May is the month dedicated to raising awareness about mental health. I’m going to try to raise awareness by blogging more concretely about my own experiences.
Fittingly, I met my new therapist today. She seems nice and pleasant. I was a little anxious because I wanted to give her background information, but I had some things I needed to talk about today. Somehow we managed to make that work.
I personally think therapy is a great resource that more people should avail for themselves. I have several terrific friends who are obviously coping with a lot of stressors, but when I suggest talking to someone professionally – nope, ain’t gonna happen. Is it the stigma? Is it the money? Is it time? I don’t know.
The first time I saw a therapist was in the fall of 1992 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I was struggling with the stress of moving to a new state, the pressures of grad school and feeling very unhappy. My roommate mentioned that she saw a therapist at the University health clinic so I thought I might give it a try.
It was interesting, but frustrating – the therapists were all students so they rotated in and out very quickly. That’s how it was affordable. I got a little weary of recapping my story every few months for a new counselor, but it was helpful to start learning about the concepts of mental health. I also started taking medication for the first time and that was also a positive step. Again, it was a bit erratic but the magnitude of the clinic quickly reassured me that I was definitely not alone.
When I left LSU and moved to Kentucky, I got myself connected with a regular therapist at the community mental health center which was much better – I saw her regularly for the two years I was there.
But it was also clear that I wasn’t supposed to talk about it – my friends and colleagues did not want to talk about mental illness AT ALL. The man I was dating thought alcohol solved everything. My roommate didn’t want to talk about it. So I quickly learned – go to therapy to talk about stuff and then go back to real life and not talk about stuff.
It was a very long time until I learned how to talk about my mental health and not let stigma stop me, not let other people’s discomfort stop me. I learned to tell people that I *needed* to talk about it.
Therapy saved my life. Repeatedly. But it also greatly enhanced and improved my life many, many more times. Yes, on some level it is nice to have someone objective to talk with on a regular basis. But it is even better to learn actual tools and skills to take back into the world with me. Sometimes, this is a tactic or a plan (like how you’ll handle a situation at work.) Sometimes it is just a different way at looking at the world. And sometimes it was an affirmation that I was being heard and believed.
Therapy is a tool to help you have a better, richer life. It is not a sign of weakness or something to hide. It doesn’t *mean* anything about you. You might go for a short while, you might find it a good ongoing tool. People who abuse you or make demeaning comments about mental illness, therapy or so forth are jagoffs.
And if it doesn’t go smoothly, try again. There are a lot of therapy resources in Pittsburgh – it might take a while to find the right therapist for you. Ask your friends. Ask on the Queer Events list. Ask me.
You are worth it.