I have a decade’s worth of work in mental health. During that time, I never imagined being in therapy of any kind myself. I’ve been through a lot, but hadn’t really thought about seeking out help. I have done a variety of work in this time- I’ve worked with people aged from about 4 to 64, some with dementia and others with autism and other developmental disorders. I’ve also worked in two substance abuse related facilities, helping one open its doors. I’ve learned that geriatrics is not a field that I want to pursue, but I did develop a passion for working with kids with autism. I loved it.
It wasn’t until I lost someone I loved deeply to suicide in 2015 that I even thought of seeing a therapist. I began drinking heavily and fell into a horrible depression that at the time, I did not see a way out of. I became angry and sad (yes, it’s possible to feel both at the same time) and as a result, I hurt someone close to me, someone that I wouldn’t imagine hurting in a million years. The man that I loved, Jake, had a younger brother that I was very good friends with, Jordan. I lashed out as his now ex-girlfriend, and as a result, he has basically not spoken to me since. I have tried to apologize to him, but to no success. It was then that I realized that I needed help, because it was clear that I could not handle all of this grief alone.
I found a therapist and began seeing her within a few weeks, and I still see her two years later. I’m happy to say that I have gone from every week to every three weeks. It has been a bit weird to be seeing a therapist as a person who works in the mental health field. (I currently work as a Program Assistant in a large hospital in the Emergency Psychiatric Services department.) I have always been told that we need to take care of ourselves so that we can be equipped to help those we serve. I have also been told that many mental health providers see therapists themselves. Both of these things make a lot of sense to me, mainly now that I am seeing a therapist myself. I have been able to deal with my grief a lot better. I have been able to develop better coping skills for my life’s challenges, get and remain sober (as of my writing this post, 10 1/2 months) and other accomplishments.
While in therapy, I was able to make a decision about my marriage- whether to stay or go. When Jake died, I was 8 days away from filing for a divorce. This had nothing to do with Jake. It had everything to do with me needing to restart my life, and being a much happier person and mom. I decided to stay and try to work things out with my husband, which has turned out to be a good decision. I have been able to decide on other things and work on my self-esteem, self-worth and other aspects that have probably needed work for years.
There’s a bit of a stigma about going to therapy, even in 2017, and if you’re working anywhere in the mental health field, it may be even worse. Thankfully, I’ve had nothing but support from those around me. I think it’s because everyone could see what was going on and how badly I was doing before I went into therapy and even after I started. Therapy doesn’t help overnight, and it isn’t a miracle solution. It took a long while before I stopped drinking and really applying what my therapist was telling me to situations and everyday life. Now I listen very carefully, and so does my husband. He asks if she has suggestions for him (she usually does) and he follows them.
The stigma is that therapy is for those who are roaming the street mumbling to themselves, or crying all the time, the kids that are tearing their houses up, etc. Those people are just showing outward signs they need help. Not everyone does. I’m one of many that don’t show outward signs (for the most part). There are millions of us that show inward signs of mental illness or that we are just struggling that you may not even see, because we are used to hiding it. I’m very good at hiding my emotions, because I spent years learning how. I’m still learning how to trust others with my emotions enough to talk to others about them. It’s still my biggest challenge, one I am still working on.
Mental health is so important, even for those of us who work in the field. If you are reading this and you’re struggling, please reach out. Don’t be afraid to do so. You’re worth it. I was lucky enough to find a great therapist on my first try, but sometimes it takes one or two tries to find the right person, but don’t lose hope. There is a therapist for you.