Steps to Freedom

 

me

This is a picture of me from January 2015. When you look at this picture, what do you see? If you think you see a happy, positive, young lady, I’m sorry, but you are mistaken. It’s hard to believe, but a week before this photo was taken, I was in the roughest mental state I have ever been in.

I have struggled with depression and anxiety since I was in high school. It came in waves of severity throughout my early to late teens, but it never felt like this. I was tired. I was scared. I was depressed. I felt hopeless and defeated. I felt incompetent. I felt unimportant. I felt helpless. I thought about my life and whether it was worth even trying anymore. I contemplated ending my life. I was terrified.

At that point, I had a choice: I could continue to feel the way I did, or I could seek help. I asked my boyfriend (now my husband) at the time: Isn’t asking for help a sign of weakness? Can’t I just try to get over this by myself? I am not strong enough if I need help.  Boy, oh boy was I wrong.

On January 23, 2015, I went to my first therapy appointment. I walked into the office with reluctance and fear. I knew what was coming. I would have to talk about how I felt. I would need to dive into my childhood, my thoughts, my actions. The hardest part was, I didn’t want to feel. I was embarrassed about what I felt and thought about myself. What I was more afraid of was what I might say.

I left my first session puffy eyed yet optimistic.  It was like a giant weight was lifted off my chest. My head felt clearer, and I left with the goal to feel better, to be happier. I would try my hardest. I would learn how to successfully curb this depression and anxiety. The harsh reality is, you cannot get rid of it, but you could sure as hell learn how to make it better. To fight for your happiness. Before I started my car and drove to work, I took out my phone and snapped that photo.

For the next year and eight months, I went to see my therapist once a week. Soon my sessions became spread out to once every two weeks, and then once every three weeks. Every month I noticed I was stronger. I learned so much and was able to combat my depression and anxiety better than ever before. What took hours at one point to get over a mental dip I would overcome in minutes. I dove into self-help books. I learned how to shift my negative thoughts into positive ones. I poured my anxiety and stress into positive actions. I started to meditate every day. I went to the gym. I made lists. I wrote in journals. I started a “Gratitude Journal.” I found a love for crafting. It was working. 

I learned how to shift my thoughts from “I should be” or “I can’t” to “I want” and “I am.” I learned how to say,”I am competent” instead of “I am useless.” I learned how to look in the mirror and not hate the reflection looking back at me. I found the beauty in myself. I sang more. I laughed more. I played more. I learned how to accept my past and use it to move on to become a better, happier person. I learned how to cut ties with people and move forward. I learned how to love myself. It was by far, and continues to be, the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.

What was even more incredible was that I was improving my mental health during what is known to be one of the most stressful times in life. While planning a wedding and going through the entire process, I found myself applying the tools I learned to different situations and coming out a stronger, happier person. I realized that during my conversations with my therapist I was not only telling stories; I was learning how the mind works. I learned that our actions are derived from our thoughts, and you have control. There were times where I felt as if I was in over my head, but I overcame all obstacles that were thrown my way, and came out a better, happier, and positive person.

Before my wedding, my therapist and I noticed that our sessions mainly composed of positivity. He would ask me how I was feeling, and I would reply: “I’m great.” A lot of our sessions were filled with silence; we had nothing to say. He had no more tools to teach me. We decided that we would touch base when I returned from my honeymoon to see where we would go from there.

It took almost a month for me to see my therapist after returning from my honeymoon. I didn’t even think to call to make an appointment. It was then when realization struck.

“You don’t really need me anymore,” he said at our session.

He was right.

We decided that it would be our last session.

The odd thing about the relationship between you and your therapist is that you form it with the intention that it will eventually come to an end. It’s definitely not a normal relationship. You grow to enjoy the person’s company. You see them as a safe place; a place where you can be yourself, express yourself completely with no judgment whatsoever. It’s a bittersweet feeling to end a relationship so positive and so special. I will miss my therapist, but I also accept that it is time to move on. I’ve never been more proud of myself in my entire life.

Having depression, anxiety, or any mental road barriers can be so crippling. It’s so hard to see the light when you’re surrounded by so much dark. If you are struggling, please know that you are not alone —no matter how alone you feel. I’ve felt it, and nothing has ever felt so empty. Know that you are loved, and you are stronger each day you wake up and get out of bed.

Getting help saved my life. There is no time stamp on getting better, and the hard fact is that you are never really “cured.” Battling a mental illness is a daily fight, but you are strong enough. Just remember that.

I look forward to celebrating my “first” birthday as a married woman in a few weeks and to move forward in life with a new perspective, new beginnings. I am stronger than I have ever been, and I am excited to see where life will take me. I am free.

This post was hard to write. I almost deleted it twice times out of fear of judgment from others. If you have a story to share, don’t be afraid. There’s only one you, and your story is important.