The first time I went to see a psychologist I was 30 years old. Should have done that way sooner. Years before, when I was living abroad, in Basel, Switzerland, I felt so lost and lonely, crying on my couch and in bed every night. I didn’t know what to do, didn’t want to make people upset by telling them how bad I really felt (my friends were in the Netherlands and my parents in the US, too far away to help me anyway I thought), fantasizing about jumping off of one of those bridges over the Rhine river. And how or where to look for help in Basel? No, I just had to battle my way through this on my own. And I did. I managed to find a PhD position in the Netherlands, arrange the move back and all the administrative drama that comes with that, on my own. It made me stronger, but also a bit ‘hard’, less likely to open up and show my vulnerable side.
During the PhD it started going downhill again. Just like in Basel, I felt very unhappy in my work, disillusioned. I was disappointed in myself for that, and afraid of disappointing everyone else too. But I still didn’t look for professional help. Because I was still strong enough to fight. Therapy is for people who cannot fight anymore, right? And I didn’t think I was in a serious depression (looking back, I may very well have been depressed) or that I had another serious mental condition, so no need to go to a psychologist, right?? I could still go on on my own, I was strong, so why ask for help; right???
Another reason for ‘hanging in there’ alone was that big bad question: ‘What Will Other People Think Of Me??!’ I secretly feared that they would think I was weak, or crazy. I feared they would judge me for it and that they would be right.
This is what I think is right:
-Getting professional help when you are going through a tough time means you take yourself and your life seriously. It is an act of self-love.
-Getting professional help means you are strong. Strong enough to admit you have a problem and take responsibility for it.
-Getting professional help is smart. It is much easier, healthier, effective and efficient to fight a crisis with the right kind of help.
In a recent interview with news site nu.nl, a Dutch TV-host/celebrity, named Patty Brard, said something important to me about therapy still being a taboo: “If you want to get rid of your wrinkles, it’s possible. If you want to lose weight, a ‘gastric bypass’ is an option. In the case of therapy it seems like you first need to be declared ‘wacko’ before you start it. But I think it would be good for everyone to speak to an independent person.”
I agree with her. We should all speak to an independent person, a professional therapist/psychologist/coach/mentor/insert counsellor of choice, in times of need. Preferably when the need is not too high yet. We ALL need this sometimes. It is a way of taking control (back) over your life, instead of being a victim of it. It is a gift to yourself.
That last line did it for me by the way. It is what made me go from shying away from seeing a professional to getting the psychological help that I needed after a rough year filled with personal setbacks. Finally it clicked within me that asking for that kind of help is not an embarrassing act of defeat, but rather the opposite: a proud act of self-care, indeed a gift to yourself.
And a gift to society. You will be able to be an even better version of yourself, and contribute more of everything you have to give, and you help release the social stigma on mental health. Talking about your mental health and getting therapy or counseling should be normal, if you ask me. Completely socially accepted. Unfortunately, it isn’t, not yet. Just like Patty pointed out in the interview. Because of the social stigma, a lot of people still make the choice I made in my twenties. But if more and more of us do get professional help and dare to be open about this to others, that stigma will be released.
Discussing your problems with friends and family can be very helpful, comforting, and bonding, and I recommend it to anyone, just as long as we all remember that as friends or family we are not independent or objective and usually not professional counselors. Other interests are at stake: trying to maintain a good relationship with each other. Which means we might not tell each other (all of) the truth or say what we really feel because we don’t want to hurt each other or are afraid of giving the wrong advice.
So, if you need professional help, get professional help. Your friends and family will hopefully and likely stand by you, but they should not be a replacement for therapy.
It is important to find the type of therapy or counseling that is best for you. I had sessions with a psychologist, later went for guided meditation sessions and last year I chose a life coach who works with a breathing technique (rebirthing). All of these were very helpful for me. But I am -of course- by no means a professional or expert in this area and have no idea what would be best for you. It is best to go to your doctor (general practitioner (GP)) or call a helpline. There are also a lot of online resources. A few helplines and a link to more helplines and websites are listed below and at the bottom of this article.
IMPORTANT: if you are in a crisis, and/or feel suicidal, please call a doctor or an emergency helpline asap.
In all of the EU the emergency number is: 112. And 116 123 is the EU Standard Emotional Support Number.
In the Netherlands: 0900-0113 (suicide prevention line)
In the US: 1-800-273-TALK  (national suicide prevention lifeline)
For other countries, please see this website for all helplines: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_suicide_crisis_lines
If you’re going through financially tough times and fear therapy is too expensive, please know that (most of) the helplines, and the online chat services are for free. In the Netherlands (where I’m from), appointments with a general practitioner (GP) are reimbursed by your mandatory basic health insurance. Many GPs in the Netherlands now have a so-called ‘POH-GGZ’ (Praktijkondersteuning Huisarts Geestelijke Gezondheidszorg), who can give you counseling and refer you to other mental health care providers if needed. The POH-GGZ is also reimbursed by your health insurance.
I don’t know if something like this exists in other countries. I just want to encourage you to take responsibility for your mental health, and empower yourself, by seeking professional help.
If you are reluctant to get professional help or didn’t get help when you probably needed it, ask yourself what it is that is holding you back. Is it fear? Is it secret self-sabotage due to a lack of self-love? Is it any or all of the reasons I wrote about at the beginning of this article?
Then you are ready to give yourself the best gift of all: own up to your issues, own your life, and go get that much-needed help.
YOU ARE SO WORTH IT!!
Oh yeah, and don’t move to Basel 😉
List of helplines and websites worldwide:
For Crisis Centres worldwide:
-0900-0113 (zelfmoordpreventie, hulp bij depressie)
-0900-0767 (sensoor, een luisterend oor, www.sensoor.nl, ook voor chats, email en lokale nummers)
–www.hulpverlening.nu (anoniem online hulp bij psychische problemen)
-116 123 (EU Standard Emotional Support Number, for details visit https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/116-helplines)
-1-800-273-TALK  (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline)
-Online Chat: http://chat.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/GetHelp/LifelineChat.aspx
-Crisis Text Line: Text “START” to 741-741