by Christy Gualtieri
Growing up, therapy was not a big deal. My mom went to therapy; my brother went to therapy; my aunts and cousins went to therapy. (It kind of reminds me of that line from My Cousin Vinny: ‘Well, my father was a mechanic, his father was a mechanic, my mother’s father was a mechanic, my three brothers are mechanics, four uncles on my father’s side are mechanics–‘) No negativity surrounded it; in fact, we welcomed the chance to sit and talk about ourselves for an hour with someone who wasn’t in our family, someone who could give us perspective on things that we hadn’t thought about (or couldn’t think about). It was a far cry from the days when the subject of therapy was hush-hush, something to be ashamed of. I remembered hearing stories of my “bipolar grandmother” receiving electroshock therapy and needing to take lithium in hushed tones. Like many personal subjects that took place “in those days,” the idea of seeking help for depression or anxiety was shrouded in mystery, reserved for the truly “crazy,” or those who just couldn’t handle everyday life.
It’s so much more accepted, now. It’s awesome. It’s helped me become a person I thought I never could be.
I started seeing a therapist in my twenties. My life seemed incredibly overwhelming at the time: the business my parents had started went under, and they were now both unemployed and were moving; I was getting married and moving to a brand-new state in which I knew only my fiance; and I was worried about finding a job. I had no idea what my future was going to look like – my anxiety was out of control, and there was nothing I didn’t worry about. Luckily, I was able to find a therapist right away – a kind, straight-talking priest who was in residence at our church. My faith was important to me, but it was equally as important that he not be a priest while he was seeing patients (this wasn’t Confession, after all). He was also a psychologist, and the work he did with me was probably the most difficult, like any new thing a person tries for the first time. Self-discovery can be hard work! But my experience starting therapy also helped me not to be afraid to seek help again, after the move.
I don’t know what my life would’ve been like had I not sought help for my anxiety and the depression that sometimes accompanied it. It would’ve been a nightmare for my husband and children, for sure, but also for myself. The days when I was in bed, barely able to move because I was so tired from being up all night, worrying – those were incredibly difficult. The physical symptoms of my anxiety were awful to go through, and I wouldn’t wish them on anyone.
But I was lucky – I found therapists I really liked, and through eight years of hard work, I was able to really investigate the causes behind my tendency to over-worry about seemingly everything in my life. I still go, twice a month, to help work through ways to manage that anxiety, because as life progresses and brings challenges, and I’m not afraid to admit that I need help navigating them! It brings me such a comfort that I can have professional help to guide me through my anxiety – it can be difficult for family members of anxious and depressed loved ones to know exactly what to say or what to do.
And it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s something I’m actually very, very proud of doing.
May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, and if you’re on the fence about starting therapy, I’d really like to encourage you to give it a try. Yes, it’s difficult, especially if you need to talk through painful past situations, but the healing process that will come of it, as well as the confidence in yourself that you will gain, is well worth the effort.
Until next time, be well!
Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and son, blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com, and tweets @agapeflower117. Follow PghPsych on Facebook and Twitter for daily updates, inspirational quotes, articles, and different events and causes related to good mental health!