Reflections from a year of therapy

Because I was in Malaysia and COVID-19 spiked in the U.S. when I came back, I haven’t seen my therapist in about 6 weeks. And because my healthcare provider & my mental health insurance aren’t covering phone appointments and for related reasons, I basically won’t be seeing my therapist until COVID-19 calms down or the situation with insurance changes–we really don’t know when either will happen. I’m still a ball of anxiety right now, but I can still say that therapy has helped to prepare me for something like this. In this post, I wanted to break down my journey with therapy, as well as some essential reflections I’ve written down from therapy sessions that might give you some comfort during this stressful time.

HOW & WHY I STARTED THERAPY – I started going to therapy in July of 2019, soon after graduating from college. It felt like one of those many moments where I was compartmentalizing my mental health. “It’s not too bad,” I would think. And then, the feelings of confusion and stagnancy kicked in post-grad. I wanted to learn tools to cope with my anxiety and push past the pressure that was consuming me. It was a process to start therapy, but it went more smoothly than I expected. I first had to call Kaiser and let them know I wanted to explore mental health services through an outside provider. Once I got the referral, I talked to the provider and they sent me a list of women-identified mental health professionals in my area. I had to call them one by one (I! Hate! Phone calls!), and after about 5 calls of hearing that they weren’t taking clients at this time, I called a mental health professional who works pretty close to where I live. And that’s how I met my therapist! Something important I learned through this process is that I wanted a therapist with certain criteria, such as someone who has a South Asian, Asian, or Muslim background, because they would be able to understand the cultural context of my life.

WHAT THERAPY IS LIKE FOR ME – What I didn’t know is that I’d find such an awesome therapist who didn’t fit my initial criteria but has been so great. I saw my therapist about twice a month or once a month depending on scheduling, with 10 sessions total so far. Part of what makes it so awesome is that a therapist will listen to you. For that one hour, you are the main focus. It was my 8th or 9th session when I cried for the first time during therapy, aha. I love that my therapist weaves storytelling into her practice, drawing from her own life experiences as well. She has told me some really awe-inspiring stories! She’s nonjudgemental and really wants to get to know different angles of my life and the roots of things that could be contributing to what I may be feeling in that moment. I often get nervous right before therapy, because I feel like I need to plan out what I’m going to say and what I need to work on, but sometimes I just let things happen knowing that it’s an on-going process. After therapy sessions, I tend to feel drained, but I also feel like there’s a big weight off of me.

This isn’t everyone’s story with finding a therapist that works, so I feel very fortunate. There are numerous financial and interpersonal situations that make therapy difficult. So, saying that everyone should see a therapist is great but not when there are so many barriers to access it.

“I CAN GIVE YOU THE SAME ADVICE, THOUGH,” & OTHER FAMILY REACTIONS – Dealing with reactions, especially parents’ reactions, is a big thing for Asian-Americans who want to try therapy. A big misconception is that “something is wrong with you” if you’re seeing a therapist. That’s simply not true; people see therapists for a variety of reasons. The main thing for me is that I can’t tell my parents what I’m actually going through. I think that’s such a resonant part of the South Asian-American Gen. Z/Millennial experience: not being able to be open up to your parents because of perceived differences in cultural, spiritual, and societal values. So, I tell my dad that my therapist is helping me through my anxiety in different areas of my life and try not to get into any specifics when he asks. At first, he didn’t say much about it, which was a good sign, aha. But I remember a couple of months ago after a therapy session, he asked me what I talk about in therapy. I gave him a generalized example and how my therapist helped me, and he said, “But I can say the same thing to you…Why do you need to go to a therapist then?” And I was like, “No, you couldn’t have said the same thing in the same way. And that’s okay!”

Therapy allows you to get a professional opinion and not have to place all of your emotional/mental needs onto family and friends. South Asian daughters, especially eldest daughters, are often a therapist for their parents and a guidance counselor for their younger siblings. It’s not their job to do that, and it really starts to take a toll on them. I honestly think it needs to be recognized and called out more. The more we perpetuate the need to keep emotions & mental health to ourselves and contained within our families, the more it strains both individuals and connections. Working through things with my therapist allows me to care more deeply for the people around me, because I can be more intentional with how I approach them. Therapy allows me to think beyond the mindset and perspectives that I’ve been socialized into as a South Asian-Muslim-American woman and envision what I truly want out of life. I do acknowledge that my identities are a huge part of who I am and have some really beneficial impacts on how I view my place in the world. It’s truly a process to understand ourselves and change happens gradually.

REFLECTIONS FROM POST-THERAPY NOTES – A part of me was nervous to go back and re-read some of my post-therapy session notes. I was nervous to re-live the context of why some of those things were written. But as I started to read them, I felt appreciative of myself and my therapist for being patient in this process. Now that I think about it, why wouldn’t I love therapy? I’ve been journaling since I was in 6th grade; I love learning more about myself and my subconscious. Therapy is needing to hear something really specific & profound and getting that clarity. It’s a process, though. Here are some reflections from therapy:

1. Moving on from people & situations is a cyclical pattern. A rift can mend itself with time, even if it feels like it’ll never happen
2. On post-grad pressure: You have time to pause and enjoy life right now. You may not get to do that in the same way ever again
3. Be more graceful about self-imposed deadlines. Try weekly goals/deadlines and reassess the overarching goal in 2 months
4. Ask yourself these 3 questions every morning: What do I NEED to do today? What do I WANT to do today? What will I do to TAKE CARE of myself?
5. On dealing with people projecting career-related things onto you: Be okay with letting go of ideas that aren’t giving you energy right now
6. Try a scanning meditation when you have moments to yourself throughout the day: Check in with your body from head to toe to see what your body is telling you and acknowledge what’s been on your mind
7. Wander more: Go on a walk with no intention of getting somewhere & just follow your instincts
8. On dealing with shitty behaviors & situations: The action may have happened, but you have agency with how you react to it and that includes letting go of regrets
9. Be intentional about how you use social media. It’s okay to turn off your phone sometimes!!
10. Keep your mind, heart, & spirit open to possibilities

I know I’m the queen of not getting into actual specifics (only general specifics, haha), but I hope you enjoyed reading this! I’m always here to talk more about mental health & therapy with you, so feel free to message me. It’s a rough time in many ways, so please be patient with yourself right now! —S.A.

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