As someone who has lived with both anxiety and a panic disorder since I was a child, you can bet that taking care of my mental health is a top priority. I had a couple of different therapists in my teen years, but none quite clicked for me. (Or maybe I wasn’t receptive to them? It’s hard to say, all these years later.)
But in my twenties, I found a therapist I’d never forget; a therapist who change my life. Every Wednesday, I would travel to her Midtown Manhattan office and pour my heart out. I’d tell her all my worries, and even if she only said a few words, I felt heard. The phobic thoughts that had been floating around my head for most of my life were released, one by one, right there on that couch.
She taught me about boundaries — that I get to choose who and what enters my life, as well as what thoughts enter my head. She taught me coping mechanisms for dealing with the panicky feelings when they struck. And most of all, she taught me that I am stronger than I think I am, and worthy of feeling whole and well.
I was in therapy with her for 10 years, up until my first child was three years old. Toward the end, as a full-time SAHM who was also a part-time student, it became more and more difficult for me to make my appointments with her. I live in a New York City suburb, and although it’s a relatively quick train ride into the city, I still had to carve out a total of three hours a week to get to see her for a 45-minute appointment. And before long, it just became way too much for me to juggle.
Thankfully, though, by then I felt like I’d gotten so much out of me in therapy during those years, I thought I was set. My anxiety was still there, but I had adopted strong routines in life for dealing with it. I had a good, supportive husband who “got me,” and friends I could confide in when needed.
Well, that all worked out fine till last summer, when my anxiety returned in full-gear, riddling me with daily panic attacks, racing heartbeats, an upset stomach, and migraines. I wrote my way through it, spoke to friends, cuddled up in my husband’s lap crying, and basically got through it. But I realized that something needed to give, because there was likely more where that came from.
I knew that finding a good therapist again would work wonders for me. But I seriously didn’t know how on earth that would happen. I have two children now, one of whom is only in school for three hours a day. I am still a full-time SAHM mom, but I also have a full-time work-from-home job, and I literally have no time to breathe, let alone get myself to a weekly therapy appointment.
That’s when I heard about online therapy. I read an article someone had posted on Facebook about an app called TalkSpace, where you connect with a therapist online, and basically message with them on your own time. It was reasonably priced (not much more than my insurance co-payments for therapy), and sounded ideal to me in many ways. Still, being a strong advocate for traditional therapy, I kept thinking there would be something strange or less effective about it.
A couple months went by, and then, as I saw my anxiety spiking again, I figured I’d give it a go. But before signing up for any particular problem, I decided to research all options. I called my insurance company first to find out if any covered therapists did “telapsychology” (none did, but this might be a viable option for some). I also researched various other online therapy programs besides TalkSpace (turns out, there are a bunch!). Then I weeded out any who didn’t seem to follow HIPPA privacy laws, and who didn’t employ licensed therapists (check out this article from the American Psychological Association for what to look for in an online therapist).
In the end, I did wind up going with TalkSpace after all, just because it was the most well known and seemed the most user-friendly.
Soon after signing up and logging in, I chatted via the TalkSpace messenger with a therapist who asked me a few basic questions, and later sent me a list of therapists to choose from. I rejected the first list (though I’ll be honest, I was going purely with my instincts here, based on photos and descriptions). I eventually found a therapist who specialized in things that seemed relevant to me, and whose headshot seemed warm and welcoming (after all, that little head was mostly all I was going to see each time we “talked”).
Pretty soon, there I was in my PJ’s after my kids had fallen asleep, messaging my new therapist. The way it works with TalkSpace is that you exchange messages with your therapist, but not in real time. It’s more like emails than IM’s or texts — your therapist doesn’t get back to you instantaneously. But, depending on your plan, you exchange one or several messages throughout the day, so it’s kind of like having a conversation. TalkSpace also allows you to pay for live video therapy, which I decided to sign up for, at least for the first month, so that I could get to know my therapist in a more traditional way.
After a little over a month of online therapy, I have to say that I absolutely love it. (And for the record, no, I am not getting paid to say that.) I thought it would take a long time for my therapist to get to know me because the messages we exchange are on the briefer side, but the fact that there are several each day means it mounts up before long.
Also, in some ways I feel like having an online forum to exchange messages means that I’ll open up to her in ways that I might not in person. (Plus it helps that the written word is my favorite way to communicate in the first place.) I liked getting to know her during the live video exchange, but I feel like I could have accomplished all we’ve already done just via the messaging system.
Most of all, I’m just happy to experience that feeling of being heard — of having a lifeline in the messy chaos of life. I’m feeling my anxiety start to settle down in a way that it hasn’t in years — probably since I was last in therapy. I’m also feeling a new sense of hope about my life, and that the things that were festering inside of me — the worries that were starting to creep into all aspects of my life again — are finally going to be addressed again.
As mothers who often expend so much effort helping and caring for others every second of every day, it can be all too easily forget to care of ourselves. But our mental health is as important as anything else in life. And if we don’t care for ourselves, we can’t be there for others in the way they need us most.
So if you have an inkling that therapy is something you might want to do, but you just don’t feel like there’s any way you’ll be able to fit it into your life, I encourage you to try online therapy. There are lots of options out there, and many of them won’t even require you to shower or get out of your yoga pants. (Score!) But most of all, you deserve a chance to be cared for, to voice your thoughts and feelings in a safe space, and to feel better. Don’t deny yourself of that right.