When I was newly widowed, people had all kinds of advice for me. Some of it was welcome and some of it, not so much. Once piece of advice that I wish I had actually listened to, years and years ago, was to get some therapy. I resisted this piece of advice adamantly for a long time. Finally, just a little less than a year ago, I started seeing a therapist.
It was a big step for me and one that was much overdue. I had lots of excuses for not going sooner. Now that I’ve been going I can’t imagine what I did before. I had good support from friends and family. I had a handful of close friends I felt I could bear my soul to. But what they lacked was perspective. They wanted me to be happy. And even if they felt I was being unreasonable in a situation they were more likely to hear me out and do what they could to soothe me. What I really needed was an unbiased opinion. Someone who could challenge me to really look at myself and my motivations. Deep down I knew this was what I needed so why didn’t I go get it sooner?
For starters I think there is a stigma that exists in our culture. A stigma towards mental health, counseling and therapy. I think we’re conditioned from a young age to think that we need to “move on” or “get through stuff” or even “let it go.” (Am I right Elsa?) If we can’t do that there must be something wrong with us. If there’s something wrong with us we’re going to be singled out, scrutinized and judged. What’s worse people might view us as weak. This can be especially hard for stubborn, strong individuals (cough,myself,cough).
When I started therapy, one of my first thoughts was about the ease in finding the actual office. I didn’t want to have to ask anyone where the Seattle Therapy Alliance office was because I didn’t want anyone to know I was going to therapy. When friends would attempt to schedule things on Mondays, when my weekly appointment is, I always said I was busy but never mentioned what with. I’ve since gotten over that. I think almost everyone knows I’m in therapy. And you know what? I don’t care. I feel so much better now and I attribute a lot of that to being in therapy. It gives me excellent perspective on myself. I can vent about things that are driving me batty and not dump it all on my friends. What’s more is I don’t feel weak or broken at all. I feel empowered. I feel as if I’m getting better at understanding and loving myself for exactly who I am, which has not been the case in the past.
Another excuse I used was my past experiences with therapy, which were not good. Way back when I was 16 one my best friends died. Needless to say many of my friends and I sort of went a little crazy with grief. My mother was worried and sent me to a psychiatrist. I know she meant well and was at a loss as to how to help me, as I rebelled all over the place. But this guy was awful. Simply terrible. He violated my trust and didn’t really listen to what I was saying. I could tell he was sort of an ass from the very beginning and never really took it seriously, which I’m sure didn’t help. He didn’t seem bothered by the fact that I was basically just reciting what I thought were the “right answers” during our sessions. He prescribed me some medicine that made me feel nothing. I was walking around totally numb. I mentioned this to my mom and we didn’t go back and I stopped taking the pills.
My second experience with therapy was very shortly after Jordan died. People kept pushing me to find a therapist, or at least talk to someone. I was still going to church at this point, desperately clinging to the shredded remains of my faith. I went to a counselor associated with my church. Which, I think was my first mistake. I was already questioning my faith so much, that any time he spoke about God or trusting God or prayer I inwardly cringed and ignored that bit of advice. He was also someone who worked with Jordan and knew him well, and in turn knew me somewhat.
The main reason I was being pushed to counseling was this issue I spoke about in a previous post involving another man who had worked with Jordan. We had some sort of relationship going on that was confusing and weird and made worse by the involvement of too many people. The counselor I went to see also knew the man I was having issues with. It all felt too close and too personal. Jordan’s death was still so close and I didn’t feel like I could be real with this person. So again I said what I supposed to be the “right answers” and wasn’t honest.
In both of these bad experiences I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t feel even a modicum of trust. It’s not even really that these two men were bad at their jobs. I was just not letting them through my walls. I think what made me so upset about these experiences is it seemed to me they didn’t even try.
Here’s the main thing to remember about therapy, not all therapists are created equal. There are a variety of methods and theories out there. You might have to look around a bit before finding a therapist that works for you. Is that annoying and frustrating? Sure, but I tell you, it’s worth it. Once you find a person you can really open up to, who you can trust, it’s amazing how much you learn and grow. Of course letting down your walls has to be something you are willing to do and work towards.
That was the biggest missing piece for me. Therapy was never great for me in the past not only because I didn’t find a therapist that worked for me, but also because I was never open to the idea. I went in with the walls up and armored. No one was going to get to see the real Staci. To be honest I really didn’t want anyone to see the real Staci for a long time after Jordan died. Part of that was because I wasn’t sure who I was without him. Another part of it was because I didn’t want anyone to relate to my pain and grief. I didn’t want to talk to women who had experienced similar situations. My grief was unique, it was mine and at that time I felt it was all I had. I didn’t want it to be lessened by being “normal.” I didn’t want the pain in me to be diluted by someone else relating to me. It was mine and I wanted to keep it for awhile.
That was all part of my own grief journey. Holding on to that grief was what made it real for me. I said earlier that I wish I had started therapy earlier, because of how wonderful I feel now. But I’m not convinced that if I had started earlier I would feel the same way. Because like I said, I wasn’t ready to let go of the grief. If I had forced therapy on myself too early I don’t think I would have let myself be as open.
I’m not an expert, I just have my own experiences to draw from. If there’s anything to take away from this post it’s that there is hope and if you’re open to therapy, it can be helpful in finding that hope. But don’t force yourself to go down a path you’re not ready for. If you need to hang on to the grief for awhile, do that. Go ahead and be sad, it’s your right and it’s not bad, weak or broken. It’s part of the process. But when you are ready, don’t be afraid to pursue therapy because of what others might think. Or because you think it’s been too long. I was widowed five years ago and didn’t start therapy until almost a year ago. It’s never too late.
Don’t pursue therapy because it’s what everyone else is saying you should do. While I think therapy can help every person in some way it’s a very personal choice to make. You should make that choice for you, not for anyone else.