Invisible Illness
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Invisible Illness

Therapy Isn’t Easy

But confronting deep-seated problems never should be

Dark photo of a man sitting on a leather couch with his head in his hands.
Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash

One of the most helpful things my therapist has said to me is “you are suffering.”

Since starting therapy a few months ago — through sharing my experiences and introducing my therapist to the ruthlessly self-critical devil in my head — I’ve learned that I’m burdened by a backlog of unaddressed issues. In fact, I’ve learned a whole heap of uncomfortable things.

Living On Luck

From speaking to me only a handful of times, my therapist has determined that I am unwilling to forgive myself for my past mistakes and that I strongly believe my future has been ruined by them. Therefore, when drinking, my actions mirror my thoughts of, “what’s the point?”

Basically, my blacked-out self is borderline suicidal. A hard truth to admit, but it is by pure luck alone that I am still among the living. After enduring two solo car wrecks, two falls from over twenty feet high, and a beating that was so bad it left me unconscious in the street, I realized it was time to stop relying on the flip of a coin to determine if I survived a night of drinking or not.

So, while I used to be able to escape the devilish voice in my head by drowning him in alcohol, I no longer afford myself this luxury due to the aforementioned reasons. Living on luck certainly is not the secret to a lasting life.

Who knows how many more coin flips there would have been had I kept drinking? And eventually, one would come along where I would no longer be capable of typing this in the hopes of shedding light on the importance of taking care of your mental health.

Fork In The Road

Before I quit drinking, I used to believe the ruthless devil in my head was only active on mornings after a long night of drinking. But, since most of my mornings fell into the category of “after a long night of drinking,” it was hard to discern whether the devil was around because of the drinking, or if he was just ever-present and I had failed to realize it.

Nearly every night I would stand in my kitchen with an unopened beer in my hand staring down the fork in the road where one turn led me to sobriety, and the other led to me using my bottle opener and starting a series of coin tosses. Every morning I woke up on the floor, or in the street, or in the hospital, or in jail, I hated myself a little more.

I passed this fork in the road with a bottle cap clinking off the tiles in my kitchen so many times, but it wasn’t until December 23rd, 2019, where I finally ventured off my path, and took the fork in the road toward sobriety. I was tired of giving the devil in my head easy ammunition.

Getting To Therapy

I spent the first two years of my sobriety getting my physical health in order. I now have a primary care physician, a pulmonologist, an endocrinologist, a dentist, an ENT, and a physical therapist all looking to keep me healthy. But it was only in the last few months that I decided to take care of my depression and add a psychologist to the mix.

I had no idea how to do such a thing so I did the most reasonable thing I could think of; I told my primary care physician how I was feeling. For those of you who have read my piece titled “It’s Time to Start Taking Care of Yourself,” yes, I still have that same doctor.

I know, I know, I should’ve gotten another one after that first incident, but alas, here we are. So, I told her I believed I was depressed, because I didn’t know how else to say it, and she had me take a quick written survey.

Picture of Scrabble tiles arranged to say depression on a dark surface that starts out in focus for the first few letters and fades into fuzziness towards the end of the word.
“Depression” by amenclinics_photos is licensed under CC BY 2.0

She said it turns out you aren’t depressed…You’re severely depressed, and then she gave me two options. I could start seeing a psychologist, or I could treat it with medication.

First, let me say that I am terrible at making on-the-spot decisions of any kind. I panic and choose the option that I think she most likely wants me to take, so I say I’d like to see a psychologist. She says “OK” and mentions that they should be reaching out to me within a week or so.

Medicated

Well, a week or so goes by, and I’ve still heard nothing. During this week or so that I had been patiently waiting with my newly diagnosed severe depression, I asked myself, “why can’t I do both?” So, I called and asked to be medicated as well as seeing the psychologist. Bing Bang Boom, I had a prescription to Lexapro by the end of the day and I started taking it immediately.

