I Need(ed) Therapy

Photo by Alex Block, Unsplash

I need therapy. This sentence (spoken by anyone) is usually followed with a slight chuckle, a keen “knowing,” often followed by the question, don’t we all?

Don’t we all?!

Deep down we all know we have at least one issue if not nine of them that could stand to be examined further, made sense of, allowing us to move on in our lives without the oppressive burden defining our thoughts and putting a choke hold on our potential.

I can’t call myself depressed today, but I have all sorts of issues I could stand to seek counseling on. At least once a week with slight sarcasm, and usually after I’ve visited my aging mother, I utter the words, I need therapy!

The patience I must muster for a visit with the mother I dearly love, only makes me feel shame for feeling the need to muster anything. Knowing I’ll be in her shoes one day only makes me acutely aware that my kids could have to muster up their own tolerance for me which just makes me feel even worse.

Did I say I’m acutely aware?

I’m acutely aware. About many things. And that’s my problem.

The thinking about the same issues over and over, looping as a musical tape in my mind, has me on an endless emotional roller coaster.

I’ve replaced the therapy I’ve always needed with self-analyzations. It’s cheaper, easier. It’s not necessarily as productive as I imagine therapy to be, but I like to think that it’s a solveable puzzle, and if I merely think about things enough, from every angle, that I will solve it.

Most issues I think originate from my childhood. Big surprise.

But I can’t blame all my baggage on everything parents. Society and the tools (therapy?) I either chose not to gather or tools I’ve been unable to obtain over my lifetime have certainly stood in the way of smooth sailing.

My wrong thinking gets in my way.

I’ve figured out partial puzzles of my collected issues, and just like the blue sky in a jigsaw is always the last and hardest to put together, so too are the final pieces of my interconnected issues.

The undoneness of it all glares at me every day.

Mental health is a dirty word

I think part of the problem are the words.

Mental. Depression. Anxiety.

One of my theories as to why mental health is stigmatized is because of the word, “mental.”

That word conjures up old, tired visions of someone considered crazy or insane. They went mental.

If we could pretty up the word to make it more socially acceptable to talk about then perhaps we could all relate better.

What if we talked about it as the need to create social and emotional wellness? Cause isn’t that what it really is? Don’t we want people to be emotionally well? To live and breathe among society in a socially and emotionally healthy state?

Emotional health is easier on the ears. Easier to digest if you ask me.

And why do the words, depression and anxiety, have to feel so heavy and ominous when uttered aloud?

We’re all sad at one time or another for any number of reasons, and obviously someone who says they are depressed is trying to express something greater than general sadness. So why can’t we adjust our verbiage and think of depression as a spectrum? At it’s core isn’t that what it really is?

Doesn’t the same go for anxiety? There’s normal nervousness about a situation that everyone can relate to, but then there are also degrees greater. Can’t we think of anxiety as also a spectrum?

Thinking about our emotional well-being

I do think about depression and anxiety. I think about it because I have a 23-year old daughter who lives with those feelings, and I have a 15-year old son who also recently said he was a little depressed and anxious about a number of things.

As a mother it certainly gives me great pause, because of course I want my children to be happy, functioning members of society, and live a fulfilled life.

I pause because I wonder what I did or didn’t do to contribute to their unwellness. Isn’t it up to me to ensure they’re well?

And I pause because I wonder if I genetically passed inferior brain chemicals from my own gene pool.

No parent wants to see their children struggle.

But it also makes me examine my own feelings. And if I’m truthful, I think I too have suffered from the very same feelings of depression and anxiety at different times in my life, but in my young adult years, it wasn’t something you talked about.

I’ll get over it

I’ve always discounted my feelings. No one dismissed my feelings. I did it all by myself.

Made myself believe that my feelings weren’t so big a deal that I needed help.

I’ve continually stuffed it down, ignored it, figured I’d just get over it.

Decades ago, mental health was kind of in the closet. Being depressed was just a case of “deep sadness” that you’d eventually get over, if you gave it long enough. Anxiety wasn’t even a thing beyond being “nervous” like in social situations.

Couple that with the fact I was raised in a very stoic family, and really I learned that bad feelings or complaints weren’t meant to be dwelled upon.

Mental? Health? What was that? Got some funny thinking going on? Well move those thoughts along, get over it, don’t complain, don’t make a big deal of it.

It’s okay.

It’ll all be fine.

You’ll be fine.

Sleep on it.

Things will look better in the morning.

And honestly to this day I do know that things do look better in the morning. It’s not bad advice.

