In the summer of 2004 I said to myself, “I need to see a therapist.” I remember where I was standing and how I felt when I said it.
On September 2nd, 2010, I saw Dr. S for the first time.
It took me over six years to make that first appointment.
What took me so long? Looking back, I believe the stigma of “seeing a therapist” is what caused the delay. Forgive my generalization, but I’m a man. Men believe they can handle things on their own. We don’t like asking for help because it makes us look weak. At least that’s our perception. In reality, asking for help when you need it is one of the strongest things you can do. Especially if you’ve been driving in the wrong direction for an hour and everybody knows it, but you don’t want to admit it. Am I right?! Anyway, for me, I didn’t want anybody to know about the dark feelings bubbling underneath. Heck, I didn’t want to believe they were there myself! I wanted to be a good dad and husband and take care of everything on my own. So, I stuffed it all deep down inside.
Also, I’m a pastor. While it’s becoming more widely accepted and even encouraged for pastors to see a therapist, there’s still a large segment of folks within the church who view it negatively; some even as sin. “The Bible says NOT to be anxious, so if you are its proof that you don’t believe He’s going to take care of you,” they say. I believe they are missing the point, though. I love and want Philippians 4:6-7 tattooed on me somewhere, but this admonition works in conjunction with our brains. We are physical and spiritual beings, which means that we are subject to both scientific truths and supernatural realities. Whoa, that got a little serious. All I mean is that, yes, those of us who believe in God and the Bible should pray and receive the “peace that surpasses understanding,” but also realize that each of our brains work in a certain way. He has placed people in our paths to help us understand our unique ways of thinking, which in turn enables us to live healthy and wholly spiritual and physical lives. *sighs heavily and wipes forehead*
So, what was it that eventually got me to make that first appointment? One day at work, I took a call from a doctor calling about his patient (I work in health insurance). He sounded sincere and genuinely concerned for his patient. I thought, “Huh, this sounds like a guy I could trust.” So, I looked him up, saw that we had some similar interests, and made the appointment. Six years of thinking I should see someone and this five minute conversation was the push I needed. You never know what it’s going to take!
When I first met with Dr. S, I was in really bad shape. My mind was taking me to dangerous places. When I’d start to worry about a situation, it would always end-up with me either dead or in jail. It sounds funny, and I joke about it now, but at the time it was crippling. “I wish we had video tapes from those first sessions,” Dr S. said at our last appointment. It seems like a lifetime ago.
On Tuesday we had our last session. Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, recruited Dr. S to pioneer their cognitive therapy department, so he’s leaving at the end of the month. I’m sad, but also excited for him and grateful for how far we’ve come. He’s leaving me in a good place.
I’m not “cured,” by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, the things I struggle with – anxiety, worry, shame, debilitating perfectionism – aren’t necessarily curable, per se. But, I do have the skills to manage them now. I’m able to identify them and prepare for situations wherein I anticipate those feelings rising-up. And when they surprise me, I don’t think I’m going to die or end-up in jail anymore. Progress!
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, which is one of the main reasons I posted this. Honestly…I was scared to. “What will people think? I’m still messed-up in a lot of ways, so what gives me the right to say this stuff?” I thought. There were about thirty other thoughts that popped into my mind, but the bottom line is this: If one person reads this and decides to make that first appointment, it’s worth it. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
So, thank you, Dr. S. Thank you for helping me to understand how my brain works. Thank you for giving me strategies to cope and even take advantage of my unique way of thinking. Thank you for assuring me that I’m not alone. Thank you for laughing with me and allowing me to grow, even when it seemed like it was slow going.
You really have changed my life for the better.
If you’re looking for some good books, I highly recommend Brené Brown‘s The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly and Rhett Smith‘s The Anxious Christian.
