In honor of a dear friend of mine who has recently decided to seek out the help of a therapist, I'm re-posting a guest post I wrote for Nancy's Point reflecting on my own experience with a counselor. To know that I even gave my friend the tiniest bit of encouragement to finally reach out for guidance during her time of need is the best feeling. But even so, it's not about me, it's about her. And I am so proud of her for taking this step.
I'm a little emotional today as I reread it. I'm in a good place now, but remembering where I've been is just plain bittersweet. My heart used to be so heavy, and it's tough to revisit the broken girl I used to be and reflect on what brought me there... since learning to live without you is what brought me there. I never thought I could smile again and move forward without that intense feeling of guilt suffocating me. But, here I am. I'm doing it. We aren't meant to go through this life alone, and regardless of where you are today, I still feel you right beside me, moving forward together.
I love you,
Shrinking My Grief
When the day came that I consciously made the decision to not get out of bed, to skip my two college classes that morning, to just lay there staring up at the ceiling that I felt was closing in on me, that’s when I realized I couldn’t do this alone. It usually takes weeks to get in to see our university’s therapist, but after hearing of my circumstances from the Assistant Dean of our campus, she agreed to see me that same week.
To me, there were few things more embarrassing than parking my well-known, dark green Toyota Echo plastered with a giant sorority sticker on the back windshield outside of the counseling building, so naturally, I parked further away and trudged through the snow, ice, and subzero temperatures to be sure not to tarnish my seemingly ‘put together’ reputation. I probably looked like I was about to rob a bank or something since I looked over my shoulder repeatedly on my way in with my hands shoved deep in my pockets and only my eyes peaking out over the collar of my winter trench coat. No one would know I was here; not if I could help it.
Of course, there were other students in the waiting room. I kept my head down and pretended to read a magazine, meanwhile internally thanking you for all the carrots you made me eat as I put my excellent peripheral vision to the test to scope out the girl next to me. Her wrists showed no signs of any cut marks; she wasn’t talking to herself; she didn’t scream at me for accidentally sitting on her imaginary best friend. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say this girl was kind of normal. She was kind of like… me. Well, at least the me that I had been before I made this appointment. Now I was a basket-case, shuddering with nerves every few seconds and fidgeting with a wad of tissues that were damp from my tears on the car ride over. If anything, I looked like the crazy one sitting in that room. Awesome.
When the secretary called my name, I looked up and locked eyes with the woman who was about to change my life. Her name was April, and she was going to help and heal me for the next four months until I was on my own for summer vacation. Once we made it into her office, I hardly had time to spit out my name before the dampened, crumpled up tissues in my hand were catching more tears. She handed me a box of tissues, and even used some herself, as we spent the next hour talking about your life and eventual death.
Over the next couple of months I worked through my most painful memories with April. She didn’t say any magic words that made them go away; she just listened. I told her everything that haunted me at night when I tried to sleep: the night you told me you were dying; the sound of your breathing while you slept that reminded me your body was shutting down; the way your cold, stiff forehead felt against my lips when I kissed you goodbye for the final time in your casket; how, after they closed the lid to lock you in that box forever, I threw my body across it and sobbed in front of everyone at the cemetery. I told her everything. And even without any resolution– just knowing I could say it and not carry it alone– it felt good. I felt good.
Eventually, the only time I cried most weeks was during the hour I set aside on Wednesdays to sit with April. I figured that she either sliced onions and rubbed them all over the chair I sat in and the tissues she gave me, or she actually created a safe haven for me where I was comfortable enough to let my guard down and allow myself to be the heartbroken, fragile, emotional girl that I so desperately wanted to hide from the world.
And as quickly as our sessions began, they were over. Walking in that afternoon, I didn’t know it was going to be my last visit with April, but as I sat there silence, fishing for something to talk about, we both realized it was time to part ways. Surprisingly, I didn’t feel sad leaving her office for the last time, even though I knew I would never see her again. I was happy that she showed me that I had the tools to heal myself, and that at that time next week, someone else was going to be filling my time slot and taking the first step in mending his or her own life too.
Initially, I was ashamed to admit that I could benefit from professional help, but now, three years later, I am proud to say that I had the courage to seek it. Therapy gave me my life back. April explained to me, in the most subtle of ways, that grieving takes time, and a whole lot of it, so there was no need to be so hard on myself. And that pushing the painful memories out of my head, opposed to dealing with them, only hinders my ability to move forward in a healthy way. With her help, I realized I had the strength and ability inside myself to get through this without the pain, the hauntings images, and the missing you taking over my everyday life. After only about a dozen visits with April, I have never felt the need to go back.
Eventually, I opened up about my experience to a friend whom I thought could benefit from hearing it. She responded, “Yeahhh… I’m all set with paying someone to listen to my issues.” I felt my face flush with embarrassment as I instantly regretted ever letting her into that part of my life. I was brought back to my first day in the waiting room when I was embarrassed to even be associated with that place as my friend tactlessly reminded me that there is that stigma attached to the mental state of someone who sees a therapist… even if that person is your friend, apparently. I am not– nor was I ever– crazy, but I did need someone to remind me that I was somehow going to get through that very dark time. I think most people could use that reminder at least once in their lives. So, I’ve chosen to not let her words, or anyone else’s, make me feel ashamed anymore, because, you know what? Sometimes, the best things in life aren’t free: like a roof over your head, food on the table, an oncologist working to save your mom’s life, and a damn good shrink.