Learning Lately: thoughts on the stigma of therapy

My Instagram photos might be pretty (shout out to my Instagram husband) but my life is not seamless and well filtered. It’s not filtered at all and neither is my tongue, usually.

I have pain and struggles. I have to ask for help to deal with emotions I do not understand. I have been through haunting experiences that have wounded me. I do not claim to be immune to these things and this is important.

I cannot claim to relate to you and at the same time pretend that my life is easy. It is not. It is painful and confusing. I am plagued by over dramatic emotions and a complete lack of understanding. I see things with a cynical mind and trust very few. I fear rejection and disapproval above all and I am terrified to be known because of this.

This doesn’t just affect me. This affects how I act in all situations, around all people – sometimes I act differently around different people and I wish this wasn’t the case. I want to be authentic. I deeply desire to be stable, consistent, and strong. But we aren’t born that way. We are born blank and life shapes us.

I am developing into that person, which takes some chips in the armor. It does for you too.

God did not make man the same from day one. He made a process of growth and experience. Sin warps us and wounds us, our choices do that too. He is trustworthy to complete this process, to make us stronger and whole, as we were intended to be.

I pray every day that he’d make me the woman he intended me to be. How can I believe pain and healing is not a part of this?

Of course it is. This is why I know it is worth it. He is worth it.

And so are you.

_____________

Tomorrow I turn 24.

Tomorrow will be my first birthday celebrated without my big brother.

There have been a lot of these firsts in the past 11 months. None of them have been easy, but this one feels different.

I feel a little guilty that my life continues when his stopped way too soon. I am turning another year older, another year closer to how old he was when he died. Soon, I will pass him in age. That will be a difficult day. I’ve never been older than him and I’ve always enjoyed being the little to his big. We were not as close as I would have liked, but we loved each other very much, despite our shortcomings.

Usually I’m excited for my birthday, hinting subtly for weeks leading up to it about what I’d like as a gift or what I’d like to do. This year that hasn’t happened. I’ve been dreading it a little. There are some days you can escape the grief of loss, other days it stares you straight in the face and the hole is unmistakable. Tomorrow will be one of those days.

Pain and loss are inevitable in this life, because death is unavoidable. That doesn’t mean we should ignore how devastating it is on our minds and hearts. Or how much we miss our people and their presence. God knows we mourn because he gave us the ability to do so. I still struggle to be free in my grief because sometimes it is unbearable.

I have gone to therapy once a week for almost a year.

I still don’t fully understand what I’m going through.

My heart has been through a bit of a roller coaster. I’ve had good days and bad days – thus is life after loss. Somehow, even on the bad days, I am hopeful. I don’t fully understand how this is possible and sometimes it seems really silly.

I am hopeful because I have seen how pain is used in people’s lives. I have lived through tough situations myself and come out stronger on the other side of them. I have made really difficult decisions and grown into myself because of them. My mind is more sure, my heart is softer. How? This is the mystery of obeying God. I do not have an explanation for why I am more vulnerable now that I have lost someone so dear to me. Or why I am so much more thankful for the people still with me, the ones I can still hug. It makes sense, of course, that I would be this way, because I want to cherish what I have. What doesn’t make sense is that I can. I’ve never been the vulnerable, touchy feely type. I used to cringe at the thought of heartfelt conversation and the honesty that is expected in those moments. I am able to hide myself well from others, and cower away from close relationship.

Yet in the past year, I have cried with people I have only known for a handful of months. There are people who have known me for years who have never seen me cry.

I am thankful for grief because of this. I am thankful because grief strips away the hard exterior and does not give you a choice. You will cry and it will not always be because you want to. It is uncontrollable. God gave us all the emotions we feel, including grief. He knew that it would change us. He knew that it would make us rely on something other than ourselves and that is the whole point.

I am softer than I was a year ago. I am more intentional. I am stronger and freer than I was. I can cry in a restaurant with friends I have known less than a year.

I can tell the whole story of my brother’s life to these friends now, instead of only giving them pieces. It took me 9 months to realize the people close to me didn’t know what actually happened. I seriously thought I had told them the whole story and they just looked at me and said “No, we barely know anything.” I had hidden without even realizing it.

It is terrifying to open my heart to people after experiencing the loss of a family member. The brain tells us it’s not smart- you will feel this again, don’t be foolish and set yourself up for pain. Keep a safe distance.

But how do we really love others at a safe distance? How do we let ourselves be loved if we remain at arm’s length?

This distance does not just happen when you someone you love dies. It happens when we are abused, manipulated, or taken advantage of. It happens when we are plagued by anxiety. It happens when we are depressed and our self esteem is scary low. We pull away to protect ourselves and (we think, incorrectly) other people.

When I told my friends this story, they cried. They thanked me and they hugged me. One of them held my hand and I cried. This all happened in a full, public restaurant.

I would not have been doing that a year ago. If you told me it would happen I would’ve laughed at you. I avoided feelings and laughed off my issues.

I cannot pretend this all happened between me and God because I sat and prayed enough. This growth has happened because I went to therapy. I asked someone for help with processing my emotions.

I sit with a woman every week and tell her what I’ve been thinking and she helps me figure out what to do with that. She tells me I’m brave and that my emotions make sense. She reminds me that I have a skewed view of the world and of relationship. She tells me things that have happened in my life should not have been that way. She reminds me it is okay to feel everything I feel and she waits for me to tell her what that is. I cry, I laugh. Sometimes it is awkward and sometimes I don’t want to go. But everytime I sit down on her couch I feel relieved. I have a person to talk to that has no skin in the game, no connection to my self esteem, and no qualms telling me what I’m saying about myself isn’t true. I have no reason not to believe her.

The world likes to make us feel that therapy is weird. Therapy is just for people who hear voices or kids who were kidnapped. Therapy is only for really extreme circumstances like attempted suicide. Anxiety isn’t a real thing, I need to just get over it. Depression isn’t real, I’m just weak. Therapy is just for drug addicts who need rehab. Therapy is for people with real issues. Therapy is not for me because it’s a stranger and I don’t want to let my shit out to someone I don’t know. People would think I’m crazy if they found out. They would look at me differently and I’d never be respected again.

These are all lies the world and the devil would like us to believe. I could go on and on.

Let me tell you something.

Therapy has made me better. It has given me perspective into my life I never had before. Talking to someone, sharing my experiences has taught me how to trust people I don’t know very well. Therapy has set me free from my fear of being known.

I went to therapy because I wanted help to deal with grief. I got that help, but I also got a completely renewed self confidence. I don’t have to let life happen to me. I can make difficult decisions because I am worth the effort. I can have deep friendships and let people know me. I don’t have to hide all the crap in my life. I have been through struggles and challenges but I can let those things build me up, not tear me down.

I got all of this from a stranger. I am stronger from just being able to talk things out in a quiet room for an hour. Most of the time that’s what it is – me talking. She doesn’t even talk much.

If you are hurting, lonely, confused or overwhelmed, I get you. You aren’t alone.

I don’t post this so people know my name. I post this because this is my reality and I pray someone who is looking for an answer reads this and asks for help. We should not be shamed for needing something and getting it.

Strength comes from admitting the truth: there are things in life that are too big for us to carry alone.

xx,

Erinn

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