This past mid-March, I was riding high, literally. I stood at the top of a mountain, dressed in an insulated, neon ski suit, poles in hand, ready to ski. I was running My Wellbeing, working actively as a therapist with a number of individuals, spending quality time with friends and family, and thought things were finally coming together...
Through rainbow-colored goggles, I looked down. I hadn't skied in over 15 years. First, my legs froze. The ski poles shook in my trembling hands, and my knees began to quiver. My boyfriend looked up at me from halfway down the mountain. His gaze of concern was the final straw. My eyes welled and tears streamed down my cheeks, feeling uncontrollable. I couldn't breathe. He approached me and I shooed him away. Then came the irrational thoughts: I was going to die on that day, away from home, on the top of that mountain.
I want to pause here. It took me a long time to decide to share this story with you. I am cognizant of the real, life-threatening traumas that are occurring every single day in our world. Racism, sexism, natural disasters, death, and poverty are just five of many. I often feel shame that my anxieties are silly, pretentious, unjustified. What could I possibly be so upset about? I was on vacation. I am so lucky to have the privilege to be on vacation. And skiing of all things - ha! I must be crazy. I shouldn't share this story, that's ridiculous. Let me just pretend it didn't happen, because of course I'm fine, and I'll share a story that's more deserving.
On this, I want to emphasize two things: It is important to be aware of the pains that surround us, and to advocate as much as possible to better the circumstances of those who are suffering, particularly when systemic injustices are at the root of the suffering. Those of us who have privilege must use it to help others.
At the same time, and I want to say this loud and clear: every single story is important. Every person deserves to be seen and heard. And, like Kevin Love said, everyone is going through something.
So, back to the story.
I happened to be with my boyfriend's family. When his mother saw me, she sat across from me and reminded me that it would be reasonable to be scared by something so new. That support and wisdom stays with me.
The next day, I signed up for a group skiing lesson. I learned that I was on a mountain that was many levels too advanced for my skill level. The professional hearing my story, acknowledging my fear, and supporting my growth, was transformational. Like my skiing therapist. By the end of the day, I had advanced two levels and was actually enjoying going down the mountain.
I am no stranger to anxiety. I have wrestled with some form of anxiety or depression since I was young. My recent ancestors immigrated here from Europe, some managing to escape the horrors of the Holocaust, some not as lucky. I carry their trauma with me, and every week, I learn more about it, talking through my thoughts and feelings with my therapist.
I do not always feel so sure. Some days, I have doubt. I fear what might happen if I uncover too much. I wonder if I have defense mechanisms up for a reason, and challenging them is dangerous. My mind taunts that I'll always be anxious, so what's the point?
The point is, it took me six years and several previous therapy attempts to find my current therapist, who I appreciate, respect, and sincerely feel I connect with. Week by week, I am learning, growing, and changing for the better.
It takes commitment, consistency, showing up, and a willingness to be vulnerable, the last of which was certainly new for me. I have seen the practice positively impact my work and my relationships with my family, my friends, my boyfriend, and perhaps most importantly, myself.
My amazement and gratitude for this ongoing experience fuels my interest in helping you find something similar. If you are interested in learning more, or starting your own journey, I'm happy to help. Read more about finding the right therapist or email me at [email protected] and let's get started.
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Alyssa Petersel, Co-Founder and CEO of My Wellbeing and author of Somehow I Am Different, graduated from Northwestern University in 2013 with dual BA degrees in psychology and international studies, graduated summa cum laude from New York University in May 2017 with her Master's in Social Work, and graduated from The Writer's Institute non-fiction program at CUNY Graduate Center in May 2017. A native New Yorker, Alyssa now lives in Brooklyn and enjoys running, coffee, community, and social justice.