“Jeez, I’m in counseling,” he said loudly, pausing dramatically to let the declaration hang in the air for the third time this morning. I fought the urge to roll my eyes–sarcasm wasn’t going to make the argument any better. To be fair, I understood how he felt. I had been through it myself. I just hadn’t gone all diva about it.
I have been in and out of therapy for years. When I was in high school I saw a professional counselor, which is administrative code for “she’s not fitting in here.” I continued to see counselors, therapists, LCSW’s and psychiatrists off and on for years, struggling to put a name to whatever was wrong with me. The thing that made it seem like I couldn’t get the hang of life like everyone else had.
My husband stared at me wide-eyed after his first appointment and breathed, “I have depression.”
Something about finally deciding to seek therapy has a way of making you feel like you’ve hit rock-bottom, and most of us love to lay in the drifts of our psyche making snow angels. “Did you hear? I’m in therapy. Cut me some slack, why don’t you? Clearly, life is more than I can handle.” ::arms and legs waving:: But this attitude towards therapy is self-defeating. It reduces professional counseling to a navel-gazing, indulgent pastime up there with aura readings and astrology (though I do read my horoscope daily. Ain’t no shame in my game). It takes away the reality of how fucking hard it really is to stare yourself in the face like that.
That’s what I was confronting when I looked at my drama-queen-of-a-husband, who seemed like he was one step away from throwing himself across the sofa with a large silk fan. Wives will tell you, every illness our spouses have, they treat it as if it will be their last. Mental health was no different. My husband stared at me wide-eyed after his first appointment and breathed, “I have depression.”
I never had the luxury of being overtaken by my mental state.
I was singularly unimpressed. I do, too. I struggle with depression and anxiety so bad that I’ve sat and cried on the floor in the grocery store because I didn’t know which turkey bacon to buy. Now, I will never play that game of “suck it up, my mental health issues are worse than your mental health issues.” That’s not right and it’s not fair. But in that moment, looking at my husband, I felt really, really lonely.
Holding It Together
I don’t know if it’s because I’m a woman, a person of color, or because I’m a mother. But I had to keep my shit together. I never had the luxury of being overtaken by my mental state. I had to dust myself off, call every provider in the damn book, count my breaths, and go to work. I’m the strong one in my family. I’m the one that holds it together and figures shit out. So I didn’t have the option to make snow angels. I couldn’t wade around in my diagnosis. I had to put my heart and soul into being well.
To all of you that are out there holding shit together while you fall apart, I see you.
My husband supported me the best he could, and this piece is not to vilify him. I just mourn that I had to be strong enough in my pain to tell him how to help me. I had to keep it together on the days that I knew my feelings would overwhelm him, or on the days where I didn’t have someone to watch the baby. I had to keep it together for my dad, who struggles with his own moods and can’t stand to see me less than joyful.
To all of you that are out there holding shit together while you fall apart, I see you. It’s really fucking hard and I’m proud of you. Sometimes our kids are clean and dressed neatly but we are three days overdue for our own shower. Sometimes they eat oatmeal for breakfast every day because you don’t have the energy to do more than boil water. Sometimes you take a nap instead of doing the dishes. You’re surviving and I see you.
And to my husband, I am so proud that what I’ve been through can give me the compassion to support you through your healing. I know that therapy can often make things worse before they get better, as it requires you to break down all of the defense mechanisms and coping strategies you put in place to avoid the real pain. I see the rawness of your feelings and I know sometimes they feel bigger than you can handle, because I went through it first and now I can tell you that you’ll come out stronger and happier on the other side.