It’s Mental Health Awareness Month, and I want to talk about it. My dad’s death really brought my mental health to the forefront because I started to work through the five stages of grief: denial, bargaining, anger, depression and acceptance. I didn’t even know this was a theory until I took a college elective course about death and dying. In 1992, people used other words to discuss mental health. I didn’t realize “denial” manifested by me changing the radio station whenever I heard that opening guitar strum of Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven.”
So what does an 18-year-old on the brink of her life do when her dad is murdered? There wasn’t a guidebook back then — nothing I remember being accessible anyway. For example, the Ad Council only began promoting mental health awareness in 2018. The internet was probably not even something Al Gore and Bill Clinton discussed that summer as Clinton ran in his first presidential race from his Little Rock campaign headquarters. There was no Google. I went to Books-A-Million and Waldenbooks in a brick-and-mortar mall to find books about grieving and what happens when a parent dies. Back in 1992, did we even refer to it as “mental health?” I wanted to use my story to hopefully help someone else because I would have devoured everything I could have found in 1992 to read about what to do when your dad is murdered.
As I began dipping my toe into the shallow end of the therapy pool, I became increasingly aware of my feelings, especially feelings from the past that I could no longer work out with my dad in real life. The traumas of the past were still there, now piling on to the brand-new sparkling trauma that arrived with murder. I’ll never forget the first psychiatrist I saw to address the grief. I can’t remember her name, but she was a tall, sophisticated, mature brunette who reminded me of my college guidance counselor. But this doctor was a real MD, and she first administered a written test and prescribed Prozac to which I had an unpleasant reaction. Why was she giving me drugs and a test? This woman was older than my mother, so she had surely encountered a grieving child who’d lost a parent.
At the second appointment when she told me my test results were inconclusive, she lost all credibility with me. I needed to talk to someone, to help me, and she fucking asked me if I needed her to check me into a hospital? That suggestion came out of nowhere. I was sad but not crying hysterically, not that crying hysterically would warrant hospitalization. My dad was murdered. It was a sad time for me, and even though I was sad, I could get up every day and get dressed, make my bed and brush my teeth. I could function, albeit reluctantly sometimes. I didn’t need a psychiatrist. I needed a psychological counselor, one with a PhD or MS in social work. Thirty years ago, the first person my mom thought I should see was a psychiatrist, and we just didn’t understand the differences in these mental health workers. My only exposure to the type of analytical counseling I needed was what I saw in movies of people living in New York City always needing to see their therapist for some exorbitant hourly rate. Fortunately, now people are talking about mental health and feelings and attempting to be self-aware. It’s a thing, and I’m here for it.
Since that weird doctor experience in 1992, I’ve seen several therapists – women and men – and I’ve learned how to find the right person for me for the challenges I’m dealing with at the time. I intend to share more of that in future posts.
This coming week, I’m taking some time to step back and treat myself to a little refreshing self-care and an unofficial writing retreat to catch up on stories and plan the next few months. I also created a fun crossword puzzle you can print and complete to support your self-care. Enjoy your weekend!
Click here for the puzzle: Here’s What Happened Puzzle-1 Crossword Puzzle