My grandma Millie did her fair share of worrying as a grandma. I would venture to guess that may be a trait of the Italian women in my family that I very much inherited. One of my fondest memories is of her comforting me when I would cry; “Mi Susan,” she would say, holding my hand with her cold, beat up hands. “You need to grow thicker skin. I worry about your heart.”
My grandma and I were very close. She was an artist in her own right – making costumes, clothing and the best meals I’ve ever had. I often think of her and the women in my family when I need a dose of courage. But I never grew that thick skin that my grandma spoke of. In fact, I turned out quite the opposite.
My first experience in therapy was in the form of Sister Peggy at St. John the Baptist High School. My second was a campus minister, and my third was another nun. Each time I attended these sessions, it was due to a precipitating event; something in my life was wrong. It was clearly defined, I was clearly upset, and I felt justified asking for help. When you have a clearly defined event – my sister’s in the hospital, my brother is getting into trouble, my mom was in a car accident, my grandma died, my dad seems like he can’t take it – it can be easier to say, “Okay, I need to talk to someone about this before my head explodes.”
It wasn’t until after college that I realized I might actually need to talk about MYSELF in these sessions. In January of 2012, I promised myself that I would give therapy a shot for a minimum of a year. For me, life was at a point where I needed some protected time during the week for myself. I am a feeler with a huge heart and a serious case of the empathys. How I felt was affecting my relationships, my demeanor and, more than I’d like to admit, my job. Maybe I just needed a place to talk, feel, process. A place to just be and not necessarily look for solutions every minute. Maybe I just needed a professional who I could cry to and admit that I just couldn’t hack it sometimes.
Therapy is a very different experience for everyone. For me, having a trained professional was…well, weird at first. Having someone’s eyes on you for an entire 45 minutes is unnerving. My first session, I sat there and cried. I don’t even think I said anything. Eventually, we got down to business. Michele, my new Friday afternoon standing appointment, was a blessing. She pushed me to ask about everything but made sure it was at my own pace. She never gave me the answers (unless we spoke about a diagnosis or symptoms). She led me on a journey through Dante’s Inferno and was quite the Virgil. She let me be angry, upset, guilty, and best of all, happy.
I learned a lot from my Friday afternoon appointments. I learned that there are not always answers, and that’s okay. I learned that self-growth is an amazing thing, but it often happens during some…unique? times. I learned that needing therapy doesn’t mean you are not strong enough. It doesn’t translate to an extra dose of weakness. It doesn’t mean you can’t get through it on your own. But it’s there as a tool if you need it. I learned it’s not for everyone…but if it IS for you, then that’s okay.
Say it with me now…it’s oh. kay.
And if you have the empathys or something a little more formal instead of that thick skin that Grandma Millie talks about? It’s okay. I promise she will love you just the same.
To read more about “Committed,” a series focusing on sharing stories and continuing the conversation about Mental Health in Student Affairs, check out this post. Follow the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #SAcommits. Thanks for reading and supporting your colleagues!