The Winding Path

Counselling Services provided by Barb Zacharias

July 2023: Discomfort

Posted on Jul 21, 2023

July 2023: Discomfort

How much discomfort am I willing to endure to get what I want? This is the question that popped into my head while I was picking wild raspberries at the edge of the woods near where I live. I was surprised when my brain connected it to the blog idea that has been percolating this month.

I have been working as a counselling therapist for over a decade. In that time, I have seen little, if any, improvement in accessibility to mental health services. Whether that be subsidies, income tax benefits, insurance reimbursements, or attitudes and stigmas. We all know systematic change occurs at a glacial pace. Plenty of lip service has been given toward making mental health services a priority and/or accessible to all. It’s an empty political promise. But my frustration isn’t only directed at governing systems. I am also fascinated by society’s attitude that mental health services are only for the insured, wealthy, and/or desperate.

We treat our vehicles, houses, and pets with better care than our own psyches. Mechanics have been known to charge an hourly rate higher than my counselling fee (which is on the low end, to be fair). And while folks complain about vehicle and housing maintenance costs, they do follow through with takin action and paying the bill. People save up, go into debt, or splurge on houses, vehicles, motorized toys, clothes, beauty treatments, etc. We don’t bat an eye on spending money to look good; but many balk at the idea of investing similar amounts of money into their own Selves. I wish we could normalize the idea of seeking assistance for, splurging on, or investing into our mental and emotional well being as easily as fixing a car or getting our hair and nails done. I know for many there really isn’t any “extra” money for the “luxury” of counselling which is sad on so many levels. For the remainder, the funds are technically available, but spent on “normal” or “socially acceptable” expenses like clothes and cars.

So how does this relate to berry picking? Focusing on our mental and emotional well being makes people uncomfortable, and spending money on it, even more so. We don’t, as a society, value improving how we think and feel or relate to others. We take daily functioning for granted. I wish it were normal for folks to see a therapist on a monthly or even quarterly basis. Just to check in with ourselves and see how we’re really doing. I wish it wasn’t considered an odd or unusual thing to do. I wish people were comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable. Short term pain for long term gain.

As I picked berries, I thought of all the ways that berry picking resembled the counselling process. For starters, one must be prepared for discomfort by anticipating it. Insect repellent if there isn’t a breeze to keep the bugs away. Dressing appropriately, as I don’t recommend berry picking barefoot in a bathing suit. 😊 Picking in the bush, not a groomed orchard, means long pants, socks, and sturdy footwear (like hiking boots for the ankle support). Footwear is key given the terrain where I live in the Boreal Shield. Rock outcroppings. Hidden holes. Tangled underbrush. At one point, I slid onto my bottom down a rock embankment in order to reach the tantalizing red fruit. The biggest deterrent for most berry pickers is the prickly thorns.

So, to answer that initial question, I am willing to endure the discomfort of insects, awkward picking positions, and prickly thorns to acquire fresh, juicy raspberries! They are my favourite fruit, next to Saskatoon berries—which also require most of the above (minus the thorns).

Like berry picking, accessing the benefits of counselling requires anticipating discomfort and being prepared for it: be it financially, mentally, emotionally, relationally. The berry picking process is fairly straight forward once you are prepared with a bucket and appropriate attire. See ripe fruit. Pluck it into the bucket. Usually a gentle tug will do. If it doesn’t loosen readily, it is either unripe or dried out. In the case of unripe, move on to the next berry. If hardened from age or the elements, it can be picked and discarded. For the more a berry bush is picked, the more it will produce the following year (weather permitting) plus sweeter and juicier! I was taught at a young age to pick “everything” for this reason. It didn’t matter if the rejects fell into the bucket or onto the ground because the next step is “cleaning” the berries in cold water. Not individually with a tiny brush, mind you. 😊 But a sorting process. Scoop a few berries into your palm. Pick out the bugs, leaves, twigs, and “bad” berries (Bird taste tested or bug infested. Dried out or under ripe).

And to all my fellow OCDers and over thinkers out there: for goodness’ sake, don’t try to actually pick ALL the berries. And if some escape to the ground (it’s usually the perfect ones), let them be! Some ground dweller will be delighted with the unexpected treat at their feet. And the birds will find the remainder. Yes, these are notes to self. 😉

Also, be sure to practice gratitude. Thank the bush or tree and/or mother nature for providing this delicious and nutritious fruit for you. Treat its branches with respect. Pull weeds that may choke it out. Make its life easier in whatever way you can. I even apologize when branches get trampled or bent. I somehow think that if we treated nature with more respect, maybe that would translate into treating human beings better.

So, to summarize, in counselling as in berry picking, we need to keep adapting and tweaking to be our best Selves. We need to be mindful of our inner workings and outer surroundings as well as be open to new opportunities. Just as berries can be many things (jam, pie, eaten fresh with ice cream…), so can human beings if we attend to our well being. Discard that which isn’t working for us, allow time and space for what needs to mature or come to fruition, adapt to our surroundings (bend a little or stand our ground), and become comfortable with being uncomfortable. Growth isn’t easy or pain free; but it is worth every discomfort for what we can become.

What discomforts are you willing to endure to get what you want out of your one precious life?

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