The first time I went to a therapy session was in November of 2017, my mom actually took me. Let me rephrase that, after I finally managed to convince my mother (after begging relentlessly) she finally took me to therapy. The reason I was so desperate to seek help was that I had suffered, at that point, with an eating disorder and depression for over a year; I also had social anxiety for as long as I could remember.
I didn’t know what to expect. Therapy sessions and seeking aid for your mental state are seldom discussed in the Middle Eastern societies.
Although progress is being made, there are always chances people will think you’re ‘crazy’. I can personally say that my father thought I was totally insane when I had asked him if he could take me. While therapy and having a professional support group that educated and guided me aided in my recovery, there were times it also made me take a few steps back. An instance of this occurred the first time I went to therapy. I remember sitting down, explaining my struggles to the psychologist before me, being candid to a stranger for the first time in my entire life, with my terror very visible on my countenance.
I felt worse after hearing her reply, “Hmm… you look healthy to me. I don’t think you actually have anorexia. I think it would be better for you to come back if it gets worse.”
Being told that you look okay is one thing. Having your struggles completely dismissed because they aren’t bad enough is another. I still don’t understand what the therapist meant when she said I looked healthy. Isn’t Anorexia Nervosa a mental disorder? It was almost like the psychologist was telling me that I wasn’t starving myself enough. That I wasn’t thin enough to be anorexic. My fear of not being skinny enough was voiced out once more.
I think it’s safe to say that I never want back to that specific therapist after that session.
The session I had gone to a few weeks later appeared to be going well at first. My struggles were recognised and I was being listened to, but to an extent. I remember being told that I would have to go on a strict meal plan that would ensure I was getting all my required nutrients and that was meant to put me back on track. This meal plan also obviously came with a large side of weight gain, which horrified me. This is because, in my head, I had linked losing weight with happiness. I didn’t want to go back to feeling unhappy.
When I tried to explain this, the psychologist had said, “No, you aren’t happier when you’re skinnier.”
I titled my head, took in what she said before saying, “Let me explain to you what I meant-”
Immediately, I was cut off, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“But it’s how I feel,” I retorted.
“Anyway, let’s go back to your meal plan,” and just like that, I had experienced having my feelings and anxieties dismissed once more.
Being told that I was being dramatic or having my issue disregarded is not something that I was unfamiliar with. Most people who share their struggles with mental health will probably face the same thing. But typically, I heard it from people in my everyday life. Hearing it from a medical professional is much, much worse. Unfortunately, I am not alone with it comes to this particular issue. A friend of mine who had also gone to several therapists seeking aid with her own struggles shared that she had, on multiple occasions, been given misguided advice by professionals, been shamed and made to feel even worse by them.
Talking about this is incredibly important, especially since its prevalent issue. We would never let a physical doctor get away with malpractice, and it should be the same for those in the psychiatric field.
Finding a therapist that listens to you wholeheartedly and helps you genuinely is going to be difficult. It took me multiple centres, multiple months and multiple backhanded comments to find one that I was able to feel completely comfortable around. Accepting this reality and pushing through it is important. But what is even more pivotal is that we ensure that it is never tolerated.
Photo by Katsumi Takahashi