It’s not like me to commit to something that may be uncomfortable week after week. Like most people, the thought of intentionally being vulnerable so frequently is something I actively avoid.
That’s how I approached therapy before I started sessions in January 2021. I chose to finally prioritize my mental health and exactly a year ago, I shared some of my first impressions in my very first post with Brown Girl Magazine!
[Read Related: Why I Finally Started Therapy. And Why I Won’t Stop.]
Today, with the departure from Mental Health Awareness Month to issue LGBTQIA+ Pride Month, I want to publicly share that the value I see in therapy is even stronger than I ever imagined. I really can’t imagine a week without checking in with my therapist—even during weeks when I don’t have something pressing to talk about.
Therapy has been less about putting bandages on emotional wounds and more about allowing me to save my own life. Without digging up too much, here are a few major life lessons I’m learning on this journey:
As it turns out, I had quite a bit to dismantle. Just when I thought I had bared my soul and sorted through everything imaginable, therapy has a way of revealing layers I didn’t know existed. Sometimes, it’s part of self-realization, and other times, it’s how a good therapist challenges you to get honest. In therapy, I’m not just unpacking. I’m also compartmentalizing. In managing my anxiety, I’m learning to put things in boxes—while understanding when it’s time to open and close them.
[Read Related: ‘I Decided to Embrace Emotional Vulnerability, and it Changed my Life’]
It’s okay to acknowledge unhealthy feelings and thoughts. This is a bit of a cultural shift for me. Pretending feelings of fear and shame didn’t exist was just part of what we always did at home. The key is to recognize those feelings and thoughts…and then move on. I’ll admit, I used to unpack and stay there for a while. That never got me anywhere, and my therapist will remind me that growth is allowing yourself to identify what you’re feeling and then distancing yourself from the negativity.
It’s so easy to get ahead of myself. I’ve been actively rewiring my reactions to situations and worrying about things that haven’t happened yet (and likely won’t happen). I have always resorted to worst-case-scenario mode, and now, I’m working on managing more realistic outcomes through the lens of what my therapist and I call a “page seven approach.” The key is to stay on page one—the page where things are happening here and now. Sometimes, it’s okay to peek at page two but to flip to page seven skips a whole lot in between. And chances are that my version of events is nothing like what will actually happen.
I’m also learning that I’m not obligated to stay anywhere I’m not happy or to do anything I’m not passionate about. This is ringing true professionally and personally. I’ll admit I was a “yes man” for way too long, trying to please employers, family, friends, and potential boyfriends. The days of holding out for better are more or less over. Waiting for things to improve has typically led to burnout and prolonged trauma. Knowing when to leave someone or something has been a common topic during therapy. Just having the time and space to think and talk through these things has been incredibly helpful.
[Read Related: ‘Redefining Family and Learning to be Proud of my LGBTQ+ Identity’]
Perhaps the most meaningful takeaway I’ve had from therapy is the concept of reclaiming. I used to stress big time over holidays and birthdays—times when I felt obligated to incorporate my birth family in the same way I always had. While my relationship with them is improving, communicating with them is indeed tinged with tension at times. My therapist has encouraged me to reimagine how I might celebrate days that are meant to be joyful and memorable. I’ve started thinking about my amazing chosen family—as well as the family I gained through my husband. After a year of therapy, my entire outlook on these days has changed completely. As a result, I’ve started to look forward to them for the first time in a very long time.
[Read Related: ‘Weaving Cultures Together: A Tale of Interracial Gay Love‘]
Not every session is life-changing, but it is certainly life-saving, whether obvious or not. I never knew how much I needed therapy until I was several weeks into it. I started to pick up on things I wanted to bring up in sessions, and I couldn’t wait for the next time I could talk to my therapist. I’ve allowed myself to finally cry in front of my therapist (albeit, virtually via telehealth) and I can see how much I’ve grown since I started. As my journey continues, I can’t wait to see what else I uncover, because so far, we’ve only scratched the surface.
Photo Courtesy of Stephen Jiwanmall