Seeing a Therapist for the First Time

Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid to Reach Out

By Collin Billings
Staff Self-Help Guru

Throughout high school, I never placed much priority on my mental health. I would always rather ignore stress and anxiety rather than address it, and I would certainly never ask someone else for help. But, what’s scary about the effects of mental health deterioration is that they’re not immediately noticeable. Unlike physical health, there are more subtle signs of degradation. You only really notice it after the healing process begins and you begin to fix the issues in your life. You only really notice when damage has already been done.

My entire academic career I’ve prided myself on my ability to persevere. No matter the problem I was faced with, I always felt as though I had the intellectual capacity to work through it. Consequently, during my junior year I decided to take the maximum amount of AP classes. I was confident that I would be easily able to handle the workload. However, I was immediately confronted with an overwhelming amount of responsibility (for a highschooler at least). Despite this, I continued to work through it, refusing to give up. I felt as though my identity was dependent on my ability to succeed academically, and without that, I didn’t know who I was. It never even crossed my mind to ask for help, this was something I wanted to overcome on my own. I never really needed mental health help before, so I reasoned I wouldn’t need it then.

As the year progressed, my mental health slowly worsened. Waves of anxiety would overtake me at seemingly random intervals and I rarely slept more than 4 hours on a weekday. Eventually, the stress overtook me and one day I decided to skip school without my parents permission to study for one of my midterms. Of course, my parents found out after the school notified them I was not in class. They were pissed at me, but not in the way I had expected. I’d convinced myself that my parents would find it unacceptable for me to skip school, but instead they were angry because I didn’t tell them about the stress I was under. I had convinced myself that I was only worth something if I could succeed academically and so I assumed everyone else felt the same way.

As a result of this fiasco, my parents encouraged me to see a therapist. I reluctantly obeyed and agreed to attend a session every week. I had never even considered therapy as an option before, my perception was that therapists were only for people with “serious” issues; I never truly thought that I had any problems that merited this kind of treatment psychiatry. When I entered my therapist’s office for the first time, I was immediately caught off guard; the office just looked like a normal living room and my therapist was an average looking woman. In my head, I had imagined my her to be some bald, bespectacled man with a notepad and a pipe, but she wasn’t even close. My expectations were further subverted when we began talking, I always imagined therapy to be this meticulous, scientific endeavour, but it just felt like a casual conversation.

Usually, I told her about my week, the people I interacted with, and how those interactions/events made me feel. Most of the time, I simply told her that I was anxious, that I felt like I lacked control over my life. I admitted to her that I felt like I was drowning, drowning in expectations, in schoolwork, and in my social life. Over time, she helped me work through these issues, and reason through them in ways that made me realize the absurdity of my anxieties. While I still continued to suffer from anxiety and stress, my ability to cope greatly improved. Oftentimes, it seems easier to go it alone, because otherwise you open yourself up to the possibility of being “weak.” Asking for help is never easy. It’s difficult to be vulnerable to another person, even a therapist. However, everyone needs a support system and recognizing that is an essential step to creating a society that treats issues of mental health with compassion. I would encourage anyone that feels overly stressed or overwhelmed to reach out to someone. During the times when you feel like you’re drowning, it’s important to remember that there are those people who can teach you to swim.

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