It’s that day again. The day where we’re supposed to talk about the importance of caring for our mental health. While the Canadian communications company that spearheaded this campaign has its fair share of faults and controversies, I’ve always felt that the notion of taking a day, at least a day, to talk about mental health is a good one. So I’m going to mark this day by sharing my own mental health journey, which is ongoing and never travels by a straight path. My hope is that my openness will help anyone out there struggling remember that they’re not alone, and there’s no shame in seeking help when you need it. So in the spirit of the campaign whose company of origin shall not be named: let’s talk.
Recognizing the issue
I’ll start by saying that I’ve never been diagnosed with a mental health issue, and that for all intents and purposes I’m a “well-adjusted” person. However, like every human out there, there are times when I struggle, mentally, emotionally, and even physically. Stress, anxiety, unexplained exhaustion, feeling overly emotional; I’ve encountered multiple periods in my life where all of these things have been a factor. For a long time, I always felt like I had just grind through, that after a little things would brighten up, that I’d go back to “normal”. Later I realized that “normal” was kind of a bullshit word, and that I was doing myself no favors by what felt like sitting under a dark cloud, until the cloud passed on its own. I needed to take some sort of action to get that cloud out from over me, and to start feeling better. This cycle of feeling icky, recognizing the ick, and acting on it, has happened to me a few times in my life. Most recently, just this past summer, I found myself feeling terribly upset, frustrated, and angry. A combination of the pandemic, the increased spotlight on racial injustice and inequality, and the debate those issues left me feeling sad and scattered. Venting to my friends and family didn’t help, really nothing much did. I knew I needed more tools than I had at my disposal to do the work I needed to do for myself, so like I had in the past, I began the search for a therapist.
Therapy – it works for me
I’ve been lucky and privileged enough to be able to access psychotherapy treatment multiple times in my life. I’m even luckier because my first experience with therapy was pretty low-stakes: I was working for a big company, and they offered an Employee Assistance Program that covered 6 therapy sessions, at no cost to me. All I had to do was fill out an online form, have a quick phone call, and I was connected to a therapist. I had no idea what to expect; would I like the therapist they chose for me, and will they actually help me? What I did know, was that I was burnt out, I was conflicted about my job and purpose in life, and I was struggling with the idea of disappointing my family if I followed my professional dreams, and left my “safe and secure” corporate job. And there wasn’t really anyone I could talk to about it.
In an even luckier turn of events, my therapist turned out to be awesome. We had a great rapport, and I loved having that space to not only vent my feelings and frustrations, but to see things from different perspectives that I may never have seen without that external guidance. Sometimes just a question my therapist would ask me would trigger a “light bulb” moment, and over time those moments would compile to help me shift my thinking to a more constructive, positive place. I felt better after those 6 sessions, and I still carry some of the lessons I learned from that therapist with me today.
Since those first sessions, I’ve worked with 2 other incredible therapists, one of I connected with last summer when the dark cloud I mentioned above took up residence over my head. I had to get a bit creative, especially now that I didn’t have a program or hotline to connect me with a therapist that someone else paid for. It was also a pandemic, which meant I wouldn’t be able to actually “go” to a therapist, at least not in the conventional sense. Thankfully though, we have the internet.
How I found my new (and awesome) therapist
When I realized I needed help in the summer of 2020, my circumstances had very much changed since my corporate job days. I was now working for myself and my family business. I had no benefits; any care I sourced would be paid out of pocket. As a result, I knew I had to be careful in choosing my therapist, so frankly I could get the biggest bang for my buck. I didn’t want to waste time in sessions building up a rapport, or explaining the cultural differences of growing up in a Middle Eastern, immigrant family to someone who couldn’t relate. I thought it would be helpful to find a therapist who shared a similar background to me, who understood what it’s like to be from one place but live in another. I also needed a therapist who would work with me on rates, since I would be paying out of pocket. Flexible scheduling and online sessions were also important, but most of all I needed someone to align with me on my ultimate goal: to feel better, sooner.
From there, I looked in my network, and I looked online, to find a therapist who fit the bill. Literally, I googled “Therapist, Toronto, Arabic. And it worked! Thanks to a couple of awesome pals and through Psychology Today I found 3 potential therapists with Middle Eastern backgrounds. I then booked consultations with each of them. Most therapists will offer a free consultation call or session, which I like to call your therapy first date. It’s a conversation to see how you get along, to share your reasons for seeking therapy and to learn if the therapist’s process works for you. 3 dates later, I found the right fit: an Egyptian therapist, who identified as female and was close-ish to me in age. Our rapport was great, and her method aligned with my goals: she would work with me to ensure I felt better as soon as possible, before delving into the deep, foundational stuff that would ensure long term progress and hopefully relief.
Self care for the soul
I’ve now been back in therapy since last July. I went from weekly online sessions now to monthly check ins. My therapist gives me homework with every session so I can continue the work on my own. Sometimes it’s as simple as watching a movie, sometimes it’s tougher like journaling about my past relationships. Our banter is awesome; it feels like I’m chatting with a friend, who just happens to have the training to guide me through my sometimes convoluted thought process, so I can have light bulb moments. I love online therapy because while I hate showing emotion and crying in front of people, but somehow it’s not so bad when there’s a screen between us. I no longer feel scattered or drained all the time. I can step back and examine my thoughts and emotions, sometimes even before reacting. It’s that presence of mind, the effect of slowing down, and most of all of caring for myself, that has lead to an overall improvement to my sense of well-being. It’s a long road, and while I may take another therapy break, it’s great to know that it’s a tool I can use when I need it.
When it comes to mental health, there is no one size fits all solution. What works for me may not work for you. I learned that therapy worked for me, and what I needed in a therapist/client relationship. It also turned me into an advocate for therapy, because I’m sick of the stigma around it. We go to a doctor when our bodies don’t feel great, so seeking professional help for our minds should be just as straightforward. I also recognize that I’m privileged to be able to afford out of pocket costs at all; not everyone is in the same position. But there are options for free, low cost and sliding scale therapy out there. Some mental health supports are also covered by government health care plans depending on where you live. My goal in sharing my own journey here is just that, to share. There is still a lot of work to be done to break the stigma around mental health struggles. Talking about it openly, honestly and without shame is just one step.
Check out some links below for ways to access services:
*header photo by Tim Goedhart on Unsplash