Prioritizing Mental Health

June was a crazy month, or at least it was a month when I felt pretty crazy. Alison and I had planned a 10 day road trip to spend time visiting family, but I ended up spending an extra eight days out there when some family members asked for my help. If my people need me I’m there!

During the planned parts of our road trip we (me, Alison, and my mother in law) visited three cities and found some drama in each location ranging from minor to serious. Every family has its drama! I can’t control what other people decide for their own lives, so I have to trust that the grownups in my life can decide what’s best for them. And the good news is that the dog’s health improved, the air conditioner was fixed, the aunt decided where to live during her elder years, and we were able to go home to focus on ourselves. And the best news was that despite the drama we had some really good times along the way with friends and family, especially our nieces and nephews. But I tend to absorb drama and emotions from other people so I carried anxiety, sadness, anger, and guilt home with me.

While we were in the middle of the most stressful part of that trip there was another bonus. An old college friend of Alison’s just happened to be passing through town and instead of a lighthearted discussion we got into some really deep conversations. Before we all went our separate ways they gave us a book recommendation, “The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma” by Bessel van der Kolk. The science of mental health and traumatic stress are fascinating subjects. Since early June when we got this recommendation Alison and I have both already read this book twice and we’re still talking about it with friends and family.

At the end of our trip I dropped Alison off at the airport at 4:30 am in Phoenix to catch a 6:00 AM flight. I was looking forward to some alone time while Alison was gone helping our housemate drive a U-Haul back to our compound from a few states away. But literally 10 minutes after I got home I received a “prepare to evacuate” order by text because of forest fires in our area. That didn’t make it as easy for me to relax as I had hoped, but I was grateful that I didn’t actually have to evacuate. And I was able to enjoy some peace and quiet once I got the car re-packed and ready to go with all of our important documents, just in case. I spent two nights alone before Alison and our housemate arrived, and that little bit of solitude allowed me to start processing the previous few weeks, and continue processing old childhood memories as well.

Time for More Therapy

You don’t have to be suffering from the worst possible trauma to benefit from mental health counseling

Even before I got home from that trip I decided I was ready to get back into counseling, and I was surprised to realize it had been around 17 years since I last worked with a psychologist. Life is good when you’re in a healthy, loving primary relationship!

The last time I was in counseling was after my last relationship ended way back in 2004. My therapist at the time did a great job of helping me learn from that toxic relationship. She helped me look at the underlying patterns of my behavior so I could understand how and why I was in such a toxic relationship in the first place. And it’s not a coincidence that when I met Alison in Seattle back then we were both seeing our own therapists, each working on ourselves in hopes of being ready for a healthy relationship when the time was right.

My Grandma took me to my first therapist when I was a kid to help me cope with the neglect and abuse I had experienced from my mom. It had become clear that I was seriously depressed, and that first experience with regular therapy sessions made a big difference in my life. After that my Grandma took me to see my second childhood counselor and that one tried to facilitate a reconciliation between me and my mom, which was unsuccessful to say the least. But those early experiences normalized the idea of counseling for me and that made it easy for me to seek therapy as an adult whenever I was experiencing extreme stress. Thank you for yet another excellent life lesson Grandma!

Regular counseling was pretty normal for me when I was in my teens and 20’s, and I can remember talking to various counselors about all of my closest family members, how I struggled in school, work stress, financial stress, and relationship stress. Those counseling experiences were a long time ago but the lessons I learned definitely helped me keep growing and changing.

I carry old family issues and childhood trauma and when I get triggered I fall into the Mud Pit. And sometimes I get stuck there for a while. My old issues probably won’t go away completely so I’ll keep addressing my demons with the help of counselors. The more work I do on myself the faster I can get out of the Mud Pit. My goal is to learn how to avoid it all together! Fingers crossed.

Adding a New Money Job to Our Budget

This is the first time Alison and I have had a line item for counseling services in our budget, and that’s crazy (hahahaha)! It’s clearly time to make an adjustment. We are proud personal finance nerds so we agreed that we needed a new Money Job in our budget specifically for mental health counseling which fits with every other health related Money Job we fund like health insurance premiums, dental work, and eyeglasses. Calculating the cost of counseling services was tricky since I can’t predict how long my therapy needs to last this time, but whether I hit this financial target or not the exercise of tuning into the cost of mental health care was very useful.

The first thing to think about when setting this budget was my motivation for seeking counseling, and that was one specific crisis during our road trip. That crisis had a clear start and end, and it really wasn’t about me specifically. But it was a crisis that resurrected my childhood trauma, and those old family issues were the real reason for me to get back into counseling. I have already addressed my issues with previous counselors and I do feel healthy personally. But my old issues are serious enough that they don’t go away completely, which means I need to keep addressing them whenever old demons haunt me.

