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Don’t ignore the extra burden

No time like a crisis to check your mental health
Troy Ward of Ward Counseling Services, in Solon, has been offering free telehealth counseling to the uninsured and economically challenged during the COVID-19 pandemic. (photo by Doug Lindner)

SOLON– It’s a strain.
“Trauma is a big scary word but that’s kind of what we’re living through right now,” noted Troy Ward of Ward Counseling Services. “I can’t do the things that I used to be able to do, I don’t know when I’m going to be able to do them again.”
That’s hard to deal with, Ward said, and if you are an individual already struggling in some way, you just had a lot more piled on your plate in the last two months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ward has been offering free telehealth services for the uninsured and underinsured during the outbreak.
Dealing with mental health isn’t always the first thing in a crisis, and this is a crisis, Ward explained.
Everyone’s mental health has been impacted from the lack of control imposed by COVID-19 on their lives, he noted.
Ward encourages residents to focus instead on something they can control.
He mows an acre and a half at his home, and while he doesn’t know when he can go back to his office, he knows he can mow the straightest, prettiest lines on his lawn.
“Finding that something that you can be in control of, there’s relief in that,” he said.
Ward, 35, opened his office on Main Street in Solon in October 2018 providing talk therapy to children, adults, individuals, couples and families.
He specializes in treating people with brain injuries and other neurological issues, such as Alzheimer’s, dementia, autism, stroke, seizures and borderline personality disorder.
A native of Cedar Rapids, he attended Kennedy High School before moving on to the University of Iowa and then the University of Northern Iowa, where he obtained his bachelor’s degree in religion and ethics and a master’s degree in mental health counseling.
He initially planned a career in ministry, but ended up in human services.
“Kind of different sides of the same coin, I think,” he observed.
Ward worked with child services provider Tanager Place and REM Iowa, a service provider for special needs individuals, before starting his own practice in Solon.
His wife Emily is originally from the Quad-Cities and works at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.
“So we kind of met in the middle,” he explained.
The couple lived in North Liberty, but became fond of nearby Solon after numerous visits, and ended up moving and starting a family. Son Cyrus is 18 months old.
Ward is happy he no longer has to deal with bureaucracy of a larger agency.
“In this setting, I get to focus on patient care,” he said. “I really enjoy doing this because it’s just focused on working with people and not all the other stuff, conference calls and meetings.”
It allows him freedom and flexibility to have his one-man office only five minutes from home.
If you call to cancel an appointment, it’s Ward who will answer the phone.
In the setting of a larger provider, that might include a late cancelation fee and a huge hassle.
But Ward can be flexible. He knows the individual, he knows his schedule, and sees having the buck stop at his desk as a good thing that enhances the relationship.
Ward Counseling Services receives referrals from brain injury rehabilitation and treatment centers, as well as area schools, but the practice has grown mostly through word of mouth, he said.
“Starting counseling can be intimidating,” he said. You may not know anything about the person you are dealing with. Being a sole provider allows Ward a deeper connection with the people who need his services.
His normal operating hours are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., but work has been done remotely since the outbreak of COVID-19 in March, he added.
Thankfully, he said, insurance companies were quick to act to eliminate the hoops to jump through for telehealth services and he’s hoping that continues in the coming months.
“There’s a lot of anxiety for folks about getting back into the community,” he reported.
“We’re all living through this shared experience right now that’s the cause for a lot of worry, a lot of anxiety because there’s so much uncertainty,” he explained. “I don’t know what’s going to happen next, I’m not in control of what’s going to happen next, so that’s difficult for the mental health of a lot of people.”
Many are also experiencing a sense of guilt and shame associated with not being affected personally by the disease, or from faring better than others, he added.
It’s understandable, he said. There are other people who are doing worse.
“But that doesn’t make the stuff that I’m living through any less valid,” he observed. “My journey is important because it’s mine.”

With many isolated in their homes, keeping contact with friends and family takes on added importance.
“There is a lack of connection right now,” Ward pointed out. “At best, connecting with others is difficult and it’s awkward.”
Most people adopted the same responses– limiting social gatherings and practicing social distancing or using technology to connect.
But relying too much on social media can feed into the national culture of comparison, another negative impact to mental health.
“(Theodore) Roosevelt said ‘Comparison is the thief of joy.’ And I think there’s so much truth in that, especially right now with all this comparison that we do with social media,” Ward noted.
People don’t post unflattering photos to Facebook, he said. “I’m putting my very best foot forward, and usually the person comparing themselves to that is comparing their worst day to my very best, most polished moment.”
It’s especially relevant now, he suggested.

People feel they need to be productive with every minute of the day without remembering they are also dealing with increased anxiety and a world turned upside down, he said.
Don’t ignore the extra burden, he urged.
“By being in the world right now, you’ve had a lot added to your plate, so it’s OK if you’re not being an overachiever like your neighbor on Facebook,” he said. “It’s OK to lower those expectations for yourself.”
And try to keep your perceptions realistic, Ward added. Make sure you are focusing on your world.
“If I go sit on my front porch, things are calm and fine there, and there’s no worries there,” he said. “But if I turn on the TV and look at what’s going on in the news, the world looks like a much scarier place.”
Equally important is to be cognizant of your self-care.
“We all tend to kind of fall into the helper role right now,” he explained. You want to care for those around you, but you can’t fill other people’s buckets when yours is empty, he said. You can’t take care of others if not you’re not taking care of yourself.

Solon’s overall mental health is in good shape because it’s a close-knit community with a lot of volunteer organizations helping out, he said.
“But anyone in any situation can benefit from talking to someone who is not going to judge them,” Ward said. In the therapy dynamic, he said, there’s an expectation you can bring whatever you want to the table and leave it there.

“In a counseling relationship, it’s a useful thing to just be able to have it all out and know that there’s not going to be any judgment, there’s not going to be any expectation.”

It’s useful at any time, but especially now, he added. “We’re living in an unprecedented time. There’s a lot of strangeness going on in the world. It’s a good thing to process that with somebody, to get that stuff out.”

Ward Counseling Services
102 E Main St, Solon, IA 52333