Therapy For People Who Won't Go to Therapy

Since I posted the other day about maybe setting the blog to private, I've gotten several emails from readers requesting access, none of which I've replied to yet. I'm so sorry for taking so long. Seeing my inbox count tick up with cheering subject lines like "SO IN" and "longtime lurker saying hi" was about the greatest boost ever. Thank you.

Some of you also took the time to give me a little extra in the way of encouragement and support, complimenting my writing, or even telling me your favorite post. That was pretty spectacular, too, especially in cases where the post was an old one. It never fails to amaze me how long some of you have stuck with me. I should have certificates printed.

Also incredibly gratifying are the messages I've received thanking me for my openness in writing about depression and anxiety. To that end...

The past few months have been a psychological crucible, and continue to be so. Leaving my job and completely reassessing the direction of my life has brought back to the surface the full monty of my emotional issues. I basically spent every day from June 15th until about a week and a half ago in a tail spin; 3+ months halfheartedly pursuing a line of work I'm completely unsuited for was a massive waste of time, money, and emotion. I procrastinated, self-sabotaged, and lied to myself every day. Then at night I'd feel like shit for not having accomplished anything.

I told you about bailing on The Big Interview, a decision which left me feeling simultaneously shattered and relieved. I said I went back to the drawing board, but I didn't explain. Well, this is the drawing board: I'm going to try and do the thing I've never done, largely because I never needed to do it. And that is write for money. What kind of writing, you ask? The short answer is fucking any, though I do have ideas about what I'd most enjoy and, you know, actually succeed at.

When I made this decision, the reactions of people whose reactions I care most about were mixed. One said, "Right the fuck on." One said, "Hm, okay. How exactly?" One said, "LOL, good luck with that." I'm trying not to be unrealistically encouraged or unduly shaken by these reactions. I'm trying to focus on concrete actions. I wrote a new, truthful resume. I created an online portfolio. I used a mind-mapping app to brainstorm every option I can think of. I'm figuring it out.

Writing for money, however -- writing full time, for a sustainable income -- is the long-term goal. Right now work period is the goal. And I'm not sure what that will look like. It might involve an espresso machine. And I am so totally okay with that, for reasons I'll detail in another post.

But to circle back to where I started: this summer tested me pretty badly. I was absolutely paralyzed with anxiety, but I wanted to keep moving forward. Unlike my deep depressions of years ago, I didn't want to curl up in the fetal position and quit. I could feel the fight still inside of me, but I definitely needed some help to get it going. That's when I started collecting new resources. New coping mechanisms.

I want to stop briefly and say something regarding the title of this post: There is no substitute for professional therapy. If you can afford it, and if you can bring yourself to do it, get it. Please. Just fucking do it, for yourself and everyone you will ever care about. All of us can benefit from therapy, even those who didn't suffer any major trauma. We all have our shit, and we all owe it to ourselves to unpack it and move past it.

I know, though, that not everyone will, for whatever reason. I know that for some, even those that need it most, professional therapy seems out of reach. They just won't go, because they don't think they can. And I get that. I so, so get that.

This summer I was in that place. I didn't feel like I had the time or energy to start delving into anything serious, in any structured way. I just needed some encouraging voices. Strategies. Perspective. Positivity. Black humor, even. Anything that would recast my problems as manageable, surmountable, even funny. I'm grateful to say that I found those things, and have been taking advantage of them for a few months now.

In hopes that some or all might help someone else, I hereby offer up this list of incredible, free resources for those who could do with a bit of guidance, structure, support, and humor - as found outside the doctor's office:

The Mental Illness Happy Hour

Far and away the thing that has helped me the most is The Mental Illness Happy Hour podcast. Host Paul Gilmartin is self-deprecating, compassionate, relatable, and just plain soothing to listen to. He's like a smart, funny, wonderfully supportive friend who listens, asks great questions, and ultimately helps you laugh your blues away.

I've been listening to the podcast almost nonstop since I discovered it. It is just that awesome. Hearing others open up about their own struggles - and victories - has been an invaluable source of comfort and inspiration. In between interviewing guests, Paul reads short submissions from readers, and wow. Hearing these "Struggle in a Sentence" and "Awfulsome Moments" entries is the perfect antidote to self-pity, and a reminder that so many others have it so much worse.

The greatest takeaway from The Mental Illness Happy Hour is its overall message: "You're not crazy. What happened to you sucks. It's understandable to be angry or sad about it. Now let's talk about ways to let go and move past it."

