I bounced my foot nervously, quickly glancing at the woman behind the desk, trying to gather anything I could from scanning her. Everything is fine. You are fine. You want to be here, remember? It has taken a long time to get here. If it doesn’t work out, you can simply leave. This is your choice.
I was awaiting an intake with a counseling agency. The intake would be overseen by the same therapist who would be working with me in session. I was new here and I just wasn’t sure; was this client/therapist relationship going to work out? Were we going to click? There wasn’t a lot to tell about my life, but, nevertheless, I wasn’t exactly interested in just spilling my internal thoughts to anyone, even though professionals take care to stay uninvolved. I felt unprepared. What if I had a meltdown during intake? (And as it turns out, I did). I was weird like that; completely stoic most of the time – sarcastic too – and then rarely, but randomly and unpredictably, melting down when even I didn’t expect it. Life was pretty high-stress at the moment, hence the meltdown.
Ever since our foster care days, I have hoped to someday sit in the therapy chair myself. Therapy has always been reserved for our children from hard places, even though we are all walking on the journey of healing with them. I got to be in the chair from time to time back then, discussing the kids and our various frustrations of the week. It was always helpful for me. But mental health services are not easy to come by. The cost is substantial. I didn’t have a referral or a diagnosis. Perhaps this therapist could assist me in getting a diagnosis. But I didn’t want one, really; there likely weren’t enough symptoms to tag me under any mental health condition anyway.
Life in the age of the pandemic-school-shut-down was stressful. This fall was not going at all as we had planned, but I had been in high levels of stress so many times over the past several years. I knew my coping skills. Add to it the daily complication that came with making one family out of three, and our weeks often came with a certain baseline level of stress that needed intentional managing. I just wanted to process things and work on some habits. We were at a place where we had the money to self-pay for this service occasionally – not frequently – but hopefully with regularity, and I was ready to try it.
If you are an internal processor, like myself, perhaps you can easily grasp my conflict. Talking through things with a professional has always been helpful for me, partly I think, because someone with experience in psychology understands how to draw things out of a willing participant. It is easier to talk when the right questions are being asked. And I am often willing, but feel unable, to say everything that is going on inside. Wanting to talk, but struggling to do so – my husband knows this well. Sometimes the complexity of what I am thinking about feels like too much to verbalize, so I opt for silence instead. It’s too exhausting. Therapists are good at drawing these things out of a person.
My intake went well enough. Did I like the experience? No, not exactly. Did I dislike it? No. Did I feel good about my decision when I walked out of the office an hour later? Yes, I did. One of the awkward things about pursuing mental health services when you are a stable, functional adult is that there is no glaring reason to do so. When I first sat down, the therapist quickly noted that I had an ACE score of zero, and turned to me inquisitively. Zero. Let me tell you, that’s a real blessing. But with a score of zero, why was I sitting in that chair? Was there a crisis? Nope, no crisis either. To her credit, she listened to me and made no indication of disregarding my desire to pursue psychological services. I was advocating for myself. The internal processor had few outside indicators, but knew inside that this would be helpful.
Truth be told, I think all adoptive parents could qualify as candidates for mental health services just by the nature of dealing with there child(ren)’s trauma. And in the middle of a pandemic, who doesn’t want a listening ear to just rant at for an hour? But I am pursuing therapy for more than just ranting, as helpful as that can be. I hope to look inside and become a better person. Change takes work.