The first time I ever saw a counselor was when I was seven. It was court mandated due to my parents’ nasty divorce. I remember drawing pictures of how I depicted my ever-changing family and playing “Trouble” with the therapist. My brother and I went on to see many counselors and psychiatrists shortly after their divorce. But my seven-year-old self thought it was stupid and silly to talk to a stranger about the private things going on within my family. It would be years before I’d see one again.
Fast forward to 17. My brother had just died from cancer and everything was out of control. My parents thought counseling might make things easier and I started seeing a counselor who was probably more “aggressive” than what I needed. He was in his late thirties with a scruffy beard and big belly. He swore quite a bit and didn’t seem to have the same religious views that I did.
I believe it’s key when finding the right counselor to “shop around.” It’s like a shoe. It needs to be the right fit for you. If it’s not, it’s going to feel uncomfortable and awkward. And unfortunately, my second go around with counseling was also the “wrong fit.”
All throughout high school and college I continued to struggle with anxiety, depression, self-hatred, body image issues, and suicidal thoughts. However I didn’t seek help. Not from counseling, or anything else for that matter.
Soon after I got married at age 20, I fell into my career – recruiting. Within the two and a half years I worked as a recruiter, the environment became toxic, one in which I was miserable every day and walked on eggshells. Yet, I realized that it was more than just my surroundings making me anxious; it was something coming from inside my brain. Something was off. Something was wrong. I was at a loss. So I made an appointment with my family doctor and got a referral to see a counselor.
Now, let me be honest with you, I had VERY low expectations going into my first appointment. Counseling had never worked in the past, and now my issues and problems seemed bigger than ever. How was pouring my heart out to a complete stranger (who was probably just going to judge me) going to help?!?
Somehow, miraculously, the appointment went a million times better than I could have imagined. This time the counselor was a woman in her early thirties, married with a few kids, gentle, compassionate, and easy to talk to. Right away, we had an awesome rapport.
I continued to see her for almost a year. We worked through my every day anxiety, my relationship issues, my depression and body image issues. We talked through my brother’s death, events with a close family member, and the loss of one of my best friends. Things were getting better. I was on medication that was helping, I got a new job, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and I was happy again.
So I stopped seeing her.
The next spring An (anxiety) started to creep back into my life. She had never left, but was always hiding in the dark. Her voice had gotten quieter with counseling and medication. But now I was off my medicine and not seeking help. An got louder, more intense, and more consistent with her manipulations and lies.
Something needed to change. So I scheduled another appointment with my former counselor. Over the summer we started to work through things again. An still pushes me down every day. She’s loud. She’s needy. She’s controlling. And some months are worse than others. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned so far in life it’s that recovery is a process. Just because things are getting better doesn’t mean that you still shouldn’t be proactive in your fight against mental illness. In fact, you need to be.
Below are some reasons I’ve heard why people (including myself) don’t want to go to counseling. If you can relate to one or two, I hope my perspective convinces you otherwise.
1. I don’t have the money – there are so many agencies that are either free for low income families or offer a payment plan. These organizations understand your situation and are willing to work with you. There are also grants you can receive to help with the costs.
2. I don’t have the time – really? How much time do you spend on Facebook? Watching TV? Overworking? Exactly. Plus, mental health NEEDS to come first. If your foot was broken you wouldn’t wait months to go to the doctor to get medication and crutches. It would be a priority, just like your mental health needs to be a priority.
3. Why should I talk to a stranger about what’s going on in my personal life – first off, these people are trained professionals. They went to school to learn about your illness or whatever you’re struggling with in order to help you work through it. Also, it’s probably good to get an outsider’s perspective. Your best friend and your mom can only do so much.
4. I’m scared to work through my issues – you’re right. It is scary. At least at first. You’re probably going to open up a lot of scars and they may bleed a little again. But you WILL work through it. It will get easier, I promise. Counseling isn’t going to fix your “problem” overnight. It’s a process. But you can do it. I know you can.