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Darkness & Light: Tia's Mental Health Story - Asking for Directions

I love a good mystery and the hardest one I have ever tried to solve is myself.

I feel like I have been on my journey of self discovery forever. I’ve spent years trying to learn why I do the things I do. But like any good mystery, my journey of self discovery has not been a straight line. There have been many twists and turns along the road and at times I’ve found myself lost. It’s during these times that I stop and ask for directions in the form of talk therapy.

I have spent many hours sitting in a therapist’s office. It can feel awkward at first but once you get used to it, it can be an extremely cathartic and revealing process. A good therapist should be able to ask you the right questions that will help get at the core of your issue. Once you truly understand what the problem is you can then start the healing process. This is especially true if you are carrying around unresolved issues that you have suppressed or tried to ignore, but somehow, they keep popping up and affecting your life. There is a lot to be gained through talk therapy and today I am going to share one of my biggest breakthroughs.

Something that I struggled with for a long time was a conflicted feeling of resentment towards my parents for their lack of emotional support when I was a child. As I got older, I became aware of how challenging life was for my mom and dad and eventually I stopped thinking about how their lack of emotional support affected me and I accepted that this was something they were unable to provide me given their own difficulties. I mean, how could I blame my mom for not supporting me more emotionally when she was sick herself? How could I blame my dad when he had to deal with my mom’s illness on a daily basis? I concluded that they did the best they could, and because their lack of emotional support was unintentional, I really didn’t have any right to feel as though I had suffered.

Later in life, when I talked about my childhood with a therapist, I never once used the word “neglect”. My childhood was comfortable, and I never went without any of the material things I needed. I did acknowledge that my parents were unable to provide me with emotional support, but I always prefaced it with the fact that my mom suffered from mental illness and my parents did the best they could. However, through therapy, I came to understand that there are different types of neglect, one of which is emotional neglect. Whether it is intentional or unintentional doesn’t matter, the result is the same. To help me put this in perspective, my therapist shared the following analogy.

Imagine you give your friend a plant, but you don’t provide them with any instructions on how to take care of it. Your friend has never owned a plant before and has no idea that you must water it regularly. So, your friend puts the plant in a nice sunny spot but never provides it with any water. Over time the plant withers and dies because it never received the water it required to flourish. Your friend didn’t mean for the plant to wither and die but they had never owned a plant before and didn’t know that it needed to be watered. You may be sad for your friend that their plant did not survive but you don’t blame your friend because you realize they didn’t know any better. Their neglect was not on purpose. However, whether the neglect was on purpose or not, the plant still withered and died.

Hearing this analogy made me realize that I had every right to feel emotionally neglected as a child whether my parents intended to make me feel that way or not. I love my mom (may she rest in peace) and my dad and I have many wonderful memories from my childhood. But I was also emotionally neglected as a child. Both of those things can be true at the same time and this revelation helped me to understand a part of myself that had always been a mystery. I had discovered the origin of my low self-esteem. The low self-esteem that made me feel like I wasn’t good enough. The low self-esteem that led to years of self loathing and weight issues. I was finally free to deal with those feelings and cry for that little girl who did not get enough hugs and did not hear “I love you”, "You can do it" or “I’m proud of you” enough as she was growing up. My resentment towards my parents was valid and I could now start to heal and look at my life through a clearer lens. I don’t believe I ever would have made those connections if I hadn’t sought the help of a therapist.

Talk therapy was a game changer for me. Sharing my feelings unburdened me from the idea that in order to be strong I had to suck it up and deal with my issues on my own. This was so far from the truth. I found more strength and understanding than I ever imagined by sharing and accepting my truth. It’s amazing what you can discover when you ask for directions.

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