Therapy is not a Four Letter Word

It’s been 2 years since my first visit back to my counselor’s office. And, thanks largely in part to health insurance, it’s the best $15 billing statement I ever receive.

I remember the first friend I told my “dirty secret” to. “So I’m going back to counseling…” (crickets.) “Good for you!” (awkward smile). I remember telling them how scared I was to tell my boyfriend. I thought if he knew, he might think he was dating a psycho and want out. I thought if he didn’t know, I wasn’t being honest and transparent. You’d think I was trying to tell him I had herpes or hemorrhoids or something painful like that. Anyway, I told him (over the phone, too scared to do so in person at the time) and, lo and behold, we’re still together. He’s either ok with dating a “crazy” person or perhaps he’s “crazy” too. Or maybe he’s just human, and recognizes that this is my way of dealing with my own depravity.

I’ve learned a lot during my sessions since that first drive up 695 East, one chilly evening in October 2010, praying, hands gripped to the steering wheel, repeating mantras of, “I’m not crazy.” “This is money well spent.” “You’re doing the right thing.”

I learned that I’m still “crazy.” Just not in the ways I once thought.

I learned that I’m not as bad, as powerless, or as “wrong” as I used to think, and, in the same breath, that I’m more self-centered, self-focused and controlling than I ever realized. Maybe that’s the beauty of grace. We don’t ever maintain an accurate perspective of ourself for more than a minute or two before we’re either beating ourselves down or puffing ourselves up. And God comes in and shows us who we really are, and that, no matter which side of the self esteem see-saw we’re currently teetering on, S/He really does love us and will never give up on us.

I learned to laugh at silly Christians and the stupid things some say and learned that I’m a silly Christian too and need to watch my mouth. I can be stupid too. Even more stupid when I don’t fess up afterwards.

I cried. And the first time I cried in that office, it was painful and I felt like I had to hide my face behind my tear-and-snot sodden tissue, but really the tissue was translucent and crumpled and wouldn’t hide me anyway, nor my tears, so I might as well just show both of them, unadulterated, and experience God’s love through the smile of a patient, gracious LCSW-C with an excellent sense of humor, reminding me that I’m on my way to healing and growth and wholeness.

I learned to be open and vulnerable and real and learned to stop telling people that I’m “meeting with my mentor” when in actuality I’m about to have a 50 minute couch session with a counselor. I’ve been humbled and amazed at many of the responses to that statement (with the occasional awkward moment where the person fidgets and wonders how to respond in which case we usually just switch topics altogether). Such responses have opened doorways for people to share experiences ranging from “well, gee, I’ve been thinking about that too. Where do you go?” to, “You too? No way!!!” Instant connection.

I learned that the past will carry you into the present by default unless you do something about it. It doesn’t just go away. Nor do I want it to. Because growing up has been an incredible joy for me, with some really painful moments in between that have been used to grow and strengthen me. I don’t need to forget about such moments and pretend they never happened. I just don’t need to let them paralyze me.

I learned to recognize and not run from my feelings and how to eschew the voices of certain Christian spheres that re-iterated week in and week out during my college years that “faith is not a feeling.” They’re right. It’s not a “feeling,” per se. But feelings are Biblical. God experiences grief (Genesis 6:7), anger (Deut. 1:37), joy (Zephaniah 3:17), and love (Jer. 31:3). We know from the shortest verse in the Bible that “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). Just open up the book of Psalms- from the lament of Psalm 13:— “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?” —to the zeal of Psalm 92: “You make me glad by your deeds, Lord;  I sing for joy at what your hands have done!!!”  You can call it “Biblical Bipolar” if you want, or better yet, maybe it’s just an accurate reflection of what it’s like to be a spiritual being on this side of Heaven.

I’ve filled journals with phrases like “guilt,” “shame,” “enabling,” “adapting to change,” “choices” and other things ‘therapy’. I’ve written “God, fix me, God help me, God change me, tell me what to do (NOW!), thank you,” prayers. I scribbled to-do lists (to go along with my type A, ADHD, task oriented personality) that could be summed up in six words: “do more, be more, be better.”

I’ve mapped out Thought Records, made my own “searching and fearless moral inventory” of myself, annoyed people I care about by asking them questions like, “So how do you feel about that?” and, “Where along your childhood might you have picked up this message?” Then I annoyed myself with Bible verses, taping them to my wall or writing them over and over again in my journal until they practically would bleed from my head, quoting them with my eyes shut, shouting in the dark, “Do not be anxious about anything!!!” “Take every thought captive to Christ!!!” “Cast your cares upon Him, for He cares for you!” Oh sure, these verses are beautiful and encouraging; I won’t minimize that. But they’re not a panacea, nor are they a replacement for doing the dirty work of staring your junk in the face, your past, present, and future, dealing with your feelings, your struggles, anxieties, worries, and fears. And, if you’re cowardly like I used to be, such verses can be used to hide behind (memorizing scripture earns brownie points with Christians, after all) instead of womaning or manning up and forcing yourself to grow up in your faith and grow in maturity, break, be broken, be remade, be renewed, be made whole.

It’s been a journey. Who knows. I might be in it for another two years. I don’t care. Bring it.

Because I’m tasting a life in which depression is fading fast and anxiety is slowly lifting, much like the kite I flew on my 25th birthday back in March. It was the first time I touched a kite in 10 years and felt like I couldn’t quite remember how to make it fly, but sure enough, with barefoot feet firmly planted on the green grass, I gazed upward, amazed as this piece of plastic wiggled upward into the sky, suddenly dancing in the early spring wind. I feel changed, from the inside out. I’m whole…ish. And that’s ok for now. I’m growing. It’s messy. It’s beautiful. It’s the best investment I’ve ever made on myself. And I owe it to God, health insurance, SafeHarbor Christian Counseling, the patience and grace of friends and family who support and encourage me during my most anxious days…

but most of all, I owe it to the “dirty word” therapy.