Since I haven’t paid for counseling in many years I did some research and found a range of $100-$200 per hour in the USA. That price range is wide because there are different types of counseling services and sometimes those prices are also impacted by the cost of living in specific locations.

With a short term crisis and an epicenter outside of my life as my reason for therapy this time, rather than an ongoing personal crisis happening directly to me, I decided to budget for weekly counseling at $150 per week for 16 weeks, which is $2,400. That might be an initial number that we need to add to, or it might be the right annual budget for one person to keep using in the future. Once I had a first guess at a Mental Health Money Job I felt like I had something carved out just for me, and there was no reason for me to stress about the cost of counseling.

Comparing Costs With Friends

I checked in with a friend that we talk with a lot about mental health related topics, and she said her therapist in California quoted $200 per hour, but our friend negotiated that down to $125 per hour. Wow! Then I asked a friend in our previous home town back in Washington State for some feedback and she quoted $175 per hour, and I assumed I would pay something pretty close to that price. Then I got even more curious and started checking with friends outside of the USA to find out what they pay for counseling in their locations.

England: A friend who started counseling in London in 2019 found a therapist who quoted £50 GBP per hour (around $69 USD), but asked for a reduced rate since he had a low income and they agreed to £40 GBP per hour (around $55 USD). He’s actually still paying that same counselor that same weekly fee to this day. Another friend down south in England said he could get free sessions through the National Health Service (NHS) if he had a diagnosed mental condition, but he doesn’t have a diagnosis and receiving counseling through that system could take months. Another friend who’s from a borough in northern England said she was paying £60 GBP per hour (around $83 USD) for counseling.

Canada: A friend in the province of Alberta told me she would expect to pay around $100 CAD per hour (around $80 USD) for counseling. She also mentioned that most employed people in Canada receive supplemental health care which would typically cover all costs for four counseling sessions per year, similar to what they are allowed for other therapies like physical therapy, chiropractic therapy, massage therapy, speech therapy, etc. Another friend in the province of Nova Scotia told me they would have to pay $200 CAD per hour (around $160 USD) for counseling, but they have very limited resources in the area so it could take months of waiting for an hour of counseling.

Australia: A friend in the state of Queensland said she would likely pay $60 AUD per hour (around $40 USD) out of pocket for therapy, while another friend in the state of Victoria said she would have to pay closer to $100 AUD per session (around $73 USD) where she lives. 

Poland: And then a friend in Poland told me that counseling services cost 160 PLN per hour (around $41 USD) in his home state of Warsaw.

Admittedly, I assumed counseling costs would be grossly more expensive in the USA compared to other locations, and for the most part that was true. I also assumed counseling would be covered by national health care in other countries, which was not as true as I had expected/hoped. The most interesting feedback I got was from people who said seeking counseling in their countries and cultures was so unusual that they hadn’t tried counseling and didn’t know of anyone else who had either, so they couldn’t even estimate what it would cost. And that reminded me that my mother in law told me when she was young it was very taboo to talk about counseling services. She really didn’t know anyone who worked with a therapist when she was young, even if they had serious issues impacting their lives and their mental health. Those old taboos about mental health are a still a problem all over the world!

The numbers in the table above come from friends. They aren’t foolproof numbers with total accuracy, they’re just figures our friends mentioned when we talked about counseling services in their locations.

Finding a Therapist

Every location (hopefully) has its own mental health resources and they aren’t always equal in function or availability. Some locations are flush with options while others have slim services available. I was confident I could find a good psychologist in my local community and I looked forward to comparing that with at least one of the online resources for mental health services that became more widely available as the Covid pandemic started to spread around the world.

I was curious about BetterHelp since I kept hearing about their services while listening to podcasts. The Covid pandemic really had an impact on me and at this point I would prefer not to sit in a small room every week with someone who isn’t part of my household. I really loved that BetterHelp would make it easy for me to get paired with a counselor who specialized in supporting LGBTQ+ clients. I shouldn’t have to waste any time or money trying to define my queerness to my therapist (yes that is a real issue for LGBTQ+ people and something I experienced in the past). I also liked that BetterHelp is “reasonably priced” at $95 per week compared to other options in an expensive industry. But I didn’t like that their price structure is designed to be weekly, even if you don’t use their services every week. Maybe I’m old fashioned when it comes to mental health services, but I like paying by the hour.

In the past I’ve always paid for counseling services out of pocket so I was very curious about using our insurance this time. I searched for mental health services through our insurance portal and found a few counselors close by that worked within our network. There was one group office that looked promising since they had a few psychologists flagged as accepting new patients, but they all seemed to specialize in areas that didn’t fit me. One specialized in new mothers, another specialized in children, and a third specialized in couples counseling. None of those options were a good fit for me.

