If you’ve never had experience with mental illness, consider yourself lucky-however, you will have a difficult time understanding it. Explaining mental illness to someone who’s never experienced its effects is like explaining color to someone who was born blind.
A little bit of vulnerability here: I have personal experience with mental illness. I have struggled with both anxiety and depression, and I will be the first to tell you that it is no walk in the park, and there’s no magic cure. I’m an incredibly positive, optimistic person, but no amount of positive thinking will save you from experiencing mental illness. It is not “all in your head.”
I can try to explain it, but it’s hard, so bear with me. In regards to anxiety, I can tell you anxiety is both mental and physical. I can tell you that when I’m in the midst of an attack I feel like I’m drowning. My heart races, my chest gets tight and I have to remind myself it is safe... to breathe, to be present, to continue moving forward. Crying is involuntary. My fingers and toes go a little numb. My mind does nothing but race with the worst possible thoughts, like a runaway train about to go off the rails.
I can say all of these things to you, I can talk until my face is blue, but unless you’ve experienced it for yourself, you can’t fully understand what it’s like. You just have to trust me - and I hope it never goes beyond that for you.
I met my first coach, Shayna (yes, the owner of this blog!), almost five years ago at a networking meeting. We casually kept in touch and I participated in a program she ran for the winter blues, but I was in a little bit of denial when it came to my needs. I was anxious as heck, but I didn’t have a supportive environment or anyone who understood, so I told myself it was just me, and I tried to muscle through. I honestly didn’t even know I had anxiety; I thought I was just weird.
For years I had been in therapy, on and off. Yup, that’s right. Years. And I didn’t feel like I was making any progress. Sure, it was nice to have someone to talk to about what I was feeling and going through, but therapists don’t work like life coaches do. Therapists, in my experience, are concerned with the cause of the anxiety and depression and making it stop through understanding of the source, whereas coaches are more concerned with finding ways to make it stop, period. In other words, therapists ask about the way I was raised. Coaches are concerned with where I am going from here.
So why did I choose this (expensive-but-worth-every-penny) holistic healing approach over traditional (covered-by-insurance) therapy? Easy. The understanding and the method.
The thing about traditional therapy is that the results are slow (in my experience). You go talk at someone for fifty minutes and then you leave to do the same thing all over again the next week. Maybe they’ll offer some suggestions, maybe they won’t. The therapist may or may not have a personal experience with what you need help with, and if they don’t, they only have experience with it from a clinical standpoint.
I’m not trying to knock therapists or traditional therapy, but there’s a very different perspective of mental illness in the ivory tower of academia than there is when you’re down in the trenches fighting it yourself.
Coaches often have personal experience with what they’re giving advice on, so they know exactly how it feels to be in the thick of it. And, beyond that, they got through it and achieved their goals, so they’re great role models who practice what they preach. There is so much value in adding a coach to your team.
The healing is holistic so for people like me who are avoiding taking pills, it is a great alternative. I think of having a life coach as having a lighthouse. When the sea of life gets rough, they’re there to show you a safe path to shore through advice and action steps, but you have to put in the work and the action to get there.
And bonus: the ways to cope that are suggested make sense - for comparison, a traditional therapist once told me to fight my social anxiety I should just join a club.
That would have been fine advice except for the crippling fear of socializing with people I didn’t know. I went to two different club meetings and never went back, because surprise! I didn’t know how to cope beyond just showing up. “Joining a club” only heightened my anxiety because I didn’t know how to stop being nervous around people I didn’t know… But you can’t say I didn’t try.
I didn’t have a coach when I was in college but if I did, the advice probably would have been more in-depth than “join a club.” Maybe they would have talked to me about what club best suited my needs and interests. Maybe they would have had something to say about it that would have helped and encouraged me to go back.
In the years since working with coaches (and I still work with Shayna, too!) I have started two profitable businesses. I have gained confidence in all areas of my life. I have gone through some deep, dark, tough stuff, but I’ve always managed to come out on top and being able to move forward. The person I was when I met Shayna for the first time five years ago probably wouldn’t recognize the person I am now, but in the very best way.
I’m not saying therapy is wrong or bad or isn’t beneficial, because it can be right, it can be good, and it can have positive outcomes. What I am saying is that adding a life coach to your circle could be what you need to make the moves to turn your life in the direction you want to go… especially if you’re feeling a little bit lost at sea.
Stephanie Haussmann is a healer, educator, lightworker, and tarot card reader based on the
sandy shores of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. She is the owner of What She Heals, an online-based business whose goal it is to empower women to be proud of who they are, live their best life, and discover and pursue their passions. Stephanie’s interests include working out, holistic and natural living, buying more houseplants, and spending time with her husband and cat.