Why I Hope My Kid Gets Therapy

“I will know how badly I have failed as a parent by how many hours of therapy my kids need.”

Walk It Off

One of my dad’s favorite stories centers around a very young me getting kicked by a horse in the knee and then attempting to walk it off because he told me to.
He thinks it shows my resilience.
Other parents collect stamps or motorcycles. My parents collect stories of stubborn self actualization.
And, don’t get me wrong, it’s an awesome story.
And, even though I still have issues with my knee to this day as a result, I wouldn’t take that lesson (Don’t stand within kicking-distance of an angry horse, dumbass) or the subsequent lessons (perseverance, strength, endurance, etc.) back for all the gold in Equestria.

But, here’s the thing about that incident (and oh- so- many others like it): it became the running theme in my own personal handbook of self-destructive behaviors. The “walk it off” mantra that might as well have been sown onto the Jacoby Family crest, while useful at times, didn’t allot for the nuanced issues that would later enter my life. I took “walk it off” to extreme levels. I prided myself in not needing help or assistance. Ever. Through deaths, traumas, break downs, and other emotionally catastrophic events I refused help in lieu of some false, stubborn sense of mental prowess.
Mind over matter, Heather, I would think. Walk it off.

And it worked. It worked for a long time.
Until it didn’t anymore.

When You Can’t Walk Anymore
I became a shell of myself. I stopped sleeping. There are whole months of my life that I don’t remember. I began to get worried that Billie wouldn’t even recognize her own mother anymore. I needed help. There was too much stuff and I couldn’t wade through it all. Hell, I couldn’t get through any of it. I was stuck. Finally, Doug encouraged me to see a therapist. And I refused. Several times.
I’m fine. I’m being a baby, I told him. I will walk it off.
But there are some things you can’t “walk off.” There are some times that you’re not even aware of your own body let alone your legs.
So… after much deliberation… I went to therapy.

But I Swear I’m Still Strong
My favorite aunt once told me, “I will know how badly I have failed as a parent by how many hours of therapy my kids need.”

My family saw therapy as failure. Hell, it seemed they viewed all outside help as failure. For the same reasons my father never took me to see a doctor after the horse-kicking incident, I was criticized when I told them I had begun to see a therapist.
Was I not strong enough to deal with these issues on my own?
Could I not realize that I was unique and gifted and could get through anything without the help of a medical professional?
Wasn’t I worried they would try to medicate me and take away all my magical individuality?
If I really had all these issues- couldn’t I just talk to them about it? They knew me. They could help. Why take my problems to a complete stranger?
Did I not trust them anymore?

Overcoming my own prejudice against therapy took me years. I was told from a young age that it was the answer of the lazy. The weak. The answer of those who couldn’t figure their own shit out for their damn selves. And, just the act of admitting that I, the strong and resilient product of Jacoby blood, needed outside help was enough to cripple me.
I had failed.
I was the lazy. The weak. The good for nothing.

Letting the Floor Bleed
One morning, after a particularly rough therapy session the day before, I woke up to Billie screaming. It was the horrifying, uninhibited, feral pterodactyl scream that could only indicate she was either a) legitimately hurt or b) she had misplaced her princess shoes (they register the same on the scream- o- meter). Doug was already with her before I could get to her. I could hear him consoling her but her screams persisted. Loud screams. Ear piercing screams.
“HOLY GOD, CHILD. It CANNOT be that bad,” I remember saying. “Walk it off.”
“She can’t, sweetie,” Doug countered.
And that’s when I saw it.
She had sliced the bottom of her foot open.
Her room was littered with all sorts of toys and, hiding under one of her precious stuffed animals was a plastic candle that Santa gave her (look- She’s fascinated with fire. And Santa thought a plastic candle was safer than actual fire. But apparently he was mistaken. Elves shall be fired over the oversight. Trust). When she stepped on the candle, the plastic “flame” part dug into the bottom of her foot and broke her skin.
She literally couldn’t walk it off.
Before this incident, she had never seen herself bleed.

