Can We Embrace the Complexity of Mental Health?

A Recovering Therapist's Perspective

It has not been easy to be a mental health therapist in the world this week, especially here in Saint Louis.

Hell, it hasn't been easy to be human this week.

So much pain. So much violence. So much suffering. So much judgment. So much intolerance.

So much powerlessness.

And, yet I believe in the power of forgiveness; of ourselves and others. I believe in the power of recovery. I believe in our abilities to heal. I believe in the power of connection and love. And, I really believe in the power of courage.

As a mental health therapist I have been educated, trained and my professional experience speaks to embracing all sides of everything. To not only seek understanding of all sides of everything but to also have empathy for all sides of everything.

Sometimes, this can feel like a heavy burden to carry, especially when it comes to my personal life. It also means that I seek answers in many places and from many different angles. Such as been the case in the heartbreaking suicide of Robin Williams.

 
 

And, needless to say, many angles have been presented.

I have found myself frustrated and angered and I have found myself understood and thankful. Which I guess just brings us right back to that feeling, seeing and understanding all sides of everything.

But today in one of my sessions I was able to bring the many angles to light with one of my fellow survivors of anxiety and depression. And, within that light, I think and hope, I opened up enough space for all of us who struggle with anything to breathe a little easier.

I have depression

As a survivor of mental illness I have been paralyzed by the depths of depression. The kind that hurts your whole body. The kind that leaves you exhausted  in every way imaginable. The kind that destroys friendships. The kind that hurts your schooling or work. The kind where nothing means anything and yet everything seems like too much. The kind that is so dark that you simply cannot see any light; where you don't recognize yourself or anyone else for that matter. And, the kind that makes the impossible choice somehow seem like the only choice.

I can practice my recovery

As someone who practices recovery I know the choices I must make every day to acknowledge, embrace and treat my depression. The choice to take meds when I need them. The choice to really work in my therapy. The choice to practice self care. The choice to embrace the dark, move through it and let it pass because on some days that feels like all I can do. And, the choice to do this all with wholehearted courage.

I am a therapist practicing recovery from depression

As a mental health therapist I understand the disease. I understand the causes, both environmental and genetic. I understand the chemical, emotional and spiritual make up of it. I understand that the disease is not a choice but fighting for recovery and holding onto hope is. And, I can understand that sometimes that choice just feels too difficult to make.

This understanding all sides of it sometimes feels like too much and even too confusing. Leaving me with several different voices in my head:

It's not fair. Why do I have to suffer from depression? Why do I have to work so hard at just being okay? Why does it always linger somewhere in the background just waiting to cut off my light?

or

It's too hard. I can't keep trying. It never gets better. I am exhausted. I don't want to fight any longer.

or

Just get out of bed. Just make the choices that make it better. Just take the meds. Just set a schedule. Just freaking do it. Just...

or

Yes, I have depression (or anxiety or addiction, etc.) and I have to choose to do these things every day to be the best version of myself. Some days are good and some days are rougher. I don't need a reason or an excuse as to why I have depression. But, I can do the work to understand myself. Because this understanding will move me closer to who I am supposed to be and who I want to be.

and

Everything can and will pass. We are never really alone. And, love, light and hope are always there.

The last few days I have been plagued by opinions, judgments and the research coupled with my own experience as a sufferer, a survivor and a practitioner; with all of the voices above.

What I was able to understand today with my client was that maybe we can embrace that it is all just really complex. That most of the time we will never get the exact, sure fire answer as to why or how. But, within that we can still understand.

We can still have compassion, for ourselves and others.

We can choose courage.

And, it is only through this compassion and courage that we can and will find our truth.

And, that this can be and is enough.

I promise.

*If you’re struggling with some tough emotions or feeling lonely, don’t hesitate to call the Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

To read more about my story and my recovery make sure to pick up a copy of Ever Upward: Overcoming the Lifelong Losses of Infertility to Own a Childfree Life,available October 1st at http://www.everupward.org.

If you found this post enjoyable, inspiring, helpful, hopeful, interesting or even infuriating ;), please take the time and the chance to share it through your social media! More shares means more eyes, means more people helped and the message heard on a wider scale. Thank you! Justine

Mental Health Blog Day

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Today, I am reposting The Authentic Therapist because I feel like it fulfills most of the goals of Mental Health Blog Day. We must own our stories.

