We all know therapy is expensive as shit. And not everyone is able to afford it or has a job that has benefits that can cover the price of appointments. As a teacher, I’ve been lucky enough to be able to use therapy as a means of combating my severe anxiety and moderate depression. Over the last year, I have learned things that no one has ever told me or talked through with me. I’m sharing these in the hopes of helping those who cannot get an appointment or just don’t have anyone to talk to.
1. Your feelings are valid.
What your head is feeling, what your heart is feeling, they’re all valid. They mean something. Don’t let anyone tell you differently or let them take that away from you. Don’t let anyone try to tell you that you have no reasons for feeling the way you do. Don’t let anyone cut you off or push you aside when you’re trying to communicate your feelings. Just don’t use your feelings as an excuse. Don’t use them in spite of someone else. That’s something I learned; that’s when people will disregard and reject your feelings. But instead, use the strength within you to communicate those feelings authentically and intentionally.
2. You can’t control the actions/behavior/thoughts of others.
This one took me a while to grasp. I’m a person who thrives on routine and knowing what’s coming next. But when you have others in your life, you can’t control them. What people decide to do, that’s not on you. It’s not your fault that your mother cheated on multiple men throughout your childhood, and as a result, you don’t know what a real relationship looks like; it’s not your fault that your best friend is having a shitty day from work; it’s not your fault that your ex has a new girlfriend. Those choices, decisions, and actions are on THEM, not on you. Don’t let their life choices take up space in your mind. It’s not your fault.
3. Don’t cater your life to other people’s expectations and views.
I’ve done this too many times, both growing up and through my early 20s. Always trying to be a perfectionist to get the approval of my parents, teachers, friends, and boys. I was today years old when I learned that my life doesn’t revolve around the expectations of others. If I want to eat a pint of Ben and Jerry’s for dinner, I will. If I want to play hooky for a day because I need a mental health day, I will. If I want to date someone, that’s my choice and the people in my life can support me or not. At the end of the day, if your choices lead to mistakes, then you learn from them. That’s how we grow.
4. Recognize who your real friends are.
Friends, co-workers, siblings…. anyone can be considered your friend. But are they your biggest fan? They may not have to agree with everything you do, but are they your shoulder to cry on? Are they there for your funny stories? Do they truly listen to you? How are they adding to your life? If they aren’t adding to your life, are they truly your friend?
5. Cut out the toxic people in your life.
This includes everyone and anyone. It’s 2021, ain’t nobody got time for toxic people. Have a friend that only causes drama? Bye, Felicia! Have a boy (or girl) that uses you and puts you down? Boy, bye! Have parents or family members that degrade you and others? You can’t pick your family, but you can decide if they remain part of your life. Keeping those toxic people in your life will only fuel your anxiety and stress. Saying goodbye might be hard as fuck, you might not know how to do it, you may wait until they walk away first, but once those ties are cut, you will notice a HUGE sense of relief and be able to start breathing again.
6. Past trauma doesn’t mean you’re weak, crazy, or a bitch.
Your past doesn’t define you. It doesn’t determine what your future will look like. I always used to think that because I grew up in a divorced family that I would have that too one day. But I’ve come to learn that instead, my past and the traumatic experiences I have gone through instead have made me stronger, resilient, and more aware of what I want and don’t want in my life.
7. Don’t run away from your feelings.
This one coincides with #1. Sometimes it’s hard to sit with your feelings and just feel. I’m one who tends to either push it way down deep or distract myself to exhaustion. These distractions help me keep busy, so busy that I don’t even remember what I’m feeling. My therapist has to remind me to sit with my feelings and to intentionally work through them, even more so when my feelings trigger my anxiety and depression. And it’s hard as fuck. But I’m slowly starting to learn that it’s better to sit and learn from your feelings than it is to run away from them, because they will always come back to you.
8. Your environment matters.
Home, work and social environments. If your work environment sucks, ask for a transfer. Quit. Change locations. If your home situation triggers you, change it. Start saving for a down payment. Put out feelers for roommates. If your social circle sucks, see ya. You don’t need to be anywhere that negatively triggers your mental health. Sure, it will be hard, maybe even seem impossible, but it’s just one more obstacle to a happier and healthier you. You don’t know the strength you have inside of you. No one is forcing you to stay anywhere that doesn’t make you feel safe. And if they are, call the authorities—anyone to help you. You are not alone, and you are not stuck somewhere you no longer want to be.
9. People can and do change.
We have always been told that people don’t change or have captions in our old high school yearbooks that read, “You rock, don’t ever change.” But we all change. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worst. We aren’t the same person we were last year or last week or yesterday. That alcoholic, they have been sober for seven years. That’s change. That cheater, he goes to couples therapy and doesn’t hide his phone anymore. That’s change. That girl talks about her feelings now and doesn’t have severe panic attacks on the bathroom floor. That’s change. We’re all changing, and we need to get rid of the idea that people can’t change, because I am a textbook example of how everyone changes.
10. Be kind to yourself.
My therapist says this to me at the end of every single one of our sessions. At first I felt awkward about it, kind of laughed it off. Then when I noticed she started saying it week after week, and every time, still over a year later, I started to believe that maybe there was some truth to what she was telling me. How can you expect others to be kind to you if you don’t know how to be kind to yourself? What does it even mean to be kind to yourself? Maybe it’s taking a bath at the end of a long day. Maybe it’s blasting and belting out to Taylor Swift’s 10 minute version of All Too Well just one more time. Maybe it’s shutting off your computer and emails and crawling into bed at 7 p.m. with your dogs. Be patient with yourself, give yourself grace, and remember how much you deserve.