So I have been in therapy since I was 7 years old. Initially I was sent because my parents got divorced and I appeared to have a difficult time adjusting to the new family paradigm. Then it was because my father had an explosive temper and I became equally as explosive and filled with hatred for him. Finally, I was diagnosed with ADD (improperly) and ultimately Bipolar disorder.
Needless to say, the first 10 years of therapy was an extremely long journey for which I am now, ultimately, grateful for. The biggest piece that was missing for me was truly understanding, “what is the purpose of therapy?”.
What I have learned over the years about therapy is the following:
- Therapy helps you learn coping strategies for your specific life experiences
- Therapy challenges your thoughts and behaviors
- Therapy teaches you skills and provides you with tools to better interact with life
Unfortunately, I did not take proper advantage of therapy until I was about to 35 years old. I used therapy as a crutch. A place where I could go vent with emotional outbursts about how unfair the world was or how right I was! I went to child psychologists, family psychologists, marriage counselors and addiction counselors. I finally found an amazing therapist that said to me — don’t worry about your diagnosis! She said our focus will be on symptom management.
The unfortunate part of therapy that was never shared with me was the following: Therapy only works when you integrate what they are teaching you into your individual life! I was a poor student of therapy and ultimately my personal life suffered. I didn’t realize how much I was suffering until I finally started to practice what I was being taught.
On a parallel track with therapy, I was also sent to a psychiatrist, or 20, to get medication for my diagnosis. I wish I was told the following prior to my first visit to my psychiatrist, and probably in the waiting room of each subsequent visit (of which there have been hundred’s — if not thousands). Medication helps assist in managing the extremes of your illness. It is NOT a solution and does not fix your problems.
While this might seem obvious to everyone else, it was NOT obvious to me. I thought when I started taking my medications I was going to have better days which would lead to a better life. I thought as I popped my benzo’s that my anxiety would melt away from me and what I was anxious about wouldn’t bother me anymore. The reality: I became inaccurately and falsely dependent on my medications. I became dependent on the fantasy of what medication might do for me, not the reality it was actually doing for me.
What I have learned over the years about medication is the following:
- Medication helps establish upper and lower bounds for your emotional responses
- Medications assist in managing the extremes
As a result of a complete misunderstanding and misguided attempt at properly medicating, I self-medicated and played with my medications for close to 15 years before taking them seriously. I was taking medication and drinking and then going to the doctor screaming about uncontrolled emotions and outbursts.
After close to 30 years of therapy and 15 years of failed medication management and compliance I began taking my treatment plan seriously.
I also learned that I needed to incorporate additional aspects of recovery which included Gratitude, Spirituality and Mindfulness. I will elaborate more on those in the future.