Why I Believe in Healing through Therapy

Rear view of a mid adult woman looking through a window

Editor’s note: This story contains references to and details of self-harm and suicide attempts that may be triggering to some readers.

I find good therapy to be a very fulfilling, rewarding, welcoming journey, and an emotional adventure—especially when coping with various aspects of my mental illness.

I suffer from schizoaffective disorder, which is part schizophrenia with depression; borderline personality disorder, which is characterized by instability in emotions, behaviors, and relationships; and anxiety, which catapults into panic attacks. In the past, I also experienced posttraumatic stress because of trauma associated with sexual abuse when I was 9, and also bipolar disorder. I take an antipsychotic and antianxiety medication now. Previously, I was on five medications which included a mood stabilizer, antidepressant, and a sleep aid. My psychiatrist wants me back on a mood stabilizer but I refused because of the accompanying weight gain.

Thus, I go to bed late and wake up early because of symptoms of mania. I have been seeing therapists since the age of 21, when I was diagnosed with mental illness. Unveiling my deepest thoughts and emotions wasn’t easy at first, because I had to build trust and feel comfortable in that type of setting. At 21, I was afraid of being hurt and misunderstood. Progressively I found it easier to divulge my secrets and receive the comfort I so needed.

My last therapist, whom I saw a month ago, refused to see me anymore. I attempted suicide in November 2014 under his care, without explaining to him my conflicting thoughts and feelings. He told me I needed someone with a more flexible schedule who would see me more frequently. My psychiatrist told me he was more afraid of what I could do because of my history of suicide attempts and self-mutilation. He was a good therapist, though. I was always in deep thought when I would speak to him because he didn’t just listen; he gave good feedback. That is what I have loved in all my therapists. I am not sure how many therapists I’ve seen over the past 17 years, but the number is high—primarily because of my frequent psychiatric unit stays (about 30).

I recall that a few years ago, one of the therapists I had while I was in a long term hospital for six months helped me using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). I was plagued by negative thoughts and distorted thinking and emotions. She helped me reframe my thoughts with a series of exercises that centered on anger with my mom, who was severely abusive, physically and verbally; anger and depression associated with sexual abuse; the hatred I had for myself that permeated my daily thoughts and emotions; and many other events and emotions.

I was much relieved after therapy, but I still had some distorted thoughts, such as polarized thinking, blaming, “should” language, filtering, and emotional reasoning. Most of my therapy would move me to many tears and emotional pain. That’s when I started dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) with another therapist. I was in emotional distress. Learning to stay in the moment, without trying to hurt myself, was very difficult. I had to achieve the wise mind—an integration of the emotional mind and reasonable mind—through mindfulness and meditation.

I learned that my thinking and behaviors were controlled primarily by my current emotional state, and that is why I would try to commit suicide on many occasions. I realize now, because of my suicide attempt last November, that I still haven’t achieved the wise mind. Due to my troubled thoughts and emotions, I tried to hurt myself by overdosing on Tylenol and Valium. Fortunately, these did not hurt me but did make me sleep, which I so needed. I was on a psychiatric unit for a week.

My therapist on the unit saw me every day taught me ways of coping with my emotions, including breathing exercises. I loved when he would put a melody to the counting during breathing exercises. It calmed me down whenever I cried. The therapist, my husband, and I made a coping card that I could use whenever I felt overwhelmed with my emotions. But first, the therapist explained to me that hurting myself is not on option.

We wrote down on the card things that I loved—for example, going for walks, using a sense of humor, baby hugs, talking to someone, breathing exercises, listening to music, and taking hot baths. These coping skills really help. Now, I feel I can handle my emotions more effectively without hurting myself. Even though I get depressed from time to time, I remember that there are alternatives to coping. I just have to follow through.

Most of my therapists were female, but whenever I had a male therapist I would experience transference. I fell in love with all my male therapists, no matter how old they were. I kept journals and would read them to my therapists on occasions. One of my male therapists suggested I publish my poems, so I did, with his encouragement. Of course, there were poems about him in that book, A Drop in the Bucket. I was madly in love with him, and dedicated three poems to him.

It was their care, warmth, compassion, empathy, and kindness that drew me to these therapists. I never knew them or their backgrounds; I never asked about their lives … so why was I falling in love with them? Just for the aforementioned things.

