I’ve written about my mental health in the past and how I talked to my doctor in early 2015 about the anxiety and depression I’ve experienced for a good part of my life. Since then I’ve been on a course of Prozac and Wellbutrin that has served me exceptionally well. When I started the medications, though, my doctor suggested (though didn’t insist) that I supplement the treatment with other assistance, like yoga, meditation, or therapy. I agreed it was a good idea, but never really followed up.
Now here we are two years later. I was a couple of weeks into grieving and feeling completely unmoored and drifting. My friends and family have provided an amazing amount of support, and that’s great and so appreciated. However, at night, when the lights are off and it was just me and the dogs, I was finding myself lying awake for hours. At work, the slightest thing was setting off a crying jag. The worst of all was that the last minutes of Dan’s life played in a loop in my mind, over and over, setting off a cascade of guilt and despair.
I finally realized I’d had enough. I thought I could be strong and endure the grief alone. I had to admit that I was wrong. Not only that, but I also had to come to terms with the fact that I was wrong and that was OK. I needed professional help.
This being the digital age, I started where one normally starts: Google. Even the slightest mention of finding counseling or therapy in my area pointed me to the Psychology Today database. Now, I can’t vouch for the quality of the contents of the database, but it is certainly easy to apply filters. I narrowed things down to someone within 10 miles of me, who specialized in grief counseling, and was LGBT-friendly. This gave me a handful of names to work from. I cross-referenced this with my health insurance provider’s in-network database and settled on a therapist ($20 co-pay per visit. I can deal with that). I called and was able to set up an appointment for two days later.
I showed up a little early and filled out the forms, and then Patti introduced herself. We chatted a bit and then got to the heart of the discussion. I provided some background about myself and Dan, and we shared a chuckle because she and her partner had the same experiences we did, going from commitment ceremony to civil union to marriage. I won’t get too specific about the rest of the conversation except to say that it included a very difficult recounting of what happened on Dan’s last day, and what had happened and how I felt since.
Patti sketched out the approach that she thought might be good for future sessions (acceptance and commitment therapy, for those who might know what that means). We had a good conversation about how I tend to think very logically (hey, I’m an engineer through and through) and overly emotional thoughts can seem odd and irrational to me. Part of future sessions will involve reconciling the logical and emotional parts of the brain, and finding some kind of a happy medium.
The most important part of our conversation for me was when we discussed the images and events that kept looping in my mind. Patti explained that this is something commonly seen in people who have experienced trauma, such as those with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. What is fascinating to me is that this is actually a physical manifestation, not a mental one. The brain is physically changed by trauma, and the looping events are a common symptom of this.
What does this mean, and how do I deal with it? Well, that is part of the conversations still to come. In the meantime, knowing that this is something physical and not a mental aberration or weakness has helped me tremendously. When I start to experience this, I can identify it for what it is. I’m still working on how to cope with it, but even that much is a big step forward for me.
So that’s where I am right now, and all of that after just one appointment. Unfortunately, Patti is on vacation this week, but our next appointment will be next week and I’m looking forward to it. Just having gotten over the initial internal resistance to seeking help was a big deal for me. The fact that I seem to work well with Patti and found the first session useful just confirms that I made the right decision. I know that I’ve got a very long road ahead of me still, but having one more tool to help me cope will make it that much more bearable.
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