What it feels like to go to therapy the FIRST time

I’ll never forget the first time I saw a therapist. 

I was 18 years old, and I went to see the campus counselor at my small, liberal arts college. She was kind of a legend on our small campus.

I remember whispering among friends:

“Hey…have you ever been to see Linda?” “Yeah, she’s cool,” or, “No, but I heard she’s cool,” is what most kids I knew said. 

You could overhear sobbing friends retelling stories of their heartbreaks. And at some point during their stories, many of them mentioned visiting Linda. People liked Linda. Kids went to her when they were suffering.  (In college, many students hadn’t learned to pretend yet that everything is okay, like we adults do.)  And I think it’s probably because she was good at what she did. 

I, too, experienced Linda. And thank GOD she made my first therapy experience a positive one, because if it hadn’t been, I may have never gone back, and would have never known the value and importance of therapy today. 

I went to see Linda because of a break up. My freshman year of college, my boyfriend studied abroad for a semester. While away, he wrote me a letter. In that letter, I remember him apologizing and saying he was breaking up with me. He stated, “I’m sure you want a reason, but I really don’t have one.” And then he signed it, “Carpe diem.”

Despite my nerdiness, My nineteen year old self hadn’t actually heard of the phrase, “Carpe diem.” Google didn’t exist then, so I asked my roommate. 

“Carpe diem is like… ‘Sieze the day,’ or something like that, she said.”

“SIEZE THE DAY!!??” I sobbed through screams. 

I had no interest in seizing the day. What I had interest in was curling up in a ball and crying. 

I became so anxious that I sometimes vomited. Back in those days, my body had not learned how to hide the suffering and internal agony. So it just took on my emotions. It would not let me stuff them down. 

I got better. And then I got worse again. People were frustrated with me. He was a just a boy. There were so many other boys in this world. Why couldn’t my teenage self just get over him?

And the answer to this was partially because I COULDN’T GET AWAY FROM HIM. I would be in the process of getting over him, and then his unsure, young, teenage mind would tell him to bait me again. 

(As a sidenote, this boy was NOT a douchebag. He was just nineteen years old and trying to figure out life. There is a difference between that a thirty five year old man with the same behavior.)

So, what my boyfriend did, was that he gave me mixed messages. Like, he broke up with me in that letter and kind of said that he was done with me and that there would be no friendship, but then the very night he arrived back on campus from his semester abroad, HE CAME TO MY DORM ROOM TO SAY HI. I had been getting over him, but after I saw him that night, I went to the bathroom and vomited. 

Things like this kept happening for the next couple of months. I was having a hard time eating because my stomach was in constant knots. 

I finally went to see Linda. 

As I sat down and sobbed in her office, her eyes were empathetic. 

She handed me a paper with the stages of grieving and explained to me that I was bouncing back and forth between stages. 

“And every time he gives you a mixed message–like shows up to your dorm room to say ‘hi,’ after telling you he wants complete space from you, or says he ‘misses you but doesn’t want to actually date you,’ think of those as triggers,” she explained. 

I asked for more of an explanation. 

“Think about yourself as a pinball in a pinball machine. You’re shot out, you’re spinning around, moving forward in the maze, even though it’s hard, and then he shows up and says or does something confusing, and you feel awful, and it’s like you’ve been shot out again, just as you were finding your way back home.”

I told her I was fearful because I couldn’t eat and would even vomit after seeing him sometimes. 

“You’re vomiting because your body can’t handle seeing him. It seems you’ve been stuffing those negative emotions down and trying to be nice when you see him. But your body can’t handle the stuffing of the emotions or lie to the mind. So you vomit, and then you may feel better, for just a moment, because you feel like you’ve purged those emotions.”

A lightbulb went on. I FINALLY CONNECTED THE DOTS BETWEEN VOMITING AND STUFFING MY EMOTIONS. Stuffing my emotions had caused me to literally waste away. Just making that simple connection helped me to understand how my body and emotions worked. 

I never vomited over that boy again after stepping out of the office. When I felt overwhelmed and my body felt like it couldn’t handle the emotions, I went to the chapel and prayed and cried. And I AM NOT A RELIGIOUS PERSON, FOLKS. There was just something about being in this quiet prayer room-a room where many people before have sought answers and healing while kneeling before God–and where I, now also stood in solitude, looking for healing. It was like I was learning to stand alone and deal with the bullshit truth and cry. 

The biggest struggle in life I’ve ever faced  is the struggle to be myself. That struggle is real, and it’s something I face every single morning, and every new day. 

And when I say, “be myself,” I mean be the person who God has intended me to be. 

Maybe you, too, struggle with that. Maybe, you, too, look in the mirror and desire to have everything in your life reflect who you are. Without shame and without stuffing. 

I have learned, over the years, that this is never easy but it is always worth it. I struggle, y’all. There are things I have yet to share with all of your beautiful souls because I’m not even ready to talk about them yet. But I am processing and not stuffing those things anymore. I cry. I pray. And I tell myself, “Emily, you were born to do this. You were born to be courageous,” and then I try to just do the next thing-even when it’s laundry. 

Carpe diem! Now go forth and be WHO you are. ❤️

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