I kept scrolling though the list of counselors in my insurance network and found a private practice offering virtual appointments. Her virtual meeting system was not a result of the Covid pandemic, she had been practicing with only virtual appointments for years. Awesome! And She was flagged as specializing in treating women and LGBTQ+ clients. That’s me! There’s so much value in being able to see yourself in your doctors, whether they’re primary care providers or cardiologists or psychologists. It’s really important for people to feel seen, heard, safe, and understood as patients.

I did more research on that psychologist including on Psychology Today (which supports mental health services in a variety of countries), and bingo! I found my new therapist, and I sent her an introductory email immediately. Her out of pocket cost for individual therapy was listed as $180 per hour on her website. And it looked like my insurance would cover at least some of those costs.

Using Insurance

We have Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace Blue Cross insurance and we’re benefiting from President Biden’s American Rescue Plan (ARP). The ARP expanded ACA premium subsidies and also modified the rules for year-end tax reconciliation of subsidies for 2021 and 2022. Hopefully those affordability changes will be made permanent and the next round of ACA improvements is also on its way. But thanks to the ARP our monthly premiums dropped from $144.71 per month to ZERO and we stopped paying premiums after April. We’re getting eight months of premiums for free in 2021, which will save us $1,157.68 this year alone.

During my initial chat with my new therapist she explained that she recently decided to stop working with insurance in her practice. By October her insurance connections would be severed and we discussed that at length. I was fascinated to hear how complicated it was for her (and probably lots of other psychologists) to work within the insurance industry. First of all, in order to qualify for insurance coverage the system requires a mental health diagnosis such as adjustment disorder, eating disorders, a substance abuse disorder, or a factitious disorder, just to name a few.

I see this as a major flaw in the health care industry. I am allowed to use my insurance to see my primary care provider (PCP) simply because I don’t feel good, but I can’t use my insurance to see a mental health counselor just because I don’t feel good. That difference doesn’t make any logical sense.

My insurance company also requires a referral from my PCP. The referral requirement could be problematic since people tend to reach out to counselors for help when they’re in a crisis, and it would be ridiculous to put a crisis on hold while you wait for a referral and a diagnosis from a PCP. When I decided to seek counseling I got lucky because coincidentally I had scheduled an appointment with my PCP a month before I went on that June road trip to see family, and I just happened to have an appointment with my PCP a few days after I got home. I went in for an annual exam and came home with a referral to see the specific psychologist I wanted to work with, and a diagnosis of “F43.20 – Adjustment Disorder.” My PCP chose that diagnosis because I was literally struggling with adjustment issues relating to that crisis I got wrapped up in during our road trip. And then I had my first session with my new therapist the day after I saw my PCP.

What does that diagnosis mean? From what I’ve been told, Adjustment Disorder is “mental health diagnosis lite.” It sounds like anyone with major life stressors, who has anxiety or depression as a result of those life stressors, could probably qualify for an Adjustment Disorder diagnosis. Of course in some cases Adjustment Disorder is pervasive and intractable and definitely not a lite diagnosis to live with, and in those cases it could precede a more specific diagnosis. But many high functioning counseling patients like me qualify for an Adjustment Disorder diagnosis.

My psychologist explained that for insurance purposes my diagnosis is intended to focus on a particular crisis or distress scenario that is relatively short term. She also told me that my Adjustment Disorder diagnosis can only stay in place with my insurance for 90 days, and in order to continue using insurance for therapy beyond that timeframe I would need a new diagnosis. But since my psychologist won’t be attached to the insurance industry beyond the next few months I’m not concerned about that timeline.

The other issue I have with using insurance is their requirement for doctor’s notes after each counseling session. I guess that shouldn’t have surprised me since my PCP is also required to submit notes to my insurance company after my appointments, but her notes include details like my weight and blood pressure which I don’t take personally. It feels much more invasive that my psychologist has to submit notes to the insurance company after our sessions. But she explained that she’s not willing to submit detailed notes about her clients to the insurance company (thank goodness), which is part of the reason why she’s severing ties with insurance. She keeps two sets of notes, one set is very detailed and for her eyes only to support our discussions. The other set of notes is extremely brief and mostly repeats the current diagnosis for the insurance company. I don’t mind the insurance company getting a report of how many stitches I get if I cut myself, but they don’t need exact measurements of my emotional scars. Insurance companies should not have access to my personal thoughts and feelings, or descriptions of my memories, or detailed descriptions of my traumatic experiences.

Consciousness Raising

For me counseling is about actively becoming more aware, mindful, and conscious of my self and my behavior. I’m keeping a journal with notes about everything I’m learning and how well my treatment plan is working. And working on that journal every day is what inspired me to write this post.

