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How I Learned to Embrace Therapy

Growing up, I thought therapy was for people who were crazy or too weak to handle their emotions. Even though my mother died when I was only 6 and my father left me and started another family, I didn’t need therapy, I thought. I was normal.

But in my heart of hearts I knew I wasn’t normal. I felt a tremendous sense of loss. My aunt took care of me after my mom died and my dad left, but it still hurt. When I was 11 and in the 6th grade, my grades began slipping. I missed my parents and had thoughts of suicide. I couldn’t deal with these feelings by myself, but I didn’t want to ask for help because I didn’t want to seem like I wasn’t strong enough.

I started cutting to make myself feel physical pain. In my mind, I was responsible for my mother dying and I deserved to feel pain. My mother died suddenly, of a brain aneurysm. I had just learned about death and was curious about it. So on the day she died I asked her, “Mommy, are you going to die?” I believed I’d somehow jinxed it. Every time I cut, I’d repeat to myself, “You killed her. You deserve this.”

It Becomes Too Much

One day, when these thoughts became too much for me, I put bleach in a water bottle. During lunch I told my friends I was going to drink it. They ran and got help, and that landed me in the hospital for one week. Deep down, I was glad my friends had stopped me.

For part of that week, I roomed with a white teenage girl. She was released before me so I spent the rest of that week alone. I attended “Art Time,” and I took a math test for school while I was there.

I also had therapy. I didn’t like the therapist or feel comfortable with him. He didn’t recommend antidepressants or other medication but if he had, my aunt would have said no anyway because she believed medication made situations worse, not better.

During that week, I had a lot of time to think about what I’d done and what I could have done differently. I could have gone to my aunt for help. I could have told her everything I was feeling and gotten professional help instead of keeping all my feelings bottled up.

Too In My Face

When I came home, my aunt made me go to therapy. On the first day, I remember looking down at the floor while the lady therapist blabbed away about why I needed therapy.

“Why did you do what you did? Did you want attention? Was this a cry for help? Help me and your aunt understand so we can help you.”

I knew attempting to take my own life might have been seen as a cry for help or wanting attention but that wasn’t it at all. What I wanted to say to her was: “You are not inside my head so therefore you have no right to assume the reasoning behind my actions. When it comes to the lives of others, you are as blind as Stevie Wonder.”

If she had been gentler and not so aggressive I might have told her that I felt like my life had no purpose. Losing my mother and my father at once was too much for a little girl to handle. I felt overwhelmed.

She dove in too quickly and pressured me too much. She should have given me space and let me tell my story in my own time.

I also didn’t like that she did all the talking and didn’t try to connect with me. I just looked at her while she kept barking at me.

The Barking Therapist

“Why would you try to kill yourself? What is going on? If you don’t talk, we can’t help you. You have to speak up or you won’t get any help. You might be sent to another hospital.”

I knew what I had done was serious but I didn’t want to have a reoccurring conversation about it. Sometimes, I wanted to forget what I’d done and be able to breathe and talk about normal things, like boys and grades. We did have those types of conversations but it was rare. “Why did you do it? You could have told someone. There were so many things you could have done and you decided to do that? Did you not think it over?”

These sessions felt more like interrogations. I also didn’t like that my aunt was in our sessions. The therapist would ask her about her hair.

I knew she wasn’t a good therapist for me because I still cut as much as before and my bad thoughts of wanting to kill myself only got worse.

I finally complained about her to my aunt and she agreed to find someone else. Hallelujah! She reminded me of a pestering mosquito; no matter how many times you tried to bat it away, it always came back to annoy you.

My Mood Swings

It ended up taking my aunt almost four years to find another therapist. All the places she checked were either full or new and didn’t have enough therapists yet. But that was OK with me because I didn’t want to go. I assumed all therapists were like the ones I’d already been to.

While she was looking, I felt like I needed someone to talk to, so I spoke to one of my friends.

“Bro. These mood swings of mine are not normal. One minute I’m happy, the next I’m about to smack someone so hard, their great-grandchildren are going to feel it.”

“It sounds like you’re bipolar,” she said.

