One of my personal goals in life is to take the stigma and shame off mental health issues and to open wide the floodgates so that people who struggle (or their family members/friends) will not shy away from walking through doors of help. I want to write about the things we all desperately want to know so we don’t feel alone, but maybe we just aren’t ready to be public about. Maybe we are intensely private in general, or perhaps we just can’t let this part of our lives out into the light yet.
That’s okay. I get it. I’ve been there. I felt deep shame for a while because I didn’t know how to tell people I wasn’t well, find the right words, or even understand how to get them to listen. It’s only been six years for me. The feeling is still fresh. I get it.
Today I want to open up conversation about family therapy because even if you go, you might not write about it. Or maybe you’re considering it but not sure what it’s about. Maybe it seems overwhelming or intimidating. Obviously, I will not divulge personal details here that dishonor anyone in my family or step over any privacy/professional lines. This is about the overall experience.
It’s to broaden the dialogue.
To make people feel less alone.
To reach into dark places and shine some light.
[Disclaimer: I have permission from my family members to share this. We remain committed to sharing the journey together with the goal of bringing hope and help to others walking a similar path. Ours is neither a worst-case nor a best-case scenario. It’s simply our scenario.]
One of the members of our family has been struggling with depression/anxiety/OCD this year. Along with ADHD, that’s not really a fun cocktail: not for him and not for us. Thankfully, much of that is currently under better control. But how many eight year olds do you know who have depressive episodes—and have since they were three? And like anything else, it has its ups and downs. I believe for the good days and am thankful for the way our family shutters in to heal these moments on the bad ones.
That brings me to my week: a double-shot of the mental health advocacy group in our town and family therapy.
I feel so strongly about knocking down walls of shame. It’s been a while since my dip into the depression pool. I’m so grateful for that. But it’s also why I felt screaming-angry when it touched my youngest child. There was no way I was treating this casually.
First, if you have a chance to be in a regular support group for people with similar struggles in their families, please consider it. It will bring so much relief just being able to hear how others deal with similar situations and to know concretely:
There are others.
This particular advocacy/support group is not a faith-based group, so it’s not a place for me to preach Jesus, but several of us do seek Him for answers, direction, and peace while riding these waves. I also go
- To support friends with struggles
- To get information on resources and help
- To put another body in a chair that takes a stand in fighting mental health struggles
So many people run screaming from this issue. So many just honestly feel overwhelmed by it and don’t know what to say to us when we state that our child just had a full breakdown emotionally and is rocking himself in fetal position against the couch. People mean well, but it scares the poo out of them. I think some might even think it’s something you can “catch.”
As for family therapy, we decided recently to all go as a family in support of our struggling peep. It wasn’t convenient. The older kids had to forego school activities for the afternoon. Salad Boy (husband) lost a half day of work.
I wasn’t entirely sure how everyone was feeling as we drove there yesterday. I couldn’t tell if there was resentment, nervous flutters, curiosity, or anger?
I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say we performed a “sand world” activity. It was supposed to reveal things going on in our subconscious. Um, yup! As each family member took his/her turn in sand world, I was really enlightened. It was incredible watching each person find his/her voice. Believe it or not, after the appointment, each kid wanted to go back. They had not received any direct feedback or counseling during that time, but they were heard and expressed themselves in a safe, unbiased setting. I think they thought they were going only to help Little Man and then realized they also got something out of it. They need support too.
So, that would be a sweet little story, except that the ride home was hairy. Everyone walked out peacefully, but once in the car, the “voice” a few of them suddenly found loomed nice and loud all the way home. I heard hurt, sadness, loss, mourning, regret, disappointment, you name it.
I even heard some very quiet blame. It took everything I could muster not to be defensive. Much was aimed at yours truly since I’m the one who is around; Salad Boy has been traveling so much, he has a legitimate excuse. “Mom” is the one who should keep this ship running well, despite all variables exploding around me at all times. I get it. That’s a reasonable expectation for children.
Really, it is.
That’s why we went. And it’s so massively important to me that we each are heard. That is so important to me.
At one point, I looked at Salad Boy and quietly said: “Geez, will this stop? I’m hoping there is an end to this sudden flood of expressed thoughts.” And I did wish that because I also needed to be heard.
I thought (imaginary conversation with child therapist): Thanks a lot, ________. You get the fluff of people feeling heard and lighter, and I get the processing damage all the way into the rest of the week. How about I collect that copay next time?!
It turned out to be okay.
We learned more about each other.
Voices came out.
That’s never a bad thing, although it’s not always pleasant. I think Little Man wasn’t sure what to make of us all processing all over the place as a result of seeing his “friend,” ________, together. He liked sharing her. I know that much.
We will be okay. We didn’t go because we thought things were massively wrong with the family unit. We went to support Little Man. But, it’s always helpful to hear what we could be doing better.
That is scary and also a relief at the same time.
You mean there’s a better way to manage _______, do ________, think about __________, talk about ___________?
Scary, threatening ground before you take a leap of faith and cross it—but always good to know.
So, I’m completely okay with you knowing about our journey, mostly because if you feel at all alone in yours, I want you to know:
There are others of us walking it with you. Might be a different flavor or intensity. But we’re there.
I will keep being a face at the mental health advocacy group. I will keep putting myself out there when family therapy is scheduled. I will keep being transparent.
And I will not fear change or feedback.
For a while, there may be blame, misunderstanding, anger, fear, resentment, and the like. It’s okay. If you are in this battle yourself somehow, you know that we’re all affected by this struggle. But I also know that going through this together means positive change for all of us—and growth.
Take my hand. Better yet, take His hand (see verse below as He walks among us, wanting to be involved), a few deep breaths, and press through the hard stuff. Life isn’t fluffy on the other side, but in a lot of ways, it is better.
And offer to take someone with you to a support group. Once you have crossed the Courage Corridor, grab the hand of the person next to you thinking that hallway looks awfully long and dark. They just need to know you have gone down it, and it didn’t completely eat you up. In fact, strength/endurance was waiting for you—strength you didn’t even know that you had.
Leviticus 26:12-13, Moses narrating, but God speaking, ESV
And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people.
I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves. And I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect.
More on our faith walk through personal struggles can be found in the just-released Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day.