We must fight for our recovery.

We must break the shamed silence and negative stigma surrounding mental health, as we are all fighting a battle of some kind and therefore we all must choose our own recovery.

~~~~

"You see a therapist?!?"

I think this question is posed for several reasons. But, if I practiced mind reading, which I never recommend doing, this is what I think is really behind this question:

Only really crazy people have to see a therapist!

But you're a therapist, shouldn't you have this all figured out?

Chin up! Can't you just figure it out for yourself?

You must not be strong enough to deal.

~~~~

I struggle and I am a therapist.

I am a therapist, and yet I am also a perfectly imperfect human myself.

I have faith there will be a day when we all have a therapist we work with sporadically throughout our lives. Because life is hard and people are complicated. And to have someone outside of your friends and family to help you through it all, is nothing less than priceless.

I also have faith there will be a day that people aren't shocked that I regularly see a therapist (patients, friends, family and strangers alike). Because life is hard and people are complicated, especially when you are the one helping others through all that life is hard and people are complicated stuff.

 
 

I am also a therapist who lives my life afraid and brave every second of every day. I live my life honoring my authentic truth. I live this way because it is how I have found my own recovery. I live this way because I have done the hard work, choosing it every day, of my recovery. I live this way because I simply cannot not live this way.

I also live this way because I see how much my clients are empowered to change their own lives as I show them my work.

It was drilled into my head in graduate school that as counselor we DO NOT GIVE ADVICE! It didn't take long of me working in this field, in the real world of limited time and resources, managed health care and difficult life circumstances, that I knew this philosophy just wasn't going to work for the people I help or for me and the kind of therapist I wanted to be. I will not answer all your troubles, I will not do the work for you, and I cannot save you if you are not ready to save yourself. But I can assure you, I will walk alongside you modeling what it is like to fight for your own recovery. I will pull you forward, at times, urging you to have faith that it will get better. And, there will be those times I push you forward because it is simply what you need right then to take the best next stop forward.

I also learned in graduate school, as is the philosophy of many in my field, that our clients know nothing about us, that we are blank slates. Early in my career, before I really had to fight for my own recovery, I practiced more on this side of impersonal connection. However, I found that I was working way harder than my clients. I also found I struggled with boundaries because I was fighting so much harder than the client to save their own life. Only after fighting for my own recovery was I able to both share and model my fight for my clients. Self disclosure will always be a hotly debated topic in mental health, as it needs be. As, it needs to be used ONLY when it will move the client forward in their own work. Therapists, myself included, must be careful to not dump our own shit onto our clients. Constantly keep tabs on why we are sharing our own battles with our clients to make sure it is for them and not us.

My own transparency along with the public forum of writing a blog has meant my clients may know a lot about my life and struggles, sometimes even before their first session. I am sure this will make some in my field cringe, graduate professors included. However, it is without a doubt, that I can say this has done nothing but make me a better therapist and better able to help others through their struggles. Not only does this provide constant teaching moments for clients in empathy and authenticity but they know they are truly seen and known when they come to see me for their sessions. They know they are talking to someone who has fought this epic war of recovery. They know they are talking to someone who is not perfect, who also struggles with self-compassion towards that perfection but who, most importantly, owns their story.  I have been asked by my own treatment team what it has been like for my clients to know more about my life, especially as this is something I make sure to have supervision on. Honestly, it is something that is difficult to put into words as it feels like something bigger than us; it is recovery, it is connection, it is ever upward.

 
rays.jpg
 

Marianne Williamson captures this perfectly, "As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

So I will write about my life, both in this blog and in the book Ever Upward. I will share with my clients parts of my own story when I think it will be helpful in their recovery. I will model the daily fight and choices of recovery.

I will help.

I will walk alongside.

I will pull forward.

And, I will push.

I will help by being me. I will help by owning my story; ugly, shameful, scary, imperfect parts and all. Because it is only within this ownership that my ever upward is found and I can really help.

