I’ve spent my whole life learning about mental health. My first counseling experience was as a child during my parents’ divorce, and I continued therapy visits into my teenage years. I had great experiences with therapy. Therapy allowed me to let off emotional steam in a safe and non-judgmental space. But somehow as an adult, my perspective toward going to counseling shifted from “highly valuable” to “only if I am in dire need.”
However, there came a point when I realized that pushing through on my own strength was not enough. I was experiencing thoughts and feelings that needed some level-headed, empathetic, and educated support outside of my family, friends, and internal dialogue.
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So how did I know, as an adult, that it was time for therapy?
I became increasingly aware of an overwhelming feeling of exhaustion that outweighed any amount of hours I slept. Even when I did try to sleep, it was broken and not the restful rejuvenation I needed. My dietary choices were reliant on takeout and quick-fix frozen-style meals. This seemed convenient but wreaked havoc on my physical and mental health. Because I struggled to take care of my own basic needs and daily tasks, my relationship with friends and family became strained. Maintaining my connections was more than my current mental and emotional state could bear. I felt like I had to push through each day.
Somewhere along the way, I noticed that putting my feelings to the side, being overwhelmed with symptoms from Ulcerative Pancolitis, and ignoring social and professional opportunities wasn’t simplifying life at all, it was exacerbating the difficulty of it. It hurt to hit the realization wall and admit that “it is time for therapy” after carrying an excuse list a mile high that fueled my rejection of seeking help for so long.
“I’m an adult. I can handle this.” “It’s not like they can fix the situation anyhow.” The list of excuses went on and on, but they shared a common denominator. Each of them hindered my ability to overcome and heal. These struggles are also common in the lives of many of the clients I’ve served over the years.
If you find yourself experiencing some of the following feelings or behaviors, I encourage you to schedule an appointment with a therapist or ask a loved one to make a recommendation. Your primary care physician may also have a few names of therapists they trust who could be within your health insurance’s network.
Disconnection and isolation
In the past, I spent every extra second on an adventure with loved ones or working toward my goals. Then I noticed that during a period of disconnection and isolation, I didn’t even care that I hadn’t seen anyone or accomplished anything beyond surviving each day. Noticing a loss of energy or interest in areas of your life you were once deeply connected with, made decisions around, or exhibited a level of passion about for over a month or more can be worth checking into.
Basic functioning struggles
There are absolutely seasons when my home is clean, I’m seeing friends, and I am able to perform well at work. Those are nice, even when I only get two out of three. But when I struggled to simply stay awake, make food, sleep in a healthy 7-9 hour time frame, and engage in basic correspondence with others — I knew the struggle was greater than I’d like to admit.
I remember when I was so burnt out from work and school that I began to cry if my spouse asked me if I wanted chicken or beef for dinner. It felt beyond my capacity to decide because I had not been caring for myself well. The care that helps me navigate my emotions and not feel so overly stressed (like eating healthy, sleeping well, staying hydrated, keeping healthy social outlets). Emotional outbursts can look different for everyone, however it is the intense feeling of emotion that typically does not align with the circumstance.
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When I feel overwhelmed, my thoughts either race or stop completely. I have seen these two responses often and they coincide with the “fight, flight, or freeze” response. Our brain is trying to make sense of things, but unfortunately, the part that is in charge of survival responses is not the same area that is in charge of creative problem-solving. Not only are they not the same area, but they also cannot be “on” at the same time. So when we have not done what needs to be done to heal and cope, like seeing a therapist, our brain tries to “survive.” A therapist is a great way to vent, sort, and re-engage the correct part of your brain to make a plan.
For me, therapy is a practice that reminds me I am worth becoming the healthiest me. I benefit from the clarity of hearing my thoughts come to life from my mouth and reflected back in someone else’s voice. It helps me gain tremendous insight and accountability of articulating goals and determining relevant steps. It’s nice to have someone check in on those things and ask me “what happened” when I fall short or alter the plan. Sometimes we don’t see the progress we make from week to week or month to month. Having someone who essentially “takes notes” on our growth and reflects back what they see can be a great way to notice the bigger steps and recognize how far we’ve come.