I recently read the article “The Most Important Phrase My Therapist Taught Me” and it struck me for a few reasons. I’m happy that I’m seeing more pieces being written that normalize seeing a psychologist. My hope is that one day we will all regularly check in with therapists as often as we do regular practitioners. Additionally the article reminded me of the many phrases my therapist said to me which have helped me so much in the last eight years.
First I want to share with you my therapy journey. It was 2010 and I had just graduated from grad school, I was having a hard time feeling fulfilled, both in my job and in my relationships. I was often paralyzed by important choices and would rely on others to help me make them. When I did make the choices (even with the help from others) I felt very anxious afterwards. I noticed some recurring patterns in both the situations and the people that gave me anxiety and I decided that something needed to be done.
**As a side note, I think all my life I was trying to find a fix for my anxiety, when I was in elementary and middle school it was food, when I was in high school it was disordered eating, when I was in late highschool/early college it was drugs/alcohol, and throughout college it was a mix of exercise/disordered eating. I don’t think all of my outlets were negative, but I think more often then not untreated psychosis (which can be more common than we think) ends up being self-medicated.**
At that point I decided to search for my psychiatrist through my insurance website and I found someone who had experience with anxiety, specifically OCD, which I felt was something I demonstrated. Initially, it was very important that I see him consistently (weekly) for the first six months, there’s research to support the effectiveness of this regularity. I continued to see him regularly for a few years in addition to taking anxiety medicine. We eventually decided to decrease medication (after two years of use) and over the course of the next three years I slowly decreased the amount that I saw my therapist. I no longer see my therapist, but I know he’s just a phone call away, and if I needed help and he was no longer practicing I would look for another therapist.
This leads me to some of the phrases my therapist said that have stuck with me. When I first met my therapist he said:
“Anxiety can be like the static on a radio, I’m not here to take it away, but I’m here to help you turn it down”
I think of this when I’m feeling down that I still have anxiety. Being a person with anxiety is not a bad thing, but we can make it a bad thing in our minds. If it isn’t debilitating us, then sometimes we can ‘just have anxiety’ and that’s okay.
“It’s a disappointment they can handle”
This is something that I remind myself on the daily. I have a really hard time when I think I might let people down, anger someone, or disappoint them. So much of my anxiety has come from thinking ‘I’ve done something wrong.’ This simple phrase he taught me has made me able to make choices in life that feel good for me and line up with morals and not constantly worry about the people I care about being mad at me for it. In addition I started following Nayyirah Waheed on instagram and she has had a few quotes that inspire me, including this one:
“When you stop seeing a therapist it doesn’t go away, you take all the work you did with you”
I remember feeling anxious about the fact that we were moving to California and that I wouldn’t be able to see MY therapist. We had multiple conversations about it and this was ultimately the phrase that I returned to when I worried about it.
There were so many invaluable conversations my therapist and I had throughout the years and I reflect on them often. The last time I experienced a debilitating anxiety attack was in 2011. I continue to have occasional anxiety, as I probably will for the rest of my life, but I never feel out of control like I once did. I would say that I will never be able to thank my therapist enough for his help, but I’d also have to thank myself because I made the choice to call him, make the appointments, and do the work.
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