My wife looked particularly pretty this morning. I am blessed I think, to live with a woman who looks good first thing in the morning, that time when tradition tells us, no one looks good. That is not notable in itself. I’ve know this since I married her. But some days I know it in my head. And some days I feel it. Today I was able to feel it.
That may seem like a strange way to talk about how someone looks, but there is a difference. And on my not so good days, I can know something good, but I am not feeling it. I don’t feel much of anything actually. That’s how my depression often plays out, as a voidness, a flatness. My feelings, high and low, are stifled and I am perfectly functional.
Most people won’t even see the difference, which is my intention. I don’t want to inflict my depression on others. Mostly, I don’t, I think.
I can’t tell you exactly why it plays out this way. It’s been true a long time. Emotional trauma therapists would say, and maybe that’s true, but I don’t think of myself as a trauma victim. I just have been through stuff like most people have been through stuff, and this is part of how my body and mind have dealt with it all.
I am fortunate. I got a therapist. And learned how to deal with it all. To apply what I know is appropriate behavior to those time when I am flat as a board and seem normal, until normal arrives again.
Here’s the good news. It always does.
I did not think that would be the case when I started in therapy. I was damaged goods and I was pretty sure I was irredeemable. Hopelessly broken. But being at the end of my emotional rope, I went. It was a long journey back. A long and often unpleasant learning curve. Hard work. I still have to do the work to be, or at least seem, normal. But it is not hard any more, because I know good stuff lies on the other side of the disciplines I apply in the flat times. I can believe, because all these years later, I’ve experienced the cycle so many times that it’s just a thing. Not a bad thing. Not even a hard thing. Just a thing, like a cold, or the fact that I have wrinkles and a mostly bald head.
I was raised to think of therapy as a bad thing. A thing only “nut cases” did. Shrinks were all nuts and people who went to them were nuts and the shrinky nuts could only make the patient nuts nuttier. Losers and crazy social seeking celebrities went to therapy. Weak people, Oh yes, my dad did a number on my belief system on that front.
I am actually glad now, as bad as that time was when I started, that I got to that point. A smarter man without a misplaced childhood sense of what therapy was would have gone earlier. But better late than never. I went. I spent years probing the tender places, the scary places, the broken places and I came out, not so much healed as stronger, better equipped to deal with things.
If you have never done therapy, let me share a couple of things.
First, you never end up working on what you go in for. We all think “X” is a problem when in reality it’s just a symptom of something else. Getting to the root of things takes time. Most therapists liken it to peeling away an onion. It takes frigging forever. Our self protectiveness keeps us from the truth about ourselves for visit after visit. So don’t be surprised when you go in for “X” and end up someplace completely different.
Second, there will be a place where you want to stop. Things are better. Not perfect but better. Bearable. And you will be tempted to stop. Or you are approaching and having to talk about something really scary and painful. That’s the time you have to buckle up and muscle through. That’s where better really is, on the other side of scary. Plow through. It will be hard and it will be rough and it will be so incredibly freeing and empowering that you will be amazed.
Third, you will likely have to go through a few therapists that aren’t a good match. Don’t get discouraged. Just keep trying them on for a few weeks until you find the right one. It’s like test driving a car. Some are just a better fit and you deserve a good fit. You’ll know. The ones that aren’t a good fit will never be comfortable. You will not feel safe or confident in them. And the good ones will. It’s worth a few false starts because this is a longish term relationship.
Since my experience all those years ago, I have learned a truth that blind, deaf and dumb me should have seen a long time ago. Most of us are a little broken. Some of us more than others. The numbers of people fighting depression, anxiety, bi-polar and dozens of other disorders is HUGE. Most find a way to cope, but our lives are still full of behavior from that brokeness that hurts our life, relationships and chews up our potential. We tolerate it because it becomes our normal.
Screw that. Don’t tolerate the struggle. Go for not just survival, or muddling through, but for the good life, your best life. Because it’s there. We just have trouble getting to it on our own. We need help.
Yeah, I have come a long way from my childhood beliefs. I’ve gone from a negative world view of all things therapy to an evangelist.
It’s scary at first. Who wants to admit we have struggles like we do? None of us. It’s a leap of faith. Today, I can take that leap easy because I know what is going on, because I have been equipped with the tools to deal with the hard emotions, and because I have beaten it back so many times I know I will again, and again and again.
And that there’s great stuff on the other side.
Like coming through the past few weeks of knowing in my head that my wife is lovely in the morning, and feeling it today, with the joy and gratitude and that “falling in love with her again” feeling we all would like to have. There’s so much good we can experience that we have let go due to our struggles. And we can reclaim it.
And so there, Off my soapbox. But I am so happy at the return of feelings after a flat time, I can’t help but say something.
Be well. Travel wisely. Get the help if you are struggling.
It’s worth it.
PS: The picture was take at a farm not far from my house. Vermont is full of outside art like this. Part of what I love.