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When I tell people I see a therapist, I’m often told I’m brave for addressing my mental health issues. No one has ever made me feel “crazy” or “weak” for seeking help, nor have I ever been on the receiving end of the negative stigma surrounding mental illness. Truthfully, the only times I feel awkward or stigmatized for going to therapy is when I recommend it to others. It’s when I hear people say things like “therapy isn’t for me” that I’m reminded of the stigma. Hearing people applaud me for going to therapy while they subconsciously invalidate it reminds me of just how unaccepted it is.

I know that the idea of therapy makes many people feel uncomfortable. Two years ago, the last thing I would have wanted to do is sit down with a stranger and explain all my issues to them. There are so many misconceptions about therapy.  People assume therapy is only for people who have suffered a mental breakdown or are unable to take care of themselves. Or they think it’s an expensive hobby reserved for people who are self-indulgent or lonely enough to pay a stranger to listen to them whine about childhood trauma.

And I get it. Therapy is a strange concept. As a society, we’re told to keep our problems to ourselves and keep up a good front always. We scoff at the idea of therapy because we’ve yet to accept the reality of mental illness or even the fact that we all struggle at times. We’re not supposed to be sad or scared or angry.

I didn’t want to go to therapy because I didn’t want to acknowledge or fully process those kinds of feelings. I wanted to bury them as deep within me as possible. I didn’t want to admit to myself or to others that I was struggling. I didn’t want to see someone because I didn’t want them to validate that something was wrong.  I didn’t want them to share information with me that would make me change the way I live my life—or change how others perceive and interact with me. So instead of taking care of myself, I buried my fears, truth, and experiences until they started to eat away at me.

At some point, my battle with anxiety and depression became overwhelming. I realized I didn’t have the capacity to handle certain feelings and situations, and finally recognized how unwilling I was to address my own needs. Part of me always knew I needed to see someone, but I could never bring myself to go. I knew my childhood trauma, warped sense of self, mental issues, and maladjusted coping mechanisms were negatively impacting my inner-life and relationships. But I kept myself from seeing someone by convincing myself I didn’t deserve to get better—that I deserved to hate myself. It wasn’t until my depression worsened and I experienced sexual assault that I could finally convince myself to go. I needed to see a therapist. Not only to address my trauma but to learn how to take control of my own life.

I’ve only been seeing Constance for a little over a month, but I’ve already started to notice a difference in my behavior and thought process. Talking to an objective party in a safe space has made me feel lighter and less burdened by all the toxic feelings I’ve kept hidden inside me. Acknowledging my past experiences and validating my feelings and fears has been freeing.  Taking a big step like going to therapy has made me realize that I have the power to make other meaningful changes in my life. It’s motivated to take small, positive steps every day. Since starting therapy, I’ve joined a running club, signed up for a few training courses, and begun to invest in repairing familial relationships. And recognizing my struggles while actively addressing them has made me feel like I’m moving forward and showing myself the self-love I’ve withheld for too long.

I go to therapy because I know my life experiences have shaped the way I see the world and how I interact with it. I go to therapy because I know my anxiety, depression, and toxic behaviors will not just go away on their own. I go to therapy because I don’t want to apply my maladjusted coping mechanisms or trauma to current or future relationships. I recognize that my trust issues, low self-esteem, and impulse control issues, stem from past experiences, and that they can be modified through action.

I don’t believe everyone should be required to go to therapy. But I do believe that the people who think they have no reason to go to therapy should question why they think that way. I believe they should try to step outside of the stigma or their own preconceptions of what therapy is and give the idea of it a chance.  There’s no prerequisite for therapy. You don’t have to be depressed or upset or feel like you’re spiraling out of control.  The only thing you need for therapy is an open mind and a willingness to listen and work on yourself.