so glad you enjoyed the writing and the story!