So, here we are on December 31st and as cliché as we all know it to be we still tend to think over the past year and look to the coming year. Some of us do so with regret and hope, some with nostalgia and concern, others with a mix along the emotional spectrum, but we all do it to some degree. Anyone who follows my writing knows that 2016 was quite a year for me. It was a year of devastating losses and dazzling successes that worked together to create a complete renovation of my life and most every aspect of it. While I learned and grew a lot this year I’d say the greatest lesson I embraced, and continue to work on, is it’s okay to ask for help.
I needed a lot of help this past year. I needed the support of co-workers, friends, family, acquaintances and even strangers. I had people come to my house and work for hours on end cleaning, landscaping, fixing, redecorating and a whole manner of things to prepare it for being put on the market. I had people sending me random gifts and cards in the mail to cheer me up, to cheer me on, to keep moving me forward. I had people waking up at the crack of dawn to take me to surgery when I stubbornly thought Uber would be fine. And people picking me up, getting me situated with my pain pills and all the jello, pudding and applesauce a patient could need, because they knew before I did that I’d need it. I had people coming to my new loft to hang art on the walls, do minor handyman-type work, hide all the wires from my TV, fix my shower rod and basically make sure my new house was a home.
When I blindly gave away most of my belongings, then realized I needed to replace several, I had people encouraging me that it was a positive thing – reminding me that I was creating my sanctuary (I love that phrasing) and that I deserve a space I love. I had people give me amazing housewarming gifts to make me feel at home and loved.
In short, I had people. And those people were more than willing to help, all I had to do was ask. Which is why, after all the changes – new job, new house, new look – and all the amazing support I had from various outlets, when I still found myself struggling with feeling hurt and betrayed and lost, I knew I needed to ask for more help. So I started going to a counselor.
We don’t like to talk about mental health as a country. We all applaud the bravery of those who do so in a public light, but in our own lives, within our family, peer, friend and work groups, the subject of mental health carries such a stigma it remains a relatively taboo subject. We joke about it, we talk about it in reference to others, we maybe even share candidly with our closest people that we go to therapy, but it’s just that – some secret we share with those we most trust. And I don’t get that.
When I first started going to therapy it was through a program at work that allowed for six sessions free of charge to a counselor within network. It was a good way to get my feet wet. Some people use the free sessions to meet with several counselors to find one they feel is the right fit. Me being me I knew I had one shot at it so I did a lot of research ahead of time. Ultimately I took the advice of a good friend who said to start by looking for someone who takes my insurance and whose hours and location fit my lifestyle. So I narrowed down the options, decided I would personally feel more comfortable with a female who was a bit older and voila – I had my counselor.
The first time I went I remember being so nervous. I had stopped by the brewery on my way there – my second job is at a brewery and is such a magical place for me that I often find myself going there to be surrounded by my coworkers who always tend to center me and give me strength and hope and purpose—and I remember mentioning to a few coworkers that I was just popping in on my way to my counselor, that it was my first time and I was nervous. Even in the most accepting environment I can think of it was interesting to see the reaction on people’s faces when I mentioned I was on my way to a counselor – it wasn’t judgement I felt coming across, but rather surprise. Surprise that, in this place where no topic is off-limits, that someone would willingly and openly admit to going to therapy. As time has gone by I often reference going to my counselor and people there rarely flinch at it anymore, but it does make me realize just how guarded a topic mental health really is.
My first time at my counselor’s office I just started crying. Before we could even get started I just sat and cried. And for those of you who want to romanticize this moment, let me be very clear – I am not a pretty crier. We’re talking splotchy, red, puffy face with snot gobs and gulps of air that are choked on while mucus spews. Nothing remotely romantic or charming there. So I sat there crying and eventually was able to talk between sobs. I choked out what little I could and for a month I went back every week. It got easier. I cried less. Sometimes I didn’t even cry at all.
I’ve been seeing my counselor since the middle of July. Since September I’ve been going just once a month. The cost is the same as a co-pay for my insurance — $25. I’m still navigating the whole therapy thing, turns out you don’t just get to go and be fixed or go and dump out all your emotions and be rid of them until the next time, but it helps. As humans we all crave connection and having a safe place to connect and share and feel less alone in your struggle is overwhelmingly supportive.
So for me, 2016 was a gift. It stripped me down to my core and gave me a chance to build again – a better, healthier, happier version. And the biggest lesson I had to learn in order to grow this year, was about help. This year I focused on helping myself, hopefully in 2017 I can focus more on sharing that help with others.
As you look to your new year, may your life be blessed with much help. May you be brave enough to seek it when required, accept it when given and share it when needed.
Much love my friends.