This essay, written by our dear community member Aspen, is about her experience of Windhorse psychotherapy. Her words are strong—candid, insightful, at times blunt, but definitely her truth from beginning to end. And as she described so clearly, having known Aspen for a number of years, I’ve seen firsthand how this hasn’t always been her way of showing up in life. But this kind of change is exactly what we hope to see in a person as they’re engaging with a good enough psychotherapy process: that recovery is an ever-evolving path of understanding oneself and the world—a lifelong journey of becoming one’s most genuine self. Most vividly, in this essay you’ll be hearing loud and clear the beauty of Aspen’s unmistakable confidence—the fruit of discovering her own completely unique health and sanity.
It’s a privilege to share her words,
Happy . . . Finally: How Windhorse Changed My View of Psychotherapy and Myself by Aspen (She/They)
Windhorse Psychotherapy has been a refreshing experience after years and years of dealing with therapists who neither saw nor heard who I really was—and viewed me as a problem or burden on them and greater society.
I’ve dealt with mental health struggles my whole life. As genetic code naturally works, I inherited these conditions from my family, and I had early onset symptoms and started seeing a therapist as early as 5 years old. I feel like I have a well-seasoned opinion on what does or doesn’t make a good therapist. My teen years were spent institutionalized and locked away in remote facilities for youth struggling with mental health conditions that were anything but helpful. I have a complicated relationship with therapy as a result of these therapeutic programs. Much of my life, “therapy” felt abusive and cruel, and any time a shift would happen with how and from whom I was receiving it, I was worse off than before. As a result, I generally don’t trust people who work in the mental health field.
All too often these “professionals” felt like over-achievers who had limited personal relationship or understanding of what’s going on in themselves. My observation was that these were people who thrived in the structure of academic settings. They went to college, graduated, and seemed to have things going for them in ways that was not reflective of a lot of people, including me and many others. This type of therapist strongly valued a kind of strict normative view of the world and shunned anything that deviated from that as “mentally ill behavior,” which in their minds indicated the need for hospitalization and at times even institutionalization. Needless to say, I’m still angry with how I was treated by so many of these therapists.
Let me get this out of the way because I feel it is important for the rest of this essay: I’m not at all a normative person. I’m a polyamorous bisexual trans woman. I’m a bit of a tomboy. I skateboard and listen to punk rock. I used to be a boxer. My personal values are less than conventional. I swear like a sailor, and I dress kind of grungy too. In the past I would meet with my therapists and naturally this stuff would come up because that’s my authentic self. Every one of these personality traits I mentioned have been medicalized by mental health professionals as a reason for me to be medicated and justify needing more support than I actually do.
My experiences at Windhorse, after all these programs and stingy octogenarian therapists, was honestly quite surprising to me. I came to Windhorse expecting just another program since that had been my life for years. But my treatment team at Windhorse were the first people ever—and I mean it when I say first ever—that told me I’m not crazy. I’m not an extremely mentally ill person who will never thrive. They said that pretty quickly.
Much of my time at Windhorse has been spent less on typical therapy, but in trying to remedy something–such as with learning coping skills. They have been great allies in helping me unlearn unhealthy patterns and thought processes that I’ve learned from the abusive therapists I’ve had in the past. Growing up institutionalized, I never learned any independent living skills. My life was a mess right out of these programs, not because I had some intrinsic mental health issue but literally, I missed out on some important developmental stages. Part of growing up is making mistakes and learning from them. In these programs I couldn’t make mistakes. It felt like if I wasn’t 100% perfect in their eyes I would be punished, and at times those punishments were potentially dangerous. So, coming out of these programs, I had the trauma response of “over-control.” I had such a good grasp of everything I did that I was stiff and unemotional and would rarely relax and let loose. I was uptight and stingy, much like the mental health professionals that served as my surrogate parents for 5 years.
Therapy for me at Windhorse was much more about learning to relax and take life more lightly. Like if you go in the grocery store through the “out” door, the world isn’t going to end. If you accidentally say something awkward or rude, that doesn’t mean you instantly lose a friend. Most people are actually pretty relaxed and don’t care that much about these things. And yeah, there are those people who care way too much, but after a while you realize that you’re caring so much is projecting onto these random strangers, who probably don’t even see you or know you exist.
Windhorse therapy helped me learn that some rules are okay to break. It’s okay to rebel. It’s okay to be different and unconventional. It’s okay to be weird. It’s okay that I don’t really want to follow the typical life track that most people have and desire. In contrast, it felt like every mental health professional in my past was medically punishing me because I don’t care about being successful in a career. I don’t care about getting married and settling down. I don’t like kids, and I would never want to be a mother. I don’t care about going to college as a life step. Like if I had a need to I would, but that’s a lot of money down the drain by going in the direction of seeking life experiences I don’t care about.
And I feel the clinicians at Windhorse are a bunch of weirdos like me, in a good way. What Windhorse has shown me is something I would never have heard an adult tell me growing up. I don’t have to work in an office and do all that boring stuff. Not only can I be my authentic self, but I can thrive and do what I love to do for the rest of my life. I don’t care about following the script that most Americans use. I now have examples of adults living their own truth authentically, and their lives are nothing but admirable.
This all being said, mental health is important. Yeah, like if I wanted to give up everything and live the van life, I could do that, but there is a fine line between living the “working remotely and Instagram vagabond” life and being borderline homeless and mentally unwell and sleeping in a van. Both likely involve sleeping in Walmart parking lots, but one is something to be proud of; the other is not something to aspire to.
And that’s the big thing that Windhorse helped me learn. The same activity could be coming from a place of health or the complete opposite. And just because somebody does something that might look self-destructive and unhealthy, doesn’t mean it actually is. Put it this way: according to the National Institutes of Health, 219.2 million Americans older than 12 years old have tried alcohol. Alcohol is a literal poison and is no way good or beneficial for you. Nearly half of all Americans are obese as well (41%). Does that mean a significant portion of our country is mentally ill and self-destructive–on the verge of committing suicide? No, not at all. It is important for our own mental health to indulge. Not overindulge. Not mindlessly either. If you are making a conscious decision as an adult to order the “big daddy’s burger platter” from your local fast-food joint, and you understand the risks and consequences of eating that many calories, that’s your prerogative. You are an adult; you make your own decisions for your body.
So many of the therapists I worked with prior to Windhorse don’t appear to know the difference. They didn’t impress me as having very nuanced minds and weren’t understanding the complexities of the human condition. Like in the past, if I told my therapist I spent the weekend playing video games, they would flip out. But it was 10 degrees out! What do they expect me to do? Work 9 hours and then climb a mountain after work? Props to those who can, but I like my relaxation time. This is just my opinion, but in my rather large sample of experience prior to being at Windhorse, the therapists I worked with tended to be capitalist gestapo. If you aren’t 100% productive 100% of the time, then you clearly have something going on that needs support and medication, right? Thankfully, I’m now able to relax. I’m finally able to take life lightly. And I’m finally happy.