I just came back from visiting my grandson in LA. I was amazed at his energy and his ability to accomplish whatever he needs to accomplish, arm or no arm! See pics of him:
Thank you for posting this. You are very brave to do so, knowing you may well get some strong reactions. Being Christian myself, I struggle with the idea that my faith SHOULD suffice when I am worried or blue, but I am human, and I need to accept that…
My 16 year old son [same limb difference as you] struggles with anger issues, and gives up too quickly when things get tough. I wish I could get him to see a therapist. I also wish I had better health insurance!
God bless you.
Thanks, Dee. I hear you about the insurance thing, too!
Ryan – this was so seriously awesome. Incredibly well written, and super candid. I loved it. Thanks for being willing to share the messy parts of your life on this blog, it’s refreshing.
Thanks, Naomi. That means a lot to me. YOU mean a lot to me, too. 🙂
Having gone through 18 months of BRUTAL therapy, I agree that it is not for the weak! I do agree that as men, we tend to look down on the mental health field, though. It’s really an interesting dynamic: if a man breaks his arm, we don’t tell him to “man up” and get over it, we take him to the hospital. For some reason, the same logic doesn’t appear when we’re hurting on the inside, though.
Such a GREAT point, Logan! Thank you!
I’ve always thought you were awesome, but now I respect you soooooo much more for posting this. I also see a therapist because I struggle with severe anxiety. I’ve learned to manage it a lot better now, but I know how tough it is to tell anyone about it because of the stigma that surrounds mental health.
Two thumbs up! (Well, one. But if I had 2 thumbs, they’d both be up.)
hehe Thanks, Caitlin. You’re all kinds of awesome, too. 🙂
Awesome post Ryan. Our world is a better place because of you. Big hugs to you for your candor and beautifully written post.
Aww, Carrie! Thank you. 🙂
Thank you for posting this! Brave guys like you help remove the stigma and give other people access to feeling they can receive this kind of help. I believe in God and I think there are many ways to achieve that commandment to not be anxious. Maybe God provides therapists so we can achieve the peace God would like for us.
It’s like the joke about the man who’s house started to flood. A fire truck came by and said, “get in we’ll take you to safety.” But the man said, “no – God will provide for me.” The flood reached the second floor and a person in a row boat came by his window and said “Get in and I’ll take you to safety.” The man replied, “no, God will provide.” The flood reached the top of the house and the man went to the roof – a helicopter came by and the people said “get in – we’ll take you to safety.” The man said again, “no – God will take care of me.” Well, this man drowned and when he got to the pearly gates he asked God why he didn’t save him. And God replied, “what are you talking about? I sent you a fire truck, a boat and a helicopter!”
Thank you for this, J! So true. 🙂
This is excellent. I’m particularly interested in the difference between “curing” and “healing.” I’ve written a little about it and you’ve inspired me to try again! Thank you for being so open about this.
Such an interesting observation, Emily. Now I’m thinking about it, too! 🙂 Thanks for sharing, both here and in your space.
Thanks for posting this piece. Very well written! I am a Christian, a lbk amputee, and I have Spina Bifida and Syringomyelia. The past few years I have struggled tremendously with major depression, anxiety and hopelessness. Then the devil attacks when we are vulnerable! As Christians were not supposed to be sad or feel hopeless! I must be a bad Christian, right?! I am so grateful that God loves me and understands me! I’m so thankful for His patience! I feel strongly that if we allow him, He will bring purpose to our pain and suffering if we use our experiences and life’s lessons to help others in similar circumstances. (II Corinthians 1:3-4)
Gods Blessings upon you and yours.
Thank you for sharing your experience, Denice. It means a lot to me. Hang onto hope tightly! 🙂
Thank you for sharing this, Ryan. My mom, sister and myself have all struggled with depression and have seen therapists at various points in our lives, and it is scary to put that out there. It is strange how we look at mental health issues, even when we’ve struggled with them ourselves – we are getting ready to have our son start seeing a behavioral therapist for a few issues and even with my history, I resisted at first. But I know getting the tools he needs to handle his anger will serve him well for the rest of his life and make our family life better, too. Thank you again for sharing and kudos to you for taking the steps you did.