You are SO much more than just a trauma survivor. The fact that you survived what has happened to you is truly amazing but it does not have to define you. You don’t have to be ready for recovery just yet.. but believe me when I tell you that you CAN survive the recovery. If you’re hesitant right now, but know you want to talk with someone some day that’s okay.
Maybe you're here and reading this right now because you've experienced something truly devastating in your life. Maybe you're here because you've noticed that you have a tendency to date all the wrong people. Or maybe you're here because you're not entirely sure if you've had something happen to you but you can't remember much from your childhood and you want to understand why. Whatever motivated you to start reading this post right now.. that is the part of you that's ready for healing, ready for change and ready for peace. You might think you're not even close to being ready for therapy but what I see is that little curious part of you that's reading this right now who is actively finding a safe way to begin healing.
Trauma truly messes with our ability to handle stressful situations and attempting to work on trauma or understand what your options are when you’ve never been to therapy can be very stressful. For now, consider breaking this daunting task into small, accomplish-able steps.
Maybe step one for you might be to write down your anxious thoughts in relation to finding a therapist. You can even break those thoughts down to questions such as:
Pick one question that you’d like to tackle. For example, “where do I find a therapist?”. Make space for this question. Call it into existence. And when you feel called to answer this question, look around you to find the answer. Perhaps you’ll remember that you follow a therapist who frequently posts about this sort of thing... maybe you feel comfortable asking a friend who’s gone to therapy how they found therapy.. hell, you might even just start by Googling your question just to see what pops up. There are many different ways to answer these types of questions but the most important part of trauma therapy and healing is empowerment so above all else, listen to your wisdom. Listen to what you need and give yourself some self-compassion around taking your time to find the answer. By giving yourself the time and self-compassion you need to start therapy, you’re sending the message to the universe that you deserve those things in your healing experience.
A trauma therapist who knows just how much you are worth
If you follow me on Instagram, you'll probably notice that I talk a lot about perfectionism and my own journey as a "perfectionist in recovery". If you're a fellow perfectionist or PIR who's struggled with therapy for whatever reason, I feel you. The tendency to waver between wanting to be the best client or fu*k it all, runs deep through my veins.
Several years ago, I turned to therapy because I was going through a difficult time in my life. The first time I ever went to therapy, I was very resistant to change, felt like I was a “bad client” and ended up just ghosting my therapist after only 4 sessions.. Talk about being scared of vulnerability and clinging to my perfectionistic perfect/fu*k it all tendencies (also, sorry old therapist)!
Years later, I tried therapy again. I thought.. maybe my old therapist was a bad match.. I'll just try to find someone who has an expensive degree from an IVY league school, definitely PhD level only, supervisor level, charges half the cost of my rent per appointment. I thought nobody would understand me except THE best. After several weeks with said therapist, I found something wrong with them, too.. Dumped them and decided therapy wasn't for me.
Years later again, I gave therapy "one last try". This time I was in graduate school for counseling... (I know, right?) so I felt more in control of the situation (perfectionist tendency) and felt a bit more eager to start looking at ME and unveiling my truth. Thankfully, my therapist was a badass who knew a thing about perfectionism and control in therapy. My previous therapists worked around my control, but this therapist named it. And naming it has meant everything.
I learned that my tendency to want "only the best", most experienced therapist was actually getting in my own way of getting help. Sure, experience is great but when I started graduate school, I learned that the single most important predictor to therapy success (client's subjective experience of how well therapy worked), is not experience, where they went to school, or how much they charge.. it's about the relationship the person has with their therapist. My desire to find "the best" therapist only pushed off my own healing and processing around my stuff for another few years.
I also learned that therapy, like meditation or mindfulness, is a practice. You know what's the opposite of practicing something? Trying to be perfect at it. If you're like me and you've ever ghosted a therapist, had a terrible experience in therapy, didn’t know what to talk about, felt like you “wasted” you or your therapist’s time, or resisted change.. that’s okay! Like with any practice, we get better the more we practice, some days we are on point, and some days we’re just happy we even showed up. It’s a practice. Stay curious about your process. Are your goals aimed at perfectionism or practicing showing up for yourself?
One of the best practices I learned through therapy is to compassionately challenge my inner-perfectionist when her voice comes up. Questions I ask sound like "is this me or my inner perfectionist talking?", "what is it about this situation, person, event, etc. that's causing my inner perfectionist to come out?", "what does my inner perfectionist need right now? (Nurturing, to feel safe, rest, etc.?)". Talking to my inner perfectionist in a kind, compassionate voice that I would use towards a friend has been a game changer. It's turned life from IFEELSHAMEABOUTALLTHETHINGSIVEEVERDONEEVER to a loving, warm relationship with myself more days than not.
