08 February 2023

A resource of value

I've never been too explicit about my mental-health issues here, though no doubt long-time readers have been able to read between the lines.  However, I've seen occasional hints that some others who interact here may also be suffering from issues such as depression, isolation, suicidal impulses, and aftereffects of prolonged past emotional stress, and it's statistically likely that some other readers who don't leave comments do as well.  So I'd like to share a suggestion.

After my mother had her stroke in September 2010 and nearly died, I was in such emotional distress that I was barely able to function.  I made contact with a professional counselor and set up a first meeting.  Over the weeks that followed, this counselor (I'll call her MK) listened attentively to my situation and was able to offer several insights into what was really going on in my mind and how best to cope with it.  During the following nine years, while my life was almost entirely focused on taking care of my mother (a situation which put me under worse strain than anything else before or since), MK was always my strongest support, helping me get through countless crises, including one period when I so seriously suicidal that a doctor actually gave me a letter for a period of time off of work to lessen at least one source of stress, and several other crises almost as severe.  Had it not been for her, I'm certain I would not be alive today.

Even since my mother's death in 2019, I've continued seeing MK, since by then the enormous benefits of this type of counseling had long been clear.  She's helped me understand and resolve other problems with roots going back long before my mother's stroke -- roots I had never understood or even suspected until we explored them.

If you suffer from comparable psychological issues, or have problems like fits of anger or depression without any apparent reason, I would urge you to seek professional help.  Such advice should not even be needed, but in our culture many people, especially men, are strangely reluctant to seek out counseling.  Don't be.  It doesn't mean you are "crazy".  It doesn't mean you are weak.  If you were suffering from severe chronic pain or broke a bone, you wouldn't hesitate to go to a doctor.  If your car developed a problem you couldn't fix or diagnose yourself, you wouldn't hesitate to take it to a mechanic.  Your brain deserves the same consideration.

The official term is "licensed professional counselor" or LPC.  Most health insurance plans cover them.  One caveat -- there are people out there offering counseling who are actually fervent religionists.  Avoid them.  At some point they will almost certainly declare that the solution to all your problems is to turn to Jesus, which would be irrelevant to whatever issues you have.  If you are gay, or otherwise lead a life which violates a religious taboo, they may try to focus on "curing" you of that, which could be outright damaging.  Very often these people don't even have formal licenses or training.

Even if you have supportive family around (as I did not), working with an LPC is still worthwhile.  They have the training and experience to analyze psychological problems and offer insights which most people could not.  They are also often knowledgeable about specific techniques for exploring and resolving issues, and about when any given technique is appropriate to try.  They cannot prescribe medications, but MK, at least, knows a lot about them and has repeatedly been able to suggest over-the-counter options that were helpful.

Many of us need all the help we can get.  It would be foolish not to make use of a valuable resource which is available.


Blogger Mary said...

A very useful and heartfelt post. The world today and I’m sure in the past too, is full of stress and anxiety of all types. These people do an invaluable service. I glad you got help.

08 February, 2023 18:59  
Blogger Daal said...

you’re generous to be so candid. as a woman, seeking counseling doesn’t incur as great a stigma, but i’m still surprised by how many people are reluctant to seek help. some I know have said that talking about their lives made them feel bad. it did that for me, but it was needed to get through to benefits. I’ve had many starts & stops with counseling, many different counselors. what I’ve learned is to be neither afraid nor bashful about finding a new counselor when one doesn’t work out. counseling is as much an art as it is a science. some people just don’t click with us. some people teach us as much as they can, and then it’s time to look for new professionals with new lessons. sometimes we need a rest from counseling.

another thing I’ve learned, which came only after some time, is it helps to have a goal. those goals can be flexible, but are needed to have a sense of direction and a way to measure progress. telling the counselor that goal is important. the act of finding a goal & voicing it, asking for help with it, are important tools for wellness. tools are everything, in addition to venting and bringing issues out into the light

much of what I get out of therapy is the opportunity to discuss problems with someone who I can be completely candid with for the very reason that they aren’t parf of my circle of friends & family. also, hopefully they’ve heard many diverse problems, enough that they aren’t easily shocked &/or judgemental.

