Self-Care When Therapy Isn't an Option

If I hadn’t had access to therapy in my life, it’s very likely that I wouldn’t be alive to write this. Although, my therapy journey wasn't always smooth sailing. My first psychiatrist had somehow claimed " I was too young to have depression" (I was 15 at the time), ran many unnecessary blood tests, then prescribed vitamins, and told me to stop eating pizza. I asked for antidepressants, and she said they were “too drastic” for someone my age. Luckily, I had the resources to find a new psychiatrist and therapist, who immediately prescribed antidepressants and recommended group DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy), a form of therapy that I can quite seriously say saved my life, and made me a much better person. The problem is not everyone has access to treatment, or the money and time to switch therapists and psychiatrists. Not everyone can afford to attend group therapy, or any therapy at all. Our world is becoming less and less hospitable, and this means more and more people are going to need treatment. So, what can we do?

First, we need to take care of ourselves. Like every airplane safety video says, “Remember to fix your own oxygen mask before helping others.” I want to help people as much as possible, but you can’t be someone’s support system when you are struggling, and need support yourself. Self-care isn’t always bubble baths and blanket forts (although I wish it was, and those certainly help.) Self-care is making hard decisions, forcing yourself to finally clean or do the homework you’ve been procrastinating. Self-care is ending unhealthy or one-sided relationships even though it hurts, and it’s putting yourself first even when that’s the last thing you think you deserve. It’s admitting to yourself when you have an addiction, fighting back against thoughts that don’t make any sense, and stopping yourself from joking about your own suicide. It’s hard work to take care of yourself, and it’s often boring too.

If you can access therapy, don’t settle for a useless therapist who doesn’t make you rethink things. Look for therapy groups if you have the time, and be sure to research specific therapy for the symptoms you have, and use Google to fill in the gaps left by your mental health professionals. Most of all, take your therapist’s advice, even if it seems tedious. If you aren’t going to do anything a therapist says, there’s no point in paying for one, is there?

If you can’t access  therapy, or can’t find a good therapist, or if your therapy isn’t really helping you, there is so much more you can do to help yourself. The first step for me was looking up common thinking errors, otherwise known as Cognitive Distortions. Here’s a fantastic link to introduce you to these. Read through the “Ten common Cognitive Distortions” section, and try to recognize your own thinking errors. It takes a lot of work to stop them, but once you get the hang of recognizing a thought as distorted thinking, and telling yourself how it isn’t logical, you’ll be much happier. Personally, I like to pretend Spock is there, explaining it to me. 

But don’t stop there! Look up DBT or CBT worksheets, emotional regulation handouts. Find helpful mental help apps, and read about specific issues you have. Even if you can’t afford to buy books, it’s easy to find pdfs of mental health books online. I wholeheartedly recommend reading “Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men” by Lundy Bancroft; it’s an invaluable resource for those who have been victims of abusive or controlling relationships, and it’s incredibly eye-opening for those who haven’t. Finding other people that struggle with your illness on social media can also help you feel less alone. It might even be as easy as unfollowing social media profiles that post nothing but depressing or triggering content, and replacing them with positive ones can help more than you’d ever expect.

Professional help is important, and none of this is a substitute for medication and therapy, as those are necessary and helpful for many people. However, many people can’t access those resources, and even when they can, there’s so many obstacles in the way. The vast amount of information at our fingertips can help us circumvent those barriers. We can all make an effort to get better, so don’t be afraid to try to improve your life.

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