I realised recently that I stopped blogging around the time that I started counselling. I guess the reason why was because I had a certain version of myself as this strong, brave, happy, adventurous woman that I wanted to portray. If I wanted to talk about my sadness, I wanted to talk about it in the past tense. As I realised that that version of myself and the me that was sitting down to write weren’t the same people, it got harder and harder to write. I have drafts of posts I have written this year sitting unfinished. I just couldn’t bring myself to post them, and then as my mental health improved, I was distracted by other things and the habit of blogging was broken.
But I want to share with you a bit about that dark place I was in, how I got out of it, and how it changed my focus.
Around New Year’s I got to the point where I had to admit to myself that I wasn’t okay. In the weeks and months after losing Lily, I had thrown myself into hope that our next pregnancy would go smoother. I was distracted by family, friends, work, continuing health issues… After losing Anika, I didn’t bounce back as easily. David and I agreed right after she was born that we were done having kids, and that decision was a hard one for me. We moved out of our apartment just over two months after Anika was born, it no longer felt like home. All of the hopes we had moved there with were broken and tarnished by our loss. We needed a new adventure.
I smiled. I socialised. I tried to pretend that I was okay inside, but I was angry! I was SO angry and I was sad. I couldn’t sleep, and not even Bob Ross was helping. I knew that the person I was wasn’t me, and I couldn’t find or accept my new normal. I had a support group of women who have gone through similar losses, and I love them all dearly. Even that support group wasn’t quite enough to help me out of the dark.
I used an app called Better Help. It was free for the first couple of weeks, and then went to a paid model. It’s an American app and the Canadian dollar wasn’t very good, so for three months it cost me around $600 total. That’s cheaper than an in person counsellor, but still not cheap.
Within a few hours of starting my free trial, I was matched with a counsellor named Jacqueline, who was based out of the states. She asked me a bunch of questions and let me tell my story, guiding me through her questions to look at some of the sore spots and figure out what was going on. She helped me to figure out how to communicate what was weighing so heavily on my mind. I could type her a message in the middle of the night when reality was just too oppressive, and within 24 hours she would respond. She made suggestions for how to cope on the days we knew would be hard, like Anika’s due date or going to a job interview. She was candid and genuine and on more than one occasion when I was spiralling on something she would say something like: “I completely understand why you feel that way, but that is irrational. Here’s why…” And while my immediate gut reaction was to fight a statement like that, as I read her rational I would have to agree with her, because I was being irrational.
Jacqueline encouraged me to feel my emotions, give them names, figure out why they were there, accept them and move on to whatever was coming next. She helped me to understand that it’s okay to feel angry and sad and weak, it’s okay to feel like a failure sometimes. Just don’t live there. She helped me to figure out how to forgive myself. That was a big thing! After three months, I stopped my membership with Better Help. It was a lot of money to be dropping at that point, and I was no longer in the pit I had been in.
Even while I was receiving counselling help from Jacqueline, I was using what I was learning from her to help other people. I know that I am the type of person who works best when I feel like I am helping people, and I really see a need for grief and loss counselling that is lacking in Canada. I started trying to figure out how I could actually become a certified counsellor. How can I get myself to a place where I can provide support, and help people out of those dark places? Especially people who have lost a child? I researched online, asked questions to friends who work in different areas of mental health. I reached out to Queens University and to St. Lawrence College. I applied to the pre-Behavioural Psychology program at St Lawrence (By that point it was too late to apply for the Behavioural Psychology honours degree program). I am now enrolled in classes, pulling in great marks, and loving what I am learning. I want to go on to get my masters and become certified with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association.
Just because I have found better ways of coping with my new normal, and I found a way to forgive myself and I’m doing well in school does not mean that I have been cured of sadness, grief, and bad days. I still get angry, I still cry, I still can beat myself up from time to time, but I don’t live there. I can feel the full range of human emotions these days without feeling like any of them are fake or invalid. I know that in the future I may find myself back in a pit of sadness and despair and I may need help to get out of it again.
I really hope there comes a time when people in Canada can go see a counsellor as easily as we go see a doctor. Where our mental health costs are taken care of through our health care system. Where you book an appointment and go see your counsellor to talk about what’s hurting, or not feeling right, or just for a checkup to make sure everything is still good, just like we see the doctor, where there’s no bills (unless you have to get further intervention like a prescription), and there’s no stigma.
I’d like to see parents going for a six week mental health check-up after the birth or loss of a child, just like how women go for a medical check-up six weeks after the birth or loss of their child. I’d like to see counsellors present to talk about the mental effects of medical diagnoses, and treatment plans. Mental health is such an important and often overlooked piece of our overall well-being and I would really like to see mental health practitioners made more accessible and affordable to everyone.