[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]
Therapy is a weird but rewarding journey. Or at least, it was for me. I needed therapy to cover from my eating disorder, but I ended up addressing a host of other, related issues. It was very often uncomfortable, and sometimes even frightening. We are so often most terrified of whatever lies inside of us, whether that be potential, pain, heartache, or fear. 2021 marked the year I stepped away from therapy, because I no longer found it useful. I sat and stared into a zoom call with my fifth and final therapist, realizing I had nothing to say to her anymore.
Therapist #4 was my favorite brain doctor, gently guiding me through the narrow hallways of my fucked up psyche. He was an older man, a fact that dissuaded me at first. For many reasons I don't care to address now, I'm drawn to older men. I feel safe and comfortable around them, often more comfortable than I feel around women. So therapist #4 and I had a host of breakthroughs, before he chose the COVID-19 pandemic as his personal sign to retire. This both devastated and relieved me. I was happy because I was suddenly free from his knowing eyes and prying inquiries, but I was sad because we’d made such progress. I saw another therapist over zoom, a young woman just starting out. I patiently endured her textbook questions before gently letting her know that her services were insufficient.
I've been in and out of therapy for five+ years, and I find it odd that the onus of finding a mental healthcare provider is put entirely on the person who needs help. Even calling to find a therapist feels daunting because it somehow makes the person in need feel like something was wrong with them. By the time therapist #4 retired though, I’d done enough work to feel semi-capable of handling my own shit. And nothing felt that different, I just had an extra hour of free time at ten o’clock on Thursdays.
People who have never gone to therapy, or maybe who have never faced a mental hardship, are prone to believing that therapy is a band-aid for negative thoughts or emotions. But mental health is a world away from physical health. I can break my arm, set it in a cast, and it will be healed in a few months time. But mental health is not so cut and dry. I still feel sad sometimes. I'm still a chronic overthinker, an anxious-avoidant type, sidelined by the existential angst of personhood. I have been a sort-of-sad-person for as long as I can remember, laughter and humor a convenient coping mechanism. Therapy helped me cope with my sadness better, helped me lean into uncomfortable emotions, helped me not only recover from my eating disorder, but thrive.
Therapy is hard. Recovering from my eating disorder was fucking hard. After one of my ultras last winter, I was interviewed by a man from a running website. “What is the accomplishment you’re most proud of?” he asked me. He probably meant something about running: a race or time or pinnacle of athletic success. But by then, I’d ridden many athletic highs and suffered just as many lows. I understood that my time as a healthy athlete was just beginning because by then, I’d learned to feed myself. I was just getting started. So instead I said, “My proudest accomplishment so far has been recovering from my eating disorder. That was far and away the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
And while it was hard to start therapy, and hard to recover, it was also kind of hard to step away. Therapy should not be a lifelong endeavor. It is a resource for people who are hurting, who have endured trauma, or who need help coping with something. I recognized that staying in therapy was an unnecessary crutch, and that allowed me to step away with some degree of ease. There might be a time I return to therapy, but for now I am happy enough, healthy enough, and resourceful enough to grapple with the existential angst of personhood on my own.
P.S. If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, it is extremely important to seek professional help. Contact the NEDA helpline at (800) 931-2237, find an Eating Disorders Anonymous (EDA) meeting near you HERE or find a treatment center near you HERE.