Imagine that you’re sitting in a small, dark box. There is only one way out, and it’s blocked by a curtain. You could so easily just reach out and pull that curtain open, but you’re too scared. You don’t know what’s on the other side of it; every so often a sliver of light will appear through gaps in the fluttering curtain, but it’s not enough for you to really know what’s waiting for you on the other side. What if it’s even worse than what’s inside your box? Should you stay with what you know, in this uncomfortable and scary, yet comfortingly familiar, place? Or should you reach out and pull that curtain open?
This was the dilemma that I found myself in late one night only months ago. I was lying in bed with my husband after a particularly horrible day in a particularly horrible time, telling him my insecurities. “You can do so much better than me”, “I’m so stupid, you deserve someone smart”, “I’m not good at anything”, “I’m boring”, the list goes on. So, my wonderful, logical, problem-solving husband (gosh I love him dearly) asked me, “why don’t you try seeing a psychologist?”. He’d asked me this question before, and I was always quick to shut it down. Seeing a psychologist wouldn’t help me, I’ve tried to see a therapist before when I was a child and it ended badly, my issues aren’t severe enough to need to see a psychologist, what would we even talk about? No, there was no way it would help me. But this time was different. Why? Because this time I felt horrified. Me? Talk to someone about my issues? It seemed unheard of. And yet, it wasn’t anymore. Several months before, after struggling with his social anxiety for years on his own, my husband so bravely sought help. He went to a doctor, he got diagnosed, he got prescribed antidepressants, he got referred to a psychologist, and now, after just a couple of months, he was already doing better. Of course he still had a long way to go, but he was already starting to seem like a newer, more confident version of himself. I could no longer tell myself that seeing a therapist wouldn’t help me, because now I had the proof right in front me. It could work.
But how could I reach out and pull open that curtain? It seemed impossible. I’d been the way I was for years, and sure I thought I was messed up and broken, but that was the me I knew, that was the me I was comfortable with. Was trading in who I was now really worth the unknown? But that’s the thing. I didn’t know who I was. I’d never known, I’d never had a chance to find out. I deliberated for months whether I should start seeing someone, whether I really needed it, and whether it would really help. I was leaning towards the no side of the debate. I didn’t want to open myself up to that humiliation. Letting anyone know about the negative aspects of me was a horrifying thought, because on the outside I had to appear functional, perfect, like I’ve got my life together and like nothing bothered me, even if that was the complete opposite of what I felt inside. Inside I felt like a scared little child who was lost and drowning, but it was my problem to deal with. I shouldn’t get someone else to fix me, I should do it on my own.
Four months after this debate started, times were still hard; my husband and I were living with toxic people, my husband was still struggling with his mental health, I was feeling like a failure, a lost cause, a disgrace. I didn’t want to be in my own house. I was having constant reminders and triggers of past traumas and my toxic childhood. But I still didn’t need help, I could fix myself on my own. Things blew up in a violent, and frankly quite traumatising, way with the toxic person in my house, a lot of nasty things were said to my husband and I, and we both felt destroyed and lost. It was a dark time for the both of us, we’d been chased out of our own home, our favourite joke-that-wasn’t-really-a-joke was about double-suiciding together, and we felt like we had no one to turn to. The only person we felt comfortable enough to reach out to was my husband’s psychologist, and fortunately my husband had an appointment scheduled with him a week after the incident with the toxic person occurred. My husband asked me to sit in on this appointment so we could go over the sequence of events and what our new plans were. I was terrified and it wasn’t even my appointment, my only solace was that at least I somewhat knew my husband’s psychologist; I’d sat in the waiting room for the majority of my husband’s sessions, and even though I’d really only exchanged “hellos” and “goodbyes” with the psychologist, some form of rapport had still been built. I let my husband do most of the talking, it was his appointment after all, but towards the end when the psychologist asked if there was anything else, I suddenly found myself blurting out that I wanted to start seeing him as his client as well. I’d had no intentions of doing this beforehand at all, I hadn’t worked out the answer to my internal debate yet, but suddenly I found myself desperately hoping the psychologist would agree to take me on. And he did.
I’ve been in therapy for five months now, and things are already changing. But of course, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. Five minutes before my first appointment with the psychologist was due to start, I was begging my husband for us to leave, saying “I can’t do this” over and over again, and freaking out. I didn’t want to do it anymore, I’d made a mistake, I never should have said anything. But my husband encouraged me and, surprise, it didn’t go badly at all. It was a relief to be talking to someone about the struggles I’ve been having. Afterwards though, I felt stupid, I felt like my psychologist must be judging me and thinking that I’m a horrible person. I was still wondering if I needed to be doing this, yet I was counting down the three weeks until my next appointment. Since starting therapy, I’ve had many horrible realisations about my life and my past experiences, and my emotions have been a flurry of ups and downs. I’ve been suicidal and really thought I’d go through with it more times than I can count. I’ve been self-harming and haven’t been able to stop yet. I’ve also been able to go to a doctor to be diagnosed and put on antidepressants, I’ve been able to stand up for myself more, to make life decisions that I’m actually excited to go through with, I’ve been confronting my demons head-on. I’ve felt myself changing and growing, like the burden that’s been weighing me down is now spread out and more bearable, I feel like I’m starting to become the person that I’m meant to be. I still have an extremely long road ahead of me, but I finally feel like I’m heading in the right direction. I’ve finally learned and accepted that it’s okay to seek help, it’s okay to admit that you can’t do it on your own, despite what anyone else says, and, perhaps most importantly of all, I’ve learned that it’s okay to look after yourself and put yourself first. I pulled the curtain open, and it was the best decision I’ve ever made for myself.