In February, I started seeing a therapist for depression and anxiety that stemmed from a miscarriage I had in early 2018. I have previously written about the day I realized I needed professional help as well as the challenges of actually finding a therapist. I know how starting therapy can be overwhelming, so I thought I would discuss a bit of what my experience is like to give anyone who might be considering therapy an idea of what they might expect. Since every mental health journey is unique, your experiences may not match up with mine exactly. I refer a lot more to my anxiety during my treatment than my depression because it’s been the more pressing thing for me, so it’s gotten more therapy focus.
The first appointment is like the world’s most intense and awkward first date.
In your first appointment, you’re meeting your therapist and starting to see if they feel like a good fit for you. You’re also explaining a lot of your personal background to them as well as what is bringing you to therapy. It gets real personal real fast. Those things that you might get told are too intense to bring up on a first date, you’re supposed to put those on the table as much as you can in your first therapy appointment.
Sessions can be draining.
This was a heads-up I was given by a friend who also goes to therapy. I found it to be true for me as well, so I made it a point not to plan anything demanding that I can avoid the rest of the day after therapy. If the session was draining enough, I found I sometimes even crashed for a nap afterward and my kids learned that after I had therapy, mom is exhausted and it’s best to let her rest. On another note, my kids are aware I am going to therapy too. I talk about it in a rather matter-of-fact way with them because I don’t want them to view therapy as some sort of shameful secret. I’m hoping to normalize it enough that if either of my kids ever feels that they may need therapy, they feel that it’s a perfectly normal thing to seek out. We have two boys, and I am very much aware that there is still a heavier stigma against men seeking out therapy than when women do, so if either boy ever needs therapy, I want them to know they have back-up within their own family.
Being open-minded helps.
Your therapist will probably introduce you to a number of different coping methods. Some may click with you, others not so much. She said I have a really good attitude about being willing to try things. My thought process was that I was in therapy because what I was trying hadn’t done the job, so it didn’t make sense not to try out stuff she suggested. The visualizing of a calm place worked better for me than meditation. I simply found that I struggled to consistently find a calm enough space where I could be on my own to make meditation an actual habit. When she told me that my calm peaceful place could be something made up, I sort of took bits and pieces of things I was familiar with that was comforting and put them together into my own calm place. One of the earlier exercises was in recording times when I felt anxious in particular and noticing where I was feeling the anxiety physically. It seemed strange, but I went with it. Later I realized that I had taught myself how to recognize my physical anxiety symptoms, which often helped me be way more in tune with when I was having a bout and how serious it was.
I found that just having a therapist helped my anxiety.
When something was kicking my anxiety up, I felt an extra reassurance that within a week I would be able to talk to my therapist about it. I would often make a note in my journal of things that were kicking up my anxiety, and when I had my next session, I could bring up what was bothering me the most. I also found I was having an easier time not fixating on certain things. Writing it down and expressing it helped, and I reassured myself if it was still the most significant thing by my next appointment, I could bring it up. I began to recognize that many things were not bothering me enough by my next appointment to feel the need to bring them up, so I got better at not fixating on every single thing that caused me anxiety for days on end.
I had supports in place when Stay-at-Home hit.
I was about a month and a half into therapy when Stay-at-Home orders over Coronavirus hit our state. My first reaction was a long resigned “just great” sigh. Having anxiety before a pandemic hits tends to crank your already existing anxiety up quite a few notches. On the other hand, I had a huge safety net in place for dealing with the kind of mental health challenges a pandemic can bring up. That was a huge help and I found myself extremely grateful for it.
I now suspect I may have always had anxiety for far longer than I first realized.
The thing about learning about what my anxiety looks like is that I have started to notice patterns stretching back from before my miscarriage that makes me think that I’ve had anxiety probably since my childhood or teen years, but it’s just dropped to low enough levels at certain times that I was managing it and not really recognizing it for what it was. A pacing habit of mine that I used to have seems to have flared up again, and I realized that the times I do it the most seem to match up with times of high anxiety for me. With articles talking about the types of media that people find most helpful during high stress and high anxiety periods, I started to notice patterns in what media I prefer. First-person shooter games stress me out, so my gaming habit leans more towards The Sims, Planet Zoo, and Stardew Valley, often thought of as calmer games with a lot of sandbox play to them. I usually lean much more heavily on comedies in general or shows with enough humor to sort of balance anything more intense out. I tend to not go for the darker superhero movies, but things that come from Marvel I tend to love. My tendency to love romance novels of the supernatural and historical variety because of the happily-ever-after nature of their endings plays into this as well. I feel like I have a better understanding of why something may be too dark or intense for me, and I’m okay with that.
Overall, I’m glad I made the choice to start therapy, and it’s been a huge help in my life. If you or someone close to you is thinking of starting therapy, I hope this gave you an idea of what you might expect to see although, again, I will note that experiences will vary on an individual basis. My therapist was a good match for me and you may find that you need to try out more than one before finding a good fit for yourself. Take care of your mental health, it’s one of the best gifts you can give yourself.