I was twenty-one, just finishing up my undergraduate degree in Psychology, and due to a variety of confluencing factors, I was thrown into what has yet been the darkest period of my life. At home, while slicing produce for dinner, I could not stop myself from shaking. During classes, the only thing that kept me calm enough to stay focused was keeping a tab open for a breathing app and syncing my breath to the circle that grew and shrank, grew and shrank. Whether I was walking outside or attending a live concert, I felt that whatever that was in front of me — pedestrians, taxis, the buildings that towered above me, or even hovering notes of the most achingly beautiful symphony — none of it made sense. It was pure noise, noise that jumbled my senses. I was living in a world that I didn’t, couldn’t understand.
Now, had I walked into a consulting room, I might’ve been told that what I was experiencing was an intense bout of anxiety and depression. Likely I would have been given ‘tools’ to help me cope with what I was going through. If I’d been lucky enough to find one of those individuals who look beyond mere symptoms and who are genuine and pure enough to be effective clinicians, then I might have been helped, but such personalities are unfortunately too rare.
Therapy might very well have put me into a box. By stepping into a consulting room and providing that other individual with such raw vulnerability, you are allowing them to organize the contents of your mind. In getting ‘help’, you acquire a language by which you understand yourself and the world, the specifics of which depend on who your therapist is. For instance, a common word in the field is ‘coping’. How will you cope with your anxiety? What kind of narrative are you and the therapist honouring here? Well, it insinuates that anxiety is this terrible thing that is put on me. It’s inescapable, it takes the anxiety at face value. It assumes that it cannot be transformed, it assumes that I will have to deal with, fight against, struggle with anxiety forever. That is, unless I can find ways to beat it back a little. This specific language does have a function. It has helped many people. But I don’t believe that it is the only way that we can think about ourselves. There is a better way.
In my case, the utter despair and uncertainty that manifested as physical symptoms of anxiety and depression were trying to tell me something. I am grateful them for coming to me, for they taught me much about who I was and where I needed to be going. I learned to read them, to understand them, and to transform them. And by the way, one of the things they told me was that I was to become a psychotherapist myself.
It has been two years now since the time of ‘blackness’, darkness —is how I like to think of it. I have transformed myself and my life beyond my wildest dreams. To that I credit myself and abilities I have acquired through the process of exploring and understanding the darkness.
Aside: I do not mean to attack or discredit any mental health professionals, nor am I judging or dissuading anyone from seeking help themselves. I am simply offering my experience and my perspectives.