• Tola Coker

My Year (and a bit) In Therapy– What I Learnt and How I Got There

Updated: Nov 16, 2020

I figured, instead of laughing at therapy memes and posting them on my Instagram story, it'd be more beneficial to talk about my experience with therapy instead.

To be entirely honest, it took me a while to build up the courage in the first place. I've always been more of the 'suffer in silence' and 'I've made it this far' kind of gal. So that, in addition to my annoyingly stubborn nature and unwillingness to ask for help; I was honestly setting myself up.

Even after a tearful conversation with a close friend, it still took me forever to see a counsellor at uni...though that wasn't much help. It wasn't till that summer at a friends degree show where she was talking about her own experience with therapy and how much it helped her. So I thought, why not give it another go.

I spent the following weeks or so doing some therapist window-shopping and eventually found someone that could be a good fit and was close to travel to. The next thing to do was to make the phone call – such a small task that I put off for several days, but I did it, and soon after I was having my first therapy session.

And then the next hurdle to get over...telling my Nigerian parents. Initially, I wasn't going to say anything, but who would that be serving? So I told them, they were confused but still understanding. Though I will say that my mum had a hard time processing why I didn't want to talk to her instead. But how do you speak to someone about your problems when they're in fact part of the reason you're going to therapy in the first place?

Which brings me to the why.

I don't want to say that I 'suffer' from anxiety, but it has been chilling with me for the last 5/6 years, give or take. I try not to keep track. I should also mention that I don't have the best relationship with my sister.

     Having a sister 16 months younger than you, you've also been sharing a room your entire lives and who has alleged anger issues, there's bound to be drama. And why not add being the eldest daughter in an immigrants household.

So along with my already existing anxiety, almost every interaction I had with my sister was a bitter one. Mainly caused by a lack of respect for someone's belongings (mainly mine) or personal space (again, mine) or just the general disregard for one's boundaries. It got to the point where I didn't want to come home from uni because as soon as I stepped into the house, commence the shouting. I was happier at uni than I was at home, and I felt guilty.

People say that it's easier to talk to someone you don't know and that's true. There's no bias, no judgement, just someone sitting there saying "That must be hard".

It is awkward for the first few weeks, I'm not much of a sharer, and I didn't really know where to start. Sometimes she would ask how my week was or ask about something I mentioned in a previous session to help get the ball rolling. 

I wasn't always trying to filter through memories half-forgotten over the past 10 years. Sometimes I would talk about things that worried me about the future, stuff that happened in secondary school. Or even the absurd belief that I'm not as smart as people think I am and have been running on luck this entire time – the fun stuff. 

Talking about your family – to a stranger nonetheless is hard; because for me anyway, it felt like a betrayal on my part. But family isn't perfect and coming to the realisation that your parents are just as flawed as you are, is a bitter pill to swallow. 

You learn that a lot of the things that you do as an adult are mechanisms formed as a child as a form of survival. And now you're a 21-year-old woman, trying to deal with the implications of a less-than-perfect, emotionally restrictive household. Which is complicated, because deep down, you know they did their best with what they had, but that can do more harm than good. 

FYI: I'm not saying my childhood was miserable or that my parents were terrible. What I am saying is that sometimes, they happened to move mad. 

Growing up in said household really moulds the way a child processes their own feelings and how they respond to others. You don't notice these things till they're set in stone. And what you have now is a highly sensitive, non-confrontational individual who puts the emotional needs of others before their own wellbeing. Then, when you factor in the financially unstable circumstances and the fact you keep moving from house to house, one also unknowingly develops control issues.

The funny thing is, when you're coming to all these grand realisations, it isn't always on the couch in your therapist's office. Sometimes you'll be doing something irrelevant, like waiting for your jollof rice to cook.

As someone who struggles to verbalise their feelings (of which I have since unpacked), therapy was a space that allowed me to work on these things at my own pace. Learning how to communicate my feelings and validate them.

If these things aren't addressed, you end up carrying these things around with you through life thinking "This is just how I am," well it isn't. Your lack of emotional intelligence isn't a personality trait. Pattern up!

But anyway...

I should add that once you start connecting the dots in your own life, you try to do it to others and I am telling you now that it is not your job to figure out why people move mad. Analyse the behaviours of others, not to fix them but to figure out how you want to respond and how to not let peoples projection affects you.

Before I wrap this up, I should also add that it was important to me that my therapist be a Black woman. I believe that Black people need other Black people to talk to – especially Black women, as there is already an understanding there. I needed to feel comfortable talking about the intersections of Black womanhood. Being black in the workplace, how I'm perceived in society, the whole 9 yards.

I learnt a lot about myself over the past 13 months. Like how to create and assert my boundaries, effectively communicating my feelings about certain things. Or unearthing the reason as to why I do or don't do certain things. I've been given the tools to unpack and unlearn unhealthy behaviours and patterns. Now I just have to use them effectively. It's also helped me become more understanding of other peoples behaviours.

However, not everyone has the privilege or luxury to afford therapy, I wish it was something the everyone has access to.

I've finished therapy, for now, so we'll see how I do without it. Baby steps.

I know I said like two seconds ago that being able to afford therapy is a privilege, but I am begging you – seek help before you have kids :)

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