Before therapy, life was shrouded in a fog of anxiety and depression. I left school with disappointing grades and a complete lack of self-esteem. Most nights I sat through insomniac darkness, comfortably numbing with Pink Floyd on my iPod and drowning in alcohol. I hated everything about myself. I wouldn’t look in a mirror because I felt ugly. I was so afraid of being judged I barely left the house. I was afraid of everyone and everything.
I quietly dealt with suicidal thoughts daily, self-harming in isolation. I departed the real world and dissolved into escapism. Movies, shows, video games – any reality that wasn’t mine. I became addicted to chasing digital highs and became reliant on anonymity online. As my life fell apart and loneliness overwhelmed me, the suicidal feelings heightened and the addiction grew worse.
It wasn’t until I watched a show about a young man attempting suicide that I realised just how bad my life had become. It was a mirror reflecting my situation, seemingly screaming at me, ‘You need help’.
My hands shook and my heart pounded as I wrote my first email to a therapist. I couldn’t keep running away – I had to face my mental illness head-on, as hard as I knew that would be.
My therapist opened my eyes to a new world. She was supportive, empathic and a good listener, but she also introduced me to CBT techniques and mindfulness – two strategies that over the past 10 years have completely changed me as a person. We met every week for six months and through her kind guidance my suicidal and self-harming thoughts faded. My social anxiety improved. I didn’t become a social butterfly but I could leave the house without panic attacks and cope with social situations. I learned to feel the fear and do it anyway.
During therapy I found the confidence to have my first romantic relationship. At first it was special. I was overwhelmed with compliments, gifts and love. Not long after I left therapy things changed.
I lost my sense of self in the relationship as I tried to appease my partner with no success. We broke up and got back together a bunch of times until the resentment boiled over and I couldn’t take anymore.
I threw myself into escapism again, this time through partying and short-lived affairs with unsuitable people. It was fun in the moment but after the buzz wore off I was left with a hollow feeling. I turned to my other passion, writing, to find the answers.
I wrote a story about my experiences, which helped me to forgive myself for my mistakes. It also revealed to me I still had a lot of work to do on myself. I had an emptiness inside me, a lack of self-love that made me pursue toxic and dead-end relationships.
I went back to therapy, this time, trauma focused. I learned about my inner child and techniques to ‘reparent’.
I started to nurture and love myself, and to live more authentically. Using CBT, mindfulness and reparenting techniques in combination, I started to thrive. I went to live music shows by myself, something I’d been too scared to do before. I started guitar and piano lessons. I performed my poems and stories in front of audiences – not bad for someone once too scared to leave the house!
I people pleased less and loved myself more. I stopped seeking out validation from others and found it within. I gave myself the gift of self-acceptance. I opened my heart to healthy love.
Therapy is not easy or linear. It is not a miracle cure or a quick fix. What therapy does is give you a supportive, empathic collaborator in your growth. You get from therapy what you put into it. You must be willing to put in the work. Commit to the process and open your mind to the tools it gives you. Apply them every day and it is a truly life-changing experience.
Just as the beautiful lotus flower grows in mud, I was able to bloom by doing the hard work of therapy.