After last week’s post about Jacob’s limp, I thought it might be helpful to attend the mental health side of living with an injury…injuries that happen to our hearts and minds.
In my training as a therapist, we spent a lot of time talking about the ethics of helping others. Similar to the HIPAA form you are handed at a doctor’s office, a therapist is required to talk you through the potential risks of what you are getting yourself into with mental health treatment. I remember being surprised when I learned that one of the things I needed to share with clients is that counseling may create an increase in mental and emotional pain before things got better. Ugh, I thought. I got into this to help people feel better, not worse. Turns out, that’s not how healing works.
There are a lot of reasons people choose not to attend to mental or emotional health concerns. Many times, this kind of pain comes from “unseen wounds” and thus is it far more tempting (and more possible) to apply the “forget, deny, conceal” approach. We as a people are very good pretenders and expert mask-wearers.
The stigma that may accompany a discussion about our mental and emotional pain can also be more daunting than talking about the results of physical injury. Unlike the cool kid who has the fluorescent cast on his arm that everyone wants to sign, mental health injuries don’t often come with the same welcome opportunity for the telling of your “war story.” Mental health pain often feels less “acceptable” and so we are more likely to keep our stories to ourselves. We worry that the pain of someone knowing our story might be more unbearable than the pain of suffering alone.
Lastly, that mental or emotional healing process is probably going to hurt whether you injured yourself or not. While some habits and hangups are self-inflicted, many others are simply a product of winning the genetic lottery or the result of someone else’s destructive behavior. And you know what? That’s not fair. It never will be. So, if you need to get mad about having to deal with something you didn’t ask for, go right ahead. It’s part of the process. Then you can get down to business.
Addressing a mental or emotional health injury is hard work, just like it is hard work to rehab a physical injury. It often hurts the most at first and there may be times where you want to quit. But just like physical health, eventually, you will begin to see gains. You will have the strength and ability to stretch in ways you did not have before. You will, after some time, have days where you wake up and that “injury” is not the first thing that comes into your mind. You will realize that you are regaining an increased level of functioning. You will recognize that you are healing. And you will celebrate because all the pain and hard work were worth it.
Sometimes we just need someone to say how hard this work can be so that we aren’t blindsided, we aren’t discouraged, and we feel the community in our individual journey.
So to you with that new mental or emotional pain that hurts every time you move, you can do it, you are stronger than you know.
And to you with the old soul injury that you’ve never worked on, you can do it, you are braver than you believe.
And to you who did the work on your mind and your heart years ago but that old thing is flaring up again, you can do it, you are not broken.
And to you with the chronic mental health diagnosis that will remain with you every day, you can do it. You are a hero to yourself and to the others who battle with you and you are worth it.
To each of you. To each of us. Dig deep. Work hard. The present pain is worth the future gains, every time.