One of the hardest things for me to do is to share my own story, especially the challenging moments. Yet, I think in order to create a sense of knowing for you, my readers, it is important to share a little bit about myself, beyond my typical sharing.
Throughout my life I have been a happy individual. Of course, like others, I have had my ups and downs but for the most part I have been lucky to have many more ups then downs. In fact, I cannot remember a significant part of my childhood, youth, or young adulthood with a down that lasted more than a few hours. For the most part I would be upset if a team I was on lost a game, if I had to attend an event I did not want to or if I was not allowed to attend an activity of my choice. I got over these bumps after a little sulking. Yet, I think a lot about “what ifs”, “ands”, and “buts” only to finish my thoughts with the decision I had originally made hours before.
I started working in the fields of recreational therapy, mental health, and abuse during a time in my life that I would consider my prime. I was constantly happy, excited, and thrilled to be with others, to support others, and to find new techniques to improve the quality of care individuals were receiving. I worked in some pretty challenging environments including paediatric palliative care, geriatrics, outdoor opportunities for individuals with various disabilities, and transitional housing and counselling for women and children who witness abuse. As I continued to work through my education counselling became a more significant part of my professional life and simultaneously my personal life. I found I was supporting individuals more and more and in unique ways and loved every second of it. In fact, I went from believing that “counselling is ridiculous” as I claimed in my first counselling course paper to every individual should have a counsellor. It was definitely a 360!
Today, I sit and reflect on the last couple years of my life. These have likely been the most challenging years of my life and yet years I believe I have and will continue to grow the most from. Over the last year I would be lying to say I had positive mental health. Depression might be too strong of a word but I definitely was deeply sad for a long time. I did not realize this sadness in me for many months and when I did recognize it I would go for a walk along the water, out with a friend to vent, or a long drive and come home believing I was good to go. It was not until a few months ago that I realized I needed something more and turned to regularly working out; lifting weights is a new pursuit of mine. If I was my own friend I would have told myself to seek support, to find a counsellor, and to talk through what was going on in my head nearly a year ago. I would have told myself that journaling was not enough and that my mental health was negatively impacting my physical and spiritual health. It is always easier from the outside to recognize the sadness or struggle individuals are facing, this I have learnt first hand. And although I had many great friends by my side and ready to talk at the drop of a dime, I never recognized my own need to process what was in my head.
I think I am out of this funk, for the most part. I can witness my own sadness and have recognized my need for support. Not only this, but I have learnt that support comes in many more forms then we may be willing to acknowledge. After all, as counsellors we would not be employed if everyone was able to find their own unique and effective ways to support themselves. So, as much as I still believe every individual should have a counsellor, I now believe it is even more important for an individual to define “counsellor” and “counselling” for themselves and to seek the support that is best for them. For me I recognize that the best for me is not what a typical counselling session may look like. I have little to no desire to sit in a room with another person and simply talk about my problems, challenges, and what I need to do to “fix” myself. I enjoy having debates about concepts, finding my own meaning in challenges, and being physically challenged. It is through such connections with friends and family that I have found my support and my “counselling”. Oddly, what I need for myself is exactly how I practice when working alongside others. I prefer to go for walks, share a meal, or play a game while connecting with clients; hindsight is always 20/20. It makes sense that I would practice from a similar perspective to the way in which I would like to receive support.
This experience has taught me many things, two that I would like to highlight. The first is that as a counsellor I often told individuals to seek help and did not fully understand the challenge behind seeking help, knowing when to seek help, or what help is the best fit. As I move forward I will keep this realization in mind and attempt to promote support seeking in a different manner. The second is the need to expand the definition of counselling and to be open to various practice forms beyond those taught in a single discipline. It is my goal to bring together therapeutic recreation and counselling, to utilize many of the therapeutic recreation practice models originally developed for individuals with disabilities and mould them to support individuals with mental health challenges. I believe this is a missing link in practice and I hope to help build the bridge.