On Mental Health

Happiness and Therapy.

Happiness is weird. It’s not really easily defined, but it’s something everyone working on the top level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs seems to want. We have specific goals we assume will get us to “happy” but in general, if you simplified most life goals, we all just want to be “be happy.”

I’ve been thinking about this a lot every since I watched the documentary “Happy” on Netflix, which I highly recommend. I truly believe I’m happy in an overall existence kind of way. I feel like I can say this almost definitively because I’ve looked back at other times in my life with the knowledge that – at those moments – I was most definitely NOT happy.

There was middle school. Probably the most unhappy I’ve ever been and I’m not sure anyone even knew it. (Which is what makes parenting really tough, because I know how a tween can hide misery.) There was early in my pregnancy with E when I was living in this strange house with 5 other people and I was very young and very homesick and very unsure of my future. There was a window after I split with E’s Dad where some of my skeletons came back to haunt me and I was left quite friendless (for good reason, don’t pity Zoot of yesteryear) and full of guilt and shame. There was the time after my Dad died and we moved and I was feeling grief and self-hatred from not working and being overweight and unhealthy. Those four times I can definitively say: NOT HAPPY.

But that’s kinda it. The rest of the time? Seriously? Basically Happy.

I sought therapy finally in March because the unhappy moments were lasting so long and there was a general sadness that was kinda weaving it’s way into everything…and I felt like I was losing grasp on my happiness. But really? Compared to those four times in my past? Still? Generally Happy.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot because as we’re working through this “grief recovery” program in therapy, I’m aware that we’re on the back end of it so the next “phase” will kinda have to be defined. We don’t want to spend forever in the past, so I need to be thinking about what I want out of my life next. How do I want to apply these things I’ve learned to my future? I think the general thought process is, “What do we need to do to achieve happiness?”

But it feels weird because, well, I’m happy. I’ve been happy for awhile. At least relatively speaking. I think.

The problem with my anxieties is that it taints my happiness. So I’d definitely like to make sure that stays minimal and doesn’t turn me agoraphobic like it did after Dad died. Keeping the anxieties in check is definitely a key to happiness. I’d like to work through how to process some of my insecurities better so I don’t react at a level 10 to things that really only warrant a level 1 or 2. I’d like to come up with better management of anxiety and stress and sadness than with food.

These are all general goals I have that I feel like would help me maintain my happiness, but somedays I worry that I’m fooling myself. The rest of the world seems like it’s striving towards happiness and I feel like I’ve been there for awhile yet I’m the one going to therapy.

Sometimes it feels weird to be out of the Sadness fog of March and still look forward to my sessions. Should a happy person be in therapy?

This is kinda just me thinking out loud this morning. I know a lot of you encouraged me to go to therapy because of how it helped you, but did you continue to go? Because truthfully? Even dropping back to once every two weeks kinda makes me sad, I like knowing I’m going to see her every week. I like it because I walk away every week with new lessons or things to think about or apply. Is that enough of a reason to keep going? Technically I think we only have about 3 weeks left on the “Grief” part of the program but some days we get distracted and don’t move forward (which is fine, it usually means it’s because we’re going where I want to go) but in general, we need the next “plan” once this program is done. Is it okay to keep going? Just because I feel like it “helps” in this vague and general way?

10 thoughts on “Happiness and Therapy.”

  1. I’ve been through stints of therapy twice in my life, both kind of as part of planned enormous life events that came with much uncertainty (divorce and leaving active duty military mid-career). I think because of the nature of my particular issues, they were destined to be relatively short-term with defined end dates, but the first time I went back a few more times just sort of to check-in and make sure I was still on track processing all of the changes and emotions. Maintenance sessions, I guess I would call them, and I was super happy to have that option open to me, and was able to recognize when I needed that extra help. My husband also went through extensive grief therapy when his first wife died. Probably for a year and a half, overall. He has shared with me a lot of the lessons learned from that experience and overall said it was life-changing in a good way, and he’s very glad he did it. A few times in our relationship he’s mentioned feeling like he wanted to go back for tune-ups or to help exorcise old demons, and I always encouraged that since he knows his own feelings better than I ever could, but aside from one email exchange with the counselor he never really followed up. I think when he mentioned it out loud, it was a reminder for him to revisit some of the techniques he learned about how to assure himself that he’s in a good place and how to communicate with others around him (namely me) when he’s struggling or certain actions and phrases are associated with triggers. He really really internalized the therapy sessions and has been pretty good about applying them, I think. Our relationship and overall communications are probably stronger because of that therapy experience. I don’t think either of us ever went back to therapy for specific goals, per se, but looked at it more as an opportunity to refresh lessons learned or do a pulse-check. I think it’s definitely okay to keep going. It helps exercise our emotions and that’s never a bad thing. And sometimes you just need an objective outsider to tell you everything is going to be okay, and everything we are going through is okay. Also, p.s. you’re awesome.

