|Posted on April 4, 2019 at 10:20 AM|
There have been times in my life where I have felt so much pain that I was certain I would not survive it. When the pain and fear was so all encompassing and big that it wraps itself around you and buries its tentacles down your throat, sucks the air from your lungs, the hope from your heart, the very will to live from your soul, you can find yourself wondering if it is all worth it. It feels like the pain is feeding off your very energy like a parasitic worm with an endless appetite.
I have also experienced so much joy that I have felt at times that I didn’t have enough space within me to hold it all in, and I could feel it spilling out into the atmosphere. I was sure I had finally found the magic wand that so many people feel all therapists possess.
Life is so dynamic. People are so complex.
Both of those people are me, and you, too.
When someone is depressed, anxious or particularly when someone commits suicide, what I notice is that we all want to label it “mental illness” and talk about this behavior through the lens of a disease model. While I sit quietly in the dark listening to this conversation, the whole time I am thinking, if that is mental illness than I most certainly have been mentally ill in my lifetime because I have definitely wrestled with those feelings and considered giving up. And honestly, I have not yet met a person who hasn’t admitted to feeling the same way at least once in their lives when they feel they won’t be judged for it.
And herein lies the problem, no one speaks about it except in the privacy of the therapy room, or with hushed voices to their most intimate friends under threat of abandonment should anyone judge them as mentally unstable...
What helped me was knowing that these feelings of despair that I felt engulfed by made sense. What helped me was knowing that having those feelings didn’t necessarily mean that I was “mentally ill”. What helped me was knowing that those feelings weren’t going to last forever and if I could just hold on and use the tools that I knew would bring me back out of that dark place, one day I would be back to myself. I understood these feelings were transient. But it seems that the overriding discourse of these types of feelings leans too much towards labeling the people who have them as fundamentally sick.
I have spent over a decade sitting in quiet rooms with people who start out as complete strangers to me, who, if I am lucky enough, eventually open up and share their thoughts, feelings, joys and struggles with me.
My work as a therapist has given me an opportunity to reflect on the human experience more than most people would probably even want to. I happen to love it, but then again…… I am kind of different.
For the last four years I have wanted to do whatever I can to help be a part of the solution to what I see as a huge problem with the typical approach to helping people with what we call “mental illness”. For the last four years I have been waging an internal struggle with just doing it. My own internal critic has kept me silent all this time. The battle between wanting to help and doubting my ability to change the current paradigm has been epic.
However, when our nation is looking at the highest rates of suicide in the last 30 years, when the amount of money spent in the US on antidepressants is more than the gross national product of some other nations, when this approach has been shown to cause more harm than good, maybe it is time to reflect on the whole business of being human and what is going on that is making it so hard for people. Maybe it is time to evaluate the typical approach we have to helping them.
I think we need to take a look at how we are all living, what we value, what the culture teaches us about who we are, the real effects of the current environment, and how our human brains inherently just function. I think we need to take a look at the whole business of “mental health” and how we are dealing with people’s response to the human experience, because it seems to me that if what we were doing was working, people wouldn’t be suffering so much.
I don’t claim to be an “authority” in anything. Who I am is someone who has had life throw several of what I call “life grenades” in my lap. I have worked in some role as a counselor for almost 20 years now, professionally for fifteen. I am a deep thinker and a ponderer of human experience, serentity and what creates that in our lives. I consider relationships with thoughtfulness, I consider people through the lens of understanding. I have bared witness to countless lives in the most intimate ways, through the sharing of the experiences of those willing to take a deep look at their lives and who used me as a sounding board and support in that process.
We are all human here, no one is immune. We have all suffered greatly at times, we have all found ourselves wondering what this is all for. Let’s take the masks off, let’s cast away the labels, let’s stop judging the pain, and stop being afraid of the challenges inherent in this process of being human, let’s find our common ground in experience and understanding. Let this be a resource for your own journey, let this be a place to come and unload your own inner demons.
Just know that when you get here, my approach may be a little different. We will learn some new skills, we may take a look at things that you might not even think effect how you are experiencing this life. But then again, isn’t it time to try something new?