What Therapy is Really Like: Michelle's Therapy Journey
Have you been wondering what therapy is like, and whether it’s right for you? A few weeks ago, we shared Anna’s therapy journey, and this week, we share Michelle’s. Michelle is a young professional and My Wellbeing client living in New York City. In her essay, Michelle talks about identifying as an overachiever, feeling like her problems weren’t serious enough for therapy, and eventually finding a therapist who has begun to help her feel -- if she had to put one word to it -- lighter. Read on to hear her story firsthand.
I’ve always been hard on myself.
There are many moments in my life where I remember having what I thought were irrational reactions to the so-called “normal” parts of growing up—sobbing in the 4th grade when I forgot to do my homework, breaking down in front of my 9th grade English class when I forgot an assignment, crying for 4 periods straight when I got a detention...seeing a pattern here? I’ve always had an incredibly supportive family and network of friends who told me I needed to “calm down.” Everyone makes mistakes, they said, this wasn’t the end of the world. No one seemed to understand that I couldn’t calm down, no matter how much I wanted to.
Any tiny mistake certainly felt like the end of the world. As I got older, the public waterworks morphed into a nasty internal monologue. Any time I made an error (which, as a human being, tends to happen a lot), I couldn’t stop the sinking feeling in my chest and the thoughts that wouldn’t let up. You’re stupid, how could you mess that up? I chalked it up to being an overachiever, a perfectionist. I told myself I had high standards for myself because I knew what I was capable of.
A hiccup as minor as forgetting to do something at work or knowing that a friend was upset with me would be almost crippling to me. Instead of picking my head up and moving forward, I’d be paralyzed for days with negativity inside my head, unable to focus on anything but feeling stupid/foolish/just plain bad. At the same time, I never let anyone else know how I was feeling. Why should I bother someone else with my problems? Unbeknownst to me, each time I bottled up another negative thought, I was adding fuel to a little fire that burned inside me.
Guilt began to weigh down on me like a rock in my chest at the end of the day. Some days, if I remembered to think about it, I couldn’t even figure out what I felt guilty about. It was just always there. I’d lay in bed for hours at night, my mind always finding something to worry about, too afraid to sleep and face the next day. For a long time, I accepted it as part of life. I knew it wasn’t normal, but I thought there was nothing I could do about it. This is just how I am, I can deal with it.
What I realized eventually was that I couldn’t. Not alone, anyway.
As an adult, I realized I didn’t want to keep feeling so negative and afraid. I tried self-help books, yoga, meditation, “you can do it” podcasts, which all helped in the short-term. But then something unexpected would happen and I’d begin my internal spiral all over again. And then I started to think more about therapy.
I used to think that therapy was reserved for people with “real problems.” Who would want to listen to me whine about feeling sad or anxious sometimes (okay, maybe a lot of the time)? I had a good job, good family, good friends, a good place to live. I thought I should keep the therapists free to talk to people who had bigger things to deal with.
When I learned about My Wellbeing, I was intrigued. I’d never actually known what the process would be to find a therapist (let alone in New York City) and it seemed too overwhelming to ever explore on my own. My Wellbeing made it so accessible that I figured I owed it to myself to at least give it a shot.
It’s honestly been one of the best decisions I ever made.
After just a few months, I’ve noticed a huge difference in how I feel after just discussing these recurring themes and feelings in my life with my therapist. What’s been most surprising to me is that my therapist never tells me what I should do or how I should “fix” myself (which is what I always pictured therapy being like). It’s not always easy, but she helps me identify those feelings that I have been carrying with me for most of my life. She helps me understand that I can choose to be kind to myself. If I had to put a word to it, therapy has made me feel lighter.
I know I have a long way to go (I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a minor meltdown over a mistake last week) but for the first time, I feel like I have the tools to identify what’s been standing in the way of my happiness. I’m only at the beginning of my therapy journey, but I can’t wait to see where it brings me.
Thank you, Michelle, for sharing your story.
If you’d like to share your therapy journey with My Wellbeing, we’re all ears! Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to connect, collaborate, and #breakthestigma together.