Do you ever feel like there's someone in your life that has it all together? Everything seems to be running so smoothly for them? They never really experience many problems, and if they do, they seem to handle things fairly well, or everything somehow seems to fall perfectly into place? Many people believe this about their therapists... at least that's what they've told me. Well... I hate to break it to you... but your therapists are people too. We don't have it all together. We don't handle things perfectly. We don't have all of our emotions in check. And we do experience the challenges of life just like all of you. Growing up I was seen as the emotional one - in my friend groups, in my family, even in myself. I remember hating most everything about me because I felt like all of my likeable traits were insurmountable compared to the emotional chains that controlled me. I always struggled to maintain relationships, even into adulthood. My journey to becoming a therapist was rather ordinary. I don't feel I need to repeat the age old tale "I always knew I wanted to help people so I became a therapist!" While that played a big part into my applying to grad school, that's not quite where my journey starts. Lets start at the beginning... with a 4 hour plane ride to the big apple. At 24, I moved to New York and started my education to become a therapist. I didn't know a soul. It was terrifying. But it just so happened to be the best decision I've ever made.
As I started school in New York, I felt like that person I always envied. Everything was falling into place perfectly... life was going so smoothly. I was absolutely loving my life in New York. I had great roommates, I made amazing new friends, I had good grades, I met my soon-to-be fiancé and felt truly "happy" for what I could tell was the first time in my life. Graduation came up quickly. It felt like my time in New York was over in a blink. I was getting ready to move back to Texas. Saying goodbye to my friends was so hard. Nothing about the beginning years of becoming a therapist is easy, and we'd supported each other until the end. Though, I knew the relationships would never end and focused on looking forward to getting back to my family. I had a job lined up before graduation at a psychiatric hospital as the lead recreational therapist not far from where I'd grown up. I was so confident. It felt like nothing could go wrong. Shortly after I graduated, my boyfriend at the time proposed, and I was ecstatic. Everything we had planned was falling into place. We were happy. I was moving back to Texas. Life was going great. So I thought. Soon after the engagement, we were rampantly growing apart. Every day the distance between us grew bigger and bigger, and it seemed like there was nothing we could do to stop the inevitable. Sometimes people just grow apart... At that same time, work was not going well... horribly, I'd rather say. When I was offered the position as lead, I was a little overly optimistic to say the least. I'd never considered that I wasn't ready for that much responsibility as such a young therapist. It felt like my life was crumbling at my finger tips, and before I knew it all of the things that I thought fell into place, just as quickly fell apart.
Not even a few days later, I moved back in with my parents and started searching for a new job. I fairly quickly landed a position with a different psychiatric hospital in a position that would allow me to flourish as an art therapist. I moved into a new apartment with my cat, Leo. Things were falling back into place, I'd hoped.
As you all know I'm sure, life has a way of kicking you in the teeth just when you feel like things are starting to go well. At least that's how it feels. I thought to myself "man... I feel really good about where I'm at. I'm happy with myself, and my job, my friends, and my family. Nothing's really going wrong right now. WAIT A MINUTE....."
I started "waiting for the other shoe to drop." Almost looking for something to go wrong. But in doing that, I really kind of spoke it into existence.
The next few years were some of the hardest of my life for many different reasons. I was working in a variety of different
environments with so many different people. I was good at my job. It was easy to tell other people how they can do things differently and turn their lives around. Not so easy to do that myself. Although I was still working, I had a really hard time keeping up with the rest of my life. My relationships were hanging by a thread. I'd entered a new romantic relationship that significantly impacted my self-esteem and caused many of the emotional tendencies to come back to life that I'd tried so hard to bury.. this time with a vengeance. While in that relationship, I'd cut out many of my friendships. I know, I know. Yes, I was that girl. It wasn't intentional. But overtime, we just kind of stopped seeing each other and didn't talk much anymore. In their defense, they'd tried to check on me and encourage me, but I was in too deep. I was growing further and further apart from my family as each month passed, until the canyon of life's secrets had grown so large between me and my loved ones that I thought there was no coming back.
I slipped into a deep depression. Most days, I felt like life was hopeless. I often found myself thinking "what's the point? I don't want to do this anymore." I felt pathetic. I found myself often thinking "you know better, Melanie. You're better than this." As if because I was a therapist I couldn't possibly suffer from my own mental health issues. I was so hard on myself. I felt like I had to do everything right, and was never allowed mistakes. I was never allowed to not be okay because that would make me a fraud in my work. It was like living with a permanent Instagram filter, but I never allowed myself to take it off and face the truth. I too had to come to the realization that therapists are not perfect either. I want to emphasize this because to this day, I still have to remind myself.
Finally, once I'd started to accept this harsh realization for myself, I started seeing my own therapist. It took a long time, longer than I'd like to admit. But I finally left the relationship that was fueling my self-hatred, and began to learn to love myself. Not just the hallmark "love yourself". But truly, deeply love myself for everything that I am. Even the parts that I hate. I challenged myself to get out of my comfort zone, and often. Now I still can't eat at a restaurant alone without thinking "omg did I just forget how to eat normally? Everyone's staring at me." I'm kidding on that part of course. I eat totally normal. But the point is, once I stopped waiting for the other shoe to drop, and decided to put a stool under it, my life truly began to change.
It doesn't always have to feel like a shoe is dropping when life starts to get hard. Sometimes, it's just hard for a period of time, and that's all it is. But we don't have to lose our foundation or grounding.
I tell this story of "my journey as a therapist" to help you all understand, that no. Your therapist does not have their life sorted out perfectly. Most therapists did not experience some life altering event that changed the course of their trajectory and gave them the secret key to happiness that enlightened them to became a therapist. I didn't even fully believe that I was on the right path until years into practicing. My point is, you are not alone.