My new psychologist is awesome, and she totally gets me. We talk a lot about the survival skills I started using as a little kid when my mom’s neglect and abuse were present in every moment of my life. I don’t think they improved things even back then, but the assumption is that those survival skills actually did help me survive. Unfortunately those demons all come back when I’m stressed, so I keep using those old survival skills even though they’re more harmful than helpful. That’s exactly why I’m in therapy.

Depending on the situation there are some relatively common survival skills that people use when severely stressed. They can include dissociation, germaphobia, panic, acute emotional outbursts, immobility, indecision, codependency, and extreme control issues. My new psychologist and I talk a lot about how I use my stress behaviors and the negative impacts they can make. I want to change my behaviors, and I want to have control over my emotional wellbeing. I’m very open to all of the hard work this process is taking, and I’m actually enjoying myself through most of it. And when it’s hardest and I feel emotionally exhausted I give myself the space I need to recover. I am trying and I am learning a lot.

Creating positive change in our lives is a process with specific stages. It’s not uncommon for people to stay stuck in either Precontemplation or Contemplation, since change requires a lot of consciousness raising and honest self evaluation. But I know from experience that getting to Action and Maintenance can bring a lot of growth and joy.

The Alcohol Elephant in the Room

I’m very aware that both of my biological grandfathers were alcoholics. My maternal grandfather had pretty much stopped drinking by the time I was in the picture (which doesn’t erase the fact that he was a serious alcoholic). But my paternal grandfather never stopped drinking and he actually died from his alcoholism at the very young age of 42. My grandfathers both had severe PTSD from their military service during World War II, and they both became alcoholics because they weren’t able to cope with their PTSD. It doesn’t sound like either of them enjoyed alcohol, but they weren’t presented with any other option to cope with their mental health issues so I can understand how the pain and suffering they each experienced during World War II, compounded with the challenges they experienced in their youth and in their adult relationships, would have set them on the path to depression and addiction.

One generation later both of my parents started drinking and doing drugs when they were young. They both started drinking in junior high school and they both were doing a lot of drugs and drinking heavily by the time they were in high school. They definitely enjoyed alcohol and drugs, and their substance abuse issues fit nicely with all of their other toxic and abusive behaviors. My dad never stopped drinking and eventually died of liver cirrhosis. My mom did stop drinking, and she is a Dry Alcoholic at this point in her life. But the fact that she stopped drinking did nothing to improve her behavior. Dry Alcoholics aren’t necessarily easier to cope with than Alcoholics. My mom is still the same narcissistic, uncaring person she was when I was a kid which is why I protect my own mental health by making sure my mom has no involvement in my life.

Honestly there wasn’t much to do other than drink and do drugs in the small town we all grew up in, and that definitely contributed to substance abuse issues for many of my family members and peers starting in junior high school and high school. That doesn’t mean every kid in town was drinking and doing drugs but it was common for a lot of kids where I grew up. I feel lucky that I didn’t get into drugs or alcohol as a kid myself. Research has shown that the majority of alcohol or drug addicted adults in the USA started using substances when they were kids. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. I know people who had their first experience with cocaine, or their first drink of whiskey, or their first hit of heroine when they were kids, or all of the above. And they all became substance abusers as adults. I am not here to judge anyone. But I’m very glad that I’ve never had anything like cocaine or heroine in my body, and I don’t have a problem with alcohol. The last thing I need are substance abuse issues in my life.

Since I have so many examples of substance abuse in my family, a lot more than I’m mentioning in this post, I keep a really close eye on my own behavior. And I do worry that I’ll go down that same path myself. The behaviors I keep an eye out for specifically include drinking alcohol in the morning, drinking alcohol throughout the entire day, sneaking alcohol from the bottle when no one’s looking, hiding alcohol around the house, and lying about how much or how often you’re drinking. Those are the behaviors that scare me the most. Those are the behaviors I can’t tolerate in others or in my life in any way. And those are the behaviors I never want to see in myself. I know if I start exhibiting those types of substance abuse behaviors I would be risking my life and my relationship with Alison.

Adult Children of Alcoholics

In June when things were chaotic a few of my close family members recommended that I consider joining an Al-Anon group along with my weekly therapy sessions. I’ve heard a lot about Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon over the years and I was curious about what that type of group meeting would feel like for me. To be honest I was assuming Al-Anon would seem goofy, overly religious, and unappealing for me personally but I still wanted to give it a try.

Al-Anon is a system of communities for Adult Children of Alcoholics like me, and anyone else who worries about people they love that have substance abuse problems and/or other types of addictions. Participating in Al-Anon is a way to connect with other people who have faced similar issues and a way to find strength and hope.

