The word therapy was not something I grew up hearing unless it meant physical therapy. With parents and family members who worked in factories, it was not uncommon to hear them discuss their coworkers needing physical therapy. When it came to mental health therapy, my first experience with it was on TV and movies. Sitcoms usually had the main character laying on a chaise while someone in a suit looks at them, taking notes. So, when I had my first therapy experience back in high school, I was very surprised that it was nothing like TV. For starters, there was nothing for me to lay down on except a love seat. Also, the therapist didn’t wear suits or take notes. It has been almost 10 years since that time and I only went for 3 or 4 sessions, so my memory betrays me on all the details. But what I won’t forget is how much better therapy made me feel.
In the last few years, I knew I wanted to get back into therapy. I was aware I was dealing with anxiety at times, but it wasn’t a constant thing. It would happen on and off and for the most part, it was gone as quickly as it came. Only a few instances stick to mind where my anxiety got the best of me. One of the most notable times was when I attempted to do a Spartan Race in 2016. During the race, I lost my breath as one does during strenuous activity. My mind went into panic mode, thinking I would never be able to catch my breath again. I ended up quitting the race and it took me around an hour to calm myself down. Other than this moment, there have been smaller events throughout the last few years. But nothing that told me “get help” until this past August.
I would describe what I experienced as a full-blown anxiety attack. It was July 31st, and I just got into bed doing my nightly “before bed wind down” of browsing Reddit. In reading different posts and things, something triggered me. I don’t remember exactly what it was, but it was relating to an older person or death. Next thing I know my mind starts racing, thinking about dying, what happens after I die, and nothingness. My heart was beating so fast and nothing was working to calm me down. I remember texting some of my best friends trying to just talk through it. I felt a tightness in my chest, my stomach in pain, chills, and just this overall sense of doom. And it didn’t stop. I would continue feeling this way through the entire month of August. It also didn’t help that that following weekend, I got a stomach bug. I was home the entire time just unable to distract myself. I couldn’t sleep through it because I was afraid to think. During that weekend, I decided I needed some help. I downloaded the Talk Space app and began the process.
For those who don’t know, Talk Space is an online therapy service. You are matched with a licensed counselor or therapist. I remember being nervous but knowing that I needed this. When you download the app, you do a sort of “intake process” and answer some questions. You are then matched with a therapist. Your first match might not be the therapist for you, but I am lucky to say that mine was. Each experience in Talk Space is different so I can only speak from my own experience.
After I was matched, I sent my therapist this:
I had a really bad anxiety attack on Tuesday and it has me feeling like I won’t feel normal again. My mind was racing, stomach was hurting, and I couldn’t focus on anything but my thoughts. I just kept thinking about how I’m never going to feel normal again. These past couple of days after incident really have me scared to have another one. I think I’m giving myself anxiety worrying about my anxiety. I don’t know what has caused this. All I want to do is sleep and not think. When I’m awake, I’m thinking about not thinking and trying to distract myself. All I want to do is feel better and not feel like I’m on the edge of having another attack. I know that this is not permanent and that I will overcome this. I just don’t know when.
I think I was crying when I wrote that. I felt so lost and confused. I couldn’t understand why I was feeling this way and why this was happening to me. In a later moment, I also wrote my therapist this:
Anxiety has made me scared of nothingness. I’m scared to sit undistracted for fear that these mind racing thoughts will return. I’m scared of my solitude, the thing that I loved so much. I avoid things uncomfortable things that I’m scared will trigger me into a thought spiral. I want to communicate this, but I’m scared of setting someone else off into their own thoughts. It also scares me to write these things down because it’s facing the reality that I don’t feel okay or like I won’t be “normal” again, whatever that is. This anxiety feels like a looming cloud over my head and my space.
With Talk Space, I assume that each therapist works differently. My therapist was available Monday through Friday. I could write as much or as little as I wanted and she would respond only twice a day. This was for her to give me things to work on, so I can work through them. A lot of people assume that therapy is supposed to fix you. You tell someone your problems and they can respond with exactly what to do. That’s not how it works. For me, my therapist started my helping me with some coping skills to deal with the anxiety I was feeling. We did some sensory work and built up from that. What I loved most was that she made me feel like this was something I could work through. Every time she asked me something or tasked me with something to practice, I took it very seriously. I always answered very honestly and tried my best. I am a firm believer that therapy, like other things, doesn’t work unless you do. I treated my therapy with the utmost respect and priority.
In our conversations, I was able to do a lot of self-reflection and identify some of the causes of my anxiety. My therapy gave me the tools to help me when I felt anxious or this sense of “doom.” I was able to have some breakthroughs and open to those closest to me about what I was feeling or going through. I was able to identify some issues that I had been harboring on for years and how to go about them. It hasn’t been the easiest process and it is also not a “once and done” thing. I’m not cured from my anxiety, but I am more confident in myself and my skills to combat this.
Recently, my therapist and I switched from daily check ins to weekly check ins. I was nervous at first because I felt like I was doing so good and didn’t want this to set me back. However, we transitioned, and I have been feeling better than ever. I have also coupled this therapy with other work as well. I’ve cut back on caffeine, started practicing yoga and meditation more frequently, and have been limiting my social media time. I’ve also been able to reach out to my tribe for help and to talk more, instead of holding things in.
I share this today not as an ad for Talk Space (however if y’all want to pay me, I’m listening) but as a testimony of mental health. If you noticed in the writings I did during this dark period, I kept harboring on “feeling normal.” Having this anxiety made me feel like something was wrong with me and that I wasn’t “normal.” Mental health problems can make you feel so isolated and like you’re “crazy.” I know for me, this shame was holding me back and hurting me more. I felt so ashamed of this anxiety and my problems. But I promise you, you’re not crazy. You’re not “not normal.” You have nothing to be ashamed of. We all go through different things and those struggles don’t make us any less of a person.
Don’t be afraid to seek help. Whether its therapy in real life or through Talk Space, if you need help, get it. If you can’t afford in person therapy, Talk Space does have some affordable plans. If you can’t afford that, please feel free to reach out to me and we can search for some alternatives together. If you’re not ready for therapy or want to try different options, also feel free to reach out to me or to a loved one. This work, working on yourself isn’t easy. It can be scary to look inside yourself, to open doors you’ve kept closed for years, or to access memories you’d rather forget. It’s hard but the alternative is not better. Mental illness can often lead to unhealthy coping habits like drug and alcohol abuse if left untreated. We’ve all seen in the media how many people are no longer with us due to mental health issues.
I promise you, there is no shame in how you are feeling or what you are going through. You are an amazing person and there is a light at the end of the tunnel.