MIND OVER MATTER


I go to therapy.

There, I’ve said it.

Going to therapy is hard work for sure.  Allowing yourself to get emotionally naked and lay yourself bare in front of another person is a scary and hard thing to do.  For me, therapy is part of the regular routine of my life and is a critical component of the care and maintenance plan I have established for myself.  I cut and highlight my hair every 6 weeks, I try to get pedicures every month or so, I visit the doctor once a year for a physical and I go to therapy every week.  I look at it as a gift I give myself week in and week out and it proves my commitment to myself.  I have the good fortune of sitting with someone for 45 minutes (not long enough, by the way) to sort through the myriad issues, challenges, fears, successes, joys, and more that stumble into my life on a daily basis.  It is an opportunity to continually look at myself from different angles and ensure that, while I continue to make missteps, I am learning from each success and failure and never give up on my goal to be better or live better.

To me, this is one of my favorite parts of my week.  Sure, there are some weeks when I don’t know what I want to talk about or I feel particularly weighed down by my drama.  Those are the weeks I have the best sessions.  With the help of my very able therapist, I get to dig in, stir things up and, ultimately, have some significant breakthroughs that allow me to evolve and grow and, in my case, hopefully recover from some of the trauma of my past.  It is truly sublime (and the hardest work I will ever do).

Am I perfect?  NO.  Far from it.

Am I cured?  NO.  It is a journey.

Will it ever end?  I sure hope not.

Despite my positive experience with therapy, I do know that there are many, many, many people who feel there is a lot of stigma attached to going to therapy.  Perhaps their family and friends suggest that their problems do not warrant counseling or it makes those around them feel insecure and threatened because if their loved one begins to reap the benefits of therapy, it could adversely impact their relationship.  Society plays a big role in the stigma as well because, for many, the mere suggestion that someone seek counseling for the challenges that arise in their lives or the traumas they have endured assumes that they are crazy and that there is something wrong with them.

Before I wrote this blog post, I did a google search on the stigma of therapy and ended up with pages of links to articles, blogs, etc that highlighted the ideology that is attached to therapy and that frequently prevents people from comfortably seeking out help that they often desperately need – including this great piece.   I try to be very open about my good fortune of seeing a therapist every week and share the endless benefits of my sessions.  I am not a particularly private person (as one can tell from reading my blog!) and I believe in the power or stories to help others. While I recognize that it might not be the perfect opening line when meeting a prospective client for the first time, I do acknowledge that the ease with which I discuss my need to seek counseling and the impact it has on my life helps a few to feel more comfortable and open to the idea of therapy or not feel embarrassed by their own therapy sessions.

What concerns me most is that mental health is a topic that, even in 2011, we, as a society, are still very uncomfortable with.  While we will quickly seek help if we learn that we have a medical illness and will fill our prescriptions and dutifully take our meds to watch our blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes, we are far more uncomfortable being diagnosed with depression or anxiety and taking the requisite medications to help treat these ailments.  There is a lot of debate over whether or not these are legitimate illnesses if you cannot conclusively prove them to be and even more debate about the effects and impacts of the various drugs associated with these diseases.  I know many people who are regularly taking medications to treat these illnesses and know an equal number of people who are simply horrified at the thought of the side effects of the drugs which might alter your personality, sex drive or cause weight gain.  I often suggest that these folks look at suicide rates and consider how many of those people might have been saved had they been properly diagnosed or treated for their diseases.  According to researchfrom the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide rates are rising each year and:

Every 14.6 minutes someone in the United States dies by suicide.

Nearly 1,000,000 people make a suicide attempt every year.

90% of people who die by suicide have a diagnosable and treatable psychiatric disorder at the time of their death.

I am not a preacher nor an advocate and will not get on my soapbox to argue the pros and cons.  Rather, I am a satisfied customer who can tell story after story about how much therapy has changed my life and allowed me to live a more meaningful, intentional life.

LOOSE CHANGE


I’m kind of bummed because I wrote a whole brilliant blog post the other day in Penn Station and then managed to lose it because my ipad didn’t save it.  I wrote some great thoughts on change and how changes happen gradually.  In retrospect, I think the universe was telling me something because shortly after I wrote it a change occurred that was sudden and abrupt and contradicted some of the things I wrote that day.  So now I am trying to realign my thinking about what change really means.

Last week I took the subway for the first time in a very long time.  It has probably been six months or more since I last step foot on the subway and that day I happened to have some extra time after my last meeting and decided to forego the usual taxi and hop on a train.  It was an extremely familiar journey for me because I was traveling along the same route that I used to take when I commuted into the city.  My muscle memory kicked in and, without even realizing it, I was heading down the same steps to the same platform and onto the same train that I took every single day for over a decade.  It was very familiar but equally strange because I felt like a young adult who was returning to high school after having been gone for several years.  The surroundings are the same but the faces have changed and you have a very strong sense that you do not belong there anymore.

As I walked the long platform to head towards Penn Station, I thought about how much had changed in my life over the past several years since I left my life as a commuter to begin my journey of self-employment.  I didn’t feel any different, thought I looked the same when I stared in the mirror (except for some extra pounds from being more sedentary and more lines on my face), but I knew I had changed.  There was a seismic shift that came from a series of small little tremors rather than one large earth-trembling quake.  Little things shifted day after day that created a new reality for me.

I remember talking to my therapist a while back about when things change.  I have been in therapy for the better part of my adult life and I often wonder when the changes occur.  When will I be healed?  When will the problems go away?  Well, of course, they never go away but you, hopefully, grow and change and begin to see the world through new eyes with new perspectives and gain new skills for coping.  Then, one day I walked into her office and started talking and knew, even if just in some tiny way, that I was different.  The shift had occurred without my noticing and I was changed.  Some of my old perspectives did not fit into my new reality.  Words I had spoken merely weeks ago did not make sense to me.  I was not sure when or exactly how those perspectives got gray and died but I knew they did.  Some of the pain that I had experienced or behaviors that were so common for me had passed away and now a new set of pains and behaviors replaced them but they were somewhat more manageable.

Change is an amazing thing because, much like endings which I wrote about last week, it is often connected with negative connotations.  Many of us regard change as a bad thing, particularly when the change happens outside of our control.  But, of course, change is often a wonderful thing.  Change creates opportunities for growth and development and perspective — all of which is critically important to help our lives evolve and for us to live to our full potential.  It would be wonderful if we could control when change occurs but it is far more important to pay attention to the changes as they happen.  There is so much to be learned from change, whether it be the ways in which we handle it or the opportunities that come along when the change is foisted upon us.  No matter what, it is almost always true that when we reflect back upon changes in our lives – even those that seem devastatingly painful – the proverbial window usually does open as the door slams shut.

As I walked along the platform that day last week I felt peaceful in knowing that, while my life is not perfect and I did not design the changes as I might have liked to, I have the ability to see that change has helped me grow and become a better person in more ways that I can describe in these words.