As a Texas girl, I know all about bootstraps.

Not only do they provide a subtle fashion accent on some of my favorite pairs of footwear, but they make the sometimes-impossible task of tugging my feet into the leathery pinch much easier.

Yes! Tangible bootstraps are great, especially when you’re puffy and pregnant! But the proverbial ones? Not nearly as much.

You know the ones – you loop your weary fingers through, yank until it hurts, dry away whatever tears you had, and turn your frown upside down.

Those types of bootstraps often do more harm than good. They just won’t cut it. You pull and pull and pull, but the frown remains.

What do you do when the bootstrap-method leaves you with exposed heels and hurts?

Admitting you can’t Pollyanna-sunshine your way out of a sad place takes courage. Teaching our kids that it’s okay to feel their feelings is tough, painstaking work. Extending grace to others who are falling apart, that’s miraculous.

But each of those tasks is made more difficult when it seems we’re presented with all the reasons everything is great. Smiling TV evangelists waging toxic positivity, social media influencers hawking wares that will slim and tan us, and every friend around winning each day with seemingly flawless lives.

“I must be really missing the mark to feel this miserable,” we think. We’ve all felt it. There’s a sinking deep in our chest that grows ever deeper.

The tried-and-true methods that always calmed our nerves aren’t helping anymore. The blue hues around everything that should be sunny yellow loom closer to a full eclipse.

Fear grips all options; no one and no thing is safe. The universe around is spiky, searing hot, dripping with poison, and most certainly thinks I look awful in this skirt.

How do we calm the storm? Sometimes we can’t. So, unhook your fingers from the bootstrap loops and call a therapist.

Prayer is amazing. Griping for one solid hour to any friend or cashier who will listen until they holler, “Next in line” at TJ Maxx is helpful for a while. But when it’s overtaking your life, you need to loop in a professional.

I understand therapy is expensive, exhausting and not available to all. If you are someone who can connect with a therapist, you absolutely should. Someone who is 100% on your team and has a background in mental health can make a significant, positive impact.

A therapist will work with you to find the true warm sunshine you’ve been missing or will pass you along to someone who will. It can take a round or two, but finding the right mental health professional is worth it.

Six humans live in my house. They are aged 39, 39, 15, 9, 6 and 4. Of those, five-sixths are, or have recently been, in therapy.

We let our bootstraps fall by the wayside long ago. And we’re working to break the stigma. We talk loudly and proudly to anyone who will listen about the power of counseling.

From navigating tricky relationships, talking through scary pandemic years as a kindergartner, and just being listened to for an hour each week, therapy changes our family for the better.

The therapy journey began for our family when we walked into the office of an angelic licensed professional counselor.

Her sage advice about a behavior potentially being neurological was the catalyst for our son’s epilepsy diagnosis. That’s right, an LPC literally saved our son’s life. And they save lives every single day.

Modeling for and guiding our children to seek help in times of mental struggles, just as they would for physical ones, is imperative to raising a generation who can live free.

And, as my own therapist often reminds me, mental health is strongly tied to physical health. Retraining our brains can heal us from within.

Attention to mental health is as necessary to teach as sanitary handwashing and the proper way to brown butter — both methods being slowly. And it is true of therapy as well. It takes time. But it is so worth it.

Finally, extending the space for others working through mental health issues is tough. We have collectively been through two very traumatic years, and we’ve emerged broken, sad, overwhelmed, angry, lonely, scared and distracted.

We are the post-apocalyptic “emo version” of Disney’s seven dwarves. Pretending we aren’t is silly.  And we still look awful in that skirt!

Recognizing this pivotal moment of worldwide shared grief is key. We must spend the time and grant patience to see the folks who simply cannot through the lens of a fellow sibling in the struggle.

Email response times lag, kids cling to their pacifiers for too long, plans are delayed and then canceled because we are all working very hard just to survive.

We are feeling pain from wounds still healing, terrified of the burning mess of a planet we’re leaving our babies, grieving one million of our citizens killed by a pandemic, wondering why we’re slogging through the same Groundhog Day just to wake to another Groundhog Day.

Color slides to grayscale. The one you love sneezes in a way that makes your belly seize with rage. You can’t remember if you looked into your kids’ eyes at all yesterday. You wonder why you are wearing a clown costume ruining a black-tie affair, a nod to the bootstraps there.

These feelings aren’t unusual. They also aren’t forever.

During labor, my favorite friend-turned-doula rubbed my forehead and reminded me the pain wouldn’t last. The pain would be worth it.

The pain will be worth it for you too. The pain will not last forever. Find a healer, pray to your Healer, and know I am here for you in Good Faith.

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series this week calling attention to May as Mental Health Awareness Month. The previous articles in the series are:

Jumping Through ‘Hoops’ for Mental Health Services Must End | Monty Self

Boundaries and Balance | Kyndra Frazier

Navigating the Dark Side of Your Thoughts and Emotions | Barry Howard

Reports Show Mental Health Struggles Increased During Pandemic | Zach Dawes Jr.

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