_____________________________________________________

Did you know?
-Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older (18% of U.S. population).*
-An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.**
-Approximately 40 million American adults ages 18 and older, or about 18.1 percent of people in this age group in a given year, have an anxiety disorder.**

None of us are as “crazy” as we think we are. If you’re struggling with an area of your life, feel stuck in your personal growth, question faith and life and existentialism or wonder if life is just some big joke, kick yourself in the…. rear… and come join us. You might find us on couches, in offices, or in support groups, but come on in. There’s room for you. The table is big, the couches are soft, and the judgments are gone. All that’s left is love, love and more love. And some growth. And talking about feelings. But I think you knew that was part of the package anyway. 🙂

To find a therapist in your area: http://therapists.psychologytoday.com/rms/

If you are interested in faith-based counseling (beyond paying someone good money to say “just pray more”) and you live in the Mid Atlantic Area, I highly recommend Safe Harbor Christian Counseling (don’t worry, they don’t even know I’m writing this.) http://www.safeharbor1.com/

If you don’t want to have anything to do with therapy, but are hurting, in pain, struggling, or depressed, just do one important thing: talk to someone. Life’s too big for anyone of us to handle by our lonesome. Reach up, reach out, and don’t stop reaching until you’ve got the hand of someone you know you can lean on.

*Source: http://www.adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics **Source: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-numbers-count-mental-disorders-in-america/index.shtml

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Here, now.

6.12.11

I was about to start a run yesterday, when I noticed the most beautiful, free-fluttering, yellow butterfly. I peered closer, lifting my leg towards my back to stretch, and pause long enough to notice the black and fellow fur, completely covering what used to be caterpillar, but now has blossomed into this spotted-winged creature.

Being still, like I was in that moment, is hard for me. I don’t know very often how to be present. It’s something that I talk about- being passionate, being fully alive, not missing your life. Maybe I should stick to following my own advice. Nevertheless, it’s something I’m working on and something God is trying to teach me, through many experiences and people.

One of them is my youth pastor, whom I met with last week, and I bought a copy of her beautiful new book, “Unhaling.” The last chapter is titled, “be here now.”

Be here now. Be here now.

The words mull over and over and swirl around my brain, as my feet take to the pebbled trail. “BUT I DON’T KNOW HOW TO BE HERE NOW!!!” I shout out to God, tears mingling with sweat. “My grant position ends in April; I have no idea where my career is going; I don’t know exactly which grad program I should go into… everything feels like it’s changing…… And why, God, WHY, for the life of me can’t I stop thinking about Africa, I trip I’ve been on nearly FOUR years ago?! And why can’t a day go by without me thinking of HIV, and images of orphans, and girls being trafficked and sold into sex slavery, and unbearable poverty. WHY ARE YOU BOTHERING ME WITH THIS STUFF, GOD!!!?” I shout indignantly as my feet hit the pavement harder.

Be here now.
Be here now.

I pick up my pace. Bikers, runners, joggers, and walkers smile at me. But I can’t smile back. My 19-year-old self would have gladly smiled at a fly, but I didn’t feel like smiling at anyone in that moment. And I feared depression has awakened from its nap and once again reared its ugly head, like a hissing snake, slithering in the darkness through a crack in an unlocked door. I quickly slam the door shut, but fear its hissing, mocking voice will come out again.

Be here now.
Be here now.

A red, red cardinal stretches its wings, moving from the path into the shaded branches of the trees.

Be here now.
Be here now.

Squirrels hang upside-down above me, tip-toeing along tree branches, exposing their white bellies.

Be here now.
Be here now.

Bono whispers, then SHOUTS through my headphones, of a journey of running, crawling, scaling these city walls… when, “DAMN IT!!” I mutter out loud. My iPod died, battery gone. Embarrassed, I pray no one has heard me, as I notice little kids with training wheels biking around me. I fear their parents are secretly glaring at me, wondering what my problem is, and successfully avoid eye contact with anyone.

Be here now.
Be here now.

Now that silence has officially overtaken my headphones, I can hear birds chattering to each other in trees along the path, like neighbors across the street catching up over gardening and trash day.

I can now hear cyclers’ dinging bike bells, warning me that they’re about to pass and I envision myself on my next triathlon. This one will be a half ironman and I visualize myself swimming, biking, and running my way through those 70.3 miles.

Be here now.
Be here now.

I watch as a young girl feels the peddling sensation of her knees going up, down, up, down, her dad smiling behind her, as she tries to bike without training wheels for the first time. They’re smiling and laughing and he is not letting go.

Be here now.
Be here now.

My feet hit the pavement harder. I look ahead. About 20 feet in front of me to my left is a deer trotting merrily along the path. “Bambi?” I think out loud, as it leaps over the grass down to the water for a cool drink.

Be here now.
Be here now.

My feet are moving faster now and my tears have stopped and sweat is pouring down my face.

Be here now.
Be here now.

My finish line is getting closer. My chest is pounding. My toenail, bruised and falling off, screams at me.

Be here now.
Be here now.

I lengthen my stride, pumping my arms as swiftly as I can and cross my finish line. Overcome with a mix of sheer exhaustion and endorphins, I pause to catch my breath. I look up to the sky and feel sunlight touch my face, knowing, deep in my heart, that I have just spent the past seven miles with my wonderful Father in Heaven. My spirit, enmeshed with His, in an intimate holy embrace.

Be here now.
Be here now.

I stretch my hands out to my Maker, and, for the first time, I smile.

“You are here now,” says God. “You are my child.

And,

I

LOVE

YOU.”

And I walk to the car, heart rate now steady, smiling, here now.