Therapy notes to self
I’ve learned a lot about myself in therapy. A lot of the learnings were just me reflecting on things that I don’t normally spend conscious effort reflecting on, and some of those things were totally guided and spoon-fed by therapists. A year ago I started sharing therapy learnings on Instagram stories, but the temporary nature of stories (something that I had valued in my nervousness to share such personal things) became something that I felt lessened the impact these things had made on me. I also thought the highlights were becoming too crowded to effectively navigate, so I decided to move the stuff here.
I wanted to first share some of the more long standing realisations - things that I have consistently used as reminders for myself since learning them. Perhaps this will be the beginning of a long series, or maybe this will be the only post. I’m not sure, but I hope you find something useful here today.
Change is painful
It is human nature to reject the things that don’t feel good, and change doesn’t feel good. It takes active prodding into things that hurt, persistent examination of and reflections on the ugliness you carry around in secret, and constantly asking the Worst Question Of All Time: Why Am I Like This?
You can’t change the bits of you that hurt without looking at the bits that hurt you. Looking at those bits will hurt. It’s a weird cycle and if people didn’t hold my hand through it I have no idea if I could be anywhere near the person I am today.
If we are anything alike, Regular Depression doesn’t shy away just because you’re trying to work through the Deep Set Depression. Sometimes the last thing you want to do is fix a big picture when the next 24 hours aren’t even looking realistic. Change is painful, but it isn’t something that is linear or constant. Sometimes it’s enough to just be. You can change another day. Bandaid the shit out of yourself and go to bed when you can.
I will likely always be depressed
When I was younger I had always expected that there would be an end date to how awful I felt. It wasn’t a conscious thought of “I won’t feel bad some day”, but rather a “I will feel better after (goal)”. There has always been a general sense of happiness as a destination that was attainable for Everyone in society so long as you do the right steps. Whether or not this was or is true wasn’t and isn’t important because I was convinced that I just needed to do the right things to get to happiness.
It’s been a long time since I’ve felt that way or thought like that. I have come to understand and liken my depressive periods to the flu. I can feel when it’s about to happen. I can read my own body’s and my own brain’s symptoms. Often there are triggers, though I can never quite pinpoint an exact moment that starts a depressive period. If I think of my brain as having a lowered immunity to depressed periods, I can think of my extra need to take care of myself in sensitive moments as avoiding making my “flu” worse. The analogy isn’t perfect, but it’s lifted the guilt of not pursuing an end goal of Happiness as a destination.
I realised that I don’t have any memories without depression. I realised that it’s way more likely that I will be depressed for as long as I live. I realised that I needed to double down on managing my depressive periods because it was the only way I could stay alive to even have the possibilities of being happy.
I felt these things deeper than ever when I heard the news of Chester Bennington’s, and then Anthony Bourdain’s deaths, when mental health conversations sprung up around me as it always does when this kind of news happens. I’ll write about those particular 6 months in another post, probably.
My definition of trauma was wrong
I didn’t consider myself as someone who had gone through trauma simply because the word had only ever been used to describe situations I had never been through (you know, the kinds that end in police reports). Until my 2018 therapy pursuit, I just thought I had a slightly sadder than average childhood.
I think the biggest part about reexamining my own childhood was learning that both acts of commission or omission by the adults in my younger life could, first of all, be psychologically harmful and, second of all, could absolutely be done without any malicious intent at all. It took a lot of leaps for me to realise that even with all the good intentions in the world, the things that happened were traumatic for a long time, and still are. My depression and anxiety and all the related mental habits could be seen as a result of my attempts to deal with situations that I shouldn’t have had to deal with as a kid, teen, and young adult.
So it turns out I have trauma. It seems so obvious to me now, but it really hit me like a truck in the middle of a conversation at a therapy session.
My ability to talk and write about this seems unusual
I have always been an impulsively all-or-nothing kind of person. This isn’t necessarily a good thing, so I have made a lot of effort to be a more intentional and well thought out kind of person in the last year. In my pursuit of becoming mentally healthier, I may have been a little too straight forward to a lot of the people in my life about it.
I was always vaguely aware that serious talk about mental health seemed to only ever be reserved for Mental Health Awareness Days, or when there is news of suicide. I hadn’t thought about it until my own mental health goals became a priority for me, and then from that point onwards I talked about it to the point of being excessive. While I’ve never received any negative reactions to how or what I’ve talked about since starting to share therapy notes on Instagram, I’ve also realised that not everyone can handle putting their brain under a microscope. A lot of my sharing became conversations with people who understood, who were in the same place, and who have experienced some kind of close connection to depression.
Regular people don’t talk about suicide ideation or dissociation or intrusive thoughts. They don’t think about death if they can help it. Define Regular however you like, but bringing up my depression and mental health situation at my workplaces, on dates and at parties were frowned upon by both the people I was with (subtly) and also by my therapist at the time (overtly). I’m much more intentional about what I say and to whom. I still talk about mental health at work, on dates and at parties, but not everywhere and to everyone. I want to be intentional.
I'm tired. Life has been intense lately. I hope you're taking care of yourself. I'll talk more about it eventually, but we're all tired of talking about it. Time will pass, and we will be ok, probably.