Imagine the following: You’ve moved into that great NYC apartment only to discover, just after hanging your newly-unpacked soft, white towels, that behind the bathroom door is a sprawling colony of mold. You could grab a bottle of the most toxic, mold-destroying spray available at your new neighborhood Duane Reade and head home to scrub that stuff away, but–as anyone who’s taken 8th-grade science will tell you–most likely, that mold will be back. Why? Because mold is an organism that thrives in dark, warm and–most relevant to your NYC apartment–damp spaces. In other words, your new home’s bathroom is also the perfect home for mold.
It’ll be back.
Sure, go ahead and scrub that stuff away, but next on your new-home to-do list needs to be a call to the super: Your bathroom needs checked for drips and leaks and, most likely, needs a ventilation fan. If you don’t deal with the conditions that allow the mold to thrive, you’re not going to get rid of the mold.
Sadness and anxiety thrive in the right conditions (and therapy needs to address those conditions, too)
Unless you deal with those conditions, that mold won’t be gone for very long, anyway, and the same is true for emotional pain. Sure, when we’re in the midst of an emotional crisis, we need to address that crisis immediately and directly (your therapist might grab a can of panic-i-cide), but once we’re done stabilizing the pain, we’ve got to examine the conditions that allow that pain (trauma, anxiety, depression) to thrive.
Yes, depression and anxiety can thrive in the “right” conditions
Like mold spores multiplying as they bask in the warm, wet crevices of your bathroom, anxiety and depression flourish under just the right circumstances. While the conditions under which your depression or your anxiety may flourish are very particular to you, there are conditions that fairly universally breed emotional suffering: isolation and detachment from others; boredom; unexplored traumatic experiences; thinking you can handle everything on your own; being broke; underemployment; an abusive or unrewarding relationship; failing to attend to physical health; avoiding confrontation…
Here’s the rub:
As you read through some of the conditions that can cause a flourishing of anxiety and depression (and there are many more) you might (understandably) ask the following question: If I’m feeling depressed and anxious, how can I possibly confront these conditions? I mean, I’m anxious! I feel terrible! Now you want me to make friends, get a better job, confront people in my life who are doing things I don’t like, lose weight, exercise…?
Yep. But here’s the most important part:
It comes with an offer of help!
The rub is a rub because feeling lousing perpetuates feeling lousy. Why? Because the worse you feel (the more depressed and anxious you feel) the more you’re unable to care for your life–i.e. the conditions in your life that (you got it) contribute to those very depression-growing and anxiety-producing conditions. It may just be that you’re not in a place to “snap out of it.”
What makes great therapy great is not that it makes you feel better so you can build your life (though it does) but that it helps you build your life so you can feel better, not just temporarily but long-term, even–and especially–when you don’t feel like you can. Great therapy helps you not just scrub the anxiety and depression away, it helps you set things up so it’s not welcome back. Great therapy helps you build a life where anxiety and depression just can’t grow.
(Maybe the next best thing to a great NYC super is a great NYC therapist.)