When clients first start therapy, there can be a lot of shame language or feelings of shame that end with early client termination, lying or ghosting of their therapists. Owning up to mistakes, speaking kindly to yourself through the process when you have bad therapy days or treated your therapist poorly, is all a part of the practice and work that you invest in yourself. Therapy isn't meant to be a place where you get 100% validation and the warm and fuzzies every week. It's difficult and challenging.. it's a practice. It does get easier the more that you navigate who you are and how you get in your own way.
Therapists know all about this kind of stuff so if you’re struggling with a difficult time in your life or feeling lonely in your process or recovery, just know I see you. Keep seeking your truth. Keep practicing. It’s okay to make mistakes along the way (or even ghost your therapist)... It’s never too late to show back up for yourself.
1. Get a period tracking app.
Unless you want to go old school and make a handwritten chart (props to you if so), I highly recommend getting a period tracking app to log in all your info. Some apps are really great and have all sorts of info you can track such as a variety of different moods, as well as physical information like how high or low your cervix is, your BMI, and cervical mucus. Unless you're actively trying (or avoiding) having a baby, you probably don't need to log in all this information but I do highly recommend getting an app that includes more than 3-5 moods. I really liked the app "Flo" because it had several different moods I could choose from.
If you don't know when you ovulate, try out one of these methods to become even more attuned to your body. Not only is ovulation pretty much the only time during your cycle when you can get pregnant (spans between 1-3 days for most women), but it's also the time in our cycle when we are at our most active & motivated, a super helpful thing to know about yourself if you want to feel happier. I've tried all the different ways of figuring out when I ovulate but for me, the BMI was the one that worked the best for me. I've heard different things from different women so if waking up at the same time every morning to take your temperature sounds like a royal pain in the a$$, try a different method.
2. Make it a part of your daily routine.
It takes about 30 seconds from each day to mentally check in with how I feel each day and log it into the app. Every evening, I log my data into the app as part of my bedtime routine. However, it might be equally as beneficial to log your data during the middle of the day while it's fresh on your mind. Whatever works for you!
Pro tip: make sure to log your data at the same time every day so you don't end up forgetting and going like 3 days without logging in anything (not speaking from experience or anything). Set an alarm if you have you or log it when you take medication if you take a daily med.
3. Go slow.
Part of the benefit of logging your moods in conjunction with when you ovulate, your luteal and follicular cycle & menstruate, is to notice your natural patterns. That means you might have to log in information for 2-3 months before you can really start to notice any trends. And if you have irregular cycles, it might take longer. Implementing changes based off of your menstrual cycle is a mindfulness practice and takes some patience. If you're feeling like giving up... keep at it! I promise the payoff will be worth it!
4. Implement changes to behaviors based off of your observations.
This is the last part of the whole process. Once you've logged about 2-3 months worth of data, you can either go back into your app or make your own graph to start noticing trends. For example, I started to notice that I logged "excited", "in love" and "motivated" more during the days around when I was ovulating (right around cycle day 12 for me). I also noticed that I was much more likely to go on walks during this time in my cycle and walked significantly less during the end of the luteal phase, or days leading up to my period. If you're interested in learning more about the different phases of a menstrual cycle, check out this great article from The American Pregnancy Association which gives a lot more details than I can.
Once I noticed the different trends I was experiencing mood-wise in relation to my cycle, I started to implement changes. Some of the behaviors that I found helpful to observe and implement were based around social time with friends or colleagues, vacations, adding extra meetings or events to my schedule, how I dress and exercise. For example, I know that I am more likely to want to stay at home watching Netflix on the days leading up to my period so I try not to schedule any social time or meetings during those days. Instead, I spend those days doing really nurturing things for myself like doing a restorative yoga class, taking a long bath or just actively trying to be slow and easy with myself. When I've given myself permission to nurture myself during the days when my body is asking me to, I can feel more refreshed to socialize and schedule all the things when I'm ovulating and more energized.
These are just a few of the ways that I've implemented change based off of my tracking and I can't even begin to tell you how much better I feel. And I'm not alone... this is the same kind of feedback that I've been hearing more and more from mental health professionals who work with women. Not only does tracking your cycle help with feeling more attuned with your body, but it's also a great way to plan your schedule around how you know you'll be feeling (goodbye, guilt about cancelling so many plans last minute and spending all day in PJs!). And anytime we can have a stronger mind-body connection, research tells us that we feel happier. So try it out. See what you think!