Why is it okay to tell people that you are going to the dentist, but not okay to tell someone you are going to see your therapist? Why are we so embarrassed to tell people we are working on our mental health? We seek professionals to help us take care of our teeth, shouldn’t we do the same for our mind? I don’t want to brag, but I have been in consistent therapy for over 20 years. I am pretty sure I put my therapist’s children through college. Therapy hasn’t just helped me treat my mental illness, bi-polar I disorder, but it’s helped me become a better person, improved my relationships, and taught me how to find solutions to my problems.
Even though I’ve been in therapy for so long, I still get embarrassed talking about it. A few years ago, I was about to enter my psychiatrist’s office, which is in a building that clearly states the fact that it houses psychiatrists’ offices. I hear someone call my name, and turn to see that a car has pulled up next to me. It’s an old comedian friend.
“Hey, girl, how’s it going?” he says and I freeze, as if I’ve just been caught stealing. Act like everything is normal, I tell myself.
“Oh, hey,” I say, hoping I don’t sound like someone who is seeing a psychiatrist (whatever that sounds like). Change the subject! “How are you doing?”
While he talks, I think of explanations for why I’m near this building. Think, Maggie! Not listening to him at all, I finally blurt out, cutting him off, something like, “I’m meeting my friend at the park!” He looks at me, confused by my timing. The park is on the other side of the street, and I think he knows that. I awkwardly try to end the conversation, and then wait until he has driven away before I look around me, and sneak into the building. Sinking into the hard plastic chair in the waiting room, my heartbeat starts to slow, and I wonder, why did I act like such a weirdo?
How many of you have been in this situation? Maybe you don’t awkwardly blurt out implausible-sounding lies, but maybe you keep things vague and say you have a “personal appointment.” Trust me, I get it. I think I would rather tell someone that I’m going to see my gynecologist than say I’m going to see my therapist. But when I actually stop to consider the situation, would anyone really care if I were honest about what I was doing? Think about it: would you rather have a friend who constantly brings you down by going on and on, talking about the drama in his or her life, or would you rather have a friend who is mentally healthy and finds solutions to issues?
I’m using the general term “therapist” here to refer to any practitioner who helps people deal with mental or emotional problems by talking about those problems. There are different types of mental health professionals out there. I need to see a psychiatrist, who is a doctor, because I need him to prescribe me medications, but we also do talk/cognitive therapy as well. Cognitive therapy focuses on changing your patterns of thought, or how you talk to yourself. If I didn’t need medication, I would see a psychologist (they usually have a PhD) or a LMFT—licensed marriage and family therapist (they have a Master’s degree in counseling). One of the best things my mom ever did was to have our whole family go see a LMFT for therapy after my manic episode at age 16. It helped us find ways to support each other and move on.
I think the problem here all boils down to that horrendous stigma that still surrounds mental illness. It’s 2015—why are we so stuck in the Dark Ages? People don’t want to admit they’re in therapy because it could suggest that they have a mental illness—that something is “wrong” with them mentally or that they’re “crazy.” As I mentioned in my last blog, a mental illness doesn’t mean either of these things. It means that you have a condition that can affect your emotions, but with treatment there are ways to manage it—just like with physical illnesses. And most important, seeing a therapist does not necessarily mean that you have an illness. We all have problems and could use talk therapy. In fact, the best way to avoid mental issues is to be in therapy.
I beg of you, anyone reading, can we please stop being embarrassed that we are in therapy? Let’s even encourage each other to find a good therapist. There are many great ones out there, and, to be honest, some not so good ones. So, don’t be afraid to look around until you find one who fits. I promise you it is worth putting in the time. Be proud that you’re taking care of yourself! And save your embarrassment for things that actually are embarrassing, like the fact that you watch Keeping Up With the Kardashians … which I may or may not do.
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