08 February, 2023 21:28  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Mary: Thanks. It may have been easier for me to seek help because I was hit with a terrible sudden shock -- with many people, there's no one event like that, but just problems that gnaw at them over time.

Daal: It can make people feel bad, especially when it's very personal, or past embarrassing experiences. But over time with the same counselor you come to realize that they've heard similar or worse from other people and are used to it, so indeed they won't be shocked or judgmental; and in most situations they are bound by confidentiality rules.

And it's true that sometimes you have to be careful about getting an LPC who's a good fit. There was one situation where, for various reasons, I briefly came under pressure to switch to a different counselor. He was much younger (MK is about my age) and frankly better at talking then listening, and I could tell he would not have been as good for me, so I stayed with MK.

08 February, 2023 23:20  
Anonymous Cop Car said...

Kudos to you! It shouldn't take bravery to make such postings, but I know that it does. We should all be proud that people like you (ace problem solvers) exist.

09 February, 2023 02:43  
Blogger Jack said...

This is good advice, and I suspect it is something more of us should be willing to talk about. I found therapy helpful in dealing with one of those abrupt shocks to the system too. I should have stuck with it for much longer than I did, but it ended up being too expensive for that to seem realistic. That said, it isn't hard to imagine doing it again when the next shock hits.

09 February, 2023 03:16  
Blogger Lady M said...

Thanks for sharing your story. It takes a lot of bravery to admit vulnerability. I am glad that it has saved your life. I think the warning about pseudo christian counseling that comes with an agenda is also very helpful.

09 February, 2023 07:38  
Blogger NickM said...

I think, apart from anything else, a counsellor is a third party. They have that professional seperation from you that you ain't gonna get from friends or family.

Infidel, yes, it was brave of you and it shouldn't have had to be. I know this because I was recently diagnosed with epilepsy. It's under control - so far. But it feels like a stigma and telling my mother was very difficult. She blamed me for not telling her sooner. I was diagnosed on December 9th after a terrible fit. I saw her at New Year. I wanted to tell her in person and that was when I was scheduled to see her. My mother is not a good person to talk about difficult things with because she always brings it back to herself. She was deeply afronted that my parents-in-law knew before her (they were on the scene, they took me to the hospital, they were geographically closer). But my Mum, was all woe is me! Do you know how much this hurts me! (as in her) Not a thought for me spending 24 hours in acute care and having only one coherent thought (the stuff that went through my brain - let's not go there) and that was I wanted out to see England v. France in the World Cup. That happened and England lost. Oh, well, Newcastle are in the Carabou Cup final on the 26th.

I could have phoned or emailed but I know she would have been here pronto and in her full panoply which was the last thing I needed right there, right then.

Anyway, I'm OK. I think I handled it well with a heck of a lot of help from professionals. I used to fix computers for a living. Not much call for it in the day of the almost disposable laptop so I do web-design more now. Yeah, I've had to deal as a third party with some weird stuff. And it helped everyone that I didn't really care what was on the HD (obviously there are exceptions to that rule - i.e. things that are very clearly criminal) because I don't care apart from in the professional sense of getting the machine fixed. So, if you got porn or have been playing Candy Crush rather than doing the accounts it isn't my business. I have had to ask unusual questions at times. Not least when I found a USB port was knackered because it was stuffed with strawberry jam. But it is me just being Holmes and not Lestrade. And, yes, her four year-old grandson had used the machine. Being detached really can help.

Did you know Janet Jackson's hit song "Rhythm Nation" can crash 5,400rpm HDs on older laptops?


It is that sort of weirdness that kept me in the game so long. And if that isn't the strangest fact you've heard all year then I'm a wombat.

09 February, 2023 08:56  
Blogger Darrell Michaels said...

Infidel, thank you for sharing your story. I am glad that you found a good counselor to help you and that you didn't let ego or anything else get in the way of seeking and continuing that help. Yours is an important voice that is needed in this world.

Daal, you had some great points in particular in your comments too, and I am glad you shared.

