I Didn’t Think I Needed Mental Health Care, Until My Body Told Me Otherwise

The importance of therapy

Ashling Lee

October 8, 2020

“Where do you think this is coming from?” 

Looking away from my therapist, I let the question sink in. The knot in my chest, not a new sensation of late, tightens slightly. 

Therapy is the latest new experience in a year already full of the unexpected. The conversation has turned to recent spirals of fear and rumination I was having trouble getting past, a cloud of interference over my day-to-day. 

Throughout my life, I’ve been lucky enough that my health hasn’t been a cause for much concern. “So healthy, it’s boring,” I say whenever it arises in conversation. Routine tests always come back normal, the flu has long been a foreign concept, and I’d always worn hardship well. 

When the pandemic began to wear on me by late spring, I told myself to suck it up. After all, I wasn’t the only one it was affecting. So, I persisted: through the waves of isolation, loneliness, and homesickness. You’ve come this far, keep going, I repeated to myself. 

I’d moved from Sydney, Australia to New York City just three months before the pandemic took over. The pendulum of my life had swung in two extreme directions in a very short amount of time. In fact, it was still swinging – nothing was fully familiar, or completely foreign. Everything in between only served as compounding factors that were felt all the more acutely.  

Gradually, my appetite started to wane. I noticed I was losing weight, as well as the increasing knots in my chest. Staying asleep for longer than six hours a night was impossible – abnormal for someone who needed eight hours at minimum to function. I struggled with concentration, and started having such horrible skin breakouts that I had to google “stress acne” to see if it really was a thing (turns out, it is). 

By the time summer arrived, I felt detached and less like myself. Homesickness had grown to the point where I physically felt the distance separating me and my family. Traveling to Australia was wrought with such strict measures that made going home arduous – financially and logistically. Crying spells would hit me in random moments, and on some days, it’d take every ounce of me to simply keep it together while strolling down the street. Even though I had friends around me, I missed the community of those I’d known for years. A rollercoaster of events in my personal life left me with emotional whiplash. 

Therapy had been in the back of my mind for a while, but I didn’t think I’d ever really “needed” it. But when I found myself in my bathroom one night, trying to catch my breath and stop myself from throwing up, I knew I needed help. 

A few minutes of silence pass before I look back at my therapist and respond. I realize that in every past hurdle or disappointment, I’ve always had something tangible to grasp and move forward with. The ability to see an action plan, understand why, or make improvements, has afforded comfort, certainty, and closure. There’s always been an antidote. Now, not only couldn’t I find one, but the mental and emotional weight of everything had crashed and landed on me all at once. 

As a chronic overthinker, sometimes, I’m so in it, it’s hard to take a step back and be honest with myself. Therapy has not only helped me to pinpoint behavioral patterns and connect them with the root of my emotions, but it’s also taught me proper mindfulness techniques to prevent these from festering. Every week, I have an uninterrupted hour to recalibrate my mind, and with the guidance of a professional, tackle what has become a complicated web of experiences and thoughts.

The knots in my chest are still there. Some days, they’re tighter than others. But now, instead of invalidation, minimization, or denial, I’m learning to sit with the full spectrum of what I feel. 

2020 hasn’t spared anyone of some degree of difficulty, grief, or loss. In efforts to be resilient or self-sufficient, it’s easy to tell ourselves to press on a little more, especially since we can’t always tangibly see the state of our minds (at least not immediately). But the same way we tend to our bodies – a cut here, sprain there – our minds deserve the same care. And therapy can help you come out even stronger than you thought you were. 

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