Ok, so I have tried starting this blog several times and I wonder now what was so pressing back then that made me structure my days around finding a way to write my next entry? What was so deeply important that my fingertips pecked away at the silver keys as quickly and urgently as a woodpecker nose dives into its work on a tree?
Overnight, my words seem to have evaporated.
With that in mind, here are the opening lines I have agonized over as I have tried to get the ball rolling again:
-My originality has been languishing inside my gobbled up and spit out body and soul.
-I needed a break. I took one. I am better.
-I've gained five pounds... solely and glaringly on my right hip. My brain has digressed at least three years. And over the last few weeks I became the worst possible version of myself. I am working on recovery as we speak.
-Turns out, I am back in one of those places where I need some work. Some soul work.
You get the point. It's on the tip of my tongue, I just can't get it out. But I started thinking, if I can just get over the re-entry, I will once again fall in love with writing and my words will begin to flow.
So here I am, dragging my feet like I do when I put on my gym clothes and sit on the couch hoping that maybe I will change my mind and not go through with the work-out after all. The more disciplined part of me drags the lazy, scared, tired, pity party me to the gym though; kicking and screaming. Before long I am sweating, watching my legs in the mirror as they pound back and forth on the track, and my heart rate is climbing. And for the life of me, I can't remember what I was being such a baby about. This is great. The sweat. The energy. The feeling of confidence as I realize I am not in as bad of shape as I imagined. It all culminates into one feel-good morning at the gym.
Still, the next day I go through the same thing. The dread. The angst. The laziness. The kicking. The screaming. As if yesterday's empowering experience had all but faded from existence and again I feel like I am being asked to donate my fingernails to science.
The best things for us are often like that. Taking the first step is always hard. Painful. Gut wrenching. Joy stealing. Kicking and screaming, "I don't really want to do this," would rather donate my fingernails to science, kind of hard. As you prepare to take the initial step, the first handful of times, you think to yourself that perhaps being stung by a million jellyfish after you donate your nails would be better.
But eventually, the kicking and screaming start to wane. The dread starts to disappear. And one day, without realizing the subtle change, you wake up and put on your sneakers and bike shorts the same way you brush your teeth. Without thought. And then, one night, you realize you are excited to go to bed because you know the next morning holds a new day at the gym. A new goal to be conquered. A new exercise to try. Another morning of doing something that is ultimately healthy for you in so many ways that in the hard process of adopting it into your life, you have fallen in love with it.
This is what it feels like to start seeing a therapist. Exactly what it's like.
First Step is a Doozy
If you are new to reading my blog, I occasionally do theme days. One of them is Therapy Thursday. I divulge certain tools that I have learned while in therapy over the years and in so doing hope to encourage people who think that "therapy" is just for their crazy sister-n-law or the people with multiple personalities and other serious disorders to give it a second thought. I believe therapy can benefit everyone. And really, it should just be a law. If I were president, every last one of us would visit a shrink.
But the idea of seeing a counselor or therapist has such a bad stigma that it terrifies people. There's an idea that you will come out brainwashed. Or crying like a little school girl. An idea that you will be chastised and degraded. Even worse, that you will be judged. That someone might find out that you are actually dealing with stuff. There's the idea that counseling is for weak people or those people who do not have enough faith to let God fix them. An idea that, in counseling, you will become a weepy, Oprah-loving, mushy-gushy basket case who comes out worse than what you started. And there is the idea that counseling is hard.
That is the only argument I agree with.
Counseling is hard.
Getting started is the hardest part. Just like starting the new work-out. Starting the writing after taking a month off. Starting to make friends in a new city. Starting the new diet. The new job. Fill in the blank. It is almost always hard to get started.
The First Date
The first time I saw a counselor was my senior year of high school. He was an overweight man with silver hair and a dreadfully boring voice. I was in his office, which was a part of the Baptist Convention's offices in Texas, with my entire bitter family. This man was paid by the Baptist's because he had a speciality. He dealt with ministers and their families who had been run out of churches and burned at the stake. We were one such family. My little sister was traumatized. My next sister was bitter. My mom was trying to make things OK for us. My dad was angry. And I was annoyed.
Really? There's a counselor just for families who have been hurt by other Christians? That's the most sad, ridiculous thing I've ever heard of. I wasn't terribly interested, but I had no choice. I sat through a few awkward sessions and tuned out.
