What 20 Years of Therapy Taught Me
I started therapy when I was 26 years old with a baby who was born dead and bought back to life with a broken wing. She had had two operations by the time I started therapy. One of them went for 12 hours and I went home and slept because I didn’t really know what else to do. I was depressed. I had PTSD. I was just functioning. I had no idea what I was doing. I would sit and hold her all day long, with flashbacks of the birth, clinging to her, waiting for someone to snatch her away.
I started therapy after my maternal child and health nurse commented on how I always dressed up and wore makeup for the baby visits. Apparently this is a red flag in pink lipstick. I was drowning in pain and guilt and the enormous fear that I had broken her.
My doctor sent me to a psychiatrist. I was ill. I need medical care, not to “talk it through”. She didn’t fuck around. Straight onto medication, then start therapy once the circuit was broken.
Of course nothing prepares you for Pandora opening her bloody big box for you. I walked in with one issue and came out with about ten more that I had to sort out, but dammit, I did it. Twenty years on and this is what I learned.
1) Do the work. Do the work. You don’t get faster by sitting in your seat while you coach tells you to run faster. You have to do the work. If the professional asks you the question, wait, answer honestly. Don’t try and fool them because the only person you’re fooling is yourself. You don’t get a prize for this, you’re wasting your money.
2) It’s never about what you are there for. Within a few sessions I had uncovered my best friends suicide had never been dealt with. My father’s suicide attempts that had never been discussed. My own suicidal thoughts that I had had since I was 18 weren’t normal. That I had no idea how to grieve. I had to work through this. It was as comfortable as you can imagine revisiting old shit was but it helped me create a brighter future.
3) I discovered I had some serious bad behaviour taught to me as a child which I considered normal. I had to relearn. I had to find new role models. I had to self educate. I had to want to change.
4) I had a self care deficit after not putting myself first. I was 50 kilo’s over weight. I had to lose the weight. To do that I had to learn to care about myself. To do this, I had to stop putting other people’s needs ahead of my own.
5) I had to learn it was my job to love my child but the doctors job to heal her as much as was possible.
6) I learned to help myself so I could help her learn how to tackle the world once handed. I can do most things one handed now because I had to know it to teach her.
7) I learned how to say no to those who overstepped boundaries and pulled me back into the drama that I was trying to escape.
8) I learned to not trust my decision when I was unwell. I didn’t want to die, or divorce, or anything else. I was looking for an escape route out of shit town. The only escape was to do the work.
9) I learned I used my imagination and magic to survive my childhood and I could use it to create a career. By that I don’t mean I became a Wizard and went to Hogwarts, summoning back the dead, no, I used it to stop pretending and instead write stories that people buy with real money, not Knuts, Sickles and Galleons.
10) I was given permission to leave what didn’t make me happy, what made me sick. What caused me to not eat, or overeat, or get shingles or IBS.
11) I learned about grandiosity in others and the fact I will never be more than a 3/5 to people who are supposed to love me unconditionally.
12) I learned that I love my children unconditionally. I learned that i wasn’t afforded the same. I learned I can survive this.
13) I learned that people will believe what they want to get through and that some people are sleeping and some people are stirring and some people are awake. Therapy woke me up. It is not my job to wake others. They will get there when they get there. They also might never get there. That is not my responsibility.
14) I learned that the sessions I thought I had nothing to say were the ones I had the most to say and learn about myself.
15) I learned how to cry in my car afterwards but not turn it on yet. Body wracking sobs as I let the cortisol leave my body. I learned then to drive home and tell my partner what I had learned and slowly the stitches of each therapy session began to create a picture.
16) I learned that my doctor would be there in the worst of times, when I was outside the hospital wondering if I should ask to be admitted. That she would let me come to her office and sit with me until I saw another path. That she would walk with me on that path until I could walk alone.
17) I learned that I can work harder than any of her patients if I set my mind to it and do and feel better than I have ever felt.
18) I learned that I had had three clinical depressions in my life. Each one worse than the last. I learned I cannot risk one again. Each rut is deeper than the last. I stay here now. I know what to manage.
19) I learned that you can love people but leave them because your spirit doesn’t work with their demons.
20) I learned how to forgive myself. I learned I am doing my best all the time, with what I have at the time.
21) I learned that people calling you crazy when you choose not to see them is an insult.
22) I learned that gaslighting and growing up with no repercussions means you don’t know what is a normal response and what isn’t in life.
23) I learned that there must be boundaries. There will be boundaries and consequences.
24) I learned that I had to learn what is a normal response in a normal family.
25) I learned I cannot help those who won’t help themselves. That I can no longer watch when the medical advice is ignored, when the break cannot be fixed again, when there is no personal accountability.
26) I learned, I am an adult and there is nothing for me back there in the past. I learned that people will deny your experience but it is your experience alone and that cannot be taken from you.
27) I learned that I may have been a disappointment since I was born but it pushed me to work harder and achieve more than I might have otherwise and I should not be less than to make others feel better about themselves.
28) I learned to not hate my birthday as much but that is still a work in progress. I learned some people are glad I was born and wouldn’t drink and cause fights the night before my birthday or even forget it.
29) I was taught how to recharge my body and soul after a long cycle of caring for others.
30) I was allowed to be reborn in many ways. I was allowed to see myself as work in progress. I was allowed to be loved and flawed and above all, I was allowed to tell the truth. My truth. This was my experience and that is mine to own. And I am grateful for these lessons everyday.