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.