May is Mental Health Awareness month. In 1949 the Mental Health Awareness organization started this initiative to bring awareness to the importance of taking care of one’s mental health and to end the stigma that doing so was a “bad thing”.
First off I would like to say, every person and I mean every person – just like going to the dentist or to your primary care physician should feel comfortable going to a therapist. Talking about what is in your mind to another person should not be considered weak or unnecessary. There is so much power in being vulnerable and opening up to someone who is trained to help you figure out what is happening in there. I know from personal experience that the first step into therapy can be terrifying.
So I am going to tell you a story about how I ended up in therapy 30 some odd years ago and hope that it will help you to take the first step to getting a therapist. Like many people, therapy was not part of the conversation growing up. Both of my parents are children of depression- aged parents. Sort of the pull yourselves up by your bootstraps kind of thinking. So I had that same mindset – well sort of.
I moved out and moved to NYC as soon as I could. I had dreams of being in fashion but no real direction as to how to get there. I went to a small school, graduated and got a job in retail. All was good until it wasn’t. I was lost and confused. I was going from one bad relationship to the next and one job to the next. I was hands down my own worst enemy. I moved in and out of friendships, relationships and jobs with no real anchor.
Then one day, after the end of another terrible relationship, my roommate at the time said to me,
Have you thought about therapy? It was the 90’s – no internet, no social media, no real information about mental health and therapy – I had taken a psych class at some point but never considered therapy as a thing for me. I mean – I could just pick myself up and dust myself off and start again. This time though it was different. I was in a funk and could not pull myself out of it in the ways that had worked before. As I started to reflect on the ways that I had done things before I realized that those tricks did not really work for me either and maybe it was time for a different approach.
So I dusted off the phone book and made some appointments and got started finding a therapist. It was weird at first, I can’t lie. I was waiting for some huge ah ha moment – and finally I realized I just needed to find someone who I felt comfortable telling what was going on in my head.
I am forever grateful to Barbara Stone LCSW, for supporting me while I was working on the next chapter of my life. She helped me to clear the clutter from my brain, see where maybe I was not doing things that best served me, all without giving me advice or judging me. Her job (as is the job of all therapists) was to help me understand myself better and make better choices and decisions.
What Therapy has taught me
In my teens and early twenties, I can look back and see periods of depression and overwhelming anxiety – that kept me from making choices that would set me up for success. The path that I was headed in my early twenties was not the path I am on now for sure. Therapy helped me to not only make decisions that served me but to try and fail, and instead of the old way of picking myself up and starting over – I learned how to break patterns of behaviors and thoughts that were causing me to do the same thing over and over. So I found myself trying new things and creating new thought patterns and growing.
Therapy has also taught me what mental health really is. Today on almost every IG feed, FB feed and Twitter you can’t go a day without hearing about taking care of your mental health. This post is about therapy – for sure – but how do you know when things are getting out of hand?
For me it was easy, I couldn’t stop crying after a break up – but in a way that was not really cathartic but more like years of tears that would not stop – so I knew something was up. For you it may be different. One thing I like to ask people when they ask me if therapy is right for them – “Would you talk to anyone in your life the way you talk to yourself in your head?” 99% of people tell me no – they would never say the things that they say to themselves about or to other people. If what is happening in your mind is so negative that you would never say it outloud – that is a good sign you may benefit from therapy.
Reasons to Consider Therapy
Anxiety, depression, behaviors that don’t feel like they serve you – cheating on your partner, drinking too much, drugs, emotional abuse from relatives, friends and loved ones. Poor boundaries – that feeling that you are always over extended. These are just a few reasons to consider therapy. Checking in on your mental health and emotional wellbeing is always important – It leads to better relationships, better work performance, better communication and overall better health!
Mental Health and Physical Health
I am forever saying that your mental health is just as important as your physical health for multiple reasons but one main reason is your mental health has a DIRECT impact on your physical health! A very quick google search and you will see what I mean
Taking care of your mental health reduces: heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure. Depression is linked to chronic illness – diabetes, cancer, auto-immune disorders, asthma – to name a few.
Sleep is directly impacted by your mental health – how many times have you laid awake because of negative thoughts running through your head? What about work anxiety keeping you up at night, or worry about your family and friends.
Over eating, under eating, drugs and alcohol abuse – these are all related to what is going on in your mind. The conditions start with thoughts – or because of thoughts we do not want to have for whatever reason – be it conditioning or be it social pressure. Therapy will help you to normalize these intrusive thoughts and thought patterns and help you to break free of negative vices and behaviors that keep you from living a full life.
I knew I needed help and was fortunate to have someone in my life who could point me in the right direction and normalize therapy for me. I hope that I can do the same for you. There are so many ways to seek treatment now – no more phone books, it is as easy as looking at your phone but the feelings are still there. You have to be vulnerable to take that first step. If you leave with anything – know that you are not alone and that we are not meant to do everything by ourselves and sometimes that pick yourself up by the bootstraps mentality – just isn’t going to cut it. Everyone needs an accountability partner. Someone who is non-bias, who will listen and can help you sort things out.
It is my choice to still be in therapy – 30 years later – because I believe there is always something to talk about. Your relationship to therapy may be different. It could be a relationship you rely on to get through a rough patch, or one that you rely on to learn new behaviors, one that helps you heal from a bad relationship setting you up for success in the next one – whatever the case is for you – therapy is always a good option. One that will make you a better partner, friend, parent – whichever role you see yourself in. I hope that you will reach out to a therapist to get the support you need to make real concrete change in your mind.
Since 1949 the Mental Health Awareness organization has been working on raising awareness of the importance of your mental health. Here we are in 2021 let’s finally break the stigma that we have to do this alone. There is a therapist that is ready to hear all the thoughts in your mind and this relationship should be held at the same esteem as your primary care provider. We are all entitled to Be. Well.