  2. I think it is fine to keep going. For as long as you want/need to. I have been to therapy twice, too; once when I was separated/divorcing from my first husband and then again a few years later. Both times I kept going after the initial “goals” were met. It really helped me and I did feel happier after each session. Like you said, we were working on things that came up each time. The first time I was going, I eventually got to the point where the therapist and I felt like I was doing well and didn’t need to come in. I wasn’t looking forward to going (I think I had dropped back to every other week by that time), so it was time to stop. You will probably know when you don’t need to go by how you feel about going.

    You are absolutely right about anxiety tainting happiness! I have so much anxiety and it just sucks the joy out of everything. Even if you are having fun that feeling is in the background, pulling at you. I hate it so much! I really need to go back to therapy now, but it is a money issue at this point (more anxiety). So I am living vicariously through you as you go. Thank you for sharing and be so open here on your blog.

  3. You look forward to it and feel better afterwards – why wouldn’t you keep going?

  4. Yes. Go! I went to therapy for probably a year and a half or two years for what, in comparison to many people’s problems, were small things. But I felt better and over time lots of small interactions led to positive changes. My therapist pointed out that we were reaching our natural conclusion and nudged me toward less frequent sessions as a step down. I expect your therapist will do the same. ?

  5. If it’s helping, then it’s helping. If going to therapy is something you look forward to, then it’s probably something you need. You will most likely know know when you don’t need to go anymore.

  6. Trust me, you’ll know when its time to stop for now. I’ve been going off and on for 30 years now. There are periods of my life where I’m a once a week (or more) person because of specific issues that are making me nutty. But I’m a firm believer that you know when you’re done for the moment.

    Generally, for me it’s 6 months to a year (usually tied to life events) but when I find myself thinking on the way “huh, wonder what we’ll talk about today” then I start tapering off and ultimately stop for awhile. Then when life changes again, I’m back for a “tune up” as we call it.

    I’ve been out now for about a year and I don’t feel remotely like I have things to talk about, so I’m still done for the time being. But I will be back, sooner or later.

  7. Yeah, keep going. So many people deal with the first reason they came in, feel as good as they think they “deserve” to feel, and then leave long before they get where they would like to be. As a therapist that makes me a little sad. I want my clients to feel as happy and centered as they can, and therefore take as many insurance types as I can to keep it affordable. I hope you go as long as you feel it is helping!

  8. I, too, have been feeling unhappy for longer periods of time. I lost my dad almost two years ago and keep thinking I’ll be able to let go of the grief soon, but I haven’t’ been able to. I am finally starting to see a counselor and she is recommending I try EMDR. You should read about it, maybe it would help you too. It doesn’t work for everyone, but I figure it’s worth a try! http://www.emdr-therapy.com/

  9. Yes, absolutely it’s ok to keep going! I’ve been seeing my therapist for over five years. I started going for help dealing with some specific issues in my life, but once those evened out I kept going because, like you, I found it made me happy & I still found it helpful in a general way…like a check-in to make me see if I was avoiding or ‘hiding’ anything…from myself. Over time I started seeing her just once a month. And more recently some issues have arose and I’m seeing her weekly again. Old habits are hard to break, I’ve found. I’ve really built a great relationship with my therapist, a friendship of sorts, and so I’m not in a hurry to give that up. Life always throws us curveballs and I’m happy to have her on my side to help me navigate when I need it!

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