I keep forgetting to update my blog in synchronicity with when my articles are published on Tune In Not Out, but I’ll try to space the updates out over a couple of days so as not to overwhelm you! Let’s start with this really important one.
I had a pretty bad time in high school. Without going into details, I was bullied, I knew what it was like to be hurt and alone, I felt angry, sad, and eventually I felt nothing. I was not okay, and I knew I was not okay, but no one else seemed to care. None of my friends were willing to really open up to me. It was like I was drowning and I was surrounded by people in boats, but none of them were willing to risk reaching out to me.
Yet despite everything I was going through, I didn’t want to talk to any adults about it. I was smart, I was strong, and I could find a way to deal with my problems on my own. But despite my strength of will (I believed that I was strong enough to carry the burdens of other people as well as sort out my own shit), and despite my intelligence (and knowledge of psychology), I was barely coping. And for a while, it was enough. I was functioning as an ordinary student, going through the motions of what it meant to be alive. But day by day I was getting more frustrated, more hurt, more estranged from my peers. What little comfort I found online was barely enough to sustain my will to live.
And then one day, quite by accident, I saw Diane. When I was late to school one day, I wrote “moribund” as my excuse on the sign-in sheet. Moribund means “at the point of death” – I was trying to be cheeky, making it sound as if I had been sick and just needed a little extra time to get ready in the morning. The Head of Year 12 did not find it funny, and she strongly encouraged me to see the school counsellor even though I insisted nothing was wrong.
Thank God for that. Diane was the lifebuoy to the drowning man. She was smarter than I was (something I considered impossible), joyful, and fit, funky and fun. To start with I was cautious about opening up to a stranger. As a psychologist, I feared that she could psychoanalyse me and strip away all my defence mechanisms, leaving me vulnerable and hurt. But it was nothing like that. She was so non-judgemental and so friendly that I soon realised I could tell her anything. And tell her I did. Not only would she listen to everything I wanted to say, she really, genuinely wanted to help me learn to enjoy life.
At first I was loathe to admit that I needed help – I was so determined to survive it on my own – but I’ve come to look at it another way. I no longer consider it a sign of weakness to want help – everyone has problems, and seeing a counsellor doesn’t mean you can’t cope, it just means that you don’t want to cope alone. And why would you? If you’re carrying a boulder down the road and someone comes by with a wheelbarrow, what do you gain from stubbornly clinging to your rock when help is right next to you?
I started seeing Diane every week, partially to get out of classes I didn’t like, but mainly because I could talk to her about life, psychology and my problems. We talked about all kinds of things, and it felt so wonderful to have someone I could open up to and still be accepted. She helped me gain a new perspective on my problems that allowed me to cope with them more easily. She gave me practical advice for how to deal with certain feelings and certain people. She made me laugh, she helped me understand myself, and she respected me for who I was.
Yet despite all that, I was never really fully satisfied with her as a counsellor. I learned over the years that counsellors are not flawless examples of the human condition, immune to pain or problems. They’re people, just like you and me, and they’re trying to help others in their own unique way. As a result, you’re probably not going to click with the first counsellor you see. I saw three different counsellors during my first year of uni until I found the one that I felt cared about me, understood me and could help me in the way I wanted to be helped. I remember calling the Kid’s Help Line one time, talking for less than a minute, then hanging up because the person on the other end was rubbish. So if you have a bad experience, don’t give up on getting help, just try again, either at the same place with a different person, or somewhere completely new. (As it happened, I called the Kids Helpline back later and had a really great chat with someone different.)
You don’t have to be desperate or crazy to want to see a counsellor, it just means that you’re willing to hear a fresh perspective on whatever’s going on for you at the moment. The psychologist that I’m seeing now has, within a few minutes, understood problems that have confounded me for years. She has provided me with perspective that I wasn’t able to get, despite all the time and effort I put into trying to figure it out on my own. Sometimes an outside view, particularly one that’s trained in understanding the mind, can be invaluable and help you with problems you didn’t know you had.
There are plenty of good reasons to see a counsellor, but this one stands out most for me: I am happier now than I ever thought I could be. I am learning to let go of things that no longer serve me, and to accept outrageous and unreasonable amounts of happiness into my life. Not all the time (it’s still early days yet), but with each passing day I am learning more about myself, more about my approach to life, and more about how easy it is to let go of things that don’t matter and to just be happy. Seeing my counsellor has allowed me to be the happier, healthier person that I didn’t know I could be.
And looking back on my life, it seems outrageous that I could have spent all that time suffering needlessly when help was right there. It’s like getting a stomach ache, and rather than seeing a doctor, you just struggle on for years and years hoping that your body will eventually heal itself. It’s so easy to get help, and I can almost guarantee that it will save you years of suffering down the track. I know how scary it is to be that vulnerable, but it was the only way to really set my life straight and start living fully. And man, if I can do it, you can do it.
Whether it’s to hear a little advice, to gain a fresh perspective or to get some professional help with mental struggles, seeing a counsellor is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of accepting more joy, more health and more happiness into your life. So next time you’re feeling a little beat down and wishing you could change, I hope you remember that help is always within reach if you want it.
Keep safe and happy everyone.
PS: For tips on finding a counsellor, your school, uni or even workplace probably has at least one that you can talk to if you inquire about it. If you don’t have access to a counsellor through such means, try looking up cheap or free counselling services for young people- there are literally hundreds of agencies that can help with all kinds of youth issues.
If none of this is available to you, you might consider seeing a private psychologist. They can be pretty expensive, but you can claim back a lot of what you pay through Medicare. You can find more information here. The gist of it is this: if you’re experiencing symptoms of mental illness (and you’d be surprised how many of us struggle with potential mental illnesses without realising it- see this page for an idea of what constititues a mental illness), go to your GP and request a referral onto Medicare’s mental health care plan. You can request to see a psychologist you’ve found, or you can get the doctor to refer you to one. Once you’re on the plan, Medicare will pay for a large part of your consultation fee, for six-ten sessions or more depending on whether you need to get your plan renewed. It’s really easy, and saves a stack of money.
For finding support online, TINO has a lot of great resources in the Topics Page. Specifically, the Finding Help section is worth a good look. ReachOut.com has a really amazing support network if you want to join the forums and talk to other young people about what you’re going through. I particularly recommend having a look at Helen’s story if you’re still undecided about getting help. Headspace has some great resources as well, including an online chat program that allows you to talk to counsellors over the internet. The Kids Help Line (1800 55 1800, free call from most mobiles and landlines) is a counselling service available for anyone up to age 25, and also has online chat facilities. Lastly, if you need to talk to someone right now, you can call Life Line on 13 11 14, available 24/7 for telephone counselling.