I have never been shy about going to therapy. “It’s like being on The Tonight Show,” I always joke with my friends, “You’re always the topic of conversation!” Yet as much as I like to laugh about my mental mishaps, I know I would not be where I am today without the help of mental health professionals. After years of battling depression, mood disorders, and the grief of my father’s passing, I was lucky enough to find my kindred spirit to guide me – who just happens to be a sassy 65-year-old man named Bob.
Let’s face it – 2020 was a difficult year for nearly everyone. The isolation of quarantine alone has left many people feeling helpless, lost, or even depressed. Yet for many, therapy is still a taboo topic. For others, it may be a frightening thought to open up to a stranger. For all, I like to say that therapy is for everyone. But in the meantime, I hope these small words of wisdom can help.
So without further ado, here is some of the best advice my therapist gave me in 2020:
A balanced life is found at the intersection of emotional thinking and rational thinking
Imagine your mind as a Venn diagram, with one circle representing your irrational, emotional style of thinking and the other representing the calculated, sometimes cold style of rational thinking. Through therapy, I’ve learned that I conduct my life with my emotional mind at the helm, often seeing situations as black or white with no alternatives. Even though my emotional thinking can help me empathize with others, it is not healthy for my personal life to only act based on feelings. Remembering this diagram helps me approach situations with a clearer mind, creating spreadsheets of different reactions I could have or steps to take. Remember: it is not a crime to take a step back in a difficult situation and think with your head instead of going on a gut reaction. It is the balance of heart and rationality that will ultimately make you a better friend, partner, and person.
Life is like a 3-legged stool – without one, you crash to the floor
Bob identifies these three “legs” as physical/healthy lifestyle choices, emotional wellbeing, and your support systems. For those who struggle with intense anxiety or depression, there is sometimes a misconception that therapy or medication alone will solve personal emotional turmoil. But it is the combination of healthy living, medication, and reaching out to others that will guide you towards that inner peace. You may work out every day or have your weekly session, but without those other systems of support, it’s likely you’ll crash much faster than expected.
The word “And” is a powerful one
This piece of advice has been the most impactful in my life this year – the idea that two seemingly contradictory things can coexist. I often find myself thinking in absolutes: I can’t go for a walk because I feel especially anxious today. I can’t take a shower because the sadness is too great to get up from bed. The “and” thought process allows you to recognize that you can still take the steps needed to take care of yourself while struggling with depression, anxiety, or grief. I can be crying in the shower or shaking with nerves while I take my medication. These coping mechanisms are not restricted to when you are having mental health days good enough to get out of bed. As impossible as it may seem in the moment, it is possible to conduct your healthy lifestyle in the midst of a depressive episode. There have been several days where I can be seen crying on the treadmill or while making a sandwich. But more times than not, I find myself feeling much better after I complete the task. Even on those days when the sadness takes over, I know I can still be able to do my homework, reach out to my partner, or even shower while processing my grief.
Not everyone is lucky enough to have access to wonderful professionals like Bob. From quarantine restrictions to financial hardships, therapy can seem like a luxury to many. If you are struggling to gain access to mental health professionals, please click the link here for more information.
(Note: this method of talk-therapy is known as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a psychological treatment that should only be conducted with a trained professional.)