In the summer before grade 12, I had my very first panic attack. I was lying on the couch at my cottage, sobbing and trying to catch my breath as I felt completely disengaged from the room around me. That episode prompted my parents to book me an appointment with a counsellor. Since I commonly kept my feelings and thoughts to myself, I met this new situation with a lot of hesitation. Sitting in an unfamiliar room with an unfamiliar person who wanted to know every detail of my life and mental state did not sound appealing. However, I gave it a try and ended up doing a year-long session with a great counsellor. As I graduated from high school, I also graduated therapy. I was feeling much better. I said goodbye to my counsellor and the therapy office, and I believed that with that I would say goodbye to my anxiety as well.
I was so wrong.
In my second year of university, I felt myself slipping into a dark mental state. I was lonely, isolated, and very anxious. I would cry and panic multiple times a day. In a time where I should have been empathetic and patient to myself, I couldn’t help but question why this was happening again. So I decided to give therapy another try, this time with a new therapist. I went through about a month of therapy in frustration because I wasn’t meeting my own standards of feeling better. I was still having the bad moments and I still felt my anxiety lingering.
I don’t know where my mental turning point came, but when it did it hit me hard. I realized that I had completely unrealistic expectations of myself and the process of therapy. I was giving myself no credit for my progress, instead focusing on every ounce of anxiousness I was feeling, both big and small. I wasn’t realizing that I was going days without the crying and panicking, I was only noticing the days when I was. As all this became clear, I made a commitment to myself to shift my way of thinking. That was the moment that my therapy process actually started.
The hardest thing for me to learn was that therapy is not the magic cure. I thought if I attended my sessions and talked everything out that my anxiety would go away. It took a lot of time and mental training to learn that anxiety is something that is going to be present in my life, but that doesn’t mean it had to be in the forefront of my mind. I learned that therapy is about coping, not “fixing”—there is no such thing as fixing anxiety! Having a confidential place to speak your mind and an unbiased figure to help you make sense of your feelings can be beneficial to even the littlest of worries. Through my different therapies, I have become so in touch with my own emotions. I know my triggers and I know when to spot my warning signs. Countering that, I know the things that make me feel better and I am much more confident in asking for help when I need it. It takes time and patience, but the most rewarding moment in my life thus far was the moment I truly acknowledged my personal and mental growth through therapy.
While it can be easy to falsely convince yourself that therapy will cure you, it is detrimental to the actual process. Therapy comes through accepting your mental illness and dismissing the romanticized idea of being “fixed”. By giving yourself the room to feel and experience, you learn what is lying deep down in your subconscious. Things are never going to be perfect, but by asking for help and working to better yourself, the bad times can feel less daunting. Always remember: mental health and therapy is not a linear path. It takes time, it will have setbacks, and most importantly, it requires you to be patient with yourself.
Stay in the loop for all things Common by joining our newsletter!