I was recently talking to a friend who didn’t believe in therapy NOT because it was bad or only for “crazy or unstable” people but simply because he felt he could deal with his issues on his own. It got me thinking that maybe I should write about my understanding of therapy and my journey to try and dispel some myths about it.
A lot of people think therapy is taboo and it should not be talked about or that if you need therapy then you must be jacked up or overly emotional. The reality in 2020 is that if you want to do well at work, and effectively “secure the bag” and be sane in the process then consider therapy. The honest truth is most of us are overworked and underpaid and yet “dying at our jobs” that can drop us when convenient for them. I’ve heard co-workers say things like “yes, I deal with work stress and I’m not really sleeping but it’s fine because it’s normal” or “I just get really anxious about this task and sometimes get panic attacks, but I brush it off”, the worst one I ever heard was “ yea, I do have recurring ulcers and my doctor says it’s stress, but what can you do, you gotta go to work right?” (I’m paraphrasing, but that was the sentiment) PEOPLE THIS IS NOT NORMAL….I do understand that there is an IMMENSE privilege in even considering therapy because it can be quite expensive but if you are lucky to work in a corporation they have benefit plans (please use it!). If your company doesn’t offer benefits or you are a student or unemployed, there are all sorts of alternatives that are not going to break the bank.
The analogy I used to help this friend think about therapy differently was one I made up about broken glass in your foot. Let’s say, you were walking around your house as a kid barefoot and unconsciously got some glass in your foot, it’s not your fault because there was glass lying around maybe left there by your siblings or your parents…Let’s call this glass “childhood trauma”. Before you get all dramatic, trauma is simply anything that causes distrust according to my therapist. Anyways back to the analogy, so you get glass in your foot, you bleed, and your family wipes the wound and puts a band-aid on it and keeps it moving because in time the surface of the wound will heal. You don’t go to the doctor to get anti-tetanus shot so unbeknownst to you, the area might gets infected and manifests in other areas and creates a weakened immune system. Although that wound is calloused on the surface aka it’s “heals” it doesn’t get dealt with so you subconsciously learn to walk with one fully functional leg and a slight limp in the glass foot. You grow up and might even forget details of the incident but every now and then you step on something hard/stub your toe or someone steps on that spot and your foot starts bleeding internally or even externally even onto other people, that’s called projection. You can probably live your life this way forever, but can you imagine getting both legs back? Can you imagine running with energy instead of limping in your dysfunction? Even if you don’t care about restoring your relationships yet, what about your purpose? Your career? Your impact on the world? Is it worth it?
My therapy journey begins at the beginning of 2019 when I started my MBA on a part-time basis while working fulltime. Unbeknownst to me, I had been living in a place of burnout at work for about 2 years already, and starting the program “tipped” me over. In the therapy world, they call it a “life transition”, which is basically a major change in your life. I thought I was immune to life transitions because, after all ever since moving to Canada in 2008, my life has changed dramatically from year to year…..SIIIIIS, I was so wrong! Burnout & Chronic stress as you get older is so detrimental to your health, it’s not even funny. The following series of events were literarily God-ordained and lead me to my current therapist.
Jan 2019 – “The beginning”
Started the MBA & Launched a great project at work (Tech Month, 8 events in 1 month), so by the end of Jan I was exhausted but was riding the high of a “job well done”.
Then there was that 1 weekend with all of the realizations, and it started on Thursday, Feb 28.
Thursday, Feb 28 –“Stress Management in the workplace”
My co-worker hosted a session for our students called “Stress Management in the workplace” It was run by her sister who is a neuroscientist and it was a last min event, so she asked me to attend to increase the numbers. The session covered a topic I was semi-interested in, plus it was over a lunch break, so it didn’t hurt. I thought it was simply going to be about breathing exercises and like telling us “not to stress” because it’s not good BUT what I heard dragged me down the block (it resonated). She started off by reading off a list of symptoms (trouble sleeping, trouble remembering things, overly fatigued, weight gain or weight loss, lack of concentration, etc.) that was me! Then she proceeded to tell us stats about stress conditions in students and young professionals and then what got me was the brain scans. She showed us scans of brains dealing with chronic stress and Y’ALLLLLL, it had HOLES in it!!! She also explained to us that your brain stops developing in your mid-twenties at 26 and once you develop those patterns you have to work extra hard to undo…(oh, I was 26 at the time lol). So I left that session more “stressed” than going in but it was a “wakeup call”.
