Coming Full Circle
by Mallory Gothelf
At fifteen years old, the last place you wish to be is trapped inside of a stuffy therapist's office with your parents. Wasn't it bad enough that I was trapped within the confines of my mind, a mind held by a vice-like grip of depressive thoughts? So as I sat in on my first therapy session, my parents hanging on to every word my therapist said, I caught myself staring out the window, utterly lost in thought. How did this become my life?
Just one month before I had been hiding these intense feelings of anxiety and depression pretty well. I was hiding them so well that they didn't even have a diagnosis. When my parents became aware of my situation, they rushed me to the ER, found me inpatient treatment, and then, to my despair, insisted I remain in therapy once a week. I agreed to go because there wasn't really another option. My parents kept dropping me off at appointments, and having no mode of transportation to get home made it difficult to make a break for it.
My therapist was an extremely gentle and kind woman, one whose warmth and serenity enveloped you the moment you walked into the office. But in my immaturity and unrelenting stubbornness, I found the appointments tedious, beneath my intelligence, and ultimately unhelpful. I often sat in silence unless explicitly asked a question. My answers were short, rarely filled with a great deal of explanation. I gave half-hearted attempts to engage in therapy, but found myself entering treatment time and time again. Eventually my therapist, as patient and invested in my recovery as she was, felt she wasn't helping me enough. She thought it best I see another therapist. As I left her office, she said her door would always be open for me, a statement I simply thought was a part of her job. Being as apathetic as I was, I was okay with the end of our therapeutic relationship.
I moved from therapist to therapist for the next few years, continuing to remain only half open to the practice. Once I entered college, my therapy came to a complete halt. I wasn't interested in continuing a treatment I didn't truly believe in. But sometimes life has a way of intervening, making you rethink everything you once knew.
One year into college I found myself debating a medical leave of absence from school. I was struggling in a way that felt unbearable. But if I truly wanted to fight back against this illness, I couldn’t go home and just twiddle my thumbs. I needed to take action, I needed to engage in my recovery. That’s when a statement from several years prior fluttered through my mind, “my door will always be open for you.” I nervously dialed the number of my very first therapist and left a message. She worked tirelessly with me as a stubborn fifteen-year-old, I prayed she would take me back as a more mature and dedicated twenty-year-old. When her number appeared on my phone, I took a deep breath, and answered the call. She couldn’t have been more kind as she told me she would love to see me again. We scheduled an appointment, but before we hung up, she reminded me: “once a patient always a patient”. A smile spread across my lips as I was finally ready to journey through recovery.
She spent the next six months of my medical leave giving me her all. She never failed to give me the space to vent, but wasn’t afraid to challenge me to view things from another perspective. We would delve into topics I had never fully allowed myself to speak about, and we would work to find the root cause of my pain and anguish. There were moments where we found humor in this journey, and moments where we sat comfortably in emotions I never thought I could sit with. In those sessions I found my voice, a voice that my illness had robbed me of so many years before. After each session I walked down the stairs of the building feeling empowered and alive. One session I walked down the stairs giggling, reflecting on my past self, who used to hang her head every time she left this building, dreading the next week when she’d return. Now each session felt valuable, and nourishing, and necessary to my well-being. For years my therapist held a faith in me that I could never hold for myself. Even after we parted ways after my first stint in therapy, she still held that faith. My therapist and I were on the same team, fighting for the same thing, my recovery.
In my last session before returning back to school from my medical leave of absence, she told me that I should share my story, and speak freely and openly about my journey. I found myself grinning from ear-to-ear. I was a difficult client that she took on five years prior, and here I was realizing my purpose in her office. I felt as though I was meant to tell my story, to hopefully be the voice that would inspire change in others. I had truly come full circle.
I didn’t think therapy was for me, but it was simply because I didn’t give it a chance. I made up my mind before I ever even got to work. Mainstream media depicts therapy as sitting around talking about your problems, but it’s so much more than that. It’s the opportunity to explore yourself, explore your struggle, explore your life. It gives you the opportunity to challenge your mind, rethink your perspective, and rewrite your story. If it weren’t for therapy, I’d still be sitting in despair each and every day. And while recovery is an ongoing process, I can confidently say that therapy gave me my life back. I can finally be Mallory, and all that encompasses my being.
Mallory Gothelf is a Northeastern University alum and passionate mental health advocate striving to change the conversation and treatment for mental illness. Follow her journey on her blog, The Infinite Project.