I started my therapeutic journey by seeing a counsellor at university. My highly negative and self-critical voice – which I now call ‘the crackhead’ – would be going at 100mph all day, every day, reminding me how useless I was because I wasn’t achieving my goals. I’ve always loved the competitive edge of professional sports but was never good enough to compete, so instead, I’d seek that same intensity through work, by setting big goals for myself – my ‘championships’. These great expectations created huge amounts of pressure to always perform, and when I failed to meet an objective, I spiralled into depression.
Something had to change. I decided to jump into therapy because I thought, what’s the worst that can happen if I go? At that point, my perception of therapy was that you had to have some form of trauma to require it, otherwise you were just ‘weak-minded’ – I was very much of the ‘everyone has their own stuff to deal with, get on with it’ mindset. How naive I was.
In my first session, the counsellor helped me reframe and change my perspective on how I viewed a friendship issue – a light-bulb moment that brought an enormous sense of relief. Once I got over my negative beliefs about needing to see a therapist I was hooked, and I realised therapy had the potential to be life-changing. We have doctors to fix our bodies, mechanics to fix our cars… Why would I not want the same thing for a human being’s greatest asset, the mind?
After leaving university, I saw the in-house counsellor at the firm where I got my first job. I found my current therapist, Kate,* around four years ago. With her, I dived into psychodynamic and cognitive behavioural techniques. No matter how uncomfortable a subject made me feel, if it made me cry, angry or whatever emotion needed to be expelled, I knew it would be worth it, and not just for the endorphin high afterwards due to the release I’d feel. I wanted to know why I was wired the way I was and, more importantly, how I could change that wiring. If I could become a ‘cognitive engineer’, I could understand my patterns and take more control of how I react and the choices I make.
Therapy taught me to understand what my triggers are, like something as simple as seeing another young person’s success on LinkedIn or in Forbes magazine would make me think, ‘Look, they’ve done it, why haven’t you yet?’ This created huge amounts of anxiety and self-criticism, where I would end up telling myself that I needed to work harder and be more efficient with my time. Kate taught me how to work out my counterbalances so that I could return to equilibrium. She helped me to see that the world we live in has a lot of grey areas and is not all black and white. I am finally able to show myself the compassion I show to others.
The biggest issue I had to deal with though was why it felt like a relationship break-up or a death when I failed to hit one of my goals, such as starting my own company by the time I was 23. Kate taught me how loss works and that it’s not just attached to the tangible. Anything you invest emotional time and effort in creates an attachment, and when you have to let it go it creates a loss – similar to the feeling experienced with a death or a break-up.
Knowing this wasn’t a personal failure unique to me meant I became kinder to myself and could give myself time to grieve my losses, pick myself up and carry on. Therapy made me realise how my thoughts affect my beliefs, which in turn affect my behaviour and thus my reality. That’s why I now know that if I change my thoughts, my reality usually changes with it.
*Name has been changed