More people are going to therapy than ever before. It’s become so popular, in fact, that millennials have been nicknamed the “Therapy Generation.” When I was 14, after years of struggling with my mental health, I agreed to start seeing a therapist. And while I attribute a lot of personal growth to the work I did in therapy, I also feel confident about my decision to leave.
In the seven years I spent attending weekly talk therapy sessions, I was able to work through a lot of my early-childhood problems. With the help of therapy, I became aware of my negative thought and behavior patterns—my tendency to try to predict what other people were thinking, use my body as a form of communication through self-harm and weight loss, and lean on many, many compulsions.
Once I discovered those patterns, therapy helped me develop alternative ways to process and react to situations. I learned where I felt anxiety in my body and began practicing relaxation techniques to prevent snowballing into full-blown panic attacks; I learned how to actually communicate my emotions; I learned how to just pause. It was also really comforting to have an adult I could talk to who didn’t have emotional ties to me or an obligation to be my parent or teacher.
Throughout my years of therapy, I was diagnosed with a couple of mental disorders, which gave me a language to describe the way my mind experiences the world and how I react to it. Because of this, I was able to receive additional treatment at both the inpatient and outpatient levels. There, I finally got to meet people who had similar diagnoses. Beyond labels, the majority of us had similar personality traits and histories that triggered our behaviors. It was comforting to realize that there were other people whose minds seemed to be wired like mine.
But as time progressed, I found that I kept hitting plateaus in my mental health. Soon, the appointments themselves felt futile, and even switching therapists and treatments didn’t help. I sat through sessions as if they were some sort of punishment. I used my diagnoses as some sort of self-pitying name tag—a way to separate myself from the rest of humanity.
Perhaps the biggest reason why I needed to leave therapy was that I’d lost motivation to take responsibility for my own actions. Because of this, I’d started using therapy as an excuse to look for ugly things in the world. And since I remained unmotivated to change the way I perceived it, I kept feeding my own isolation and self-hatred. I essentially defined myself as being terminally mentally ill.
And so, after those seven years of talk therapy, I switched to working with a life coach. While life coaches aren’t (typically) mental health professionals, mine was able to support my well-being in a way that drastically improved my mental health. She had me define my core values: passion, empathy, connection, integrity, and appreciation. Using those values, she had me daydream about my future. Unlike therapy, which focused more on my past, life coaching made me focus on the future. By cultivating curiosity and actually pushing myself to try new things, I got a better idea of what I like and what I don’t.
In order to execute the vision I’d made through life coaching, I really had no choice but to prioritize my physical and mental health. I wanted to ski. To climb mountains. To graduate from nursing school. To build meaningful friendships. To start dating again. To be a positive figure in my family. To take road trips. To explore the world. I couldn’t do those things without prioritizing my health. The commitment to my goals was there, yes, but the greatest commitment I made was to continually show up for myself under each and every circumstance. To let myself not only live, but be alive.
Life coaching helped me realize that a full life doesn’t discriminate against difficult thoughts or feelings, but that growth itself often invites some degree of pain. Like, I still struggle in any social situation that involves food—but instead of giving into my anxiety and leaving, I remind myself of the bigger picture, that I crave meaningful relationships. Working toward my core value of connection is infinitely more rewarding than knowing the exact number of calories I consumed that day. I can simultaneously hold space for uncomfortable thoughts and feelings and make progress.
Instead of relying on therapy to share my struggles, I now share them with those close to me. Friends and family aren’t the equivalent of a therapist, of course, but I’ve found that conversations with these people are often more meaningful and in a way where less words often mean more. When a friend asks me how I am, I name how I feel. I might say a little about the experience if they ask, but they don’t need to know the full story in order to understand. Because more often than not, they’ve had similar emotions.
To be clear, therapy did give me many tools. But in order for those tools to work, I had to actively put them to use. It prompted me to express my experiences, and introduced me to parts of myself I needed to know. But there came to be a time when continually rehashing the same things became maladaptive. It enabled me to ruminate on the negatives. Yes, I needed to acknowledge the negatives were there, but I also needed a push to actively improve my life and see that I was capable of being more than just a psychiatric patient. Therapy just wasn’t a conducive environment for me to do that. There may come a day when I believe that seeing a therapist would be beneficial again, but at this point in my life that isn’t true. Right now, I am therapist-less, healthy, and free.