‘Do you know of a shrink?’ I typed in the chat box, hands shaking and chest heaving. ‘I really need to speak to one.’ I wasn’t quite sure what had come over me, but my chest felt constricted and my mind was racing with all manners of ideas. I’d never experienced anything like it.
My friend put me in contact with a psychiatrist that same evening. I would have preferred a face-to-face meeting, but he was based in the coastal town of Alexandria, while I fanned my anxiety in dusty Cairo. I took what I got and had my session via Skype.
‘I need to leave the flat!’ I blurted on the screen. He was silent. And I went on narrating my anxieties. A phrase he said in the course of our conversation remains with me to this day is: ‘Less salt, more sugar’. I didn't quite grasp it at first, so he went on to say it's his way of telling me to go easy on myself; give myself more love than rebuke; show myself more love than hate.
I left the call feeling calmer, equipped with the strength and resolve to stay put and work things out with my flatmate. Little did I know that it was my first dip of many in the world of therapy.
People are either fascinated or uncomfortable when I tell them I've had therapy. I imagine the cogs of their mind trying to recall the one thing that would ping as an indication that I'm not quite right. The thing is, I'm perfectly fine, and I owe it to therapists I've seen over the last 6 years.
Through therapy, I've gained greater insight into my thought processes and behaviour patterns; I've learned how moments of pain, hurt, sadness, grief, and regret have etched themselves into my core to the point that I was unaware of them; I’ve recognised how much my past shaped my actions, and how I could break the cycle of negativity. My heightened cognisance has improved my relationship with myself and with others. Self-blame got the boot; self-confidence was embraced; and a whole lot of self-loving emerged like a long-serving prisoner.
I felt free, and I was.
The Real Deal
I'm a huge advocate of self-care, especially within the mental health realm. I often recommend that everyone sees a therapist -- be it a counsellor, psychiatrist, psychotherapist, or NLP practitioner -- at least once in a lifetime. I see it as almost like a rite of passage because we've all experienced a degree of trauma at some point in our lives, yet we underestimate how far reaching its impact has on us.
Seeking or receiving therapy doesn’t mean you’re insane, nor does it mean you have a few screws loose. Being in receipt of therapy means you’re brave, and honest, and awesome, in my view. It means you know you want to be in a better place and you’re willing to do something about it. It means you’re being truthful by taking a good look at yourself and deciding to switch up the status quo.
Speaking openly and frankly about my experience with various therapists is my way of not just breaking down the barriers of taboo that hold mental health issues hostage, but also a way of inviting people to open up to themselves by taking the first step required to better mental health: acknowledgement. Until and unless someone acknowledges they are in a place where they need help, there’ll never be open to receiving it. And I invite you to examine where you are, what’s truly holding you back, and what you need to feel at peace with yourself and those around you.
That night in Cairo, when I fought the urge to abandon my Nile-view flat in Cairo, I knew my anxiety was deeper than simply hating my flatmate’s invasion of my space. If I hadn’t reached out for help as the currents of rage battered my chest, I would not know the sweetness of dosing myself with love and holding keeping self-loathing at bay. Working with a therapist is an act of self-love, and I invite everyone to practise having a little less salt, and a lot more sugar.
LaYinka Sanni is a London-based editor and writing coach dedicated to working with women to help them recognise the importance of their voice, so they can emerge into the world with their writing. She can be found at: LaYinkaSanni.com