The Authentic Therapist

"You see a therapist?!?" I think this question is posed for several reasons. But, if I practiced mind reading, which I never recommend doing, this is what I think is really behind this question:

Only really crazy people have to see a therapist!

But you're a therapist, shouldn't you have this all figured out?

Chin up! Can't you just figure it out for yourself?

You must not be strong enough to deal.

~~~~

I struggle and I am a therapist.

I am a therapist, and yet I am also a perfectly imperfect human myself.

I have faith there will be a day when we all have a therapist we work with sporadically throughout our lives. Because life is hard and people are complicated. And to have someone outside of your friends and family to help you through it all, is nothing less than priceless.

I also have faith there will be a day that people aren't shocked that I regularly see a therapist (patients, friends, family and strangers alike). Because life is hard and people are complicated, especially when you are the one helping others through all that life is hard and people are complicated stuff.

 
 

I am also a therapist who lives my life afraid and brave every second of every day. I live my life honoring my authentic truth. I live this way because it is how I have found my own recovery. I live this way because I have done the hard work, choosing it every day, of my recovery. I live this way because I simply cannot not live this way.

I also live this way because I see how much my clients are empowered to change their own lives as I show them my work.

It was drilled into my head in graduate school that as counselor we DO NOT GIVE ADVICE! It didn't take long of me working in this field, in the real world of limited time and resources, managed health care and difficult life circumstances, that I knew this philosophy just wasn't going to work for the people I help or for me and the kind of therapist I wanted to be. I will not answer all your troubles, I will not do the work for you, and I cannot save you if you are not ready to save yourself. But I can assure you, I will walk alongside you modeling what it is like to fight for your own recovery. I will pull you forward, at times, urging you to have faith that it will get better. And, there will be those times I push you forward because it is simply what you need right then to take the best next stop forward.

I also learned in graduate school, as is the philosophy of many in my field, that our clients know nothing about us, that we are blank slates. Early in my career, before I really had to fight for my own recovery, I practiced more on this side of impersonal connection. However, I found that I was working way harder than my clients. I also found I struggled with boundaries because I was fighting so much harder than the client to save their own life. Only after fighting for my own recovery was I able to both share and model my fight for my clients. Self disclosure will always be a hotly debated topic in mental health, as it needs be. As, it needs to be used ONLY when it will move the client forward in their own work. Therapists, myself included, must be careful to not dump our own shit onto our clients. Constantly keep tabs on why we are sharing our own battles with our clients to make sure it is for them and not us.

My own transparency along with the public forum of writing a blog has meant my clients may know a lot about my life and struggles, sometimes even before their first session. I am sure this will make some in my field cringe, graduate professors included. However, it is without a doubt, that I can say this has done nothing but make me a better therapist and better able to help others through their struggles. Not only does this provide constant teaching moments for clients in empathy and authenticity but they know they are truly seen and known when they come to see me for their sessions. They know they are talking to someone who has fought this epic war of recovery. They know they are talking to someone who is not perfect, who also struggles with self-compassion towards that perfection but who, most importantly, owns their story.  I have been asked by my own treatment team what it has been like for my clients to know more about my life, especially as this is something I make sure to have supervision on. Honestly, it is something that is difficult to put into words as it feels like something bigger than us; it is recovery, it is connection, it is ever upward.

 
rays.jpg
 

Marianne Williamson captures this perfectly, "As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

So I will write about my life, both in this blog and in the book Ever Upward. I will share with my clients parts of my own story when I think it will be helpful in their recovery. I will model the daily fight and choices of recovery.

I will help.

I will walk alongside.

I will pull forward.

And, I will push.

I will help by being me. I will help by owning my story; ugly, shameful, scary, imperfect parts and all. Because it is only within this ownership that my ever upward is found and I can really help.

Faith in Something

 
 

"Hold it all together Everybody needs you strong But life hits you out of nowhere And barely leaves you holding on

...You're not alone, stop holding on and just be heldYour worlds not falling apart, its falling into place..."

