Greetings, Pinkies! In honor of Mental Illness Awareness Week and today -- National Depression Screening Awareness Day -- we want to share some insight, bust some myths, and get real about how depression affects us and our loved ones. Therapy is a common treatment for depression, but there are many misconceptions about the Big T and how it can help -- or hurt? -- you; Laurie is ready to tackle some of those myths. So, what do you think? Have any of these feelings kept you from seeking help on the couch? Do you have personal experiences to share? Read on and let us know what you think (and thanks, Laurie!).
As I wrote a few weeks ago, my life has been touched by depression in many ways. My dad drowned his pain in alcohol, my mom drowned her pain in food, my best friend killed himself and I believed I had to be perfect. Despite this dreary picture, there is good news about depression: it is treatable.
There are many ways to treat depression. One is medication. Another is therapy. There are other modalities such as exercise and yoga that can be beneficial. For my regular readers, you know that I am a big advocate of the “toolbox approach” to healing. But don’t allow these various modes of healing to confuse you. The research supports using talk therapy either alone or in conjunction with other healing modes, including medication. In fact, talk therapy can be just as effective as the medications without the side-effects (libido suppressing anyone?).
Despite its effectiveness, I know far too many depressed people who reject therapy for a host of reasons. The reasons are not dissimilar to the reasons I have for not going to the gym. But they really aren’t reasons, they are excuses – excuses often based on myths and derived from fear. But this is more serious than my gym evading excuses. The “side effects” of depression -- death and heart disease to name a few -- are too risky to be ignored in favor of a laundry list of myths. As someone who has intermittently spent time on the couch over the last 25 years, let me take this opportunity to rebut many of the common myths about therapy. Then we can let the healing begin.
Myth #1 Therapy is Selfish
For argument’s sake, let’s say going to a therapist once a week is a selfish act. So what? If you are sick, is it selfish to go to the doctor? Heck no. If you are overweight, are you selfish for going to the gym? No way. So why is therapy selfish? If you don’t take care of yourself, who will?
I first entered therapy because I was miserable and barely functioning. I would cry all the time. I wanted to get better but couldn’t do it on my own. No friend or family member could help. So just like the cold that wouldn’t go away, I went to the doctor. It was there that I found what I needed. It was there that I began to understand what makes me tick. During that process (it is a journey, not a destination) I learned how to tackle anything and withstand the worst trauma without collapsing in on myself.
Because of these experiences, I prefer to think of therapy as self-preserving, instead of self-indulgent. It is rare that we have someone in our lives who is completely neutral and yet committed to our well-being with no ulterior motives. A therapist is that person, with special training, who can help you escape the cloud of depression. Does that sound selfish?
Myth #2 What if They Tell Me I’m Crazy?
I remember during one session, my therapist was talking about my different personalities. Yicks, was she saying I was Eve with multiple personality syndrome? No, she was simply helping me investigate the multiple sides of my personality that we all have.
No professional therapist is going to label you crazy. However there are certain standardized diagnoses that a therapist is trained to identify and help you cope with and overcome (bipolar disorder, etc.). The diagnoses are nothing to be ashamed of – rather, like identifying the cause of that mysterious pain in your shoulder, having a diagnosis provides you some insight (and maybe some relief) into your erratic emotional state. If you know the disease you can then begin to heal.
Myth #3 It’s Not Polite to Talk About Yourself
Consider the following scenario: you are at work and you are having pains so intense that you can’t get up. Do you sit there and endure the pain, or do you say something to a co-worker so that they may help you get care? Is impolite to tell them that you are feeling awful? No.
Being depressed is painful. It’s also scary. Just like when you are physically ill, you need help – but unless you are willing to tell someone how awful you feel, no one can help. Depression is not something you can think or will your way out of. Being depressed is like being locked in a little room and you can’t get out. You need someone to help you find the key. A therapist can be that person.
Myth #4 I Don’t Want to Spend 20 years in Therapy
Ok, you don’t have to. Don’t get me wrong, I am familiar with therapists who have patients they have seen for 10, 15, 20 years. But for some people that is exactly what they need. For others, we would rather get in and get out.
Spending 20 years in therapy was not for me and it is not required. During my longest therapy relationship, I tried not to focus on how much time I was spending there. Time lines are artificial when we are talking about healing the psyche. Each time I was in therapy, I stayed as long as I needed to. Each time I left we talked about why I was leaving to make sure I was leaving for the right reasons. What are the right reasons? I had been feeling better for a sustained period of time. I was handling life’s curveballs without the need for therapeutic support. And I was no longer depressed. I left therapy each time without regret and knowing that I could always return if life called for a tune up.
Myth #5 Ok, I’ll go to Therapy, but I’m Not Talking About My Mom.
Therapists aren’t on this earth to tell you how bad your mother is. However, walking in and marking a subject verboten is likely a red flag that that topic is exactly what you need to be talking about to uncover the source of your depression. If mom issues are doozies, it will come up. But generally speaking, therapy is not about blaming your parents for all your woes. Therapy is about understanding you and sometimes, you can’t understand yourself until you understand your relationships – yes, even your relationship with mom and dad.
Personally, I spent a lot of therapy time talking about both of my parents.They were critical to my development (or lack of development in some areas), and only when I understood those complexities could I understand myself. If I had refused to talk about them (and there were times when I tired of it), I would have been doing myself a great disservice, blocking my own healing and growth.
Myth #6 I Don’t Have the Time
Really? If you had cancer would you not get your chemotherapy treatment because “you didn’t have the time?” I doubt it. This is your health and happiness we are talking about. You certainly have time for that. If not, why?
Myth #7 It’s Too Hard and Scary
Yes, therapy is hard. Therapy is also taboo. Unfortunately, we are a society that prefers to take a pill to cure our problems. But drugs don’t cure by themselves and they rarely provide long-lasting relief. Only therapy seems to win that claim, whether you suffer from mild or severe depression – or just need a person with whom to talk.
I won’t lie to you. Therapy is hard work. And it can be scary at times. Lying on the couch and baring my soul, bit by bit, layer by layer was the toughest thing I have ever done. And this last year, as my multiple sclerosis diagnosis sunk in, I was grateful for the time I had spent and the work I had done. It provided me a foundation from which I could rebuild my life. Without that time on the coach, I can easily imagine that I would have slipped back into depression.
n honor of National Depression Screening Day and in honor of yourself, if you suspect you are suffering from depression or anxiety, give yourself a gift today. Make an appointment with a mental health professional. What is holding you back from a better tomorrow?
In healing community together,
When you comment on an Owning Pink blog post, we invite you to be authentic and loving, to say what you feel, to hold sacred space so others feel heard, and to refrain from using hurtful or offensive language. Differing opinions are welcomed, but if you cannot express yourself in a respectful, caring manner, your comments will be deleted by the Owning Pink staff.