Find a good therapist.
Staying mentally healthy is really important if you're going to enjoy this life. Many therapists are the busiest during the holidays because many people find it so depressing! I've been seeing therapists on and off since I was 17. I actually put in an original request with my parents at 15, which was denied. I don't think they took me seriously at the time. "Why do you need to go to therapy? What do you have to be sad about?" I was going through a difficult depression and all I needed was someone on the outside to talk to. Someone who was not emotionally attached. When I was outed by my (then) girlfriend's parents 2 years later, they used it as a good reason to take action. And so, my first therapist experience began.
Because I moved so often in my 20's, keeping the same therapist was almost impossible. I had a straight, male therapist for a short time in college. I remember feeling like okay, this is good I'm going to therapy... but is guy really going to get what it's like to be a bisexual/lesbian woman? What challenges might I face he'll never really understand or be able to help me with?
When I couldn't afford it, I worked through it on my own.
When I couldn't afford therapy, listening to depressing music that matched my mood, writing in a journal and artistic expression worked... If it wasn't for my depression, I might never have found the gift of art! I think the chain of growing-up events helped me to move through a lot of that depression. This included finding bliss in a web design volunteer job I was chosen for at the radio station, WICB Ithaca, staying up at all hours of the night teaching myself web design, deciding to change majors and therefor, schools, getting myself into Syracuse University, spending an entire semester building an art portfolio and breaking into the Computer Graphics program there (after a woman in admissions told me it was impossible and that I'd never make it), discovering I was spending way too much time pining over my girlfriend (who I was pretty sure was constantly cheating on me) who cornered herself (and me) to pretend we were just friends because she never really came out during our time in college (a crushing thing for someone so out like myself), which led to me encouraging her to hang out with more gay and bisexual people which led to her dating a girl I encouraged her to hang out with (while we were still together)...which all lead to us eventually breaking up... which led me to losing a bunch of weight (physically and emotionally) and suddenly and not so suddenly... I was happier!
Every road leads to another road of potential. The grief and the loneliness I felt being in a relationship that was fairly void of deep trust, dealing with my parents new divorce, and feeling "fat" had all weighed heavily on my soul. The chain of events led me to the other side of the fence. I just had to have faith that it would all be okay and I should keep going no matter what. Therapy was always weaved in there. Having someone advocate for me and support my journey helped me to find that next step when I couldn't see clearly.
Deciding to live life happy and find my joy
When my dad died, I decided I was going to continue to live happy and find it again if it got lost... and not wait until I'm 80, 90 or 100 on my death bed looking back on life like so many others have... wishing I could have changed the past. I'm going to live life to the fullest, as best I humanly can. My dad would want it this way.
When my mom died, my world absolutely spun upside down. That's what this entire blog is about. Losing my parents... and the world that comes afterwards. All kinds of different moments occur and you'd be surprised at how much of it has some kind of old parent memory or desire that they were helping to create that new memory. These are all experiences that I will be forever having... and I'm sure many of you are having very similar experiences... I'm hoping some of these lessons I'm learning can help you along your journey.
Attempting to heal- Was a grief group the right place for me?
I had attempted to heal myself by trying to find a local grief group. I contacted hospitals, local organizations... no one local had any running programs or if they did, they weren't starting for weeks or they were only for spouses. My mom's hospice had assigned a "person to talk to" (aka counselor) who I could call at any time and just talk. It was not a therapist, who has insight on how to move forward, it was literally someone who would ooh and awe on the other end of the line... it was helpful for venting but definitely not for moving forward. I'm not even sure she had much training on how to deal with someone who was going through grief. The only one I could find and could easily (and quickly) join, was super religious, being run out of a church.
In desperation, I started the series at the church. I was the youngest one there (I often find myself singled out in such a strange way in life - being the youngest one in different family situations, being the only gay one at the baby shower... it's all so... interesting!). I got a workbook about grief. We'd watch videos about the grief process, write in our book and then share some of our thoughts. Much of it was god related. Don't get me wrong, I am open to the idea a higher power, but I don't believe in forcing anything down anyone's throat and I certainly am not the kind of person who would like anyone to believe anything other than what they want to.
Going to this church grief group was helping me because I could be with and talk to so many others were grieving and for once, I did not feel alone in these feelings, but as time went on, the people in the group all realized I did not go their church and started to try to recruit me. All I wanted was to move through my grief, people! Not join your church or see you again on Sundays. I eventually felt so uncomfortable, I left the series, never to be heard from again. It felt empowering, but I didn't feel like I was done grieving. Would I ever be??
