About three months ago, I began attending therapy sessions to help me cope with external circumstances and my inner turmoil. I felt depressed, anxious about the future, guilty about my mistakes, and uncertain about whether I could ever love myself.

Three months later, and it would be awesome if I could say that everything has changed. I’d love to say that I have a new attitude and a better perspective. I’d like to write a glowing testimonial of how talking to a mental health professional made everything better.

Nope. Not all together true. Perhaps it’s because I haven’t been going as consistently as I would like, or because I haven’t implemented all of the strategies my counselor has suggested, but I’m still feeling those feelings.

I think I might have expected a bit too much.

One of the first realizations I’ve had is that I have a co-dependency problem. Co-dependency is one of those concepts that I’ve heard about for years, but never really understood. The way I understand it now is that my unhealthy dependence on relationships has damaged my self-image. I don’t just want to help people – I need to be needed. That’s the problem. As a person who finds value in being faithful, dependable, etc. I think that I’m being selfless, but I’m actually demonstrating a desire to control and manage my pain by putting myself down and pushing others to the front. Saying what I really feel is scary. Being open to expressing my true ideas makes me panic and I begin a rationalization process on why I can’t be honest, or why my needs really don’t matter.

I’m surprised, having worked in a ministerial role for much of my life, that this co-dependency isn’t mentioned more often in Christian circles. Living this life where we are supposed to put others first is a recipe for codependency. The verses I began to focus on talk about loving your neighbor as yourself, and loving your wife as you love your own body. In both cases, there’s an assumption that I love and take care of myself, and that becomes the standard for treating other people well. So, if I’ve been mistreating, neglecting and hurting myself, I’ve probably set the bar for helping others and loving others pretty low.

Self-care is another concept I’ve struggled with. Being selfish in a good way seems to be an oxymoron. How can I be concerned with my own needs when others need me? What’s the proper way to express or work out this self-care? The feelings of guilt when I attempt to do something for me is palpable. I feel a heaviness come over me. It could be something as simple as buying a pack of chocolate covered blueberries with the grocery list that my wife sent me.  Spending two dollars on myself will not kill me, won’t blow the budget, nor is it a sign that I’m selfish. But I’ll still do the mental gymnastics over whether I should indulge in a bit of a chocolate binge.

The “I should” type of obligation is what I’m trying to shake. I don’t want to be a good person because I have to be, I want to be a good person because I want to be. I know the desire to be liked and respected is natural, but my internal motivation to make the right decisions is what needs addressing. Obligation is a monster that has eaten up much of my life’s energy and eliminated a lot of joy I could have felt.

I’m still working on me, however.

One day at a time.

In my last post, I talked about that phrase. It’s really important to remember that today is the only day that matters. When I feel heaviness, sadness, or a general sense of the blues come over me, I say it to myself. I can’t manage the future or change the past, but I can work on me, today, and that’s enough.

Writing in the morning helps. C.S. Lewis compares the thoughts in our head to animals in a zoo, and they tend to run away and escape first thing in the morning. He stated that we have to corral them and get them back in the cage with our morning rituals of prayer, Bible reading, and meditation. That’s why I’m waking up early and getting my thoughts down on paper as soon as I can. All of the stress of the day to come hasn’t hit yet, and I can empty my thoughts into a notebook or laptop.

I know expecting an amazing change over three months is unrealistic, even as I think about my progress. I am more self-aware. I’m better equipped to handle my bouts of depression. I have an emotional vocabulary that I didn’t have before. I’m writing things down. I’m acknowledging my feelings of anger, worry and frustration, then trying my best not to let those thoughts control me. I’m not great at keeping my thoughts from running away, but I’m at least aware when it starts to happen. Before my counseling started, I didn’t have any idea how to stop the worries from barreling ahead in my mind.

Have you seen the movie “Unstoppable”? Denzel Washington plays a train conductor who is trying to board a runaway train and apply the brakes before the train derails and crashes into a town. He decides to use another train, connect to the back of the runaway train, and slowly apply brakes until his partner can race ahead in a vehicle to board the engine car and stop both trains.

That’s kind of what’s happening with me. My worries, poor self-esteem and my fears about the future have been racing away from me. The tools from my counseling sessions are the second train. I can’t stop the first train entirely at once, but now that I’ve connected my coping tools, I can slowly apply brakes to the first train so that they can’t runaway and do more harm to others. I’ll gradually slow it down, and I’ll try to be patient with myself. A dead stop to my troubles is impossible, but I’ve got more control than I have ever had.

I’m committed to getting healthier emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

The toughest part for me is acknowledging that I’m worth the work.

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Three Months Later: An Update on my Mental Health Journey
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