I read memes and posts that unite mothers in the shared mixed emotions of motherhood. We joke about needing an IV of coffee in the morning and a funnel of wine at night just to get through the day. We agree that Instagram pics of sweet, smiling infants are not actually how they appear in real life all of the time, or even really most of the time — and so they are countered with pictures of toddlers dunking their heads in toilets and covering themselves in paint.
We giggle or even laugh out loud at some of these posts; it feels good to know other people are going through the same thing and that we’re not alone. But still, the reality is that these humorous snapshots sometimes put a shade over a darker truth: The mom drinking her fifth coffee of the day may actually be very sleep-deprived, lonely, and malnourished, the mom who started drinking just one glass of wine a few times a week might now be fighting the need to have at least two before bed each night, and the mom who keeps canceling plans with you may suffering from such bad anxiety that she just can’t seem to get out of her house with her baby.
We say that women need to support one another rather than judge. Yet it is still very hard for women to be honest and open about their personal struggles and how they deal with them.
My weekly sessions with my therapist help me deal with mine. I don’t feel the need to hide this, but on the few occasions that my experience in therapy has come up in conversation, I found myself on the receiving end of a comment similar to this: “Oh, but you seem so happy! You don’t need a therapist, do you?!”
The not-so-obvious problem with a comment such as this is that it whispers shame, not support. Unfortunately, some women feel more comfortable sharing relatable stories of self-sabotage than self-care; it can be easier and typically more socially acceptable for us to joke about eating a tray of brownies after a horrible day with a toddler than to discuss the importance of penciling in time for health food shopping, a yoga class, or an appointment with a therapist.
Shaming women who struggle to take care of themselves is a problem, but so is shaming women who actively do take care of themselves. People need to know that seeing a therapist is not only acceptable, but also admirable. Working on your own personal growth in therapy not easy; it involves facing fears, talking and thinking about things that make us uncomfortable, noticing all types of physical and emotional feelings, and accepting that we cannot control others. All of this, though, leads to a level of consciousness that is nothing short of empowering.
I started therapy when I was feeling anxious and having a hard time sleeping at night. Something led me to look up providers in my health insurance network, yet when I started I had no idea of all the changes I actually wanted to make in my life. Just a few short years later, everything was different. And I was fearless. I felt proud of the changes I made; I was happy and independent.
I even decided I didn’t need therapy anymore.
Then one day years later, far from home, I found myself looking in the mirror at a small, but visible and painful, purple and blue bruise on my eye. It was suddenly clear to me that the emotionally abusive relationship I was trying to leave had now turned physical, and it was paralyzing.
It may be hard to believe, but I was otherwise very happy with everything else in my life. It was hard for me to change one thing without changing the rest. I felt like couldn’t talk to anyone, like I couldn’t trust anyone. But I knew I needed that safe space again, and so I reached out to my therapist. I think I was taken back by her outright concern — she never really expressed too much of an opinion prior to this particular session. I had the validation I needed, and shortly thereafter with the help of my family and close friends, I was home and free.
That was years ago, but I have chosen to continue with therapy weekly. My life now is entirely different and a true reflection of how far I have come. I have found true love, and my husband and I have a beautiful daughter. Our families came together to support us in an embrace of love and understanding that was unlike any other. I strive every single day to balance my family with a career that I am passionate about and blessed to have.
So in response to those who have asked: Yes, I am genuinely happy. And I talk about how happy I am in therapy. I also talk about how it has been for me navigating my simultaneous transition to marriage and to motherhood. I talk about the heartache I go through every single morning when I leave my daughter and the gratitude I have for the most loving caregivers a working mother could ever ask for for her daughter.
I also talk about the love and admiration I have for each and every beautiful, smart and strong woman I work with who is doing exactly what I am doing every day — balancing a family and a teaching career, each a demanding feat that requires patience, understanding, and a whole lot of giving. On the mornings I arrive to work at 8 a.m. and already feel like I am failing at it all, they are there to wipe my tears and tell me they understand.
I write this to illuminate the importance of empathy. When there is empathy, there is awareness, understanding, and acceptance. This is often what we are searching for when we scroll through our newsfeeds or daydream about a night with our closest girlfriends.
If a woman chooses to talk to you, whether it be about her happiness or depression, her achievements or anxiety, her passion or pain, her love or loss, be empathetic. Be kind. Be there. You just might be all the therapy she needs.