This time last year I was struggling a lot. In early spring last year I went into residential treatment at The Renfrew Center of Philadelphia. Though treatment was wonderful and supportive, as always, shortly after I discharged in May, I began feeling completely alone in my struggles again.
For me, I’ve learned that I just can’t go into treatment centers – at least not as easily as I have in the past. I know my limits now and I will go into one if I need help again; however, going into treatment reinforces this idea that I can’t handle life on my own. That idea is dangerous for me because I have been in and out of treatment centers since I was 15 years old. From 15 year old to 21 years old, there wasn’t one year that I wasn’t in treatment. My stays in psych wards and/or outpatient treatment centers became a habit, and my loved ones, though frustrated with my lack of progress, reinforced my desire to go back every time because they only wanted to see me get well.
Part of why I was constantly in and out of treatment was because every time something felt too overwhelming to deal with, I threw in the towel. I didn’t see my worth, and I certainly didn’t think I could survive the distress or set of problems that I was given. Another problem was that I wasn’t always that vocal about my thoughts or feelings; I’d hold it all in because I didn’t want to burden others. Interestingly enough though, the emotions would always come out – and usually barreling out with no warning.
I’ve learned though that I can not only survive high-distress/intensity emotions and situations so I don’t end up in treatment, but I can also effectively work through them.
So that backstory has to do with my former therapist – Sarah – because she was with me every step of the way all those years – from 16 to 21 years old.
As a teenager, there were long stretches of time we lost touch (usually because I was upset with her and didn’t want to talk to her!!). 2014 was one of those times. I got really sick mentally. It took several months in the hospital to bring down my hyper-vigilance and paranoia in regards to experiencing psychosis. I wasn’t myself. I was so scared and so confused.
As much as I still feel shameful in general that I was constantly talking in circles, instigating arguments and worrying a lot of people along the way because I was certain people were out to get me, I know now that my interactions and reactions were not a reflection of who I was or who I am. I lost several friends because of my mental illness in 2014. I really kept to myself after those months of absolute terror and confusion because I felt like the worst person in the world. I felt like I didn’t deserve to be loved and cared about because I lost my mind, and some of the friends I lost that year truly proved that belief right.
I felt so ashamed and still confused and scared that I stopped talking to my former therapist altogether. It took me time to heal from that illness, but once I did, I reached out to Sarah again and she welcomed me back with open arms.
This time last year, I lost touch with Sarah again. It was different though. Part of me felt like I didn’t need her – like maybe I needed her support when I was a teenager but now I don’t necessarily need that same type of support anymore – and because of that, I was too scared to say goodbye. So I stopped talking to her. And I didn’t talk to her at all, up until last week when I reached out again.
I reached out to Sarah last week wanting closure. I didn’t have any problem with her that made me stop talking to her by the way! I just wanted to catch up, and I also felt bad that I dropped off the face of the earth for a while. And once again, she welcomed me back with open arms.
I see a different counselor now, so the point of me seeing Sarah today was to tie up loose ends and catch up – ’cause hey, I missed her!
And it was really good to see her again. It was like seeing an old friend you haven’t seen in forever. It was very cathartic. Today’s session made me feel a bit regretful that I stopped talking to her last year. But I also like to think that life happens. People may walk in and out of your life, sometimes for good, but if you form a special bond with someone, a type of bond that is so strong and loving and forgiving, time won’t change a thing about it. And that’s the best kind of relationship – one where someone can stray, but when they come back, the good conversation and love remains, as if absolutely nothing has changed.
It was also so cool to talk to Sarah again because I really started sharing my mental health journey publicly about a year ago! So I got to tell her all about meeting Alessia Cara, and working with Wear Your Label, and have a campaign I was so proud of go viral. As an eating disorder therapist, she loved the idea of #BoycottTheBefore. And it was so nice to get that support because she gets it. She recovered from an eating disorder herself, worked at Renfrew a while back and knows and understands first hand that eating disorder sufferers do not have a “look”. So it was very validating to hear her supporting me in all these aspects of my “new” life of being in more solid recovery and sharing my story with the world.
I’ll keep in touch with Sarah now! But that was our final session. And it truly was all I needed.
From barely talking to her or even making eye contact with her in the first session I ever had with her back in 2011, to being completely present, in the moment and laughing with and catching up with her in 2017, is everything to me. And by the way, I am also celebrating staying out of treatment centers and hospitals and psych wards for over a year now! If those things aren’t progress, I don’t know what is!!
Sometimes it’s hard for ourselves to see our own progress. I know it’s hard for me see mine sometimes. But trust those who love and care about you when they say they’re proud of your progress; they really mean it.
And to anyone in recovery, I hope you never forget that every genuine laugh, authentic smile, mindful bite, big hug, and deep breath is progress. So keep pushing forward. Keep fighting. After all, this is all about progress – not perfection.