Updated: Aug 21, 2022
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you."
— Maya Angelou*
I write these first lines, knowing I am delving into a complicated topic that, for many, is a source of particular discomfort, if not rejection.
As I always like to remind you, what I share here is, above all, a recount of my own experiences, with their failures and successes.
So, getting straight to the point at hand, my question to you is: have you honestly considered giving psychological therapy a chance? Or have you just, flat out, dismissed it? Are you part of those who, when advised to seek professional help to deal with their mental or emotional health challenges, respond “that's not for me”?
There are many like that. I was one of them.
My attitude certainly wasn't contemptuous (or at least I didn't want it to be), but it was arrogant. Even without doing it on purpose, believing myself beyond the reach of professional help was based on ignorance. The ignorance of the causes, reasons, consequences, and methods that countless professionals throughout history had dedicated their lives to learning and understanding.
That kind of ignorance offers a foolish but effective response in our attempt to put up a wall between ourselves and the outside world. It doesn't work in the long run, but it allows us to wallow in the comfort of not knowing, giving us a sad excuse to not face whatever it is that hurts us.
Interestingly, ignoring what harms us will inevitably result in greater harm.
What to expect from therapy?
Above all things, tools.
Magic solutions? Absolutely not.
Although we will find answers, they can only be found through our search –and genuine desire to discover them–, which will require the unpleasant condition of looking, specifically, in the places where we do not want to look.
“In sterquiliniis invenitur” is an alchemical phrase from the Middle Ages that means “in the filth, it will be found”. I experienced the truth behind this ancient adage in my search for answers.
Of course, there are different kinds of therapies (or psychotherapies), such as cognitive, dialectical, or rational-emotive, among others. However, beyond the different approaches they have and the methodologies they use, finding solutions or answers to our sufferings and questions will depend on us. Our self-sacrificing effort and consistent dedication will get us to our destination, whatever it may be.
Why, then, accept this help, you ask? If the work will be ours in the end, what “extra” thing will therapy give me?
As I mentioned before, tools. Tools to work on new things, search for answers, and learn to ask questions. This was one of the biggest, if not the biggest, surprises I encountered almost immediately. I know it may sound repetitive, but how often do we get frustrated in the absence of a solution when the way we pose the problem is incorrect? Even more, how many times did we make a mistake in establishing the problem? Few things have made me scrutinize my convictions and face the need to swallow my pride like psychotherapy has, forcing me to put aside excuses and accept reality for what it was, and not what I wanted it to be. Those first months were long and hard, but slowly the positive effect of this new habit became more noticeable in my day-to-day life. It is a process in which I continue, and that, from time to time, makes me look again towards depths that I thought I had abandoned forever. But even in those moments, I am still grateful to have taken this path, and to have embraced this opportunity to find new tools that help me build my life daily and, on my best days, even plan for the future.
Hope for change
As I have mentioned on multiple occasions, one of the biggest falsehoods that those of us who struggle with depression accept as true is the one that makes us believe that we are alone.
Unfortunately, this lie breeds a certain reality. How? Just by its very existence. The more we believe we are alone, the more we shut down. The more time we spend in this attitude, the more the protective circle that we form around us narrows, making it more difficult for those who wish to help us to be able to do so. Eventually, the walls we create get so tightened around us that we end up imprisoned by the very fortress we created as protection.
Yes... the lie affects reality and, if we fail to realize its presence in time, it is capable of drastically and definitively altering it.
Don't get me wrong when I talk about fortresses and walls. This project is a fortress, but one that we enter by our own will and decision, seeking respite and protection in moments of fatigue and weakness. But there are other fortresses that we build with the sole purpose of hiding and isolating ourselves from the world, excluding everything and everyone because, simply put, we have lost interest in the external, the appetite to savor it, and the courage to face it.
It is important to understand the difference. It is not a mere play on words, but a matter of perspective and basic discrimination to be able to identify where, how, and why we are where we are.
That is what we need. Tools to understand and judge. Tools to decide and plan.
Tools, in short, for a change.
More excuses, or a worthy bet?
You can continue to let fear disguised as indifference continue to deny you the chance to try something new and promising with the potential to change your life. The decision to keep hiding behind empty excuses and without support is yours.
What will be your attitude from now on?
How much do you have left to bet if you are already immersed in pain, frustrated, and tired of "trying" things that "don't work"? How much more can you lose? Is setting a date, an hour of your time to have a sincere and open conversation with someone who can offer you an objective opinion, asking for too much? What else could you lose with one more hour? I heard someone once ask if, being immersed in the middle of a battle, overwhelmed by pain and exhaustion, do we gain something by surrendering? If we are already in pain, wouldn't it be better to get something out of it?
Once again, let me tell you: the decision is yours and no one else's. That is exactly the reason why the responsibility will fall completely on you. If you have access to professional help and choose not to use it, that's up to you. If you want it and don't have it, seek help. Ask and research the options that you could access, even if your finances are not the best.
In the same way that excuses exist, so does help. Reach out your hand and ask for it. And accept it. It is your turn and your responsibility. Take control of your life once and for all.
It is possible, and you deserve it.
* Maya Angelou (April 4, 1928, St. Louis, MO – May 28, 2014, Winston-Salem, NC), was an American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist, who published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, several books of poetry, and is credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning over 50 years. She received dozens of awards and more than 50 honorary degrees.