Almost a year ago, I set out on a mission to find a way to control my anxiety. I wanted to start therapy and learn how to move past all the things that were holding me back, like my father leaving me, my shaky faith, and my social anxiety. I went into therapy full throttle, expecting it to be this grand time of gabbing and opening my heart and crying and feeling so great about letting it all hang out.
The truth is, letting it all hang out is hard. So hard that I… really didn’t know how to do it. I didn’t know how to open up to someone I had just met. I think this is partly where my self-esteem issues lie, where I’m worried that I’m wasting this therapist’s time with my little woe-is-me problems. I’m not depressed or suicidal or dealing with the death of a loved one or anything like that. I’m just… anxious a lot. Feeling abandoned. Feeling confused. Feeling hurt.
During my first therapy session, I had to fill out a questionnaire about myself, mainly to give the therapist an idea of where I was at mentally and how she could help me. The questionnaire scared me to death. I felt my hands growing cold and clammy and my mind racing as my eyes scanned the page. I don’t remember exactly the questions that were asked, but I remember this crippling feeling of fear as I thought about what I was doing. I was admitting I had a problem. I couldn’t handle this problem on my own. I needed help. But reaching out and asking for help isn’t in my nature, it isn’t something I do naturally. I would rather spend 30 minutes trying to figure out a work problem on my own than take 1 minute to ask a coworker, because I don’t want to inconvenience them and I want to do it on my own. So admitting this? Admitting that I needed therapy to solve a problem? That was hard. It’s still hard to come to terms with. I know, logically, it’s not weak to ask for help. I know it takes intense courage and bravery and strength to ask for help, to go to therapy. But I felt weak. I felt broken and used and discouraged and even a little hopeless. I filled out that questionnaire with a shaky hand, knowing I wasn’t completely truthful in my answers, that I marked some things as “never” or “once in a while” that should have been marked as “often.” I didn’t want her to automatically think I was a basket case. Even though I most likely was. (Am?)
I couldn’t be honest with myself, because I was so scared of what someone – this stranger, this person who deals with people like me for a living, who wants to help me – might think. I was terrified of really putting a name on this mental battle I was waging every day.
And then there were my therapy appointments. My therapist was a woman, a Christian, someone who seemed like the perfect fit for me. And while the sessions were enlightening, I couldn’t open up to her. I didn’t know how to really go about telling her how I felt about some things. And maybe part of that is that I’ve been so good at hiding what I’m feeling, of tucking away these little pieces of my anxiety into their safe place, that I didn’t know how to express what I was feeling. I couldn’t be honest with her because I didn’t know how to be honest with myself.
I felt lost in therapy. I felt as if I was floundering and I was wasting her time and wasting my time and it all felt pointless. I didn’t know what to say. I guess I just thought therapy would be a little bit easier. Not in the way where it would feel as if I were at Disney World for an hour, but easy in the way where I would have a place where I could talk openly and freely. As if she would ask the questions and I would answer them. But she didn’t ask the questions.
Perhaps we just weren’t a good match, and perhaps I wasn’t ready then.
But then my job change happened and my anxiety was at its all-time worst. I was anxious about leaving a decent job for a new one. (What if I was fired?) I was anxious about telling my boss I was leaving. (What if she gets upset?) I was anxious about starting a new job. (What if I’m expected to know everything there is to know about SEO copywriting on the first day?) I was anxious about where I would sit and the people I would work with. (What if they were mean?) I was anxious about a new commute, a new building, a new lunch room. (What if I hate this new job?)
Obviously, these are probably the same fears most people have when leaving the comfortable for the unfamiliar, when going through a big change, but it all felt magnified. I couldn’t sleep and I felt as if I was in a constant state of panic and fear and doubt and played the “What If” game like a pro. While everyone around me was telling me how excited they were for me, I was just trying to keep my head above water. I was just trying to not fall apart.
It was then I decided I needed to be honest with myself. While I am a generally happy person, can find the silver lining in most situations, and know how blessed I am with the life I have, I struggle with anxiety and it holds me back from so many things. Coupled with my anxiety is my low self-esteem which, at 25 years old, I had hoped to have had a handle on. I had hoped I could look past everything I’m not to see everything I am. But I can’t and I struggle with it and when you struggle with low self-esteem, it’s hard to get ahead in life. You second-guess everything, from building strong friendships to finding love to taking leaps of faith to even understanding your place in therapy. My self-esteem held me back from fully diving into all therapy could bring me, because I was too worried that my therapist had better things to do than listen to little ole me blabber about the silly things that brought her pain.
I don’t have a neat way to wrap up this post. I didn’t come to any major epiphanies about how to control my anxiety or help my self-esteem. And I’m still struggling with learning how to be honest with myself. I know I need to be in therapy, so if you’re going to give me advice about that, I know I need it. And maybe the major epiphany is that I realize how much I still struggle with my self-worth and self-esteem. Maybe it’s understanding that I need to learn to be honest with myself. And that opening up to a stranger doesn’t have to be scary. And that my problems are important, even if they feel small in the grand scheme of things. If it’s affecting my life and causing me to miss out on experiences and relationships, then these small-to-me problems are big problems.
So maybe my first try at therapy didn’t work out. Maybe I didn’t connect with the right therapist and maybe it wasn’t the right time and maybe I didn’t magically learn how to be open about my feelings and what I’m going through. I still believe in therapy, I still want to find that right person. But if it taught me one thing, it taught me that I have to believe I am worthy enough for therapy. I have to be truthful with myself and with my therapist about my emotions and thoughts and feelings, and to stop downgrading how I feel because it makes me nervous or feel bad about myself. I have to trust that by giving a voice to my anxiety, it will be the catalyst to change.