After the initial thoughts, after the situation has passed, after the drama I’ve worked up in my head has subsided, it does seem to pass.

But I also know that sometimes the passing is temporary. Your mindset moves along, routine carries you forward, and life propels you through the tangled web in your head, only to return to your tangled mess again some day.

THIS is the therapy I need. I need a way to not travel back to the same issues, time and time again. A way to solve the damn puzzle.

The evolution of my so-called therapy experience

The first time I ever sought out counseling was during my first year of college. It was 1981, and I called up the health center and made an appointment for counseling.

I got there, and sat in that counselor’s office for an hour and cried the entire time. He asked a handful of questions, none of which led to any answers, and accomplished nothing.

I was lost, confused, had no idea how to feel about anything. I was depressed. I’m sure he was glad when I left, and I never went back again.

I moved on, got over it, didn’t complain, didn’t make a big deal of it, and I was fine.

In 1989 I had premarital counseling with my soon-to-be husband.

We sat in the office of this sweet but stuffy, old minister in this 116-year old church in south Georgia, and had our required premarital counseling session. This is also where I remember learning that I was in fact a sinner. Being what I thought was a pretty “good girl,” I didn’t quite get the concept of us all being sinners, but I was there for the required counseling, so I went with it.

The main takeaway of our session was that you have to build your marital foundation on “rock” so to say, and not sand. Your foundation has to be solid, so that you can build and grow. It felt like our church-going habit was setting us up with this solid foundation. Makes sense. Good stuff.

You could say irony was later discovered when we divorced. Unbeknownst to me, our rocks were really a bit, well, rocky, and not so much cemented in with the necessary mortar to keep them in place. It takes two to apply the mortar.

Talk is cheap. Premarital counseling is ‘eh.

Moving on to counseling sessions #3 and #4

Here I am, it’s 1997, and my husband has just careened us into near oblivion as he gets arrested and charged with DUI with serious injury. He did this all while driving the company car, and said company allows him to keep his job under several conditions such as required AA, random drug tests, and personal counseling for him. Kindly enough they also offered optional counseling to me, the spouse, and marital counseling.

Free counseling? Heck, why not? My husband is a drunk, so surely I must have something to talk about!

Off I go to my first (and last) session with some lady. Shortly into the session she blurts out that I’m codependent, a word I had honestly never heard before. Her off-the-cuff diagnosis was not entirely wrong, but worse was the fact that she didn’t elaborate, and it left me lost and confused. To this day the co-word is mostly ill-fitted, but at times I resemble that long ago judgement, and it hurts I’m still there, still wondering.

Marriage counseling wasn’t much different.

It’s hard to say no to free counseling, and it couldn’t have been a bad thing for us to explore our marriage at this point, so we went. Another dud of a session. We had to have had 39 things to talk about at this point, the good, the bad, the ugly, but we sat there with little to say. And we didn’t go back.

I think good counselors would’ve been able to point out the shaky, unmortared rocky cliff we were standing on, to show us that which we could not see, nor had been able to share with one another at this point, but this was the 90’s and I’m not certain good counselors were in high supply.

Which brings me to 2001 when my husband left me

All those unsaid things certainly didn’t help, as whatever he had going on inside his head, came to a head (no pun intended), and he asked for a divorce, and walked out, probably to call the mistress and tell her he had done it.

I went to our then church minister, for I don’t know what exactly. I was lost, confused, mad, sad, and I sat in his sound-proofed office, a baffled mess, and of all the details of my tearful story, he latched onto the fact that my husband was the son of an alcoholic. And all he said was, adult children of alcoholics have troubles with intimacy. I didn’t entirely see the correlation to my problem at the moment, as it seemed he found some intimacy with someone else, now didn’t he? My search for counsel left me with no answers.

Dammit, why is it I can’t get any real counseling?

2004 I’m back in premarital counseling with my now-husband

The church in which we were to be wed was one my husband’s family had gone to for years and years. It was one of these mega-churches, and the pastor was the semi-celebrity type in his circle of circles. He had his share of published books, songs, sermons, etc, and had a charisma that drew others in. I wasn’t one of them. But it was important to his family, so I went along.

But being the mega-church it was, the pastor didn’t know us personally at all. We filled out the obligatory paperwork with our personal information and details that he was to have, so he could appropriately counsel us premaritally.

We arrived to his fancy top floor office through the double secret secured elevator. Here we were, on time, ready to jump through the premarital hoops. We waited quite awhile, told he was running late, and when he got there, we went through the awkward introductions. Hi, here we are, you’re marrying us, counsel us on all your good stuff!

