As an older millennial growing up in Singapore, I did not understand talk therapy, and thought it was only for those with serious mental health illnesses or disorders.
I had unwittingly internalised that when faced with a setback, you get on with things, and forge right on ahead. That the high levels of stress and anxiety one often feels from everyday situations (eg exams, work, family tensions) were a normal part of life. We often said that we live in a high pressure society, but honestly, it was so normalised I did not know anything else.
Even though there were times when I thought I was going to implode from stress, feeling suffocated and lost, and in need of a lifeline, I felt that I couldn’t do anything about it.
I had learnt that these feelings had to be buried deep inside, with a smile plastered on the face to be taken seriously by others.
HITTING ROCK BOTTOM
I first heard about talk therapy when I was living in Australia. A close friend casually mentioned that she was going for counselling to deal with a break up. I knew she was finding it difficult to deal with her heartbreak, but I thought that recovery just needs time. Aren’t break ups hard for everyone? What was talking about it with a stranger going to achieve?
Then a couple of years later, I personally went through a phase of burn out at work. Constant work pressure, unfair deadlines and high expectations of me resulted in a poor mental state that spilled over to every aspect of my life.
Every extra email in my inbox (no matter how innocuous) caused me to break down into tears. This wasn’t normal, but for a long time I resisted seeking any help. When I felt like the burden on my chest was too heavy and I hadn’t slept properly in days or months, I finally decided to try online counselling and speak to someone who could help.
SEEING IS BELIEVING
Only after I had gone for counselling sessions for some time, I realised how much it helped me. My counsellor was incredible. She gave me practical tips on separating work and life, helped me identify unhelpful thought patterns such as catastrophising, and listened to what I was holding within me, intently and kindly.
After introspection, I realised that so many of my traits were things I had inherited or developed as coping mechanisms. A relentless pursuit for perfection that had previously helped me grow and thrive was no longer serving me well. My counsellor helped me recognise all this and much more.
Going for counselling sessions allowed me to work through complex emotions, brought clarity to my thoughts and actions and helped me grow. It helped me in my relationships too, as I started depending less on my husband and loved ones for emotional support.
A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE
I am heartened to see many examples of characters in hit TV shows and movies going for counselling and psychotherapy, be it Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Sex Education, Dead to Me (group therapy counts!) or Never Have I Ever. It helps normalise talk therapy to an extent, as it should be. I hope for more education around this in time to come.
I am convinced now that counselling is for everyone, no matter where you are in life.
You don’t have to wait till things get worse before they get better again. You can start taking action now, and do the mental work that is required for you to cope better with situations.
Seeking counselling doesn’t mean you are weak or that your situation is hopeless. To me, it is one of the tools you can use for personal development – it means you are always seeking to be better today than you were yesterday.