Finding My Life Jacket

This past summer I started hating myself.

Not the normal dislike and disdain for not upholding the impossibly high standard of Pinterest perfection that most women harbor, but a genuine hatred. I was angry all the time, and genuinely afraid of the poisonous person my mind was turning me into.

On the outside, nobody saw it (I will accept my Oscar for my role as the happy, well-adjusted confident woman as soon as I narrow down my awards dress choices), but I felt it. I was allowing my life circumstances to eat away at me and take over.

The more I obsessed and spoke to the one friend that I allow to see the ugly in me, the more I saw that if I didn’t get help and perspective, find a way to cope heal and thrive, I would allow this poison that started out so small to ruin all of the amazing things in my life that God has entrusted to me - my 3 boys and my strong relationship with them, my career that I’ve worked so hard at for the past 6 years that I love and do well at, and my close friendships that I just could not afford to lose.

I was listening to Lauren Daigle’s “Rescue” song on repeat fulltime to calm me and remind me of God’s promises, and I felt as though it was for me at that time.

I would literally cry out to God and just say “SOS God! SOS!”, and then dry my tears, clean up my mascara, put on my smile and go about my day without anybody realizing the extreme rage and hatred I was dealing with inside.

Don’t you find that’s where the enemy works best? When we have secrets to hide - whether it’s this inner battle/hatred of ourselves, addiction, marriage issues - the deeper down we hide them, the more power they have over us? And the more we obsess, the larger they become.

I needed help.

I had been to see a counselor six years ago for six months while I was going through my divorce/separation and it had changed my life. At that point I felt that I was justified in going. I had a reason. Now here I was 6 years later with “first world problems,” not a legitimate cause or trauma, and something I thought I should be able to figure out on my own and get through with my faith.

I “tested the waters” and casually brought up in a few different conversations with my parents, my brother, and a close friend that I was considering going for counseling to work through some things. Only one of them knew how bad I was feeling inside, but ALL of them were on board and didn’t laugh or ask why I would think I needed it.

I was embarrassed, and my dad (Mr. Voice of Reason lol) finally said, “God invented lifejackets, didn’t he?” meaning, "Why wouldn’t I use all tools available to me to become healthy?" After talking with my brother, I found out he was also seeing a counselor, and he gave me the name of one that he thought might be a good fit for me.

One thing you need to know about me (or that you already know if you’ve ever crossed my path) before we move forward is this - I NEED people to like me. I don’t WANT people to like me, I NEED it. And if I don’t think that you like me, I will wear you down with kindness and gifts and anything else that will win you over to liking me and thinking I’m awesome. I am paranoid of coming off as self-centred, so I avoid talking about myself to other people. I ask them questions, I don’t share unless it’s pertinent to the conversation or just a short one liner.

To go to a stranger and talk about myself for an hour at a time - not only that, but to lay out all my anger and hatred and the messy horrible parts of me - saying truths to them that I haven’t even said out loud to myself was intimidating and completely terrifying. How were they going to like me and want to help me if they knew what kind of person I really am? Please tell me I’m not alone in this!

Long story short, I’m a few months in with my counseling sessions. I have been going weekly, and have just graduated myself to every other week and I’m happy. Not the exterior fake happy that everybody thought I was before, but comfortable in my skin, content, and joyful. Dealing with my issues and doing the work to be the healthiest version of myself that I can be. My head doesn’t feel full and heavy and overwhelmed because I am finally talking about what is going on in there and sharing that burden with someone equipped to help me.

Am I perfect and flawless and living happily ever after? No. My life is messy. (Aren’t all of our lives messy?) But there’s a difference between living in the mess and doing your part to clean up and make your contribution to this life we’ve been handed by someone FAR BIGGER than our messes.

In church a couple weeks ago there was something said in relation to the David and Goliath story that has stuck with me. When faced with our giant, rather than taking inventory and focussing on how big our giant is, how much more empowering is it to focus on how huge our God is?

I've put together a quick 5 tips if you’re on the fence or considering the sometimes scary task of admitting it’s time to put on your life jacket and get some help from a counselor.

1. You’ve Gotta Want it.

This is for you. Nobody else. If you’re going because your spouse or your family have told you to and you’re just sitting there to fill the hour and check off the box, save your time and money. I want you to want it -you are WORTH it. I don’t care if you think you’re beyond help or a hopeless cause, take a baby step and make the appointment. And then actually GO.

This life isn’t meant to be spent with a lot of “what if’s” at the end. “What if I had tried to get help?” deserves to be crossed off that list, and could be the first step to a brand new outlook on your life. Go in with your mind as open as possible - the worst thing that could happen is that life remains the same.

2. Find the Right Fit.

How many hairdressers have you tried in your life before you found the right one that worked for you? The same can be said for counselors or any professional. God created us all as individuals with different personalities. It won’t always be a perfect fit the first time around. That’s ok. Don’t give up and don’t compromise, but don’t treat it like a fast food situation where you spend all your energy shopping around, and forget that the point is getting help, not finding a new best friend. This is your mental health you are looking after, not something to be taken lightly. Smother it in prayer, and give it an honest effort.

