The beauty is I’m learning how to face my beast
Starting now to find some peace
Set myself free
Today, I don’t have to fall apart
I don’t have to be afraid
I don’t have to let the damage consume me,
My shadow see through me
Fear in itself
Will reel you in
And spit you out over and over again
Believe in yourself and you will walk
Fear in itself
Will use you up and break you down
like you were never enough
I used to fall but now I get back up
~Fear, Blue October
On May 23rd, 2016, I walked into therapy for the first time. I’d seen a doctor, been diagnosed, and started meds just a few weeks before that, but it’s that first day of therapy that I really remember. Partly because I’d spent the better part of my adult life actively hating the very idea of therapy (I thought therapy was WEIRD. I still think therapy’s weird. My mind reels at the fact that there’s this human just walking around out there knowing my deepest darkest secrets, the ugliest parts of my psyche, my biggest fears, and my greatest aspirations. All the big things, and all the little things, and everything in between.) But even more than that was just the fact that, well, I was terrified. Like, more terrified than I’d ever been of anything. Ever. The end.
I wore my “Coffee is My Spirit Animal” t-shirt that day, because it was a favorite, and it made me less nervous. I also had on pretty much every beaded bracelet I owned, for the same reason. They gave me as much confidence and courage as possible on a day when I was having trouble mustering either one. My fingernails were painted a very dark brown, a new favorite color (aptly) called Espresso.
I was scared. So, so scared.
And now, I’m remembering. Remembering it all with a detail and acuity that is making it hard to breathe. You know how people say their life flashes before their eyes right before they die? Well, it’s kind of like that, but … the opposite. I’m not about to die. I’m about to live.
Therapy obviously wasn’t my whole life, but it was a very big part of it, at least for the past 21 months.
And I hated it. I did. I hated therapy. And I don’t feel bad saying that, because I never exactly made it a secret (to anyone, but least of all to my therapist). Therapy was hard. It hurt. It brought me to my knees. I spent more time being mad at my therapist than I think I’ve ever been at anyone that I wasn’t related to in my entire life. Usually just because he was right, and said what I needed to hear but didn’t want to hear… but very occasionally for reasons that I felt were justified. I got my feelings hurt. I got my toes stepped on. I constantly feared I was doing it “wrong”… that I’d say the wrong thing, or do the wrong thing, and that I’d screw up this professional relationship just as adeptly as I’d screwed up my personal relationships. I wanted to quit so badly. I wanted to quit all the time. I fantasized about just not showing up one day, and sometimes accompanied said fantasy with a scathing letter just for good measure. Some weeks, making myself drive to therapy took every single ounce of willpower in my body. And some weeks? Some weeks I had no willpower left. I had nothing left.
Because it had broken me. Make no mistake: therapy broke me.
It also put me back together. It healed me. It made me stronger. It taught me things (about myself, about the people around me, about life) that no self-help book in the world ever could. And it was cyclical, in that it made me filled with gratitude – SO VERY MUCH GRATITUDE – and then frustration, and then stubbornness, and then anger, and then gratitude some more.
Last summer was my first try at leaving, but it didn’t take. The timing was …. off, I was spiraling into a deep depression even as we were trying to pick an end date, and my whole life just crashed and burned in what very nearly culminated in a hospital stay.
And I’m glad it happened.
I am. I’m glad for it, and I’m glad for the hard, and for the very very hard, sessions that followed. I just had more things to learn. And I needed that time, and I needed those lessons. It was all part of my story.
Because the thing is, I’m not afraid of the darkness anymore. Therapy taught me not to be afraid anymore (Full disclosure: Certain things do still touch on that fear. When a celebrity dies by suicide? It breaks that most tender part of my heart like none other.) But I’m stronger now. I have tools now. I know – like really, truly, deeply in my soul know – that even when the darkness comes, that I’ll eventually see the light again. That I can keep putting one foot in front of the other. That I can keep breathing. That I can keep myself grounded in the moment. That I can ignore and question and re-frame all the negative thoughts in my head. That I am NOT those thoughts…. no matter how much my brain or the world or the other people in my life try to make me believe otherwise. That those are just old stories, and that I can choose not to listen to them. I can choose not to give them power.
I’m okay now. But you know what? I’m better than okay. Because for the first time in my life, in my whole life, I accept me. I like me, warts and bruised broken bits and all. And really, those warts and bruised broken bits? They’re beautiful, because they’ve made me “me”. They’ve brought me here. They’ve made me strong.
I believe I can do the thing now. And it doesn’t even matter what the “thing” is. I believe I can do it.
I believe in me.
I believe I’m enough.
