I feel like I need to start by mentioning that this post has been lingering in my drafts for quite a while. I’m not sure “embarrassed” is exactly the right word to describe how I feel about sharing my struggle with mental illnesses, but it’s somewhere in that arena. Despite the recent spike in mental illness-related memes, which have opened up a more casual conversation about mental health, mental illnesses and their treatments still remain heavily stigmatised.
After a close friend disclosed to me recently that she’s been seeing a therapist, I decided that letting this post hang out in my drafts was only perpetuating the stigma surrounding mental illness. I think I can speak for everyone who’s ever struggled with their mental health when I say that this stigma is AWFUL. It not only makes you feel isolated and shameful and alone, but it also compromises many people’s ability to get the help they desperately need.
So before I get into the nitty gritty, let me just say this: this post is not easy to write. At all. And it’s going to be even harder to click “publish” once I’ve gotten all my words out. I’m not writing this because I owe anyone an explanation; I’m not writing it for pity or attention; I’m certainly not writing it because it’s a topic I enjoy discussing. I’m writing it because I hope that by doing so, I can chip away a little at the stigma. Maybe my words will touch someone and encourage them to seek help or speak out about their own struggle.
In high school, around year 10, I began feeling things I’d never felt before. I started feeling empty, directionless, sad, tired, ugly, self-conscious, and tons of other emotions that a 15-year-old shouldn’t have to feel. Basically, I thought of myself as a waste of space. No matter what my friends and family told me, and no matter how much love I was shown, nothing got through to me. I would’ve given anything to make those feelings go away. Eventually I began to feel like everyone would be better off without me, and I started having suicidal thoughts. Months passed and I felt like I was in total darkness all the time. One night found me in the emergency room, and as quickly as I’d been taken there I was taken back home with a hospital bracelet and a list of further options. That’s how I wound up in therapy.
Therapy was an easy choice for me because I knew I was no good at remembering to take daily pills and I’ve always liked to complain about my problems to anyone who’ll listen. But the first time—hell, the first 5 times—walking into my therapist’s office were HARD. It took me a few different therapists to finally find one whom I trusted and felt comfortable around, and when I finally did, it took a session or two before we were completely on the same page about everything. Every time I walked into the waiting room, I was consumed with the anxiety that I’d see someone I know.
But before I knew it, I was feeling better. Much better; better than I had thought was even possible. I finally started to step out of my darkness and see that life was worth living. I got to talk to someone for an hour a week with no interruptions, no judgement, and no outside biases. My therapist was always on my side in every situation, wanting to help me. She didn’t know me outside of her office, and she didn’t know anyone from other parts of my life. She existed in my life solely to bring me healing. She didn’t make me feel guilty or shameful for the things I’d felt in the past, and she put things into perspective for me in a way that no one else could have. Therapy not only changed my life, but saved it—week after week, session after session.
There is a massive stigma and lots of vast misconceptions surrounding therapy. Going to therapy doesn’t mean you’re crazy or messed up. You don’t need to be experiencing any type of mental illness or other struggle to benefit from therapy. There are tons of different reasons people seek out therapy, not least of them being the chance to simply vent and rant to a listening ear. There are no ink blots or leather couches you have to lie down on. Nobody is “reading your mind” or “shrinking your head”. Someone is there to listen to you and offer insight. They’re not going to judge you or share what you’ve told them; they know what they’re talking about and can offer you tips and advice that will actually help you.
While my mental health struggles have taken on different—fortunately, less severe—forms since high school, I can proudly say that I haven’t fallen back into that darkness. Knowing that therapy is an option I can lean on at any time is comforting beyond words. I wouldn’t be in the place I’m in now—mentally, physically, academically, emotionally—if it weren’t for me taking the scary steps that I took in high school toward the help that I needed. And, of course, I never would have taken those steps if it weren’t for the encouragement of my family.
If you’re in need of someone to talk to and don’t know where else to turn, consider therapy. If you’re struggling with your mental health, consider therapy. If you’re going through something tough at the moment, consider therapy. And if you’re considering therapy, try reaching out and letting people you love and trust know that you’re considering it; they may give you the extra push or support you need. Getting rid of the stigma and normalising these methods of self-help begins with understanding.
If you’re experiencing a mental health crisis, call this hotline.
If you’re worried about someone you know, here are some resources that will help you help them.
Never feel like you have to stay silent. There are so many people who love you and want you to feel whole.