In some ways, talking to a psychologist was even harder than starting antidepressants. In both cases, I was admitting to a problem that comes with its own baggage of shame and stigma and perceived weakness. But with counseling, it felt harder. This was more than hitting my doctor up for a prescription. I would be walking into a stranger’s office and spending hours explaining how I’d lost the ability to deal with things in my life, how I needed help to figure out things I feel like I should already know how to do.
That’s what it all comes back to. I feel like I should be able to handle this stuff. I should know how to be a good father and husband, how to balance the demands of writing and the day job, how to maintain my emotional balance in times of increased stress, and so on. I know how deceptive and nasty the word “should” can be, but that didn’t stop all the crap from swelling back through my brain when I thought about making that first appointment.
I made it anyway.
I’ve had three sessions so far, and while I’m not going to go into as much detail about them, I’ll say it’s been helpful. The first session or two were mostly a get-to-know-you sort of thing. I got an official diagnosis of dysthymia. As I understand it, this is a milder form of chronic, long-term depression. I.e., I’m in a lousy mood most of the time, but I’m not jumping off the Mackinac Bridge.
The funniest moment came in the first session: I was describing my life, the jobs and the writing, taking care of the kids after school, the work I did around the house, and so on.
Doctor P: What do you do for fun?
Doctor P: When do you take time to just get out and enjoy yourself?
Jim: …I’m sorry, I don’t understand the question.
I was amused, but it was a good catch on her part. She gave me homework to do something fun just for me. I actually managed to do it, too. The trick now is going to be incorporating that lesson into my life on a more regular basis.
Doctor P has also pointed out some areas where I could improve things at home. We both recognize there’s a lot I can’t change — realistically, I can’t quit the day job; I can’t magically improve my wife’s health so that she can do more at home; and so on — so we’re concentrating on things where I can make changes for the better.
This whole process scares me. Eventually, I’d love to get off of the antidepressants, and I think counseling is one of the things that will help me do that. But given how helpful the pills have been since April, I’m also terrified of losing that crutch and slipping back into the swamp of who-gives-a-crap-about-anything. I guess I’m not yet completely trusting that it can help — or that I can change enough to really make a difference — in the long run.
This experience has also made me recognize once again how fortunate I am to have decent insurance that covers most of the medications and my weekly sessions. As hard as it’s been to admit I need help, how much worse must it be to realize you need help and have no way of getting it? [Rant about U.S. healthcare deleted because the goal is to not depress myself further.]
I’m cautiously optimistic. I like my counselor. She feels pretty genuine, and seems to get me. The first few sessions felt a little open-ended, but we’re talking about more concrete goals this week. Apparently we’ll also be doing a bit more cognitive work, teaching me how to win at some of my head games. I’ve had some speed bumps at home and at work, but overall, so far so good.
My thanks once again to everyone who’s been so encouraging and supportive.