August Journaling Day 7: Therapy

I actually added this one to the list the other day and took away something that I thought was a little redundant to another topic. I was having a conversation with a friend recently about therapy and I just think the important role it played for me had me wanting to do some writing on it. So here we are. I haven’t been in therapy since 2014 but the 10 years I spent doing it still serve me to this day. And in a strange way I actually think they help more now than they did back then. Hopefully I’ll be able to communicate why that is throughout this.

My first visit to a therapist was in late 2003 and it was strictly a result of the panic attacks that I’d started having in Law school that fall. I wanted to fix them and make them stop and my doctor told me that medication and therapy would help with that. My first therapist was a man named Benjamin and those sessions mostly were me kind of identifying what anxiety was, what a panic attack was, and how to fix them. We did breathing exercises, talked about nutrition and exercise to help, and I got anti-depressants and benzos. What a deal! I think the real benefit of these early sessions was just the learning of what I was dealing with. Panic attacks felt so intense and physical that it was strange to think that they were mental. Every symptom aside from racing thoughts manifested in physical discomfort, so it always felt like a physical ailment. Not a mental one.

I only worked with Benjamin for a couple months and stopped going. I did a short stint in 2007 in Cincinnati with a woman whose name I don’t remember. I was having my first ever depression symptoms and I recall her being very kind and kind of helping me through that summer. After leaving Ohio in 2008 I moved to Portland full-time and there I began to see a therapist named Devora. I saw Devora for the next five years. Once a week. For five years. When I first started out I was doing ok but still struggling with occasional panic attacks and general anxiety. It felt like pretty standard therapy, I wanted to feel better and we worked on things to do that.

Over the next five years my anxiety and the issues that came with it would come and go in waves. Some ok times mixed with lots of down times that were usually slow descents into full blown agoraphobia and depression. When I was really struggling our sessions became much more about getting through the day and week. Practical survival type stuff. When I was functioning better we worked on my feelings about my dad, grief, my weight, my health, my self-esteem, my dating life, my sexual life, my gambling, and so much more. I feel like my dad was atleast a good year of the therapy lol. I’ll touch on that more when I write about him.

Early on in therapy, I realized that I was often lying to Devora. I wanted her to be proud of me and think I was doing better than I actually was. I’m sure in some ways I wanted that because I wanted me to feel better about where I really was. I’m a people pleaser and I want people to like me and think I’m a good person. I believe at the time I thought if anyone knew how bad I was struggling or the things I was doing in silence, they’d think bad of me. I don’t remember if it was me consciously changing or just getting more comfortable being open with her, but at some point I started getting really honest. All my innermost and ugliest secrets and thoughts came out. Just complete brutal honesty. And Devora reacted to those conversations with the same genuine care, questions, and conversation that she did when I shared good news. It was a great realization to me that this therapy room with her was a completely safe space. That room and that relationship became easily the most open and honest place and relationship I’d ever had with a person. I had so much shame about a lot of things in my life and I can’t begin to tell you how much easier it was to carry that weight knowing I had someone there to help with it.

Devora moved in early 2014 and I remember the last few weeks of the therapy were processing the end of the therapeutic relationship. Now while I’d seen some great benefits from the therapy, I was still quite a mess. My anxiety issues were by no means fixed and I’d struggle with them mightily for a few more years. Devora referred me to a man named Andrew who I saw up until leaving for Louisiana Downs in 2015. Andrew was awesome and I left Portland doing pretty well. Well enough to think I could go to Louisiana. Hindsight, that wasn’t correct, oops. I’d struggle with my anxiety and depression more and more in 2016, 2017, and into 2018. I didn’t seek help though. And more importantly, I didn’t try to reverse the course or use the skills I’d learned. I just kind of mired in my sadness and existed at a pretty low level in most avenues of my life. I didn’t see friends. I didn’t date. I didn’t travel much. My weight ballooned.

I finally started to work to make changes to my health, my anxiety, and my life in mid 2018. It actually started with a friend suggesting a “saratoga steps” contest on twitter, where we tried to get 10,000 steps a day every saratoga race day and each time you did that, you got entered into a drawing for free bet. It was a great motivator. I probably hadn’t taken ten thousand steps in a day in 6 or 7 years. No joke. The walking began my weight loss but it also improved my general stamina. I felt sturdier when I had to be in crowds which helped my nerves as I worked to be around people more often. I started dating a wonderful woman named Victoria who continuously pushed me to do activities and things out of my comfort zone. Which of course, expanded my comfort zone. It became a snowball effect. The more I did, the more I was comfortable doing more. A few months later was the Miami announcing trip I mentioned back in Journal 1 and I was off and running. What is interesting was everything that really helped with my turnaround were things I learned in therapy. The value of exercise on mental health. Exposure therapy (facing your fears, but at your own pace). Breathing exercises. Positive self talk. And the biggest realization was just accepting the anxiety was never going away but choosing to live my life in spite of that. And the more i lived it, the less of a problem it became.

I thought about going back to therapy when I got to Tampa last year. Just to have someone to work through all the new experiences with. But insurance got in the way, because mine essentially covers fuck all. But who knows, maybe this year when I go down there I’ll resume.

Since leaving therapy with Devora, her and I have stayed in occasional touch. I’ll send a Christmas note each year and the occasional life update. And sometimes just the occasional letter of gratitude. I feel like she was there for so many tough times, that I want her to at least share in the wins in life. I can’t say enough with how much the experience has helped me. I could write about the topic for days but I think now is a good time to stop. Everyone go get therapy!