May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It’s also the anniversary of my first successful attempt to find a good-for-me therapist. A year ago, my son started having trouble in school. He is autistic and has albinism, a one-two punch that played havoc with his emotions packaged with physical limitations that include near blindness and an inability to spend time in the sun, balance issues – the physical and mental challenges making it hard for him to find a solid place to stand. He’s handled it well, with the help of good teachers and a family that means wells, even if we don’t always succeed. Still, he started acting out in school badly enough that he needed a therapist, and after a minor misstep, we found the right one agency and therapist; Ada Floyd at Bost C.A.R.E.S. Ada was, in fact, so good, that we signed our
daughter up as well. She’d been struggling with what we thought were minor feelings of low self-esteem, school stress, and the challenges of having a little brother like hers. As it turns out, her feelings were more than minor, and she has PTSD, anxiety, and depression, but she’s doing remarkably well, with only maintenance visits at present. This year she’s a high school graduate and working toward her career goals with good cheer.
I also signed up for the same therapist, with trepidation. I had tried therapy a couple of times before, but had some bad experiences. I felt that one therapist was too quick to share what I considered magical thinking, one was dismissive and somewhat domineering, one was kindly, but canceled appointments willy-nilly and invited a stranger, a student, into our session without asking me – and I didn’t really need a therapist. I was doing okay. Except the stress of my children needing help I couldn’t provide made me realize that my “fine” was a thin veneer over a cracking mess.
Mental health is not for the faint of heart. It requires looking at yourself well enough to see where you don’t measure up to your own standards. It requires being willing to let someone else see your flaws and help you reframe them, accept them, be kind to yourself, and work on shoring them up instead of papering them over.
For me, it required showing up, every week and giving my trust to someone else. My stresses and drama, conflicts, and abuses are no more interesting or thought provoking than yours, so I won’t go into them here. The result, though, is important. Giving my trust to someone else was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, along with accepting help from someone else, accepting that I needed help from someone else and that she was well-educated and capable of giving it, and accepting that the kindness she shows me is because she is kind, and because she thinks I deserve it, because I’m human, because…because she can. No ulterior motive here. No reason to use me, suborn me, or turn me to her own ends. She’s a therapist, and a good one.
Finding deliberate, thoughtful kindness odd isn’t so strange, I don’t think. Realizing that my foundations are stronger because of it, and because I’m willing to show up every week, to do the work every day, to refuse to be minimized, or victimized, or invisible because I suffer from mental illness, those are odd – for me, anyway, and maybe for you. But May is Mental Health Awareness Month, so if you wonder if
your foundations could be made a little stronger with help, or you’re aware that you are at the peak of mental health yourself, I hope you’ll take the time to be deliberately, thoughtfully kind to yourself and others who may be struggling with their mental health, and maybe look around and see if there is anything you can do, even talking about it at work, or home, or at church, to support the struggle that we face every day, to reach the height of mental health and stay there, balancing at the top.