Monday morning again. I dropped the keys on the floor the moment I got in. This feels like a Friday night after a long week rather than a Monday morning. Even though I am trying for more than a year now a new cognitive exercise, the aim of which is to stop comparing myself to other people, I could not help imagine my coworkers (mostly girls) preparing for the beginning of the week with complete confidence and high self-esteem faces in front of their mirrors. I knew that this was not entirely true. And I told myself that I should stop. My own reality seemed too dark to let any light, even through my imagination of other people’s happiness, and it matched my perfect anxious morning. It was getting harder and harder every day. Some days I couldn’t even get out of the bed. Today was one of those days.
Tears were forming in my eyes and since I was alone in my apartment, I could finally let them go. It has been a while since I took the time to think about what causes such horrible feelings and sensations. I haven’t had any panic attacks recently, but my signs of depression were coming back. I wasn’t sure if it was correct to call it depression. Only it felt a lot like numbness, hopelessness and a lot of emotional pain. Days were longer and everything went so slow. The other days went so fast and time almost flew away from me. Fear was my daily companion and horror was my frequent visitor. New environments, even if they were safe and pleasing, were scary and in those situations, I tend to get socially awkward. A feeling of tension and restlessness was to be my guest often enough that I almost was getting used to it. My task, as a person experiencing signs and symptoms of both depression and anxiety, was to remind myself that this was not normal and these signs and symptoms doesn’t define me and my personality.
My first acquaintance with the sadness part of my life, that I could recall, was in 9th grade. I remember those hard mornings getting up, and myself starting to lose interest in my classes and friends. That experience visited me often, only to start mixing up with my first panic attack in 12th grade. I was turning 18 and very much preoccupied with my sadness, when I was hit by a wave of terror which seemed to always ”be there with me”.
While I was studying General Psychology for my Bachelor Degree, I found out that mental disorders, as also stated in World Health Organization website, are generally characterized by a combination of abnormal thoughts, perceptions, emotions, behavior and relationship with others. These mental disorders include: depression, bipolar affective disorder, schizophrenia and other psychoses, dementia, intellectual disabilities and developmental disorders including autism. This all seemed very familiar to me, since I wanted to study them for a very long time. These would be names and definitions that I would get to know well.
Fast forward 5 years later, the old feelings were still there for me. As I let my tears away, I did something that I didn’t expect of myself at all. I grabbed my phone and searched the number of a contact that was in my contact list for some months. It was the number of a psychiatrist that one of my coworkers used to see. She told me that she really helped her and that I should give her a call whenever I felt like talking to someone. I pressed ”Call” and was interrupted by the mechanical woman voice from the service provider company that told me I had insufficient funds in my phone. I let my phone down and immediately was amazed by what I just did. I’ve been wanting to do that for a long time. For the first time, I counted the years that I wanted to call a therapist up and seek help. The number shocked me. It was 6 years since I first felt the need to talk to someone professionally. That scared me a lot. Only this time, there was no escape. I finished work that day and after refunding my phone, I stopped by my uni campus and made the phone call with my voice shaking and heart beating faster than usual. She seemed lovely and I started to feel better just by hearing her voice. I made an appointment and some days later I met with my therapist.
World Health Organization assessed that depression is a main cause of disability worldwide and that an estimated 300 million people are affected by depression with more women affected than men. Meanwhile National Institute of Mental Health says that more than a quarter of American adults experience depression, anxiety or another mental disorder in any given year. Bipolar affective disorder affects about 60 million people worldwide. Schizophrenia affects about 21 million people worldwide and 47.5 million people have dementia, according to WHO. Even more saddening, WHO says that in low and middle-income countries, between 76% and 85% of people with mental disorders receive no treatment for their disorder. In high-income countries, between 35% and 50% of people with mental disorders are in the same situation. But what does it mean to seek help and what should I expect from it?
When you look it up on Psychology Dictionary it says that psychotherapy is a service provided by a trained psychotherapist in an effort to recognize and treat mental, emotional and behavioral disorders in their clients by psychological means. And I knew that there are different approaches to psychotherapy, from cognitive-behavioral therapy, to psychoanalytic, to humanistic therapies, and a lot of different approaches that focuses on different aspects of your mind, personal history, behavior, experiences, fears, beliefs, attitudes, etc. Some people start psychotherapy to treat their depression, anxiety or even more severe mental disorders like schizophrenia and other psychosis. Others just want to learn skills to deal with less severe issues like procrastination, or the loss of a job, difficulties at school or in their relationship, grieving the loss of a loved one or just achieving the feelings of general happiness in their life.
While writing this article I sat down with two of my friends and chatted for a half an hour. I asked them would they seek professional help and they both said insightful things to me. One of them said that it would be a bit hard for her to decide to go, but she believes in it and she would go, even if it was for “small things”, like how to handle problematic situations in her life, how to deal better at work, or how to improve her relationships with other people, like friends, family, or a significant other. The other friend said that “people who can’t identify what’s bothering them are the ones who need help the most”, and that “therapy’s aim is: to bring people to the point where they know why are they feeling in a particular way and provides with solution for that particular difficulty”. Although they were answering these questions and talking with a more serious face than usual, which meant that they both take this topic very seriously, I enjoyed their opinions very much. Especially when considering the fact that in our society conversations about seeking mental help rarely happen.
