You Cannot See Your Eyes

And what that says about getting therapy

How do you know the color of your eyes?

You may have seen them reflected in a mirror, and others have probably told you what they see. Such methods work well enough, but they all require something (or someone) outside of you. On your own, you would never know how your eyes appear to the outside world.

In many ways, you are an expert on your own body. In a sense, only you know how currently feel, and you can detect sensations invisible to everyone around you. But one of your most obvious distinguishing physical characteristics remains invisible to you. You can internally access a wealth of information about your current state, but you will always need external resources to see the full picture.

And that is why you should see a therapist.

For over a year, I resisted taking that step in dealing with depression, despite patient encouragement from my wife. By that time, I had lived with varying degrees of depression for most of my life. I felt as though I had built up sufficient experience in managing it, and in some ways I had accepted it as tolerable or even deserved. I also carried stigmas about therapy and antidepressants that held me back from seeking professional help.

All of this contributed to a mindset where I did not see value in therapy. It sounds arrogant in retrospect, but in a way, I did not see what a therapist could provide that I could not access on my own. I felt as though I could talk myself in circles analyzing my thought patterns and potential responses to them; what more could a therapist say that I had not already told myself, and to no effect?

I see now that such a response was not so much rooted in egotism, but deception from the depression itself, not wholly unlike an abuser trying to manipulate their target. I can also recognize fear, similar to a wounded animal lashing out at someone trying to help it: I had grown perversely familiar with depression, and I did not know what I would encounter by undergoing therapy.

But when I did finally, haltingly get help, I discovered the colors of my mind’s eye.

My therapist has actually commented on my levels of self-awareness as we discuss my condition, but even so, he has continually detected patterns in my responses that I had missed. My observations were not inaccurate, but they were incomplete. “Know thyself” cannot be fulfilled by yourself; the examined life demands an interlocutor.

Again, such observations feel painfully obvious in hindsight. I suspect, however, that I am not the only person who has let their self-sufficiency hamper their self-improvement. Perhaps my experiences will provide a motivating mirror.

My therapist has even framed familiar patterns in new ways, enabling me to understand them better. For example, in one of our first sessions, he shared an analogy of walking down a narrow road with steep hills on either side. The road represented following my current path of coping with depression. By confronting that path, I risked the danger of not finding healing, instead giving up and giving into the depression. But on the other side, I also faced a danger from finding healing while also falling into grief over time and energy already lost to depression in the past.

That imagery may not resonate with you, but it brought some of my struggles into much sharper focus, equipping me to think about them and talk about them with clearer insight. I still have much to learn about both myself and my depression, but I am grateful for the expertise and support of a therapist.

Some day, I hope that seeking out professional help for mental struggles appears no more unusual than going to the doctor for more physical ailments. Even now, I still wrestle at times with stigmas and hesitations involving my treatment. But if you have been putting off talking to a therapist or thinking you really do not need one, I hope you will reconsider. You might not realize how much you are not seeing.

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