The therapist that diagnosed me with borderline personality (BPD) knew me very well, because I told him almost everything. My visits with him were also during long stays at a hospital I frequented. He saw me three times a week for 45 minutes. My thoughts, behaviors, emotions—he knew them very well. Borderline personality disorder included inconsistency in my emotions and thoughts, impulsive and reckless behavior, and unstable relationships with other people. My life was characterized by this instability.

One problem I had was cultivating good relationships and maintaining them. I am always suspicious of my friends. I would question their motives and regard them with suspicion. I would make friends and discard them whenever I felt threatened. There would be episodes of mania in which it seemed I had no control over my behavior. I would have sleepless nights, shopping sprees, singing in public, thoughts of having superpowers, and other horrendous behaviors. For these reasons and others, he diagnosed me with BPD.

Eventually, I learned that I was attempting suicide not because I wanted to end my life, but because I wanted to end the emotional pain. Self-mutilation was also a way of escaping for me. I learned to stop doing that, as well. I felt closer to my therapists than I did with anyone, because I disclosed my weaknesses to them and they offered comfort and reassurance that everything would be OK. Of course, I still have a long way to go, and I need to find another therapist—a good one, like the others. I can confide in them without fear of judgment; if they judge, they keep it to themselves. Yes, it has been a long journey of 17 years, with more to go. I have a lot to learn and to discover about myself. Until I reach my pinnacle, where I am comfortable with myself, comfortable in my own skin, then I will continue to hold the hands that have helped and will continue to help me through these tough times.

melissa brown-collins photoMelissa Brown-Collins is 38 years old and originally from Jamaica, West Indies. She currently resides in the Bronx, NY. She enjoys writing short stories, poems, and novels, and recently published a collection of poetry called A Drop in the Bucket. She experiences mental health issues, but has a supportive team which includes her wonderful husband. You can see her profile on Facebook, Twitter @BroMelissa, Google, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

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  • Sally H

    Sally H

    February 10th, 2015 at 3:16 AM

    First we must realize that healing can happen if we take an honest look at ourselves. We often try to analyze ourselves and think that we can solve our own problems. This doesn’t work. By trusting a therapist who supports you with unconditional positive regard and only wants the best for you, your able to allow the therapist to be an observer from outside of the system. You now can share your thoughts that may be driving negative behaviors. A therapist can gently start to challenge these negative thoughts and behaviors which allow you to start making small changes that will greatly affect your life and set you on the road to true authenticity and healing.

  • Melissa Brown-Collins

    Melissa Brown-Collins

    February 10th, 2015 at 9:33 AM

    Yes, Sally H. I was on a self-destructive path and I had to learn to be open and honest with my thoughts and feelings. At first,it wasn’t easy but soon I realized that therapy was beneficial. Having therapists who were truly empathetic and had a listening ear gave me the advantage. They gave good feedback and helped me on the road to recovery. I’m truly appreciative of that.

  • Sally h

    Sally h

    February 10th, 2015 at 4:24 PM

    Yes and when we realize that we have someone in our corner cheering us on its the best feeling. We are allowed to share our true feelings, take off the mask and not feel judged.

  • Georgia

    Georgia

    February 10th, 2015 at 10:45 AM

    Thank you so much for sharing your emotional story! It hit home with me because it was so personal and you choose to be so giving with your own personal story with the hopes of helping others.

  • Melissa Brown-Collins

    Melissa Brown-Collins

    February 10th, 2015 at 10:55 AM

    Georgia, I am grateful that my story touched your heart. It is reassuring to know that I am not alone in my struggles. Knowing that we are not alone; gives us the impetus to keep fighting. Thank you.

  • Mariah

    Mariah

    February 10th, 2015 at 5:35 PM

    Thank you for sharing your story, Melissa. I have had one male therapist, and experienced transference as well. And wrote poetry and fiction about him. The strong feelings there…are difficult to explain to those who haven’t been in such an intimate relationship. It’s good to hear from someone who understands.

  • Melissa Brown-Collins

    Melissa Brown-Collins

    February 11th, 2015 at 4:30 AM

    Yes, Mariah. I understand. But I also understand that while my male therapists knew me; I did not know them. I never asked them about their background or their lives in general. I was in love with their care and warmth not with them.I had to learn to put my feelings aside and work with them to get the help I so needed.

  • Kim Openo LAPC CMFT NCC

    Kim Openo LAPC CMFT NCC

    February 11th, 2015 at 7:00 AM

    You are an amazing & brave soul, Melissa. Sharing your story will help SO many.

