How I Knew I Needed Therapy – and How To Know if You Do, Too

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It’s hard to admit to needing mental health services – stigmas and shame can get in the way for anybody. But what if you’re not afraid to ask for help, you’re just not sure if you actually need it? Here are a few clues to look for if you’re on the fence about seeking out therapy:

Are you living a double life? Do your values go in one direction and your behaviors go in another?

In the months leading up to my most powerful therapy work, I was living a double life. Everywhere I went, everyone I talked to, everyone who saw me was met by a happy person. I smiled, joked around, did my hair, said yes to invitations, signed up for extra school, work, and church responsibilities… I acted like everything was great. Great! I was GREAT. Except I was very depressed. And anxious. And not sleeping well or eating well or excited about the future or feeling any joy at all. I was not great – I was miserable. But I could not fathom actually letting any of that show. Just thinking about how miserable I was made me more miserable; how was I supposed to actually talk about it and survive? I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was operating from a place of fear. And my fear-based brain could not risk the rejection, judgment, dismissal, and abandonment I was sure would come with telling the truth. So I kept pretending everything was – you guessed it – GREAT! And I suffered more a result of my dishonesty with myself and those around me.

Are you isolating yourself? Does it feel physically impossible to describe what you’re experiencing out loud?

One of the reasons it was so hard to talk about what I was experiencing was I would become so flooded, I couldn’t physically speak. Flooding is a clinical term for becoming emotionally overrun, and its symptoms include tunnel vision, shortness of breath, feeling waves of anxiety or fear, and the inability to verbalize physical and emotional sensations, focus on anything else, or imagine ever feeling differently. When I was deepest in my pain and trauma, I could barely look it in the eye, let alone describe it aloud, without dissolving into tears and exhaustion. I vacillated between intense anger and powerful anguish, feeling helpless against the tidal waves of pain I was trying to navigate all by myself. I ended up suffering alone, and therefore much longer than was necessary.

Do you feel trapped, stuck, or powerless? Have you tried everything you can think of and things haven’t improved?

After months of trying everything I could think of and everything that had worked in the past, I still felt like I wasn’t making progress. (I would later learn, in therapy, that much of what had “helped” in the past was actually me numbing my emotions. It turns out numbing present pain compounds it and creates more pain in the future.) I was experiencing depression and anxiety as symptoms of trauma, and they were compounded when I started to feel like I would never be well or feel good again. I was depressed at the thought of being depressed forever, anxious at the thought of never feeling calm again. This spiral (pain, numb, compounded pain, numb, compounded pain, numb) started because of things out of my control but continued to be fueled by my own thoughts and fears (and subsequent numbing). The disempowerment that underscored every moment became overwhelmingly painful.

If you find yourself violating your own values, isolated most of the time, flooding easily, disempowered and discouraged, or any combination of those experiences, it might be time to work with a mental health professional. If you’re not experiencing any of the above, but feel off or curious about therapy, it might be time to work with a therapist! Why wait? Finding the right therapist was one of the most impactful decisions I’ve made in my life. To find one for yourself, start with Psychology Today or Good Therapy.

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