Let’s talk about help.
Everyone struggles in life, and everyone needs help from others sometimes. We don’t do this life alone.
There is no “right” kind or one-size-fits-all model of help. Different types of struggles, different times, and different people may need different kinds of help. And there are many options: medical professionals (e.g., psychologists, psychiatrists, and various kinds of therapists), coaches, friends and family, teachers, books, videos, and so much more. The gem that will resonate could be in many places.
Important: Find what resonates for the person in the depths, something they are open to. A source of help might have great data, research, graduate degrees, and/or science-backed techniques to offer, though if it doesn’t resonate and/or the person isn’t open, none of it really matters. What matters is finding something that can break through the fog of pain or rut of hopelessness to gently give a nudge in a different direction.
When I’m asked what helped me most in recovering from depression, eating disorders, and other odds and ends, it’s easy to think first about the various life skills I’ve learned along the way: reminders to self, feeling feelings and emotions, and working on a strong foundation — because these are tools I now use to help me recenter as I swim through the tides of daily life. When I slow down and remember a main starting point out of the depths, what helped early on surfaces: stories.
At the peak of my depression and eating disorders, I was not open to seeing any sort of therapist or psychologist. I’d tried that route previously and hadn’t found it helpful (rather, it ended with me feeling like an even bigger failure because I hadn’t made much progress via the “professional” route). Now, an important note: a therapist, psychologist, or other medical professional may absolutely be the kind of support that really helps another; it simply wasn’t for me at that time — I wasn’t open to it.
Yet I needed help. I was stuck in the depths, unable to see past the walls of my internal prison. As I floundered about, I started to notice stories. Real life, non-glossy, non-soap opera-y (glossy in another way) sharing from others about their own struggles — raw, tender, messy, and open. Struggles similar to what I’d experienced myself and could relate to, as well as struggles I knew nothing about.
I found solace and a sense of comfort in the stories and parables of Eating in the Light of the Moon, heartbreaking and simultaneously beautiful braindumps from Glennon Doyle of Momastery, and random conversations with friends, acquaintances, and strangers where a hello and truthful answer to “how are you doing?” sometimes led to timid offerings from the recesses of the inside, allowing both of us to put down our baggage and worries and show up more as ourselves rather than the shiny representatives we’d first sent out.
As I came across others willing to share that they felt crazy, chaotic, and unsure sometimes, as well as see that their sharing seemed to bring some health and healing for them and not judgment (part of my fear was that if I admitted I didn’t have it all together, no one would like me), I began to consider: Maybe I wasn’t alone, maybe I wasn’t broken, maybe life WAS messy and the messiness I felt was evidence I was human rather than confirmation I was failing.
This was both a soothing balm to my inner pain and also mind blowing — perhaps there was potential life beyond my boxed in perspective.
The stories nudged me to open a teeny tiny crack and let in some new thoughts (What if we’re all a hot mess sometimes?). These new thoughts brought along a little extra breathing room, a space where I could stop (at least for a moment) beating myself up. The perpetual internal flagellation took up huge amounts of mental, emotional, and physical energy, so these brief respites began to build a small energy reserve that could now be used in a new direction, such as starting to see where an old habit wasn’t serving me and taking a baby step to try something different. Something small — and yet huge.
Stories turned out to be a gateway into possibility, opening my mind and helping me build momentum toward health and recovery.
As we help our children through life (as well as family, friends, and ourselves), we are going to come to times when help is needed. Everyone struggles, and everyone needs help sometimes. In addition to modeling the three real life skills (a huge gift we can offer our children), sometimes we’ll need to call in support from the outside.
Start with something our children are open to, whatever and wherever that is. If they aren’t open, then it’s not the place to start. You can help them build from and on wherever they begin.