So, I rather suddenly and somewhat unexpectedly made an appointment with a therapist through the Employee Assistance Office at my place of employment (how lucky am I to have an EAO with full-time therapists and even a psychiatrist on staff? With a wait time of less than a week?), after contemplating it on and off for the last 6 years. I’m not sure what I expected, but we basically just talked about all my problems for an hour 😛 Actually, it’s a sign of how down I have been feeling that I couldn’t think of anything to say when she asked me what my strengths were…
Overall, the appointment was far less emotional than I feared (thanks to my therapist’s supportive and professional demeanor, not the probing questions that triggered some tears on my end) and far more encouraging than I anticipated. At the end of the session we came up with some long-term goals for the therapy and some short-term assignments for me to work on during the two weeks before my next appointment, which in and of itself gave me a lot of hope about how I’ve been feeling. As I’m just beginning to realize, I do much better in life when I have a plan for how to deal with things. When I was a teenager, I always struggled with cleaning my room because I never knew where to start and all the details of the task fell on top of me at once and overwhelmed me. When I was in the hospital with Aubade earlier this month, especially during that first night just waiting and watching without knowing what I was waiting and watching for, the nebulous pressure of the desire for progress without knowing how to define that progress was the hardest aspect of the whole ordeal. And so it makes sense that having a path forward illuminated for me, with defined steps to take, is going to be helpful now in the pursuit of hope and healing in these emotional issues.
The long-term goals are mine, so they aren’t exactly measurable or professional; I just want to be rid of the irrational anxiety and to feel happier in general. The short-term assignments, however, are incredibly specific. Every day my “homework” is to get out of bed, shower, and get dressed in something other than pajamas (before my husband has to leave for school), and five days a week I need to spend some time outside. These are very doable things, even if they aren’t always easy things, depending on just how bad I’m feeling when I wake up, and that’s the point. Setting a goal and meeting that goal is going to give me quantifiable substance to refute the negative self-talk of the depression, and it’s also going to help me build a routine of self-care to help mitigate the negative emotional effects of the depression. While they may seem incredibly trivial to someone who isn’t struggling mentally or emotionally (they’re things I’ve definitely taken for granted in the past), they give me an attainable standard for my day and supply some “knowns” to fill in the horrible vast stretch of time that is each day in which I’m responsible for myself and my children and all of our activities.
I was explaining this to my husband by saying that if I get up, shower, get dressed, get outside, and make a healthy dinner for the family, I can define that as a successful day. I can lower my standards, in essence, to something definable and attainable, instead of reaching for an unknown and ever-changing perfection. Obviously the less measurable metrics of success are more important, as my husband pointed out: did I love my children? Did I live by faith? Did I seek God? Did I live an abundant and beautiful human life? etc. And those are things I strive for. But those are things I can never do perfectly or completely. I can always love my children better! So if that is my metric for success, I will always fall short, and I will always look back on the day with guilt for the sharp words and the missed opportunities instead of with happiness over the fun shared and the relationships built.
Could I have created this set of goals and standards on my own, and reframed success this way without help? It seems simple, but I probably couldn’t have. Having an outside source help formulate the plan validates it in a way my depression can’t so easily attack – if it had come just from me, I’d probably work it into my depressive tailspin by bemoaning how pathetic I was for needing to stipulate such small and trivial things. So I am quite glad I finally stopped worrying about whether or not I actually needed help, and stopped caring about what it would mean about me that I did need help, and actually went and got help. I would recommend it to anyone out there who might think some help would be nice – you don’t have to be non-functional or suicidal to benefit from a listening ear and some experienced guidance.