I’m (not) pro-therapy

I’m anti-anti-therapy. So, I’m basically pro-therapy, and the title was basically clickbait.

Why am I making this distinction? I’ve seemed to have turned some people off in my past because of how much I recommend trying therapy. I’ve had good experiences with therapy. That being said, I acknowledge that many people haven’t, and I also acknowledge that being able to go to therapy is a privilege—it can be pretty expensive, time-consuming, and I know that it can come with a stigma. In fact, the only way that I afford therapy is by being poor enough that I don’t have to worry about affording it. Isn’t that messed up? Not all therapy and not all therapists are the same either! I get it.

I’ve seemed to have turned people off in my past because of how much I recommend having a friend. I’ve had good experiences with having friends. That being said, I acknowledge that many people haven’t. (I’m one of them. I’ve had some pretty bad friends.) That being said, if their take is that friends are bad and that friendship is bad, it’s not a great take. I understand it, I get where it comes from, I don’t want to invalidate any trauma that they’ve experienced.

Part of my goal is to focus in on the hard parts: vulnerability can be scary and trusting a new person can be a crapshoot.

For much of my life, I had sworn off therapy because I had some pretty unhelpful experiences with it as a child (in both group therapy and one-on-one over multiple years) that really turned me off. I felt dismissed and unheard and not taken seriously. When I shared my two favorite Pokémon with one of my therapists, she pointed at Flareon and said that I liked it because I was such an angry child because Flareon was so red and fiery—just like me, I guess. I mean, I just thought it looked cool like I’m sure plenty of non-angry-children did, but okay. Reading back on that, I’m chuckling a bit because, look, I know that might not sound awful and that probably isn’t the best example, but it’s one that still makes me roll my eyes all of these years later.

Oh, and psychiatry. The meds that I took for ADHD were also awful. Those meds turned me into a zombie. I was sedated. I wasn’t interested in anything. I felt blank. It was so horrible to see that my dad said to take me off of them—he’d rather “deal” with my “misbehavior” than watch me become a zombie. It’s kind of sweet—like, relative to him, ya know?

So, I hated therapy and I hated medication. I became a toxic stoic who believed that everyone should do things on their own and to not rely on crutches like wimps. What a positive outcome for me to have after therapy. Wait, but why did I stop going to therapy then? It became too expensive for my family, which is cool, especially because I needed it the most when I was cut off. In one of the last sessions (probably the last session) that I had, my therapist really donked up and asked my mom if I knew that my dad wasn’t actually my biological father. She asked that in front of me. So, uh, if I didn’t know, I definitely knew after that. I didn’t know that, actually, which is funny because my mom thought I knew (because she told me once when I was four years old and expected me to understand it, I guess), so my whole world shattered because of one big oopsie. It messed me up more than I’m going to get into here right now.

Like I said, I hated therapy and medication and all of the losers who used those things. I was better than them. I held that belief from fifth grade until I was at least a year into college. Granted, I had mellowed a lot by that time, and I had mellowed enough out of desperation for life to get better, and I broke down until I was willing to try my two “free” (i.e. already paid for as part of my tuition fees) sessions of Counseling and Psychological Services at Indiana University. Even when I had to start paying, I kept going. I had been wrong. Not all therapy was bad. Sure, not all therapy was good either. And, listen, I lucked out. My counselor was incredible. She helped me assert myself in my relationship with my dad, she helped me move out of a not-very-nice household, and she helped me re-break many of my previously-broken emotion bones so they could be properly set.

What got me to that point? Well, even if there was a tipping point, it was mostly gradual change. Okay, so what led to that? It was going to Al-Anon. There’s alcoholism and addiction all over my family tree, and I had started going to Al-Anon because it was free (outside of the donation to keep our meeting going). I’m not going to praise Al-Anon because I definitely have some issues with it—though, the particular meeting I went to was certainly one of the better ones—, but it served as a good stepping stone for me. Well, what was the gradual change that got me through the door and into Al-Anon? I was gently recommended the meeting in a way that the person recommending it to me was just sharing their positive experiences with it. I wasn’t told that I should go or that I had to go. They occasionally shared their updates on the good experience that had with it, and that was attractive enough for me to want to check it out too. Plus, compared to therapy, it was easy to just sit and listen. The focus wasn’t on me, the problems were shared, and I felt way less alone.

Now, I’m going to therapy regularly, and I’m also taking medication to help me with my anxiety and my depression—though, my ADHD can still be tricky. If you’re curious, I’m taking Venlafaxine. I’ve had very good experiences with it. Not everyone does. But it has been working pretty well for me so far.

Let me get into medication really quickly. This question applies to therapy too, but so what if it’s a crutch? Oh no! I broke my leg, but I’m going to be strong and independent, and I’m not going to use a crutch like those wimps. Mhm. Of course, I was also still afraid of medication changing me. Was I still me if I wasn’t as depressed and anxious? Would my resulting victories be my victories? For me, I found a way to answer “yes” to both questions. Imagine, if you will, that I run track. I’m doing the 400-meter dash. I’ve been training for this. Honestly, I’m proud of myself, and I believe myself to be a pretty good runner. But what’s this? For some reason, hurdles have been set up in my lane—and it’s like no one else can see them. I’m jumping and tripping and caught off guard. Is it my fault? Am I a bad runner? Was my training for nothing? Even if I train harder, I’m still always going to be at a disadvantage. So, here’s the thing: my medication takes the hurdles away. I can run as I was meant to run. The other side of that is that I don’t think medication magically fixes stuff. It didn’t somehow make me a good runner—I still had to work for that. And did I change? Am I somehow less myself because I’m not hopping over invisible hurdles on the track? Yes and no. I changed, sure, but I have given myself the permission to be who I want to be.

So, all-in-all, it sounds like I’ve had pretty good luck with my recent journey with therapy and medication. Not everyone will have it that easy. I know that. Not everyone has equal access, not everyone is at that point—so, I remain anti-anti-therapy.

It’d help if universal healthcare were a thing over here.

Just sayin’.