Why I Finally Decided To Start Talk Therapy At Age 50
The heaviness in my face had been gradually growing. I knew it was there, that something didn’t feel right, but I didn’t stop to question what it was or how it started. My body ached too. If disappointments were stones, heartbreaks were rocks, and trauma boulders, that would explain the feeling my whole body carried every day. I had to find a way to put them down, or smash them up and scatter the pieces.
“If disappointments were stones, heartbreaks were rocks, and trauma boulders, that would explain the feeling my whole body carried every day.”
I’d put my life on hold out of fear. I wasn’t working on my goals and was hiding behind the issues I needed to work on. My husband talking about retiring made me realize I’m running out of time to do the things I want to do in this life. I had to find a way to push past the barriers that were keeping me from being my real self.
I’ve been following several therapists on social media for a while, hoping their little tidbits of advice would be enough to make me feel better. When one that I really like posted that she’d opened her own practice, I sent her an inquiry. Typing the words, asking for help, wasn’t easy, but just that one tiny step already made me feel lighter. She mentioned insurance, but she’s not in my network, and her private pay rates are out of my budget. Still, it set the wheels in motion. Before taking that step, I had no idea that health insurance would cover talk therapy. It turns out…mine does.
A few minutes of searching on my insurance website and I had a list of local therapists. I worked my way through the list, crossing off ones that seemed to contradict my core beliefs and circling the ones that might be a good fit for me. I found one to try.
I completed the intake paperwork and scheduled an appointment. But things didn’t go as planned. The overcrowded parking lot made me anxious. Nobody greeted me when I walked in, and not knowing what to do made my anxiety worse. I stood in the lobby for 10 minutes past my appointment time waiting for someone to acknowledge me, not seeing it as a good sign that several other people were sitting in the lobby waiting for their therapist, who all appeared to be running late. The office manager came out to tell me they’d written my appointment on the wrong day and wanted to know if I could come back tomorrow. I told him I couldn’t and that I wouldn’t be back. That wasn’t the place for me.
Discouraged but not giving up, I went back to the list, found another therapist, and sent an inquiry. She answered quickly, asking a few questions about why I wanted to start therapy. She seemed to genuinely care and want to help. I booked an appointment with her and started to create a list of things I wanted and needed to work on (codependency with my kids, grieving the deaths of my parents, my OCD, self-sabotage, etc.).
“My first appointment was a mix of nerves, fear, and relief.”
My first appointment was a mix of nerves, fear, and relief. I texted her when I arrived (per her instructions) and waited in my truck for her to come out and get me. Right on time, she came to the door and waved me in with a caring smile on her face, like I was a kid being called in from recess. She introduced herself and walked me to her office, a simple space with a chair for her and a loveseat for me, decorated with just the right amount of bright artwork that was neither stark and sanitary, nor cluttered and distracting.
The fifty-minute session flew by. On my list of over a dozen things to work on, we discussed three. She listened and nodded. I felt like she was really invested in helping me. She has tattoos. Me too. She cusses a little. Me too. She’s fed up with how women’s problems are dismissed, and we’re labeled as “difficult” or “crazy.” ME TOO!
“Therapy is a marathon, not a sprint. That in itself is a lesson for me.”
She reminded me at the end of the session that therapy is a marathon, not a sprint. That in itself is a lesson for me. I’m not great at being patient and once I identify a problem, I want it solved now!
She also gave me homework: Learn the difference between self-care and self-soothing.
Self-soothing is doing the things that make you feel temporarily better (or numbed) and runs the risk of making you feel even worse afterward. Self-care is doing the things that are actually good for you.
Self-soothing for me is texting my husband at three in the afternoon, asking if he wants to go out for dinner. Self-care is making a meal together and eating at the table instead of while watching TV.
Self-soothing is scrolling through my phone when I wake up and losing track of time. Self-care is setting my alarm ten minutes earlier and not picking up my phone except to turn off the alarm, so I can be at work on time.
Self-soothing is going shopping for things I don’t really want or need. Self-care is staying home and cleaning out a cabinet.
I understand why she wanted this to be my first step. It’s the base that so many other things can be built on. Plus it helps me recognize when and why I sabotage myself.
She warned me when we started that I’d be tempted to suggest therapy for other people. She was right. It goes right along with my wanting to “help” other people. I’m slowly realizing in my journey away from codependency that I can only control what I do, think, and say.
“I’ve learned I can tell people I’m going without expecting them to do the same. It’s my marathon to run.”
I’m not ashamed of going to therapy. In fact, I’m proud of myself for finally making the effort. But I’ve learned I can tell people I’m going without expecting them to do the same. It’s my marathon to run. If they want to sign up, that’s fine, but they can also just cheer me on from the sidelines.
Doing the research, finding a therapist who challenges me without contradicting who I am makes the process easier. Therapy should help you help yourself, not force you to change things that are important to you.
“Therapy should help you help yourself, not force you to change things that are important to you.”
Together we decide what my homework should be between sessions. In a month’s time, I spend two hours in therapy and almost 500 waking hours out in the world. Just ranting about my problems during my sessions doesn’t immediately help me learn how to change my thoughts and behaviors. I want to be able to navigate the world outside of therapy with the lessons I learn in my sessions. Homework helps me do that. I’ve learned that a good therapist wants me to work on my issues continuously.
I understand therapy isn’t for everyone. Some people will never feel comfortable talking about their lives with a stranger. Others think they can solve everything on their own. I was one of those people. I believed in therapy for other people but thought I was able to handle everything without help and “fix” my issues with self-help books and positive affirmations. Those things can help but they were never going to help me get to the real solutions.
If I had a broken bone that didn’t heal correctly and a doctor told me they needed to rebreak the bone for it to really heal (and stop the pain), I would do it. It was the same for me mentally. Yes, working on my thoughts, behaviors, and feelings is difficult and uncomfortable, but it will be worth it to be really healed and finally able to toss the disappointment stones, smash up the metaphorical rocks of heartbreak, and set down the boulders of trauma.
I didn’t really realize how heavy and sad I felt until I started feeling lighter and calmer. I know it will take time to work through everything. I might be in therapy for years and that’s okay. I’m willing to make the investment of time, money, and energy to start feeling like my real self again.
Regina McKay is the wife of a firefighter, mother of five adult children, and passionate advocate of all things vintage, especially her pink bathtub. She works as an accountant but plans on using her experiences with mental health treatment to transition into a career in Criminal Justice/Mental Health reform. After hitting her rock bottom, she learned for her happiness didn’t come in a pill bottle. She now strives for contentment and appreciates moments of joy when they come.