It’s #mentalhealthmonth which has inspired me to write about my personal experience with therapy and my mental health journey thus far, and by doing so, hopefully continue to bring awareness to mental health issues and fight the stigma around talking about it.
This has become a pretty big part of my life since starting therapy a couple years ago. I truly believe everyone should go to therapy at some point in their lives. I mean Everyone. You don’t need to have major childhood trauma, PTSD, depression or really any mental illness at all to get something useful out of going to therapy. You go to the gym to work on your body, school to work out your brain, therapy works on your emotional & mental health. It’s important, so why do we so often choose to ignore it?
Therapy may seem like this big scary thing because, ya know, fear of the unknown and what not. If no one talks about therapy, no one is going to have any idea of what to expect, instead our minds weave an intricate web of doubt and fear. I’m here to tell you that once you get going, you’ll see yourself changing, reacting positively and the fear will fall away. Then it just becomes this new exciting part of your journey and path to healing.
I’ve got to mention how lucky I am to have found my therapist on the first go. I didn’t have to weed out the duds, which can be a stressful and necessary part of finding the right therapist. Remember to not let yourself give up when you come across one that doesn’t fit, it happens, but you have to fight for a someone to fight for you. Don’t settle for anything less than a supportive, welcoming, judgement & shame free zone.
Once you have found that person, its going to be incredibly freeing to share whatever is on your mind, literally anything and everything, getting it all off your chest, never having it be seen as “too much” - The place to practice saying things without fear of rejection or judgement. In a good therapist/patient relationship, there is only listening, support & guidance. All the attention is on you and your needs, their sole purpose is to help you handle life in better, easier ways. They have tools in their toolbox you’ve never heard of in order to help you on your journey thru life. Even those who raise us are limited to the tools handed down from their guardians and so on. No one is born with a complete set, but therapists devote their life’s work to learning and teaching us how to unburden and better ourselves.
I first started seeing Nathan in March 2017. I was at my absolute lowest, struggling with anxiety to the point of not wanting to leave my apartment. I was suffering from what I like to call FISH BOWL syndrome, aka Anxiety, where I felt like everyone was watching me. Then there was the depression, I could no longer feel joy, I had no sense of peace anymore, I was constantly concerned and sad. I wasn’t suicidal but I was suffering thru so much invisible pain that I could understand how someone could see it as a way to escape their mind. It’s not and I can’t express enough how important it is to get any help that you can if you’re ever at a point like this and try to be willing to open up about your suffering. That’s how others find strength to follow that lead. It’s really hard and scary but we all need to know we aren’t alone, that we don’t have to remain silent about our pain. I told my partner and within a couple weeks I was googling therapists and ended up checking out yelp, found him and his stellar reviews which made my decision for me.
The week before my very first Therapy appointment, there was a previously scheduled visit to Cincinnati planned to see family. Once we were there, I ended up getting my first prescription for an anti-depressant from the doctor I used to see in town. I also tried to confront my mother, head-on, about trauma she had caused me only a few months prior. She had dropped a massive bomb on me via text about my father. She didn’t really hear me tho, made some jokes, “you aren’t breaking up with me are you?!” basically told me “you’re still on that? I said sorry!” and thought that was that, as per usual. Problem solved in her mind and I pretty much gave up and was ready to go home.
By the time I was on the return flight to LA, I had only been taking my meds for two days and they made me sick to my stomach. Flight was super early so I didn’t sleep at all (still being on LA time) and I didn’t eat much either (feeling sick and all), everything combined ended up being a perfect storm. I tried to sleep thru the 4 hour flight but woke up about halfway home and went almost immediately into a massive panic attack. It lasted straight until we were on the ground and I was off the plane. It was the scariest moment of my adult life.
At this point that therapy appointment couldn’t come fast enough, seeing as I would now need help dealing with a brand new issue: ever getting back on a plane. It was scheduled for a couple days after we got back so I pretty much stayed in bed recouping cuz panic attacks are exhausting and terrifying af, fun fact.
Now, originally I had thought I would probably, sorta, never choose a male therapist. I’ve always preferred women doctors, I feel more comfortable with them. I thought I’d be more comfortable talking to one too, especially about issues relating to my body. His reviews and specialties just couldn’t be denied so I gave him a shot and I was right to choose him. He totally gets this too, if you were wondering, he’s very understanding, to the point where I thought maybe he wasn’t just some man at all. Initially, I saw him as this comforting robot that was wearing a man-shaped suit and this made sense to me, especially in the moments when he wouldn’t get my reference to a movie or piece of pop culture in such a comical way, its so very Giles of him, also a reference he wouldn’t get but I have talked about Buffy, I mean, it’s me. He’s also surprisingly soothing, his French Canadian accent provides a sense of calmness. He just gives off this big, bald, sympathetic teddy bear energy. Also of note, he has a book about Obama on his coffee table.
