In Treatment

So…ummm…I’m seeing a counselor. Therapy, I guess you’d call it.

Most of you are probably saying “So? Big deal.” But it is a big deal for me. A very big deal. You see, I have very antiquated views on this kind of treatment. In short, I think it’s a total crock of shit aimed at people too weak to deal with their own problems. Which is awful and hypocritical because MJ got help a while back to deal with postpartum depression and other issues, and I’ve honestly never been prouder of another human being in all my life. Therapy helped her immensely and made a genuine and positive difference.

But that’s her. Not me. Therapy was always for other people. Never me.

A couple of months ago MJ came to me and told me she was afraid to come home after work. Not that she was scared of me being abusive to her and Will, but because she dreaded dealing with me. With my sadness, anger and general disdain for life. In my infinite wisdom, I told her I wasn’t angry and she didn’t know what the hell she was talking about. Because that really showed her how not angry I was.

I was taking care of Will a few days later and he was being kind of whiny. Nothing super obnoxious or anything, just run-of-the-mill toddler antics. He wanted me to play a game with him, but I was on the computer.

“Dada come play with me. Dada play with me. Dada. Dada. Dada. Dada. Da—“

“WILL! KNOCK IT THE HELL OFF. I’M BUSY!!”

My shouting startled him and he staggered backwards like he had been shot. His face slowly contorted like he had just sucked on a Sour Patch Kid, and he began to whimper and cry. All he wanted to do was play with me. My son simply needed a little attention from his dad, and I completely went off the deep end and unnecessarily chewed him out. And there he was, in tears, because his father was too wrapped up in his own shit to sit down and work on a puzzle with him.

I had MJ make an appointment for me with a counselor the next day.

My first session was in January and I almost didn’t go because I felt so much shame. Just making that appointment and knowing my name was on some shrink’s calendar made me physically ill. To me, it meant I was defeated. It was a pathetic admission to the world I couldn’t handle my own problems. I drove around the parking lot several times to check the place out, on the off chance someone I know might see me.

While sitting in the waiting room—as the walls rapidly closed in on me—I formulated a plan of attack. I’d be just like Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting when he mind-fucked all those shrinks and beat them at their own game. That’d show them, and it would prove to MJ that I’m fine. Hell, maybe I could even harness my inner Charlie Sheen warlock potential and cure myself with my mind.

That, of course, is all ridiculous.

The guy I see is nice, normal and I like him. He doesn’t try to hypnotize me, medicate me or go all Freudian on me. We just talk. About this, that and the other thing. Whatever. It’s very low key. He’s actually pretty funny too, and we get into good-natured arguments. For instance I told him I want to be happier and not so angry, but that I thrive on conflict and need it in my life. He questions whether or not that is a healthy situation. I jokingly suggest to him he probably avoids conflict because he lacks the necessary debate skills. We both laugh.

It’s more like talking with a friend than anything else.

It’s been two months now. I will admit I feel a little happier and more relaxed. MJ has noticed it too. I don’t think it’s all due to therapy, but I admit it’s probably a part of it. The most beneficial thing therapy does for most people is get them talking. But I talk all the time, both in person and on this blog. Sharing my feelings has never been a problem, so I’m not really sure exactly how beneficial these sessions will be.

The biggest thing I’ve learned is getting help is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength. There is nothing weak about taking responsibility for your shortcomings and actively trying to improve. Especially when your family is depending on you.

Do I still feel shame when I drive up to that office? Yes. But it’s less and less each time. And my anger and problems erode with it.

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21 thoughts on “In Treatment

  1. Aaron, it takes a real man to put it out there for the world to see. Admitting your fears, your faults, and your life in front of an audience like this is truly inspiring to us all. Our thoughts and prayers with you both as you strive to move forward, understand yourself, and understand this life. You are a strong man, and I know you can do whatever you need to do for you. Cheers bro!

  2. Great post! Funny though that even reading this made me feel uncomfortable and cringe. I went to a shrink twice and was not strong enough to continue to congrats to you.

  3. You’re on the right path. It’s all about talking. Try digging down and talking about those subjects that you don’t talk about with your wife, your buddies or on your blog. THAT is where talking really helps. Sometimes you need to be vulnerable to find your strength. Thanks for sharing so openly.

  4. It is almost always the kids that finally get our attention. It is the power and responsibility of our role as fathers that will create us or kill us. You are choosing to be created into a better man, father, and husband. Ain’t no shame in that. If you had a non-biased friend that you could share with on a regular basis that would shoot straight with you, then you might not need to go to therapy. Very few of us ever have one of those and that is why we seek professional help. Go do the work, that is all it is, working through where you are and where you want to go. real men and strong fathers do work. This is your time to work on you so that you can continue to do the work you are called to do as husband and father. Hang in there, drop the shame, know that you are actually building a better kid that will read this some day (they always find this stuff) and know that dad did the work when it was necessary. Thanks for stepping up and thanks for sharing.

  5. Aaron, it takes a real man to step up and get help when you see that there is something that needs to be fixed. I talk to men all the time that share your sentiment that we should be strong enough to fix our own problems. Heck, I was one of those men. That thinking almost cost me my family.