She freaked the fuck out, guys.

They say the first cut is the deepest. That’s not necessarily true. BUT- if you have never been cut before then the first cut is definitely going to feel like a big damn deal.
And Billie had never been cut before.
She had never felt that type of pain.
She didn’t know if it was ever going to end, let alone when. She didn’t know how to process it.
So she screamed.
Holy God, did she scream.
And she cried.
And she bled.
And Daddy held her and told her the story of the Three Little Pigs while mommy stopped the bleeding and got her a bandaid.
And when mommy was done, she calmed down. She took a break. She had me explain everything I had just done to make the bleeding stop. She took it in. She made me repeat myself. Three times. She memorized what to do in case it happened again. She took another breath.
When she had sufficiently calmed down Doug turned to her and said, “Now Billie. Your room is a mess. And you hurt yourself because there was so much stuff on the floor, you couldn’t see where you were going. Had your room been clean- you wouldn’t have cut your foot open. Did you learn your lesson?”
“Yes, Daddy.”
“Which is…?”
She thought about it. Then she responded, “Next time, Daddy, I’m gunna just let the floor bleed.”

Mental Maintenance
“I will know how badly I have failed as a parent by how many hours of therapy my kids need.”

I now know why those words never sat well with me.
I reject the idea that seeking therapy equals failure on the parent’s part.
Sometimes it is, sure. Some parent’s just suck.

But here’s the deal: the world is big. And scary. Sometimes it hurts us in the most obvious ways. And, even more often, we get hurt in disastrously creative ways we could’ve never predicted. Regardless of how it chooses to devour our souls and slowly masticate on our ego until there’s little left than a pulpy, fleshy koosh ball where our heart used to be, it will eventually get to you. And the pain might not be something you’ve ever experienced before and/or you may not know how to handle it.
And that’s okay.

When Billie got hurt she screamed. She cried. Then she she found people who could help her and *gasp* she let them help her. She knew the problem was one she had not experienced before and one that was beyond her depth so she sought help.
And, when all was said and done, she learned from that experience.
In most situations we have two solutions- we can take the hit or we can deflect it elsewhere.
We can slice our foot open or we can let the floor bleed.

But some problems won’t be so easy to fix. Sometimes deflecting isn’t the solution. And taking the hit blows. Sometimes mommy and daddy won’t have the answers handy with her favorite fairy tale and a glass of chocolate milk. Sometimes she’s going to have to be self- reliant enough and strong enough to go outside her comfort zone and seek help. And, while I hope to God it will be a VERY long time before she ever needs to do that, I want to believe that, when she does, I will support her. I will be proud of her.

Because when you’re hurting it’s very easy to hide. It’s easy to cry and pull away and run. The hardest thing you can do is stand up and admit that you’re not as strong as you need to be and that you need some assistance in making that happen.
That doesn’t make you weak.
That doesn’t make you lazy.

That makes you fucking brave.
Period.
End of story.
You’re a badass. You were wounded and battered and bloodied and you slogged yourself over to someone who might be able to assist you. There are not enough words for what a revelation you are.

Walking It Off… Within Reason
And, sure, my parents and I may (to this very day) disagree on the therapy issue. It’s a complex and multi-faceted one that pits self reliance against their theories on westernized medications and the media’s overt stigmatization of mental health issues in general. And that’s fine. Their views don’t make them any less awesome and mine don’t make me weak.
I will say, however; that teaching kids that all therapy is the answer or all therapy is the devil is obviously not what I’m advocating. The answer is empathy. And compassion. And understanding. And knowing that, what is right for one person may not be OK for you and that is fine.
But creating an environment where seeking help is riddled with shame is dangerous. It’s irresponsible. It’s why it took me years to figure out what my four- year- old daughter instinctively knew:
It’s OK to ask for help. Just breathe. Take notes. Then move on stronger and wiser.

Or, if you can, don’t take the hit at all. Just let the floor bleed.

Why I Hope My Kid Gets Therapy

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