I’m not sure what it is about mental health that makes it so much harder for people to talk openly about it than physical health, but to me, the unwillingness of most Americans to be honest about seeking counseling and taking medication prescribed by a mental health professional is a problem. How can we expect to solve these problems unless we bring them out into the open, help people feel like they’re not alone, and de-stigmatize the field of mental health? I am so thankful to Heather Armstrong for her continuing willingness to share her own experiences in such a public forum and one of her latest posts has inspired me to share with you today.
I see a counselor regularly. I started seeing her about six months after our three-year-old nephew died suddenly (almost four years ago). Just after he died, Hubs and I saw a counselor together that I found to be completely unhelpful (he was used to counseling students on how to get all your work done in lab, not grief). Instead of finding a different counselor that fit me better (something you can always do), I threw myself into my first year of grad school, living in a new city, planning our wedding, and put off grieving. I didn’t seek help again until I realized that I was completely overwhelmed by regular amounts of stress, which I was accustomed to handling well.
Luckily, our university has an awesome counseling center that is free* for students. They do an intake interview to match you with a therapist [I cried throughout the entire 45 minutes; I wonder how often that happens]. I was matched with an amazing counselor and started seeing her every other week. For about the first six months, I cried through each session. We worked a lot on grief and on anxiety. After going to counseling that regularly for nine months, I felt ready to take a break, so I did.
About six months into my break, I started to feel overwhelmed again. Based on very wise advice from my dad, “You don’t have to be sick to get better,” I’ve been going to counseling once or twice a month since then. Talk therapy has been a way for me to become more self-aware, to avoid taking [all my] stress out on Hubs or my mom, to preserve friendships that might otherwise be burdened by me not having another outlet to vent anxiety and frustration.
My counselor reminds me of ways that I already know to take care of myself and manage stress. Yoga, being crafty, and volunteering all feed my soul, but I get lost in the day-to-day and forget to do these things. My counselor also helps me recognize when I need to set boundaries in my life and to accept that I can still be a good teacher, student, daughter, friend, wife while putting limits on how much of myself I have to give to others. It’s also just really good to have a safe person who is there just to listen to you and who isn’t involved in your everyday life. A counselor might offer insight that can’t always be gained from friends or family who know you and the situation too well.
My mental health is important and so is yours. If you feel led to, please share your experiences (if not online, to someone safe). The more we talk about this, the less of a problem it’s going to become.
*Though many people do not have access to unlimited, free therapy like I am SO LUCKY to have, counseling centers in cities around the U.S. offer sliding scale fees based upon income. Additionally, many insurance plans will pay for you to see a therapist for a certain number of sessions. If you feel like talk therapy is something that you’d like to explore, please Google “sliding scale counseling” or call your insurance company to find out their policy.