For the majority of my life I was self-managed in the mental health department. Deaths, failures, depression, divorce and trauma were in all in my wheelhouse. I had friends and family to vent to. Writing to explore and release my thoughts and emotions. When these failed I could self-medicate until I felt better or simply forgot the pain, if only temporary. Counselling and therapy were for the real serious shit, and my shit was never serious enough to need help.
Until one day when it was. One day I would realize I need help. Shit happens to everyone. Good shit. Bad shit. Significant and insignificant shit. People consider trauma as big and scary, horrible and significant. Think car accidents, attacks, natural disasters or war. The truth is trauma is like farts. Sometimes they’re loud and obnoxious, hitting everyone in the room. Other times they’re silent and stealthy, going undiscussed but still having left an impression. Just because they go without comment doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
Sometimes they’re loud and obnoxious, hitting everyone in the room. Other times they’re silent and stealthy…
What happens to one person may not have the same impact it would were it to happen to someone else. Our brains are wired differently, we all see the world through our own lens, interpreting signals in various ways. For some the loss of a job may just be a roadblock, or even a blessing. For others it can be the edge of a cliff. If someone has suffered and survived years of abuse it could be the loss of a loved pet that is finally their undoing. For a first responder with fifteen years under their belt, it could be attending a deadly accident involving a child that finally hits home. Trauma does not discriminate, it simply exists and impacts us all in one way or another.
Being my own therapist for years, I weathered all the storms as ‘just life’. It wasn’t until my marriage deteriorated to the brink, when my emotionally stunted ex-husband suggested marriage counselling, that I sought help from a mental health professional for the first time. Having the benefit of hindsight, I can still look back on those few sessions and laugh. When asked my commitment to making the marriage work, on a scale of one to ten I answered honestly. “Negative twenty.” That poor therapist had no clue what she was in for. She didn’t immediately recognize the controlling and manipulative behaviours of my ex-husband, or that this was the time in my life where I’d finally realized this marriage could be the literal death of me. One time she acknowledged my ex-husband’s faults and provided constructive feedback, he labelled her “A quack! A real wack job with some serious problems of her own.” Therapy ended as abruptly as it began.
During one of those laughable sessions however, she asked my husband a question that prompted a response which made everything click for me. His words were traumatic to my ears. Suddenly after years of calling me “bat shit crazy” every day, I realized it wasn’t all just in my head. It wasn’t only my personal perceived failings as a wife that had brought us here. At that time I considered finding help for myself but I dismissed the idea, it was too expensive and I had gotten this far on my own anyway.
I began to realize that in order to replace the darkness with light, you must first bring the darkness to light.
Years later I finally reached the point where my best wasn’t good enough anymore. No matter what I tried I couldn’t fix my life or myself. I finally reached out for help. Real, true, honest help. I called a psychologist. This was not an easy step, not a pleasant task, but nonetheless it was rewarding and continues to be. It has helped me to truly process and address so many experiences that I tried desperately for years to ignore or hide. In facing these experiences I began to realize that in order to replace the darkness with light, you must first bring the darkness to light.
At some point down the road I was pained with regret for not reaching out earlier. My relationship with my psychologist has grown over the years of my on and off again therapy. I now have the tools to recognize when I’m in too deep to dig myself out on my own. As much as I appreciate the support of loved ones I don’t want to be a burden, and my psychologist doesn’t tolerate bullshit. She challenges my thinking. She asks real questions that provide a new perspective, not pampering to my whims because she is afraid to hurt my feelings. Listening patiently, accepting me while the tears flow, laughing with me and quietly waiting for me to get my thought back on track.
My psychologist has armed me with the tools and tricks to go through years of life without an appointment. Our work together has instilled the courage to be honest and vulnerable. To discuss therapy, and all it has done for me, with others. A new lens allowing me to reach out to those struggling when they don’t have the courage to ask for help. Hopeful that in reaching out I can help someone find peace and begin a mentally healthy life.