I was thinking to myself, “this is amazing, this 5mg pill is going to change my life and make it so much easier to exist.” Instead, all it did was give me daily headaches while I waited to hear from a psychologist.

I had a follow-up appointment with my physician 3 weeks later to see how the Lexapro was working, and I told them I felt a little better, but not much change. She upped my dose to 10mg and told me that was the average dosage for people taking Lexapro.

I went home, and again thought that my depression was going to magically fade away. Oh, Johnny no, no it did not go away, and instead, the headaches turned into migraines. So, I found myself doodling around on the Lexapro subreddit to see if I should keep taking it, and found that my side effects were extremely common and if I could just make it a little longer everything would start working as it should.

Sure enough, they did, and now I do feel less depressed, but I think it’s mostly due to my psychologist, whose office finally reached out to me a month and a half after I told my primary care how I was feeling.

Therapy

Therapy has been amazing. It’s been upsetting, uplifting, enlightening, and extremely daunting. I have learned so many things about myself in the handful of appointments I’ve had so far. These things I’ve learned seem so obvious once my therapist points them out, but I’ve lived with them for so long that they just seem normal.

Suffering

One of the most helpful things my therapist has said to me is “you are suffering.” Deep down I’ve always known I was suffering. I’ve written over a thousand poems that point to that very same conclusion, but until hearing my therapist tell me I was suffering, it wasn’t something I was willing to admit to myself.

Once he pointed this out, it was like the fog cleared and an entire category of my feelings had been labeled. With a label on these feelings, I was finally able to address my mental state and begin taking steps to fight back against the devil in my head that so loves to see me suffer.

Climbing my mountain

As the title states, therapy is not easy. I knew the journey to being mentally healthy was going to be a tough climb, but I didn’t expect my therapist to unveil Everest as my mountain to climb. After the session in which my mountain was unveiled, I was extremely daunted at the task I was set to accomplish.

The “unveiling” of my mountain came when my therapist told me “right now, I am more comfortable sitting in this room with you than you are with yourself.” And he was spot on.

I have never forgiven myself for a myriad of things, and one of the main reasons it was so hard for me to quit drinking was the fact that alcohol helped to silence the voice in my head that is constantly shouting how much of a failure I am, and that I should be ashamed of where I am in life.

My mountain is accepting who I am, and it’s going to be a hell of a climb. But, I’ve been climbing the foothills that are my sobriety for two years so far, and I’m more than happy to start my journey up my new mountain.

Support

It wasn’t easy getting to the point where I am now, just a short distance up to my mountain of recovery, but I would do it all a million times over.

However, I would literally not be here without a support system. My wife has been crucial to my success, and my friends haven’t sat idly by either.

  1. Reach out to people you trust, and share what you’re going through. This burden may feel like it’s you against the world, but there are so many resources out there to better your mental health. AND SO MANY OF US FEEL THIS WAY or something like it.
  2. If you have a primary care provider, start the way I did and tell them how you’re feeling. If you’re like me, and your primary care makes you feel like you’re burdening them with your problems, tell them anyway, and then look for another primary care. It is never comfortable discussing these things, but at the very least they should give you a few options on how to best take care of your mental health.
  3. If you don’t have a primary care provider, you can google to find psychologists near you, or you can use one of these websites. — Psychology Today —or — The American Psychological Association
  4. I found a good article on the Healthline website that details 9 tips that you can use when you are looking for a psychologist
  5. As always, you can reach out to me directly at j.mike.stanley@gmail.com if you have any more questions, or just want to talk to somebody about their first experiences with the world of psychology.

Conclusion

Your mental health IS your health. If you don’t know what else to do and are having thoughts that you know are dangerous, please reach out to the National Suicide Hotline at (800)–273–8255, or visit their website at suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Everybody deserves to be mentally healthy. Your mountain wants you to climb it, you just have to find it.

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We don't talk enough about mental health.

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Mike Stanley

Mike Stanley

Dragging myself through this journey by the ink in my pen and the life in my limbs. As a wise man once said, “this is how my bio ends.”

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