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Learning to Harness Strength From Pain

The thing about therapy and personal growth is that it’s difficult as hell.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m entirely grateful for my experience and my journey with therapy.
And most days, if you ask me, I’d say that I love it – for the things that I have learned from it.
Many of my friends and family have heard me talk about how it’s been one of the greatest experiences of my life.
And I’m often encouraging others to try it themselves.

Most days, this is how I feel about my journey.
But it’s not how I feel every day.
Some days are really fucking difficult.
Some days leave me feeling completely defeated and broken.
The reality is that I am living with depression and anxiety.
These shitty days are going to happen regardless of whether or not I’m in therapy.
The difference is that while therapy can be extremely helpful in aiding me with how to manage my anxiety and depression, it can also trigger some unexpected issues that bubble up to the surface.

This was a reality that was all too real for me a year ago.

This is a story that I haven’t shared with many.
Most of the time, I prefer to recall the stories where I’ve found clarity and understanding, and I guess this is one of those time too.
But the reality is that it’s not all “feel-good happiness.”
Sometimes it fucking sucks.

I feel as though I often talk about how I have a sense of great connection with my therapist.
I can recall explaining this to my close friends after I had met with her for the first time.
This was significant to me because I had been in therapy before.
I’d started seeing someone 6 years ago while I was in school, after my brother had died. Despite meeting with her biweekly for months, I never really felt as though anything had been accomplished. Thinking back on it now, I’m not even sure that it was helpful for me.
Being in school at the time, I had roommates and close friends who were very involved in my personal life, and they were all aware of my being in therapy. These were the same friends that I happened to be visiting with only a few days after first meeting with my current therapist, so it seemed fitting to share my recent experience.
I was thrilled to have gotten so much out of one appointment, and this excitement was mirrored by my close friends who had witnessed for themselves some of the difficult and painful times that I had experienced in the past and my resistance to open up about them.

I was never ashamed to be in therapy.
And I don’t feel that anyone should be.
Truthfully, I think it to be very admirable.

However.
While I was never ashamed to be in therapy, that doesn’t mean that I never felt shame.

Despite my excitement after the first appointment, I held significant reservations heading into my second.
But these reservations quickly dissolved as I realized how comfortable and at ease I felt speaking with her.
I completely opened up and our discussions covered a myriad of topics.
Even my therapist made a point of saying that she had not anticipated our discussion to get so deep so quickly, but that things just seemed to flow between us.
I left feeling light and excited, similar to how I was feeling after our first appointment.

I don’t recall when the darkness set in.
I just remember things suddenly being more than I knew how to handle.
Two days later, I was at work when I seemed to no longer be able to cope.
I was existing at such a heightened state that seemingly everything was triggering for me.
I was unable to focus on my work.
Constantly feeling bombarded by intrusive imagery and obsessive thoughts.
I felt as though I was a helpless victim to my body and my mind.
I was in a complete state of panic, and I couldn’t seem to bring myself down.
The only thing that I could think to do was trying to get myself to a safe place.
A place where I could accept and experience these overwhelming emotions without fear of judgement.
So I got into my car and I drove to her office.
There were two women who came to address me.
I think it was quite obvious that I was in distress.
I couldn’t even look them in the face.
I was overwhelmed with so many emotions, but in that moment, what I felt was shame.
I didn’t want to talk to anyone, not even my therapist.
I told them that I was fine – that I just needed a place to sit for a while.
So I tucked my head between my knees and I rocked.
I rocked and I tried to breathe.
One of the women explained to me that my therapist wasn’t in the office that day, but that they would like to schedule me in to see her the next day.
I agreed.
And I rocked and I tried to breathe.

As I woke up the next day, the realization that I would have to go and meet with my therapist weighed heavily on me.
I felt sick.
The thought of having to acknowledge and deal with the mess that I had been the day before was painful for me.
It made my skin crawl and my body squirm.

Begrudgingly, I walked myself from my car into the office.
Dragging my heels every step of the way.
As soon as I walked in, I knew they recognized me.
My face flushed and my body started to shake.
I was sick with guilt and shame.
I sat with my head in my hands, praying for this to all just go away.
She came and called my name.
I followed her, head hanging the whole way.

She asked me what was up, but I didn’t have an answer.
I didn’t know what had happened, or why I had fallen apart.

I can remember my body.
It was completely collapsed.
I felt so broken and defeated.
I was so ashamed of myself for being weak.

I couldn’t find any words for her.
Every time I would open my mouth, only strained sounds would come out.
I wanted to disappear.
I wished so badly for the floor to open up and swallow me whole.
For anything to come and save me from the hell of living through this shame.

When I could finally find some words, they were “stupid,” “failure,” “weak,” “dumb,” “embarrassed,” “idiot,” and “I’m sorry.”
I told her how I felt so ashamed.
I explained that I was sure the two women from the day before thought that I was some sort of freak.
And that I wouldn’t blame them if they did.

She listened.
She watched me stare at my shattered pieces on the floor.
She listened to me curse and berate myself out of shame and disappointment.
She shook her head.
She told me that I wasn’t broken.
She told me that I was being much too hard on myself.
She promised me that I would be okay.
She promised me that it would get better.
She also promised that it wouldn’t be easy, saying “It’s a painful process, but I assure you that it’s beautiful.”
She thanked me.
She thanked me for reaching out when I was struggling.
She told me that no one thought that I was a freak, but that they could see my pain and distress.
She told me they were proud of me for coming for help.

By the time I left, I wasn’t entirely convinced that my feelings of shame weren’t warranted, but I was at least feeling much calmer and less critical of myself than before.
And I eventually found my peace and understanding with the experience.
Through this breakdown, I learned about vulnerability and how to be more patient and understanding with myself.

These dips, depressive episodes, periods of darkness, whatever you might call them, they’re a painful reality of this process.
You can’t explore your darkness without tripping every now and then.
Sometimes it’s a slight falter.
Other times, it leaves you feeling as though the world is crashing down around you.

It’s painful, and it’s overwhelming, but it’s okay.
It’s okay to be upset.
It’s okay to have feelings and emotions that you don’t quite understand.
It’s okay to get overwhelmed.
It’s okay to ask for help.
It’s okay to not be okay.

Everything in life is cyclical.
We experience ups and downs in everything that we do.
Therapy is no different.

“It’s a painful process, but I assure that it’s beautiful.”

It may seem crazy to some, but I am most grateful for the painful times.
Because they represent a challenge that I have managed to overcome.
And they provide me with direction for further growth.
We learn the most about ourselves when we are struggling.
The pain is inevitable, so we might as well use it to our advantage.

“We must allow the bolt of pain to strike us. Remember, this is useful pain; lightning illuminates.” – Julia Cameron

Have you ever had an experience of great pain or distress that you managed to harness and learn from?

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