The Power of Reaching Out

Leeana Tankersley

By Leeana Tankersley

I don’t always choose a word for the year, but last year I chose “congruent” as my word. I was coming through a deep personal loss, and because of that loss, there was some newfound space in my life. Has that ever happened to you? The space that someone or something was filling in your life is suddenly gone, and you have to decide what to do with that void? At first, it’s disorienting, but through time and grief you begin to feel an invitation, an opportunity, a possibility.

I felt this space opening up, and what I wanted more than anything was to be true to myself as I began to fill it again. In other words, I wanted to be congruent. I wanted my choices, my life, my routines, my relationships, all of it, to be consistent with, and in agreement with, who I am. Who I really am.

Congruence means we don’t abandon ourselves to please others, we don’t protect toxic people, we don’t override our own instincts, we get help when we need it.

That last one is especially important, and perhaps the foundation of being able to do anything else. 

When my twins were 5 and my baby was 2, I started having trouble catching my breath. My heart would pound, my pulse would race, my throat would ache, and I couldn’t focus. This became debilitating. But I’m strong, like you. And I have a lot of responsibilities, like you. And I could almost-manage, like you.

Finally, a dear friend (who also happens to be a mental health professional) said to me, “What if it didn’t have to be so hard?”

I looked at her like she just slapped me.

“Um, of course it has to be this hard. It’s life. Duh.”

But I knew she was right. I knew I was having to work pretty freaking hard to even just breathe. I asked her what I should do. She gave me the name of a psychiatrist.

Let’s stop for one second. That word—psychiatrist—is a little bit scary. I did not want to need a psychiatrist. Needing that kind of doctor indicated some real issues. But I had a choice: I could get hung up or I get help.

I decided to get help, which is usually our greatest act of strength, though we tend to assume the opposite.

I decided to get help, which is usually our greatest act of strength, though we tend to assume the opposite.

I met with the doctor, who was so incredibly kind and empathetic that I felt like I was going to melt entirely right there in his office. He listened with quiet understanding and patience. When I was done telling him why I was there, he looked at me and said in a very quiet voice: “Why did you wait so long to come in?”

That question posed to me with the utmost tenderness has haunted me since. Why did I wait so long? Why did I force myself to suffer through physiological and emotional symptoms? Why did I endure looping, looping, looping cycles of disequilibrium? Why did I believe I had to just muster?

He gave me a prescription for meds that I still take every day, almost seven years later. My mental health is not perfect; it will never be. But it is stable and it is no longer undermining my deepest values: to be present with the people I love and to create generously. Some days are distinguishably harder than others, but my baseline is in a totally different place than it was the day I walked into the doctor’s office.

This help-seeking, help-accepting is what it looks like to have a strong relationship with ourselves. We get our precious babies to the doctor if they need help. We can be the strong mothers who get our limping, breathless, precious self the help we need, too. This is courage, not cowardice.

Scoop yourself up, and get yourself in to see someone who can help you live a vibrant, congruent life. Do whatever it takes. “Joy is not made to be a crumb,” the poet Mary Oliver tells us. Do whatever you have to do to let real, undiluted joy into your being.

If you haven’t chosen a word yet for 2021, maybe now is the time to do it. And maybe, just maybe, it could speak to the congruence you want in your own life. I believe in you.

Leeana Tankersley is a writer, mom of three, and hope warrior. She is the author of six books, including Always We Begin Again and her forthcoming, Hope Anyway, and she is a regular contributor to MOPS. Learn more at or follow her on IG @leeanatankersley.

Check out our podcast, Moms Unscripted, for #nofilter parenting talk and more conversations about mental health and relationships.