I looked online and found Al-Anon groups in every location I could think of, all over the world. I picked a group that isn’t in my new home town or even in my home state, but this group seemed like a good fit for me. And since I’m only interested in virtual meetings I chose a group that has weekly meetings using zoom.

During my first meeting what stuck out for me was how much time someone was reading passages aloud from a book. They started and ended the hour by reading their rules aloud and there were other passages read from books throughout the meeting as well. When it was over I wasn’t sure I wanted to attend a second meeting, but Alison encouraged me to stick with it for at least a month.

During my second weekly meeting I wasn’t as distracted by the readings because I had become interested in the people in the group. I heard so many stories that night about how much my group members have struggled with the same issues I struggle with, like codependency and control in the face of their family members’ unhealthy behaviors. Everyone who spoke that night talked about their ongoing efforts to let go of things they can’t control, which was just what I needed to hear. No matter how different those other people were from me, their stories and their concerns sounded very familiar.

By my third weekly meeting I was hooked. I asked for a sponsor and shared my story with her, and she shared her story with me. My sponsor made it clear that their Al-Anon group functions as a chosen family, and I could see that. Everyone in the group has made an effort to make me feel welcome and to encourage me to keep coming back, and I really appreciate that. My plan is to stick with this Al-Anon group for at least as long as I’m in counseling, because it’s clear these two therapeutic activities work really well together.

My biggest challenge with Al-Anon is the religious terminology in their books and in their processes. But the rules they read aloud in every meeting remind us that Al-Anon is not part of any religion. My sponsor told me whenever I come across the word “God” in the readings I should replace that word with something I’m comfortable with, like “nature” or “universe,” or whatever floats my boat.

There are no fees for Al-Anon meetings. My group takes voluntary contributions and members donate what they can. My sponsor said that $3 per week is a typical donation, and I’ve decided to donate at least $5 per week.

The group’s expenses include meeting room costs, books to give to participants who can’t afford to buy them, books to sell to participants who can afford them, and the microphone they bought so those of us on zoom can hear the group more clearly. There are a ton of books written for Al-Anon members so my sponsor did a little show and tell of all of the books on her shelf relating to Al-Anon, and then helped me pick one to start with. I chose “How Al-Anon Works for Families & Friends of Alcoholics” as my first book and I’m reading it now, over and over and over. Once I felt ready for a second Al-Anon book I chose, “Trauma and the 12 Steps, Revised and Expanded: An Inclusive Guide to Enhancing Recovery” by Jamie March.

My sponsor is a wonderful woman and I would have thought we had nothing in common if I had met her through different circumstances. But we have a lot in common because we both have family members with substance abuse issues, and we share much more than that. The way this woman spends her time and money supporting others in Al-Anon reminds me of the way Alison and I spend our time and money supporting other people with financial coaching. My Al-Anon sponsor is inspiring the hell out of me!

Tracking My Mental Health Spending

I’m glad we’ve added a mental health Money Job to our budget this year, even though I still can’t say for sure how much I’ll need to spend. But I can say for sure that we’ll keep at least that much money set in our budget for counseling and related costs from now on. Worth It? Hell yes!

I’m tracking my spending for everything I’m doing these days relating back to mental health. Using insurance for counseling brings unwanted hassles, but it’s still helpful to get some cost sharing benefits from my insurance company.

That’s My Plan for Now

I’m really glad to be in weekly counseling. And I’m really glad to be in weekly Al-Anon meetings, along with weekly video chats with my sponsor.

Change is hard. But I’m lucky to have more than enough time and energy available to work on this stuff at this point in my life. I am trying and I am learning a lot.

I would be tempted to say I should have tried Al-Anon groups before now, but I know I would not have been ready for Al-Anon before this recent crisis motivated me to get involved. You have to be emotionally ready to do the hard work it takes to succeed in order for things like individual counseling or group therapy to work. If you think Al-Anon might be helpful for you I would definitely recommend that you give it a try.

I’m a huge believer in seeking counseling whenever there’s a crisis in my life. And though my issues are unique, the fact that I’m benefiting from counseling is definitely not unique. Everyone is different but the important thing to remember is that whatever stressors you’re dealing with, you are not alone, and a qualified licensed professional counselor might be able to help you rebalance and maintain your mental and physical health.

When you’re feeling stressed, remember to breathe…

If you need help, here are some options…

The BetterHelp website includes this list of helplines that is far more diverse and comprehensive than any other list I’ve been able to find or compile on my own. If you need help please give at least one of these helplines a try.

