I’m the canary in the mine and you need my sensitivity because I can smell toxins in the air that you can’t smell, see trouble you don’t see, and sense danger you don’t feel. My sensitivity could save us all. And so instead of letting me fall silent and die — why don’t we work together to clear some of this poison from the air? – Glennon Doyle
In my years of grad school, I realized pretty quickly (as I have mentioned), that I wasn’t my best. I had my hands in so many things, trying to find THE THING that was my thing. All the while I had my kind, stable boy at home – who I was neglecting pretty consistently
I found myself feeling guilty – for trying to do it all, doing none of it very well, and leaving no time for that boy. So, I decided to ask for help.
Therapy and counseling have always been something I believed in. My parents went to marriage counseling before they divorced. We went to family therapy after the divorce. I thought I wanted to become a clinical therapist myself at one point, diagnosing and treating severe mental disorders (hence the psych undergrad).
I am a talker, and talking through my problems with an expert always seemed like a really good idea.
What could they see that I was missing? What advice could they give that I was lacking?
And so, one afternoon I went to my campus counseling center and asked to make an appointment. It was the first time, as an adult, that I had made this choice for myself. And I walked out feeling really…proud. It was about damn time.
I had a 30-minute consultation with a campus counselor and told her what I felt my main struggles were and where I wanted some guidance. She told me that I wasn’t a great fit for the free campus counseling center (no regular appointments, and only really for people who had more severe “problems”…whatever that meant).
So I was recommended to meet with an in-network therapist who (and I will never forget this) specialized in “young, intelligent, and highly motivated women, who had problems in living.” Well thanks for the compliments, and she sounds perfect. Thankfully, she was.
I remember telling her very clearly in our first session why I thought I was there. It’s like she already knew me well enough to know that there was something more going on. She asked me that first day if it would be alright for us to talk about other things besides my current situation – like family, friends, childhood, etc. – anything that seemed relevant. I said sure, whatever helps – I have no problem talking to anyone about anything, truly.
So we began talking every week, about everything. I think 90% of our conversations were about something other than what I thought I was coming in for…but it was exactly right. I learned a lot about myself in those first few sessions – how others see me and how better to react to people when I disagree…something I am continually working on despite my nontraditional narcissism. She was a sounding board, a place for validation, and also a place of perspective. Our sessions always made me think, which led me to do, and ultimately to Be Better.
And now, our conversations are much less frequent, and more on a “need” base. Not because something happened, but because I’ll realize it’s been a while since I made my mental health and growth a priority. When I realized recently that it had been over 10 months since we last spoke, I knew I wasn’t doing myself justice.
How can I be my best self if I stop having these conversions?
Because these are the conversations that lead to change.
The thing is, I too am a canary. I feel a lot, I notice everything, and I am also hypersensitive to everything that everyone else feels and notices. I am at times too aware…and equally too aggressive. I want to save others from the toxins in the air, and I get downright angry when I see the toxins swirling around and no one running for safety.
And as someone who has all the feels all the time, I know that this process – running for safety and self-preservation – isn’t always an easy one. It’s complicated and difficult and uncomfortable to make these changes in ourselves first and foremost. But we have to protect ourselves from the poisonous beliefs we have been taught, and treat each other better than what the past has shown us. We know more now, we have no excuses.
And we have to stop being so foolish as to believe that we can figure it all out on our own.
I’m not a car expert, so I don’t try to fix my car; I take it to a mechanic. I am not a medical expert, so I don’t try to heal my own wounds; I see a doctor. And even though I may have some expertise in mental health and behavior, I know that this life, while big, bold, and beautiful…is messy as hell. And I need all the help I can get just flying out of the mine.
So please, don’t discount your mental health. As a health professional (and even expert, you might say), I know that wellness is comprised of so many facets. People often stop at fitness and nutrition when they consider wellness, but the truth is that your mental health is just as important, if not more so, than your physical health.
If you are not working on being the best version of you inside and out, then your efforts are being wasted. You need to ask yourself the hard questions, check in with yourself to see if you’re really living your best life, and continually question whether you’re facing the hard, head-on.
And when it gets to be too much, when you see the trouble and sense the danger, scream and shout until someone hears you – because someone will hear you. And being heard is one of life’s most necessary experiences. Let your bird song ring and never quiet that voice. Ask for help before you go silent, we want to hear your song.
If you haven’t found your person to talk to and you’re ready to sing, I want to hear your song.