    If we seek professional help for a heart problem, and we seek professional help for a tummy ache, then doesn’t it stand to reason that we seek professional help if we are having problems with anger, depression or other mental ailments? We sometimes forget that taking care of ourselves is taking care of our families. For most of us it is ingrained since we are little boys to suck it up and not to show weakness, but taking care of ourselves and getting help for what ills us is not weakness. It is strength.

    You my friend are a very strong man and you are an amazing father because you are seeking out ways to improve yourself and to be there for your family. Keep up the good work. Your family will be better for it and so will you.

  6. Good for you on taking this step to take of yourself. Because like others have mentioned, taking care of you is also taking care of MJ and Will. I’m proud of you.

  7. as everyone else says, good for you.

    not only is it difficult to take that first step…also embarrassing, humiliating, humbling, traumatizing, etc…it is even more so for men. i say this not because i’m trying to initiate controversy, but due to the inherent truth surrounding all mental illness.

    men are not raised to be weak. men are not raised to be intrinsic thinkers, men are not raised to show fallibility.

    this is why i applaud men like yourself for publicly declaring their inability to always manage without assistance.

    we need to let people know that seeking intervention is not a sign of failure, but one of great insight and determination to be the best and happiest person you can be.

    so good for you.

    <3

  8. It’s a hard first step to make and even harder ladder to climb…said by the chick who started therapy and makes excuses to skip the sessions half the time.

  9. Aaron, this is a very powerful post, and I am glad you wrote it because I have felt the same way often, and I have yelled at my kids like that too, and I have felt bad about it, and i have denied that I’m angry, and I have been reluctant to seek therapy, and maybe now after reading your post, I may take the next step. Thanks for the inspiration.

    Jared

  10. I have this in common with you. Counselling was always for “Other people”, not me, I didn’t need it. Until I nearly destroyed my marriage after I had an honest to God mental breakdown after our third consecutive miscarriage.

    I love that MJ told you how she was feeling, that she still felt safe enough, and loved enough to be honest with you. And that despite the fear and the dread you still went, because your family means enough to you that you’d do something you didn’t believe you needed to keep them secure and happy. Therapy is HARD. Not the sessions, but admitting to yourself that you need the extra help, that you can’t do it all by yourself, and allowing someone else into the inner sanctum of your family, and your mind.

    This has just made you more of a man than struggling through and fighting back ever could.

  11. I think everyone should be in therapy. It’s just helpful to have an impartial ear. Sometimes it takes going through a few shrinks to find the right fit. So I’m glad to hear that this guy seems to be a good match for you!

  12. Aaron – Very brave of you to share. You do put yourself ‘out there’ in terms of your writing and that seems to bring positive comments from people.
    I think there is a link between this piece and your also very good – “Behind Enemy Lines”. You are highlighting men moving into traditional female territory – baby groups and talk therapy – which both have gender boundaries in terms of who participates and how. As you know and express well, men are often left to feel like outsiders in both of these venues for acting outside of traditional gender norms.

    When men can start to admit that they need relational, rather than avoidance, approaches, I think these personal gestures have important ramifications for both men and their families.

    So kudos to you for tackling brave topics from a male perspective.

  13. I went to therapy for a while. My problem was that I really did manipulate the therapist. It’s amazing what they’ll believe, lol.

    Also, I’m so friggin glad you got rid of that captcha. It was getting ridiculous to figure out.

  14. Though I’m glad you fought through the fear, it saddens me that you even had it. I’m a woman so maybe I was raised differently but why should this be a matter of shame? I’m in recovery from a mental illness and I’ve never felt weak for seeking help, but it’s attitudes like this fear and shame that perpetuate the stereotype that if you need help sorting a problem in your emotional life or have a mental illness you are somehow less worthy. I don’t mean to criticise you personally, I agree with most of what you post and have been lurking for a while now.

    I really hope that as you come to accept that it’s not at all shameful to get counselling, you might encourage other men, your peers, to feel the same, and I hope this means that you will support Will 100% if he ever needs it. You’ve been through some massive stuff with the loss of your children and it’s natural you’re not feeling your normal self. Bravery is admitting it. Bravery is never “soldiering on”.

  15. Good for you man. I never dreamed I would go to something like that. I felt a lot like you taht it was a sign of weakness. Plus I don’t like sharing my feelings. I am private about that stuff. So it was a big stretch when I went in for some counselling some time back. But it changed my life for the better. I think what I learned most of all is that being too stubborn to ask for help when you needed is just ridiculous. If I was drowning I’d accept a life preserver. Why is this any different. Good for you for asking for help. I hope it makes your life a happier place.

  16. I remember when I first went to a doctor to talk about my depression/anxiety. Once I was on medication, I was so sad looking back over the years I’d often written in my journal that I was “sad for no reason” or “felt like crying for no reason.” Even though I knew I needed help, I cried the day I made the appointment because I felt… I don’t know. Like I was failing? It takes a lot to admit you need help. I am glad that it seems to be doing something for you.

  17. I doubt you’ll see this, this post was so long ago, but this is really hitting home for me.

    My best friend tells me I’m depressed. Get help. You need it.

    I know I need it.

    But, I can’t quite bring myself to do it. I feel like I should toughen up and deal with it myself. I too think it’s a bunch of crap. Which is hypocritical because my best friend saw a therapist for years when she was younger and it made her my best friend. And I know she came out better for it. But, talking about personal stuff? To a stranger? Pass. I told her I would, and I will. But right now, I’ve still gotta build up that courage to do it.

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