I believed her. That night I stared at the ceiling in my room thinking to myself, “I’m bipolar. Now what do I do?”

image by YC-Art Dept

This made me feel even more burdened, but I tried to act as though I was OK. But the suicidal thoughts started to come back.

I often wonder how I kept it together during those years. Most likely it’s because no matter how much I wanted to kill myself, I couldn’t leave my younger sister. I also grew emotionally stronger as I got older.

Therapy’s for People Like Me

Then one night in 9th grade, my aunt came into my room and sat down next to me.

“I found you another therapist.”

“She’ll probably be just like the other ones,” I said.

“I understand those therapists weren’t right for you, but you did something bad and you need help. Maybe this one will be different. Who knows? You just have to give her a try.”

When she rested her hand on my shoulder and looked at me with her eyes begging me to understand, I realized I did need help.

I also realized therapy isn’t for crazy people or those who can’t control their feelings. It’s for people like me who need help and someone to talk to when they have no one else.

In spite of what my aunt said, I felt resistant before my first session with the new therapist. When I walked into her office I noticed games and a bookshelf filled with books. There was a chair facing the bookshelf next to her desk and she was facing the opposite wall typing.

I thought, “Oh crap. What now?”

But when we started talking, I became less nervous, although my guard was still up. She was more laid back than the others.

“If you have to curse, go ahead,” she said. “I don’t judge. You can vent to me. That’s why I’m here.” I liked that.

Starting to Trust

The first thing she did right was not diving straight into the bad stuff. That surprised me. I felt myself become a little more relaxed with each session.

Even when she gave me my diagnosis, major depressive disorder and anxiety, I felt OK with it and not upset. I started to trust her because she was professional and she seemed to genuinely care about me.

I have been seeing my new therapist for about a month now, and it is helping me feel a lot better. I’ve stopped feeling like I’m always sinking and helpless.

I learned I can’t always keep things to myself and keep a smile on my face 24/7 just to give others the illusion that I am strong. If you feel like you’re alone and you need help, I strongly suggest seeking out a therapist, counselor or an adult who cares about you. If you do try a therapist and don’t click with them, try another.

My new therapist is slowly easing her way in without making me feel uncomfortable or pressured. She helps me express my feelings without the fear of being judged. She helps me realize it’s OK not to be OK.

Different Types of Therapy

Counseling or therapy is a process where people explore their feelings, behavior, and what’s going on in their lives. People go to counseling because they want to find ways to feel better and be more effective in their lives. (This kind of counseling is often called therapy or psychotherapy, or psychological counseling to show that it’s different from something like job counseling.) Here are the various types:

Individual Therapy: In individual therapy, you meet one-on-one with a counselor, usually at his or her office. You usually meet regularly, at least once a week, for anywhere from a few months to a year or longer, depending on the issues you’re working on. You play an active role in defining the goals of your therapy with your counselor.

Group Therapy: A group of people who are dealing with similar issues, such as depression or anxiety, meet regularly with a therapist to talk about their struggles. In this way, teens can support and learn from each other as well as the therapist. Many people find that group therapy helps them feel accepted and less isolated.

Peer self-help groups are one kind of group counseling, and they exist for many different issues. These groups may be self-directed, or led by a former participant who has recovered. In a formal setting like a drug treatment facility, groups are usually led by a mental health professional. Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous and Alateen (for teens who have family members with alcohol problems) are some of the most well-known self-help groups.

Family Therapy: Two or more members of a family meet together and separately with a counselor to discuss conflicts, issues, and communication in the family. The counselor helps the family members deal with important issues without taking sides.

Hospitalization: If you have severe emotional or mental health problems, such as strong feelings of hopelessness or that you may hurt yourself or someone else, or that you’re losing control, or that you cannot quit drugs without more structure and support, you may want to be hospitalized or referred to a drug rehab center.

Hospitalization (which is also called “in-patient” treatment because you stay in the hospital) gives you a chance to get intensive services. For example, you may participate in individual, group, family, or peer counseling every day, as well as be given medication, to see what helps you most.

Once you leave the hospital, or instead of staying there, you may be referred to outpatient or day treatment services. That means you’ll get similar intensive services, usually at a hospital or treatment center, but without having to stay there overnight.

Excerpted from I'm Not Crazy.

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