Do you need an optometrist to change the lens in your life glasses from dark tinted to rose colored?
Shortly after I retired, I began the process of transitioning from an active work life to a fulfilling volunteer life that hopefully would not be as active and tiring as the last year of my work life. I really wanted to give my body, especially my heart, a chance to recover. Having been career driven for so many years, I found it challenging to adjust my work ethic and my life goals even though I knew it would be healthy for me to do so.
I have always supported seeking professional help for an issue before it intensifies. When I have a virus, I go to see my primary care physician. When I have a heart issue, I go to see my cardiologist. When I have an issue with my eye health, I go to see an optometrist. I realized that I needed to change the lens through which I viewed success. Of course, an optometrist would not be able to help me change the lenses on the glasses through which my brain viewed success. But perhaps a competent, empathetic therapist could.
I have benefited from seeing therapists or life coaches a number of times in the past to help me re-evaluate my goals, and to adapt my coping skills. These qualified professionals have helped me learn to manage a number of difficult life events: the aftermath of an eating disorder; the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease experienced by my father; and numerous stressful career issues. Based on my experience, a successful therapy relationship can exist with either a psychologist or a licensed practicing counselor. However, it is critical that the patient and therapist respect each other; that the patient be honest in the therapy sessions about their life history and about the extent and type of issues they are experiencing; that the therapist have a sensitivity to the life experiences and issues that the patient is experiencing; that the therapist use tools that complement the abilities and skills of the patient; and that the patient is willing to at least try the techniques or homework suggested by the therapist.
So how to find someone who would connect with me and my history? I went to my minister, a person who didn’t make me feel guilty when I had to downgrade my church activities for a while, and who came to visit me in the hospital when I had the pacemaker installed. When I described what I was trying to do, and some of the anxiety I had about creating new and less taxing pursuits, he had a great recommendation for me in terms of a suitable therapist.
I looked at the website for this therapist. Her philosophy statement indicated that her focus was to provide each client with compassionate and effective individualized treatment. She made it a priority to respect the inherent value of a human being, no matter what challenges they might be addressing in their lives at the time.
I also really liked this statement that was on her website: “I also take the time to look at each client from a holistic basis incorporating the mind, body, and spiritual components. I believe that each of these aspects impact one another, and all must be integrated into thorough and sustaining treatment. “ She concentrated on the three areas that I emphasized in trying to work back to better heart health: Mind, body and spirit.
But the real selling point was when she said: “I continue to enjoy the work that I do as I see my clients heal.” Wow – someone who still likes her work and is invested in her clients and their abilities to cope with their challenges. It sounded like a match made in heaven. So I sent an e-mail to her indicating that I was referred by my minister, that I would like to set up an appointment and leaving my number. She called me and we talked for a while about where I was at in my life, and what I wanted to gain from our appointments. I could immediately sense a very healthy rapport and we set up an appointment.
I began my sessions with this therapist in the Fall of 2013. We spent some time discussing the last few years of my career, how tired and stressed I had become, and the agonizing four month period trying to figure out the cause for my blackouts. She had some experience dealing with people who had heart issues, and as a result was sensitive to the issues I was experiencing. She understood the frustration I had with people who wanted me to take on more than I was able to do on the theory “but you look good to me”.
My therapist also seemed to understand that the “but you look good” comments made me feel guilty, as if I was faking my heart issues and was letting people down by not helping them. So in my over-achieving mind that wanted to make everyone happy, I would begin to think that I needed to suck it up and do more. Thank God that one of us in the therapy relationship realized that if I wanted to remain heart healthy, I needed to ditch the guilt and keep the activity level dialed down a notch. So during our sessions, she would elicit from me what I was doing each week, in terms of exercise, hobbies and volunteer work. So when the invariable comment of “I am not doing enough” would come out of my mouth, she would reassure me that I was doing plenty.
We also talked some about the possibility of at some point finding something that I could do for a little money. But I made it clear to her that even my guilty, overachieving mind knew that going back to the type of work that I had done before, but as a consultant was off the table. I knew that would just revive the stress that had not helped my heart failure. So instead, she had me read a book about transitions and we then discussed things I might want to do – like some ways I could pursue my interest in fashion or my interest in writing.
She also was highly supportive of the volunteer work I was doing, be it in a capacity as an elder or trustee for my church, or running the mentoring program. She had already learned enough about me to know that Melanie liked to deal with people and was instinctively spiritual. I think it isn’t a coincidence that I went to my minister and he referred me to this therapist. I think a higher power was pointing me to someone who would help me figure out what the future held for Melanie. But equally important, she would be there to help me when my heart failure began to take a turn. By that time, she knew me well enough to know how to help me cope with what would seem like a disaster. And soon she would also help me begin to handle a resurgence of obsessive compulsive disorder.
As a Thanksgiving gift: If you take one thing away from this post, it is please – seek professional help when you reach a point in your life where your coping mechanisms seem to be failing you. It is not a failure to seek help to restore your well-being and to surmount your challenges. To me, the failure would be to refuse to let someone with a more balanced perspective assist you. After all, you go to the optometrist to correct vision issues. Why wouldn’t you seek a therapist to help you see the world through lenses that have a brighter perspective?
Melanie discovered that she had heart failure in 2013. Since that time, she has been learning how to live with the condition, and how to achieve balance and personal growth.