“Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not be squeamish about taking a good look.”
― Pema Chödrön
When my marriage ended three years ago, I went and saw a wonderful female GP to talk about my mental health.
I was in the darkest era of my life, I was able to step outside of myself and look down at my life and see what I needed to do – but emotionally I was completely disconnected. I was hurt. I was grieving and I wasn’t sleeping or eating or doing any of the things I truly needed to do to begin the healing process. The GP, unsurprisingly, referred me to a psychologist to help me work through my shit. Funnily enough though, during that time I was experiencing a lot of barriers to accessing outside help. Firstly, I was flat broke and believed I couldn’t afford (or wasn’t worth) the investment in my mental health. Secondly, I really didn’t want to talk about what had happened, I wasn’t really interested in being psycho-analysed or doing a full post mortem on what had gone wrong. I knew that I had done the right thing and I didn’t really need to understand why my husband had done the things that he did to me, I knew exactly why he had, and the knowing wasn’t making it any easier.
It was during this time that I turned to a different kind of therapy. I turned to alternative therapies to heal the broken parts of myself that really needed the attention. My heart was broken, sure… but there were more pressing concerns. My confidence was shattered and my ability to trust other people had been compromised. So for the first six months I turned inwards, I walked a lot, I began filling my own cup before I invested in other people, I found my independence again and very, very slowly I started building new relationships with people around me. I read a lot of Pema Chodron and Eckhart Tolle and I slowly and surely I changed the way I framed my own experiences. I rewrote the narrative of the stories I told myself.
I didn’t return to therapy for a long time, I was actually working for a counselling service at the time and I (naively) thought that I had been able to heal myself. By the end of the first year I was functioning really well. I had good friends, I was trusting people, I had built really good boundaries around my ex, I was eating properly and I was sleeping well (as well as you can with a toddler) and I was laughing lots again.
I’m a big advocate for the value of mental healthcare for everyone. If you were to ask any of my friends, they would tell you that I refer them to therapy ALL the time. At work I refer my clients into mental health care ALL the time. I remind my friends constantly, you don’t have to ‘just get on with it,’ you can ask for help, your pain is valid, even if this isn’t the worst day of your life… therapy is ALWAYS a good idea.
But like so many people, I’m pretty shit at taking my own advice.
Until late last year.
A friend passed away and it was tragic and it brought up a lot of feelings of grief that I had experienced when I lost my best friend a few years earlier, the two friends were family members and it rocked our circle of friends to experience this tragedy all over again. It was heartbreaking to again not be able to properly say goodbye. Around the same time I was also dealing with a very difficult familial relationship that was really affecting my mental health and sense of self. It was a pretty menial run in with my ex that sent me over the edge… it was a simple shitty thing he said that was the catalyst for an absolute waterfall of emotions that I thought I had let go of. A lot of fear and mistrust and grief. I was feeling particularly vulnerable and my self doubt was at an all time high.
When I got off the phone with my ex that afternoon and I felt like the sky was falling all over again. I composed myself for a moment and then I immediately picked up the phone and I did what I wasn’t able to do several years before.
I referred myself to a therapist.
Over the following weeks I systematically worked on myself again, I allowed myself to feel all the things I thought I was done with feeling and very quickly I realised that I was now in a really good place for letting go of all of the things I had been holding on to. To let go of the betrayal. To let go of the fear. To let go of the hurt. To let go of the guilt. None of those things were serving me any more.
After a few sessions I was able to understand my role in the context of the whole and I was able to be much kinder to myself in the process. I was able to let go of my grasp on some of the relationships I was holding on to that were doing me damage and I was able to say goodbye to a friend I was grieving and I was able to let go of any responsibility I was feeling for other peoples bad behaviour. A few sessions was really all I needed, I’d done so much of the work myself and the therapist was just there to help me consolidate what I already knew to be true.
Then about a month ago now I had another difficult run in with my ex. It was hard and it was hurtful and really confronting. My reaction to it was extremely visceral and surprised me as I didn’t think he could possibly have that affect on me any more.
The very first thing I did was call and book a new appointment with a therapist.
The thing about spending so much time doing really intensive work on myself, I have come to a point in my life where I am getting really, really good at asking for help.
The best thing about therapy is that it is a radically compassionate way to hold ourselves accountable. It’s a way of giving yourself the same love and attention you would give a friend who was hurting. It’s a way of saying to yourself, ‘hey you, it’s ok to not be ok – I love you, let’s get some help to see if we can’t figure out why this hurt you so bad.’
Don’t we owe it to ourselves to continue on a journey of becoming the very best versions of ourselves? It’s a journey that whilst exceptionally personal, it’s not often one that can be done alone – sometimes we need a little help.
Therapy is cool. The stigma about asking for help is ridiculous and the awesome thing is that WE collectively have the power to push back against it. If you or a friend of you needs a little help – advocate for therapy, encourage support, make the call.
There is nothing more empowering than grabbing your own life with two hands and making it the best damn life you can.
There is nothing wrong with asking for help. You’re worth it. x
Suicide is still the leading cause of death in Australians aged 15-44 and there is still an enormous amount of stigma around talking about suicide and accessing mental health support. If you are concerned about yourself or someone you know, contact Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636 or Lifeline 13 11 14 for advice and support.
Mental Health is everyones business and stigma is something we all have the power to change.