This morning I headed to work with tear stains cutting through the blush on my cheek, washing away long stripes of the pearly pink. But these tears weren’t from sadness or anger or frustration.
They were of pure joy and gratitude.
I had just come from therapy.
Some might associate therapy with desperation, anguish, and brokenness. I know exactly how scary it is to think about going to therapy because you feel like you’re acknowledging that something is “wrong” with you, but I have to disagree. Nothing is wrong with you.
I’ve been going to therapy for over two years straight, and it’s been the best, most life-changing thing to ever happen to me.
After years of dealing with crippling anxiety, bouts of intense depression, and constant worry, I resumed therapy. I first had sessions when I was a sophomore in high school, but only for a few months, and then stopped. Partly because I felt better, but perhaps subconsciously, I didn’t want to be someone who had to go to therapy.
I wasn’t doing well long before the dread and uncertainty of 2020. I would melt into tears constantly, always felt like my friends didn’t like me, and couldn’t stand to be alone with myself.
I specifically remember one such happening: my best friend and I had gone to a long-awaited Lumineers concert—our favorite band. We danced and sang and laughed and talked about how we felt so alive. But, even that night, misery crept into me.
My friend and I had spread blankets and pillows on the ground of her loft to go to sleep. Suddenly, as Jenna and I talked about the lovely concert we had just been to, I burst into sobs. I sobbed and sobbed, and truthfully, I had no idea why.
All I knew was that I was deeply, deeply unhappy. I would cry, feel empty, and get so angry at people that my vision would turn red.
This would happen time and again for months.
My heart felt as though all the lights were turned out inside of it and that I was seeing the world in gray.
And then, on a beautiful spring day, I went on a walk and called my best friend. One moment, we were talking and laughing, and the next minute I was sputtering and hung up with her on the phone because I was so angry. Again, an anger I couldn’t even attempt to place because I had no idea where it was coming from.
Later that night, my friend called. I had calmed down by then, so I answered the phone apologetically, ready to forget the whole thing ever happened. But, as she spoke, her voice was heavy with concern.
She and I have never so much as argued; she was disturbed about my outburst on the phone. She mentioned that she had been worrying about me for some time now.
Then she said words that changed my life: “Erin, I think you should talk to someone; I think you should go to therapy.”
At the time, I was shell-shocked. Fear and worry harangued my mind like golf balls on a driving range:
Oh my God, something is wrong with me.
She’ll never want to be around me again.
I was awful to my best friend.
I’m so embarrassing.
But through fate or the universe or sheer blind luck, I listened. And I scheduled an appointment.
My journey toward therapy began with a very rigid mindset. I had a cookie-cutter image of what I wanted myself to be; I figured I would “fix myself” to allow myself to achieve my goals, then I would dust my hands and be on my way.
Spoiler alert: this was not how it went.
When I first went to therapy, I would constantly criticize myself. Instead of approaching myself with grace, I did so with irritation and disdain.
During the first year on my therapist’s couch, I shed many tears and went through more tissues than I care to count.
I cried and cried, but I also made little victories.
I decided to go to community college instead of an enormous state school. I quit a job that made me miserable, started working at another one I adored, and finally got back into reading.
About one year into therapy, I had a massive, seeing-stars panic attack at work. I felt like I was falling into a deep, black hole and desperately grasping for something—anything. A scream was stuck in my throat.
I wanted to fall to my knees and melt into the ground.
Bless my kind manager’s heart—she listened to me. Defeated, I said I felt like I would need to be on anxiety medication. She looked at me with a gentle smile and told me she took some for depression herself, and the medication had helped her immensely. I told my therapist I wanted to be on anxiety medication the next day.
And today, I still am. The medication did not change who I was, not an iota. It quieted the noise in my head and allowed me to utilize everything I learned in therapy.
Going to therapy for all those months felt like I was trying to ride a bike up a giant hill. Some days I made it a few yards up the hill, while other days, I rolled down a few.
