When you can’t handle your emotions due to life’s challenges, a counselor can offer ways to manage your inner life.
After a tumultuous decade-plus that was emotionally charged around the house, my career was upended and I was wasted. Counselors have helped me manage and find strength so I can focus on the day.
Home — Not My Place to Be
Flashing lights from the sheriff’s squad cars bounced off our house, the trees and, to my embarrassment, the neighbors homes. During a one-year period we had LA County sheriffs traipsing through our home on about ten different occasions.
Taunts and then tempers flared among the seven to ten people who were living with us as they transitioned from the teen years into their early 20s. I simply can’t freely share the details that led to my crisis, but perhaps one day I’ll be able to write it out more fully.
Home was my battle ground and not my sanctuary as it is for so many. Saturday nights when I longed to go out for a drink or listen to music at a local pub was taken up with arguments from whoever was around.
Complicating matters was that the way I wanted to relax was different than how my wife wanted to decompress. I began feeling alone and, looking back, I noticed something hit me hard: I could not process and articulate my thoughts.
I was a jumbled mess who was spiraling without direction.
My Comfort Zone had Vanished
While personal chaos ensued, my career was toppled like a house in the path of a tornado.
The nonprofit I had worked at for several years and I parted ways due to strategic differences. I took on a home roofing sales job with the company that has the bright orange apron, but the industry was tanking in So Cal due to months of no rain.
I finally connected with a boutique digital marketing company that had a prominent clients, but something strange happened. No one was getting paid since the clients were somehow always behind.
I left after less than a year and being owed $18,000. I later bumped into one of the programmers and he mentioned that he and a few others were owed twice that amount when they left. The guy in charge had pocketed the client fees while doing an amazing job of explaining that payments would always soon be coming in.
Another digital marketing company picked me up to develop new business, even though I warned them that wasn’t my strength. This was in 2009 when companies were wary and people were position-hopping. I submitted numerous strong proposals, but the person I’d speak to on the phone one week was then gone by the next.
I had no comfort zone. Not at home and not at work. And not at church. We attend a large congregation where we know a lot of people. But during the depths of my crisis, I realized how many of us, me included, operate at a surface level.
There was two questions that I learned to hate. One was, “How’s it going?” because no one was interested in the answer. It’s a cultural way of greeting someone and moving along quickly. At church, that began to irritate me because I couldn’t answer the expected, “fine” with a smile.
Friends could tell something was bothering me and we’d sit down for coffee and to chat, but after an hour we’d part ways with a statement like, “hang in there.”
I began to recognize a problem. I couldn’t articulate my own thoughts and feelings to either my wife or the people willing to take time and listen. I needed a place to go and be heard.
A Quiet Space
My wife and I first counseling due to the volatility of what was going on in the home — without being able to reveal any more. We knew some therapists from our church and someone we knew and respected had seen our kids for many years, sometimes on his own time.
Hourly fees just about made us gag and I saw how expensive it was. However, a program near us where counselors who were getting their master’s degree offered counseling services for $60 an hour and less.
I visited one man who had originally met with both my wife and me. She didn’t think we needed it, but I knew differently. I noticed that the room was quiet and it was focused. I told her I would go back on my own and I did.
What I realized was that in the space, the counselor’s room, there were no distractions. I went to six sessions with this one particular person who was mid-career, getting his Mft and demonstrated a lot of wisdom. I had a place to talk.
After six sessions, I stopped going because — well, my wife brought up the money issue. And I felt that maybe that was long enough. I started doing well and I also began taking a few key vitamin supplements, Omega 3 fish oil and a B complex supplement. I could think again clearly.
As I wrote in How I Used Mindfulness to Stop Impulsive Eating, I began concentrating on the present moment and got back in shape.
But in 2013, turmoil hit again in a different form when dealing with a volatile relative who was estranged from the rest of the family. I had a six year old I was raising, our adult children, and someone older than me describing extreme trauma.
Needing an Active Listener
I found an outlet through a community counseling office at our church and connected with someone for six months. I had weekly visits and realized that just six visits weren’t enough.
Another truth hit me.
In the quiet room, the person was a dedicated and active listener, feeding back to me what I said. This helped me process and understand why my own thoughts were jumbled.
Listening is an important skill that I covered in this article How Listening Led Me from Crisis to Confidence. I improved and learned to handle challenges. The counselor was graduating with her degree but I was feeling stronger.
During the fall of 2015, the old turmoil hit me as we welcomed two international students, had our house ripped up for remodeling and the relative crisis kept continuing.
Gaining Practical Insight
I was juggling several different writing and entrepreneurial pursuits and wound up seeing a counselor who was also in a program. She wanted to know why I felt the need to try to keep everything going and this helped me realize that my career vision demanded much more than forty hours a week to keep it going, but I kept looking at a calendar and realized I had between twenty to twenty-five hours a week for work due to family commitments.
We wound up examining my childhood in a way that became practical and helped me understand my own behaviors. I was a problem solver in order to keep peace. And yet I was also ambitious and had visions of what I wanted to achieve.
After a year, she, too, graduated and I continued on with counseling and have seen the same person for the last two years. Weekly visits have dropped from two times to once a month as I’ve laid a foundation to handle the complex questions and challenges that have confronted me for so long.
For me, the benefits of counseling became:
Having a quiet place to process
A dedicated listener to give me feedback
And someone I trusted who heard what I was saying and could give practical feedback and offer solutions to implement.
Counseling made me stronger and gave me the tools to deal with situations that friends and other family members simply couldn’t grasp. A wise and trusted counselor is wonderful resource.