How My Attitude Towards Mental Health Changed From My 20s to 30s to 40s
2011 and I was at a low point. Most alarmingly, it wasn’t clear that I could get out of my situation by myself. The mental stress and overwork at my job helped catalyze a physical disability of repetitive strain which created a vicious cycle. The bottoming occurred over the summer when I was supposed to be healing during a sabbatical. Being a proactive problem solver I tossed all sorts of Eastern and Western approaches to diagnosing and solving the pain in my hands and arms. Instead of finding a cure, I was losing trust in my own body’s ability to recoup and imagining a life of marginal productivity. This fed into my failure tiger fear, which was already heightened by the impending birth of my daughter. The beginnings of anxiety and depression convinced me that I needed to abandon my belief that only *I* could help myself and seek a therapist. I’ve now been seeing him for 10 years.
In my 20s I wasn’t prepared to embrace therapy. I’d been exposed to it via friends and family members but generally felt that I could solve my own problems by myself. That unless one’s situation was severe and verging on physical self-harm, therapy was unnecessary for me — I was better off thinking and working my way out of my anxiety. Others, they might need this help, but not me.
In my 30s I occasionally saw a therapist, but used it to treat symptoms rather than root causes. It made me feel better in the moment but I wasn’t ready to embrace the idea that ongoing commitment to analysis was going to be productive. It seemed time-consuming, expensive and transactional. Obviously this person only cared about me because I was paying them, and most of these therapists couldn’t keep up with me anyway. I’d offer my own self-analysis for them, looking to be commended for how intelligent, introspective and articulate I was. This wasn’t help, it was performance.
Then 2011 hit and in my late 30s the emotional infrastructure I’d constructed to protect myself was no longer sufficient. To try and preserve it would, at best, keep me surviving but not the version of husband, father, friend or human which I aspired to become. Although we sometimes have to fall back to a phone call, the best therapy for me happens 1:1 in-person. I know there are a variety of choices today for virtual or distanced therapy, and despite my concerns about the practical stability of these businesses, I’m incredibly glad they are growing and operating to the benefit of their customers.
Within my closest communities it feels as if being attentive to mental health and wellness is largely destigmatized. Even before this post I’ve discussed my own participation frequently and consider it to be an important ongoing commitment. But I’m sure my own experiences don’t necessarily extend universally, maybe not even to everyone reading this post. So if you’re considering therapy for yourself, let me encourage you to do try. And if someone you care about needs some help, support them. And if it’s even just a topic that comes up in discussions among people you know well or not as well, look at it with kind eyes and don’t create a more difficult decision for someone who needs some help. It’s the most human thing we can do.