Times like these, we could all use some extra help
Like everyone else, my family and I are dealing with the mental health aspects of COVID-19. When will this be over? Can we all stay safe? What would it be like if one of us were in the hospital alone? Will life return to normal? Will our schools and work be there whenever this is over? All very scary thoughts. I don't have any of the answers, but thankfully, I am not alone. We are going through this together. But I also need some extra help in times like these. So I wanted to share my story in hopes it may help yours.
A Helpful Addition to My Toolbox
In 2013, I had partial shoulder replacement surgery after I flipped off my bike while avoiding some oncoming dogs. I had never even broken a finger up to that point. From the anguish of waiting three weeks for surgery with my thrice-broken arm and dislocated shoulder in a sling to the agonizing sleep deprivation, from the crazy opioid pain reliever withdrawals to the tear-inducing physical therapy, I fell into a depression.
My family provided tremendous support. But I needed more help. I turned to a therapist who listened and pronounced that I shouldn't despair. Things would get better and this experience would be a helpful addition to my "toolbox" as I get older and confront other ailments, physical disabilities, and mental anguish.
Ugg, how depressing was that visit? I never saw that therapist again.
But over the years since, I've reflected on that advice and find hope when I've had some moments of frustration and helplessness, including the pandemic.
My Therapist Was a Lifesaver
I saw a therapist once before when I was an ex-pat in England. I was dealing with the tremendous strain of work expectations and social obligations that, as an introvert, I struggled to manage. I was engaged in dangerous coping skills - overeating, excessive drinking, workaholic - that left me on the edge. My therapist was a lifesaver. She was a voice of reason and rationale when I was caught in the emotions of fear and obligation. She helped me learn about myself and find my way through the toughest period of my life.
A Partner to Build Your Toolbox
A couple of years ago I sought a new therapist, not as much to address particular issues but to be a partner on my journey. I sought to learn about myself and build my toolbox with healthier coping skills.
Not surprisingly, this coincided with my wrapping up my memoir manuscript, Writing my story turned up lots of emotions and stories, new and very old, which I struggled to understand. I also faced the book marketing tasks that were so far outside my comfort zone as a shy introvert.
I think the best therapist just listens and asks pointed, reflective questions. They don't offer the answers, just the guidance. My amazing therapist did just that and we worked through lots of issues, small and large.
Many of my questions from 2018 I have now answered, but life is always filled with challenges and growth opportunities. So I continue to see my therapist about every month for the guidance and grounding to find the answers myself.
Therapy is Especially Helpful for Introverts
I advocate therapy for everyone. We all battle our own demons and issues and deserve to find peace and tranquility. Therapy can be especially helpful for us introverts. We notoriously are very active talkers, inside our head more so than outside. We consider and reconsider issues. We evaluate scenarios and often ponder worse case alternatives. Yet our circle of trust is small. So, often those thoughts just rattle around in our head, sometimes heating up to an emotional boiling point.
I consider therapy as "my time." For me, it is how I get to decompress, to talk about, well, myself. Sometimes it's some deep stuff from decades ago, and other times it's an upcoming event that I'm anxious about. Sometimes it's how to handle the aches and pains of getting older and other times, it is how to handle the unknowns of COVID-19 for myself and as a role model for my family.
Most of all, therapy helps me keep life in perspective. I've relieved the pressure of trying to be perfect, trying to control the uncontrollable, trying to hide my introversion within societal norms. Instead, I am now embracing my strengths, sharing my thoughts with others, and I am growing into a happier, more confident person.
Vulnerability is Not Shameful
Initially, seeing a therapist was a difficult thing. Admitting I couldn't do it alone was tough. When I was a kid my mother was often depressed. She was eventually diagnosed with Agoraphobia, the fear of crowds or cramped, unfamiliar spaces. She rarely shared her pain much less her search for answers. Her shame only served to reinforce the taboos of mental health and established huge obstacles that I could only knock down decades later after my own depression had taken hold. But I've learned vulnerability is not shameful but a mark of strength and growth. Mental health continues to be a societal taboo, though that is fading into the mainstream in the 21st century.
My view is that we see our general practitioner for checkups and physical pains. Many go to religious services for spiritual healing and inspiration. You owe it to yourself to partner with a therapist for mental healing and strength as well. Whether for specific issues or general support, treat yourself.
Layman's Advice to Start Therapy
Get a referral from a doctor or someone you trust or through Psychology Today.
Trust and rapport is more important than degrees. You may choose a Psychologist though my best experience has been with licensed social workers (LSW).
Do not choose family members or friends, or therapists who see family or friends.
Bring a list of a few topics you want to cover at your session.
These days, sessions are mostly by ZOOM so find a quiet, private place for your call.
Do the homework between sessions.
You may also want to see a psychiatrist if medication may be helpful.
Consider journaling to flush out thoughts, build your agenda, and practice your homework.
Frequency may vary from weekly to quarterly. I've found monthly is good to keep the momentum going.
Think of therapy as a gift to yourself. You deserve it! Enjoy!
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