I’ve learned about the importance of self-compassion in these past 21 months. And of the importance of self-forgiveness (sweet baby Jesus, that’s a big one for me.) I’ve learned what awareness looks like, and what a huge step that is in and of itself. I’ve learned to take responsibility for me, and for MY issues, and leave everyone else to deal with their own. I’ve learned to say, “no”, and I’ve learned to stop trying to please everyone else. I’ve learned to respond with curiosity, openness, acceptance, and love (or C.O.A.L., just one of many such tidy little acronyms that I used to decry as cheesy, but now turn to again and again.) I’ve learned practical steps for panic attacks, for those negative voices that just. won’t. shut. up., and for taking care of myself even when I really really really don’t want to. I’ve learned to question the validity of what my brain is trying to tell me at any given time, I’ve learned to stop taking everything so seriously, and I’ve learned that no matter how many times my brain fights me on this: IT IS NOT ALWAYS MY FAULT.
Therapy didn’t cure me, this much is true. There’s no cure for bipolar. But there’s also no cure for… life. It’s going to have its hard moments, and it’s going to have its REALLY hard moments. It’s going to have its “No. Screw you. I’m not getting out of my bed/putting on my pants/stopping feeling sorry for myself” moments. But my God, it’s also going to have its beautiful moments! Its exquisitely perfect-in-all-their-imperfectly-gloriousness moments. I think of those moments sometimes. Of those perfectly beautiful moments of the past two years that I quite literally could have missed had I not kept going to therapy. I’m still here. I’m still here on the planet. Which is a multifaceted accomplishment to be sure, but therapy played such a big role in that puzzle. A role so big, that fills me with a gratitude so great that I almost don’t know what to do with it. What are the words? There can’t possibly be the right words, can there?
My life tends to be one big example of irony, so now, right at the moment of the end of therapy, I’m finding myself in a bit of a downward rather than upward swing. But unlike last summer, I’m not afraid of it. I’m not. I know that I’m strong. I know that I will see the light again. And if I have to come back to that sentence a million times to remind me, I will. I’ll see the light again.
I’m excited for it.
I’m optimistic (which, by the way, is a word that was not in my vocabulary for.. oh, 44 years)
I owe that, and so very much more, to therapy. And while I’ve consciously used the general term “therapy” rather than the more personal, and more accurate, “my therapist”, I can’t close this out without correcting that. I mainly kept things generic because I didn’t feel like crying just yet, and there was zero chance at all that I could write this without crying.
Tony. My therapist’s name is Tony. He taught me more than anyone’s ever taught me. And he taught me the most important things, because, I mean…. what’s more important than LIFE? I was a slow study sometimes too, and a stubborn one, and a… well, did you get the part about how angry I was all the time? It must be noted though, that despite all the hard work, and the frustration, and the yuck factor, that there were days I actually enjoyed. A lot of them in fact. It feels important that I note that, lest you get the idea that it was 21 months of utter misery. It wasn’t. There were days we laughed, often at ourselves. Days we bonded over silly things like Seinfeld. Days I was allowed to see little bits of Human Tony instead of just Therapist Tony (those were some of my favorites). Days we celebrated one of my small victories. Days we celebrated my really big victories. Days that I truly felt and knew and believed that he believed in me, that he believed I could do it, and that he believed that I could do it well. Not because it was his job, and not because I was paying him to be there, but because human to human, he just DID. I told him not too long ago that I wished that privacy laws didn’t preclude him from having a wall of success stories… because I really wanna see my face up there. I want him to be able to tell people (again, in a vague way because… laws): here was this girl who didn’t think she could do the thing …. BUT SHE DID.
It was a Very. Big. Deal. It was all a big deal. It was a big deal that I did it, and it is a very, very big deal that it has ended. Because the whole point has always been to get me to a place where I didn’t feel I needed therapy anymore.
And we did that. I’m there.
Today, on March 6th, 2018, I walked out of that therapy office for the last time.
And I got in my car, turned on my music (which is always on shuffle), and in one final, serendipitous, post-therapy gift from the universe, the song that started playing was, “I’m Not Broken Anymore.” I was fully prepared to cry… but all I could do was smile.
And now? Now I take what I learned – and what I worked so hard at; and will continue to work so hard at – and I move forward. Move on to the next chapter of my life, and whatever that may bring. And I’ll do it with the deepest and sincerest and most life-long gratitude to Tony, who not only helped me learn how to have a good quality of life, but who quite literally also saved it.
If your mental health isn’t what it should be please know when to seek professional help
If you’re having thoughts of suicide, call the crisis helpline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
You can also text START to 741-741 if you’d rather text than speak with someone on the phone
If you’re in imminent danger to yourself, PLEASE go to the ER.
You’re loved, and you’re worth it.