Climbing Down Into the Mess

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).

1 (1)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.