The very first thing he does at the start of every session is ask if he’s “too close” and asks me where in the room, distance-wise, I’d like him to be in order to feel comfortable to begin. At first I couldn’t even say the words, I would just wave my hand for him to back up. I also have a lot of trouble when it comes to making and maintaining eye contact, so he’d offer to not face me and it really blew my mind to be considered on that kind of level, it was completely foreign to me. He does sessions out of his apartment, in his upstairs office, so very LA. When I scheduled the appointment, he had me fill out a few forms with all my pertinent info regarding daily life, who I am, who my family is, so he has the basics before I come in and unload a life’s worth. Sessions last 50 minutes and I tend to cry a lot because I’m a crier, okay? Less now than I did when I first started, I probably cried every appointment for the first year of Therapy. The first couple appointments were an adjustment but by the end of the first I knew it was worth my time. I’ve since gotten very comfortable expressing myself and letting him know exactly what’s up. He’s getting paid to help so I’m gonna squeeze out as much as I can, I don’t recommend refusing to participate. You gotta do the work to see results, otherwise what’s the point? If you’re like me, that work can be really hard because the majority of it consists of dealing with a traumatic childhood and issues I have with my parents that I haven’t been acknowledging or dealing with.
Nathan specializes in EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprogramming), Attachment Focussed EMDR, empowering adults suffering from early attachment deficits and trauma, as well as TRM (Trauma Resiliency Model) and he’s a Brainspotting therapist. Having a therapist that has studied and is focused on your specific mental needs is ideal, (if you have specific issues needing worked on like myself) but if you’re just using it to maintain a healthy mental state, you probably won’t need a specialist. An example of his treatment is he’ll have me hold “pulsars” in my hands as I go thru hard memories. They are these hard, little plastic oval pieces that fit in your palms, attached to a long wire and a dial that he can use to adjust the intensity of vibration and speed of it bouncing between the left and right as you hold them. As they are said to stimulate both sides of the brain for a given period of time which allows you to open up areas of the brain you aren’t even aware are closed. This allows you to sort of rewire the system, send in new healthy habits and affirmations. You can do the same thing by just taping back and forth on your knees with a finger from each hand, back and forth. As long as you’re consistently stimulating both sides of the brain during what you’re saying or listening to, it might sound odd but I can tell you first hand it works. It brought out memories I hadn’t thought of in years, maybe ever since it occurred. Brainspotting is another interesting technique he utilizes, involving an extendable pointers a teacher would use with a colorful, red tip on the end. He asks you where he should place the pointer, it’s supposed to be in the spot your eyes would naturally jolt to when you are feeling uncomfortable and your instinct to look away kicks in, he’ll place the red pointer there and ask you to look at it in those moments. All of these treatments have brought out memories I had shielded from myself.
Sessions mostly consist of me talking about my life, my experiences, memories and feelings while he offers tools and knowledge to help me piece things together and how to cope with it as I go. When I started out, I was going once a week, now twice a month, mainly due to cost as he isn’t in my insurance network, I would go more if I could but can’t at the moment. Two years ago I couldn’t stand up for myself, fear had basically raised me paralyzed, I hated myself and everything around me felt like a lie that was starting to fall apart. I completely lost my voice, but maybe I never really had one to begin with.
Fast forward to now, when he asks me if he’s too close, I tell him proudly to “back up, bitch!” and he laughs his magical jolly laugh, proud of me for finding feeling confident in practicing maintaining my boundaries. He continues to do wonders for my confidence, has helped to begin The process of rewiring my brain to stop harshly judging/shaming myself, calling out that inner critic and validates me in ways no one ever has. He’s busy trying to unravel the bad behaviors I developed to survive abuse, coping mechanisms that no longer serve me, all of it - one session at a time. I’m so thankful for him giving me a space where I could take my pain and turn it into something positive, sharing it with others so they won’t have to live in that loneliness like I did. He tells me to keep writing, so here I am, writing and advocating because I know what a change therapy can bring. I’m even glad to report I’ve gotten a few friends into going and I couldn’t be more proud and happy for them.
Now, my psychiatrist is not like my therapist. Nathan suggested her to me when I was struggling with that first anti-depressant (lexapro prescribed by my Doc in KY) he thought she would be able to help me find a better option. The lexapro had been destroying my stomach, gave me horrible bowel movements, that my new GP in LA blamed on my period which no, it started with the meds (she was a crappy doc, left her). My psychiatrist is only for medication, she’s interested in my diet, how meds are working, adjusting dosage, how I’m sleeping- things your doctor would be interested in. Less about trauma and healing, more about maintaining your physical mental health. She provided me with a new prescription for Zoloft, then we upped the dose after a few visits and finding it wasn’t working enough after checking on my progress. I recently came to the decision, with my therapist, that I didn’t need to see her as frequently now that my current dose is working and the last couple appointments she’s mostly just wasted my time. She either interrupted me when I’m trying to answer her questions or she will spend the last 15 minutes of a 20 minute appointment talking about a different patient or asking me about how advertising/doing business on instagram works... like this is not something I feel like paying & finding parking for every few months. Once I informed her I was canceling my upcoming appointment, she just tried to get me to come in a month from the appointment. That’s someone wanting to fill their slot and get paid. After telling Nathan about this experience, he let me know if I were to tell him tomorrow I felt I didn’t need to see him as often he would support that and be glad I was doing so much better. He’s very unhappy with how she’s been handling my last few appointments and probably won’t be recommending her much anymore, oops.
I’m far from healed but I can see how far I’ve come, it’s beautiful and horribly hard too. Therapy was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made for myself, getting help when I needed it and not being quiet about it, playing into the dangerous stigma. We shouldn’t have to be quiet about our mental health and our lived experiences. I’ve said it before but for me, 2019 wwas the year of honesty and I’m gonna live in my ugly truths. I won’t be silenced anymore, I won’t be interrupted, not by fear or guilt or shame, or even by people who love me. You shouldn’t either, join me and let’s be unapologetically us, mental illnesses and all, together.