My story begins with a bump on the head– a major concussion that took me out of school for a semester and left me (literally) in the dark.
I some spent some time at home, and slowly, despite the notice of my friends and family, developed Major Depressive Disorder. Something shifted, and my low mood, lack of pleasure, irritability, and negative self-talk felt like the new normal.
I first tried therapy at the Tufts Counseling and Mental Health Center the beginning of my sophomore year, when I returned from medical leave. I was feeling alone, friendless, and without purpose. My depression was getting worse, and I had begun to take it out on myself in maladaptive ways. I was lucky that the few people I did know well were incredibly supportive, encouraging me to seek help for the feelings I couldn’t sort out on my own.
The day of my first appointment, I was asked to come early and fill out form after form about my medical history, mental health history, recent life changes, and my goals for counseling. I distinctly remember anxiously sucking on a watermelon Jolly Rancher I’d found in the waiting room and thinking that there had to be something wrong with me. The choice to see a counselor scared me; it made me feel like I was going “crazy” or that I wasn’t strong enough to handle my struggles. I was getting down on myself and blaming my struggles on my own flaws (now, I know that this is a common cognitive distortion in depression!).
Before I knew it, I was in a counselor’s office, and laughing. Therapy with him was almost jovial, as he slowly helped me take off my “put together” façade and talk about the real things that were going on in my mind and in my relationships, both at school and at home. At first, I found myself a bit uncomfortable; I had never experienced something that was so wholly focused on me. I felt no pressure to give the scripted reply, “I’m fine, how are you?” in response to his questioning; there was no “what about you?”
As I got further into the semester, I came to better understand what I was there to do: to uncover things about myself that a friend, family member, or significant other couldn’t help me figure out, to share my feelings and experiences without judgment, and to actually learn something about myself. For once, I didn’t have to worry about what someone thought about me. Going to counseling was liberating, empowering, and helped me get back on my feet. I had somewhere to talk through the seemingly constant stream of negative thoughts in my head, and a place to address the growing negativity in some of the relationships in my life. Therapy helped me cope with the ensuing anxiety that crept into my mind and regain control over my mental illnesses at a time when I felt they were eating away at my life.
For long-term treatment, I eventually found an off-campus therapist who I truly “click” with, and proclaim to my friends after every weekly appointment: “Gosh, I love my therapist.” I found the right combination of therapeutic approaches that works best to manage my mental health, and a therapist who is both incredibly empathetic and able to hold me accountable for my own recovery and self-improvement. She challenges me to step outside of my comfort zone and change my seemingly automatic negative thought processes, and helps me stay away from cyclical maladaptive behaviors and relationships that I participated in for years.
For me, therapy can range from being like a class where I learn new skills, to a safe haven where I can explore thoughts, feelings, and past experiences I haven’t shared with anyone before. It’s a place where I can practice ways to cope and find meaning in daily life, and a place to understand the intimidating and often scary concept that is recovery. Everything I’ve put into therapy has been an investment I’ve made in myself over the last two years, and the feeling of agency I’ve gained, alongside an understanding of what is behind my thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, has made a world of difference.