I was 19 when I realized the way in which I was living life wasn’t really getting me anywhere. It seemed I was stuck in a repetitive cycle of making bad relational decisions and then having to crawl out of the hole I’d dug for myself. Give it a few months…repeat cycle. And to compound that issue I began to understand that I had a penchant for changing gears when things did not go quite how I thought they would. It made me feel inexplicably depressed…which in turn led to a whole lot of self-deprecation.
After I found out my mom was diagnosed with cancer for the second time, it was more than I could process. Throwing a major uncontrollable life issue on top of the growing realization that I personally had issues was my breaking point. I wasn’t supposed to have problems. I was the goody-two-shoes perfectionist. Why didn’t the universe get the memo?
On the outside I looked fine. And I suppose I could, in hindsight, say that life wasn’t that terrible and I was relatively happy.
But I didn’t want to just camp out on the outskirts of happy. I didn’t want to just scrape by, doing the same thing I always had. Living in mediocrity felt wrong.
And so, in the months before I was to turn 20, I decided that I could no longer be content relying on my instinctual responses. They felt broken to me, but I wasn’t even sure how to properly evaluate that.
I remember calling my mom, now recovering from her mastectomy, and in a small voice asking her if I could see a Christian counselor. There was a part of me that was slightly afraid to admit that I needed outside, objective help to process my life. Luckily, I wasn’t admitting it to the whole world, just to my mom. The whole world wasn’t going to find out that I might be slowly losing my mind. Not if I could help it.
About a month after my first counseling session, I was preparing to leave for another appointment with my therapist. Remembering I had left my wallet upstairs in my dorm room, I put the flashers on my car and bolted up to the 8th floor, leaving my car parked in a no-loading zone.
Dumb, I know.
I realized just how dumb when I came outside and saw the tow-truck hooking onto my car. It was like something out of a movie. I fell to my knees in slow motion, hands pulling at my hair in grief, all the while screaming, “NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!” just like Mel Gibson in Braveheart. Right before he brutally kills everyone.
Okay, so maybe that part didn’t happen. I told you, I have issues. I spared the tow-truck driver’s life, but was then tasked with finding a ride to the tow yard.
Luckily, one of my classmates was kind enough to give me a lift. While on the way to liberate my Impala, I realized I had forgotten to cancel my counseling appointment. I quickly drew my phone out of my purse and called the number for the office, suddenly feeling very uncomfortable.
“Uh….Hi. This is Coleen York. I’m, uh, gonna have to cancel my appointment for today. My car was towed.” I haltingly spit out the words, glancing furtively over at my classmate, trying to ensure that I didn’t say anything that would tip him off to what kind of an appointment I was canceling.
“What did you have to cancel?” my friend asked me after I had hung up.
“No. Sort of. I might be,” I said, feigning a cough. Who am I? Who even does that?
He looked at me weird, but fortunately decided not to press the issue.
Once I was in my own car driving home, I thought about what had transpired. Why was I so ashamed of admitting I see a counselor? Why did I prefer to lie (albeit not well) in order to keep some false pretense that I had everything together all the time? And why was that even the goal? What was that accomplishing for myself or anyone else? And why did I feel like there was such a stigma surrounding asking for help?
None of us have life figured out 100% of the time. Sometimes it is heavier than we can carry alone. We were built for community and we were built to recognize and accept wisdom from others.
In the six years since the day with the tow-truck, I have continued to see a counselor off and on when life becomes a bit more than I can process on my own. The only difference is that now I am upfront with people about why.
It grieves my heart that counseling is taboo. That being not okay is not okay, and that asking for help should come secondary to our pride. As someone who has experienced life with counseling and without, the times when I have humbled myself and purged my feelings are the times when I have been healthiest and have grown the fastest. Patterns that were destructive get identified and changed, paths get righted, and I am given the tools to change instead of being bogged down by overwhelming feelings that I cannot even isolate.
And you know, every time I go to counseling it isn’t always about some major debacle. Sometimes we talk about work, my desire to travel, or my writing. On occasion we have even talked about boys (there was one point when my therapist thought I should get out more).
As my pastor once told me, we never judge people for eating healthy or working out. They’re just trying to keep their bodies fit and healthy. So why do we judge people for seeking emotional and spiritual tune-ups through counseling? Our emotional and spiritual health should be our first priority and we should always be striving for growth.
No one has it together all of the time. Just let it be okay to not be okay while making strides to get there. Yes, there’s something broken within all of us. But instead of going along with the status quo, stand up and recognize it while refusing to let it dictate how your life will go from here on out.
It’s one of the most courageous things you could ever do.
This article was originally posted on Bedlam Magazine.