My last two posts have been the beginning of a series titled, The Pieces of the Puzzle. This series addresses, among other things, the key elements that have played a role in helping me find a balanced life while living with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Today's post marks the halfway point of discussing my mental heath stability. In the first post in this series, The Pieces of the Puzzle, I explored the role my relationship with God played in my mental health stability. In the 2nd post The Pieces; Part II, I discussed the role medication played. In this post, I will examine how counseling and therapy have also been an integral part in my mental health recovery.
As far as therapy and/or counseling goes, the quality and type of person I met with wasn't nearly as important as simply taking a chance to meet with a professional. To be sure, some therapists that I've met with have been better than others. While I do feel it's important to like your therapist and to have some sort of connection with them, I think it's equally important to look for the nuggets of wisdom and guidance that person can bring to your life.
The first time I went searching for a therapist, I was a poor college student who couldn't afford insurance or the hefty price of a session. However, I was also a young adult whose parents were in the process of separating and who was awakening to the realization that my favorite person in the world, my dad, was abandoning his marriage vows in favor of a younger woman and his drink of choice, Jack Daniels. So, despite the fact that I didn't have a lot of cash on hand, I sought help. Thankfully, there were affordable options. Namely, Lutheran Family Services through which I could do a sliding scale fee. Basically, you paid what you could.
It was in this office, with a therapist whose name I don't recall, that I was first introduced to the term, hypervigilance. The medical terminology for it is as follows: Hypervigilance — the elevated state of constantly assessing potential threats around you. What it was, wasn't nearly as important as recognizing what it did to me. I was a hypervigliant person to a T, always assessing my situation and how I was doing in that situation. Was I keeping up with my responsibilities? Was I doing enough, being enough, performing enough? I was introduced to the term through a book about adult children of alcoholics. See, I don't blame my dad for all of the things going haywire inside my brain, but he did play a role in my desire to be a fixer. I wanted to fix what was wrong with him, so I was always trying to do better and be better - at everything. It was exhausting. While I didn't recover from being hypervigilant overnight, this new terminology did set me on a path to the awareness that something was holding me back from a life of freedom.
The next time I found myself in a therapist's office, I had been newly diagnosed bipolar. This time was more of a "forced to" issue. (When you're a newly diagnosed crazy person, they figure you need all the help you can get.) Once again, I found myself face to face with a person who would assist me in understanding the complexity of what it meant to get mentally fit. This therapist, knowing I was a Christian, recommended a book called, The Search for Significance by Robert McGee. While I don't remember the book in detail, I do recall the light bulb or "aha" moment when I realized that much of what I based my self worth on had to do with how well I performed in life - as a person, a wife, a teacher, a friend. Once again, I experienced an awareness of how exhausting it all had been, this life of always trying to "perform" well.
Most recently, I visited a faith-based therapist this past spring when I found that the remnant of hypervigilance and performance based thinking still had a firmer grip on me than I wanted them to. She introduced me to the final piece of the puzzle that has snapped into place and the topic for next week's post, tapping meditations. Next week, I will explore this final piece of the puzzle of finding lasting peace and freedom.
A few final words. If you find yourself in a place where you are living a sort of half life, I encourage you to step out in faith and find a professional to counsel you. Keep in mind, this person won't be perfect. But if there's even the slightest chance that they can throw you a life line isn't that a chance worth taking? (A drowning person doesn't care who throws the life preserver to them. They cling to the thing that saved them, not the person who threw it.) Getting fit mentally isn't for the faint of heart. It takes work and perseverance, but trust me when I tell you, it is worth the effort. And then some. 'Til next time.