Let’s Talk About… #Mentalhealthawarenessmonth

Therapy.

Up until recently the thought of going to a therapist/counselor whatever you want to call them was a very scary idea for me.

It wasn’t scary because of the actual sit down and talk with someone about your life and get practical counsel aspect, no. It was scary to me because of what I felt like it said to other people. Particularly fellow christians.

Personally I felt like it said I was weak. It said I had “major” problems. It said my faith was small. Things I’d heard from other christians either from different pulpits or in conversation told me that I simply needed to pray harder. Or that I needed to go see how the rest of the world suffered to understand my privilege and actual lack of “real” issues.

Those conversations caused my feelings about seeking help to waiver. I felt guilty, because I believed the only reason I was suffering was because my faith was too small. I felt immature, because I knew there were people all over the world dealing with issues bigger than my own. And above all I felt shame because not only was I a regular church attendee, but I was a leader within it who couldn’t get her emotions in check. These conversations, this stigma around getting help for mental health kept me away from places that could help me figure out why I was feeling the way I was and give me the tools to navigate them.

So, why did I go?
I went because I needed too.
I went because I got to a point where I looked at myself and the things I wanted out of my life and knew that if I was to ever be a stable human. A wife. A mother. Then I needed to figure my life out. I didn’t want the people I love and would love in the future to suffer because of me. I also needed to for me. I needed to understand my mind, why certain things processed the way they did and why some things were so difficult for me.
So I went.

I didn’t broadcast it though. It was something very few people knew about at first. I still felt a secret shame for not being able to be “typical”. But that’s just it. I wasn’t typical. What even is typical? A person can grow up in a two parent household, be in the upper middle class, take family vacations every year and still need help navigating some issues. You can be a leader on the stage in your local church and still struggle with anxiety. You can be the children’s choir director and still struggle with depression. You can be a leader in the mental health field and still need a therapist. Seeking help does not make you less of a person, less of a leader or less of a capable human being. I’ve learned that it in fact makes you stronger.

The things I’ve experienced in my life have grown me as well as exhausted me. But I’m growing to love the person I’m becoming because of it all.

When I found my therapist, she didn’t solve my problems. She couldn’t…that was not her job. What she did instead was provide me with objective counsel, and helped me find the tools within myself to triumph over the obstacles I was facing in my life. She told me when I was wrong, and it didn’t hurt my feelings because I didn’t subconsciously want her to be on my side.

My first visit with her was simple. We spent sometime on introductions and she told me what her role would be in my life. She told me what therapy was and what it was not. From there she asked me to set three goals I wanted to accomplish during my time with her, I discussed them with her and we went after them, hard. Sometimes it hurt….but she let me be hurt and kept going. I would often leave her office with stress headaches because I had never been challenged so hard emotionally. She would watch me shut down and call me out. I’d leave there ready to sleep for a week, and evaluating if I wanted to go back the next week…I always did.

So what did therapy do for me?

Quite a few things actually, I’ll list them below. I’m done with it now, I guess you can say I “graduated”, which simply means I accomplished the goals I’d set in the beginning. So I’m no longer working with her, but the things I learned are definitely long lasting.

  • It challenged me to recognize and fight through my bad habits.
  • A licensed professional told me that I’m not crazy (you have no idea how much i needed that validation)
  • This is so basic, but I learned to really talk about how I feel. I’m a private person who has mastered the art of making you feel like you know me while making sure you actually have no idea who I am. She challenged that in me…so…I’m working on that
  • She paid attention to my life with such a laser focus, and poked and prodded me in ways that made me feel super exposed and crazy uncomfortable…ever been to the gynecologist?….yep just like that. BUT with the knowledge that she was doing it to help me and let me know when something was not right either with me or with my surroundings.
  • Lastly (because I’m keeping this list short) she challenged me to be comfortable with every aspect of who I am emotionally. I’m still working on that, but I’m making progress.

Along with reflecting on the things I learned from being with my therapist, I also did some reflecting and came up with 2 main take aways from the entire experience that I’d like to share with you:

Takeaway 1: Seeking help is an act of strength, not weakness. If you need it, be honest and do it. You owe it to no one but yourself, and I can promise you that your future self will thank you.
Takeaway 2: We as a society, especially the christian community need to be more careful with how we talk about mental health. Our kids are listening. What are they learning from us?

Final thoughts

This post was harder to write than it should have been. I’m still very uncomfortable talking about personal things on such a public forum. I’m reaching the point in my life, however, where I’m realizing that if I cant use my struggles as teaching moments then what was the point of it all? What a better time to talk about this corner of my life than mental health awareness month? The things I’ve experienced in my life have grown me as well as exhausted me. But, I’m growing to love the person I’m becoming because of it all. Thank God for the struggles. Thank God for the hard times that humble me and teach me to be more compassionate. Thank God for the friends and support systems along the way that help me to get back on my feet when I end up on my face for the 30th time.

Chat with me in the comments below. I’m curious to hear your thoughts and experiences! Life is hard, but it’s more beautiful together.

Stay Lovely,

Nicole

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character and character produces hope

“Romans 5:3-4 (ESV)