A Therapist Checks in about Her Mental Health
I am a therapist. Let me tell you about my mental health.
I like to tell my clients that the people who think they are the craziest are mentally the healthiest. That self-awareness, that introspection, that constant reflection makes them better at being their very best self. I suppose I say that because that’s exactly where my head is when I am doing pretty much anything but sleeping.
A Day in the Life
When I wake up, I am thinking about why I may not be approaching my day with vigor and what in my schedule is triggering me. Then I go for a morning workout, during which my mind might go to a previous or upcoming session. With a well-rested, clear head, I unintentionally think of new insights and strategies for a client, a conversation I had with my son yesterday that I want to add to with more thought, and how I appreciate my husband and don’t tell him that enough.
And then my day starts. I see several texts that came in overnight from clients in crisis. I see emails looking for new or more appointments. I don’t brace myself; I go full force into my day. I see clients all day. I sometimes sweat (discreetly, I hope!) as all my senses are involved in putting puzzle pieces together, seeing their clarity, and showing clients what I see. Each session feels like a success, even when it is painful and difficult. Therapy is hard work.
Often my two teens check in with me to process their days, so my listening is not over when the workday ends. We share a snack and talk about whatever is on their mind. We continue these talks during dinner, only to finish our day with a show together, all four of us, if my emails are quiet enough and their homework is managed. Falling asleep has never been difficult as my day felt satisfyingly exhausting.
And that was in a pre-COVID state.
Since last March, my roles as social worker/therapist, mom, and wife have all increased. In 2019, I also had roles as soccer game spectator, chauffeur, exercise classmate, appointment-keeper, self-care receiver, coffeehouse date, errand runner, traveler, and on and on. Now that most of these secondary roles aren’t part of my routine, the time I spent in them has gone into my three primary roles: therapist, mom, and wife.
My friendships have grown, but now we talk on the phone while I make dinner or do laundry. Those calls have become a source of fuel for me in ways I never depended on for my mental health as much in the past. I empty my full head; I laugh; I am genuinely cared about.
My role as a wife has changed wonderfully and challengingly as my husband works from home. With lots of talks and heartfelt communication, he and I figured out how to feel loved and appreciated and supported without resenting the intrusions and extra stimulation of constant togetherness. I knew I married for love 20 years ago, and he has reminded me why he remains my first choice.
The mom role has always been a source of guilt for me. I longed to be a full-time mom while still trying to be a full-time social worker. I am used to quick role switching when I schedule my breaks around school pick-ups, and I have learned how to be a good quality time over quantity time builder. Now, without those carved-out times to connect with my kids, I struggle to feel like I’m doing a good job as a mom.
In addition to all this, I have been challenged with the most intense, meaningful, and consuming year of my career: being a therapist during a pandemic.
The one thing I have never doubted about myself is the quality of my therapist skills. Years ago, I said that each one of my clients probably feels like my favorite. The thing is, they would be right. During each session, I see their whole being: their grief, their pain, and the unfair lessons they have endured. I see their anxiety, their depression, their eating disorders, their trauma, their significant attachment disorders, and their hopelessness. I also see their worth, capabilities, and ultimate beauty inside and out. I see hope. I know exactly what is missing and what they need to find within to repair. I love my job. That is why this pandemic has left me both drained and invigorated.
Self-Awareness: How Am I Doing?
I struggle the most when people closest to me – my husband, sister, parents, best friends – ask me how I am doing. How am I doing?
Sometimes I think about my sons at the same time. As the saying goes, “You are only as happy as your saddest child.” My sons are loving this schedule of independently doing soccer training together, working out, getting As in remote learning, watching Friends from beginning to end with the family, and playing video games with friends online. They are thriving.
But how am I doing? I am absorbing so many things from so many people. Each one of my sessions is enough for an entire consultation session, so when they are over, I am processing in my notes and in my head where that person went, and where they are going, clinically. And then I do that again and again and again. And when the day is over, I answer requests for additional sessions because they are hungry for more growth, for greater mental health. I am also a support person for many of them. While they may have a shortlist of other support people, I am someone they can say any and everything to without guilt of taking up space or time, and heck, they feel better afterward. Hence, they want to do it again.
Personal Life-World Connection
What do I think is next? Will I have more space in my head to think about things like a podcast (I’ve never had time to listen to one yet) or go for a walk just because I want to and feel like being spontaneous? Will I go back to exercise classes rather than my basement because the time spent commuting back and forth is not a big deal? I have heard a new wave of the mental health crisis is coming this year, that the fallout of holding our breath for the past year will result in gasping and drowning. But maybe people will also find that a weekend getaway is a way to breathe, and they will find their pace.
My Current State: “I See Hope”
I got my first dose of a vaccine in January. It reinvigorated me. It gave me hope that something I felt was neverending (the virus spread) actually had an end in sight. I sat in the chair and received that very quick prick of a needle, giddy that everyone will one day soon feel how I felt in that moment. That gives me hope – for me, for my clients, for the world. Hope is contagious, and when we are surrounded by hope, we can’t help catch it, if even only for a minute.
This has been the most exhausting year that has energized me each day with strength. I am tired each night, but strong and hopeful each morning. That’s how I am doing.
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