Last updated: January 2023
Isolation is debilitating. Be it physical or emotional. Feeling like you are alone or the only one going through what you are going through is brutal. Being open about your struggles is an effective way to curb some of that isolation.
I was talking with a new co-worker as we loaded our tankers. He said that he and his son had been on a hunting trip, and he was overcome by a debilitating sense of dread he could not explain. He described feeling frozen and unable to move or tell anyone what was happening. It had been terrifying, and even recounting the story was hard for him.
I listened to his story and gave him a moment to gather himself and regain his wits. He told me he had not told anyone else and had no idea why he was telling me. I thanked him for sharing and then went on to say to him it sounded like a panic or anxiety attack, assuring him I was not a doctor but that I suffered from the same attacks.
"You don't look like someone who would be in therapy."
I have a therapist and have been diagnosed with CPTSD, anxiety, and depression. I suggested that he might benefit from having a professional to talk through whatever was causing his issues. I tried to be reassuring and encouraging. His response was telling for many of us.
"You don't look like someone who would be in therapy." I do not fit the usual portrayal of someone in therapy if there is such a template. I am 6 feet tall, weigh 290 on a good day, shave my head, and am tattooed from my neck to my toes.
If I were to be portrayed in the media, it would be as a criminal more than as an advert for a therapy recipient.
The old judging a book by the cover
I reminded him of the pitfalls of judging a book by the cover and went on to validate the acceptability of therapy and the wisdom of seeking help without respect for the opinions of others.
Depression is called a silent killer, and the stigma around seeking mental health help only exacerbates the disease.
Owning it empowers
Being open and willing to say, "I needed help and sought it out." Or "Yes, I have a therapist, and it is a wonderful tool for my well-being" serves 2 distinct purposes.
First, owning it empowers me. Saying out loud that I am working to be better strengthens me. Second, talking openly helps those who hear me re-evaluate their acceptance of any shame surrounding reaching out for help.
Into the light
Shame only survives in darkness. Dragging stigma and shame into the light weakens it.
The rest of the conversation with my co-worker was open and honest. I was able to share with him some breathwork techniques that have helped me when an anxiety attack happens. We talked about therapy and meditation, and breathwork.
As we finished loading and prepared to go our separate ways, he extended his hand and said, "Thank you, I have never felt comfortable talking with anyone about this, but I am really glad I said something to you."
If you are able and willing, be open to talking about your struggles, triumphs, and failings. Your humanity may well be exactly what someone else needs to seek life-saving help.
Be well, my friends.
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