“Well it all started when I was born…” I’m pretty sure those are the first words I said to my therapist during my intake appointment. What followed were a lot of tears, a huge sigh of relief and follow-up sessions every two weeks.
Deciding to go to therapy was one of the scariest things I’ve done in my life. I know that sounds dramatic, but I was always the strong friend, the helper, the one whose pride didn’t allow her to show emotion. The idea of baring my soul to a stranger absolutely terrified me. Besides, I didn’t think my problems were that big. In my eyes, I had friends in therapy for real issues like diagnosable mental illnesses or traumatic experiences. I felt like I would just complain to the therapist for an hour and waste their time.
It took me a while to wrap my head around the fact that you do not have to have a mental illness to go to therapy. I grew up with the belief that if you compared mental health to physical health, therapy was a treatment, not a check-up. Many people, including myself for a while, do not realize therapy can help you work through your everyday life and feelings. We all go through tough times and when you’re living life day by day, you tend to deal with the bad days or problems, then move on. One crisis at a time. But through therapy, I’ve learned more about why certain bad days feel worse, why I react to things the way I do and how I can alter my mindset to make myself feel better. Talking to a therapist is like talking to an old friend who knows you better than you know yourself.
I wasn’t always so open to talking about therapy, in fact I only started going this year.
I was in college for three years before I made the phone call to our counseling services. It took me three years to make one phone call. What gave me the courage to finally do it was friends’ support and Active Minds. I realized I couldn’t be a leader in an organization telling people to take their mental health seriously when I was neglecting my own. There’s a lot of things I want to be in this life, but a hypocrite is definitely not one.
I remember walking into my intake appointment shaking, forcing my legs to not get up and walk out the door. I was called back to do the short questionnaire, then walked back with the therapist. Once I sat down and started talking, I didn’t stop. The floodgates had been opened and I laid everything out on the table. I finally told her what I was most scared to say: “I don’t feel like I belong here, I feel selfish for complaining when in comparison my life isn’t that bad.”
What she said next honestly changed my life. She picked up the notepad where she had been jotting down as much as she could and said, “You can’t compare traumas or problems, just because everyone else has issues doesn’t mean yours aren’t real.”
Scanning her pen across the page she looked at me and said, “All of this is real, what you are feeling is real, and your feelings are valid.” That’s when the sigh of relief came and I decided to keep going back. I decided to prioritize my own mental health because I was worth it.
Thinking back to how scared I was to start therapy to now, being almost a spokesperson for it, makes me laugh. But I realize many students are just as nervous as I was. My best advice is: Make the call and go try it out. Your feelings and your problems are valid, and I promise someone cares.