  • Emergency: 911
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1- 800-799-7233
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • National Hopeline Network: 1-800-SUICIDE (800-784-2433)
  • Crisis Text Line: Text “DESERVE” TO 741-741
  • Lifeline Crisis Chat (Online live messaging):
  • Self-Harm Hotline: 1-800-DONT CUT (1-800-366-8288)
  • Essential local and community services: 211,
  • Planned Parenthood Hotline: 1-800-230-PLAN (7526) 
  • American Association of Poison Control Centers: 1-800-222-1222
  • National Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependency Hope Line: 1-800-622-2255
  • National Crisis Line – Anorexia and Bulimia: 1-800-233-4357
  • GLBT Hotline: 1-888-843-4564
  • TREVOR Crisis Hotline: 1-866-488-7386
  • AIDS Crisis Line: 1-800-221-7044
  • Veterans Crisis Line:
  • TransLifeline: – 877-565-8860
  • Suicide Prevention Wiki:

We are not certified financial professionals or licensed professional counselors. This post contains affiliate links. For more information please read our Disclaimer.


    • Hi Rose, thanks for this comment. I love knowing that we have so many online counseling options these days. No matter where we are we can find a good therapist. Cuz we all have issues!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Great article! I’ve spent many years in therapy dealing with childhood trauma. Insurance has paid for much of it, but interestingly, better mental health has dramatically increased my earning too. And like your therapist, mine is likely to stop using insurance soon. The harassment from the insurance industry keeps elevating and therapists are tired of the intrusions. Glad you are getting the support you need.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Matt! I agree with you! I know the counseling I’ve had in the past made my work life better, and earnings followed. The counseling I’m getting now is having a huge impact. And of course I’m learning a lot. But wow this combo of individual counseling with the group counseling I’m getting through Al-Anon, are exactly the tag team I needed to get to the next level. I love it!


  2. I must admit that I didn’t read your article from the top down. I started in the middle, below your pictures. However, I’ve marked your article to read later because it shows that you tackled a very serious problem and you wish to help others by sharing your research. You’ve done a terrific job! Thank you!

    The reason I didn’t read the top of the article is that I also tend to absorb external sad and distressing stories and somehow project that it can or will happen to me and my family and therefore my life will start spiraling downwards. It’s difficult for me to separate the outside stressors from myself.
    What I did notice is that if I ignore and stop reading disturbing news, I feel better. So, it’s a conundrum for me. Should I follow the adage “Ignorance is a bliss” so I can move forward living my fine life or should I continue paying attention to anything that affects me negatively in order to stay informed, but unhappy?

    I’ve never had and considered yet talking to a therapist. I wonder how other people determine it’s time to see one. I’ve talked to my childhood friend several times who was depressed and was prescribed meds for that. She got better and off the meds now. When I talked to her about how I sometimes feel, she said that is definitely not depression. It’s more like anxiety episodes that I’ve been able to control myself somehow. I’ve always had the same conclusion.
    Another thought I always have is my distrust in healthcare, especially in the US. I think it’s very hard to find a good therapist. IMO, if they work for some corporate office, I’m afraid they are under instructions to keep their patients coming so that the revenue keeps flowing. I could be totally wrong, just sharing my skepticism :-).

    A different thought I have is when a patient develops a dependency on such psychological help. Will they be taught methods on how to cope with real-world issues on their own once they complete the prescribed sessions? Or will the patients leave and then feel the need to come back in a few months and start all over again? It’s financially good for the practice but not so much for the patient.

    Again, I appreciate your article. It can be difficult to write about such things for strangers to read. You’re brave in that regard!

    PS. When I saw “AI-Anon,” it made me concerned that perhaps I’m following the wrong blog…I thought you meant the Q letter instead of the first two letters, LOL.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sounds like you and I have some things in common. The way I pick up emotions from other people is very problematic when drama is high and negativity is intense. But. I’m at the point where I can bounce back more quickly if I can talk things out. One of the most important things I can do in those situations is just keep repeating – “This is not me, this is not my family, this is not my life. I am ok.”

      Just like you I try to avoid disturbing news. I’ve decided ignorance is not bliss. But I don’t want to overwhelm myself with details that make me feel depressed. In the same way that I think counseling can be helpful for some people, I think listening to others who need to share their stories can be helpful, and sharing your stories with others can be helpful. Just like it’s ok to talk about money, it’s also ok to talk about your issues.

      And I’ll give you a spoiler – I didn’t include any gory details in this post. The descriptions of what I experienced both while visiting family in June and during my childhood as well can live in my journal but they don’t belong in a public post since they involve other people. So don’t worry that you might get too much negativity in this post, it’s vague enough that I don’t think there’s anything in the post that would trigger you.

