Guess who finalized her divorce today? The truth is it took longer than I expected. The truth is I never thought I would be in love, much less marry again. The truth is life is full of blunders and mistakes so you can appreciate the right choice more when it comes along. The truth is I am both freer and more taken than ever before, and I couldn’t be more grateful for this dichotomy.
A heartfelt thank you to all of you who stuck beside me without judgment, cried with me through my tumultuous coming out story, and encouraged me to be true to myself despite the consequences. A heartfelt apology to those I hurt along the way. The truth is I can’t wait to exercise my right to marry the woman of my dreams, and for that, I will never be sorry.
**If you’re a mental health survivor or mental health provider and want to tell your story – please email me at email@example.com!**
It is no secret we are living in unprecedented times.
Our nation’s capital would rather use their election platform to throw temper tantrums and popularity contests than serve those in need. A gruesome pandemic has swept across the globe, robbing us of our wellness, and leaving lasting dents in our populations. Our health care system (which was already atrocious) is now inundated as a result. Unemployment rates sky rocketed while our economy plummeted. Travel industries and non-essential workers were suddenly faced with unique challenges. Schools closed early – if not completely. Grocery stores struggled to supply our panicked demands, and it wasn’t long before meaningful assets were lost and family owned businesses were forced to shut down for good.
Furthermore, consider the cultural crisis of the Blake Lives Matter Movement, the ever pressing women’s rights and LGBTQ+ issues, a lack of access to spiritual services, and the civil war that seeks to divide us all within our already government issued isolation – and it begs the question: What will our mental health response consist of when faced with what it means to be alive in this specific time and place in history? Drawn in this light, we can easily see how dynamic our challenges are from a socio-economic psycho-social perspective.
In some weird way it is no longer special interest groups being targeted, but humanity as a whole. Indeed, it has become frighteningly easy to lose our bearings given the state of things. I do not envy our city leaders who are now tasked with equipping their populations to adapt or die. Is it any wonder why so few of us are sleeping at night? Perhaps the year of 2020 has the potential to be our great equalizer. Perhaps we can choose to come together to find solutions, or be driven further apart by the media and those in positions of power.
The truth is it’s too early to tell. Numbers for suicide rates typically run two years behind, but many clinicians suspect an increase as a direct result of the generational opposition we are currently facing. Interestingly enough, I haven’t done suicide prevention advocacy field work myself since 2018. As both a suicide attempt and suicide loss survivor, this work seems more important than ever. In an interesting article by Townhall, the CDC Control Director, Robert Redfield, attempts to compare the rate of suicide to Covid-19 deaths. In short, he suspects a rise in suicide rates, as well as deaths resulting from substance abuse in the coming reports. Likewise, he cites a disproportionate decline in the mental health of our youth specifically.
Even though things are very loud right now, we must not let the silent epidemic slip under our radar. The truth is our children are in trouble having made more attempts on their life than in years prior. Even more scary, we are seeing more successful completions of suicide by young people than ever before. At first it seems incomprehensible, but then we remember we’re living in an age of information with more platforms than ever before. While many count these as valuable resources to be utilized for good, they also make us more vulnerable to invasion. Let this be a gentle reminder to check in with your kids, especially if they appear to be unaffected.
Welcome back to the Deskraven Blog where I tackle the ugly truths of mental health as it relates to parenting and relationships – and what you can do about them. If you’ve been a reader for some time, then you know my writing style consists of pairing comprehensive mental health articles with personal insight and resources. Having held the spotlight for two years to find my own healing, I am now more eager then ever to offer up the Deskraven platform to hear your stories, as well as those of mental health providers. My hope is that we can continue to serve each other and our mental health community by sharing our stories and normalizing mental health language.
In this new series I will be sharing Reader Tales and Provider Tales on behalf of anyone who wants to participate. If you’re interested in sharing your mental health story in confidence, or know someone who is, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how it works! As we move forward together, you will notice an interview template with the intention of readability. These questions may change or evolve over time.
Without further adieu, I give you Randy Withers, LCMHC! Earlier this year my good friend and colleague reached out to tell me the Deskraven Blog wasn’t getting the attention it deserved. He gave me the opportunity to write for his project, Blunt-Therapy, a blog about mental health, addiction, counseling, and relationships – edited by a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor. I could think of no greater advisor in the same vein of mental health writing so I jumped at the offer. You can check out our first collaboration, “5 Ways You Can Help the LGBTQ+ Community Fight Stigma”, available on Blunt-Therapy.com.
This time, the tables have turned and Mr. Withers has graced the Deskraven audience with his invaluable wisdom! In addition to being the Managing Editor for Blunt-Therapy.com, Randy boasts a Masters degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and Education. He is recognized as a National Certified Counselor (NCC) and Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LCMHC). Furthermore, he is a Licensed Clinical Addictions Specialist (LCAS) who has done extensive work with LGBTQ+ clients and survivors of various types of abuse.
Provide a little backstory. Who are you? Where are you from? What inspired you to enter the mental health profession?
