21 November 2014

Therapy is Awesome!

(Sung to the tune of "Everything is Awesome" from The Lego Movie)

The first place I experienced therapy was with the counselor at my elementary school. I had just gone on AD/HD medication and so I was meeting with her weekly to assess whether the medication was working and if I was adjusting to it well (it was and I was). We talked about my friends and whether or not I was happy and if my parents were nice. I felt so special. Nobody else got called out of class to go talk about their thoughts and feelings weekly.

The next time I went to a counselor was college. I returned from the Oregon Extension (I'll tell you about it sometime) and was really struggling with the re-entry into college life. That was the semester I failed ceramics and gym. (For serious.) I went the school counselor, not knowing where else to turn for help. She had a lamp that was this spinning underwater scene that I would stare at while we talked. She was wonderful and affirming and made me feel so validated in my struggles. She helped me find ways to ask my professors for help and we made game plans. With her help I got back on track so that I only failed gen. ed. classes (ceramics and gym) and not my major courses. I loved feeling like I wasn't alone and that I was getting the help I needed.

I went back to the same counselor after my father died. He died in August, so I spent the rest of the year at home with my mother. When I came back to school in January, my mother asked her to reach out to me. I went back to her office and stared at that same lamp and told her I was fine. I told her about how happy I was to be back at school and how it was good to have that time with my family. I would guess now that she believed me because I believed me. We were both wrong.

I didn't go back to therapy for three years after that. I'd convinced myself I didn't need it. (I was still wrong.) My life was by no means terrible those three years; but I was not handling things very well. I hadn't given myself the time or permission to really grieve. My pain from not having not my father was causing me to damage important relationships and hindering me from moving forward in my life. But I didn't see any of this at the time. I just figured that I was a crazy 20-something who was self-destructive in an alluring way. Like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's. (Who was I kidding?)

But when my best friend's father died, I couldn't hide from my grief any longer. I stayed strong for as long as I could; but when I finally broke down, I very quickly spiraled out of control. I began drinking too often and stopped caring about any of my obligations. I've found that one major benefit of wearing your heart on your sleeve is that you find yourself saying out loud to people things like, "I'm not doing well." and "I'm not okay." This is beneficial because more often than you might expect these people will say back to you things like, "What can I do to make things better?" and "How can I help?" One such person was my pastor. She referred me to my current therapist.

Since I'd been so open with my struggles, I decided to post on Facebook "I made the call. Counseling, here I come." The response was overwhelming and immediate. Within hours so many of my friends had left comments encouraging me and supporting my decision to get help. Many revealing that they also go to therapy and love it. It definitely bolstered my confidence and helped me actually show up to the appointment.

The first time I went to her, I instinctively sat as close to the door as was possible (I still sit there now, out of habit). I subconsciously wanted the option of a quick getaway if facing my grief turned out to be as harrowing as I expected. In a lot of ways it was worse than I thought it would be, but it's amazing what knowing you're not alone can do. It did not take me long to figure out that this was worth investing in - that I was worth investing in. I was only working part time then, so I begged, borrowed and stole to pay for therapy once a week. I got grants from my church and help from my mom. I was determined to make it work.

And it was working. I was identifying unhealthy patterns and making useful connections to things from my past. I was beginning to work on building healthier relationships and making positive steps for my future. It was the first time in years that I let my walls down a little and just expressed how I was feeling. Therapy was making a real and positive impact on my life.

But after six months, the money ran out. I couldn't afford to go anymore and I had to make that decision very suddenly. My best friend paid for me to go one last time and I spent that last session crying - ashamed that money was once again keeping me from doing something important.

But then after another six months, a lot of things had changed. I'd gotten a new, full time job. I'd quit drinking and smoking. I'd gone gluten-free and felt physically healthier than I'd ever felt before in my life. I was in a much better place emotionally. Still, the moment I could afford it again, I contacted my therapist.

I've been going to therapy 2-4 times a month for over a year now. It's expensive and some weeks it doesn't feel worth it; but usually I recognize that I couldn't do it without this. Knowing that every two weeks or so, I'll get an hour to just sit down and figure out my life. No interruptions, no other obligations - just an hour to dig deep. My therapist and I talk about strife in my relationships and my work. She helps me identify what stressors in my life are a result of the grief I still struggle to deal with. We've been able to locate patterns from my family that have a deep impact on my life today. We work to get to the root of my disproportionate responses to some things. It's hard and some days painful, but therapy is awesome.

