Nearly nine months ago, I published a piece about five hard lessons therapy has taught me. I figured it was a good time to mention a few more lessons I’ve learned recently.
I’ve been in therapy off and on since Feb. 2016. I’ve taken breaks during periods of wellness. I’ve also been unable to attend therapy due to long wait periods, financial issues, etc.
Since my last post, I’ve had to change therapists due to one moving away. I was happy with my previous one, so I was worried I wouldn’t do well with a new one. Turns out, I’ve done pretty well with my current one, though it took months for me to really feel improvement.
I can’t blame my therapist for that, though. That’s kind of how therapy has always worked for me. Improvement and effort move at a snail’s pace, but it’s still movement in the right direction. Therapy takes time, so don’t worry if you don’t see changes right away. And if you feel like you’re not clicking with a therapist, look for a new one! Not every therapist will be the right fit, and any therapist worth your time will understand that.
Here are five more lessons I’ve learned while in therapy:
1. I can’t control everything about my depression.
I have bipolar 2 disorder, and my main issue is depression. I’m not currently in a depressive episode (knock on wood), but a big fear of mine is getting stuck in one again. My last depressive episode lasted three weeks, which is quite short for me. They usually last months.
My therapist gave me a metaphor to explain “control” with depression. She told me depression is like a hurricane. You can prepare the best you can, but we can’t prevent it altogether or stop it from hitting hard.
I can find strength in what I can control. There will most likely be days when the depression is overwhelming. I can’t control that.
But I can control what I do on the better days to help prevent worse days. I can take my medications, go to therapy and my support group, etc. When my depression is severe, I can decide if I need more intensive care. No matter how bad it gets, there will be some aspect I can control, even if it’s just choosing to open my eyes in the morning or take deep breaths.
2. The fear of depression can be worse than the depression.
The operative phrase being “can be.” Depression is a horrific monster I still struggle to put into words. There’s no doubting how hard and painful depression is, but it isn’t always a severe episode.
I can have mild episodes or episodes that only last a few weeks. But I’ll spend months terrified of an impending episode. I explained this to my therapist as tiptoeing when I feel good because I don’t want to wake the giant.
I don’t trust stability or good moods because of my mood shifts. Fearing depression prevents me from taking risks or truly enjoying the good moments. I’m always waiting for the ironclad shoe of depression to drop and squish the life I have.
I’m working on not fearing the worst. I want to live my life without worrying my next depressive episode could take it all away. I might not be able to control everything about depression, but I can work on not giving it any more of my time than needed.
3. No one is made to be on top of our game 24/7.
I used to work for a media company, and I became accustomed to working 60+ hours a week. I felt guilty if I actually signed off at 6 p.m., and I rarely took a day off.
I did this for over a year, and it completely burned me out. The burnout was a major reason I experienced a seven-month depressive episode.
I still have feelings of guilt and shame that I couldn’t handle my work schedule. I feel guilty for not continuing to perform my best, though I know it is impossible for anyone to work the way I did for as long as I did.
I felt guilty my bipolar disorder was getting in the way of my work, which is ridiculous because it’s a mental illness, not a personal shortcoming. I can try to prevent mood shifts and prepare the best I can, but there’s only so much I can do.
4. Look for another perspective.
This is one of the main points of therapy. We’re told to put ourselves in another person’s shoes to gain insight into someone else’s perspective. We aren’t taught how to change the perspective of ourselves and our thoughts.
For instance, I recently increased one of my medications. I had rapid cycled for over a month, and it was clear I needed something more than therapy to get ahold of it.
I experience side effects anytime I change the dosage of this medication. I get a dry mouth, which I combat with lots of water and gum. The worst side effect, though, is how shoddy my memory becomes.
As I explained my frustration with my memory to my therapist, she had another way of looking at it. Yes, my memory wasn’t great, but my mind wasn’t spiraling downward as much. I wasn’t experiencing as many negative thoughts, and I wasn’t ruminating on them.
The medication seemed to slow my mind down. While that ruined my memory, my mind was more peaceful. I could only see the negative aspects of the med increase, but she showed me another perspective. Eventually, the memory issues outweighed the benefit of the slowed mind. I’m working on a better solution.
5. I’m where I need to be in life right now.
I have a bad habit of comparing myself to my previous selves. I’m not able to handle a job in my preferred career path right now. I don’t feel like I’m going somewhere. I was a determined kid who always thought ahead. When I had to take a break from journalism, I felt like I was somehow failing.
I’m not used to living without striving for something greater. I know this is common among my generation. A lot of us aren’t taught to work 9–5 and leave work at work. We’re always striving to move up or do better. There’s nothing wrong with this, but a lot of us have trouble with not working ourselves into the ground.
I’m meeting myself where I am instead of fighting for something more. I can handle my current responsibilities, and my mental health is improving. This doesn’t mean I’ll never push myself to do more. It simply means I’m listening to my mind and body.
If we’re constantly striving for the next thing, we’re never going to enjoy what we have.