My name is Randy Withers, LCMHC. I’m a licensed therapist in North Carolina, where I work at a state psychiatric facility and see clients in private practice. I am also the managing editor of Blunt Therapy, a blog about mental health. I am originally from Florida, where I worked as an educator for over a decade. For most of that career, I was an academic advisor and counselor, which is where I learned that mental health counseling was my true passion. I went back to school in 2011 and have been in the field ever since. I went to Florida State and I have a dog named Daisy, who is smarter than I am.
Have you ever experienced mental health struggles in your personal life?
I have battled depression and anxiety for more than 25 years. If I’m honest, probably since I was a small child. I’ve never felt comfortable around other people. I’ve always felt different. The problem grew worse as I got older. It led to a severe case of depression about 12 years ago, which almost killed me. So yes, you could say that I have experienced mental health struggles.
As a provider, what do you consider to be the most important aspect of mental health treatment?
I’m a big advocate of a holistic approach to mental health. I don’t really believe that any one thing is most important. Having said that, for obvious reasons I’m a huge proponent of good therapy. Often, people have no idea where to start the process of managing their mental illness. A good therapist provides direction, accountability, and most importantly – hope.
Mental health treatment usually requires a combination of therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes. Most importantly, it requires that the client accept responsibility for their situation and for them to be willing to do whatever it takes to tackle it.
As a provider, what challenges have you faced?
Graduate school was intense. It was a three-year program and quite demanding. But I was well-trained, so it was worth it. My biggest challenge personally has been working at various agencies with people in charge who have no business making clinical decisions. In North Carolina, you don’t have to be a doctor or a therapist to own a mental health agency. Most of these places are profit-driven and run by incompetent fools. Thankfully, I work at a hospital now that is well-run and well-managed by talented clinicians. And so is my private practice. It is, quite simply, the difference between night and day.
Many therapists struggle with issues related to boundaries. They get too emotionally invested in their clients, or they work too much, or they get burnt out. Thankfully, I’ve never really struggled with that. At least, not for a while. Good boundaries are essential for mental health.
As a provider, what would you consider your greatest accomplishment?
This is a hard question. Often, you don’t really know how effective you are. Therapy is like pouring wet concrete. It takes a long time to dry, and often you’re not there to see the finished product. I suppose if I had to focus on specific accomplishments – I have prevented a handful of suicides and even homicides by talking some clients off the proverbial ledge. One time I even took a handgun from someone. I used to work at agencies that liaised with Child Protective Services, so I can also say that I was able to protect a number of children from abuse and neglect.
Have you ever experienced stigma as a direct result of being a mental health provider? How did you react?
I wouldn’t say stigma. It’s not exactly that. But being a therapist is an inherently isolating field. You are a keeper of secrets and a witness to extreme trauma. It’s hard to shut that off sometimes. Truthfully, the biggest problem I’ve faced is in the dating world. I’d say about half of the women I’ve dated simply could not separate my career from me as a person. In fact, several months ago while on a first date, my date spent the better part of 90 minutes telling me all about her childhood trauma and her awful mother. Not exactly first date material. I have a policy of politeness and compliance, so I listened and tried to be helpful. But you can’t really move forward after something like that.
Fortunately, my current girlfriend is a psychiatric nurse and couldn’t care less about what I do for a living. It’s really nice.
What piece of advice would give to those suffering from a dual diagnosis?
That you can’t treat one without the other. Does an alcoholic drink because they are depressed or are they depressed because they drink? Doesn’t matter. You’ve got to stop drinking and treat the depression. You have to conceptualize the problem as an actual medical illness, because it is. It is chronic, unforgiving, and requires a lifetime of support and management. But I’d also say that you can have hope. I’m dually diagnosed and my quality of life is pretty high.
What piece of advice would you give to friends and family who want to support someone with a mental health condition?
The problem with friends and family is that they want to fix things that they don’t understand. I remember, for example, my mom telling me to look on the bright side of things when I was clinically depressed. That’s just not helpful. My advice? If you want to be helpful, start by learning all you can about whatever disorder it is that your loved one struggles with.
What are your favorite mental health resources?
I’m a huge proponent of two seemingly different things. The first is CBT. The second is 12-Step programs. Both of which share the same goal, which is to help people change the way they think about things. So, for me, the recovery community is a huge resource. For the CBT, I really like worksheets. You can get these on sites like TherapistAid.com or you can order workbooks off Amazon. However, these really should be done under the supervision of a mental health professional.
I also believe in online counseling, but it depends on the issue. Severe mental illness? No. Relationships, self-esteem, goal setting, etc. Absolutely, yes.
I would encourage you all to visit Blunt Therapy, which is my blog. I and about two dozen other writers focus on topics related to mental health, therapy, addictions, and parenting. We’ve got some good stuff.
Please forgive my absence. The truth is, I haven’t had the energy or the wherewithal to write, but I am here now. During these unprecedented times most of us are no doubt exhausted. The BLM Movement, the election year, the Corona Virus, the rioting from coast to coast, the police brutality, the racism, and the ghastly death toll of 2020 has been weighing heavily on my introverted empathetic nature. Add to that an unexpected hospitalization, a few big life changes, the demands of obtaining a college education, and my own mental health and I find myself more misanthropic by the second. This calls to mind a quote I enjoy about how if children knew the truth about life, they wouldn’t have the heart to begin at all. Perhaps this not knowing where to begin has rooted itself in my writer’s block. But then I see her and once more I overflow.
