This past Thursday, I had an appointment uptown. This appointment was with one the most important members of my medical team, a member I really haven’t talked about being on my medical team before: my counsellor. I’m not sure why I haven’t talked about seeing her. Maybe because of my past experience or maybe because I was afraid of the stigma surrounding mental health. I don’t know. Looking back, I see that was silly of me. As a patient, it’s my job to take the best care of myself possible, my brain included.
Last summer was when I first started seeing her. My health was in a downward spiral along with my weight. Despite numerous efforts to reach out to other practitioners and trying endless medication, my gastroenterologist and I just couldn’t get my gastroparesis managed. My nausea and vomiting was majorly debilitating. I was being plagued with mast cell reactions related to my tube feeds, exacerbating my symptoms. All of this was stopping me from getting the amount of calories I was needing. I was becoming more malnourished by the day.
In a desperate attempt for something that could help, even if it only brought my symptoms down by 2%, my gastroenterologist suggested I start seeing a mental health professional to teach me mindfulness and use some cognitive-behavioural therapy in hopes of giving me a better quality of life. I met with a psychiatrist who gave me another clean-bill of mental health and then started seeing a counselor for the mindfulness and coping with chronic illness side of things.
I was reluctant in the beginning, to say the least. Throughout my time being chronically ill, plenty of doctors wrote-off my issues as psychosomatic, meaning that it was internalized issues like stress causing my symptoms, not a physical illness. Being a young girl who suddenly couldn’t eat for no super apparent reason and was away for her first year of university, I can’t really blame them for jumping to pin it on depression or an eating disorder but I knew that wasn’t what was going on. It made the fight to find a diagnosis even harder. These experiences caused me to be a bit jaded and untrustworthy towards the mental health field. Even after I got diagnosed, those fears lingered. Once the seeds of doubt are planted, they sure are hard to get rid of.
Grasping at straws, I decided to go along with it and try seeing a counsellor. Even though we knew my issues weren’t psychological, having a chronic illness isn’t easy to deal with. After seeing so many people in the chronic illness community online through support groups and such fall into depression, anxiety, and PTSD, I thought it’d be smart to be proactive. I didn’t want to end up in a dark place. I thought I was coping well enough but there is always room for improvement so I gave it a shot. After a year of appointments, scheduled when I need a refresher or to vent or when I’m going through a particularly rough patch or when I need some fresh perspective from somebody outside of my situation, I don’t regret starting one bit.
Symptom wise, I haven’t felt any improvement from my session with her but, mentally, I feel refreshed every time I leave her office. Every time, I am reminded of the fact that meeting with someone and speaking openly isn’t only useful for people dealing with a mental illness, but for everybody. Each and every one of us deal with tough things in our lives. From being chronically ill to dealing with a hard work-place environment, from bullying to dealing with friend drama, from marital issues to sick relatives; every single one of us deal or will deal with hard things in our lives. In my opinion, that means that every single one of us can benefit from counselling or therapy.
You may feel like your issues are insignificant, that other people deal with harder things but that doesn’t matter. Stress is stress and suffering is suffering and having someone to talk to who is educated in helping you deal with those situations is beyond useful.
In my case, my counsellor has been a person I can lean on, someone with whom I can open up and share my soul. She offers me a safe space to share my triumphs and struggles. She gives me positive ways to deal with the negative things I’m experiencing. She has taught me how to meditate, how to be mindful in my everyday life, and encourages me to grow into the best person I can be. She listens and is supportive and helps me troubleshoot my problems. I feel more confident going through this rollercoaster of a journey having her on my team.
During my appointment with her this week, I was telling her about my recent struggles through the medical system and my frustration with my feeling of lacking power and control over my own life. The very first thing she reminded me of was that everything happens for a reason and I truly do believe that. She reminded me that I am here on planet earth to make a difference. And then, finally, she posed the question: “what are you going to do with what you’ve learned through all this? What are you going to do to make things better?”
Sharing this story with you all, this is how I start; starting the discussion. I start by telling you that, as much of a therapy skeptic as I was, it’s something that I would recommend to everyone, no matter what’s going on in your life. It is not something to be ashamed of. It is not a weakness to need help. Ask for it. Reach out. Find someone you can relate with. Open up. I promise you won’t regret it.