Every other Thursday, five o’clock, I have plans.
“I can’t hang out, my mom needs me to babysit tonight.”
“I already promised I’d help around the house.”
“Sorry, I’m grounded.”
“I can’t tonight, I’ve got loads of homework.”
Every other Thursday, I used to lie. It’s not that I was doing anything of concern, but lying to my friends felt like the only way I thought I could keep them from seeing me differently. But things have changed, and I have changed enough to realize that nobody can validate my mental illnesses other than myself. I’d like to keep it that way.
Therapy shouldn’t be a shameful thing, and I am not proud to admit how long it took me to understand that. In truth, I admired the kind of people who put in the work for their own well-being, and some of that was rooted in jealousy of their ability to face their mental illness. I felt as though I didn’t deserve the help, and comparing myself to others always caused me to think they deserved it more.
At first, I was never “sick enough.” I never wanted to self harm, but I would sit in my bed for days on end feeling numb and emotionless. I was never thin enough for people to worry, but there were countless times I put food back because of calories, and purged after dinner. I was told that at my age, everyone felt like this, and for a while I believed it.
I disregarded my emotions often to seem “strong” and independent. Everyone else made my feelings small, and I tried to do the same thing. But bottling them up made them less controllable and eventually I was drowning in my own head. It felt like there was no escape, and since it was so normalized, I felt destined to live this way forever.
My mental health never got to the point for me to be diagnosed with anything, and to me that made everything better. No doctors were telling me I had anxiety, so picking my cuticles and stomach aches before public interactions were nothing to worry about. Even still, I knew that if I was uncomfortable with the way I was living I should make a change. The thing with mental illness, though, is the competition. I wanted people to worry about me because sometimes I felt it was the only way to be seen and recognized.
That’s not the case anymore, and I know how to help myself out of darker times. It felt shameful and weak to cry in front of others or go to them for help, but after finding the right people to talk to, I know that it makes all the difference. Those that I value a lot helped me understand that a label does not decide your mental state. I often excused my mental health because there was no diagnosis on it. Obviously, having a diagnosis is helpful, but it is also a privilege. That is something that took me a long time to understand. Now that I’m in a better place, I would never go back, and I shouldn’t be ashamed because of the progress I made.
Going to therapy was a very large pill for me to swallow. After being convinced that I was “fine”, I was thrown for a curveball when my mom sent me to see someone because of how I had been feeling. If I was fine, why did I have to go? I could handle my own problems, right? Because I was too strong, too good, too smart for therapy. All of those claims are the reason I still attend weekly sessions. It is ok to ask for help, no matter how severe the problem, and being able to confront your mental illness is half the battle.
At first, I couldn’t fathom “needing” therapy. I would attend the sessions and sit in silence for the entirety of the meeting, protesting my need for help. Once I found the right therapist, I slowly began to open up. In that process, she helped me to learn how to validate my own feelings. Even in small situations, like friend drama or a bad grade, she helped me manage my stress and find little methods to deal with my anxiety. She never invalidates the way I feel, even if it seems unreasonable. I, like many others, had my fair share of “horror stories” with therapists who were definitely not the right fit for me. My current therapist is everything I could ask for in one and more, and because of her I am so glad I never stopped looking. Don’t get discouraged if the first session is not what you’re looking for! Over the course of a few years, I have seen seven therapists. It took a lot to continue searching for the right match, but I’m so glad I did. So, if your first therapy session isn’t what you expected it to be, push through. Your first therapist might not be the one for you, and that’s okay! The experience of therapy is meant to reach your needs, and finding someone that you connect with and are comfortable with will really benefit that.
I know what you’re thinking, because I was there. It could be so much worse, this is normal, I can handle it. I’ve said all the same things, but never once did I take the time to recognize that it was ok not to be ok. Feeling your emotions doesn’t make you weak, it makes you human, and nobody is allowed to tell you how much you “should” be able to handle. Masking our emotions doesn’t help the problem, it only buries it deeper until it engulfs us from the inside out.
Eventually, it all builds up and presents itself in ways we don’t see coming. For me, unexplainable anger, being really tired no matter how much sleep I got, and feeling emotionless were all ways my feelings presented themselves. I am still human, and I may not be the absolute best version of myself every single day, no matter how hard I try. Sometimes, I need to rest. However, if I rest and my mind is still at work stressing and thinking, it’s not exactly relaxing.
Finding a meditative state where my mind can be at ease will make a much bigger impact on your mood than sleeping the day away to escape life. Giving myself time to process my feelings helps contain them in more convenient ways, which then allows me to voice them and understand them much better instead of lashing out or shutting down.
You may think that these things are emotional outlets that work for you, but when coexisting with others, it is important to be able to voice and mediate opinions/feelings. I have found that my busy household has been much more stable since I have become more comfortable being open about my discrepancies, and I have even seen improvement in relationships. My friends and I are much more communicative, and there is less room for interpretation in terms of being mad at one another. We are a lot more willing to explain how and why we feel certain ways, which prevents unsettling energies between us.
In some cases, therapy can really help with this. Therapy has no requirements. You don’t have to have a diagnosis, a doctor’s note, or even feel sad at all. A therapist is there to help you navigate and sort through your feelings, no matter how big or small. I started therapy before my mental health really declined because I felt like I was losing my sense of self, and had I not gone when I personally felt it necessary, I wouldn’t be who I am today.
If you’re dealing with some difficult thoughts and need someone to talk to, you can always call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). And if you’re interested in finding a therapist, Psychology Today has a great locator tool that allows you to add filters to find the right therapist for you. No matter what, you matter. Help is available and you’re never alone.