Ever since I was a kid, I have always been considered a “mother hen”. You know, the person always looking out for everyone else and following the rules, and making sure others did too. I have always wanted to make sure people stayed out of trouble, stayed safe, and stayed happy. I was so motherly, that in 3rd grade I got dubbed the nickname “Big Mama” after we watched the Disney movie “The Fox & the Hound.” Big Mama was the owl in the movie who was a mentor and protector of Tod the fox. This nickname stuck with me literally all through high school and some remember it to this day!
So even from a young age of 8 years old, I have always been sensitive to not only my own feelings but others. That has continued to be my personality all through my adult life as well. And although I am grateful to be full of empathy, it’s also caused a great deal of stress and anxiety over the years as well.
Seeing that I have no problems listening to others and helping others, anything that had ever come up for stressors in my life, took a back seat. I would deal with them later and on my own. But truthfully, I would use helping others to keep my own struggles and anxieties in the back seat so I wouldn’t have to deal with them. Helping others gives me somewhat of a high. It makes me feel good! But when that high goes away, that has given me time to sit with my own thoughts, feelings, and emotions. And at times, that has not always been easy. I would desperately want to find something else to fix. Or potentially take my own anxiety out on someone who most certainly didn’t deserve it. I didn’t want to ask for help. Though I would have probably denied it then, it is clear now that I used to see asking for help as weakness. And it was only a weakness of myself because I never judged anyone seeking my help as being weak. It’s a strange thing to think back on how I would see others as being brave with expressing their worries to me, but for me to do the same to someone else, was something I couldn’t bring myself to do.
I’ve never been very good with confrontation. Let alone confrontation that would require me to express my feelings. It’s much easier to say everything is going great versus unloading everything on someone. You feel like you’re burdening a person and make them feel uncomfortable. It’s easier to keep these things to yourself because you don’t want a lecture or sometimes don’t want to hear the truth from those you love and who love you.
This brings me to the year I turned 30, which will be 5 years ago. A lot had happened in my adulthood to that point. And there was a lot going on at that time with friends who were going through a multitude of life changes and challenges. It was during that time that I was doing a really good job trying to help everyone, do well at work, and be all and do all. As you can imagine this did not go well. It was shortly after my 30th birthday party, that I hit a breaking point. Looking back on it now, it was likely a mild anxiety attack that I was going through. Everything seemed heavy and I just didn’t feel right. And I knew I wanted to stop feeling the way I was feeling. I needed the weight lifted off.
Therapy was always something I was suggesting other people do. I never saw it in a negative light, however I never saw it as something I would ever have to “resort” to. To me that was for people who had really deep issues to sort out. I also held the myth that I shouldn’t need it because I have a great family and support system who could help me. That would almost seem disrespectful and make them possibly feel bad that they didn’t raise me to be mentally strong. All of these things, which are myths we often tell ourselves, played a part in me being hesitant in seeking out talk therapy.
A few weeks later, I finally chose a local therapist that would take my insurance, and made an appointment. The only reason I chose her was because in her photo she looked like a very nice lady. I didn’t reach out to anyone for recommendations. I just put my trust into the universe that this person I was about to meet would help me balance my life better.
So it was July 2015 and I met Mary. It was quickly obvious that Mary was the right choice. I could not believe that my random selection was so spot on. Caring and compassionate, similar lifestyles, and just a great listener…Mary is like me! In the beginning I was meeting with Mary a few times a month. My main objective was to try and be better at work/life balance and learning how to keep myself healthy while still being a helper. I was saying yes to too many things and people. I was worried too much about how my actions were impacting others feelings. Mary & I worked through so much in the first couple months, I was simply amazed. And I was a little disappointed that I didn’t seek out mental health care sooner. I now realized I didn’t have to be extremely broken or troubled to need this. This care is for EVERYONE.
Our sessions went from a few times a month, to once a month, to now every quarter. One might say I don’t “need” to see her, but yes, I do need to see her. I love our conversations and I ALWAYS come out of our sessions with a new perspective on something in my life. Having a third party to talk to, without judgement, is so helpful. She has been so genuine in her care and compassion that I still, almost 5 years later, can’t believe I got so lucky to randomly choose her.
I write about my experience not to get any praise. But because I know that other people out there struggle with the same types of worries, anxieties, etc. And I know many of us still have so many myths we tell ourselves about what mental health should look like, how we should go about mental wellness, and that therapy is a sign of weakness. I see and feel the energy from friends that would love to see them work more on themselves. I see the potential that is there, but the fear that they aren’t good enough or don’t know how to reach it.
My hope is if you have ever thought about going into therapy but are held back by any of these thoughts, that you might be inspired by my story to look out for yourself and put yourself first. If you don’t have the insurance to go to a therapist, try and find out what types of payment plans they may have or what might be available for you for free in your community. Oftentimes employers will have Employee Assistance Programs that you can take advantage of as well. My employer does, however I felt more comfortable going at it on my own time and finding someone outside of the program that would accept my insurance. I know that mental health care is still such a struggle to be offered to all (or found), no matter what financial situation you are in. And to me, that is sad that we can’t offer mental health care to ALL that is affordable. I think at some point all of us could benefit from it in one way or another, or at the very most come out of a conversation with something to work on in our lives.
I am very happy to have learned how I can be a helper, but also how to simultaneously make sure that my mental health is not taking a back seat. I have found better ways to balance helping others as well as making sure I put myself first, and not to always worry about how that will make other people feel. When it comes down to it, the better you are at being kind to yourself, the better you are overall as a friend, a spouse, a significant other, a co-worker, a human being. So continue being kind, but also do not forget to be kind to yourself. You can be strong for others as much as you are strong for yourself.