Photo credit: KELLY SIKKEMA VIA UNSPLASH

How therapy helped me better manage my anxiety

Therapy is a journey, not a cure.

Matthaeus Choo

Published: 27 July 2022, 12:02 PM

For as long as I can remember, I worried about everything. 

I would return home even after rushing out the door to double-check if power sockets are off, fearing that they may start a fire. I would make trips to schools and workplaces at irregular hours just to make sure everything is in the right place. I would plan and rehearse every single interaction because I couldn’t stand even an ounce of uncertainty. 

It wasn’t until my National Service that all the incessant and irrational worrying was given a name: Generalised Anxiety Disorder. 

The diagnosis made an already uncertain time even more stressful. I felt a constant need to prove that I am healthy and able to contribute. The diagnosis never stopped feeling like it was a pox, as if even sharing how I felt would spread an incurable disease. 

I was glad that mental health issues have become less stigmatised over the years with many now receiving help. However, I was cynical about the effectiveness of treatments for myself. 

I think, like many men, I struggle with expressing my emotions. I never knew how to open up. Years of incessant rehearsals made talking to anyone else feel like a performance — so much so that I would completely forget that I was diagnosed with anything. Besides, although treatment was affordable, they still cost a noticeable chunk of change.  

The thing about performing normality, I feel, is that sometimes the only one convinced is yourself and you are the only one who doesn’t realise or feel that something is wrong. It wasn’t until late last year that the fatigue hit me all at once. 

It was the first real, palpable reminder in years. I finally caved in earlier this year to give therapy a shot.

 

While therapy sessions can go up to $170 per hour, there are plenty of affordable options as well. PHOTO CREDIT: PRISCILLA DU PREEZ VIA UNSPLASH

 

My first session was terrible, all to the fault of my own. I shared with my therapist everything I felt, albeit still with sanitised retellings. 

It became frustrating once the difficult questions came: What do you want to do with your life, what happens when you don’t meet deadlines, what happens when you fail, etc. Despite the long pauses, my therapist remained patient and understanding. However, I walked away from the first session feeling like nothing was accomplished.

I think there were two instances that I considered breakthroughs.

At the start of the second session, my therapist asked what it is that I hope to achieve with therapy. “To solve everything,” I bluntly replied. 

I had convinced myself that my issues were like the flu and that they will pass eventually without medication and treatment. My therapist explained that therapy was only a process and not a cure-all. More importantly, progress can only be made if what is discussed is applied outside of the sessions. 

It was also during the second session when I realised how irrational my constant catastrophising can be. I would list down the reasons I would be anxious in situations and my therapist would continue to probe further toward their logical ends. 

Everything felt clearer from then on. I still find it immensely difficult to express my emotions but I am glad to be able to at least make some headway.

The self-awareness and advice pushed me to kick bad habits and take on better ones. I started exercising and being kinder to myself, including scheduling time off to enjoy films and video games. Coincidentally, I chanced upon the indie game Celeste, not knowing that it was about making friends with our anxiety and self-doubt. Through Mindline, I better understood mental wellness and started practising mindfulness. 

My therapy sessions are still ongoing, albeit now with far less frequency. I consider myself extremely fortunate to be able to receive and afford help. I, too, was sceptical about therapy’s effectiveness but I would urge anyone, especially men similarly unconvinced, to give it a shot. 

There are still days when I slip back and allow anxiety to take over. But, as therapy has taught me, what is most important is to keep in mind that healing is a process and that healing will not stop as long as we continue to pick ourselves up again.

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