I’ve spoken often and openly about my relationship with therapy. I started going six years ago this December and minus holidays and the occasional cold have not missed a session.
As the self-care and wellness trends become more and more popular I think it’s important to not only talk about starting healthy habits, but also what it looks like to keep them going. Being honest about what that journey actually looks like, over 6 years and 300+ sessions, will hopefully help you see that there’s very little to romanticize here.
Progress is messy and most Mondays the information I leave with is composed of 90% more questions than I had when I walked in, but it’s that 10% of answers that keeps me coming back. I get the chance to discover, or address, something new in each session and for those 45 minutes my load feels lighter and the white space I need in my life to figure out the rest feels a lot more achievable.
I live in my head so much that being self-aware isn’t enough to deal with my happiness, career, way I love, anxiety, depression, grief, or family issues. I need someone who can hold space for me so I can see solutions within my own actions and not just the “good” qualities I’m applauded for by others. The being nice, responsible, present for everyone else, for instance.
More honest depictions of what that journey has looked like for me isn’t the end all be all, but I hope it’s a reminder that it takes time to get from drowning to swimming. Those first few months of sessions get you from under water to an informed float, it’s taken me years to start even a small dog paddle in some areas of my life. It’s true that other areas of my life I’m doing laps back and forth with ease that I wouldn’t have excepted in 2013, but it’s not all areas, it’s some, but some is more than none.
How we start conversations
I’ll start with something that has probably not changed at all over the last 6 years. I sit down, place my bag at my feet, plunk my water on the table next to the couch, and I comment on some version of the weather. I follow my weather small talk with, “it’s been such a week” and then proceed to tell her about my highs and lows. I don’t know why I feel the need to small talk when I know there’s so much space being held for anything I want to talk about, but no matter how much practice we have, sometimes we need to dip a toe into the water before we dive head first.
What I talk about
When thinking about what to talk about in therapy it’s easy to believe that each session has to be heavy, full of tears, and the same as the last one. When I started therapy in 2013 I was in the middle of my senior of college and I was my grandmother’s primary caretaker. My main concerns was how I was going to graduate, cope with missing my mom during the transition from college into adulthood, and how I was going to survive having to balance classes and the ICU. Even though my grandma was doing worse, there was no way I could have really imagined she would pass away so quickly thereafter I started therapy. By March 2014, we’d moved from talking about school to talking about how I was coping with the anxiety that followed my grandmother’s death and how I was loving building toodamnyoung.com.
My conversations in therapy grow with me.
I’m not trying to stay afloat in my grief anymore. We aren’t just getting to know my anxiety right now. I found tools that help me cope with the ebbs and flows for those two big things in my life, so now in my late-twenties, we’re talking about marriage, my career, how I’m healing the realities that growing up in an unstable way left behind.
There’s always something to talk about, but it’s never the same thing even if it’s under the same umbrella. In therapy, I’m a newbie in some things we’re talking about and it’ll feel like day 1 and in others it feels like I have 300 sessions under my belt.
How I pay for it
In 2013, I was a student, I didn’t have parents, my legal guardian was 84 and my family was low-income, so I was on Medicaid. My first therapy appointment was booked in September for December because that was the only opening. I showed up in the Upper Manhattan clinic that I’d had my yearly check-ups in since I was a baby. I would sit in a back room that my therapist used from 11:45–3pm twice a week and that was a regular doctor’s room every other time. It wasn’t fancy, it wasn’t the movie depiction of what therapy is supposed to look like, but it changed me all the same.
It also made therapy look incredibly accessible for me — a young Latina girl who grew up inner-city and whose challenges were informed by the same culture and neighborhood she was seeking help in. Being able to see others who looked like me is probably one of the reasons why I made it through those first few sessions without chickening out.
Since about 2017, I started paying my therapist out of pocket. I made more so I had to switch my Obamacare plan to a pricier one that wasn’t taken at the clinic. My therapist sees patients privately, so she was kind enough to work with me on a weekly fee that both honored her work and honored the fact that I wasn’t rolling in it, but also saw this as an investment I needed.
I pay about $1,000 in health related needs per month. $600 goes to therapy, the rest is my monthly general premium. This is very specific to the fact that I’m self-employed and don’t get health insurance through a company.
I allocate to therapy because for me it meant more to keep the relationship than to start anew with someone who was in-network. It’s a personal decision. If you’re just starting out, I recommend going with the route that will make you feel safest — for some that will be paying out of pocket, for others that will mean staying in network. Know that even when you do pay out of pocket, most therapists do work on a sliding scale and are open to meeting you where you are as much as they can.
How I use it in real life
In 2013, I used therapy as a life raft and each session was a goal post I had to make it to. I was struggling, incredibly depressed, and so in my grief that it was hard to function outside of it.
Six years later, it’s still a life raft in some ways, but it’s also a resource and a safe space to go to, not just to run to. I’ve learned how to text and call my therapist even between sessions. This is really hard because I’ve never had a point of reference on how to call someone for help. I also have way more tools than I did back then, so unless I’m really struggling, I’m able to refer back to what I’ve learned to cope with things.
Progress along the way has been messy and this post could be miles long if I wanted it, but this felt like the most important parts to outline. As I’ve grown up so has my perception of therapy. I don’t expect it to solve all of my problems, but I do use it to remind me that I’m capable of creating safe spaces for myself, searching for calm, and finding new ways to tackle old habits or patterns.
I write about mental health, grief, and life’s every day challenges on vivnunez.com.
Follow along on my instagram.com/vivnunez for mini-essays on the same topics.
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