IT'S BEEN A WILD YEAR
I'll admit that this milestone crept up on me. So much has happened in the last year that I'd almost forgotten about this anniversary, but I suppose I'm not entirely surprised at the same time. Over the last twelve months, I've started a new job, started grad school to eventually become a therapist, dyed my hair silver (or white depending on the day), experienced the end of a really significant relationship, and even started going to church again. Amidst all the change, I almost didn't realize that I had also come up on my one year anniversary of FINALLY going to therapy.
In all honesty, I probably should've gone to therapy years ago. There were days in high school where I would lose hours at a time trapped in my own anxious thoughts, totally dissociating for stretches of time. Apparently, things started to stabilize in college, because these spells came with far less frequency and intensity. I had conversations with a friend of mine about how I should take advantage of the free counseling services center at my school, but I convinced myself I was fine, that I wasn't that person that had to go to THERAPY. I may have deluded myself into believing that, but I did have a complete emotional breakdown just a week before I was supposed to leave to study abroad for a semester. In the aftermath of that, I almost decided not to spend the semester in Spain that ended up being incredibly healing.
But shortly after college graduation, the anxiety returned with a vengeance. Over the course of a few months, I remember several days where I ended up calling in sick to work because the anxiety and cyclical thoughts had kept me up from 9pm to 3am when I had to wake up at 6am to get ready for the day.
I PROBABLY SHOULD'VE GONE TO THERAPY YEARS AGO
As 2017 New Year's rolled around and I found myself almost consistently having debilitating anxiety attacks, I sucked up my pride and decided it was time to do something about it. I had things I wanted to do in life, and I could not be calling out of work because I was up almost until sunrise the previous night with anxiety winding my stomach into knots. I needed to be able to function.
Here, my inner future therapist should clarify that literally everyone can benefit from therapy, even if you're not spiraling into impaired daily functioning, but my stubborn self just happened to wait until I was hitting those low levels of functioning to finally drag myself in. I held off starting therapy until it got bad. Don't be me.
I HELD OFF STARTING THERAPY UNTIL IT GOT BAD. DON'T BE ME.
In February 2017, I had my first session, and this last year has sincerely been life changing. Therapy has taught me to unclench the fists I had been squeezing so tightly, trying to have perfect control over my feelings and emotions and suppressing anything that I had told myself "I wasn't allowed to feel." It taught me to breathe a little more deeply and to walk into the dark caverns of my anxious thoughts and fears, to let the cool shadows wrap themselves around me to learn that they wouldn't consume me.
Therapy told me that I would be okay, that whatever rush of emotion that came was okay. It soothingly whispered that it was okay to let the tides of thick, painful feelings roll in, because I had to feel eventually, but it also enthusiastically nodded that it was okay to let the bright flashes of energy and joy spark up. It said that though we may label our individual experiences as good or bad, our emotions don't inherently carry those modifiers. Both the pain and the joy are good and necessary things we need to feel, and it's okay to take them as they come.
BOTH THE PAIN AND THE JOY ARE GOOD AND NECESSARY THINGS WE NEED TO FEEL
For a long time prior to starting therapy, I think I believed that the pain and darkness we feel at times in life were things to be worked through and swiftly pushed away, ephemeral creatures that lashed out at us and kicked us while we were down. But I think it's perhaps more accurate to say that this pain and darkness is an extension of our own shadow, a murky reflection of ourselves that needs more comforting and holding than fighting and shoving.
Rather than resisting our shadow selves and refusing to feel, thinking that they'll go away if we just ignore them for long enough, I think we need to try something else. Perhaps it seems counterintuitive, but I think we need to reach out our arms and hold the hands of our shadow selves, telling our dark counterparts that it's okay to settle deeply into the hurts and wounds we've experienced in our lives, because we're still alive and we're still breathing and our hearts are still beating. And at least amidst the work I've done with all the different shadow selves that have stretched out behind me over the years, I've discovered that as we hold hands with our shadow selves and even come intimately close to them, forehead to forehead, that they slowly begin to dissipate and reintegrate into ourselves. This doesn't always mean that the pain disappears or goes away, but we what we do find is that as we reintegrate these pieces of ourselves, they give us back more of our strength because we learn that we're stronger than we thought. And I think that multiplicity of strength comes from learning to be comfortable with ourselves, even the dark, wounded, hurting parts of ourselves, and learning to allow ourselves to feel the darkness, even when it hurts.
WE NEED TO REACH OUT OUR ARMS AND HOLD THE HANDS OF OUR SHADOW SELVES
Even as much as we may want it to be, therapy isn't magic, and in truth, your therapist never really has the power to heal you. They do have some of the clinical knowledge and experience to help guide you through your healing process, but ultimately, I think you find that therapy is really the process of learning how to heal yourself, learning to give yourself permission to feel, whether those feelings are warm, fuzzy ones or dark, painful ones. And sometimes, all therapy does is give you the space to convince yourself to slowly feel through all the different things you've resisted feeling for a long time, for whatever reason.
I'd heard the phrase before, but now I believe that therapy is truly work, hard work, but I also believe it's worth it. If I'm being perfectly honest, 2017 was one of the roughest and most difficult years I've experienced in quite some time, perhaps partially because I was in therapy for the majority of it. At the same time, I am truly grateful for the privilege of being in therapy over the course of 2017, because I think it's helped me scrape away so many of the scabs and so much of the dead flesh that had healed improperly over the last several years to allow real healing to take place throughout the last year and into 2018. Yeah, it kinda (read: REALLY) sucked to clean away all the grime in those wounds, because the raw flesh beneath burned and stung like hell as it came into contact with the open air, but it allowed those wounds to breathe and finally start to heal for good.
So, happy one year therapy anniversary. I wonder what life will bring by the time we hit two years.
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