I’ve been feeling it lately. That awful, creeping feeling. It starts out as a twinge, really. An abrupt, negative reaction to something that wouldn’t normally bother me. An abrupt, negative reaction to nothing at all. And then, if I allow, it begins to fester. It gets worse and stronger, until I don’t want to get out of bed in the morning and I can’t fall asleep at night. I catch myself gasping because I was unconsciously holding my breath. Suddenly, I’m sad and I’m not sure why. My whole body feels tense. This feeling steals my drive and motivation and replaces them with exhaustion and apathy. I’m talking about depression and anxiety.
People often ask me how I got here. Why did I decide to pursue counseling as a career?
About five years ago, life hit me like a ton of bricks. I got married on November 18th, moved in with my new husband, and graduated college a month later. We got a dog, I hunted for a job, and we began the pursuit of the life I had always pictured: married, house in the suburbs, 2.5 kids, and a white picket fence. We lived in a tiny apartment and I got a job working from home. Michael worked as a speech therapist for the school system. On the outside, everything was fine. We were The Perfect Couple and were going to live Happily Ever After. So why did I feel like I couldn’t breathe? Why did I cry myself to sleep every night?
It took about 6 months for me to even consider a solution to the problem. I didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t want to see anybody. Working from home exacerbated the whole situation, as an entire week would go by and the only person I had spoken to was Michael. I closed myself off from everyone, including him. I didn’t know how to put into words what I was feeling. I thought if I ignored it for long enough, it would go away.
One night, in the summer of 2008, I crawled into bed at about 7pm. I felt like there was a weight sitting on my chest and I couldn’t do anything about it. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t breathe. I was paralyzed. Michael came into the bedroom and, for the umpteenth time, suggested I see a counselor.
I’m not going to go into the reasons why I was in that place, simply because I believe that some things are better left off the Internet. I’m willing to talk about them in the right type of setting, but I don’t want to get hung up on them. In counseling, we try to maintain our focus on the here-and-now. Yes, your past is important. It has shaped you, for good or for bad. But it cannot be changed. Our past gives us insight into why we react in certain ways, but if all we do in counseling is constantly dwell on the past, we can never move forward. Understanding our past brings us to a greater level of self-awareness, so that we can then use that self-awareness to change how we experience the here-and-now.
I spent almost 2 years in counseling, and I can honestly say it changed my life. In some ways, it even saved my life. I am a person of faith, and I do believe that through God, all things are possible. But I also believe that you can get to a place where you cannot see the light, and you might not be able to see anything. You need someone to help you get out of that terrible place so you can see the light again. That was what counseling did for me. My counselor reached her hand into that awful place and slowly helped tug me out. It was a process, and sometimes it felt like I took 5 steps back for every wobbly step forward. But eventually, I was able to come back into the light, and now I have more faith than ever that God used my counselor to bring me to the place where change could begin.
When we moved to small town East Texas so Michael could get his master’s, I said goodbye to my counselor. I wasn’t in a perfect place, but I was much more self-aware and possessed several important skills necessary to my mental health. I continued to struggle with depression and anxiety, and then I found a missing piece. I ended a 3-YEAR stint of working from home and took a job OUTSIDE THE HOME. I immediately felt like a different person. I had discovered a very important piece of information about myself that is imperative to my mental health and wellness: I cannot stay at home all day every day. When I have to get up in the morning and be somewhere by a certain time, when I have to get dressed and put on makeup, when I go somewhere where I am expected and needed and appreciated, I thrive. It was while at that job I realized that yes, I wanted to work outside the home, but not just any job. I wanted to be in a field that helped others and made a difference. I made the decision go back to school for counseling, and thus began this part of my journey.
I didn’t want to write this post. I’ve been feeling it lately, that awful feeling. My depression is an old tattered quilt. It’s hideous, and provides no warmth, but it’s familiar, and there’s a comfort in that. When I feel myself wanting to pull it out, I remember that not talking about things is what gives them power. Not writing about them and sharing them with others. The other night, I poured out everything I’d been feeling lately to Michael, and immediately felt the grip had been loosened. Talking is powerful. Talking about things leads to self-awareness, which is essentially knowing what you are feeling and why you are feeling it. Circumstances may not change, but self-awareness is a valuable skill to help you handle them. You will know that you respond to certain triggers so you can either avoid them or prepare for them. You know why you respond to certain triggers. When you are riding that roller coaster of feelings and emotions, you will know where the next dip or loop is, and you can clench your teeth (or throw your hands in the air and yell) and get through it.
This is something I will struggle with for the rest of my life, but there’s strength in knowing that. It’s the quilt I wrap myself in on days when I am tempted to reach for my depression. Like many other things, it’s a process, and it’s lifelong. I can’t wait to help clients reach self-awareness and meet their goals. The mere thought excites me and is such a big part of what keeps me going. Isn’t that the way life works? Every day, we work, we reach, and we try. We do our best. And on the days we don’t quite make it? We can try again tomorrow.