Hello, my name is Katya, and today I will tell you about my experience of visiting a psychotherapist. Spoiler alert: I did not hear any mysterious voices in my head and I didn’t think there was some kind of a world conspiracy. It’s just that at a certain time in my life, I couldn’t figure out the point of living or find pleasure in my life anymore and I couldn’t navigate through these feelings on my own.
I will share my psychotherapy adventures with Apegeo readers and I hope that my story will help someone to find peace with themselves. Or at least this story can help you take your first steps toward a normal life.
How I ended up going to a psychotherapist
This is what I looked like before I was sad all the time.
In 2012, at the age of 28, I became a widow. Nothing could have predicted what happened. We were a regular family raising a boy and I was pregnant with my second child. But in just several days, my life changed completely: my young husband got ill and died in just one week. So, there I was, 9 months pregnant and alone with a 3-year-old child.
Nothing changed around me: the sun was still there, the birds were still singing, and people went to work. I didn’t think I would be depressed — just because I had to be strong.
Of course, I was in mourning, I was shocked: how could something like this even happen to me? But now, 7 years later, I realize that I was sort of in a spacesuit: all the feelings I was having were kind of blunt because I wouldn’t let myself relax. I closed my heart to pain, I learned not to cry, and, as I found out later, I shouldn’t have.
This was me when I was depressed. Where are my cheeks?
Depression caught up with me when I thought I had already overcome my loss. I lost 45 pounds in one year — I just didn’t want to eat. And once, I thought that I had cancer or some other terminal disease. I became obsessed: I started looking for the “suitable” symptoms online, I went to doctors, but they couldn’t find any diseases. I was absolutely sure that I had something terrible and that I would die any day, so I took my temperature like 5 times a day, I looked for rashes or other spots on my skin, I even constantly checked my lymph nodes.
Once I felt like my heart was beating so fast that it was going to break my ribs. I was sweating, my hands were shaking, and I wanted to run somewhere. I thought something terrible was about to happen and I did not realize that this was my first panic attack.
My body kept screaming, “I’m hurt,” and I was breaking apart, but I didn’t want to acknowledge it and I thought it all would go away. And it was only when my clothes became several sizes bigger and I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning that I realized I needed a shrink.
I started searching for a good doctor online. Actually, psychotherapists are very expensive, but at a local hospital there was a specialist I could visit for free. Anyway, I had nothing to lose, so I decided to go and this was the start of my path to healing.
I visited the specialist for several months. Together, we found out that I had a reactive depression. This is a kind of depression, but it’s different from others. Usually depression is based on something that a person had in childhood, and this disorder is the brain’s response to a traumatizing experience.
I hoped that the doctor would just prescribe some antidepressants and let me go, but this is not how therapy works. In order to get rid of depression, you need to work on it.
This is what I realized after 6 months of therapy:
1. Realize that you’ll need more than pills to help you.
There is no such thing as a magic pill. There just isn’t. There is no pill that can make you happy. My therapist compared antidepressants with crutches. When a person breaks a leg, they have a bandage and crutches in order to be able to move. But this is a temporary solution: sooner or later they will have to ditch the crutches and learn to walk again.
The same goes for pills: they can remove the symptoms (like anxiety and fear), they can help you get through the darkest days, but they won’t heal you. Without the right therapy, you can take pills for years. Seriously, I have met people who are like foodies, they know all the different types of antidepressants. In order to get rid of depression, you need to do a lot of work.
2. Sometimes it hurts.
During my first sessions, I realized that I didn’t want to live. I didn’t have any plans for more than a couple of days. Why? We all will die one way or another… I didn’t see the point of doing a renovation or go to a hairstylist. Even taking a shower didn’t seem like a necessary procedure.
I had to learn to want to live. I had to. My therapist and I made lists of plans, I drew what I planned to do in the future. And also, I had to learn to control my negative thoughts. This can be really hard and really painful.
3. Only trust someone who is a medical expert.
It is best to trust a medical specialist who has a special education — a doctor can help you find the reasons for your problems and recommend the right treatment. Depression is a multi-faceted beast: sometimes it’s the hormones, sometimes the brain lacks serotonin, and sometimes, it’s about traumatizing experiences. A doctor can get to the bottom of it and find the best approach.
And most importantly — when someone has panic attacks or depression, they need to have a full medical examination like with an ECG, a neurologist and an endocrinologist, and they need to have their lungs checked. It is amazing how some diseases can pretend to be depression. So, while you are wasting time on the therapy, your health may be getting even worse.
4. People around you won’t get it.
Most people around me thought that all of my suffering was caused by the fact that I had nothing to do. Only lazy people have depression. “Drink some mint tea, get some good sleep, buy some new shoes and your depression will go away,” everyone around me said.
I’m glad I didn’t listen to them. Nothing made me happy and I was afraid of getting out of bed in the morning, I had panic attacks — and all of this was caused by laziness? And then I realized something, in order to admit that you are weak, you have to be brave. And in order to start treatment, you need to be 100 times braver. Don’t listen to anyone. And don’t follow their advice.
5. Recovery can be extremely slow.
Some of the recommendations from your doctor can seem completely silly. A psychotherapist might recommend that you start a diary, make a plan 3 years in advance, or draw a picture. I thought, “How is this supposed to help? Give me some pills and I’ll just go home.”
The thing is, all of these things really work, you just don’t notice it. The next morning, or a week later, I didn’t feel better. I didn’t understand that I was doing better until months later. I think that even the specialist didn’t know if it was going to work or not.
6. Setbacks are a part of the treatment.
Sometimes, it gets worse. “How can this be? I do visit the doctor, I do follow the recommendations, and I still don’t feel like laughing…” It’s okay to have setbacks. It is totally normal. You can’t do something big in just several days. You have to be patient and persistent.
7. A specialist won’t think you are insane.
People are often scared of visiting psychotherapists because they think it makes them “crazy” or something like that. Well, it doesn’t. It only makes them strong enough to realize that they have a problem and are willing to solve it.
8. It may be unpleasant to find out who you really are as a person.
Psychotherapy is your chance to get to know yourself better, but you might not like what you find out. I realized that my depression was based on anger and aggression. I was angry with my husband who died and left me alone with my children. I was angry with women who had husbands and children who had fathers. I was definitely the most unhappy woman in the world and I thought nobody could understand me.
9. Depression can come back. And it most likely will.
Just like drug and alcohol addiction, depression can return. Psychotherapists are not wizards, they can’t make you a totally different person, but they can give you the tools and the skills to overcome these situations.
There is no way you can become a superhuman who is never sad and doesn’t have any psychological problems. But you can learn to live in peace with yourself, deal with your problems, and explain certain things to yourself if you have to.
You should not “worship” your depression. Yes, it is a disease and it has to be treated. Don’t let it conquer your life. When you have a cold, you don’t pay much attention to it. When you have a problem, you need to solve it — that’s it. Don’t get desperate.
My sense of humor helped me tremendously. Sometimes I thought I was losing my mind. But I kept thinking, “Okay, I’m going to a mental hospital, at least I won’t have to do any cleaning, laundry, or other things.” Sometimes sarcasm is really healthy.