The Biggest Lesson Therapy Has Taught Me About My Anxiety

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I’ve been in and out of therapy since college. And each time I’ve gone to therapy, I’ve learned something new about myself. Finding the right therapist is a challenge, but every therapist I’ve seen has taught me something about myself. We always think we know ourselves, but when an objective person — like a therapist — is speaking to you and asking you thoughtful questions, you start to realize some truths about yourself you never understood before.

I’ve learned a lot about myself in therapy, but one of the biggest things I learned was that I fear disappointment.

Though I’ve worked on it over the years, I lean toward pessimism over optimism. I think it’s better to expect the worst than to get my hopes up, only to end up disappointed. I don’t know if I was born a pessimist or if it’s something just inherent in human nature, but I used to think it was just something I did unconsciously. But now I’ve uncovered why I think negatively: I think it protects me from disappointment and all the negative feelings that come with it.

My life is full of what-ifs on the worst-case scenario end. Rather than anticipate that something wonderful could happen to me, I ruminate about all the things that could go wrong instead. I think about all the things that will shatter and disappoint me, and I wonder why I even bothered getting my hopes up when there’s a high chance that my hopes will be crushed in the end.

We often say that pessimism is realistic, and optimism is idealistic. We say that most people will go through bad times. We say that you will often not get what you want because life doesn’t answer your every wish. We say that you’ll experience disappointment at some point in your life. All these things are true, and I’m not disputing them.

I am, however, questioning the black-and-white dogmatic thinking that pessimism entails. Is it so unrealistic to believe that something good could happen in my life? And when good things do happen to me, why do I filter them out and focus on the bad instead?

If I got a good grade in school, I’d say that I didn’t do as well as another classmate. If I got my writing published, I’d say that it was published in a small publication that needed writers, so that’s the only reason I got accepted. If I accomplished a goal at work and got compliments for it, I would say that it wasn’t hard and put it behind me.

Whenever something positive happens in my life, I always find a way to ignore it.

Whenever something negative happens in my life, I always find a way to obsess over it.

But this is faulty thinking. I am actively ignoring the positive things that have happened in my life and only seeing the negative things that occurred. I’m painting half a picture of my life, not the full picture. I’m blatantly ignoring facts to match my worldview, one that’s negative but keeps me safe from the strong emotions that come with experiencing negativity. I’m lying to myself, shrouded in imposter syndrome and cynicism, only choosing to see what I want to see based on my core beliefs.

This is not accurate. Even if I objectively think my life sucks, the facts are there to counter it whether I ignore them or not. I did well in college and am incredibly proud of all the hard work I did. I enjoy the writing I’ve published and the places where I published them — who cares how new or big they are? I have been proud of myself for meeting my goals at work, and any compliments I receive are just icing on top. All these things are true, and I can’t change that.

I never would have learned this about myself had I not been in therapy. Therapy has taught me a lot about myself. It’s shined a light on who I am and who I want to be. I’ve had so many eureka moments that explain why I feel or behave a certain way. I doubt I would have gotten there if I was just conversing with myself. I had to have an outsider, an objective person, help me see this, and they didn’t even demand it — they simply asked questions that made me think. That alone put many things in context.

I think everyone has that moment in therapy, the moment where things start to click and you understand yourself better. As they say, admitting you have a problem is the first step to handling the problem. For me, exploring who I am from an objective perspective opened my eyes. It makes me work toward living the life I truly want to live.

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Fairley Lloyd is a bisexual writer and editor passionate about mental health education and accessibility. She earned her BFA in creative writing from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Her work appears in The Mighty, Thought Catalog, Spoonie Magazine, and elsewhere. You can find her sporadically on Twitter (@fairleylloyd) and Instagram (@fairleywords).

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