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Kaya Williams: You can paddle your own canoe and accept help, too

It’s OK — and sometimes necessary — to ask for a hand

Kaya Williams, reporter for the Aspen Times and Snowmass Sun

A month ago, when I wrote about my tendency to escape my woes with outdoor recreation, there was a third component to the Roaring Fork Valley’s mental health messaging that I neglected to mention.

One: nature is a resource. Two: you can still have bad days in beautiful places. But when part one stops working due to part two, it’s time for part three: It’s OK — and sometimes necessary — to ask for help.

I hate that last part, even the act of admitting it. It’s probably why I forgot to mention it a month ago, when I was willfully blocking it from my memory just as I have every other time someone’s told me as much before.



See, I prefer to paddle my own canoe, sometimes to the brink of stubborn idiocy. If I dropped both paddles into a river at peak runoff while I was careening toward a section of whitewater, I’d just as soon stick my hands in the water and try to grab a rock as holler for someone to chuck me a rope from shore.

It’s a good thing, then, that sometimes someone will throw the rope without waiting for the request.




The morning my October column ran, I got an email from a local therapist with an offer to try a session, if not for me then at least for the sake of my readers.

The first time I read it, I wasn’t sure whether I would say yes. I was still on the fence the second time I read it, and the third time, too.

I’ve listened to some of my closest friends tell me how therapy has helped them, and I’ve quoted plenty of mental health advocates who extol the virtues of therapy in stories about resources and support systems, but it didn’t seem like something I myself needed. I could usually figure things out just fine without it, and I was already on the up and up by the time the column went to press anyway.

Then again, there are a lot of things I’ll try “for a story.” I’m mostly a vegetarian, but I make exceptions for special occasions and if I had to write about a hamburger, generally, I’d take a bite. And though the strongest substance I’ve ever consumed was a shot of pepper-infused tequila, I’m only sort of teasing when I joke that I’d try ayahuasca if it was the right time at the right place on the right assignment.

So why not change and try therapy for a column?

Besides, if I’m going to keep covering about mental health — and quoting folks who say it’s OK to seek help — I might as well see what it’s like to actually do it.

Three-and-a-half business days later, I accepted.

I don’t know what I was expecting, mostly because I didn’t know what to expect. For all the times I’ve listened to friends talk about their experiences with therapy, those conversations usually focus on big-picture realizations or interesting tidbits, not exactly what they talk about for 60 minutes every couple of weeks.

For me, it was mostly a conversation, a chance to learn about the experience as much as the chance to experience it myself.

We talked about my childhood and my family (not in a deep Freudian psychoanalysis way, more of a getting-to-know-you way) and vulnerability (I find it easier in writing than in talking, which checks out based on what I’m doing right this very minute) and what was vexing me (my relatively recent discovery that I can’t always reason or work or long-run my way out of deciding how I’m feeling). Not once was I required to lie horizontally on the couch and stare at the ceiling as I talked, though I’m sure it would have been fine if I wanted to.

Breakthroughs? Not in an hourlong introductory session.

But I did learn some new language to describe the boat (canoe, if you will) I’m currently in: I’ve spent most of my life in a state of emotional rigidity, clinging to an obstinate optimism that made me exceedingly chipper but ill-equipped to handle turbulence in my own life or listen to friends who might have been struggling themselves.

Now I’m figuring out, somewhat reluctantly, how to develop the emotional agility to ride the rough waters without capsizing.

Sometimes I’ll be able to paddle my own way through; sometimes, it just might mean shouting for a rope in the rapids.

Kaya Williams still has plenty of emotional rigidity left in her, but these days, she’s learning to stretch a bit more often. She covers education, mental health and the town of Snowmass Village for the Aspen Times and the Snowmass Sun; email her at kwilliams@aspentimes.com.


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