By Jane Bowden
The first time I went to therapy, I cried — a lot. I had no clue what Fergie was talking about when she said “big girls don’t cry,” because there I was at 19 years old, sitting in the waiting room with tears flowing out of me like a raging river as I filled out the symptoms I had been consistently struggling with for the past year: feelings of loneliness and hopelessness, lack of an appetite, suicidal ideation and more.
A stranger might’ve looked at me and thought “Oh, this girl is crying because she has depression and anxiety and is just emotional as heck” — but that wasn’t entirely the case with me.
I was crying for two reasons: I was scared to be open — Lord knows no matter how many times I recited what I was going to say in my head, I couldn’t avoid that “I’m having a heart attack” feeling — and I didn’t believe I was struggling enough to see a therapist.
Although I checked off almost every symptom of depression, anxiety and an eating disorder, I didn’t think I acted like a person who was suffering. I still went to all of my classes and received A’s, was in a long-term relationship and worked a part-time job. I even had brief periods in which I really did feel happy, inspired and capable of love. A person with depression couldn’t do all of that, right?
Because of this, I didn’t think I was struggling enough to go to therapy. To me, therapists only saw people who had “real” problems and mental disorders, and I was terrified the therapist would confirm my fears by telling me I was overdramatic, crazy and weak.
But, to my surprise, the therapist didn’t look at me like I had three heads, laugh in my face and tell me I should apply to acting school because I was that good at faking my symptoms like I thought they would. Instead, he listened to me, advised me on what the next steps could be and, most importantly, believed me. It was then that I suddenly realized, “Wow, maybe what I’m going through is real and not just all in my head.”
It’s been more than two and a half years since that day when I stepped into a therapist’s office for the first time, and almost two years since I started seeing my current therapist every week. Since then, I’ve jumped in and out of depressive episodes, all of which my therapist has been there to guide me through, and have learned how to navigate my emotions through journaling, exercise and more.
However, the most validating lesson I’ve learned is that I don’t need to be struggling with depression, anxiety or an eating disorder to continue with therapy. Why? Because everyone has mental health, which means everyone can benefit from therapy.
Just like what I thought a few years ago when I was crying in the therapist’s waiting room, there’s a common misconception that you need to have a mental disorder in order to go to therapy — but that’s just not true.
Therapy isn’t a definable, one-size-fits-all thing — it’s ever-changing and different for each person, which means you can go for any reason, any amount of time and during any period in your life. You don’t have to wait until you’re struggling “enough” to start seeing a therapist. In fact, you don’t have to be struggling at all. Therapy can be beneficial for everyone, even happy people, as happy people still have mental health and can benefit from more support and guidance.
Whether you’re struggling with a disorder or looking for direction in how to understand your feelings and achieve your personal goals, your mental health is valid enough to see a therapist.