Saturday, March 2nd – “Tech Conference”
My students were hosting a Tech conference, so I said I would attend the conference to support them. I had forgotten that theme of the tech conference was “exploring the intersection between technology and health”. The conference was about 45 mins away from my house, so I decided to listen to one of my favorite podcasts “Jesus and Jollof” (if you know you know). Unbeknownst to me, they had just realized an episode on Feb 27 titled “Cardio for your mind – the Therapy episode”. They talked about how they were chasing success and it wasn’t until they had become really successful that they both realized that needed therapy to not only understand their success but to thrive/maintain.
Anyways, I attend the conference, one group talked about degenerative diseases like Parkinson's and its effect on your brain and how they were researching technology to help the patients. Other groups spoke about the long term effects of stress on mental health and the increase due to the overuse of technology. One of the students wanted to introduce me to one of their “exhibitors” to see if we could create a partnership for future events. So he introduced me to Jordan Axani the Co-founder of Shift Collab, a mental health therapy clinic in Toronto and TedX speaker known for his work integrating technology and mental health in “What’s your big lie”. He briefly told me about his story and how he ran a clinic with his girlfriend and I was so intrigued from a different perspective. How could such a young person be doing SUCH amazing work, I think I even said “I was proud of him” lol, I’m weird like that, when I see people doing dope things, I’m the first to sing their praises. We continued our conversation and what caught my eye and moved this from a business conversation to a personal one was that his clinic focused on “high performing, overachiever personalities dealing with “success” and how no-one checks in on the “strong friend” and that resonated with me. I left the conference thinking that was cool, maybe I’ll check them out in the future, not knowing that the future would come really quickly. I left the conference, early because I had a church connect group leader meeting till about 9 pm, got home at like 10 pm
Sunday, March 3 – I woke up early and was at church for 7:20 am because I was volunteering in the church that day for the early shift _shout out to archived Instagram stories!
Monday, March 4 – Panic attack in the office
I came to work, it was a normal Monday, stress was already high by 10:00 am and all I remember was getting slightly annoyed by something, so I left the office, just to “get some air/to go to the washroom”. One of my co-workers followed me out and all I remember was feeling like I couldn’t breathe and I was crying uncontrollably. She took me to the stairwell, went back to the office, grabbed my purse, grabbed my phone, and wrote an email to my boss saying I had left because I wasn’t feeling well. I jumped in an uber, came straight home and passed out for like 5 hours. Till this day, I don’t know what happened, I think I was over-tired, I didn’t have a weekend. Anyways, when I woke up I decided to jump on the phone to HR to find out what our benefits are around getting therapy – it went to voicemail. I also called our school counseling office to see if I can get counseling because after all, I’m a grad student. It was the midterm season so although they could “see me” for an initial consultation, they couldn’t take on any new patients till about June - they were overworked. By some stroke of luck, I remembered the card that Jordan had given me, and I looked at Shift Collab. I used the “Choose a Therapist” button, filtered by “Life transition”. I narrowed it down to 2 therapists and schedule a 15min consultation for 8:00 am on March 18th, they were also busy, but it gave me enough time to figure out the HR benefits.
March 18 – I spoke to Vivian! Loved her and booked her for later that week on March 22 when I had my first session. I didn’t even end up speaking to the other therapist because I knew from our 15 min that this woman was a God-send and the rest is history J
There were other confirmations that I was doing the right thing at therapy BUT ultimately it was a decision that saved my life. For the first year of therapy, ALL we talked about was WORK. How to manage my workload, how to prioritize, how not to take on the emotional work of all my students. She taught me NOT to compartmentalize myself into “work Ibiyemi”, “school ibiyemi”, “church ibiyemi”, “friend ibiyemi” because they are ALL 1 person! And when you schedule different parts of you, you forget it’s still ONLY 1 you who has to show up even when you are tired. She taught me how to create healthy boundaries with helping my students, using empathy BUT not getting completely drained in the process. She led me through difficult conversations with my boss, coworkers, and how to ask for what I need in the workplace to be successful. It’s only in the last couple of months since lockdown that we started diving into personal sides of me, my relationships, my communication style, and the rest. She encouraged me to channel my story into other forms aka the BLOG, so you have her and also Jesus to thank for this blog.
I say ALL of this to simply say, your mental health is extremely important to succeed as a human being in 2020. I know you can “do it by yourself” and “you are strong, and you can pray” BUT guess what you don’t have to! There are professionals who have gone to school for this and they have the cheat codes.
If you are considering therapy and are in Toronto, I’m a little biased to “Shift Collab” and if you are not, check out Betterhelp – they are more affordable and can do it remotely. You can even choose if you want Christian therapists who can use biblical truths and psychology.
Now go out and live a healthy life, it’s so necessary!