  • Melissa Brown-Collins

    Melissa Brown-Collins

    February 11th, 2015 at 12:58 PM

    Thank you, Kim Openo. Sharing my story is also therapeutic for me.

  • Trina

    Trina

    February 11th, 2015 at 3:52 PM

    It must feel so overwhelming to have lived this life and yet here you are, still strong and still committed to healing and sharing this story with others.

  • Melissa Brown-Collins

    Melissa Brown-Collins

    February 12th, 2015 at 3:16 AM

    Trina, yes my past experiences were overwhelming but I overcame my biggest trial, hurting myself.I am stronger now and that is why I am willing to share my story.

  • MG

    MG

    February 12th, 2015 at 2:39 PM

    that would be so hard not to be able to trust your friends. must feel so alone. I hope you can find another good therapist and have people you can trust

  • Melissa Brown-Collins

    Melissa Brown-Collins

    February 13th, 2015 at 7:47 AM

    MG, yes, cultivating and maintaining friendships aren’t easy for me but don’t be mistaken. I do have close friends whom I confide in. Yes, I have trust issues so I choose those close friends wisely. Moreover, I am part of a worldwide brotherhood whom display love for one another. And I have a husband whom I can talk to as well so my world is not a lonely one. My case manager, has been overseeing my case for now 4 years is looking for a therapist for me. I just have to find one that I feel comfortable with. I will eventually find one.However, thank you for your concern.

  • madison

    madison

    February 14th, 2015 at 9:21 AM

    It must feel so good when you finally understand that there are people who are pulling for you and are in your corner!

  • Melissa Brown-Collins

    Melissa Brown-Collins

    February 16th, 2015 at 11:49 PM

    Yes, Madison. It does feel good. Having a supportive team; everyone thinking about how they can help me to improve and progress is really a blessing. It really is exciting to think about.

  • Hurting

    Hurting

    March 17th, 2015 at 3:54 PM

    i was sexually abused as a child. I never attempted suicide other than using a hanger to scratch lightly on my wrists once. I didn’t make them bleed and got caught when my dad walked in.

    Had lots of thoughts but am terrified of dying. I don’t believe addictions to drugs, alcohol or cutting are the way to deal with the pain. I see a psychologist twice a month. I began to cry last session but wouldn’t let the tears come fully but wish I had of. I see her this week. Nervous, but I need to see her. She tells me I need to talk about abuse. There are several incidents and I had to start writing them down.

    I have them in my journal and a list for her. I just want to give list to her and hide. Because I know she will find ways to keep breaking down the wall to get those emotions out. If only she could her arms around me for comfort when I’m about to cry and then maybe I could stay in that moment but I know she most likely won’t do that.

    I just want flashbacks and not being able to sleep of eat properly to go away.

  • Melissa B.

    Melissa B.

    March 26th, 2015 at 5:03 AM

    Hurting,i am touched by your story. I know it is not easy for you because I have been there. You need comfort when you are opening up. The tears will come when you do open up.Unfortunately, a therapist will not hug you but comfort you in words and mannerism. Take it one day at a time and find a good friend, you can share your thoughts and feelings with. A good friend will hug and comfort you. I used to get flashbacks but not anymore so it will get better in time. Keep writing in a journal and share it with your therapist. Sometimes we express ourselves better with writing. In time, you will feel better so keep holding on. Don’t hurt yourself. You are not to blame for what happened to you. Try to find other ways to cope with your emotions for example hobbies you may like.

  • Jennifer D

    Jennifer D

    April 15th, 2015 at 8:43 AM

    Hurting,

    I too experienced abuse, and I understand transference in therapy..although it is nice to have thAt connection, they are trained to be therapeutic. Know that you are a special person. Keep writing poems.. take care of yourself :-) :-)

  • Sue

    Sue

    January 21st, 2016 at 10:18 AM

    Dear Sister, thank you for sharing, I know it’s not easy exposing yourself.
    I too am a survivor of sexuall abuse as a child.
    Learning Bible Truths has kept me alive, although I still have bouts of depression.
    Agape

  • Melissa Brown-Collins

    Melissa Brown-Collins

    February 11th, 2016 at 2:55 PM

    Hello Sue, Sister. My faith gets me through those difficult days. Keep praying for strength each day and take it one day at a time. In the new world, we will forget all our bad experiences.

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