But he had nothing to say. Not a wise word in the room. He floundered through our paperwork, obviously looking at it for the first time, seemingly unaware of why we were really there. It was the oddest, most disappointing thing to be in the presence of this man of the cloth who was going to be a part of our big day, and he gave us no sense of guidance or wisdom or peace.

God, I hope he doesn’t really counsel real people, never mind just us about-to-be married folk.

Again, premarital counseling is ‘eh.

Fast forward to 2016

I hesitate to add this to my list of counseling sessions, but as you can see most of my so-called sessions were odd anyways.

Here goes: I sat in my gyno’s office and cried. Sure I was menopausal, and sure the hormones or quickly depleting supply of them were in play, but I couldn’t explain the tears. I knew I was down and depressed.

And my gyno (I love her) patiently sat there, and counseled me through the natural bodily changes taking place, and how it affects us all differently, and offered up the idea of an anti-depressant prescription. With apprehension I said yes to trying a pill.

My stoic-family self was hesitant. My what-will-my-husband-think self was unsure. My I-could-never-tell-my-mother self was right there in the room. My everybody’s-gonna-judge-me self was front and center.

But I said yes anyways. Because my I-want-some-help self stepped up in that moment. As most anti-depressant pill taking people know, it can take a while to feel any different.

And that time it was taking was enough to make me feel like well, I guess I’m okay, I don’t have the patience for this, so I’ll just stop now.

I’ll be fine.

End of pills. End of trying. Return to my I-probably-need-help self, but I’m not gonna try pills.

Now here we are post-Covid, and I find myself exploring my emotional status

It’s not because of Covid. It’s just conveniently a time when a pandemic happened to raise the flag on not just the virus, but on mental health. All the isolation, all the life changes, all that that does to mess with your mental capacity to cope with the unprecedented stresses.

As you can see any counseling I’ve had in my lifetime has been sparse. I can barely call it counseling. I’ve gotten more nuggets of wisdom and guidance from books and podcasts than I’ve gotten from highly educated people in the counseling field.

My daughter

I’ve watched my daughter get counseling. Real counseling. And as I’ve watched her bravely put her feelings on a platter and offer up her truths to this one therapist for over a year now, I applaud her.

I hate that she needs counseling. I wish she could just sleep on it, and things would be better in the morning. I wish she could journey through life without the problems that make her seek help.

That’s any mother’s wish.

But to admit you need help is the first step, and those that take that first step, and then everyone thereafter are the mental health pioneers. The emotional well being seekers. The changers. They are the brave for not stuffing down the feelings, but rather facing them, and conquering them.

I’m envious of that. I’d like to not be afraid. I’d like to stand up and say let’s just all be okay with getting help, and balance out our brain chemicals if we need to. Let’s not be stoic. Let’s not make it shameful to talk about our feelings and our emotions.

Can we just say we’re not fine?

My son

Covid definitely robbed him of his high school freshman year. It set him back. Remote school, social isolation, a strain on all things normal for teenagers.

He just looked beat down one night at the dinner table, and I flat out asked him if he was depressed. And he said yes he kind of was.

I was a little surprised that he answered so truthfully. Surprised I guess because had I been in his seat 40 years ago, I would’ve shrugged it off, dismissing my internal struggle, making everything okay for everyone around me.

See? That damn stoicism.

I’m grateful that he, too, can speak up for himself and express his emotional well being or lack thereof.

If you’re not fine, then you’re not fine, and it’s okay.

And if talking it out, sleeping on it, or changing routines and patterns, doesn’t help, then let’s get help.

I’m not going to carry the family stoicism down another generation. Let’s maintain some perspective, and value our feelings enough that if we need therapy, it’s okay to get it.

Let’s get it out of the damn closet

I know that our public and private discussions on mental health are slowly coming out of the closet and trying desperately to shed it’s stigma-filled cloak.

Ironically we all still have some anxiety just talking about it, but maybe with time, and the courage of the forward-thinking, emotional well being seekers of current and future generations we can fit the puzzle pieces together better, and not be so afraid.

I know that I can’t ignore my children’s feelings.

I can’t let them ignore their own feelings.

Let’s just talk. Let’s just feel. Let’s allow ourselves to get help if we need it.

Let’s destigmatize mental health.

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On a writing journey to somewhere. I like talking about life lessons and self-awareness. Proud mom, happy wife, just trying to leave something behind.

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Della Jennsen

Della Jennsen

On a writing journey to somewhere. I like talking about life lessons and self-awareness. Proud mom, happy wife, just trying to leave something behind.

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