For me, my late wife ended up having a stroke which seemed to change her brain chemistry, according to the psychiatrist, which exacerbated a relatively under-control bi-polar condition. Needless to say it was no longer under control and I spent the last ten years of her life trying to keep her from committing suicide. She made a handful of serious attempts over those years and I was always able to help her in time until the last time when I wasn't. Needless to say, the stress of taking care of her and then losing her in such a tragic way was devastating to me.

I know you don't subscribe to this Infidel, but without the help of my faith, pastor, and close friends in my church community, I shudder to think where I would have been. I also went to a really good counselor who had known my wife and her situation and had been helping me to cope when she was alive. He became invaluable after her death. I am able to function today and live a happy life because of both avenues of support. As you've said, seeking help is not a sign of weakness.

Thanks again for sharing, Infidel!

09 February, 2023 13:08  
Blogger Mary Kirkland said...

I'm very glad that you got help. I've had to do that a few times and it did help.

09 February, 2023 13:23  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Cop Car: Fortunately, all I needed to do was take the initiative to seek help. Even that seems very hard for some people to face, though.

Jack: It can indeed be expensive if your insurance doesn't cover it. Most do, though. What I'm currently paying MK is only the same as a regular co-pay. Even if it costs more, in some cases it's wise to make it a priority.

Lady M: I would hate to be the kind of person who feels the need to maintain a tough invulnerable façade all the time. I think people like that end up destroying themselves, unless they genuinely have stress-free lives, which isn't typical.

NickM: The professional separation is valuable. For one thing, an individual's problems very often involve friends or family members in various ways, and it's hard for that friend or family member to objectively assess their own role in your situation. And, of course, even some close relatives have their own agenda and can't focus on your problems even in a crisis -- as the example of your mother and your epilepsy shows. I'm glad it's apparently under control. I guess you know the things to avoid.

I actually didn't find this post all that difficult to write. After all these years talking to MK, and all the benefits it's brought, I don't feel any stigma about it, no matter what some people may think.

Darrell: Thank you for the kind words. I suppose to some extent I felt the need to keep going because my mother needed me, and after she was gone, I felt very much adrift and directionless. But I'm putting that behind me.

It must be horrifying losing a relative to suicide, especially when the behavior was the result of stroke damage and not even a rational decision. At least the instances when apparently you were there to stop it gave both of you more time.

The stresses induced by taking care of a person with mental issues for a long period can be enormous, and (so I've heard) can even be contributing factor to Alzheimer's. I hope you'll be on the alert for that -- there are many things a person can do to stave it off.

Mary K: Thanks. I'm glad you did get the help you needed. I'm sure the place you live is not good for mental health, on top of any deeper problems.

09 February, 2023 20:01  
Blogger SickoRicko said...

Thank you for sharing this with us.

10 February, 2023 11:06  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

I hope it will be useful to some.

11 February, 2023 02:26  
Anonymous Annie said...

I concur with all the above affirmations, Infidel. Your post may well be life-saving to some—and life-improving to even more readers. It’s so dreadful that this already difficult topic continues to be heightened by still-existing stigmas. Decades ago, I did freelance writing for our county mental health board on pamphlets and other materials to address the stigmas that persist. We are far past time for broad recognition that illnesses need competent professional care, erasing both the “go it alone” fixation and the mind/body differential.

12 February, 2023 10:08  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

That's my hope. I know there are people out there who could benefit from professional counseling -- people for whom it could even be life-saving. If this post helps move even one person to seek help, I'll feel it was a success.

I'd be interested in seeing those pamphlets and materials that address the stigma of seeking counseling, if you still have them and care to post them somewhere.

12 February, 2023 14:04  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry I haven’t responded sooner. I don’t think any copies remain.

I was pleased this week to see Sen. John Fetterman’s public announcement that he had checked himself into Walter Reed for treatment of clinical depression. His wife subsequently tweeted a message from someone who said Fetterman’s example had persuaded that person to seek much-needed help for the first time. And Officer Harry Dunn, one of the officers wounded on Jan 6–who’s a giant in many ways—praised Fetterman. Dunn has been vocal about his PTSD and the treatment and support that help him. All very encouraging signs.

18 February, 2023 06:44  

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