If I had to use one word to sum up my thinking prior to therapy, it would be intrigue.
I was intrigued by what lay ahead of me – although I was hesitant to know how things would play out (simply due to a fear of the unknown), I felt a peculiar sense of excitement that one feels when beginning a new undertaking. For me, that undertaking was therapy. But with any endeavor, there are also feelings of lingering doubt and distrust. I had felt miserable for so long; why would those feelings cease to persist now? In the midst of my depressive period, I was skeptical of good news and any thought that had a glimpse of positivity had to be debunked immediately.
When I finally attended my first session of therapy towards the end of the 11th grade, my mind raced at a million miles a second. Not knowing what to expect, I decided to qualm my fears by adopting an open mind. So, I entered the therapist’s room sheepishly, and propped myself onto the vacant seat, trying to maintain the false image of someone who was unperturbed by the prospect of recounting some difficult memories. Obviously, I didn’t do a very good job of it because no sooner did I start speaking than the therapist asked me to relax. Slightly embarrassed, I took a deep breath and continued to answer the questions she asked me.
I distinctly remember the first conversation I had with her, and I recall saying, “I want to be great, but I don’t have the energy and I find myself struggling to get anything done.” She continued to dig deeper and asked me what I want to be great at, but I was speechless. All my life, I’ve felt the need to impress; all my life, I’ve felt as if I have to be at the pinnacle of any endeavor I decide to pursue. However, as I’ve mentioned, this led me to a feeling of emptiness and lethargy because the instant I was unable to achieve the things I wanted to, I crumbled. And that’s exactly what happened during those few months.
A couple of sessions in, I also opened up to my therapist about the turbulent atmosphere at home. During my depressive phase, I had decided to alienate myself from anyone and everyone who told me that I needed to look after myself. As soon as someone brought up my health, I would mentally shut down and that invariably led to many people feeling frustrated and antagonized. “If they want to abandon me, they can; who cares?” I would defiantly reassure myself. But the truth was I could only push people away so much before they saw it as more than just an empty threat. It’s excruciatingly difficult to see your loved one go through pain without wanting or even trying to get better. Regardless, I would continue to behave recklessly with my loved ones, only incrementing the torment that troubled me.
Additionally, my relationship with my family was also strained. I had vicious arguments with my mother and sister every day, and I didn’t even bother to tell my father what I was experiencing. “How was therapy?” my mother would ask, and she would be given the insufficient response of, “It was fine.” My lack of transparency and apparent despondency worried my family, and my refusal to budge would only add to their anxiety. This tense atmosphere at home would spark trivial squabbles that would erupt into the most raucous arguments. Unsurprisingly, I shut down once again, and I allowed myself to fall victim to my pessimistic tendencies: Why doesn’t anyone understand what I’m going through? Why can’t they just leave me alone? When will this all just end? Will it ever end? When you’re suffering from depression, things can spiral spontaneously and rapidly; especially when you feed your negative and unhelpful thought process daily.
Furthermore, I told my therapist of the situation at school, and how I continued to fail despite my best effort. In reality, I was putting in no effort at all, but most days even being able to get out of bed in the morning required herculean levels of willpower and spirit, so I wasn’t exactly lying. But somewhere, I felt deeply as if I were making excuses for everything. I felt as if I just needed to keep a stiff upper lip and move forward, and I was allowing myself to be consumed by something that perhaps didn’t even exist. So, whenever I was in low spirits, I began to experience guilt which led to me feeling even more uneasy than before. Then I would feel more guilt for even having felt guilty in the first place, and the cycle continued.
It was as if there were two voices in my head constantly fighting for my attention. There was the mighty and sombre voice that commanded me to move forward, stop magnifying things, and snap out of it. It possessed an indignation that caused it to spew vitriol toward me in times of distress – How could you be so weak? Are you just going to feel sad all the time? Why can’t you try and get better? When this voice was in-charge, it was nigh impossible to do anything else but cower and feel paralyzed by its ferocity.
The other voice was its stark opposite. Although softer in tone and harder to listen to, it was imbued with warmth, compassion, and tenderness. The voice would urge me to see reason and treat myself fairly – I was clinically depressed. This dread I felt was not a figment of my imagination but an entity in my reality. You do need to try and get better, but you need to be patient and rational, not only with others but also with yourself. Life may seem bleak now, however, that is not what it will always be. When this voice was in-charge, my sense of discomfort would be replaced with embers of delight and self-love.
Unfortunately, the former voice would usually prevail, and my mood would be one of constant annoyance, agony, and melancholy.
Having heard all of this, my therapist and I decided that I needed to start slowly and above anything else, prioritize a regular schedule that would allow me to fulfill my academic responsibilities as well as give my mind something to do other than think all day. Days that I stuck to the schedule, I could add a little tick at the bottom. To me, this seemed doable and I went home somewhat cheerfully that day. Every day, I drafted a schedule that was not too heavy but allowed me to get my essential tasks out of the way. Alas, not even a single tick made it to a page. I would always start off the day energized, but almost immediately, find a way to procrastinate and make excuses. If there’s one thing I have realized over the last few years, it’s the vitality of a routine – especially for those suffering from depression. But at that time, a routine’s importance was lost on me. (I had a fair share of unhealthy practices that I would employ in order to avoid confronting difficult work or emotions, but that’s for another day.)
Soon, my exams started, and I continued to make schedules – and continued to not stick by them. Unsurprisingly, I was extremely frantic and stressed during that period which only exacerbated my fragile mental health. Consequently, I stopped going to therapy: nothing was working, and I wasn’t getting any better. What was the point? I avoided therapy, just like I avoided anything else that was accompanied by unpleasant emotions. In retrospect, at that stage, I was not committed to therapy, and I was not committed to getting better. Moreover, I was not comfortable with my therapist at that time. (Although that may seem like another excuse, only after my second attempt at therapy have I realized that the right therapist – the one whom you feel most at ease with- can make a world’s difference.)
I can proudly admit that I did not take my depression as seriously as I ought to have. But there were some invaluable lessons that I learnt along the way. I realized that no matter how much someone pushes you to do something, you actually have to want to do that thing. My friends and family kept
pestering urging me to go to therapy and seek the help that I needed, but at that time, I was not firm in my desire to get better; people could have physically dragged me to the therapist’s office, but it would not have mattered until I made a wholehearted promise to myself that I would try and get better. Not for my parents, not for my friends; but for myself. I deserved self-love, patience, and rationality. If I didn’t deserve anything else, I deserved at least that.
Over time, I have gradually learnt to pay heed to the latter voice more. If I can use that voice when someone comes to me and tells me that they are going through a turbulent time in their lives, why can’t I use that same voice with myself? Recovery is not straightforward; recovery is rife with all kinds of ups and downs, but with just a little promise, a pinch of optimism, and a splash of perseverance, it is far less arduous than it seems. Things will get better. Be kind and give it time.
So, to conclude, yes, I did fail at my first attempt at therapy. But failure isn’t that bad after all, is it?