It’s 4:30 a.m. and I am already awake in the darkness of this rainy winter morning. I’ve tried to sleep later but sleep evades. I have an appointment with a therapist today. I am anxious and fretful, wondering what it will be like. Will we communicate well? Will I feel heard, seen?
I am a licensed professional counselor so I know the inner workings of the therapy session: the intake, the goal setting, the awkwardness a client often feels at that first visit. I wonder if the therapist is also anxious. It can be a bit unnerving to be the therapist of a therapist.
I consistently remind my students how important it is for counselors to face and address their own issues—counselors need counselors. You can only take a client as far as you are willing to go. This is all truth. Still, I am anxious and fretful. I feel like my young overly-anxious self, Chrissy, who tried valiantly from ages 4 to 17 to manage her toxic, abuse-infested world.
Tom’s lung diseases (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease COPD/bronchiectasis/mycobacterial avium complex—MAC) are progressing, his health noticeably deteriorating. It is the nature and expected course of his condition. His diagnosis pronounced 10 years ago this month. It has been, thankfully, a slow progression due partly to his staunch determination to stay active—“I refuse to die in my recliner.” But 2017 was a difficult year of repeated, serious bouts of respiratory infection (MAC), pneumonia and the involvement of an additional organ. Short walks to the mailbox produce exacerbated fits of coughing, breathlessness and dizziness; energy, stamina and cognition wane.
I sit in the waiting room of the therapist’s office feeling the strain of today’s unknown. The experience is producing deep empathy for my clients. I can identify with their angst and awkward entrance to the office for that first visit.
My name is finally called. I settle myself onto the therapist’s couch and we begin. Barely a word is spoken before my eyes well up with tears. I feel the relief of merely being in the company of someone I know is present and listening.
Information is exchanged, necessary cautions given, and then the question, “What was it that tipped the scale from handling things to ‘I need help’?” My tears flow more freely as I explain the weight of what I currently carry. We talk briefly about my history of abuse. She recognizes the deep well of helplessness and sorrow that adds to the current emotional weight that overwhelms.
What I am feeling has a name, “anticipatory grief.” It is the reality that the death of my best friend—the man I love and have been married to for almost 47 years—is approaching and the future looms uncertain. It is extremely comforting to hear words spoken with compassion, empathy and understanding. I relax into the soft material on the couch and the therapist’s genuine care. This is a place of refuge.
There are times for all of us when life looms too large. When the question, “Now what?” is unanswerable.
When emotional homeostasis tips to the unmanageable. I am so thankful that in these times Jesus comes for me with skin on—this time in the form of a therapist. She is not the be-all, end-all for me but she climbs down into the mess with me and I know that, for this portion of my journey, it is enough.
And my God will supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).
Christine Browning is a lover of story—including her own. She loves to hear and longs to respond well to others’ stories. A late bloomer in the field of education, it is her absolute delight to teach at Milligan College in East Tennessee. She also counsels women who have experienced trauma and abuse. Christine is the mother of three adult children, three incredible grandchildren and has been married for 42+ years to her delightfully playful husband, Tom.
As you relax into the soft material of the therapist’s couch, you offer us hope. Hope and vulnerability and God’s promise that we will not be alone even as death parts us. Thank you for writing, for honesty, for sharing your journey with us.
So thankful that nothing is wasted in God’s kingdom purposes. Red Tent is so kind to provide this space for sharing our journeys. Thank you for your words of hope.
So refreshing to hear real…
Others’ real brings me hope. I pray my real does as well. Thank you for responding.
As the waters of our lives ebb and flow, when the tide rolls in over our heads, reaching for a hand instead of simply treading water can be key to our survival. Thank you for sharing, yet again, your story wrapped in courage and vulnerability. You are truly inspirational. May HE bless and keep you both.
Kristy, I love the image of reaching rather than treading water. Thank you for the encouragement your words provide…and thank you for the blessing.
Christine…you are a mighty and lovely woman in so many ways. I cannot imagine the fortitude it takes to help your love of your life…your dear Tom…through so many life threatening ups and downs. I am grateful you have found a therapist who is “Jesus with skin” to help care for you. Truly…I am so, so thankful you have taken this extravagant care for yourself to find a good therapist. I have said this often…and I will say it again…you have called me to pray for Tom and you. Tears are holy. Thank you for sharing this with us. Your kind and generous heart shows…always. Dan and I will pray…
Becky, your prayers mean so much to me. You and Dan have been “Jesus with skin” and a lifeline to me in ways only eternity will fully reveal. Thank you for encouraging my self-care…it can feel very selfish and is sometimes a struggle to remember I am worth it…God is very close with His extravagant care in these days and I am thankful. Love to you and Dan…and prayers for you as well.
Jesus with skin on…….someone to climb into the mess. Life is messy. Good words.
Anticipatory grief…oh my, such a heavy burden to hold. I love that you are caring for yourself, that you are risking the vulnerability of inviting someone in to help care for your heart. I am so glad her words brought comfort and the hope for some much needed kindness as you walk into another year of unknowns. Sending much love to you!
“Climbing Down in the Mess”
Thank you for sharing. So much of this marvelous writing resonated with me, on so many levels. I’ll just say thank and let you know I’ll be praying for you & your family!