The Benefits of Group Therapy

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I can recall twinges of anxiety and depression sprinkled throughout my life, starting with a very anxious childhood to an often-depressed adolescent. These experiences came mostly without any harmful behaviour, except for one time when I was thirteen, and I held a pink razor to my wrist because I wanted to know what the cold metal would feel like on my warm skin, before putting it down and feeling great shame. My parents had no idea about my silent struggles, except for their bewilderment at where their sweet, quiet daughter had gone and turned into a brooding pre-teen who lashed out at them constantly. This behaviour and these feelings eventually receded when I reconnected with old friends, and spent more time going out socially.

When I got to high school, alcohol, sex, and drugs became an escape and a way to cope with my feelings of depression and anxiety. An unhealthy cycle quickly formed of getting drunk, making regrettable decisions, feeling shame, and then getting drunk again to forget about it. After a particularly emotionally draining weekend, I had an essay due the following Monday. My parents were out for the evening and I decided to get drunk. My mood improved and I felt giddy and mischievous and grown-up. I had only ever been drunk at parties, or at the mercy of whoever was willing to share their alcohol. Sitting in my own home, alone, pouring drink after drink, while writing an essay for class no less, gave me a sense of power and a very exciting thrill.

When I transferred to UBC at the age of twenty, the only coping mechanism I had for stress was going out and getting fucked up. The loneliness of moving to a new city hit me the hardest, coupled with the stress of a fulltime course load. Soon I was depressed and anxious again, and for the first time in my life, I was having suicidal thoughts. I turned again to binge drinking and casual drug use. I was also sleeping more during the day, neglecting course work and feeling exhausted. The anxiety manifested itself in new behaviour, through binge eating, picking at my face until it was red and bleeding, and pulling out clumps of hair. This occurred on and off for a year and a half, until I traveled for over two months during the summer and realized that all of these behaviours that I had grown used to, had suddenly ceased to exist, because I was no longer stressed or anxious. This was the first time I had ever really recognized my anxiety, so I felt confident that I could tackle the next semester in a healthy way.

But the high-stress lifestyle of a student returned, coupled with overwhelming fear of my looming post-grad career choices. After one particularly fucked up night, I slept with an ex, and this catapulted me into a deep pit of darkness. I felt unlovable. I was devastated, and this was the catalyst in one of my most hopeless periods of depression. A friend casually mentioned to me in passing that UBC Counselling was free, something I had never been aware of, so I made an appointment that week. I was shaking and scared, and I felt like a failure as I filled out their questionnaire.

After the initial appointment, I decided to go to group therapy for anxiety. I only attended group three times, but the simple act of going somewhere with the intention of improving my mental health made me feel a lot better. The most helpful idea that I learned in the group was to allow yourself to view your thoughts and emotions as separate from yourself. Acknowledge that your thoughts and emotions are temporary, and allow them to come and go, instead of holding on to them tightly. You are not depressed, you are feeling depressed. Changing the way I thought about my depression and anxiety made me feel a lot less helpless. Guided meditation also provided me with a new way of thinking about my struggles. Therapy isn’t meant to magically fix all of your problems; it’s meant to give you tools to work through them when they happen. I now can recognize when I'm beginning to feel anxious or depressed by identifying certain behaviours, and I have the coping skills to manage the stress and anxiety that come with everyday life.