Mental Healthcare Is Important for Everyone
I recently got together with a group of friends, and in the middle of our conversation, one confided that she was excited to start therapy soon. Everyone joined in the excitement and congratulated her. Those also in counseling, which turned out to be most of the group, discussed their thoughts about finding a good match.
I appreciated everything about the conversation, but its tone and framing stood out most. Going to therapy wasn’t a secret, an admission of failure, or a defect. Instead, it was framed as an act of self-care, an opportunity for greater self-awareness, and an investment in one’s self.
As I listened to my friends, I was convinced that if more people heard therapy presented in this way, more would avail themselves of it. Maybe then we would work harder to make mental healthcare more accessible and a fundamental part of our culture.
Despite the advantages of having good health insurance, readily available transportation, and countless mental health practitioners in my area, it took me a long time to see a counselor. Although I was under the cumulative weight of multiple stressors and knew I needed to set aside time and space to address them, things kept coming up.
My kids’ needs took precedence. Family medical emergencies waylaid other plans. Or, I’d tell myself I wasn’t in a crisis. After all, I had friends to talk to, I had the outlet of my writing. Should I really add on to my family’s already hectic schedule?
When one of my kids struggled with anxiety in elementary school, I didn’t drag my feet like this. I made the calls, sifted through the insurance paperwork, and got an appointment. It was an enormous help.
Of course, a big part of the reason it worked was because the therapist was smart and charismatic, and could devise a plan to address my child’s anxiety and help us implement a 504 plan at school.
But it also gave a name to the nagging feelings my child was struggling with. Naming the issue made it real. And if it was real, rather than unspoken, then it could be managed. As the saying goes, our thoughts become our reality.
In the rather scant research on the psychosocial effects of chronic illness on well siblings, it’s clear that growing up alongside a serious illness has a complex influence on mental health.
Because I grew up with a younger sister who was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at birth, my mom has commented at random moments throughout my life that she should have gotten me therapy as a kid. Usually, this comment is followed by a particular recollection of my kindergarten teacher telling my mom that I became upset when students at my Catholic school were asked to pray for my sister, who was in the hospital at the time. I was clearly struggling with big feelings that I was too small to manage on my own.
The solution that was agreed upon was to halt such prayer requests at school. This was in the 1980s, long before social and emotional learning goals were implemented in many school curriculums. I suppose that saying nothing was the best response anyone could come up with.
Now in middle age, I’ve finally started therapy to help me process the role CF has played in my life, and of course, to help me sort through all kinds of other life experiences.
As I headed out to my first appointment, I wasn’t quite sure what to tell my kids. Was it a doctor’s appointment? Was I just running errands? I decided to go with the truth, and neither kid batted an eye or asked why. Hopefully, my example will show them that investing in mental health is for everyone, and it’s both normal and important to do.
Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.
Paul met Debbie
What a lovely and important comtribution, Kate! I couldn't agree more.
The separation of health/being into a physical and a mental part is one of the tragic mistakes that our species made. The mistake was clearly verbailzed by the philosopher René Descartes, when he - erroneoulsy - said: "Cogito, ergo Sum" - I think, therefor I Am. After this, the mind became much too important and separated from the rest of our being. This became an erroneous part of our current Cartesian world view and it influenced almost all of our science, psycholgy and medical science included.
In reality, All is One. Body and brain are also one. They share the same nervous system, the same blood, the same neurotransmitters and amino acids and trogether as a whole they make us into who we are. "Mens sana in corpore sano " the Roman poet Juvenalis already said. And this is much more true than what Descartes believed. Some shortage or unbalance in vital resources can be caused by malnutrition or by stress for instance. And they might result in so called physical complaints like neuropathy or in so called mental problems like depression or anxiety disorder. There really is no barrier between those,other than in our misguided thoughts.
In my life I have encountered several crises that I could not have survived well without professional mental asssistance.
Some had to do with CF directly, most of them indirectly or not at all. Family and friends are not only not always available, they are mostly not trained for this and in some cases, they are actually causing the crisis or at least an important part of it. Where else could we then go for psychological help?
Fortunately, I found the right counseling in most cases, in the form of either a good psychiatrist when I was young (18) and a fantastic family doctor when I was in a relationship crisis (40). In some other instants the counseling did not fit very well and life presented solutions for me in time. We may always trust in life to do this. But sometimes, we need counseling to make us more receptive to this trust and it's soulutions and to give us more time to endure the situation long enough for grace (and our own bodymind's resources) to do it's benevolent work.
Love this post Kate! Way to be a force for positive change both in your own life, and in the world at large. It's rad that you're showing your friends, kids, and your readers here that therapy is a tool for wellness, not something to be ashamed of. Proud of you for taking the steps, and sharing the journey :)