Every time I went to see a counselor while I was in college, I did so alone, for others, and without telling a soul. It was private for me; it wasn’t something I readily admitted, especially when mental health and depression were “off the table” topics of conversation in a family that had experienced enough of those issues. You’d think they’d be overwhelmingly supportive.
I found myself navigating mental stress without guidance or emotional support until I finally met the right group of people. They taught me that while I may not have the encouragement from everyone in my family, I did have their love and unwavering support.
But even when I tried counseling for the third and final time at my university, I knew it would be the last time I saw someone to talk to about my feelings, stresses and anxieties. There were days when it made me feel great and others where I dwelled on the things I discussed with my therapist. Most of the time, I felt like I was being forced to change, that there were answers expected of me.
Essentially, therapy put me in a cage.
It’s not everyone’s experience: some people feel a lot freer when they can talk to someone. For me, I’ve always been a private person. I keep my personal life to myself, so opening up was almost painful.
When I graduated from college, I knew I needed to find out how I could take care of myself mentally. Therapy—at least for now—wasn’t an option. Telling my parents or talking to family members about it still felt taboo, despite the encouragement of my partner and friends. I realized, then, that if outward expression of my feelings wasn’t working, I needed to turn inward.
In the last few months, I’ve taken my stress to the mat, doing warm vinyasa classes that force me to concentrate on my breath and restorative classes that force me to clear my mind. I cook and clean on bad days and finally dragged myself to physical therapy to fix a hip pain I’ve been living with for six years. When I get upset or anxious, I breathe and repeat a daily mantra. I’m looking into even more volunteer opportunities in my area. My partner and I started a book club, forcing me to get back into something I love. Even moving to a new city and state allowed me to reinvent myself and to start over.
It took me a bit of time, but I finally accepted that nothing was wrong with me just because counseling didn’t jive with my personality or lifestyle. In fact, I found that ditching therapy and searching for my own way of coping that actually helps and empowers me.
Mental health is no joke, but what works for one person might not for someone else. Who knows, maybe healing is a multi-step journey and I’ve just begun. Maybe one day I can turn outward and therapy will free me.