I've been in therapy (off and on) for nearly three decades. Depression and anxiety run in the family, so my grandmother — the woman I spent most of my time with — proactively put me on the path to mental wellness. I understood the role therapy would play in my life, and how it might be harder for me to cope with basic life things thanks to omnipresent roadblocks. When I'm actively involved, it doesn't always feel like I'm making progress, but there are definitive ways going to therapy has benefited my toddler, whether I realized it at the time or not.
The last round of intensive therapy sessions, I had a near 3 and 8 year old. I worked part-time at a running store, was a full-time writer, I was training for a marathon, and my marriage had experienced some bumps (as it had often over the years). I was severely stressed out, and knew it, but continued pushing through the barriers. It's what I've always done, however ineffective. I'm the type of person who thrives on being busy, even to my detriment, so while I didn't realize the damage I was causing my emotional state, it soon became clear I'd have to dive back into therapy (and soon).
In the summer of 2014, I had an actual breakdown and, honestly, the therapeutic journey this time around was different than all the others. I wasn't preventing a slip, I was inside of it. With a small support system in place, I made great progress through Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), group therapy, and a slew of techniques I practiced. One therapist at the time (I had several) even offered me a worry stone to rub instead of my bare knuckles (something I'd been doing as an obsessive compulsive disorder tic). It seemed like that time, more than others, I was on the right path to feeling alright and on the path to becoming the person my grandmother always believed me to be.
Then, just as I felt on top of the world with my mental health, my grandmother died. I'd like to say therapy helped me through that grieving period but, at the time, it didn't. Seemingly all I'd learned disappeared into a well of sadness, and I wondered if I'd ever find it again. It took some time after she passed, but with my kids looking to me with these big, doe eyes full of hope, I remember all the lessons I learned through those different therapists, channeling them when dealing with my kids and particularly my toddler. Here are some of the ways therapy is essential to parenting, and really, in being alive.
I'm More Patient
Going to therapy taught me a lot about myself, particularly how impatient I am with myself. In learning different ways to stop, take a breath (or 10), I'm not only doing my toddler a solid so that he gets the best version of me in the heat of the moment, but it helps in the way I view myself. I can't say I'm a completely different person now, but I am learning how to be just a little more patient and that says a hell of a lot.
I Listen When My Kid Talks
Listening, and actually hearing someone, is something some of us have to work at. I've always likened myself to a good listener, and then I realized my kids have been trying to tell me things for awhile and I'd only get pieces of it.
Going to therapy showed me how to really hear what people are saying. My toddler has, in turn, becomes a great communicator and listener himself, because I've treated him with the same respect first. Now, we all feel understood and that's a beautiful thing.
I Can Share Techniques
I've learned a lot through various therapy sessions, and they don't only help me. I've taught my toddler how to breathe deeply when frantic over a toy, taught my older daughter how to ground herself when she's hysterical, and taught my partner how to visualize when he's stressed.
I'm More Confident In My Decisions
Confidence has always been a struggle of mine but, through therapy, I've gained much of what I do have. The ability to understand and learn about my behavior, and how to deal with it in a positive, beneficial way, transfers into my daily life.
My Empathy Muscle Is Stronger
When talking through different things, my therapist helped me see things from other perspectives, bringing other ways of thinking to light. Without even realizing how much more empathetic it made me, I'd often return home to deal with a sibling squabble in a new way. I hope to teach my children, through my actions, how to be more empathetic and therapy has definitely helped me achieve that.
I Can Be At Peace At Home
The best part of therapy is that I can vent for an hour, get everything off my chest, and return home like a new woman. Those long days it's just me and my toddler? This cleansing is supremely beneficial to the both of us because I can just focus on being mom without any baggage or other stressors.
I'm Able To Be Fully Present
One of the hardest things to do as a mother, sometimes and especially during the very busy or tough days, is to be fully present. When I'm home all day, those little moments are taken for granted and, when I'm gone, I'm sometimes too exhausted to really be there once I return. Some things I've learned in therapy have helped me better focus on staying in the moment. Honestly, with how quickly childhood fades, this is the best lesson anyone could teach me.