In May, we focused on Mental health Awareness Month, and it is not less important now, as
things seem to be returning slowly to “normal”. The truth is, normal is just a word. We have
experienced a major health crisis, a major cultural shift, and a major political shift in the last few
months, so there is likely to be a new normal.
On a more personal level, we can often find ourselves seeking to appear “normal” but there isn’t
really one normal for everyone. We believe that health is a combination of the body and the
mind functioning together. We decided that we wanted to highlight a real story from someone
who has struggled with mental health for their whole life, to see what getting back to “normal”
has looked like for them.
Gene Foley (LCSW) sees patients at our office (or via Zoom these days) who come to him for a
variety of mental health needs. One of Gene’s clients, Patrick, was willing to open up and share
his experience with depression and mental health with us.
We’re spending the time to highlight this issue not only because May was Mental Health
Awareness Month, but also because so many more people have been feeling isolation,
depression, anxiety, and a range of other feelings exemplified by the Covid-19 crisis. Many people
are returning to the world and to their jobs, but some are still jobless, or unable to return because
they are immune-compromised. Patrick is sharing his long journey with mental health with us
because his experiences with multiple types of therapy have helped him be prepared for a crisis
like this and the depression that comes with it.
We also think it’s important to understand how much help a trained professional can be. As
massage therapists we often find ourselves playing amateur “therapist” as people get comfortable
with us and start to share their struggles. While we are happy to be an ear for anyone who needs
it, our training is on bodies, not on mental health. Some people need more than just someone to
listen, they need someone who can give them tools to cope with their emotions, and that’s where
mental health professionals shine.
As I spoke with Patrick, he repeatedly told me that the first step of starting the therapy is by far the
hardest. When depression takes hold of you there is nothing outside yourself and the deep pit that
you are creating for yourself. Sometimes it takes an outside hand to help you on the first step.
For Patrick, it was his wife who helped him take the first step, even though he didn’t want to do
it. Here’s what Patrick had to say about getting to therapy for the first time.
“I am 55 years old and I have suffered from clinical depression most of my life. Looking back, I
can now see it started in my very early teens, although at the time and for many years after I did
not recognize it as such. I grew up, I went about my life, but my illness crippled me in many
ways. What started as a “short temper and a bad mood for a couple of days here and there”
became weeks or longer and would happen more frequently as I got older.
The self-medicating with drugs and alcohol since my youth as a way to escape being me honestly
didn’t help me at all but became part of the problem. My depression and all the darkness that
goes with it had effectively taken over my life and I was spiraling out of control. It got to the
point where my wife basically told me to get help or our marriage probably wouldn’t survive. I
hadn’t realized how my depression affected those around me, and the stress it put upon my wife
and child. That is when I took that first step and began to see a mental health counselor.”
Patrick also shared that although the idea of opening up and revealing your dark places with
someone sounds terrifying, it does help to have it be a stranger at first. There is an amount of
trust that builds as you go on that allows you to go deeper, but initially, it helps to “dump the
toxicity” out without being judged by a friend or family member. Having a neutral person to
speak freely to can be liberating. “Over time it gets easier, it is cathartic to put a voice to all of
that without fearing you sound “crazy,” at least to me it is,” Patrick tells me. “Depression will
stop you in your tracks and sometimes you have to shake things up to get out of it.” When you
feel completely out of control it can feel difficult to even imagine living anything other than what
you are living. “The person who needs mental health help the most is usually the one who wants
it the least and I was no exception.”
Patrick has learned many techniques over the years both from his individual therapy with Gene
and DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) groups for his daughter, who also struggles with mental
health. He said he has recently started meditating, something he never would have imagined
would help him. He says it can be a difficult commitment but worthwhile. When I asked him
about how he was dealing with being stuck at home during the quarantine he said that it was
tough, but he had the tools to help him get through it. He was already in therapy so that gave him
a leg up, even though the depression hit him when his business was forced to shut down
“I have been seeing a health care counselor for about 2 years now, and it isn’t always an easy
thing to do. It is a commitment to yourself, but one that is worth it. Is my life perfect now? No,
but much better. I keep the darkness at bay most of the time because of the skills I have learned
and my life feels more manageable.”
So what does normal actually look like? It could be just making it through the day without fear
or depression. It could be talking with a counselor, in order to keep some sense of stability and
forward motion even when you feel stuck. You never know what an individual is going through,
despite how they appear on the outside. We want to remind you to be gentle with yourself,
especially if your life circumstances have changed drastically these last few months. It’s okay
not to be okay, and it’s okay to ask for help. If you need to reach out to a health counselor you
can contact Gene Foley or visit the National Institute for Mental Health for more resources.
We want to end of some positive words from Patrick because it sums up the importance of
mental healthcare. “I feel like I am back in the driver’s seat for the first time in a long time, and
I see the positive difference that seeking help has given me. My life was hijacked by depression
& all that goes along with it, but I have learned how to take it back.”