MAY: Mental Health Awareness Month!
Wow! I can’t believe I am going to publish an article this personal. However, I’ve promised I’ll always be as open as possible with you all. Let me preface this article by saying that I am very much aware that not everyone is privilege enough to afford therapy. I wish the healthcare system in our country was available to everyone but unfortunately, it isn’t and it’s incredibly disheartening.
With that said, CBT, short for Cognitive behavioral Therapy is changing my life for the better every day and I couldn’t wait to share it with you all. I have struggled with panic disorders and social anxiety since I was a teenager, stemmed from high school bullying. My whole 20’s was filled with nearly daily panic attacks, constant blues, feelings of emptiness and hopelessness.
I knew I needed help, that I didn’t want to spend my life like this but in a Nigerian household and at the risk of generalization, in most households, therapy was forbidden. As a matter of fact, the idea of speaking of/about mental illness in general is shameful. Needless to say the stigma surrounding mental illness was palpable in my household.
Last year, I had an opportunity with Instagram to attend an event at their headquarters in New York. I was beyond excited and everything was seemingly fine. However, within 10 minutes of sitting down, I stopped breathing. Anyone who knows what an anxiety/panic attack feels like understands this is the closest thing to hell you can experience in front of an audience. I started breathing heavily and physically gasping for air. It felt like someone was pressing hard on my chest. I started to tear up and rushed out of the office. I was embarrassed and more importantly felt like a failure. Till today, I cannot tell you what triggered it.
"You have to think of it like dating but eventually, you’ll find a therapist that your energy matches."
Back in LA, after 2 weeks of locking myself in my room, I had a long talk with myself and decided to find a therapist. A good therapist is hard to find. You have to think of it like dating but eventually, you’ll find one that your energy matches. After our first two weeks, we settled on a treatment plan called CBT. CBT is essentially a form of therapy that treats mental disorders holistically by looking at your thought patterns and learning to challenge your cognitions. The idea is that there is a feedback loop between your thoughts, your emotions (anxiety, sadness, obsession, etc) and your behavior, and if you're able to alter your interpretation of your thoughts then you can alter how you feel. Sounds simple right? Wrong!
I was very critical and skeptical of this treatment in the beginning because I am a “get over it, life is tough” kind of gal. My therapist, God bless him, is a VERY patient man. I questioned everything and fought him every step of the way. Well, after a year of learning about all of my subconscious self-critical / perfectionism / judgmental thoughts and learned how to challenge those thoughts. I can tell you that CBT does work, and it works VERY well. I learned in therapy that it is exquisitely imperative to get to the root of my disorder. CBT has been so beneficial to me because I can essentially pick apart my anxiety and put it back together, so to speak, by dissecting and OWNING my thoughts.
"A good therapist can help navigate self-judgmental thoughts."
Of course, the change DOES NOT happen overnight. Personally, CBT is a slow process of identifying self-defeating beliefs. For me, that was being a perfectionist and then doing concrete mind exercises analyzing why these defeating thoughts are false and why control is so vital to me. I learned in therapy that people in general, we tend to be unreasonably harsh on ourselves. It can be almost impossible to judge ourselves in any objective manner. That’s why a good therapist can help navigates those self-judgmental thoughts. In time the brain literally rewires itself to think more positively and see the world in a more realistic light (for me, I can’t control everything and it’s ok). It's a lot of work but you have to be willing to give it a fair shot and DO THE WORK!
I’ve always said this, “that’s just the way I am” is a cowardice way to live life. I implore you that if you think something might be wrong, and you have the resources to please just go speak with a professional and inquire about CBT. It can’t hurt and you will walk away with a better understanding of yourself. Even if there isn’t a specific disorder or anything wrong, it can be a form of self-care.
Conclusively, whether it’s depression, PTSD, anxiety, an eating disorder; they’re all demons that we ALL face. Please, don’t ever feel embarrassed or ashamed. You are very much loved, worth it, and fully deserve to get through whatever you are currently battling. I pray you step into your lives – boldly & fearlessly. The best chapter in our lives are the ones we are writing now. So, take matters into your hands. I believe in you all, I pray you always believe in yourselves. Thank you for your love and support. With love and light, stay healthy and fabulous darlings. Have a lovely weekend. :)