October has always been a special month for me, beyond the colors and the coziness. It marked my first official visit to Iowa, and the beginning of the most transformative chapter in my life. I have met some amazing people, and even fallen in love (more than once) as the leaves have changed and the air turned crisp. But it was also the time when I decided that I could no longer do it on my own; I needed hope, and I needed help.
I went back to therapy.
There’s a lot of truth in not being able to do something until you’re genuinely ready; though I had seen professional counselors as a child, I didn’t have a ton of autonomy over who I talked to, and I was too young to even begin to remotely process the real struggles, much of which were still going on around me back then. And sometimes we’re not genuinely ready until we hit the bottom, until we realize that we have nowhere else to go and nothing left to lose. That took about seven years, where finally at the beginning of my sophomore year of college I hit the floor, threw my hands up, and then picked up the phone. I don’t remember how long it took to get in for an appointment, but sooner rather than later I was trudging over to the University Counseling Center.
I’ve done individual and group sessions, non-religious and Christian counseling, depending on the season I was in and what I needed at the time. In the past three years, I’ve gone from learning how to adjust to the transition period of post-grad to navigating and battling against demons that I never believed I would have to face in life. And with it, I’ve grown more than I ever would have outside of it, and it’s incredibly possible that I wouldn’t be writing this today had I not reached out for another studier and well-trained hand. While inner circles and friendship are necessary, one’s personal home team isn’t typically trained to navigate the depth and complexities of their loved one’s psyche. There comes a point where everyone says, “I love you and support you one hundred percent, but I only know so much.” It’s not a matter of choosing between one and the other, but allowing them both to enrich life and compliment it.
Society says we shouldn’t need help, and that it makes us weak.
Churches say to pray more or simply have faith.
Skeptics in general accuse the entire field of only being after money and making a situation worse.
A good, professional counselor will understand that their job is to listen, to guide you without shame in order so that you may unpack the past in order to create a better future. They should accept who you are and affirm that you’re human, but also be willing to challenge your way of thinking when appropriate, and encourage you to trust the process rather than dig your heals in. God can speak to you through that person, but you have to be willing to open your heart and mind to what they’re saying. And it might take a few times to figure out if you and that person mesh well, or it might take a few people to find somebody that you click with; but when all is said and done, it really does come down to you.
That’s right: in order for therapy to work, YOU have to be willing to show up and do the work.
You have to tell the truth, but also be willing to acknowledge that your version of the truth might be just that. And you also might be wrong.
You have to take responsibility for your life, your actions, and your overall well-being. No one else can, nor should they do that for you.
You should embrace who you are fundamentally, but also allow yourself to grow and evolve.
You have to get out of your head, and get out of your own way.
And you have to want it. If you seek help purely for the sake of pleasing people or trying to be the person they think you should be, it’s not going to do any good.
This kind of transformation is often uncomfortable, even brutal. It does get lonely, because those on the outside might not understand, or they don’t want to have to face their own crap. It might become a pressure cooker here and there, a race to get to the finish line and get back to normal. But it takes as long as it takes, and it’s nobody’s business as far as why or how you go about that time.
It’s not limited to a one-on-one or group discussion; healing also involves writing, music, painting, and any kind of creativity. It’s what allows you to speak and live out your truth, to feel closer to yourself, others, and even to God. I tend to share my writing as a way of communicating with my therapist and with others, otherwise I’m probably be fumbling over my words and nothing would come out the way I intended.
And while there are a lot of resources and spaces dedicated to finding help, overcoming stigma and a willingness to start is only half of the battle. There’s dealing with cost and having the ability to afford it, as has been my battle when seeking out both psychological and physical medical care. I’ve been fortunate where most of my therapists have allowed me to pay on a sliding scale, because it typically has been out of my own pocket. From the research that I’ve done and what I can grasp, insurance companies typically don’t like to pay for mental health services because they don’t recognize depression, anxiety, and so forth as legitimate health concerns. For whatever reason, some can’t take a broken heart or a chemically imbalanced brain as seriously as they would a broken leg.
I’ve never liked the term “broken,” one that’s tossed around in Christianity, or the concept of needing to be “fixed.” We’re not robots, or the sum of our many and complex parts. We’re human beings, all with different stories and backgrounds bound by the common thread of desiring love, connection, and validation. We need to grow, learn, heal, and become who we are meant to be.
What other alternative is there?