Finding the "right" therapist
A year later, I decided it was time to get back on the therapy bandwagon. I could see pieces of the grief of missing my parents creeping out left and right... and this time (thanks to my partner, Catherine) I had health insurance! I decided to pick someone in-network, so off I went to meet her.
The waiting room was stuffy with no personality what-so-ever. The photos on the walls did not depict healing or even felt good to look at! I felt lonely before I even walked into her office. When she greeted me, I realized her room was tiny with even LESS personality! 2 chairs and and an akwardly placed corner a desk that belonged in a bedroom or hallway and used for sitting junk mail on. She was wearing a black dress and might as well been wearing the same color on her face because that's how I felt when I was with her. I felt her - hovering over her awkwardly shaped corner desk. She was tired and probably wasn't in love with her job at all, yet somehow kept pushing through. That energy permeated the room as I attempted to "open up". She interviewed me like a newspaper might have; looking down a lot, asking questions, filling in the blanks... when we got to questions of my life, I told her, "I'm having trouble dealing with the death of my mom and dad... I live with my partner and"... don't remember the rest... because all I remember her saying was, "It must be hard to be homosexual". ARE YOU SERIOUS??? Homosexual?! No one uses that word unless they are homoPHOBIC or totally out of the loop! Jesus... My heart dropped into my chest. None of this felt good and I had to go with my gut. I knew I would never be returning when I robotically made my "next appointment" with her... I guess I'll have to start from scratch.
I canceled the appointment with her the very next week and decided that I would just keep my ears open. A friend of mine (who's also a gay lady-yeay!) mentioned her therapist one evening at a meetup I was running. She said she was a gay woman and had 2 different locations she worked out of. She also gave out her cell number to clients to text her and was open to emailing! WHOA, is this for real? She seems like just the kind of person I'd like to try on! So my friend handed over her card, and I made an appointment-- and boy was that the best decision ever.
When I met with the therapist, I knew right away that I felt WAY more comfortable with her. We already had 2 things in common; she was a woman and lived a gay life. I learned that she was also spiritual! Which is something I'm always dying to talk about with people who are open. Not god spiritual, but open spiritually to talking about anything spiritual and energetic. When she asked me if I'd like to make another appointment, I was like, "I already know this is going to work out. Yes."
Coming back around
Circling back around to the entire point of this blog post, my friend Jen once told me that a good therapist was worth the expense. I also know a good therapist can be hard to find. Different than a friend or loved one, a therapist is someone who is not emotionally attached who can help you through things and see things from a different perspective, which is what I always find is the most helpful in moving forward when you're feeling stuck.
If you want to move forward in your grief and are having a hard time doing it alone, promise yourself to find a good therapist that FITS YOU and your life style! It doesn't mean your a sicko and it doesn't mean you are mentally ill or weak! It means you are dedicated to loving and taking care of yourself and being there for YOU! Keep looking and trying until you get that GUT FEELING of YES. This is it, this is who I feel the most comfortable with. Don't give up - not all therapists are meant for you! Sometimes people give up on the first try... imagine all the things you would have never done in your life if you only tried it once. Believe me, it's worth the search.
Here are some things to consider if you haven't ever had a therapist or it's been a while:
- is this therapist the same sex? does it matter to you?
- is this therapist the same ethnicity? does it matter to you?
- are they close by and easy to get to or will you find yourself making "it's too far" and the "I don't have time" excuses
- are they gay, bi or straight? does it matter to you?
- do they believe in the same things as you? does it matter to you?
- do they have a website where you can learn more about what kind of help they can provide?
- when you see them, do you feel comfortable? do they help you to feel more open or closed?
- what are you hoping to get out of therapy? what are your goals? you can talk to your therapist about them
- can you afford it? the answer should always be YES, and the HOW should be the question
- does your insurance support mental health? how much is your cost? not sure? give them a call- ask them for a list of providers!
- there's a difference between social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists. They can all help you, but only psychiatrists can proscribe meds. I would recommend if you feel you can do the internal work, please try to do it as med-free as you can.
Promise to take care of yourself like a little child. Finding a good therapist is one way of doing this. Your parents would want to you to live a happy life. I'd like to say thank you to all the therapists I've ever had and all the "bad" experiences I had a long the way because each brick was laid to bring me to learn which roads and experiences DO make me happy. I'd like to say I'm feeling happy today, and most days I'm feeling joy run through my body like a calm breeze.