Through it all Alice has never left my side. She stays through my dark of night and the way I think too much. She stays when I’m tearful and uncertain. She laughs with me about ridiculous hypotheticals when I can’t sleep. She tells me she wishes she could carry my pain for a day so I wouldn’t have to. She shares with me her inner most secrets trusting that I’ll guard them. She carves into my bias and shifts my perspective constantly. She is a phenomenal listener, skilled communicator, purposeful teacher, and talented conversationalist. She challenges me to be better because she knows I am capable. She inspires me to be more open hearted because she knows I am deserving. She understands the difference between intimacy and sex, and has the biggest heart of any human I have ever met. She beats herself up because she always wants to give me more than she has, but the truth is, she is more than enough – above and beyond, infinitely so.
With our one year anniversary fast approaching, I find myself more and more grateful for the way Alice quiets my chaos – and I am not the only one. She is a loving daughter, attentive mother, true friend, and exceptional employee. She remains grounded in the work that has to be done to balance her career goals with parenting life and interpersonal relationships. She dreams up ways to do better for herself and our family. She remains ever romantic, kind, and generous. When I am galivanting through my many moods and doubting my self worth, she sees the good in me. She gently plucks me from my own head and reminds me how to be happy in the present moment. Alice is so strong and selfless that you would never guess something was hurting her unless she told you. She restores in me things that I thought I had lost forever. She deserves all of my honor and respect, and I can’t wait to marry her.
Relationships thrive when couples can express themselves freely and honestly. That means no topic is off-limits, and you both feel heard. Consistent communication is vital to building a lasting life together.
2. You Have Your Own Space
Just because you’re in love doesn’t mean you have to spend every moment together. Taking time to pursue your own interests and friendships keeps your relationship fresh and gives you both the opportunity to grow as individuals—even while you’re growing as a couple.
3. You Fight
Disagreements are normal, so if you aren’t fighting, chances are you’re holding back. But when people in healthy relationships fight, they fight productively and fairly. That means avoiding name-calling or put-downs. It also means striving to understand your partner instead of trying to score points. And when you’re wrong? You apologize.
4. You Like Yourself and Your Partner as You Are Now
Healthy relationships should be based in reality. Chances are your relationship won’t suddenly get better if you win the lottery, have a baby, or move into your dream house. So don’t base your partnership on the hope that it will change. You recognize that neither of you is perfect, and you accept and value each other for who you are right now—not who you might become.
5. You Make Decisions Jointly
You don’t call all the shots—neither does your partner. From what movie to see to how many children to have, you make decisions together and listen to each other’s concerns and desires. Sure, this may mean you watch Transformers again on Saturday night—but on Sunday night, it’s your turn.
Healthy relationships are full of laughter and fun. This doesn’t mean you’re giddy every hour of the day—or that your partner doesn’t drive you up the wall sometimes—but it does mean that your life together is mostly happy in sometimes simple ways. (Making dinner, laughing at the same things, finishing each others’ sentences…)
7. You Find Balance
Sometimes your partner needs to work longer hours while you play chauffeur and head chef. Or you must devote time to an elderly parent while your spouse tackles the chores. That’s life. What matters is that, in the long run, your trade-offs seem fair.
8. You Treat Each Other With Kindness
Nothing is a stronger sign of a healthy relationship than treating the person you love with care, consideration, empathy, and appreciation. If you find yourself showing more respect to people you hardly know than you show your partner, take a step back and revisit your priorities.
9. You Trust Each Other
Healthy relationships are built on trust and a commitment to communication without reservations or secrets. Want to know how much you trust each other now? Take this quiz from the University of California, Berkeley.
10. You Let Things Go
Your partner will annoy you. You will annoy him or her, too. You will say things you don’t mean. You will behave inconsiderately. The important thing is how you deal with all this. So they forgot to pick up milk for the second time? Tell them you’re disappointed, of course—then let it go.
11. You Are Intimate
Sex is an important part of healthy relationships, but it’s only one part, and it’s different than intimacy, which is less about physical satisfaction than about bonding, friendship, and familiarity. If you’re in a healthy relationship, you’ll feel connected—in and out of bed.
12. Your Relationship Is Your Safe Place
Your relationship should be a safety net—a stable place to come home to at the end of the day. That doesn’t mean you don’t fight—it just means that when things are hard, you’d always rather see your partner than anyone else.
13. You Talk to Your Partner, Not to Other People
When you have issues and concerns, you share them with your partner, not your coworkers at Happy Hour. You’ll always have your friends as a sounding board, of course, but not as a crutch to avoid hard conversations with your significant other.
14. You Say the Magic Words
“I love you,” “Thank you,” and “I’m sorry.”
Discuss: Have you found your person? Tell me about them in the comments below!
**If you’re a mental health survivor or mental health provider and want to tell your story – please email me at email@example.com!**