I Was in Therapy for a Year During the Pandemic – Here’s Some of What I Learned

It was a fairly easy decision to start therapy. At the time I was still working for Starbucks, and the pandemic had just started. Business were starting to close and the news reports of Asian hate crimes began to sky rocket. While most of my peers groaned over the thought of having nothing to do, I treasured my quiet moments at home where I didn’t really have to think of much.

The problem lies in that all the time kind of forced me to think. About everything.

If you’re unfamiliar with Lyra, please look into it especially if you’re a Starbucks employee. Starbucks employees who work at least 20 hours a week are allotted 20 free sessions every year. With the rise of telehealth, I was able to meet with my therapist once every other week.

On day one, I remember casually touching on everything – and I do mean everything. From being a small child, the only Asian in my class until I moved, to getting home from school on 9/11, to the day my abusive relationship ended, to that very moment when a woman in the drive-thru looked at me like I was, in fact, diseased. It wasn’t until that first hour long conversation where I saw her scribbling in her notebook that I really did not have the smooth-sailing life I thought I did. There were definitely things to unpack, and while I don’t think I’ve changed that much, I actually did.

  • Anxiety and panic is the absence of logic. Logic can bring you back – if you try hard enough.

Somewhere, someone must have told me this, but when my therapist explained it, I absorbed it differently. When we have anxiety attacks, it’s the lost of “communication” between the part of our brain that feels and the part that thinks. When you feel anxiety, logic cannot reach your emotions, and you’re running purely off feelings like fear, insecurity, and sadness.

This is not a skill learned in a day, but when those moments come, take a few deep breaths and simply think. Why do I feel so sad? What am I scared of? What do I realistically think will happen?

The process honestly sounds very guided, and I didn’t think it would work as well as it did. After I learned this, I began to share it with my friends who would later tell me that this method helped them out of anxiety-ridden situations that they’d always had.

  • Sometimes it really isn’t you – it’s just your taste in people.

It’s not unheard of. When it comes to losing friends or losing relationships, there’s always the concept of “Maybe it’s me, not them.”

Plot twist – sometimes it really isn’t you.

Here, we introduce logic again. I’ve lost maybe four major friend groups in my life. The first I lost when I was in fifth grade, and both girls had manipulated their way until I was crying over losing two friends. Had I been old enough to factor in that both were speaking terribly of each other for months before teaming up and blaming me, I might’ve felt a little less sore.

Every time I’d lost a friend, that same “Maybe it’s me” thought would pop into my head. Days down the line, I’d think more thoroughly at the reasons and the people themselves and realize that it wasn’t. I just allowed myself to befriend shallow people who were looking for a reason not to be friends.

And that’s okay. It made room for better ones.

  • It’s okay if you can’t keep thinking about it.

In May, I went through what I lovingly call a “second break-up.” Without going into detail, I’d gotten my heart broken for what seems like the third time now by the same person except this time, the feeling was so much worse. My usual two week recovery period wasn’t holding, and that deep sinking feeling had stretched out over a month.

I’d told my therapist everything I was doing to shake the feeling. I would come up with “coping daydreams”. I would drown in my sadness, so it would be more bearable tomorrow. It all worked, but once the dark had gone, the thoughts still lingered.

My therapist said it was okay to be sad. It was okay to think these thoughts and feel these emotions – as long as it didn’t turn into the only things I ever thought about. To indulge in some dark emotions is normal. No person is single-paned; we all feel those crazy painful emotions that turn into harmful thoughts. Just remember, it’s only normal because those aren’t the only things we feel.

  • Keep a photo of your favorite place with you just in case.

There will be days when you just need to… not be where you are. Some days it will happen more than once. My therapist suggested keeping a picture of my “happy place” with me at all times. Similar to just imagining it, having a photo that can bring up happy feelings is the best way for an in-the-moment form of guided meditation.

I asked if this had to be a place I’d been to, and she said no. Anywhere, any time, just keep it with you. I’d actually looked into purchasing a polaroid on Etsy, so I could have one of my photos in my wallet. It’s much easier to have something printed to avoid any distractions a screen might have.

  • Everyone needs therapy.

This wasn’t something I learned from my personal experience, but it was something I’d always heard. While my life was always so normal, I learned that many of the things I did to cope was in an effort to keep it normal. I didn’t want to have the constant overbearing feeling of something being wrong.

After I realized my year-long sessions were over, I had a slew of friends tell me that they were considering trying to start. While you may have friends who are able to give you good, neutral advice, your therapist is someone who does not know you, does not have any bias against or towards you, and frankly, is not someone who is looking to judge you. They give you the energy you need, but not the answers you want. You learn to stop asking “what if” because we can’t change the past, and things are the way they are simply because it just happened that way.

Now that I’m finished with this year-long journey, I look forward to applying the little things I’ve learned. YouTube channels like Cinema Therapy and Psychology in Seattle have helped tremendously during the days in between.

Remember – therapy is not a tool to fix yourself. It’s a way to understand yourself.

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