I grew up in a home where I was encouraged to discuss my problems to work through them. However, if I didn’t come to an immediate solution or if I stayed upset, it was frowned upon. In my parent’s eyes, everything had an easy solution. Perhaps you can relate.
I learned from a young age that saying “I am fine” was the past of least resistance to creating peace — not peace within myself, but peace within the home. I don’t harbor any ill feelings toward my parents over this. I appreciate it in some ways because they remind me to take a step back and see things from a new lens, and that can be immensely helpful at times. However, in my younger years, this approach wasn’t always so fantastic.
Cue hitting a rough patch in life: my parents were sympathetic and there for me, but it was the same message — things will be fine, so buck up!
At fourteen-years-old, I experienced my first encounter with depression and anxiety on a debilitating level. I remember hearing things like: “It’s not that bad” or “It is in the past, so it’s time to let it go…” And I listened and believed this. I remember that when my mother mentioned therapy to me at the behest of my guidance counselor at school. I told her I would be fine — that therapy wasn’t necessary. And we never spoke of it again.
When I hit another one of these rough patches as an adult (specifically when my journey with infertility started), I finally decided it was time to explore therapy and medication if necessary. After some research, I found a therapist specializing in what I was experiencing, and what a relief it was to unload some negative thinking patterns — to sit in these feelings with some guidance.
This weekly appointment became my lighthouse in rough seas. I appreciated every moment in this safe, albeit expensive, place. I thought: Ok, this is it. I have found the answers to all of my problems. I will keep doing therapy and everything will be fine.
Over time, therapy about infertility turned into unpacking events from childhood, which opened a Pandora’s box for me, if you will.
At this time, my therapist suggested medication which meant seeing the psychiatrist. Starting medication took a massive weight off my shoulders and took the edge off my deeply negative feelings — I finally felt that I was able to think clearly. Then my husband and I started couples therapy.
So here I went from one therapy session a week to sometimes three! It was getting out of control (and expensive).
All this to say — I experienced what I can only describe as therapy burnout. I was sick and tired of talking about feelings.
Can You Ever Talk Too Much About Feelings?
When I first started to see a therapist, I would’ve said “No way.” But yes, I think there is such a thing as overthinking your problems or perseverating on them too much. This is not to say these counselors/therapists/doctors are not immensely helpful…they are! But I reached a point where it became more draining to me than helpful.
I had to do something to make these appointments productive instead of draining. I started by being more forthcoming with the psychiatrist about starting to feel better and more stable with the help of medication, so we cut back on our sessions. That was an easy step. Despite cutting back on the number of sessions, I still felt as though I wanted to just back out of all therapy and fend for myself again. And there is a good reason for these feelings. According to this New York Times piece,
“…multiple studies examining college students, young womenand working adults suggest that co-rumination — or consistently focusing on and talking about negative experiences in your life — can have the opposite effect, making you more stressed and drawing out how long a problem bothers you.” —Eric Ravenscraft, NYT
So this is what I was doing…consistently focusing on the negative experiences and I was feeling the stress of this. I started to shift my focus. I pushed through and created a better schedule that didn’t make me feel burnt out, and I kept going. I started to remind myself of the potential new approaches to my problems that my therapists were sharing with me. And if I was reminded of something positive, I took it in as that — a positive experience.
After dealing with my burnout, but staying focused on feeling better, I reached an “aha” moment where all this hard work started to become very much worth it.
Therapy is cyclical — sometimes you are stuck closer to the center of the wheel, your thoughts spinning, uncontrolled. Other times you are at the end of the wheel’s spokes, slowly moving through the emotions and taking care of yourself. I have learned that there are times when I may feel therapy is very helpful, whereas other times it may just drain me. But sticking with it has created some truly positive outcomes in my adult life — ones that I don’t think I could have reached without guidance, and so, I stay on the wheel.