It’s a new year.
Lots of folks seemed to be lamenting this last year. There were many things that happened on the world stage that were distressing, difficult, and simply sad – not to mention personal struggles that plagued many. If Facebook or Instagram are any indication, there seems to be much anticipation of a better year ahead.
For me last year was the year of my white flag. I gave up. I reached the end of my rope and called in reinforcements. I couldn’t do it any longer without help. It was a long time in the making, but without a doubt I knew it was time for me to do something different.
I’m the mama to a brilliant, beautiful, hilarious, amazing girl. But we’ve had a history, her and I, and since she was a wee one she has left this mama feeling exasperated, exhausted, and pushed to capacity. While there is deep, deep love for each other (as in she regularly tells me I’m her favourite, even more than daddy), we were also the most conflictual in our home. We could be on, but we could also be off. And this summer nearly did me in…so with a text to the husband and his full support – I (we) conceded. None of my therapist skills worked. My bag’o’mom tricks was empty. No amount of parenting know how or counselling training was enabling me to get the perspective on the situation, and I really, really needed help.
So off we went her and I, and we began intentionally working at us with the help of a wonderful clinician. I’m thrilled that my girl has finished her work, though mine is still in progress. Apparently it was so successful that another family member elected to join the therapy party, and he is now seeing someone else and working on his own stuff. I often joke that therapy has been our extracurricular activity this fall, only it’s more fact than fiction.
So there are a couple things I wanted to share with folks about what I’ve gleaned from this experience. I spend a lot of time sitting on the other side, as the one whose ears are attuned and who offers assistance to those needing to see something shift – and it has been an enlightening and learning experience for me to sit in the client seat after many years out of it.
So here goes…things that this therapist in therapy has learned so far:
- It’s hard to make the first call. In fact I couldn’t even bring myself to do it, rather I sent an email instead. Somehow talking to someone in real time felt too overwhelming. After initial contact had been made it was easier to connect by phone. That is part of the reason Bloom has an online appointment option – because it can be hard to start this process and I think people need options that are comfortable for them.
- I wanted to resist the process. That’s right. I went in guarded and defensive, alongside hopeless and exhausted, and it took me a couple sessions to let my guard down and really start to trust the process. I understand better why clients may not share everything they want to right away, and am reminded that building trust is a slow process for some folks. And that is okay.
- I felt pressure to get it right. Now this one took me a bit by surprise, as I often remind clients there is no ‘right way’ to do therapy. Yet on the couch as the client I was trying to outsmart the system and get the right answers. I think part of this was linked to number 2, because if I could ‘get it right’ then maybe I could get out of there. Thankfully this pressure dissipated and I am experiencing first hand the organic way that therapy can unfold.
- Going can be hard. Even though I am profoundly, profoundly grateful for the shifts that have taken place in my relationship with my kiddo and in my home I still find myself a bit sluggish at the thought of going. Probably because…
- Therapy is work. Yes. Work. A lot of work, in fact. Delving into hard parts of our stories, owning fragile spots, getting in touch with our vulnerable spaces – this takes a lot of energy. It is good, rewarding, life-changing work. But work nonetheless.
- It can be hard to ask for help. This is probably the most significant learning point for me, and one that intersects with my story in some pretty deep ways. Asking for help was really, really hard. Perhaps shame triggering? Humbling? Admitting I couldn’t win at parenting on my own was a hard thing to do. Even more so, letting my own therapist get close enough to help me has been an eye-opening learning experience for me. I have left this process even more astounded at the people who have leaned in, opened up, and trusted me with their tender stories. Which leads me to…
- We aren’t made to do life alone. We were created for community. Our biology is such that we are dependent on others for our very survival longer than any other mammal. Our brains grow in relationship with caregivers in infancy; our needs for connection are deep and strong. Therapy has reminded me that it is okay to do life with others, with help, with support and resourcing from the outside. More than that, it’s not even just okay to ask for help, we are made for it. In a TED talk on stress by Kelly McGonigal, she talks about how oxytocin is one of our stress hormones. Oxytocin is a bonding chemical. It’s what is released when mamas nurse their babies, during sex, during long hugs – it’s what flows through our bodies during positive, connected moments. When we’re stressed, our bodies release oxytocin to help us reach out and bond…aren’t we amazing? Our bodies are wired to reach out during times of stress. Our family reached out to a counsellor and knowing we had help in our sticky situation helped the stress levels decrease for all involved.
- It’s worth it. The investment of time, energy, financial resources – these are significant things to expend in the process of counselling. But the shifts that we have experienced have been profoundly life-changing, with a new dynamic taking over our home and a new sense of peace replacing the exasperation that was all too common. I am grateful for the ability to invest in our home in this way. It wasn’t without sacrifice, but it is a long term investment in the health and well-being of our family.
- Change is possible. If you would’ve asked me a year ago if I could imagine life looking and feeling the way it does now, I would have surely cackled like a hyena and rolled my eyes. And no, we aren’t riding unicorns through rainbows over here, but we sure have experienced change. And experiencing even small shifts in the day to day gives me hope. And if I have hope, then there is less exasperation and more capacity to keep moving forward.
So, that’s what I’ve learned so far. I am so grateful for the help me and my crew have had along the way in finding new ways to figure out tough spots and stuck areas, and I am so infinitely grateful for the ways in which others have also allowed me to be their travelling companion on their own journeys. We all have stuff. It’s okay to ask for help. Change is possible. We aren’t made to do this alone.