Beyond Physical Health: Finding the New Normal

Written by Emily Rose

“My life was hijacked by depression & all that goes along with it, but I have learned how to take it back.”


In May, we focused on Mental health Awareness Month, and it is not less important now, as things seem to be returning slowly to “normal”. The truth is, normal is just a word. We have experienced a major health crisis, a major cultural shift and a major political shift in the last few months, so there is likely to be a new normal.


On a more personal level, we can often find ourselves seeking to appear “normal” but there isn’t really one normal for everyone.  We believe that health is a combination of the body and the mind functioning together. We decided that we wanted to highlight a real story from someone who has struggled with mental health for their whole life, to see what getting back to “normal” has looked like for them.


Gene Foley (LCSW) sees patients at our office (or via Zoom these days) who come to him for a variety of mental health needs. One of Gene’s clients, Patrick, was willing to open up and share his experience with depression and mental health with us.


We’re spending the time to highlight this issue not only because May was Mental Health Awareness Month, but also because so many more people have been feeling isolation, depression, anxiety and a range of other feeling exemplified by the Covid-19 crisis. Many people are returning to the world and to their jobs, but some are still jobless, or unable to return because they are immune-compromised. Patrick is sharing his long journey with mental health with us because his experiences with multiple types of therapy have helped him be prepared for a crisis like this and the depression that comes with it.


We also think it’s important to understand how much help a trained professional can be. As massage therapists we often find ourselves playing amateur “therapist” as people get comfortable with us and start to share their struggles. While we are happy to be an ear for anyone who needs it, our training is on bodies, not on mental health. Some people need more than just someone to listen, they need someone who can give them tools to cope with their emotions, and that’s where mental health professionals shine.


As I spoke with Patrick, he repeatedly told me that the first step of starting therapy is by far the hardest. When depression takes hold of you there is nothing outside yourself and the deep pit that you are creating for yourself. Sometimes it takes an outside hand to help you on the first step.  For Patrick, it was his wife who helped him take the first step, even though he didn’t want to do it. Here’s what Patrick had to say about getting to therapy for the first time.


“I am 55 years old and I have suffered from clinical depression most of my life. Looking back, I can now see it started in my very early teens, although at the time and for many years after I did not recognize it as such. I grew up, I went about my life, but my illness crippled me in many ways. What started as a “short temper and a bad mood for a couple of days here and there” became weeks or longer and would happen more frequently as I got older.


The self-medicating with drugs and alcohol since my youth as a way to escape being me honestly didn’t help me at all but became part of the problem. My depression, and all the darkness that goes with it had effectively taken over my life and I was spiraling out of control. It got to the point where my wife basically told me to get help or our marriage probably wouldn’t survive. I hadn’t realized how my depression affected those around me, and the stress it put upon my wife and child. That is when I took that first step and began to see a mental health counselor.”


Patrick also shared that although the idea of opening up and revealing your dark places with someone sounds terrifying, it does helps to have it be a stranger at first. There is an amount of trust that builds as you go on that allows you to go deeper, but initially it helps to “dump the toxicity” out without being judged by a friend or family member. Having a neutral person to speak freely to can be liberating. “Over time it gets easier, it is cathartic to put a voice to all of that without fearing you sound “crazy,” at least to me it is,” Patrick tells me. “Depression will stop you in your tracks and sometimes you have to shake things up to get out of it.” When you feel completely out of control it can feel difficult to even imagine living anything other than what you are living. “The person who needs mental health help the most is usually the one who wants it the least and I was no exception.”


Patrick has learned many techniques over the years both from his individual therapy with Gene and DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) groups for his daughter, who also struggles with mental health. He said he has recently started meditating, something he never would have imagined would help him. He says it can be a difficult commitment but worthwhile. When I asked him about how he was dealing with being stuck at home during the quarantine he said that it was tough, but he had the tools to help him get through it. He was already in therapy so that gave him a leg up, even though the depression hit him when his business was forced to shut down temporarily.


“I have been seeing a health care counselor for about 2 years now, and it isn’t always an easy thing to do. It is a commitment to yourself, but one that is worth it. Is my life perfect now? No, but much better. I keep the darkness at bay most of the time because of the skills I have learned and my life feels more manageable.”


So what does normal actually look like? It could be just making it through the day without fear or depression. It could be talking with a counselor, in order to keep some sense of stability and forward motion even when you feel stuck. You never know what an individual is going through, despite how they appear on the outside. We want to remind you to be gentle with yourself, especially if your life circumstances have changed drastically these last few months. It’s okay not to be okay, and it’s okay to ask for help. If you need to reach out to a health counselor you can contact Gene Foley  or visit the National Institute for Mental Health for more resources.


We want to end of some positive words from Patrick, because it sums up the importance of mental healthcare.  “I feel like I am back in the driver’s seat for the first time in a long time, and I see the positive difference that seeking help has given me. My life was hijacked by depression & all that goes along with it, but I have learned how to take it back.”

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