“It doesn’t happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time.”
–The Velveteen Rabbit
I started going to the therapy as a teenager, for issues with Anxiety and Panic. I was terrified of being trapped places, and I feared my own body, which sometimes had unpredictable physical symptoms so severe that I was doubled over in pain. It was such a scary time, and it’s why I have such a soft spot for teenagers experiencing anxiety – it feels so overwhelming, and the adults don’t often seem to know how to fix it.
Such was the case with my first therapist, who (from a well-intentioned place, I’m guessing), placed a straw in my mouth, spun me around in an offie chair, and asked me to “induce a panic attack” for the time I was there. The problem was, I wasn’t afraid of straws or office chairs. I humored him; I felt bad because he seemed to be trying so hard.
My second therapist tried to hypnotize me into physical relaxation, which also failed. I believe hypnotism works for some, but I’m certainly far too Type A to give someone else that (any) amount of control over my body. Strike two. Things were looking grim.
It wasn’t until my early twenties that I began working with a therapist who made any dent at all in my experience of anxiety, simply by asking me some questions about myself and my history, and giving me room to share some feelings and stories I hadn’t shared before. This therapist was unconventional, sharing personal stories from time to time, and allowing himself to also present as an imperfect, not-fully-baked human. I appreciated this immensely, and that relationship informed how I practice therapy today.
Being granted the permission to be flawed and angry within the space of his therapy room felt so liberating that it carried me for a decade. Such a small thing was profoundly helpful; and led to all sorts of interesting inroads in self-understanding and self-acceptance.
I also had mentors along the way; usually eccentric characters that allowed themselves to be openly weird, or vulnerable, or emotional. These people were always generous, endlessly patient, and kind. Role models, all of them.
Throughout my thirties I discovered the healing power of Internal Family Systems, the therapeutic modality that informs most of my practice today. Doing work with an IFS therapist and training with numerous IFS experts (including workshopping with Dick Schwartz himself) felt like I opened the magical prize-box of therapeutic work on myself – a gradual experience of healing and better-ness where it hadn’t previously existed; a growing sense of Calm and Confidence that I hadn’t been in touch with previously. Rather than self-management, things felt much more like an unconscious flow – a quiet and sweet kind of nurturance.
At forty, I am so excited to see who and what else there is to discover out there, to take good care of my Self and my current experience of Anxiety, Panic, and all the other things (they still make appearances). There is more work to be done.
There is always more work to be done.
We live in a country obsessed with Quick Fixes, so I think it’s crucial to share that Therapy, Healing, and Self-work is a lifelong endeavor. In my experience, it arrives in different shapes and packages at different times, over and over, all throughout life. Sometimes you have to try some things that don’t work to find out what does. All of that is Okay, and I would encourage everyone not to get frustrated with the process (or get frustrated, and then carry on).
It takes a long time – and by that I mean it kind of never ends – but the journey is important and the gains are invaluable.
Stay hopeful. Keep going.