I used to have this old car. It was a 2001 Chrysler LHS. It was my great-grandpa’s car, and I bought it off of my uncle when I graduated from college. It was an old car, but a good car!
I drove that car home after my husband and I got married. I brought home both of my children from the hospital in that car. I drove that car for years. I cried the day we sold it.
Here is the thing about me and cars: I know absolutely nothing about cars. The only thing I know is what the speedometer and the gas gage mean. The only light I can recognize is the gas light when I am low.
I will never forget there was a couple of months where my car was making this weird screeching noise. I thought it was because the car was 15 years old.
I was very wrong.
When I took it to a mechanic, I found out that the oil in the car had been burned to the point there wasn’t any oil left.
Yes, there had been a light on the dashboard, but I didn’t know what it meant, so I just kept driving.
If you know anything about cars, you know how dangerous that was. If you are like me and don’t know anything about cars, just know we were lucky my car didn’t explode!
How does this story relate to counseling?
Ah! Great question!
You see, the check engine light on a car turns on BEFORE a crisis occurs.
Our human selves are not so different.
We can see the check engine light on, so to speak, and know that we are needing to get some help before a crisis occurs.
Here are 6 signs that it is time to seek counseling:
- Not feeling like yourself.
- Social withdrawal.
- Physical tension and/or headaches.
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep.
- Using "escapist" coping skills.
- Relationship issues.
1. Not feeling like yourself.
Maybe you are feeling more sad than you have in the past, or maybe your anger is boiling over and you struggle to control it. Maybe you have always been an anxious person, but not you are feeling overwhelmed and can’t stop worrying about things. When we’re not feeling like ourselves, our brains are saying, “Hey, I am not okay and I need some help.”
2. Social withdrawal.
Now, I am not always a social person. Some people laugh when I say this. But I am a major introvert. I need my quiet and alone time to recharge, and then I can have fun and enjoy time with people. That is not social withdrawal. Social withdrawal is when you usually hang out with friends on the weekends, and now you don’t because you don’t feel like it, or you are too tired. And this happens for several weeks or even months at a time. Your brain is saying, “I don’t have the energy to engage with people, and I don’t want them asking what is wrong.”
3. Physical tension and/or headaches.
The connection between the mind and the body is incredible. When your brain is on overload, your muscles will become tense. You may have heard the term “we carry our stress in our (blank)”. This is actually true, our bodies hold our emotions and experiences, whether we like it or not.
4. Difficulty falling or staying asleep.
Maybe your mind is spinning and you can’t get it to shut off. Maybe your dreams are hitting you harder than before. Or maybe you can’t understand why, you just aren’t sleeping like you used to. This is definitely one of those dashboard lights coming on to tell you something is off. See a doctor, but also see a counselor because it can all be connected.
5. Using "escapist" coping skills.
Escapist Coping Skills are when you use something (healthy or unhealthy) to try to escape your emotions or experience. If you find yourself drinking to excess, or using recreational drugs, it’s time to talk to a counselor. Escapist coping skills can also be excessive working out, or adrenaline seeking behaviors (ie riding fast on a motorcycle down windy roads). If you find yourself craving these things, counseling can help.
6. Relationship issues.
Do you find yourself fighting with your spouse more often? Or getting angry with your kids every day? Or maybe your friends have commented on your attitude needing an adjustment? These are often signs of something going on beneath the surface.
Don’t wait until a crisis hits and your engine breaks down! When the light comes on, reach out for help from a counselor who understands first responder life to make sure you get the help you need.
If you are ready to find a counselor, you can get your free download How to Find the Right Counselor as a First Responder when you sign up for our newsletter here!
Take care, friends!
Alisha is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in California. She is also the Director and Co-Founder of Code 3 Counseling. Alisha specializes in working with first responder couples. You can contact her through our website.
*This does NOT apply to people in domestic violence relationships. If you or your spouse are being put in physical/emotional danger, you need to seek crisis support services, such as the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
If you find that this exercise or these conversations brought up some stuff you are struggling with, either individually or in your relationship, please do not hesitate to reach out to us for help. We are here to support you, and we understand that this can be a challenging issue to face.
Remember, it may be your battle, but you don’t have to fight it alone.