WHEN YOU'VE BEEN IN THERAPY FOR 10 YEARS
This year I am celebrating 10 years of therapy. If you would have told me as a teenager that I would still be in therapy and pursuing a master’s degree in the mental health field, I would have laughed in your face. Four years ago, I was in one of the darkest places I’ve ever been. An unsuccessful attempt to take my own life is a constant reminder that I have a reason to be here. Since then, I have devoted countless conversations to destigmatizing mental health and encouraging vulnerability as a sign of strength and not weakness.
I started going to therapy when I was sixteen because I freaked out on my parents and was really, really unhappy. I think what I was struggling a lot with my attraction and my body. I was also struggling idolizing all of these women and thinking: do I want to be them? Do I want to be with them? I wasn't thinking this at the time but, looking back, I’m able to see a lot of where that was coming from. I was screaming out for someone to notice that something was wrong because to everyone else they thought I was okay. My older sister had moved out so I was there by myself finishing up high school trying to figure out what I'm going to do for the rest of my life and was like: I need to go to therapy. My mom said, "Whatever you need to do. I'll take you to see a counselor." I dated so many counselors - tried so many people. Hated this person and loved this person.
After I moved out when I was 18 just trying to stay afloat and graduate, therapy was one of the only things that allowed me to get through all of that. I've taken breaks and have been in and out of it. When I started social work school, I had been seeing my current therapist for eight months who suggested I try Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) which is specifically for people who struggle with suicidality. It's typically a treatment for people with Boderline Personality Disorder. I do have a history with suicide where I had a suicide attempt in 2015 and then a little scare where I didn't have a plan but I had to be assessed earlier in the school year. I've been in therapy for all this time and I'm still struggling.
I think one of the most important things I've learned from DBT - I went to for ten weeks in a group therapy format - is that two feelings can co-exist, right? You can feel shitty and you can feel fucking stoked about your life. Those things can both happen at the same time and they can move each and every day. I use to categorize every day: today was a good day, this month had been good, the last six months have been so shitty so my life is so shitty. When I started to let go of all of that, I was able to be on this scale that moves up and down and adapts. That's when I started to find peace, balance and happiness within myself. This year has been incredibly transformative.
This month I decided to get a tattoo on my forearm as a reminder of self-care. “Water your own flowers before watering another person’s.” I’ve spent so many years as the caretaker of many in my life but tended to forget about myself. It wasn’t until I realized that without water, I cannot grow. Without a strong stem, I cannot stand. Without sturdy enough leaves, I cannot hold space for others, or for myself.
I celebrate how far I’ve come. Not only the positives that are able to be measured, but also the days when I was so down in the dumps. I thought that each time I was getting knocked down and there might be a day when I would never get up again. I used to look at my life with such a deficits approach. But what I’ve come to realize is that each time I get knocked down, it is an opportunity to water my flower and help it gain the strength and courage I need to pick myself back up. So, for Mental Health Awareness Month, I celebrate my trajectory. My life. My flower.
I celebrate: being aware and ending the stigma. Every single day, I learn something new about myself and my journey. I am going to continue watering my flower everyday so that I can show up for others and for myself. Self-love is not selfish.
Leah is an MSW Candidate at NYU with a focus on the LGBTQ population.
You can follow their journey here.