“What did you do today?” my ten-year-old son Alex asked me after he got home from school on Tuesday. I told him about a few errands and then said, “I went to therapy.” He asked, “Was it good?” I hesitated. Therapy is good for me, but it can be tough in the moment. Alex sensed my uncertainty, so he asked, “Did you get out what you needed to get out?” I responded with a resounding, “yes.” Of that I was certain. I’d spent the time with my therapist talking about my recent anxieties and worries and even shed some tears. I had gotten my concerns off my chest and felt better because of it. I didn’t tell Alex any of those details, but I knew he understood when he said, “then it was good.”
He was right, it was good to unburden myself with a therapist that I trust. I’ve been fortunate to have two special counselors in different cities. I value my therapist’s advice and guidance. Just last month, after our family had our first-floor indoor walls and our ceiling painted, my asthma flared big time with all of the dust and fumes. But I kept going, powering through Thanksgiving week. By the time I arrived at therapy the week after, I was a mess, physically and emotionally. My therapist listened to my complaints and my cough all through tears and said, “sounds like your body is angry with you.” She explained that our physical condition and emotional states are tied together and when one suffers, the other does as well. She told me that I needed to go home, go to bed, and refuse to do anything but rest for the next couple of days. I protested because one of my boys had a basketball game that night, and I was worried about missing it. She reminded me that I go to most of the games, and it was okay to miss one. So, I followed her advice regarding rest and after a few days, I felt better both physically and emotionally.
Looking back now, it seems so obvious: I was really sick and needed to take care of myself. But I couldn’t see it at the time even though my asthma has caused me to be sick like this before, even though physical illness has depleted me until my emotional health also suffers in the past. I foolishly felt virtuous for continuing to plow ahead despite my struggles. Sometimes, though, it takes someone else who knows us to point out how we are not taking care of ourselves. If we avoid mental health care when we need it, we are not truly taking care of ourselves.
After I began writing this, we sadly learned of another celebrity, dancer Stephen “tWitch” Boss, who died from suicide. But there are so many people, celebrities or not, who suffer in silence and do not reach out for help. Perhaps it’s a result of lack of access or finances, but I fear that most do not seek help because of the stigma we still attach to mental health issues. As though we are weak because of chemical imbalances or pathetic because we travel through difficult times. Mental health care is health care, plain and simple. I beg of you, please seek out professional resources or people in your circle if you’re struggling. I promise people want to help you.
In our immediate family, we believe in the value of therapy and medication that helps with anxiety and depression. We believe that we go more often to therapy when we’re having an especially hard time, but we also go for maintenance to manage our mental health stressors. It’s no different than managing my asthma with medication on a daily basis and ramping up the treatments when the symptoms are triggered by something extraordinary. There is no shame in pursuing help for our mental and emotional health. None. Life is hard. Let’s not suffer alone. Help is available, and seeking help is good.