I have been meeting regularly with a therapist for nearly three years, ever since I placed a call in the early spring of 2016 to say “my marriage isn’t working and I don’t know what to do.” I share that fact because, if I could wave a magic wand and change one thing about our country tomorrow, it would be to normalize mental health care.
We get our teeth cleaned every six months, check in with the doctor annually to discuss blood pressure and cholesterol, and take our cars for an oil change regularly. So why – WHY??? – is it that our society cannot embrace the idea of preventative mental health care? Or really any mental health care that isn’t overlaid with a tremendous slathering of shame and guilt and judgment?
Everyone should have a therapist they trust, just like everyone should have a mechanic and a hair stylist that they trust. Your life will be better with these people in your life, I promise.
Initially, my husband and I went to counseling together, to talk candidly in a safe space with a neutral third party about where our relationship was and where it was heading. Those answers came relatively quickly and with a clarity that brought both tremendous sorrow and intense relief. During those sessions, we gave ourselves permission to let go of something that was already long gone.
But the answer to one question – is there a future for my marriage – brought with it a million other questions. How would I cope as a single parent? How would I walk my children through the transitions? Was I damaging them irreparably forever? How did I end up here?
And perhaps above all else – “How do I avoid making the same mistakes again?”
So I kept going to therapy, by myself – first every other week, then less frequently as time passed. And it was amazing. I am not instinctively self-reflective. I don’t know my Meyers Briggs letters nor what Enneagram personality type I exemplify. I move through the world rationally, with an emphasis on accomplishment over introspection.
Part life-coach, part sounding board, part asker of annoyingly spot-on questions, my therapist gently herded me down a path of deeper understanding. Of myself, of my decision-making paradigms, of my needs and desires. Together we found the words to describe the foundation I’d built my marriage on – and the words for why that foundation was inadequate.
We tackled issues of expectations (my own and others). We talked about boundaries. She reassured me, regularly, that trying my best really was good enough – for my kids, for myself, for the world – even when I made mistakes.
I cried – a lot – because life is hard and parenting is hard and divorce is hard and relationships are hard. And I laughed – a lot – because parenting is funny and dating is funny and getting to know yourself more intimately sometimes reminds you just how fun and quirky you are.
Last week I “graduated” from therapy – a term I’m deliberately putting in quotes. There was no certificate awarded, no declaration of my mental perfection. The work is never done, but now I feel more confident doing that work of self-knowledge on my own. I’m taking the training wheels off. At least for now.
If I have learned anything in the past few years it is that there are seasons to life, so I certainly acknowledge the strong possibility that I will one day again find myself parked comfortably on a couch, wrestling with issues that feel bigger than I can handle alone. If/when that day comes, seeking help won’t be a sign of failure, but rather of growth.