[CW: Brief mentions of anxiety, bipolar disorder, which includes depression, and PTSD (as part of childhood emotional abuse)]
“Next month will be my last appointment with my therapist.”
For once I didn’t lead the post-therapy appointment chat with John Brownstone with what we’d talked about. He already knew what had been on my agenda this time.
“How do you feel about that?”
How did I feel about it? Weird. A little sad. A little scared. I tried to explain it but only fumbled my words.
“Do you think it might be like a safety net being pulled away?”
Yes! In a few words, he’d nailed exactly how I felt.
Summer of 2016, I melted down. I was barely able to function. Oh, I faked it well, but the ups and downs of my mental health terrified me. How had I been able to handle my “mood swings” (what I thought they were) for years but now couldn’t make it through a day without tears and an internal meltdown of how useless I was?
The great irony is that the first step to getting help was overcoming one of my (many) irrational anxieties. As I was in the process of melting down, prior to the tipping point of that summer, I’d stopped making phone calls. One call could send me into an anxious spiral. I wouldn’t sleep the night before I had to make the call, and I’d overanalyze every word I said afterwards. Much easier to avoid phone conversations.
But to get help and reach out to a kink-friendly therapist, I had to make a phone call. I cheated a bit with an initial email, but then I had to call. No choice. No one else could do it for me.
And I did it because I found 30 seconds of faked bravery, when my anxiety said, “Phone calls are the devil!” and the rest of me said, “I can’t live like this anymore!” I was nauseous through that first call. My voice shook. I sat in my car in a parking lot, making a phone call while I ran errands. Somehow that gave me courage — pretending I was this on-the-go busy woman who could only make calls while driving around town. Instead of the reality — a hot mess who had tears and snot running down my face just thinking about talking to an unknown person on the phone.
From the first tentative appointment until now, I’ve improved — at least according to my therapist. He knows I’m submissive, and we’ve talked about my need for “Good girls” and gold stars. I’m not sure how intentional it is, but he makes sure to tell me when he thinks I’m progressing well.
In the beginning, I wanted answers, was desperate for them. I needed to understand myself, my thoughts, and my reactions to things. A few diagnoses later — generalized anxiety, social anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, oh and most recently, some level of PTSD leftover from emotional abuse in childhood.
With his help, I picked through what all of that meant and how it related to the way I interacted with the world. Seeing my therapist was the first step I’ve taken in what feels like a long journey towards prioritizing myself — both body and mind.
Because I finally had help dealing with my “turbulent emotions” as I’d always considered them and found success, I was more determined to deal with other nagging problems. Stomach pains. Neck problems. Weight loss.
Taking care of myself had never been so difficult or worthwhile. I have big hairy ass goals to accomplish, damn it — I have to be healthy for it! (FYI: That’s what I tell myself when I need a pep talk.)
In the past six months, I’ve steadily elongated the time between appointments. We began at every two weeks, then every four, and now every five to six. When we meet, it’s to go over whatever is on my mind, but rarely in a “Why am I like this?!” way. More of a check-in: A thing happened. Here’s how I felt about it. Here’s what I did about it. What do you think?
Because I’ve finally experienced mental clarity — probably the first real clarity of my adult life — I constantly go into my own head for a check in. I can’t always stop an anxious or bipolar cycle, but I can recognize it when it’s on its way and once it strikes. For me, that’s enough. Naming the thing removes some of the anxiety about the thing. Understanding why I am the way I am forms part of my identity.
I think claiming it as part of my identity has helped in some small way. Instead of berating myself with “Why am I like this?!” I mentally shrug and say, “This is who I am. It sucks, but it’s me, so let’s deal with it.” I didn’t get there over night, but I think it’s made a difference.
I’ve found the tools that work for me to maintain my mental health as best I can — therapy, journaling (yes, it’s a cliche but it works for me), getting enough sleep, resting, not resisting my own mental health.
By “not resisting,” I mean that I have learned to embrace a depressive low and allow myself the day or two that I need to lie down and be lethargic and apathetic — with a little less self-judgement than before. I also have embraced my manic side — it’s the high that leads to all of my ideas, good and bad. My anxiety and I will likely never truly get along. Anxiety is the mean girl voice in my head, after all. But we’re in an uneasy truce.
So after all this time, I feel much better, more in control. But as an anxious person, I wonder if it can last. Of course my anxious brain thinks of every what-if scenario possible. The good thing is, after all this time, I also have more tools at my disposal to help me. And, I will do my best to not let myself get to bottom before doing something about my health — mental or physical — ever again.
Actively caring about my own well-being isn’t selfish (at least not in the negative meaning of the word), it’s completely necessary. I’m not taking anything away from John Brownstone or the boys when I take care of myself. In fact, I’m actively helping the entire family by saying that my health matters.
So yes, I’m a little scared about not setting new therapy appointments after May 2019. That it won’t be on my calendar — a set time and place to deal with whatever is in my head. But I also have a plan for the future (a new kind of safety net) — to keep myself mentally healthy and to help myself when my brain just won’t cooperate. That’s the best self care I think I could give myself — and the people I love.
Also, if you want a kink-aware, sex-positive therapist, I highly recommend the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom. To find a therapist or other professional, click here: Kink-Aware Professionals
Welcome to Wicked Wednesday! This week’s prompt is all about mental health and self care. Funnily enough, this all happened on Monday of this week, so the timing was perfect. I’m not “cured” and never will be. But I handle things better, and I know who I am. For me, that’s enough — and it might just be my new safety net.