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I had heard many a times that people who went to therapy were crazy. Was I crazy?

At the age of 18, I experienced anxiety for the first time. It was my first year of college, I was entrusted with the task of introducing the chief guest of an event. As someone who participated in performances on stage from a fairly young age, this seemed like a simple task. However, the task was not as I had expected it to be.

Although I was fully prepared and had rehearsed multiple times, my body froze on the stage. I was terrified because everyone was staring at me. My throat closed up and my tongue tied, it felt as if I was physically unable to utter a single word. All I wanted, was to become invisible and hide away from the audience. An understanding nod from my professor urged me to speak, and I somehow managed to stammer my way through. After this event, I was unwilling to experience that fear ever again. I avoided participating in activities altogether. The thought of being in the spotlight brought me out in a cold sweat.

Once the pandemic hit, the online class set up had the camera off, the microphone off, thus making it the easiest way to not be seen. It was a year later that I realized how badly it affected me and my mental health. There was a major shift in my personality. I became reluctant to talk to people unless it was necessary. My chest felt like it was being sucked in all the time, and I had trouble breathing properly. My attention span also decreased drastically. The sleep schedule was a mess as well. I walked around feeling worthless and stuck. The only time I did not feel these negative feelings was when I was binge watching Netflix or scrolling through social media. So, that became my coping mechanism, and I wasted several hours in a day doing so. Moreover, once I came back to reality, the ghost of guilt and regret haunted my mind.

At such shift in my life, I was able to reconnect with an old friend through social media. It was going to be left as an unread message in my DMs if she hadn’t asked that one question, “How are you doing?” It was just a common conversation starter, but for me it had been so long since someone asked me that. I had so much bottled up inside of me that I forgot the feeling of expressing myself. But with my insecurities breaking through, I couldn’t share everything with her. I was afraid, I’ll be burdening her with my problems. Considering my condition, she suggested that if I’m having trouble facing my issues I should try therapy, but I denied it straightaway.

For the longest time, I associated the term “mental” with dangerous and violent people, scary, dimly lit cells, and strict wardens. I had heard many times that people who go to therapy are crazy. Was I crazy? For a long time, I hesitated talking to my parents about my issues because I didn’t want them to worry. Also, because I felt ashamed of not being able to get over something that everyone goes through. The exaggerated negative reactions and ridiculing of mental health issues portrayed by the media and entertainment industry didn’t help me either. But when I started having constant thoughts about not having a purpose or anything to hold onto and feeling like a failure, I gathered the courage to talk to my parents. Initially, they said that “it’s just a phase” and they have also gone through this. But the more I spoke about it, the more they realized how serious it was. Finally, they decided to take me to a counsellor. But I was extremely nervous about going to therapy. I could not even tell my friends what I was going through in fear of being judged. So, the idea of talking to a complete stranger about everything that is wrong with me made me resistant.

However, when I started therapy, my experience was completely different. The counsellor made me feel very comfortable and safe. I did not feel judged, and my counsellor spoke to me like a normal person, not as a victim. Once I got comfortable with the notion of therapy, I started opening up and talking more about myself. I also realized how distorted the representation of mental health issues is in the news media and entertainment industry.

Therapy helped me realize and value aspects of myself that I took for granted. It helped me understand the reasons behind my anxiety and how to work upon them. My counsellor did a number of activities with me and made me practice some relaxation techniques that helped alleviate my anxiety. I also started working on different areas of my life. Finally, I was able to go back to performing with my friends, and it made me feel so liberated. I realized that therapy is a process, and even though it takes time, it makes you shift your perspective and urges you to get better every single day, one step at a time.

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