“Does this outfit say ‘mentally stable’ to you?”
My husband turns and stares incredulously. Not at the outfit, mind you. At me.
“What are you talking about?”
I turn back to the mirror. Olive green khaki pants, a soft long-sleeved waffle shirt, sporty jacket, and my white Adidas shoes. If these clothes were a meal, they would be comfort food all the way. Being comfortable when I’m anxious is very important. So I want to be comfortable today. But, more importantly, I want to feel together. I want to look together.
Today is my very first counselling session. Ever. I have struggled with anxiety my whole life, spent a year and a half under the terrifying spell of postpartum depression, and experienced a fairly sizeable identity crisis in the wake of birthing my two children.
But I never thought to talk to anyone about it. I assumed I just had to get over it, figure it out, not burden anyone with my stuff. When that didn’t work, I thought I needed to pray more; perhaps that would cure it. Eventually I started writing about my struggles, hoping the residual film from the last five years would gradually rinse away with each hit of the “publish” button.
But it didn’t. Anxiety remained my constant shadow, with panic attacks debilitating me every so often. And the effects of my depression had marked me in a way that showed no signs of dissipating, regardless of how much I overshared on the internet.
And so I made the appointment. I tried so hard to be casual about it. But as I watched the clock tick closer to 8pm on The Day, my heart began to thud with such intensity, I wasn’t sure I could go through with it.
I drove to the church I was meeting the counsellor at in silence, gripping the steering wheel as though it were about to fly away. When I arrived, I learned my session happened to fall on the same evening as the church holiday production. As I wove my way through a sea of jubilant families, elegantly dressed seniors and wailing babies, I realized I was completely turned around. I ended up having to explain to three separate strangers that I was there for therapy, not a flashy event, and could they please point me in the right direction?
After being met with more wide-eyed stares than I had been emotionally prepared for, I was finally led to the correct office.
My great worry was that I would have nothing to say. That the appointment would fall on a good day, mentally speaking, and we would spend the session chatting about how unusually chilly this winter has been, as my counsellor wondered why the heck I was wasting her time. What if I wasn’t messed up enough to be there?
The introductions were quick and painless, but before I had the chance to fully explain why I was there, I was in tears. In front of a complete stranger (the worst thing.) Not only that, I spent the entire hour sobbing. It was wildly uncomfortable, and yet I couldn’t have turned it off to save my life.
Somehow, in between wiping snot from my face, I managed to cover a lot of ground. I zigged and zagged around kids and depression and my weird brain with incredible velocity. My timeline may have resembled a spirograph drawing by the end of the hour, but I got it out there.
Afterwards, as I checked the rearview mirror to assess what percentage of my makeup was still in its original location (6%), I realized I felt lighter. I felt relief. I had just handed all of my pain and confusion to another soul, and allowed her to carry it for a while, to sit in the mess with me for an hour. I was by no means cured or healed or any of those silly words. But I was going home with an eased spirit, a clearer mind and a practical list of tools. Such simple, beautiful, life-saving things.
And yet, one thought kept running through my mind: What had taken me so long?
I had suffered through years of isolation, guilt and shame over my anxiety and depression. But, in my mind, getting help was never an option. Talking to a professional wasn’t an option. Looking into medication wasn’t an option. But checking more boxes off my to-do list was. Crying in the bathroom was. Ignoring it was. Overeating was. But not help.
I thought I was too strong to need help. That I wasn’t messed up enough to need help. That I should be able to get over it on my own. If I read enough, prayed enough, willed it enough, I could get there.
Here is something I’m only now learning: Sometimes, I’m not meant to get there alone. Actually, I’m not meant to get there alone most of the time. I am meant to ask for help. I am created for help.
Refusing to seek out help is not a sign of my strength.
It is a sign of my fear.
And so I went to therapy. I have not arrived or finished. But I did the next hard, necessary thing. Looking completely and totally mentally stable. I hope.