As with medicine there is no one-pill-cures all solution. Therapy is like going to the gym, it can take time and commitment before you see the results. Once upon a time though, one day when you handle a situation differently than you had in the past, or just feel better, that’s when suddenly all that time and effort makes sense. You may feel shifts during or after each session, but one day it will hit you. I can’t explain the feeling, the light bulb moment, I just know how to be grateful for it.
The factors that are driving you to seek help will also help determine what services are best for you, not everyone needs to see a psychologist. When it was for my marriage we sought counselling from a therapist. Typically short term and specific issue based, counselling is perfect for many people. A great way to dip your toes into the mental wellness pond. Issues managing the stress of work or school, perhaps the unexpected passing of someone close, or a traumatic group event. There are many forms of counselling, and often a referral from your family doctor can get you going if you’re unsure where to start.
Therapy, or psychotherapy, lends itself to longer term or more persistent broad issues. Struggling with depression, anxiety, Bipolar or perhaps post-traumatic stress may lead you to seeking out a psychologist and psychotherapy. Here’s where you can learn how to manage the stress and life with mental illness so you can have a healthy life. Psychotherapy isn’t limited to psychologists in Canada and the US, I just happened to find someone who clicked with me almost instantly, and she just happens to be a psychologist.
For me finding the right therapist was key. We have a good energy, the right dynamic of give and take to make our relationship work and for me to get the most out of therapy. I didn’t click with the marriage counsellor years back, but in all fairness even if I had my then husband would have stopped therapy anyway. Maybe if I had things would have been different. Not the outcome of my marriage, but maybe my own health and wellness emotionally and mentally. Just as you can shop around for the right doctor, you may also have to give it some time and a few tries before you find the right person to help you through therapy.
Sure family and friends are a great support, and they can offer great help being so close to you. Therapy is different, it’s an hour of time dedicated to you. It’s completely confidential so you can be honest about your worries and fears without concern of judgment. If you suffer from mental illness your problems could be long lasting, a friend will only want to rehash the same topic so many times. A therapist will help you to work through the issue so you’re not reliving the experience over and over.
I will always advocate in favour of therapy. For me that’s a difficult pill to swallow when I think of all the years I actively avoided it and handled life all on my own. Hindsight allows me to recognize it was isolating, a cold and dark place in my life. Sure I did the best I could, but I often wonder what would have been different in my life if I had taken charge and sought help earlier. Maybe next session we will talk about the guilt that comes when I think back on how I neglected such a huge part of my life, then again I have a week so who knows what will come up before then. Either way I look forward to my next session.
Below is a short list of resources available 24/7 for those seeking assistance. If you are having suicidal thoughts, or persistent thoughts of death please seek the right help and call 911 right now. First responders’ are trained to assist you in your hour of need, and these amazing men and women can help you get the support you need. If you’re not comfortable calling 911, arrange a way to get to your nearest emergency department, whether that be on your own or through a family member or friend. Going to the hospital for mental health is no different than going for a broken arm, the caring people are well trained and there to help you with the resources you need.
If you’re currently struggling and wish to seek help there are resources out there, getting started is as simple as picking up the phone.
- Canada Suicide Prevention Service (CSPS): offers 24/7 support by phone, in French or English, by calling 1-833-456-4566. They also offer text support from 4PM – 12AM ET and chat support. (http://www.crisisservicescanada.ca/)
- Kids Help Phone: offers support 24/7 by calling 1-800-668-6868, they have a chat option or you can text to 686868 for assistance. Designed for people ages 5-20. (https://kidshelpphone.ca/)
- Crisis Text Line: text HOME to 686868 in Canada to text with a trained Crisis Responder 24/7 (https://www.crisistextline.ca/)
In the USA:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: offers 24/7 support via phone, simply call to get started 1-800-273-8255 (https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/)
- Crisis Text Line: to text with a Crisis Counselor 24/7 text CONNECT to 741741 from anywhere in the US (https://www.crisistextline.org)