Two years ago, I lied to my former employer and told her I was going for a medical appointment. I then very quietly got into a cab and went for my first therapy appointment without telling a single soul about what would soon become the most incredible and formative experience of my adult life so far.
I have since gone through five therapists, found the courage to leave a damaging relationship, learnt to self-soothe and watched myself grow up and out of situations I truly believed I was resigned to.
Yet, despite how life-changing this experience has been, this is somehow the first time I have ever openly talked about being in therapy because while we have progressed a lot in terms of shedding the stigma associated with seeking mental health help, a lot of misconceptions and judgment still persists.
So on this World Mental Health Day on October 10, I want to open up about my experience and to share what I wish I had known two years ago (as a 23-year-old who was about to begin her career) in the hopes that it may encourage someone to take the plunge even if it feels like you need to do it quietly at first.
You don’t need to be at a certain level of distress before you can seek help
I wanted to start therapy for years before I actually plucked up the courage to do it. I truly believed that there were people who were worse off than I was and that a therapist would roll their eyes at me behind my back and say I was simply whining about nothing.
After all, at that point, I didn’t know anyone personally who was going to therapy and I was in an environment that still very much held the belief that seeking mental health help meant that you were weak or just outright crazy.
In fact, it took me reaching my own personal breaking point with everything that was going on in my life before I finally admitted to myself that I couldn’t manage on my own anymore.
“Because mental illness is not always visible to the naked eye, like a physical ailment, people don’t realise that something is wrong in their lives until it reaches breaking point,” said Padma Jairam, a counselling psychologist at Padma Jairam Counselling.
“I believe that even if it is just a crack you are starting to see, it is still a good idea to see a therapist to address this crack,” she continued.
True enough, therapy is meant to equip you with the tools to deal with distressing events and is a compassionate practice. After all, what may seem easy for someone may be downright dilapidating for others.
In fact, therapists see people with a wide spectrum of troubles and one thing is not worse than another.
For this story, I spoke to a number of professionals and asked them what issues they commonly saw among their patients.
All of them agreed that stress, anxiety, and relational issues were the main problems they saw which really puts into perspective and debunks this myth that people in therapy are facing issues far greater than what you or I might be facing.
“Many have had adverse childhood experiences, or traumatic events occur in their lives that contribute to their present-day distress. It is also common for individuals to come in to explore problems they are facing in relationships, whether this is a parent-child, intimate partner or workplace-related dynamic. It’s quite a wide range actually, but very often a common denominator is a need for us to connect with others and feel accepted," said Dr Sara Menon, a clinical psychologist at Alliance Counselling.