Are you an altruistic perfectionist?

Reflections

“As a teenager, I didn’t tell anyone I was seeing a psychiatrist – I was far too embarrassed. Now, of course, I know just how healthy and normal it is to seek help and I would encourage anyone who is struggling to search out someone with professional expertise to give you the assistance you need,” says Bishop Jeremy Greaves

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Clergy mental health

Tidying the bookshelves in my home study recently, I came across some of the journals I kept as a teenager. Amongst the typically adolescent angst-ridden pages about girlfriends and torturous poetry about relationships and school and family, there are pages exploring some much darker themes as I wrestled with all sorts of things that brought me to a point where I wondered about how I could make it all stop.

I was an “altruistic perfectionist” according to the psychiatrist I saw as a 15 and 16 year old – I wanted desperately to make a difference in the world, but was overwhelmed by the enormity of the task and almost broken by a world that would never measure up to how I thought it should be.

As a teenager, it was loving parents and concerned teachers who found me the help I needed and it was a psychiatrist who gave me some tools to get through that time and bring me back from the edge.

In the years since, there are have been all sorts of things that have kept me awake at night, but the valuable lessons I learned as a teenager have stayed with me. I have become adept over the years of knowing the signs of when I’m not travelling well and have become accustomed to seeking out some help when I need it.

I have a good spiritual director, and a terrific person I see for professional supervision, but there have been a number of times in the past 35 years when I’ve realised that I needed some different expertise to help me through a hard patch. At different times I have seen a psychologist, a psychiatrist and a counsellor and all of these practitioners have been helpful in different ways in bringing perspective, wisdom, advice, and a renewed mental health.

Having been in a particularly dark place as a teenager, where I seriously wondered at times if taking my life might be the only way out, I know that I do not wish to find myself in that place again and I also know that there is plenty of help available for those who seek it out.

As a teenager, I didn’t tell anyone I was seeing a psychiatrist – I was far too embarrassed. Now, of course, I know just how healthy and normal it is to seek help and I would encourage anyone who is struggling to search out someone with professional expertise to give you the assistance you need. If you have previously sought help, but the person wasn’t the right fit for you, then I encourage you to see your GP for a referral or speak to another trusted person who may be able to recommend someone to you.

Editor’s note: Immediate support is available for those who may be distressed by phoning Lifeline 13 11 14; Mensline 1300 789 978; Kids Helpline 1800 551 800; and, beyondblue 1300 224 636.

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