A lot of people see therapy as the end of the road. But for me, it was just the beginning.
I never thought I would need (or want) to go to therapy. I was always good at working through my shit on my own. I’d listen to music, write it down, or talk to friends and family. Eventually I’d just sort it out, and move forward into the next phase of my life. Some of it was hard, but nothing really felt unfixable.
I recently discovered that I’ve been suffering from anxiety. I was so relieved when my stress and worry was given a name. And I could own it. I knew something was different, but I couldn’t find the words to explain exactly what it was or how it made me feel. I wasn’t sad, but I kinda woke up every day feeling flat and defeated. I was irritable, emotional, overwhelmed, and generally felt like every day was Groundhog Day. I could feel that I was becoming a shell of myself; I couldn’t focus, I became anti-social, and I lost my confidence. I cried a lot, the kind of crying that is physical and heaving. I wasn’t the best version of myself, and I felt like I was a sub-par wife and mother too.
Listen to Emma’s chat about her anxiety
I kept telling myself everything was fine, that everyone was going through this period of change and uncertainty in the midst of Covid. One day I woke up and noticed a few pimples, and a week later I had full blown stress acne. Turns out I wasn’t fine, and it took angry skin to prove it.
There was a lot going on; in the past two years, my mother-in-law suffered a life-threatening brain injury, my father-in-law went into a nursing home with dementia, and then Covid happened. My husband was going through hell. Pile on working from home, raising a toddler, plus a 4am alarm, and it was all a little too much. I was trying to be everything to everyone, and I was angry because I couldn’t do it all. Everything I did fell short of the expectations I put on myself. At work, it was an uphill battle to get through each show. I struggled to concentrate and formulate sentences. At home, I was constantly shouting at my son because I was tired and out of patience, and none of this was his fault. My husband and I were there for each other, but we were going through the motions; our connection was severed with all the pressure. We had to have a serious conversation about prioritising us as a couple, and as a family, because even though there was a lot to manage outside our home, we still needed to keep nurturing our little world of three.
I felt so guilty for crumbling, especially because I was the support person. It was my husband going through this awful experience, not me. And he never dropped the ball, not once. Which make me feel like a selfish asshole. He always acknowledged my feelings, and assured me that the only reason he could keep going every day was because I was holding down the fort. I kept telling myself, people are going through so much worse, Emma. Many are losing their jobs, wondering how they’ll pay the rent, while others are caring for sick kids. And they are. But these were still my issues to work through and it took me months to accept that my feelings of anxiety and stress were valid.
Which is where therapy came in. God, I love therapy! I went into it thinking I had certain issues to address, but ‘the work’ was something entirely different. Instead, therapy held up a mirror and made me face the person I truly am, warts and all, and more importantly, gave me a glimpse of who I want to be moving forward. It was so important to reassess where I’m at in my life, in my career, my relationship, and friendships. I’m so diligent at checking in on my loved ones that I often forget to remember to care for myself.
I think the most freeing part of therapy is that your feelings are validated; you’re not crazy, or selfish, or broken. You’re going through something really challenging and you need help navigating your way through it. Someone to pick it all apart, ask the right questions and help you put the pieces back together in a way that is healthy and grounding.
The goal for me wasn’t to be ‘fixed’, but to understand myself better and why I think or act the way I do. I learned that a lot of the pressure I feel is in my head, and I’m trying really hard every day to correct that. I’m incredibly self-critical. I need to take a minute before reacting emotionally (parenthood is the ultimate test for that!). I’m to trying to read more, get outside more, and consume less social media (lol). It’s not easy! I still get to the end of some days feeling like I could’ve done better, but I’m realising that as long as I don’t beat myself up about things too much, reflecting on how I can improve for the next day is a good thing.
Therapy isn’t for everyone. I’m a talker, so it worked for me. I actually love crying – I’m a weirdo like that. But if this helps in any way, or at least proves that everyone is going through their own shit (and Instagram really is just a highlights reel), then this has been worth talking about.
Today is R U OK Day. You can find out more information about it here.
If you or a loved one is struggling, you can seek support and information by calling Lifeline 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636.