One could say that psychotherapy is a long succession of “letting something go”: first, you relinquish the conviction that you’ll manage to get better on your own, then the fear of meeting your therapist. You shed beliefs, behavioural patterns and emotions, leave behind old life goals and finally, in the very end, you also let go the therapist.
Not holding on to depression is harder than one might think, at least for people with chronic depression: you have lived with it for so long – in my case, close to 20 years – that it’s all you know. And even though you want nothing more than finally getting rid of it, the process of doing so is scary because depression is all you are familiar with.
Over the course of the last eight months, I had days when I was tired of fighting, and others when I was afraid of taking the plunge. There is something reassuring about succumbing to what you know, even if it hurts, because it’s so deeply rooted in your life that behaving differently feels downright unnatural.
The day I had the psychological examination about six weeks ago and the psychologist told me that the depression was gone except for a few residual symptoms, I was really happy to hear that, but a part of me was also frightened afterwards: did it mean that I had to fight for myself now, all alone? Shouldn’t being largely symptom-free mean having more courage in everyday life?
The truth is, I struggle every day still. Usually with small stuff, occasionally with literally life-altering decisions. Sometimes the small obstacles are just as hard to overcome as the seemingly bigger ones. I’m still afraid of a lot of situations and people and decisions; the difference is that now I will make myself try instead of giving up without a fight. Each of those attempts, however, makes me abandon the depression a little further, because it makes no sense to hold on to something painful when you finally bring up the courage to try an unfamiliar approach which will eliminate the pain.
Letting go of my therapist is a step I am not ready for yet (not even remotely), but that I have been thinking about increasingly over the last weeks. I am in the second half of the therapy programme now, with more sessions behind than before me, and even though it will be almost a year still before I’m done with it for good, there is an awareness that this process is a finite one and some day I will have to say goodbye to my therapist.
Before I started having sessions, I had to fill out a form for my patient file, asking me what I expected as a therapy goal. I had not actually thought about it; I just wanted “it” to stop: the low moods, the physical pain, the paralyzing anxiety. After a moment’s contemplation, I wrote something about wanting to learn how one leads a more independent, self-governed life – and soon forgot about it until months later, my therapist mentioned it in a session.
Right now, therapy acts like a security net that will catch me if I fall, which is incredibly important because it gives me the courage to try strategy and behaviour changes. Without this security net, I’d not dare doing so as I would be too afraid of failing.
Rationally, I am aware that if I truly want to reach my therapy goal, I will have to move on from this relationship eventually. The sessions will end no matter what I do, but how successful I will eventually be depends on how well I can solve my own problems alone. Right now, I still rely on the therapy sessions for this: no matter how bad a situation is, I know there is a place where I can take it and figure out how to handle it.
In the beginning, I couldn’t envision getting anywhere. I hoped I would, but lacked the ability to imagine what that would be like. Now, I cannot really recall what it was like to be severely depressed and endure all of this for so long. According to my therapist, during recovery you lose the ability to truly relate, just as a depressed person cannot picture what it’s like to be symptom-free.
Perhaps the dependence on my “safety net” will slowly fall away over the course of the next months, just as the symptoms vanished bit by bit. I’m practicing every day, so that in the end, I will not need the sessions anymore, and there’s good reason to believe that I am going to reach my self-defined goal.