Did your family talk about mental health during your childhood? Did your parents talk to you about ways to care for your emotional well-being and how important is it for your day to day?
As I think back on my childhood, I can’t recall having these conversations. I remember discussing the importance of physical health. I can recall being told, “Son tus nervios” (It’s just your nerves) and quickly being told I had to change my mindset and not be so negative. For a long time, I didn’t know why I felt restless and worried about things that hadn’t happened yet. I couldn’t figure out why I would panic when things didn’t go as planned (For someone who is a planner, this happened WAY too often and was super draining). The vocabulary for these feelings just wasn’t there.
I remember hitting my breaking point during grad school and attempting to initiate therapy. I was physically and emotionally exhausted. Too embarrassed to say that I couldn’t go the day without crying or that I was contemplating dropping out of school. I finally decided to look for a therapist and started to figure out how to feel better.
I attended a few sessions before I stopped going. In hindsight, I know this is partly because I wasn’t ready. The second reason being I did not connect with my therapist in a way that allowed me to feel safe and be vulnerable. I remember sitting there and thinking, “This person totally thinks I’m nuts, this is stupid.” I remember leaving my last session and knowing I wasn’t going to come back.
At the time, this felt like the right decision, one I still stand by. It took years and multiple life experiences (some good, some not great) to happen for me to consider trying again. I remember making the call to set up an appointment and feeling sick. I remember going to my first session and being unable to stop sharing all the things I hadn’t told anyone else (it was very much word vomit). Some sessions left me more exhausted than when I started. Overtime, this happened less and less. That’s not to say all my sessions were great. At the very least, I could finally say I was honoring myself by creating meaningful space to heal.
Now, having been on both sides of the chair as both a client and therapist, I can assure you it’s not black and white. As a therapist, there have been many moments during sessions where I can relate to the struggles and feelings shared with me (I am human after all). I’ve gone through heartbreak, lost friendships, endured hardships, struggled with imposter syndrome and hurt those I love. I can honestly say there have been times when my reactions to situations or issues were out of line and made situations worse (both for myself and anyone involved).
That doesn’t make me a bad person, it just means that some of the things I use to cope (or momentarily make myself feel better) weren’t always the best. At times, that means I take a step back to honor the feelings of those I’ve hurt and apologize. In other moments, this may mean I have to be vulnerable and say I’m unhappy with something. It’s been a long and ongoing journey for sure. I’m a few years into my own therapy and can see a giant shift in the way that I feel and respond to situations. Does that mean I always get it right? NOPE. But hey, I’m trying my best. I’ll give myself credit for that much.
The cool thing is that change isn’t static or linear. There isn’t a right way to “do therapy.” While there are general ground rules, you can very much make this your own experience.
So, I’ve made a small (not exhaustive list) of things to remember and consider:
- When looking for a therapist, try to think of qualities you would like your therapist to have. For me, this meant finding a therapist of Latinx descent who could relate to my background, family dynamics, and being a first generation Salvadorian American.
- Be patient with yourself, building trust with your therapist takes time. For a lot of us, learning to trust someone is difficult. It’s natural to be uncomfortable when first meeting someone and opening up. Don’t be afraid to talk about it!
- Therapists are not a one size fits all. If you don’t feel like you connect with your therapist in a meaningful way, keep looking!!! Ultimately, you are choosing to begin this journey for yourself, it has to work for YOU! If the connection isn’t there, it’s okay to keep exploring (I promise you, we do not take it personally). Free consultations are a great way to talk to clinicians without commitment.
- It takes work! Aside from assisting you in developing insights, managing day to day stressors, big life events and expanding your toolbox of coping skills, your therapist will challenge you. This doesn’t always feel great (definitely not in the moment). Change isn’t easy but it is possible. Be gentle with yourself in the process.
Taking the first step is one of the hardest parts. It’s okay to take this journey one step at a time. Remember to breathe and remind yourself how far you’ve gotten on your own.
Asking for help doesn’t make you any less worthy.