I'm Thankful for Therapy (On Mental Health Awareness Month)

A year ago a friend looked me in the eye and said: “Make that appointment I’ll watch your kids.”

I had been referred to counseling months prior by my OB/GYN, but had cancelled two appointments already, once out of fear and once because I didn’t have childcare. She knew my struggle since bringing Ben home from the hospital. I knew my struggle. I have had post-partum depression after all of my births, but it took me until after Seth turned one for me to realize it. But this was another level of darkness.

The trauma surrounding my hospital stay and Ben’s birth unleashed a monster of darkness I didn’t even know resided inside me. It was scary. I didn’t know when the darkness would rise up. A conversation about Ben’s birth could mean uncontrollable tears long after the conversation ended. A hospital scene on a television show, unrelated to pregnancy complications, could plunge me into days of sadness and fear. Unexpected changes to our life, physical suffering, or even a sleepless night would mean unrelenting anxiety. If my kids left me, I panicked. I was scared to go outside sometimes. I was scared to go anywhere. I didn’t put Ben in the nursery at church for six months. He slept in our bedroom closet for the same amount of time. Whenever I left my kids, my chest felt like it was going to cave in, and breathing became difficult. And instead of going back to normal life, all I wanted to do was go back to the hospital (even though it contained my worst fears and anxieties). I felt like a sad shell of my former self and I wondered if I would ever be “old Courtney” again.

I was not okay. And now that I am on this side of it (though I still have my moments), I see just how bad it was for me in that year following his birth. 

For a long time, I was afraid to say that I went to therapy to recover. It felt like a sign of defeat, weakness, spiritual immaturity, or even indwelling sin. As I sat in the waiting room on that first day of counseling, I texted Daniel “I am so embarrassed to be here. I feel like I’m weak.” To which he replied, “You are weak. We all are. You at least are admitting it.” 

I almost died. My son almost died. Our family underwent a forced and sudden separation for a month. And that was on top of the fact that we had a new baby—which is alone a huge transition. We all needed a long recovery period. I needed a safe place to process and learn how to live again in a world that no longer felt safe to me.

Therapy taught me a lot. It taught me that honesty is the first step towards healing. I had to acknowledge what happened. I couldn’t laugh it off or pretend like it was just another day in childbirth. I had to own it. It was our family’s story. It was hard. It marked us. But, by God’s grace, we survived. 

Which leads to the second thing it taught me. Dwelling in the past made it impossible for me to find hope in the future. As long as I spent all of my days reliving the moments of our trauma, I would never see how God delivered us. We didn’t die. I had to tell myself that over and over again. I am still breathing. Ben is still breathing. My kids are all home with me. We are a family again. Praise be to God. 

And even in all of this, therapy taught me that weakness is okay. I am not strong. I am marked by difficulty and suffering. We all are. The sooner I can acknowledge that the easier it is to live in a world that is rife with death and decay. I didn’t die that day in May, but I will one day. I am a finite, weak, and broken human being. It’s not what God intended for his creation, but to acknowledge it is the path to healing because only when I see my weakness can I see that God is strong, and that he is making all things new.

The brain is super complex. And like every other part of this world, it is broken by life in a sin-cursed world. Like every other organ in our body, there are experiences that make our brain say “enough. I can’t take this anymore.” That’s what trauma does to people. It is the brain’s way of protecting what is left. I had to come to terms with the reality of our family’s trauma, the effects it had on me, and the hope that comes through knowing God both through his word and through the gift of therapy. As my OB/GYN (who is a Christian) said, “there are physical and spiritual components to what you went through.” Therapy helped me deal with the physical components. And I am better for it.

Therapy didn’t fix everything. We aren’t in the new creation yet, so it can’t. But it did help me process. It helped me heal. There was something so freeing about reliving my hospitalization and Ben’s birth in a safe place, like therapy, and then hearing her say, “That was hard. That was awful. That was traumatic. But look around you. You are here now. You are alive. You can live.” I can live. I want to live. 

Therapy gave me tools for living when I thought I would never live “normally” again. And for that, I am forever grateful.