Monday, September 14, 2015

What Does Progress Look Like?

Last week in therapy:

I expressed frustration to my therapist because I was feeling like I haven't been making any progress. She asked me what I felt like progress looked like, what I wanted progress to feel like. I honestly didn't have an answer because I hadn't given any real thought to the concept of progress. I just had this vague idea in my mind of progress without really thinking about what that might look or feel like. She let me sit there a few minutes to try and gather any thoughts I had but I still came up with nothing.

She said, "let me tell you about your progress then. At times, it can be difficult to see it yourself when it's happening gradually and slowly. Sometimes we need an outsider to show us how we're changing."

Honestly, I had to actively keep from rolling my eyes because it sounded so cliche. I didn't because I remembered I tend to think of a lot of cliches as being considered cliche because they're a simple truth that's stated frequently. So, I waited.

Therapist: "A year ago today, what were you doing?"

Me: "I have no idea. I was maybe in Austin or working or at the pool or something like that. Just another day."

Therapist: "What you weren't doing was sitting in front of a therapist getting yourself the help you needed and deserved. I'd call you still sitting in front of me progress. I'd call you still working every day to achieve mental wellness progress. Do you agree?"

Me: "I consider that progress but I don't feel like I've done much more than seek out professional help."

Therapist: "Okay lets start with anxiety. Are you using the tools and techniques I've given you for managing your anxiety?"

Me: "Yes."

Therapist: "Are those helping you manage your anxiety?"

Me: "Well yeah but-"

Therapist: "There isn't a but there. You're doing the things you need to do, that's progress. Every day you get out of bed and try, you're making progress. Every day you look in the mirror and tell yourself you have to keep moving, you're making progress. Every day you're feeling sad and reach out to someone or do something for yourself, you're making progress. Even days when you're feeling your depression or your anxiety or anything negative and you acknowledge it and let it know you see it and know you won't let it win in the end, you're making progress. If you can take all of this in and still don't feel like you're making progress, we can talk about that, we can work on that until you feel like you're making progress."

We continued discussing the progress she's seen in other areas and it's just little things. Things I hadn't even really noticed yet. When we ended, I had a lot to think about.  

I thought about all the little things that didn't look like progress but in fact was that exactly. Putting real thought into what I wanted progress to look like and be versus what realistic progress for me actually looks like. A realization that I was looking for some big thing to happen to feel like I've been making progress hit me and I started laughing at my self. I'm forever talking about how the little things in life add up to something bigger, something more, and here I was ignoring my own little victories that are adding up to something more.

Progress isn't the same for any two people. It's like two people having the same mental health issue, it's not the same even if it is the same disorder because it does different things for different people. We feel the same things but it's not the same exact experience. It makes logical sense that recovering and improving your mental health won't be the same as anyone else's. The mental health issues people face are always unique to them. Depression isn't exactly the same for any two people. What works for some won't work for others and looking at other people and comparing yourself to them only sets you up for failure.

I now realize that "seeing progress" isn't a grand gesture that will present itself. It's not an epiphany that's going to show itself in brilliant blinding light so there's no way I can miss it. It's not an automatic shift in thoughts, feelings and moods that happens all at once.

Having a bad day doesn't mean I'm not making progress still. It just means I've had a bad day and need to not let that take over and wreck the progress I have made. A bad day or a couple bad days in a row are going to happen still but I can't let them win overall.

It's okay to still feel weak sometimes, too. I felt like bad days or feeling weak meant that I was sliding backwards and let them get to me more than I should have. It's been a weird thing learning how to handle myself and learning how to think differently. It's definitely not a bad thing and I don't get discouraged by the progress I still have to make to get to where I want to be. I realize I'm not where I was last year mentally and emotionally and that feels good. It's reassurance from myself that I am capable, I am strong and I can do this. As much as I need support from people around me, I also need to believe in myself and right now, I'm feeling stronger than I have in a while. That's the kind of progress I wanted, I just needed help seeing it.

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