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How Therapy Helps Me Find My Flow
by Jared Williams
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April 18, 2019

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13 Minute Read

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How Therapy Helps Me Find My Flow

We were fine. I was fine. And then, somewhere along the way, I realized that not only had the rain not stopped, but something was putting pressure on the multiple protections I’d built in my life, and the water was rising quickly. I was not “fine.” I was in emotional mortal danger.

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One of the strongest lessons I’ve learned about navigating life is to find ways to get closer to nature. It slows me down and calms me. It reminds me that I’m a part of something greater than myself, but it also shows me who we are.

The Mississippi River moves 1.6 million gallons of water every second and has done so for centuries. The waters ebb and flow down to the Gulf of Mexico and rise and fall as the seasons change. Left to its own devices, it expands beyond its banks flooding as far as it can until it’s convinced to shrink back to its natural borders. We can’t live in that kind of instability though, can we? To live not knowing when the river will grow past its banks and decide to claim more and more land until it’s laid siege to any and everything it wants. That’s why we build levees, flood walls, gates, and pumps because they keep the river at bay and allow us to live with something so naturally remarkable. However, there come times where you just can’t control something that great.

I think, as we strive to live healthy lives — mentally, physically, spiritually— we each grapple with our own rivers, lakes, and waterways. We find ways to live with them, keeping them at bay so that we can grow and expand and lead fulfilling lives without the fear of one day waking up to find parts of us just inundated. So, we build our own systems of protection to keep us from being overwhelmed by the incredibly powerful things that live inside us. We build our own levees to manage the raging emotions that we hold, and flood gates that we open to release pressure from heavy storms. These become the delicate practices that keep our partnership with our own nature intact.  Even still, with our best efforts, sometimes the rain is too heavy. Sometimes the levee gets weak. Sometimes the river is just going to eclipse the guardrails you gave it. What then?

For me, then, it’s time to turn to my therapist.

It had been two months since I’d talked to my therapist, and unlike the 2-to-3 month gaps we’d had before, this was excruciating. I had been on autopilot since our last visit and was feeling fine. I was still figuring out life after my grandma’s funeral and regularly talking to my mom who was navigating her own emotions around this new chapter in our lives. We were both operating without something that had been a part of us from the beginning, and I knew it would take us some time to get our footing. We were in a storm, but we had umbrellas — family, friends, and each other — to lean on while we made our way through the rain. We went back to work and living our lives, keeping in touch like we always do. We were fine. I was fine. And then, somewhere along the way, I realized that not only had the rain not stopped, but something was putting pressure on the multiple protections I’d built in my life, and the water was rising quickly. I was not “fine.” I was in emotional mortal danger. My friends were there, my family was there, my spirituality was there, but what I needed was to talk to the person whose job it is to help me find the breaks in my levees.

I was not “fine”. I was in emotional mortal danger.

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I needed to talk to my therapist.

I’d been looking forward to my Thursday evening therapy session for some time, and my friend who shares the same therapist knew that I was long overdue. “Oh, it’s been two months!” my therapist exclaimed as I got adjusted on the brown leather loveseat across from her. “Yeah,” I said, noticing that my voice was considerably higher than usual. “February was fine! It wasn’t interesting until the past four weeks really,” I said inching closer to what I’d identified were the key reason why my life was flooding so quickly. “Tell me what happened in March,” she said in a tone I’d been looking forward to for weeks. The tone that I knew meant we were going to figure some shit out today. So, I got started.

As if looking at a map of my life, I went through and described what I thought were the breaks in my levees, the faults in my pumping systems, and the malfunctions in my floodgates that were making these storms much worse than usual.

We started with family. The many emotions I felt knowing that week after week, my mom was packing up the one-bedroom apartment that was my childhood home. The guilt I felt around not being more present for the process. The loss I was feeling knowing that this was the primary place that defined home for me. A place where I could come and go without announcement or permission. It was ours. It was mine. And now, in days, it would be gone.

This threw gasoline on the things that drove my need for safety, security, and stability. It meant that a tough week at work called into question my future career path, my ability to do jobs based on this work experience, and whether my personal fulfillment was worth more than ensuring I could help my family achieve stability. It meant that, in the face of being in “The Flow” of my love life, I was worrying if I was living too footloose and fancy-free. If I should focus on finding my husband now and building the family I hope to have — something I once thought wasn’t an option for me, and now I feel like I’m gambling with it.

Over the course of just three weeks, one bad storm had induced a flood of anxiety so strong that my eyes would water at my desk or in the middle of my workout. It left me clenching my teeth so frequently that I thought I needed a root canal and couldn’t figure out why. Meanwhile, my feelings of depression meant that I rarely wanted to do anything that didn’t involve my couch and Love & Hip Hop, especially if it meant pretending to be happier than I was. So, I laid all my cards on the table and told her where I felt like the water was coming in.

Meanwhile, my feelings of depression meant that I rarely wanted to do anything that didn’t involve my couch and Love & Hip Hop.

“What part of your life do you feel is best functioning,” she asked me mid-sip from my water bottle. I paused and my face twisted. As someone who is admittedly gifted at identifying problems, I didn’t know what was going well. “Any part of my life?” I asked, trying to call something to my mind that didn’t feel like it was being submerged. “The gym is pretty cut and dry, I guess. I mean, I feel good about that.” “Ok,” she said, “what about friendships? That feels solid and reciprocal?” I replied with an affirming “MmmHmm!” I felt her questions change the way I was thinking.

“I ask that,” she started in her usual calming tone, “because I think we can forget that there are some areas that are solid, and sometimes we just need to go stand on that ground.” To be honest, I hadn’t considered it. There were so many places where I saw the water rising that I wasn’t even paying attention to where I could find high ground. I just stood frozen in my waters trying to think of a fix.

In that moment, on the brown leather loveseat facing my therapist, now backlit by a decent Louisiana sunset, I realized that there were tools in my toolbox I hadn’t been using.

In that moment, on the brown leather loveseat facing my therapist, now backlit by a decent Louisiana sunset, I realized that there were tools in my toolbox I hadn’t been using.

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What I was looking at was indeed my reality, but only from one angle. I was looking at the shortcomings, the downfalls, the failures, the losses, and all of the things I saw surfacing as the waters around me got higher.

What I was failing to see where the assets, the positives, and the protections that were holding firm. There were pumps working overtime to drain the waters that surrounded me. There were flood gates that were opened to alleviate some of the pressures. There were things going right. It took 50-minutes with my therapist to show me that while I was able to pinpoint all the things going wrong, I was failing to show my spirit all of the reason to have hope in a better tomorrow.

Nature moves in cycles. The water comes in the same way it will go out, and the same is true of us. We’ll always face lows in our journey, but we’ll also see highs if we focus on them. There is an artistry to balancing the two that I think my therapist only helps me to perfect.

Don’t fear your nature, but learn how to harness it to help you thrive.

Look at your levees and your flood gates, and consider how firm they are and who can help you build them up. At the same time, recognize that rivers and lakes that sit on the other side of your protections are a part of what makes you so innately powerful. Don’t fear your nature, learn how to harness it to help you thrive.

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