An Honest Look At How Therapy Saved My Life — & How Much It Cost Me
This piece discusses depression and suicidal ideation; please only continue to read if you feel it is healthy for you to do so.
I used to commute to work every single morning through rush hour and amongst four lanes of traffic. Each day, I drove over the same bridge — once on the way to work, and once on the way home. That bridge became my nemesis.
“What would happen if I drove off this bridge?” I’d think to myself.
I’d think variations of this same thought twice a day, every single day. It started out as what I thought was a harmless mind game, in which I’d play out a scenario where I’d end up in the hospital for a while. But the scenarios slowly started having darker endings.
To someone who doesn’t suffer from depression, it’s pretty obvious that those thoughts aren’t rational. But at the time, I didn’t think they were that weird. Everyone must feel this way on their commute. Everyone must consider what would happen if they drove over this bridge.
Today, my mental health journey has become a large part of who I am as a person. One of my main focuses is learning how to deal with my mind, day in and day out. I’m a worrier, but I’m not just a worry-about-small-things-that-are-manageable kind of person. Instead, I’m a worry-about-things-that-aren’t-even-possible kind of person. Fun, right? In other words, I have anxiety.
Two years ago, I wasn’t very sure what anxiety was. I thought it was just another emotion you could control — or in my case, subdue. Turns out it’s a lot more than that. An anxiety disorder is excessive worrying about day-to-day problems for a period of longer than six months. Minor concerns become intense anxieties that affect you mentally and physically. Typically, a couple of common physical reactions are muscle tension or problems sleeping.
One other not-so-fun-fact about anxiety is that it can lead to depression, which is exactly how I ended up where I did in 2017.
Exploring my options
After a long eight months of worsening symptoms, my friend called me and confronted me, asking if I had ever thought about suicide. I was stunned, but not because she would ask me such an invasive question. Instead, I was stunned because it suddenly hit me that I had been having those thoughts every single day when I drove over that bridge. That night, I spent a ton of time researching what could be wrong with me. It was increasingly obvious that if I didn’t speak to someone about my problems, it was only going to get worse. The problem was that I couldn’t bring myself to have these conversations with friends or family. I was too embarrassed.
That’s when I decided to look at therapy. After bouncing around multiple websites and reading various bios to see if anyone seemed like a good fit, I found a therapist close to my house. The only catch? Each session was $200.
According to a report done by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 13% of Americans have foregone mental health care for themselves or their family members because they could not afford the cost. Of those same Americans, 12% reported they did not have insurance coverage, 10% felt fear or embarrassment to seek help, and 8% didn’t know where to find mental health care.
As someone who thankfully had partial insurance coverage, I didn’t have to focus too much on the number. I booked the session for the following week. I also found that you could cancel with more than 24 hours notice, so I figured that if I changed my mind, it wasn’t a big deal. Then, the morning of the session, I drove to the office and sat in my truck, in the parking lot. I wasn’t ready. I didn’t want to have to share so much personal information to a complete stranger. I feared judgment.
But it was too late to cancel. If I didn’t go, I’d lose $200 and have nothing to show for it.
After 10 minutes of squabbling with myself, I walked into the appointment late. The therapist didn’t question that, though. Instead, she spent an extra 10 minutes past our appointment time to finish up our initial conversation.
We spent the first session just getting to know each other, and she asked me some standard questions to help get a feel for where my mental health currently sat. Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t great. She gave me a bunch of suicide awareness materials when I left and booked me in for her next earliest appointment so that we could get to work right away.
I cried the entire ride to my office that morning — but the tears were those of relief. Finally, someone knew exactly how I was feeling, and they weren’t critical of my mind. Instead, the therapist was going to be able to provide me with tools that could better my mental health.
What are the pros of therapy?
After our second session, my therapist recommended eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). EMDR is a type of psychotherapy that is most commonly used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The client would recall past moments of anxiety or distress, and the therapist would direct them using sensory input such as eye movements or tapping. In other words, I would close my eyes and walk myself through each memory, listening to sounds that were bilateral, and any time I could feel a reaction, my therapist would stop me, and we would discuss the reasoning behind my emotions that lead to that anxious feeling. From there, we would continue to work through that one memory. It was rough, but within four sessions of me closing my eyes and replaying the worst memories in my life, I was able to think about those memories without tensing up or feeling anxious.
Therapy is great for a variety of reasons, and this style of treatment was one of those reasons for me: a new perspective. Additionally, I’d consider the following factors pros in seeking therapy:
- Unbiased and judgment-free conversation
- Finally understanding why you feel the way that you do
- New tactics to manage your mental health struggles
- Learning how to communicate what you need from loved ones
- The ability to express your feelings without feeling like a burden
What are the cons of therapy?
After building a relationship with my therapist, and making significant progress in eliminating my most considerable anxieties, our last appointment came to a head unexpectedly. With little notice, my therapist found out that she would be leaving the country for personal reasons. She told me this at the beginning of what would be our very last session, and the waves of emotion didn’t stop for the next hour. Was I ready to be done? That, I wasn’t sure of. But I also didn’t get much of a choice.
She offered to find me another therapist that she highly recommended, but I wasn’t interested in rehashing all of my memories to another person just to have them leave, too. That’s when I realized that just like any other profession, I am a part of her job. She does not owe me anything, and this is a huge con when it comes to therapy. However, up until this point, the interaction had been great. I decided not to seek additional therapy, as I felt I had acquired enough tactics to manage my anxiety and work through my journey on my own.
Aside from this, I’d consider the following factors cons in seeking therapy:
- The unaffordability
- Feeling vulnerable and uncomfortable
- Feeling like you aren’t making progress or are moving backward
- Having to relearn how to think
- Having tough conversations and then continuing on with your life once you leave
The final verdict: is therapy worth the investment?
For me, therapy was the single greatest investment I’ve ever made in my life. Not only am I currently living my life without depression, but I now have a ton of personalized tools in my tool belt to manage my daily anxieties.
The pros and cons speak for themselves, but the most critical pro that I forgot to mention was this: Therapy saved my life.
Therapy may be one of the most unaffordable ways to tackle your mental health, but for me, it was the perfect way for me to confront my personal battles with a judgment-free support system.
If you like numbers as much as I do, the cost-benefit analysis is pretty obvious in that I value my life and my mind much more than $200. In total, my health insurance covered four sessions, which totaled $800, and I paid an additional $1,200 for six sessions of therapy. So, sure, you may have to spend $800-1000 a month, for many many months. However, I think we’d all agree that we’d pay anything — including $2,000 — to be healthy, but mostly because we have to.
The financial accessibility for mental healthcare can be an impossible cost for many people. It’s important that we have a variety of options to take care of ourselves and our loved ones. Here is a collective Google doc of affordable therapy options by location. If you are unable to find affordable counseling or therapy sessions, there are other companies, such as betterhelp or talkspace, which charge a monthly or weekly membership rather than a sessional fee.
It’s not easy to reach out to someone you know when speaking about mental health. That’s why it’s essential to be aware of your options. If you are in search of support, visit mentalhealth.gov to learn more about your local options, or call these numbers:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
SAMHSA Treatment Referral Helpline: 1-877-726-4727
Laura prefers to write under a pen name.
Image via Unsplash