I was lucky. I did not grow up in a household where therapy was taboo. Mental health issues were never labeled as fake or weak. My parents just wanted me to be happy. If something was wrong that required professional help, I knew they’d support it, no questions asked.
Later in life, I learned that Asian culture tends to only accept physical scars. Thus, the fact that my parents accepted therapy and believed in internal trauma, meant I was in a small minority.
Therapy was acceptable, but not normalized. No one I knew went to therapy. Whether it was because they didn’t need it, didn’t feel comfortable going, or just didn’t tell me, I don’t know.
I grew up as one of the first generations to get an education including mental health awareness. I empathized with individuals with mental health problems like anxiety, stress, and depression. However, I didn’t have a magnitude of problems, so I never considered therapy.
Let me be clear: I never thought there was something wrong with someone just because they were getting therapy. However, in my head, if someone was going to therapy, they always had a “why” that accompanied it.
I thought you needed to have a reason to go or at the very least a problem to discuss. After all, if you don’t know the issue, what’s the point?
Therapy — like everything else — has many buckets. Relationship therapy. Sex therapy. Couples therapy.Therapy for trauma, depression, anxiety, stress.
One great recent development of mental health acceptance is that we are finally treating it as an umbrella instead of a singular disease. Just as we would never send a gynecologist to perform heart surgery, finally, there is a therapy specialist for everything and anything.
However, there isn’t therapy for Nothing.
Booking a therapy session is always hard. But it is even harder when you do not know what you’re booking it for. Or when you don’t know what you’re feeling. After all, how can anyone solve your problems if you don’t know what they are?
That very question was the barrier that kept me from therapy for over two years. I didn’t know how someone could help. So I chose to take the easier path and did not get help.
I am lucky.
I am lucky that my friends and family don’t see therapy as a form of weakness. I mean in an ideal world, that would be a given. After all, when someone walks up to us with a broken arm in a cast, we don’t immediately assume they are weak. However, the stark reality of the world is that many people wrongly associate “Therapy” with “What is wrong with you?”.
I am lucky that my parents didn’t bat an eye when I finally decided I wanted to see a therapist (I will also take this moment to recognize how lucky I am that my insurance covers mental health services because they are abysmally expensive).
And god, am I lucky that they didn’t ask me why I was going.
Because I don’t know what I would have told them. And not because I am ashamed or embarrassed, but because I don’t even know.
JOURNEY TO THERAPY
Let me tell you my story: From an objective standpoint, my life is going well. Save a global pandemic (which I don’t think is doing wonders for anyone’s mental health), there isn’t much to complain about.
I have a great support network. I have a wonderful family. I genuinely love my siblings, and both my parents would drop everything and anything if I ever needed help. My friends and boyfriend are both fantastic.
I am the captain of my school’s varsity Field Hockey Team. My classes are going well, and quite frankly are not causing me that much stress. I have a return offer for a summer internship at a company that many of my peers would kill to have (And while that job doesn’t align with my career aspirations, complaining about such a ludicrous job — especially during these times — seems kinda elitist).
My sleep schedule is good. I eat well. I have a consistent exercise schedule. Taking care of my body and being physically healthy is not a burden.
The world has stacked the deck in my favor. And I’m self-aware enough to realize that I am exceptionally lucky.
But that very fact plagues me every single day.
See here’s the thing. I am not happy a lot of the time.
I am not depressed (neither clinically nor self-diagnosed). I am not even perpetually gloomy. But sometimes I sit down and think, and sadness washes over me, even though I have no reason to be upset.
I am aware the world is not a competition of “whose life is suckiest and if you don’t win then you have no right to be sad.” That very statement is absolutely BS. If you think that, you need to learn some empathy..
Perspective is important, but it is no excuse for discounting feelings.
YOU DON’T NEED A REASON TO GO TO THERAPY
Don’t get me wrong; I do compare my (first-world) problems to the magnitude of the problems others face. However, my bigger issue is that I cannot pinpoint what my problems are.
And I hate that so so much.
When I know why I’m upset, I can internalize it. Last year, my uncle passed away. It was the worst day of my life and I don’t think I have ever been so sad. But you know what? It put me in a better mental headspace. I knew where the hurt was coming from. I had a reason to cry. I had a reason to feel sadness wash over me.
On the flip side, when I experience unexplained unhappiness, this just leads to self-disgust. I mean if the odds are stacked in your favor, it’s pretty pathetic to be sad.
What a wonderful thing to feed that little-voice-inside-my-head telling me I need a problem to go to therapy.
Maybe it took me too many years, but here is something really important that I’ve realized. The thing that we need to understand about therapy and that I’m trying to genuinely believe about therapy: You don’t need a reason to need therapy. You can just need it.
Sometimes therapy isn’t about solving your problems. Because sometimes you don’t know your problems. And sometimes, more than half of the therapy is finding out why you needed it in the first place.
You don’t believe me? When you walk into the doctor’s office, do you show up with a list of every diagnosis for yourself? I don’t think so — and if you do, your doctor probably actually hates all the WebMD-ing that you do. Instead, you tell the doctor what’s hurting or uncomfortable, and then you let them handle the rest. Or maybe you don’t think anything is wrong and this appointment is just a check-up to ensure physical health is doing well. Either way is totally ok.
Guess what? Mental health works in the exact same way.
So let’s talk therapy. Let’s talk about how you don’t need to have a problem. A tragic event. A boatload of failures that are bringing you down. There doesn’t have to be a rhyme or reason.
You don’t need a reason to go. Sometimes you just need to go.
Believe me. And maybe someday I’ll believe myself too.
Article originally posted on Medium.com here.