Can you imagine a world where it would be as accessible and acceptable to go to your therapy appointment as it is to get a workout in? Perhaps therapists would even have offices at local gyms where childcare is already provided so the barrier of childcare is removed?
I dream of this being a reality. I know both as a mom and a clinical social worker how stigmatized mental health is in our American culture and how many barriers there are to starting and remaining in therapy. I had my best therapy experience while living in Indianapolis previously, and as much as I wanted to get back with that therapist throughout these past two years, it ultimately didn’t happen. Now, as my family prepares to move out of state in early June, I know my time ran out. My main barriers these past two years to getting back into therapy were: I live too far from her office, and I would have to get childcare for 2+ hours weekly or biweekly in order to see her, making the expense of therapy and childcare prohibitive. I certainly could have benefited from therapy these past two years, especially during my first few months of motherhood, when I dreaded more than I enjoyed and wondered if/when I would feel like my usual self again. And even as someone who raves about how everyone can benefit from therapy, I found myself in the shoes many people do with valid reasons of why the therapeutic work doesn’t start or continue. Sure, I could have addressed my concerns a variety of ways, such as a childcare swap with a friend, but ultimately, I did not prioritize my mental health as much as I could’ve, which makes me feel like a hypocrite sometimes. However, I share my story here because if you “know” you need to make a positive change for your mental health, whether that’s finding a therapist, outsourcing some of your responsibilities at home so you have more time to enjoy your family, or setting better boundaries with people in your life, I completely empathize that it is a process and not easy to follow through.
Although I didn’t return to therapy during the past two years, I did find ways to directly address my struggles with anxiety by taking an antidepressant for about 8 months; engaging in regular exercise; utilizing skills I learned previously in therapy and throughout graduate school, and my early professional career; being more open about my struggles with a few safe people; and finding outlets to connect with old and new friends.
The coping skills I’ve used most the past two years are:
- Making time for regular exercise, often at my local YMCA, which has been my lifesaver these past 2 years.
- Finding and engaging with a faith community that connects with my deepest spiritual needs.
- Practicing cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to counter my negative, anxious thoughts.
- Engaging in mindfulness to bring greater awareness to my five senses when my thoughts start racing.
- Repeating the mantra of, “this too shall pass” while strategically tapping my fingers (thumb to pointer with “this” thumb to middle finger with “too”, thumb to ringer finger with “shall” and thumb to pinky finger with “pass”).
Other resources/people that have been deeply impactful in improving my mental health over the past few years:
- Brene Brown. I became a fan of hers years ago when I first read her work, and her Netflix special that just released in April is very relatable and worth watching.
- Learning more about the Enneagram: see my previous blog post on this.
- Saying the full version of the Serenity Prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as the pathway to peace, taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it. Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will that I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. Amen.
Fortunately, my mental health has improved drastically from where I was in the summer of 2017, yet I still wonder where I could be if I had engaged in the hard work of therapy months ago. I am grateful that therapy is becoming more accessible with online options through sites like BetterHelp and TalkSpace, where you can message your therapist 24/7 and schedule live sessions for hours outside of a traditional therapy office. However, I still think there is something powerful about being in the room with your therapist, and I want more people to have the opportunity to experience that.