The medication acted as a tender, steady hand on my back, gently assisting me with some balance.
There is no shame in being medicated.
In therapy, I laughed, told stories, and ruined many faces of makeup with tears. But, there was something beautiful: my growth that manifested in many areas of my life.
I started saying “no” when I didn’t want to do something and didn’t second guess myself nearly as much.
I began to feel beautiful and laughed at my own jokes.
I happily hung out with myself.
I started to write poetry.
I even decided to study abroad in Greece.
I was beginning to feel more like myself than I ever had.
My therapy visits became less tear-filled and self-loathing and became more filled with fist-pumps and celebrating myself.
I started to come into therapy and talk about how proud I was of myself and didn’t really have these specific plans. Still, I was elated nonetheless (which is a far cry from the rigid-type A-planner I used to be). I started talking about how I was trying new things, having great relationships with people, and embracing my own vulnerability.
After nine months of medication and two years of therapy, I hopped on a plane all by myself and flew to Greece. And it was the experience of a LIFETIME.
I didn’t hold back any laughter, talked loud, said what I felt, tried new things, and finally started to call myself a writer. I reached out and made amazing friends and made memories that will stay with me until the last time my eyes close.
When I came back home, I had a heart full of new friends and a newfound sense of self.
I enjoyed the yawning spring sun, picked up my late-night conversations with my mom, enveloped my coworkers in tight hugs, reunited with the sweet girls I babysat, put my library card back into action, and deposited checks into my savings account.
Finally feeling sure of myself and what I could do, I decided to take an indefinite leave from college.
Now, I daydream about where I will travel next, knowing it is a reality now–not just a fantasy. I have dove into writing, jotting loose thoughts in my ever-present spiral-bound notebook. I write poetry, joke pitches, ideas for novels, and romantic birthday cards for dear friends.
I curl up in a chair and read endless psychological thrillers, trying to guess the twist before it reveals itself. After work, I spend time with my coworkers at a restaurant, braying with laughter so loud that heads turn to look in our direction.
I’m not afraid anymore, not embarrassed about who I am. No longer doubtful, and certainly not hesitant to be me.
I am fully aware of my intelligence, beauty, wit, kindness, and capability.
I know my beautiful strengths and infinite loveliness and don’t feel sheepish to acknowledge them.
I have never felt so happy in my life—so authentic.
And that’s why I was crying in therapy before work today.
Because I have come so far.
Not afraid anymore.
Entirely accepted my faults, and I love myself for them.
I embrace my vulnerability.
Dedicated to working on myself.
Because I was brave enough to become medicated.
Surrounded by the most spectacular individuals.
Because I have a friend who loves me enough to tell me she wants me to ask for help.
I didn’t see results from therapy right away. Hell, it was a solid year before I started to notice the real change within myself.
But, I didn’t give up. I constantly worked on myself and took what I learned in therapy, and practiced applying it outside the sessions. I practiced being gentler to myself and having more positive self-talk.
I fell on my face again and again and felt like I was a mess more times than I could count, but the feeling didn’t last forever.
If you go to therapy, I’m high-fiving you through the screen! I’m proud of you for being brave and asking for help.
If you don’t go to therapy, but are struggling or are thinking about going, let me give you a hug first. I love you, I love you, I love you. And I’m sorry your heart is hurting right now. You’re just a person going through something, and it weighs heavy on your mind, body, and soul.
If you feel like therapy could be beneficial, I hope you find the courage to pick up the phone and schedule an appointment. I hope you find the strength to keep going to sessions even when you’re not seeing progress in the first few months. Through whatever journey you have, I hope you are gentle with yourself.
Therapy was the most significant decision I have ever made and the best thing that ever happened to me.
Going to therapy showed me that people are not broken; people deal with complicated and scary things that make life hard.
I will go the rest of my life believing in the power of therapy and the power of people. And the power we all have inside of us to mend our own aching hearts.