I've never been ashamed to tell people that I go to therapy; but it's clear in some of the responses I get that some people think I should be. Too often people get awkward when I say, "I can't do that then, I have therapy." They'll squirm or ask "Is everything okay?" Sometimes I just say "No. Everything is not okay. Is everything in your life okay? Because that is very impressive." Others say, "Good for you!" in a kind of nervous, patronizing way. Not everyone, obviously; I have so many wonderful friends who have affirmed and celebrated my choice to go to therapy regularly. But too often my honesty about this choice makes people uncomfortable. I think this is because when you admit you're getting help, then you're admitting that you're struggling.

That's why I wanted to write this blog. I wanted to be another voice saying to anyone who is struggling, "Therapy could really help you. It really helped me and it's nothing to feel shameful about." Admitting we're struggling is important. Every time I've been able to say out loud, "I'm not okay." things have gotten better. Therapy offers me space to regularly say out loud, "I'm not okay." with absolutely no judgement and that is awesome.

14 November 2014

On Accountability

I've been struggling. I'm anxious about the direction my life is heading. I'm consistently overwhelmed at work. I'm still getting over my breakup. My room's a mess. My dishes aren't done. My bathroom hasn't been properly cleaned in weeks. I'm just struggling.

It's really hard to admit all those things. With our ability to cultivate our online presences, it's increasingly easy to make your life look perfect. I know that I've cropped messes out of the background of an Instagram and only posted on Facebook the pictures from before the wind messed up my hair. Pinterest tricks us into thinking people have perfect, cutely decorated, Martha Stewart lives with just the right lighting. These days, a facade of well-being is all too easy.

When someone says "How are you?" I instinctively respond "Good" regardless of whether that's true or not. Even when it's someone who I would feel comfortable opening up to, I automatically put on a happy face. Sometimes when I'm having a really bad day, I'll go so far as to say that I'm doing "Okay." I think most people are guilty of lying like this without even thinking about it. Why is it so difficult to be honest about how we're feeling when we're feeling poorly?

I think this is part of why I've been avoiding blogging some. As a writer, I desire to write about what's going on in my life and admitting to the public that you don't have your shit together is scary. But, dear Public, I definitely don't have my shit together.

Turning 28 really freaked me out. For some reason, I always thought that was the age when everything would click. I would turn 28 and suddenly start consistently cleaning my room and always remember to brush my teeth before bed. I would turn 28 and my shit would magically get itself together.


Surprisingly, just waiting around for things to get better did not actually accomplish anything for my life. I'm as shocked about it as you are.

But, the first step in solving a problem is admitting you have one. So, I'm here to tell you that I'm struggling and it's not going to get better unless I get off my butt and do something about it. No more excuses and no more waiting. But I can tell myself that all day long and nothing will change. I need my community to support me.

I have a lot of friends who don't go to church. I have a lot of people who ask me why I go to church when so few of my peers chose the same path. I'm still working on coming up with a coherent answer, but the best I can offer now is: Community. Part of what that means to me is having people to support me and keep me accountable.

At Oxford Circle Mennonite Church, where I attended before becoming a member of West Philadelphia Mennonite Fellowship, accountability was something that was stressed. It was not enough to show up on Sunday, you had to be open to relationships with other church-goers and it was understood that part of that relationship meant accountability.

To be honest, I kind of hated it. I was in my early twenties and wanted to make poor decisions and think stupid things without anyone telling me I was wrong. But that wasn't an option and people told me I was wrong. Sometimes they were right and sometimes they weren't; but I wasn't able to just keep doing something without thinking through whether it was a good idea or not. And when I said I was going to do something, there were people who invested themselves in making sure I accomplished it. As much I hated it at the time, my experiences at OCMC taught me how important accountability is.

But I've learned the only way to be held accountable, is to make our shortcomings known. So, friends, I'm letting you know that I'm falling short of who I want to be. That I need to make changes that are substantial and obvious to those around me. That I need to stop waiting for my shit to magically gather itself and DO something about it.

One thing I've always desired for this blog is that it be authentically me. I've been falling short of that lately. I've been trying to gloss over my cracks and rely on superficiality to hide any hint of struggle. But that is not honesty and I am dedicated to honesty in my writing. So, with this new layout I've built for my blog, I want a fresh start. A re-dedication to being open about the experience of my life - which includes my struggles. I'm telling this to all of you because then I know that you're expecting it. Because then I'll disappoint more than just myself if I continue to fall back into patterns of polishing my life so it seems better or more interesting. I'm grateful to have a readership that I desire to be authentic with.