These are the lyrics to the song a friend posted on Facebook the week I really needed it, Just Be Held by Casting Crowns. Sure, it is a Christian band and song, but I dare you to listen to some of the lyrics and see if they can apply to your life, even if Christianity isn't your path.

Mostly, because in the really hard times, I think, we have to believe in something; having faith in something, I think, is a requirement of surviving this life, let alone thriving through recovery.

As, I work with my clients, I don't really care what you have faith in; God, Mother Nature, Karma, Life, Family, Relationships, Coffee or that Pencil sitting on your desk. Life is too hard to not have faith in something outside of ourselves. To believe in something or someone bigger than you, to know we are always understood and never alone.

I have spent most of my adult life struggling with religion while maintaining a decent amount of my own faith. Because frankly, there is nothing like being a mental health therapist who has struggled with infertility to make one doubt faith, a higher power, and especially, organized religion at times.

However, within this doubt I never stopped searching. It has been through my recovery and what has felt like the never ending search that I feel like I have finally found my home in faith and in religion.

I will not use Ever Upward to preach. I will not even use Ever Upward to let you into my faith life, as this is something that I'd like to cultivate and figure out myself and with my family for now.

However, I cannot not write about faith when I share about my recovery. I guess, I just wish for all of us fighting the fight of recovery to seek something in the faith department. Seek something outside of yourself. Seek something bigger than you.

Because within that search you may just finally find yourself again. You may just find your own ever upward.

**I'm fully aware this post could evoke some strong reactions, however I am not looking to engage in a theological debate here. Rather, I'd like to spark the search for something bigger in all of our recoveries. So, rather than preach, what is it you have faith in? Let's educate one another and therefore find compassion in our recoveries.**

No Seriously, Dance Like No One’s Watching: Practice Happy to Be Happy

I had two clients ask me this week, “Do you really do all of this stuff yourself?” By “stuff” she meant the to-do list of self care I have been recommending to her for a while now. And, for the first time in probably my entire career I was able to wholeheartedly say, “Yes!” Therapists struggle too. We struggle with being brave. We have difficulty in some of our relationships. We make mistakes. We too can suffer from anxiety and depression. We have hurts and traumas. We have shame. And we fall off the wagon of good self care, ultimately struggling to practice what we preach at times.

In other words, we’re human.

I didn’t become a therapist for the money or the freedom of being self-employed, I became one because of where I came from. My story, my struggles and flaws, all brought me to exactly where I needed to be, helping others. My story has always helped me to be a good therapist. However, the work I’ve done this last year of my life after enduring the losses of IVF, has helped make me the best version of myself, and therefore an even better therapist.

Surviving IVF, but more importantly, choosing to thrive after the losses of IVF, has culminated into changing my entire life. I’ve changed the way I eat, the way I move, how I cope and how I take care of myself.

I chose change.

I chose the work of change to get back to the real me; the me, I honestly, hardly even remember ever existing.

This work has included everything I have always taught to my clients.  But now, I practice it myself every day.  I don’t do it perfectly, and there are definitely the days I stand in my own way and fall off track, to only then have to shake it off, and start it over.  I practice it daily so I can model to the people in my life, clients and loved ones, that’s its possible and worth it.  I practice it so I can push them forward and cheer them on.  I practice it so I can empathize with how easy it is to get off track.  And, I practice it so I can get how annoying it can be doing this hard work.

This practice is time consuming and a downright pain in the ass some days.  But I know if I make it a priority and truly practice it all, my life will continue to improve.  So every day I try to exercise, dance (stupid dance, really just bouncing around and kicking to my happy songs), meditate (even just 5 minutes of concentrating on a mantra helps), read, write, journal, color (yes in an actual coloring book with crayons), do yoga (which is never very pretty), listen to happy music (my favorites are Roar, Brave and Shake It Out), play with the dogs, and watch something happy or funny or uplifting (www.24hoursofhappy.com or www.upworthy.com).  There are days where everything on this list gets done, and then there are the days that life only allows enough time for a few. But I know, we all can find the time to do a good portion of this list every day, whether or not it is cutting out 30 minutes of television or turning off the technology for an hour at night.  The best part?  I promise, it’s worth it.

Practicing all of this of self care provides me the strength and the space to live as my authentic self. With this I can I live feeling the fear but being brave, embracing my flaws and losses, and living my authentic truth.

So, I practice happy to be happy. And, I choose, every day, to live the true spirit of ever upward.