Hundreds of studies, as reported by American Psychologist Association have found that psychotherapy helps people make positive changes in their lives. Reviews of these studies show that about 75 percent of people who enter psychotherapy show some benefit. Other reviews have found that the average person who engages in psychotherapy is better off by the end of treatment than 80 percent of those who don’t receive treatment at all. But why does psychotherapy work? According to psychologist and researcher Dr. Bruce Wampold, PhD for the American Psychologist Association’s “Speaking of Psychology” its essential to have faith in your therapist and the treatment method that your therapist is using with you. He continues, that even though there are different approaches to psychotherapy and different people with different problems and different styles, what effective therapists share is a very sophisticated set of interpersonal skills that are focusing on helping the patient. They are able to form a working relationship with a variety of patients. And the therapeutic alliance and relationship remains critical and important to the effectiveness of psychotherapy. This therapeutic alliance is the collaborative relationship between psychologist and patient that determines your progress, referring to the American Psychologist Association definition.
On the day that me and my therapist-to-be decided to have our first session, I left work earlier. I told only my coordinator that I was going to see a doctor that day and felt like I was cheating on everybody else at the office for going out earlier and for not telling them the truth of where was I going. I got out and walked for 15 minutes. After that, I called a cab at where I felt safer. My tension was raising. I could feel the butterflies and the tension all over my muscles. I felt like I was about to enter an important exam, after weeks of studying. The taxi arrived and the tension was just getting higher. On the way there, I was texting my sister who was helping me find the place. She knew where I was headed and helped me find the way. Even with her directions, my low spatial skills didn’t help the process and I got lost twice getting there
After I got out of her beige office, I met with my sister and we walked home from there. I did most of the talking, explaining all the feelings I just had experienced, with the same excitement as when you know you rocked that important exam you just walked out. I knew that this was just the effect of having someone listening and having healthy conversations with, and also my long time desire to have that type of relationship in my life. At the back of my head, I was doubting the longevity of these feelings, but told myself that I deserved these moments and that I should go ahead and celebrate what was I feeling. The only drawback of this emotional state was that I could never share it with other people and especially my parents. I imagined their faces and that made me so sad. I thought that it would be easier for me to talk about it with a stranger in a dirty urban bus than my parents. And then I remembered that I just did that. Only that the stranger was not sitting in an urban bus, but in a comfy psychiatrist chair. That made me even more sad.
From my psychology classes, I knew that lots of people experience stigma related to their mental illnesses and that this stigma could be a real monster to fight along with their mental health difficulties. Nearly nine out of ten people with mental health problems say that stigma and discrimination have a negative effect on their lives, according to Mental Health Foundation. And that is because society has stereotypes and harsh views of people experiencing these mental health problems, making it harder for people to recover. Society perceives mentally ill people as dangerous and violent, even though they have more chances of being the victims of violence and attacks, as the article “Stigma and Discrimination” from Mental Health Foundation says. These stereotypes will of course make it harder for people suffering to seek help and eventually commit to this process. I certainly felt blessed for having people to share my struggles with.
After that day, I thought that I was ready to commit to therapy and felt better than I felt in months. It was on my hands to decide when will the next session be and what would I do with the material brought up on our first session, but couldn’t stop wondering. Would that be enough?
The only drawbacks that I know of therapy could be lots of time spent in the offices of therapists, which may include lots of tears, frustration and pain. It will also make you re-call situations in the past and it will make you start observing your thoughts and behavior more often. People may strongly believe that their ‘problem’ is going to get fixed the moment they enter the office. But, in fact, the solution relays inside of you. And only you can take it to the surface. It takes a lot of effort, time, and money to get there. But the over all benefits will surpass any drawback. There is an enormous satisfaction in having some professional listening to you and your thoughts that in other way may never get the chance to see the light of day. We fear someone else will know our deepest thoughts, feelings, insecurities and we try as much as we can to run away from experiencing that. But, the relief felt in a closed space, where you know everything that will be said will stay there, is incomparable with anything else. You are in a position of leading and you are the decision maker. Even more, from you is required to actually put a lot of effort into finding the solution, since your therapist can not find it for you. Also you can’t expect results in one session, and the length of therapy is determined by the seriousness of your difficulties and the effect that has in your life. And of course the approach of your therapist is very important.
It seems to me that the question rather than being: “Should I go to therapy?”, should be: “Which method would be better for me?” and “Am I willing to commit to this painful but worthy process?”. As Jung said, “Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”
I’ve thought a lot about why I decided to write about this particular subject. In this time of my life, when I am finally taking the courage to face the difficulties and also taking slow steps towards my fears, it felt like this is the perfect way to document this journey. I know lots of people are intimidated to talk about this topic and try to push it away for years from their family, friends and even themselves. But, as experienced myself, there is no better time than “now” to start and explore the absolute beautiful view of your mind.
Any Anxiety Disorder Among Adults, National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved December 25, 2017, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/any-anxiety-disorder-among-adults.shtml
Mental Disorders, WHO. (2017, April). Retrieved December 25, 2017, from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs396/en/
Pam, B., M.S. (2014, April 28). Psychotherapy. Retrieved December 25, 2017, from https://psychologydictionary.org/psychotherapy/
Speaking of Psychotherapy: Making psychotherapy work for you, American Psychological Association. Retrieved December 25, 2017, from http://www.apa.org/research/action/speaking-of-psychology/psychotherapy.aspx
Stigma and discrimination, Mental Health Foundation. Retrieved December 25, 2017, from https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/s/stigma-and-discrimination
Understanding psychotherapy and how it works, American Psychological Association. Retrieved December 25, 2017, from http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/understanding-psychotherapy.aspx