Navigating the Nightmare

By Derek Lawrence Clinton
Doyen Consulting Group

Let’s face it: mental health is difficult. For many of us, it is the most difficult battle we will ever fight. Things get personal, and so do our responses. Life seems overwhelming, and we may not even realize why. Therapy seems expensive, convoluted, even unattainable and unreliable. The infrastructure, provided by the government cohorts to insurance culture, is often cold and calculated. The hurdles seem too high to jump over, the low bridges too short to limbo. The process is quite frankly a nightmare. We think too much, feel too much, act too little, and trust no one. From the patient’s perspective, therapy sounds like torture – and yet, it is the only way to stop the record from spinning. We have heard this song before, far too many times, and have memorized the lyrics, we have committed the guitar solo to memory, and are tired of its inflections. And so, we seek help.

            The hardest part about therapy is success, and therapy is an infinite game. There are finite games, like baseball or chess. There is an opponent, structure, rules, limitations, boundaries, defined playing fields, exemplified participants that are known beforehand; there is research to be done, strategy to be practiced, and muscle memory to be formed. Infinite games do not work this way. There are many players, undefined rules, gameplay changes a la minute, personalities involved and their subsequent inputs creating explosive parameters: these games evolve real time. One of these games is life, and just like chasing a Michelin star or creating new slang for a language, it changes every single day, despite our efforts at routine. Therapy works the same way, as every day is different. The shovel finds new ground as we dig deeper, finding things we were not only unaware of, but continue to fear. We learn things about ourselves and how we handle the world around us that may be disconcerting, even destructive. We expose our deepest and darkest secrets and ailments to someone we, at first, hardly know.

            I am not here to tell you what type of therapy you need. I am not here to sell you a service, or tell you that a product is undeniably perfect. I am not here to tell you that it is easy. I am not here as a helping hand, or a hug, or a therapy session.

            I am here to tell you that therapy has saved my life. I don’t necessarily mean that my life would have ended at my hands or others. I don’t necessarily mean that my life couldn’t continue the way it was, with its own status quo and homeostatic balance. I mean that when I looked in the mirror 5 years ago, I saw the man I was, and the man I ought to be. Today I see one in the same, with a newfound fire to see just how awesome things can be. My work in therapy has been extensive. I have had therapists that didn’t work well, tried things that were futile, quit doing some things and picked up others, changed routines and diets, “medications” and holistics; shit, even prayer. But this is the best way I know, for the first time in a while, to tell you that I’m speaking from the heart.

            I began EMDR work just over a year ago, with a very specifically trained and well-versed therapist. Was it cheap? Of course not, but how do you put a price on waking up in the morning and seeing brighter colors? I was blinded as a child. Not physically, in fact, my eyes are very sharp. But from my own emotionality. The connections I lacked between myself and the rest of the world, the emotional rollercoaster I constantly rode on which I refused to give up my seat, the pain I was in that shoved me to numb with substance, and its continuing lasting effects that today I still battle to diffuse, all of it cumulated in the frustration I felt with the exact status quo I thought was worth maintaining. It works better if you’re already smart, and I was bright enough to realize it couldn’t continue. It wouldn’t continue.

            We as a species are wired to overreach. The infinite game that is our ultimate happiness is convex and complicated. Its subjectivity blinds our day to day lives: capitalistic consumerism, competitive nature, evolutionary boundaries set by biological processes, philosophical detachment from our place in the universe, these are all players in a game to which we do not have a rulebook. As humans, whether we like it or not, we are wired to chase happiness, and simultaneously are confused as to what that truly means.

            Therapy is not the answer, as the true answers lie within us. But there’s no sense in writing a dissertation and having it unedited. There isn’t a speech on earth that hasn’t had a second set of eyes, a trained set of knowledge to take a peek. I found this within EMDR therapy over the past year, that I was simply ill-equipped and uninformed about the way my own brain worked. This experience was incredibly humbling, as I was finally made to be comfortable with not trusting or understanding my own self: something I thought I knew best.

            I implore you, and yes, I mean all of you, to not get complacent or settle for the status quo. Strive to be better, to involve yourself with people that care about your wellbeing over their own. Realize that therapists do this work for themselves, and that they genuinely put your mental health above their own. You are not their only client, and they work really hard to not bring this shit home with them, because they are playing this game like the rest of us, and have chosen or been chosen to see to it that we are healthier than the day before – collectively.

            This infinite game does not have a winner, and victories do not translate to monetary gain or true love. It is the journey that defines us, and we have many paths to take. I urge you, as I have, to take the path that is difficult. We only have so much time on this rock we call earth, and I would love it to be spent happy, healthy, filled with growth and opportunity, not hindrance and shackled to a world from which we can’t wait to escape. I wish my therapist could see the changes evoked, the evolutionary development, the views that have been clarified at her hands. I wish that she knew what a difference she has made in my life, and the colors that have become a little more vibrant, the bird song that’s just a little bit louder. I wish she could see the way I stand in the rain for fun just to give mother nature a high five. The hugs and kisses I give, that last just a little bit longer, the wrenches I turn just a little bit tighter, and the listening I do, lasting just a little bit longer than the talking.

            Life is different, and for the first time in a long time, that feels really good. I can continue with the details, but that’s not what I’m here for. I am not here to rub in an experience, like salt in a very fresh and unfamiliar wound. I am here to tell you that there’s a hospital available, with equipment for stitches and treatment, but there isn’t a pill you take, or a bandage you wear, and the ambulance you take to get there will not cost you thousands of dollars. It’s going to feel pretty damned weird, but I am among the millions of people that will tell you it feels uncanny and euphoric to show up, do the work, risk it all and rise above.

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