Proverbs 15:22 says “without counsel plans fail, but with many advisors they succeed.”. I had a different counselor six years ago for my divorce than I have now with a different approach. Completely opposite personalities and ways of interacting, but both had the same goal. To help me be the healthiest version of myself.

Be open with your counselor if something isn’t working, or if they are pushing you too hard or too fast - nobody is a mind reader. Sometimes just communicating something like that can help change their strategy or plan of attack.

3. Do the Work.

WHAT?! You can’t just show up for an hour a week or even an hour a day at your counselors office and live happily ever after the rest of the time?! No! The appointment is the easy part! You’re safe there - they HAVE to listen to you, accept you, and give you grace. Outside in the real world it’s not always so forgiving.

My counselor gives me homework, and it varies depending on where my head is at. Some weeks it’s been journaling my thoughts when I’m overwhelmed (with a few options so I’m not just blindly writing stuff in a notebook), some weeks it’s focussing on self care/ taking time for myself through goals of how many treadmill workouts I’ll have, allowing myself some quiet reading time, baking or playing games with my kids - things that feed my soul. One week, she literally showed me how to change my posture and breathing techniques to remain calm in a stressful situation I had coming up. That kind of homework isn’t hard.

Some weeks have been scary. I’ve had to evaluate some friendships that may not be healthy for my life and deal with that, I’ve had to have conversations with people that are incredibly important to me that haven’t been easy - conversations I’ve put off and avoided for a LONG time. Some weeks it’s to read a book we have been going through together on setting healthy boundaries in life with people. Whatever it is, TRY IT. Do the work. If you’re like me, you will feel like throwing up just thinking about it, but I GUARANTEE you, if you put yourself in the right mindset, have put the prayer time in and give it an honest effort, you will feel on top of the world - even if it doesn’t give you the outcome you hope for. How people react is beyond your control - that’s not your problem. You are working on YOU, not them.

4. Don’t Rush it.

I am an instant gratification kind of girl. I don’t do well waiting for God to reveal his reasoning to me, or sitting in my mess learning the hard lessons he wants us to learn while we are in this life. I want to sit down, have someone tell me 3 steps to happiness, and then quickly do them so I can hurry up and be happy. I’ve found a lot of my contentment has come from being forced to reflect and pray and wait on God.

Counseling hasn’t been a one time fixes all. It’s been a week in, week out work in process, sometimes feeling as though it’s 2 steps forward, 1 step back - and I’ve learned that’s OK!

A month ago I was so pumped because I had decided I was going to move to every other week instead of weekly appointments, but after a setback, I caved and emailed asking to be fit in for another appointment in between. I felt so much shame because I thought I could do better. I should be healthier, equipped to handle things on my own, but my head got so full and overwhelmed. I cried, feeling like I was weak. I texted a friend my embarrassment, and they replied that they were so proud of me for knowing when to admit I needed help.

It doesn’t matter how quick you figure things out. Take your time, do the work, and make the most of this chance to be healthy.

5. LAST BUT NOT LEAST!!! Talk about it!

God created us to be social beings! To support each other, not to show our highlight reel on Instagram while we silently struggle on the inside. After I confessed to my counselor that I felt I was a mess, and felt like I’ve been moving backwards, still seeing her after a few months, she opened up to me and said, “I can only sit in this chair because I’ve been in your chair.” That freed me. Why can’t we all give each other a break, and make this an acceptable way of being healthy. People post their post-workout gym pics on social media all the time, what’s wrong with promoting our mental health story with as much pride as that? (Maybe I’m saying this because I’d rather do that, than a post of myself in gym clothes.)

Jesus too has been in our “chair” and was down on this earth doing life and navigating all these same feelings and situations. He CHOSE to do this for us. How huge is that? He is our “Wonderful Counselor” (Isaiah 9:7) - this was written nearly 800 years before Christ even showed up. That just speaks to the character that our Savior is. He is able to advise his people because he is qualified like no other. He knows every single thing about us, and the WHY behind it, in ways we will never know. He didn’t create us to suffer through this life alone. He has supplied us with his wisdom if we ask for it, and with so many different “life jackets” to help us thrive - doctors, counselors, authors, friends, family.

I urge you to take that first step and seriously consider taking some action. It has saved me, and will continue to save me, my family and my future happiness. Cry out your SOS, take your health in your hands, and own it! I promise, the support will overwhelm you!

About the Author:

Abby is a surviving and thriving (most days) mother of three boys. She loves teen fiction, anything WWII, Hobby Lobby, and Netflix. She cheers for the Winnipeg Jets ALWAYS and for the Minnesota Vikings when she can see them live with a taco in hand. Abby is a top performer in her real estate market and a reluctant volunteer at her kids school.

If you would like to send Abby a message, email and put “Abby” in the subject line.