      Of course I can’t say whether a therapist would be helpful for you, but I would hope that option would bring you some healing and hope. I’ve always wondered why psych meds are helpful for some people but not others, and why counseling works for some but not others, and I learned a lot about both of those questions in the book I mentioned in the post called “The Body Keeps the Score” was full of amazing information. Maybe that book would be interesting and helpful for you. Anxiety is complicated. I have anxiety and some of my family members have severe anxiety. I have learned that anxiety and depression are much more closely related than I had previously understood.

      I tend to decide whether I trust someone in about 5 minutes. Is that something you think you can do? I think it’s getting so much easier to find a good therapist! And the last three therapists I’ve talked to were just amazing people that I trusted completely. Not that my earlier counselors were not, they’re just ancient history. But really the last three counselors I’ve talked to, between Washington State, California, and Arizona, were so good at their jobs and such wonderful people for me to talk with. You can search for someone who would be a good fit for you specifically. And it’s also fun that you can decide whether you want to see someone in person or virtually.

      I’ve never felt dependent on a therapist or afraid to leave them when I felt the time was right. But I’m sure that does happen. But again the licensed professionals I’ve worked with would definitely know how to handle that. Maintaining and teaching healthy boundaries is a huge part of what they do. As for methods to cope with real-world issues, my current counselor is doing that with me now, giving me options for what to do when I feel overwhelming stress or sadness.

      I can tell from your comment here that you are brave too!


  3. Ali, I so appreciate your posts and you sharing your vulnerabilities with us. I’m glad you are making mental health a priority in your life and allocating time and financial resources toward it. Best wishes on your journey.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your comment Kelly! It was fabulous to have such a long span of time without the urge to get back into therapy, because that means I was feeling safe and happy, and I know my relationship with Alison is a big part of the reason why I was feeling so good. Unfortunately there are still some family issues that can send me back to the Mud Pit. And truly I am just loving what I’m learning in counseling these days!


  4. @S&M – Sponsored by the letter Q? I laughed out loud! 🤣

    @Ali – As a product of the military, I spent a good portion of my young adult life thinking mental therapy was for weak people. Boy, was I wrong. I’ve seen how it’s helped really strong people get through their mud pits and be even stronger. Thanks for being brave enough to share your story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for this comment Jason. We are in an era of change for old taboos about seeking therapy. Sounds like you’ve had a clear view of how things are changing, or how things need to change. As far as I can tell, based on comments from friends and family and some things I’ve read, the military is still one of those huge portions of our society where seeking counseling is still very taboo. But things are definitely changing, and that needs to continue so people our age with military related trauma and PTSD can get the help they deserve.


  5. Thank you so much for this thoughtful and helpful post. It takes a lot of courage to be vulnerable and share about our lives, and it’s so important (like you said) to normalize therapy and getting help. I’m sorry you had a rough time on your trip but it sounds like you’re making the absolute most out of it!

    Two friends I really admire have both recently been examining their relationships to alcohol. It doesn’t sound like it’s a big concern for you (more of a thing you keep an eye on) but both independently discovered the book This Naked Mind: Control Alcohol: Find Freedom, Discover Happiness & Change Your Life – by Annie Grace. They both found it a really interesting and thoughtful way of looking at the role of alcohol in our society and lives, and both highly recommended it. I’m going to check it out myself, they got me so curious about it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Beth thanks so much for the book recommendation!

      Alcohol is a huge concern in my life. During this latest experience of witnessing family members struggling with substance abuse issues I went shopping at grocery stores and Target to keep everyone fed, and it seemed like we were surrounded by marketing campaigns relating to alcohol. Beyond the bottles I saw alcohol advertising on clothes, wall art, household decorations, and I even saw the CA governor promoting alcohol consumption as pandemic relief. Anyone with alcohol abuse issues would have a really tough time avoiding alcohol since it’s so broadly encouraged at social, political, and economic levels.


  6. Such a brave and courageous post! What a gift to share with your readers. Family can be so complicated, I grew up with two parents who were social workers which might have you think that it was good. What helped me so much was 5+ years of group therapy probably because when I would go to a single therapist, my trust issues would easily discount what a single person said but when I had a chorus, I couldn’t discount that. I also think I thought I could think my way out of what I was feeling instead of feel my way through it. Similarly, without the love and support of my wife, I would be in a very different place as well. I can’t even imagine what life is like for folks who aren’t triggered from time to time. Mental health is so important to invest and value. We absolutely need to normalize getting the care and support when need. And 2020 and 2021 have been really rough years for so many folks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, I really appreciate your comment! As you describe your trust issues relative to seeing a single therapist I’m surprised I didn’t have that issue myself. Especially after my 2nd childhood counselor seemed so focused on trying to get me to spend time with my abusive mom. Ugh. I haven’t really tried group therapy before now, but since I’ve gotten into this Al-Anon support group I can see how group therapy would be amazing! You’re right that 2020 and 2021 have been really rough years for many folks, so I can only hope that these rough years make seeking counseling even more normal!


