Every month, I pay $130 to talk to a therapist about my mental health for an hour.
We meet at the same time (mid-morning, mid-month), in the same way (virtually) and in roughly the same location (always her office, usually my kitchen).
We cover a lot of ground and it always surprises me how quickly the time passes.
The invoice arrives minutes after we disconnect. She doesn’t direct bill, so I pay the $130 out of pocket, then bill it back through insurance. Our coverage is excellent – $150 max per session with no cap on yearly spend so I get it all back a few days later.
It is the most important transaction I make every month.
It’s been a while since I’ve been present in this space. Scratch that. It’s been a while since I’ve been present in any online space. I didn’t intend to disappear — on the contrary, I thought 2022 would be the year I returned.
Here’s what happened instead.
I started therapy when I stopped being able to write
Of course, I don’t mean that literally. At no point did I lose the ability to put letters into words and words into sentences. I work in communications and, while I was certainly rusty after maternity leave, I was still able to write at work.
That’s a good thing. Not being able to perform the essential function of my job would have been a pretty significant problem!
I also managed to continue with some small paid projects, although these were more challenging to complete.
But anything outside of work? No dice. Hard as I tried, I kept coming up empty.
And that was jarring.
Writing has long been an important outlet for me. I got really into soap opera fan fiction when I was around 13. Yes, you read that right. I would spend hours handwriting my little stories then bring my notebook to the computer where I would type it all up and share it to various MSN groups.
Eventually, I moved more into online role playing, primarily through Livejournal and AOL Instant Messenger. This was a pretty significant part of my life until I started university and started writing for the campus paper.
I share this for the sake of providing context. I have been writing consistently in some form or another for almost 20 years. To go from always having something to say to suddenly having nothing to say messed with my head.
It was also the catalyst for realizing I needed to do something about my mental health.
My mental health took a hit when I went back to work
And I didn’t see it coming. At all.
I was excited to return to work after maternity leave. Don’t get me wrong: I am so grateful that I was able to stay home with my child for a full year. But for all the good things, it was also a very isolating experience. Pandemic restrictions meant we spent a lot of time at home and didn’t see very many people. It was hard — and I’m saying this as an introvert! So by the time my leave ended, I was ready to talk to other adults again and use my brain for things other than nap math.
I was not prepared for the sicknesses.
I went into daycare understanding illness was part of the deal. Many of my work colleagues have young children and over the years, I watched them navigate the Petri dish reality you live when your kid is in daycare.
In other words, I didn’t go in blind. I thought I was prepared.
And holy shit, I could not have been more wrong.
During my first year back, it was a revolving door of illness. We dealt with everything from gastro and norovirus, to COVID and RSV, to random fevers and the common cold. Jeff and I managed to avoid some illnesses, but, more often than not, we all ended up getting sick. And when I say it was constant, I mean we would get over one thing, just to find ourselves down and out with something else a few days later.
I went back to work in March 2022. I didn’t get a full week of work until mid-September 2022.
And I felt awful about it. It was beyond my control and I knew it but all I could feel was guilty — about not pulling my weight at work while I was home with my kid…and for worrying about work when I was at home when I should have been focusing on my kid. For months, I tried to do both, watching my sick child then attempting to cram a days worth of work into like, three hours of naps.
It went about as well as one might expect. Eventually, I realized I had to stop.
So…I did. I stopped.
If it wasn’t an essential part of the function of our household — dishes, laundry, groceries, showering…you get the idea– I stopped doing it. Looking at it now with the benefit of hindsight and therapy, it’s pretty obvious I was in survival mode. It was what needed to happen.
However, the trouble is that once I got there…I stayed there. And after being there for a while, it was like I forgot how to get out.
Perhaps more concerning: the longer I stayed in survival mode, the less I cared about getting out. Because at the end of the day, sitting on the couch, scrolling social media and disassociating was far easier than doing literally anything else.
Not being able to write, though…I knew that was going to become a problem. That, at some point, that would be the thing that prompted me to take action. It has always been such a big part of how I process the world. I knew, eventually, I would want to get back to it.
Which brings me to now, I suppose
I started therapy in December 2022. A lot has changed since then.
I changed jobs at work, going back to the department I was in before my maternity leave. I was worried initially, remembering how stressful it was last time, but it’s been OK. My role looks different this time and I’m doing tasks that are much more in line with my skillset.
We still deal with a lot of illness, but the severity has slowed down significantly and I’m grateful for that. We transitioned from an in-home daycare to a daycare centre and there was an adjustment period, but now, she’s doing great.
And therapy’s been going well. I’m going into month six and over the last couple sessions, it has finally started to feel like I’m making progress. I’m working on establishing better habits and finding the balance between giving myself grace for the season I’m in without giving up on moving forward. I’ve learned that I do tend to have an all-or-nothing personality – and while this has helped me in the past, it’s not serving me now so…it’s got to go.
I’m still not back to writing, not the way I want to be. But I feel more optimistic about it these days. It will come back. It will just take time.
The TL;DR: constant illness and stress tanked my mental health when I went back to work a year ago and I’m trying to fix it
And I’m going to hold off on calling this a return to regular blogging because I’m not there yet. Wish I was and hope to be there sooner as opposed to later, but I’m still working through some things and I’m trying to keep my expectations realistic. Instead, for the foreseeable future, it’s more likely I’ll be here with sporadic posts from time to time. I hope you’ll stick around.
If you made it this far – thanks for taking the time to read this. I know it’s a little different from the usual fare here, but considering I basically quit writing for a year and didn’t tell anyone…I felt like I needed to say something, you know?
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, here’s where to get help:
- Talk Suicide Canada: 1-833-456-4566 (phone) | 45645 (text between 4 p.m. and midnight ET).
- Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (phone), live chat counselling on the website.
- Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis centre.
- This guide from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health outlines how to talk about suicide with someone you’re worried about.
Photo by Wynne Neilly from Burst
Sorry you”ve had a difficult time but glad you’re coming out of it. Good luck, Tara.
Thanks, Don! Appreciate the well wishes (and hope you’re enjoying retirement so far)!
Stephanie Mead says
I am so glad you have the tools you need to navigate these bumps in your life. Living in mental illness is so hard, and I hope as time passes, life gets easier for you.
Thank you, friend. Certainly not a thing I expected to be dealing with but hey, isn’t that just the way it goes? I am glad to have access to therapy, though – it’s been making a big difference for me (and only further cements my opinion that it should be more accessible to everyone).