My favorite episodes so far are his interviews with Luke Burbank, Danny Hatch, Cassie Sneider, Maria Branford, Matty McVarish and Judy Gold.

Unstuck

From the website: "Unstuck is an in-the-moment digital coach that's ready every time we're feeling stuck. The app helps us see and solve situations with fresh perspective through provocative questions, targeted tips, and action-oriented tools. It's an approach that works for all kinds of issues, large and small, so we can live better every day."

The first time I used Unstuck, I was floored by how accurately it nailed me. The questions and prompts helped me winnow down exactly what my issue was; why I wasn't moving forward. And once you know what's in your way, you can start building a bridge to get over it. The interface is clean and simple; it almost makes your issue feel like a fun puzzle to work through.

You can save your "stuck moments" to revisit as needed; they're represented on the website as balled up wads of paper. About a week after the interview I skipped, after I'd written a new resume and finished my portfolio, I went back to Unstuck and realized I could get rid of that earlier "stuck moment" ball of paper. I wasn't stuck anymore. And I'd only been stuck because I'd been on the completely wrong path. So yeah. Trashing that wad felt pretty damn great.

The School of Life

There are now two things that, once I get going on, I can evangelize about until I'm blue in the face. LSD (though naturally I do so with a great many qualifiers) and The School of Life YouTube channel.

I don't even know where to start. I'm basically in love with Alain de Botton (who created the series) and I'm not really sure how I survived without him until now. I have intellectual idols, writing idols, and now, thanks to him, I have an emotional idol.

Think of anything you struggle with. Self-esteem? Shitty childhood or parental stuff you're hanging on to? Career anxieties? Relationship worries? There is a School of Life video dissecting it with clarity, insight, warmth, and good humor - and I promise you will feel better after watching it.

Grid Diary

Grid Diary is a lovely little app for writing short, quick daily journal entries. It has an aesthetically pleasing grid-style template that you can use as is, or make over with your own prompts. This summer when my inner (and one or two outer) voices were psyching me out and pushing me down, I customized my grid with questions that have helped me stay positive, pause to reflect on the progress I'm making, and focus on gratitude. I actually consider my prompts extremely personal, because I know some people would scoff at them as, I don't know, pathetic. Self-congratulatory.

But what the fuck ever. My self-esteem hit an all-time low this summer (and my anxiety an all-time high), and Grid Diary was one of the things that helped me get my head on straight. Filling it out every night has become my new favorite bedtime ritual; it's an incredible tool for self-reflection, perspective, and that most powerful of attitude-changers: gratitude. My prompts:

What positive things did I do today? What traits should I be proud of? What would I tell myself if I wasn't me? What am I more worried about than I should be, and why will it be okay? What am I grateful for today? How was Chaucer awesome today? What am I looking forward to right now? What issue am I working on right now, and how?

Productivity

Productivity is a simple, visually appealing habit-tracking app. It's incredibly easy to use, and, I don't know, not intimidating? It doesn't make the idea of setting and achieving goals seem overwhelming. You can set habits to be accomplished daily, weekly, monthly, or just a certain number of times per day/week/month. For instance, you can establish a habit of drinking eight glasses of water a day, or blogging three times a week (TRYING TO GET THERE, GUYS, I PROMISE). And there's a pleasing little ping! and congratulations message when you meet goals.

It's a great app for those who need to work on the whole "don't let perfect be the enemy of good" thing, because even logging in one habit a day feels better than none.

Calm

Another app I relied heavily on this summer. Guided meditations that you can play over a background of soothing music and serene visuals. Subjects range from gratitude and happiness to self-esteem, stress management, and sleep. A few times this summer when I was absolutely crippled by anxiety, just listening to the calming background music with headphones helped me crawl through whatever terrifying task I was struggling with.

Kiwake

Kiwake is an alarm clock app that you'll love to hate. First it forces you out of bed by making you match a picture from another room, then it wakes up your brain with puzzles and motivational reminders.

It's these reminders that constituted my resource/coping mechanism. They're customizable, so first thing in the morning you can read whatever inspirational words will help you start the day on a positive note. The very first one I made was something my friend Bill said to me several months ago: "You don't have to be married to your next job." The next one I made was "Get your shit done early in the day so you can hang out with your amazing new boyfriend at night." Another one was "The best way to improve self-esteem is to perform esteemable acts."

Yep x3.