The next time I went to counseling was two years later. That church stuff? Well, I didn't realize it for a while but it had done a number on my heart. So had quite a few other things, like really mean girls in high school and the obligatory family issues. I remember feeling really angry and yet able to cry at the drop of a pin. I remember sitting in a religion class geared towards those of us who thought we'd be going into ministry and hearing the professor say that we couldn't help others heal and see Jesus until we were healed ourselves. Counseling, she said, was a great first step for every minister in training.
So, with everything in me kicking and screaming I decided maybe I would check it out and I made an appointment at the counseling department on my college campus. I would be seeing a girl in training who had already finished her masters degree. I would need to come early to fill out some forms. My appointment was the following day. Great. I hung up the phone feeling like a complete failure... I have to go to counseling.
I stressed about the appointment from that moment on. It made me feel queazy. Then I'd feel crazy. Then I'd pick up the phone and decide to cancel. Then I would think back to my professor's words. Then I'd decide to keep the appointment. At which point I would just start sweating again as I thought about having to talk to some stranger and how awkward it was going to be. And the next day, my roommate (a pre-counseling major) had to drive me there herself so that I would actually go through with it.
They failed to tell me on the phone that the "paperwork" included a diagnostic test that would leave me in tears with questions like, "Have you ever thought about walking into oncoming traffic?" "Do you often hear voices?" "If so, how many?"
By the time I was through with the paperwork I was in tears. The paperwork proved that I was insane. I felt like a monster while I was filling it out. Like a freak show.
NO, I have never wanted to run in front of a bus. NO, I don't have voices in my head. I'm just a little angry and have trouble concentrating sometim- most of the times. I'm not struggling with an intense mental disorder though... am I?
Images of straight jackets and hypnotizing flowed through my mind. Evil doctors with needles and brain shocks swirled through my head. I wanted to run out of there. In fact, I would run out of there. I changed my mind. This is not for me. I should let these people take care of the truly emotionally needy and deranged. Like the ones who hear voices in their head. Not little ole' Jenny.
I was trying to hide behind my ball cap so that no one in the lobby would recognize me as I got my stuff together and prepared to slink out before they noticed. But right as I stood up, they called my name. "Jenny?"
This is tacky. Shouldn't you get a stage name? Aren't there privacy laws protecting my real name? I would've preferred Daffney or Turtle. But the lady b-lined to my side of the room, like she knew exactly who I was, and I was trapped.
Thank God for The Plunge
That was eight years ago. And that girl... that Jenny had a lot of work to do. Turns out I had lots of voices in my head. Parents. Sisters. Cheerleaders. Mean girls. My own voice. The church. God. Dreams. Teachers. Wise people. Passionate people. Expectations. Doubt. Fear. My families history. A lot of voices.
And for months I struggled to get up and make myself walk through the office door. Every single session was hard for me. Every single week I went in kicking and screaming. Annoyed all over again that I was having to be in counseling.
But... an hour later I came out weirdly joyful that I figured something out about myself or someone else close to me.
And then, months later, I found myself looking forward to Tuesdays. What would I learn? What would I shed? What would I remember? And process through? What great things would I embrace on behalf of myself and my future?
There was a sweet confidence in diving into a world that allowed me to be a fully-functioning person. A healthy person. A person who realized she was a work in progress. A joyful, passionate, balanced girl growing into the likeness of God as she let go of things that didn't quite look like Him. The kicking and screaming was replaced with joy and excitement. Not overnight, but eventually. The girl who cried because an assessment test asked me if I ever wanted to walk in front of a bus...
fell in love with therapy
Thank God for the plunge.
So today, jump in. Take the first, icy, bitter cold plunge. Write the blog you've been putting off. Call the friend you need to apologize to. Talk to your mom. Put in the job application. Get off the couch and go work-out. Open up the dusty Bible. Or walk into a counselor's office.
But be forewarned: the test they give you is going to suck. It's going to suck in the beginning and you might cry.
You will want to run. You will want to quit. And the things you learn about yourself and others might make you decide to turn in your human card. But hang in there. It gets easier. Even enjoyable. You might even find yourself looking forward to it. You might even be changed by it.
Eight years later counseling is still the best thing I've ever done for me.
And, this much dreaded first-blog-back...
now I'm not even dreading the next one.