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Illustration: Casey Supple

It’s OK to go to therapy. And it’s OK to talk about mental health

Last November I started seeing a therapist.

I don’t have a story – the kind where there’s a defining moment when I knew I needed to go and then went.

For me, it was culmination of too many moments. I felt like I couldn’t get a grasp on my feelings. Like I couldn’t control how I reacted to my fears even though I wanted to so badly. At some point it all just became too much.

I had been thinking about asking for help for about two years. I had read up on why people should go to therapy, especially if they are like me – someone who has anxiety-induced panic.

But there was a bit of messaging that made me feel, well, crazy. Maybe because quite literally the words “mental illness” and “crazy” were used interchangeably.

“Own your crazy,” was one sentence that stuck out like a sore thumb. Reading it left me to feel uneasy. Because who wants to be crazy?

And even if we are “crazy,” the word leaves such a sour taste in the mouth; why would I want to openly “own” that?

The stigmatized dialogue surrounding mental illness made me so hesitant to admit I was struggling with it. And that’s why it’s so important to keep the conversation going, because I am not alone in this.

One in six adults in the United States lives with a mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The truth is we all have mental health to maintain. Just like our physical health, we should strive to make sure we learn how to exercise our emotions.

And of course, with mental illnesses – when these imbalances are physically uncontrollable – there are medications and specialists, like therapists, to offer strategies that will help you to level out.

This post is not tell you about the reasons why you need to go, because I know what it’s like to be on the opposite side of the screen. I know what it’s like to hear why I should go, but still be terrified.

You have to make the choice for yourself, and when you’re ready. Instead, I’m going to offer some insight into how I found my therapist and how I’m starting to embrace my sessions. And hopefully this eases the fears of a few people.

I go to therapy every two weeks. It’s a good period for me to practice the exercises or reach the goals I’ve set in my sessions. You can look for specialists in your local area or sometimes your insurance may offer a service that helps you to narrow down the search.

The latter is how my case worked. During a phone call with a third party service that helps people find a therapist, I was asked if I preferred to speak to a male or a female. They asked if I had a religious background and if I wanted that somehow incorporated into my sessions. Eventually the list moved into the nitty gritty of my reasons for seeking a therapist.  

They provided me with a couple options and it was up to me to choose. I know this can be scary for some, but to me, it was the first test in deciding if this was something I really wanted.

I got a voicemail into the first person but they never called back. I moved onto the next and we set up an appointment for the following Monday.

I’m going to keep it honest here. The first session will undoubtedly be tough. Not because you’re going to talk about the deep stuff right away, rather it’s a bit awkward because they’re trying to get to know you and build a trust.

And the second session, for me, was the hardest one. That’s when things got real. I was in it. I was actually attempting to get a handle on this.

I left feeling physically drained, because I was exercising a muscle I previously tried so hard to ignore. It opened the floodgates (literally). I cope by crying and let me tell you, I cried a lot.

I thought about quitting. I even told my roommate, “It’s too much. I don’t want to sit and just talk about me.”

But the next day – a Tuesday and my most stressful day of work and school – I woke up feeling like I had a sense of control of my day. It was a small ounce of progress that encouraged me to keep going.

Since then, it hasn’t always been easy. But I’ve begun to feel an improvement in myself. While there are days when I don’t want to go, I always try to think about the way I feel afterward. I’m a visual person so when I think of therapy, I try to think of it like a gym session.

On the day of, I am in no mood to go. The first 15 minutes of the session are kind of like when you first get on the treadmill and your muscles get used to the pace – in this case you’re adjusting to the pace of discussing yourself.

As I continue to talk and learn I start to feel a bit of relief, like when you reach your runner’s high. Then I leave, and as I walk out my head feels clear. Kind of like how your body feels when you take that first fresh breath of air after a long run.

My best friend Daniel always tells me, “Life is a marathon, take it one step at a time.” (Sometimes I wish he wasn’t right so much). It’s true.

Working at our mental health is a continuous race, not something handled overnight. Some days we move three steps forward and other days we move one. What’s important is to remember we’re not alone. No matter what pace you’re at.

It’s OK to be in therapy. And it’s OK to have an open, honest conversation about mental health and mental illnesses. I encourage you to begin your own conversation, no matter how small.

Resources provided by the Fresno County Department of Behavioral Health:

Central Valley Suicide Prevention Hotline: (888) 506-5991, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year

Dept. of Behavioral Health Access Line: (800) 654-3937

Fresno National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): (559) 224-2469

Medical / GR Eligibility: (855) 832-8082

Substance Use Disorder Assessment Center: (559) 600-3800