Since my youth I have have been a curious person, inquisitive and resourceful. When I was young the Internet did not exist. Finding out what I wanted to know took a lot more time to research. My first real research into mental health was for a paper in high school English on psychoanalysis. I attended a small high school; my graduating class was just over 20 students. Our library did not have the periodical resources for this subject. We lived about 25 miles from a community that had a college and my mother was taking an evening classes to get her CPE to maintain her teaching certificate. She took me with her and I became quite familiar with the colleges library. I don’t remember much of what I read and wrote only that I was fascinated with the topic.
Skip forward a couple years and I found myself in an abusive marriage. I had no prior experience with abuse, none. I grew up in a healthy, loving, nurturing environment. I did not know how to cope with the verbal and physical abuse of my first husband. I was young, I loved him, I thought there was something I could do to change him. It took five years, leaving three times and returning, to figure out how wrong I was and finally permanently remove myself from that situation.
I chose to go to college a couple years after my divorce and the first year there I joined a group counseling for divorced women dealing with issues arising from the marriage and divorce. It did not take many sessions to realize that I did not have any lingering adverse mental health issues related to those five years of abuse. Just getting out was enough for me to recover. (Thank you mom and dad for showing me what a truly loving relationship looks like and giving me the strength of character to overcome adversity.) What I did discover was that I could not deal with death. My father was terminally ill and my oldest brother had died five years before. I couldn’t even talk about my brother’s death even five years later. I was in despair over my fathers impending death. I spent the rest of that semester in private counseling to learn to cope with death and dying. So far the best counseling experience I’ve ever had. Since then I’ve lost several loved ones and my ability to cope has continued to hold up.
It took eight years but I finally graduated from college with an accounting degree. I never wanted to be a CPA, the hours were too long and I hated taxes. I almost failed that class. But I did like auditing, it fit my natural curiosity so well. So my career almost always had an audit element. But the thing about audit is the adversarial nature of the job. I don’t like that part because my natural tendency is to develop good relationships. Not possible in a job that puts you in an adversarial position.
For a little over four years I was a Revenue Agent for the IRS. I loved the digging into the books and records and finding out about the businesses. But I was uncomfortable about addressing the findings. On one occasion I had a woman who had lost everything since the tax year I audited. Though for most, my findings would have had a minor impact on them financially, for her it was a major obstacle and she broke down threatening to commit suicide. I was devastated. My job performance was seriously affected by my own emotional reaction to what I felt I had done to this poor woman just by doing my job. I should have told my supervisor; I should have sought counseling right away. Those thoughts did not occur to me at the time. I muddled through becoming more dissatisfied with my job as time went on, my performance, especially in finalizing an audit and giving my findings to the person, began to wane. I would delay to a point that I was in danger of losing my job. I did seek counseling, but I don’t think we ever got to the root cause. It really wasn’t until later that I realized the actual impact that one event had on me. I finally just quit my job.
The next few years were rough financially for my family. We never really recovered financially from that decision. But I was certainly a lot happier and healthier as a result and there is no dollar value that can be placed on ones mental health. There was another time a few years later that I went to counseling. Honestly, I don’t even remember why I was going. Maybe it was job stress, maybe we were going through a rough patch in our marriage. It was certainly not a memorable experience so I suppose I really didn’t get much from it.
Since the advent of the Internet research has become so much easier. Not too long ago, within the past year, I picked up a collage text book of my daughters about abnormal psychology. I found it intriguing reading. Am I weird or what? Since then I have searched for articles on mental health, read many blogs written by people who are dealing with a variety of mental health issues. I want to know from the people who are experiencing the problems just what it is like for them so I can understand. Regardless of what mental health professionals discuss about symptoms and treatment, the actual experiences of individuals helps me understand so much more than anything a textbook, a psychologist or counselor could ever say about mental health.
It is not in my power to help, only to understand. Reading to understand isn’t as good as listening, but, when the time comes to listen to someone I’ll understand a little better just how important it is to that person to listen without judgement, to love unconditionally, and not try to fix them, but to be there for them to just listen.