This week I tried counselling again. I am a strong advocate of therapy - not just giving it a go but, if it doesn't feel right, trying another psychologist and another until you’ve found the right fit. I’ve had mixed success in the past but recently I decided to practice what I preach and try again.
I’m so glad I did. One year, three months and six days after my husband’s unexpected suicide, I finally feel like someone might be able to help me find the tools I need to process the trauma of that experience.
To explain how many attempts it took me to find this fit, this was my FIFTH go with a new counsellor. My first took place the very day after Dan died, when my best friend arranged a visit to a psychologist she found through her work’s employee assistance program. This woman just stared at me in shock as I told her what had happened the day before. When I finally asked her if she had any advice on how I might survive this nightmare, she feebly explained the stages of grief (failing to mention they are NOT linear!) and said I would probably feel better in a year. Wrong. I didn’t go back to see her.
In the following months I tried two others. One of whom was fresh out of university and tried different exercises with me like ‘cognitive behavioural therapy’, which is a great tool, but way too early for me when I was still so deeply in shock and trying to make it through one day at a time. I battled on with her making me feel like I was failing her as a test case until I met counsellor number three, who ran a suicide bereavement program through a wonderful charity here in Australia called Lifeline.
This experience was life changing and helped me to understand Dan’s illness and death in a way that brought a real sense of acceptance. For the first time I felt like Dan’s suicide wasn’t about me or due to anything I did or didn’t do. I also understood that it wasn’t necessarily because of anything Dan did or didn’t do - he was sick, he had a disease and he died.
I would have loved to keep meeting with this counsellor after the completion of the program but due to budget restrictions she wasn’t able to offer ongoing sessions. However she referred me to psychologist number four, who I started seeing earlier this year.
These sessions were good, I was able to get a lot of thoughts off my chest and it was a great outlet to vent, however I wasn’t sure if I was ‘improving’ in any way. I always walked out feeling a bit lighter, but the same thoughts would eventually creep in. Until one day when she asked if I was sure I wanted another appointment, because she thought I was doing so well that maybe I didn’t need counselling any more. Well that threw me! Was I ‘cured’? Was I boring her or wasting her time, sitting here moaning about how I missed Dan? I mean, I knew I was functioning well, I go to work, spend time with friends, go on holidays, etc, but I’m still deeply grieving and have regular moments of being confused and overwhelmed. So I figured maybe I didn’t need counselling any more and stopped going.
Until two months ago, a new doctor that I’d found closer to my work suggested I give it another go. I knew I still had a lot of work to do. I cry often, I have days where I don’t want to participate in the world and the emptiness is deep. I have flash backs and haunting questions and reoccurring doubts and guilt but, after that last experience, I wasn’t sure if I needed more counselling or if I just needed more time.
So that brings me back to this week. After a particularly tough few days I thought I’d give it another shot. I called the office on Monday and they happened to have an available appointment Thursday afternoon. I went in and re-told the horrible story about the day he died, the months leading up to it, our love story and what my life has been like since. As much as it was painful to re-live the finer details of his death, there was a release again, as I sat and sobbed in this stranger’s comfortable chair.
When I finally stopped talking, I looked at her through my tear-stained eyes and said, ‘Is this normal? Is there something wrong with me?’. Her reply was just what I needed to hear. While confirming that there was nothing ‘wrong’ about where I am at the moment, she explained that my brain has definitely been affected by the shock of what I’ve been through. She said after such a significant trauma, my understanding of how the world works would have been shattered - causing me to lose trust in logic and ‘right and wrong’. The good news was that there is work we can do to help calm my racing mind, rebuild that trust and help me long-term.
My relief was overwhelming. First of all, to have someone say something other than ‘you’re so strong, you’re doing so well’ and actually acknowledge that there’s a reason I still don’t feel ok was so validating. Secondly, to hear that there is actually help – that there are things I can actively do to process the pain in my heart and the mess in my head, rather than JUST sitting and waiting (which still plays a significant part in the healing process) was also wonderful.
I’m glad I gave it another shot and tried again to find the ‘right’ counsellor for my particular, unique little bundle of grief. Maybe this will be the long-term counsellor relationship I’m looking for. Or maybe again I’ll find out that it’s not quite the best fit. If it doesn’t work out, I am going to come back and read this post and remind myself again that it’s worth it to keep looking.