what i’m learning in counseling, take two.

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Hello friends! How are you this weekend?

I’ve been thinking about this post for awhile, mulling it over in my head.

I think when I last talked about my anxiety here, I mentioned looking for a good therapist. This is “Take Two” for me, because I saw a counselor for several years in my twenties when I was first diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. It was enormously helpful and a gift from God. She now lives overseas and we transitioned to just being good friends once our official counseling relationship was over.

You’d think because I had this wonderful experience, I’d be fine with diving back in this time around. But actually the opposite happened.

It’s hard to go to counseling, period, in my opinion. It’s hard to hold up a magnifying glass to your junk, week after week. It’s hard to start over with someone new. It’s hard to take the risk, worrying all the time about the awkwardness of quitting if you don’t connect with him/her.

So basically I procrastinated as long as possible. And I’ll admit there was some pride in there, some thoughts of, I’ve done the counseling thing. I know the right answers. I actually counsel other people now and give them answers. I can beat this on my own.

But my stress just grew and grew, until a couple of people said, “Julie, you need to do this. You need help. You need someone to talk to who isn’t your family or your church.”

And right around that time another friend remembered knowing a therapist who has a big family, who’s adopted kids, one as a baby and one as an older child. That felt like the magic answer. Someone who understands in a unique way the exact season I’m in right now.

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I prayed hard and contacted her and sure enough, she had an opening to see me.

That didn’t mean it was easy to go. Last month, when I started, my symptoms were about at their worst. Leaving the house to be in any social setting felt terrifying. Attending Life Group or Book Club was impossible. I would try to do a play date and have to load all my kids up in the van, shaking and sick, to drive back home. I couldn’t handle going to the wine shop for a bottle of wine because it meant I had to make conversation with the owner.

The best way I know to describe it is: I just want to be invisible. I don’t want anyone looking at me, talking to me, asking questions. I want to disappear.

Honestly I’ve lived quite a long time with that swelling undercurrent of anxiety and have brushed it aside. I know all the best ways to hide it in public, to be quite functional in my life. I’ve just pressed on and pushed through, acknowledging something wasn’t right but not really listening to the warning signals. But my mind and body were screaming, “You have to stop.”

And suddenly, I stopped. I hit a wall.

That was when I started to see my counselor.

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At the beginning it was dreadful because, 1. A counseling session generally takes place in a small room (why, why is it in a small room? I want to beg all my doctors to see me outside), and 2. Someone is sitting, looking at me, asking probing questions.

Which is why I found myself before Appointment Number Two sitting out in my van gasping for breath and wanting with everything in me to turn around and drive back home. David called me right at that moment and prayed for me and talked me through it. I knew I could turn around and leave, but if I wanted to get better I needed to make the choice to stick it out.

I walked into her office, basically ignored her greeting, and said, “I’m sorry. Can I just say something?” She said, “Sure.” And I launched in with a flood of tears, “I don’t want to be here. I do not want to talk to you. I can’t handle this.”

That was hard.

Sitting and crying the ugly cry in front of a total stranger was hard.

But she was pretty chill about it. She said, “Okay, tell me about it.”

And so we began.

I have to say that was the absolute lowest point. I was sitting hunched over in this tiny office, every muscle in my body tensed. And we talked, and talked some more. I’d just taken a couple of personality tests and we went over the results and she mentioned possibilities about me that fit like a glove. She wasn’t staring, probing, asking me to talk. She was giving me tools, saying, “Could this be a reason you are where you are?”

And I can’t say why, but that was an enormous relief. Throughout that hour, my body relaxed in tiny increments, until by the end I’d eased back into the sofa, chatting and laughing.

Having someone describe my personality, my responses to stress, my tendencies in a way that made sense normalized everything. From that moment on I’ve ceased to feel like I’m spiraling out of control. Someone else has told me about me in a simple, matter-of-fact way. Someone gets why I’m panicking in weird ways and doesn’t think I’m losing it. She just thinks I’m very stressed and tired and on overload.

I’m beginning to have some good ideas of how I got into this state.

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Friends,

This is a long, winding way to tell you: I’m going to be okay.

That’s what I’m learning in Therapy, Take Two.

I’ll write about some of the specifics as they crystallize in my mind. But that counseling appointment was a real turning point in my struggle. I’ve been to see her twice since then and haven’t felt any of the panic or fear. We talk and she helps me take a step back and look at my responses to life and responses to stress, and it puts things into perspective. She doesn’t tolerate my drama (“My life is falling apart,” “I’ll never do ____ again,” “I’m a failure.”), but she does it in a kind way.

The anxiety is getting somewhat better, I think.

I still have hard days. This weekend I had to back out of going to the beach with a group of women I love very much, because groups are still terribly hard for me.

That was a difficult decision, but I was surprised to find myself at peace with it.

The old me would’ve lived under a mountain of guilt and shame for a decision like that.

I’ve put some very unrealistic expectations on myself and have been caught up in a cycle of perfectionism, pride, and self-loathing that aren’t healthy. It can seem like a badge of honor to say, “Oh, I struggle with perfectionism,” like the person on a job interview who says, “My biggest weakness is that I work too hard.” But the thing is, it’s not good. It’s hurting me and it’s hurting the people around me.

More importantly, it’s not submitting to God, to the way He made me and the season of life He’s put me in. It’s saying, “I know better than You.”

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I’ve had the hardest time this summer — this whole year actually — living under the silence of God. I felt He was blessing me in many ways and yet my anxiety feels like His finger pressing down on me, harder than I can bear.

But the truth is that He’s answering my cries, and the prayers of many around me.

He provided a direction to start in: a new therapist who is just the right fit.

And though I am only at the beginning of this journey of learning peace and humility, I already feel some of the gifts of it. This week was the most beautiful homeschooling week we’ve had yet. I was able to put my energy into creating and learning with my kids and we all loved it.

I’m talking to my husband about what I’m discovering about myself. The idea of what I think he expects from me in my mind is not the reality of what he expects from me. I’m learning to listen and to believe what he says.

I am rooting myself here at home, because that’s the place I have to be in this season. I’m asking God to teach me how to let go of the restless striving, the desire to be anywhere else than where He has me.

I’m baking and cooking more. I’m letting myself drink coffee and eat gluten when I want to. I scrubbed a dozen jars and made two trips to the Indian supermarket and bought a Costco membership and replenished spices and dry goods. I taught myself how to make chapati and have been cooking Indian food.

These small, simple things are bringing me joy.

They don’t feel like settling after all. They’re beginning to feel like gifts.

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