They say your 20s are supposed to be the best years of your life.
And yet in 2015, all of 24, I found myself unable to get out of bed, day after day.
On paper, my life was exciting. I had moved out of my parents' nest in Delhi to the Maximum city of Mumbai, I had signed a new lease to a stunning apartment, and I was working at one of India's biggest newsrooms.
My flatmate and I got along effortlessly, my childhood BFF lived walking distance from my house and I had a tight-knit circle of friends who would stick by me through thick and thin. I was living an American sitcom teenage fantasy.
At least on the outside.
Internally, I felt like a machine working on auto-pilot mode. While I liked my job, it was extremely stressful, demanding and paid peanuts. I would work 10+ hours every day, return home at 2 am, work on weekends, and only got one weekday off. When I wasn't working six days a week at my day job, I took up freelance gigs to support my lifestyle in an expensive city like Mumbai. I barely saw my friends. I had terrible eating habits. When I wasn't working, I was trying to catch up on my sleep. And I convinced myself that this is the life I chose, so I needed to keep my word.
My mid-twenties were a painful blur of exhaustion, burnout and lack of sleep. By the time I realised I needed help, I was no longer able to function. The mere idea of my own existence felt like a burden. So I made the difficult (albeit privileged) decision of quitting my job, packing my bags and moving back home to focus on my mental health at 27.
By the time I moved back home at 27, burnout had caused my mental health to deteriorate severely. I felt like I had no option but to 'go to therapy'. After two years of seeing my therapist, I've realised that therapy is for everyone! You don't need to be diagnosed with a mental illness to talk to a professional about your problem. In fact, had I started therapy in my early 20s, I would perhaps not have ended up in such a dire situation.
When it comes to normalising mental illness and therapy, India still has a long way to go. Sure, it's not considered as much of a stigma anymore, thanks to celebrities like Deepika Padukone, who publically opened up about their own struggles with their mental health. But it's mostly still looked at as a last resort. Unpopular opinion: everyone should go to therapy! It helps you become self-aware and develop emotional intelligence. And your 20s, in my opinion, are the best time to start seeing a therapist.
Here's why: your 20s spark a major transformational period in your life. You're finally growing into adults and learn how to completely take care of all your needs--physical, emotional and financial. Such a period is bound to be confusing and turbulent (it certainly was for me!), and talking to a professional about your worries can be a healthy outlet for you.
Let me take you through the invaluable lessons I learnt by going to therapy in my 20s.
Prior to therapy, my life felt like it was on auto-pilot mode. I blamed the universe for all the awful things that were happening to me, and thought the only thing I could do was sit back and wait for them to pass. However, therapy helped me take back control over my life. I understood that while you can't control what happens to you, you CAN control how you react to it. Today, I no longer let life 'just happen' to me. I am an active participant in what goes on in my life, and even on my bad days, I've learnt how to pick myself up.
This is probably one of the most eye-opening things I learnt in therapy. It's easy to blame your problems on everyone but yourself, but a lot of times, self-sabotage is a major reason behind your unhappiness. Over the course of my sessions, I have become acutely self-aware of my behaviour and actions. I've recognised my own toxic traits (yes, *everybody* has them), and I've worked hard to change behaviours that were harming me. This has greatly improved my relationship with myself and my loved ones.
During my first session, I expected my therapist to be someone who would validate my feelings and empathise with me. I thought therapy was about having a professional listening to your problems and asking "and how does that make you feel?" I had NO idea how hard it actually would be and how much work it would take. Reality check: therapy is NOT easy. It's going to be tough, but ultimately it's going to be worth it. So don't stop seeing your therapist if they don't agree with *everything* you say or ask you to work on yourself!
One of the biggest triggers for my mental illness was my low self-esteem. As a child, I always got good grades and participated in extra-curricular activities, but I wasn't 'extraordinary'. The Indian education tells you that if you aren't in the top three of any class or activity, you have no worth or value--and that severely impacted my self-esteem. I grew up thinking I'll never be 'good enough'--there's always going to be someone better than me. And in the age of social media, things only got worse. Thanks to therapy, I've realised that my worth is NOT attached to my achievements, personal or professional. I've learnt how to appreciate, love and accept myself--and I no longer let external factors affect my self-esteem.
This is probably one of the BEST outcomes of going to therapy in your 20s. If you learn how to understand and regulate your emotions maturely in your 20s, your 30s will be a smooth ride. Of course, you will still have your ups and downs, but therapy will arm you with the right tools to deal with just about anything that life throws at you.
At 29, I've finally come to a point where I don't need regular sessions. However, I still keep in touch with my therapist and go for a session whenever I feel like I need help. Repeat after me: there's NO shame in seeking help. You are doing yourself a favour by working on your problems and constantly striving for self-improvement.
Therapy helps me live my best life. And if you're in your 20s and find yourself struggling--please don't hesitate to seek help. Your future self will thank you.
Featured Image: Author's own