“Listen,” she said. “Coming to therapy can be a bit like cleaning out your closet. The one you’ve ignored for some time, and now you’ve decided to clean it out. And in order to do so – you’ve got to pull everything out and throw it all over your bed and the floor, and try it all on. It’s going to get better eventually, but it may feel like it’s getting worse first.”
I was surprised by the counselor’s words. Surely coming to therapy the first time was the hardest step? If you showed up, and started talking, and were honest and transparent, wasn’t that the magic formula to get better? Maybe not immediately, but surely it wouldn’t get worse?
There are things that no one tells you about deciding to try to get control of your mental health. I mean – people WILL tell you all kinds of things. If you are lucky, you will have people that tell you they love you, and that they understand, and that it’s ok. Otherwise, you will have people tell you that you should get outside and exercise more, that you should focus on the positive, that you should think of all the people in the world who have it worse than you, or that you should “snap out of it”.
But the truth about therapy (that closet metaphor is 100% spot on), the truth that finding the right medication is an art and not a science that can take quite some time, that even the right medication can have side effects that may make you question if they are worth it – those are things that are often not talked about. And with good reason – if you or someone you love is reaching out for help, the last thing anyone wants to hear is that the journey may still be hard and uncomfortable.
However, if you find yourself there, at the moment of reaching out, please know that it is worth it. It is hard, and it is messy, but let’s be honest – life is hard and messy and long and if you are fighting with mental illness it feels harder and messier than everyone around you. But you . . . you my friend are so incredibly strong and brave. Even if you don’t feel like it right now. You have fought this alone for long enough, and you are ready to reach out, you are considering reaching out, and that in itself is an act of supreme bravery and hope.
And it is worth it. You are worth it. Whether you dive headfirst or are gingerly placing a toe in the water of counseling, medication, telling a friend, or calling a crisis line. . . .the healing is worth the mess you will uncover. Because the thing about THIS mess is that you won’t be working through it alone. Your counselor, your doctor, your friend, the stranger on the other end of the phone will be carrying a portion of your burden. Propping you up in your weakness. Holding you, praying for you, loving you. Reminding you that you are worth the effort, celebrating every success, and pulling you forward when you feel like quitting.
Growing up, I remember memorizing Proverbs 17:17 for one of my Sunday School Classes. We would recite verses for candy, I think – and this one was short and easy. “A friend always loves, and a brother is born to share trouble. Proverbs 17:17”. My translation at the time was “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. In my child brain, this meant that a brother was born to CAUSE trouble – which made a lot of sense but also led to a lot of confusion about what God thought of my brother. But no – God provides us with friends and family to show us love and help us through the battles we face. And our battles with mental illness are no different.
So yes. It may be a messy thing you are facing. It is worth the mess. You are worth the effort. Be brave, reach out, let someone help you heal.
The mess is less of a mess with someone beside you. And we will be beside you. You are not alone.