  7. So much of your experience resonates with me. I was extremely lucky to have hit my rock bottom a couple months before the pandemic and I finally got a referral to someone who was a good enough fit and able to do virtual only – we were set up exactly how we needed to be to get through the pandemic. I would have liked someone more attuned to my culture, and immigrant culture, but I didn’t have the time to be too choosy. And maybe not having that specific connection has actually been good for me. Who knows, either way, therapy throughout the pandemic has been a priceless aid. Particularly, like you, I absorb other people’s stuff too much and there was a lot of personal drama in the lives of the people I loved that I was privy to. I’m sure we would have *survived* without it but I also be an utter shambling incoherent wreck of a person relying on all my childhood survival skills that are no longer fit for this life we live now.

    Also for another reference point for you, my sessions in CA cost $150 with a private practitioner. I didn’t even bother to try to get my insurance to cover it because I was already in crisis at that point and to jump through even one more hoop would use up precious energy I already lacked. I was so grateful to have the financial resources to spend when we needed to, and a partner who wouldn’t let me count the money cost as a reason not to do it. I handle all our money so I frequently talk myself out of care but he’s always there to gently prod me back onto the healthier road of spending the money to take care of myself.

    I think it’s wonderful that your grandma instilled in you this sense of normalcy about going to therapy. (I wonder how we can do that for JB and Smol Acrobat when they get older.) It should be normal for us to seek assistance when we’re not feeling mentally or emotionally even keeled. The fact that we are enormously privileged by having money to pay for it out of pocket is infuriating for all the people who would benefit from getting help.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We have so much in common!

      I’m sorry you were having such a rough time just as the pandemic was setting in. But good for you that you got yourself into counseling. I’m so glad to hear that you are spending money on taking care of yourself. We both need to make that a priority. We deserve it!

      I have no doubt that you can instill a sense of normalcy about going to therapy for JB and Smol Acrobat. Do you talk to them about your counseling process? I want to help encourage all of our nieces and nephews to do the same, and the more we talk about it the easier that seems (for most of them).

      And I share your upset and anger about the fact that counseling is grossly expensive, and not easy to get through insurance. The fact that way too many people can’t afford to pay for counseling, and there can be a stupidly long waiting period to get on the schedule of a qualified counselor, are both infuriating!


  8. Hi Ali,

    Sorry to be late on this one. Might seem unrelated but just curious have you had a Covid anti-body check at all? Just to see if you’ve had it, in however a small amount?

    Since our son Rhys had Covid 8 months ago he’s had long term anxiety issues that are directly related to a Gluten allergy that never presented prior to C-19. Even Gluten free though he can now be sat in a cinema watching a film with his girlfriend and for no reason just leap straight to a panic attack. No caffeine, no gluten, no trauma history (quite the opposite) no good reason. It just happens and is part of his life now.

    When I first got back to Savannah I think I also got a dose of C-19 too, it was inevitable with the job and being here in Savannah. My C-19 was a lesser viral-load I think due to the vaccine, even though the breathing issues were still scary as heck as well as the constant hard arm pain where the vaccine went in. Problem is all my old anxieties in specific driving situations that I haven’t felt for years, almost decades are back with avengeance since then. Is it the vaccine or C-19 causing them? I have no idea.

    But I agree Ali, day-to-day anxiety is pretty horrendous and I empathize wholeheartedly with where you’re at.

    Take care,


    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey there Dave. Thanks for the comment! I have not had an antibody test. The one time we think we did catch Covid was way back in February of 2020, when we both had all of the symptoms. It was well beyond 7 months later before we considered testing for antibodies, so beyond the lifespan of those good little bugs. We have felt healthy, safe, and isolated since then. Thankfully!!

      My anxiety comes from memories of neglect and abuse when I was a kid. And those anxieties were heightened from watching family members suffer last summer. But my own experiences and memories are the root of my anxiety… From having drugs and alcohol all over the house but no food, clean clothes, or a toothbrush; from having a mom who broke her own hand spanking me when I was little enough to still wear diapers; and a constant stream of strange men in the apartment when we were little and vulnerable; and so on… those are things that still haunt me today. So I have very little patience now for seeing my family members drink themselves into a near death state today, and certainly if I see adults in that condition while their kids are watching and crying I feel terribly sad for them and also very grief stricken as I recall my own experiences.

      That may be more info than you need. But understanding my reality explains why I enjoy and benefit from being in therapy. Hope you guys are feeling safe and settled over there in Savannah. Also, now I want to hear more about your old anxieties in specific driving situations!

      Stay well and happy!


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