06 Oct NONLINEAR PATH TO WELLNESS
Disclaimer: The author would like to acknowledge and publicize that these are her personal experiences. The author would like to emphasize that different treatments work for different people, and no two people are the same.
If you told me at the start of first year that I would be writing an article on mental health and therapy two years from now, I would have laughed in your face. Starting in high school, I was in implausible denial when it came to the status of my mental health. I felt as though I put an extreme amount of pressure on myself to be perfect, and I felt if I wasn’t ‘normal’ by society’s standards, I would be unable to be accepted. It wasn’t until I was told my actions didn’t line up with that of what society sees as a ‘normal person’ that I realized I could benefit from some professional help. After seeing a specialist, my family doctor and a therapist (psychologist) I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, severe phobias and depressive episodes (I’m not really sure what that means still, but I’ll get back to you when I do) – these are things I never thought I would say out loud or admit to people, but now I am proud to take charge of my life and recognize the barriers that I live with.
Throughout my time in high school, I was in and out of therapy for various reasons. For the most part, these therapy sessions focused on my severe phobias – particularly anything doctors-related, and my fear of affection and emotion. However, at the time, these seemed like mundane issues with no deeper root than what they were: phobias. I had convinced myself that everything was fine, I was fine, and I didn’t need help. I was so stuck in my head and had built up the stigma around mental health that I had almost convinced myself that it wasn’t a real thing. I was scared to admit that everyone has mental health, and working to keep yourself mentally healthy is quite the process.
It wasn’t until I couldn’t get out of bed, I couldn’t socialize with people, and I noticed a drop in my overall work ethic and drive that I recognized my need for help. I felt like I was being failed by my own brain. The more and more I thought about it, the more I realized that I wasn’t being failed by anyone, but myself, because I couldn’t acknowledge what I needed. This wasn’t a short battle, but one I had fought myself on back and forth for years.
When I finally came to terms with the fact that I couldn’t conquer my mental wellness alone, it was the middle of second year, and I was not doing well. I found a therapist in Kingston and started a psychiatric medication to assist with my various mental health issues. My first therapist and I did not connect, which was very similar to my experience with each of my previous therapists. I dreaded going to see her. I always wanted to miss it or find excuses to do so. Even when I went, I never felt a connection with her, and it was almost like I was her paycheque, and she didn’t care about me. Not that a therapist is meant to be a parent but I had this idea of what therapy was supposed to be like; I pictured myself lying on some couch, crying and spilling all of my deepest secrets to some stranger, and I was convinced I would have some instant results, and everything would just go away. I assumed that I would find my first therapist and feel like they were best friend and someone I could share anything to, but that was far from the case.
For me, therapy was not what I expected at all. You get out what you put in, and I wasn’t putting anything in. Eventually, I decided that a specific course of treatment wasn’t for me personally (while it might work for you, and if it does that’s amazing). For some reason, I was so sure that I would be able to give myself therapy, which I know sounds stupid, and to be fair, it was. I would sit at home trying to go through my emotions and think about how I can overcome my mental health issues. I looked at treatment as this unnecessary thing that I was too good for, but mental health isn’t one change you can make, it’s a lifestyle change.
I decided I needed to find a new therapist that fit my lifestyle. I started to see someone whose focus was university students, and who worked mostly online. These were two key areas that I found to be a struggle in the past.
Initially, my mindset going into therapy was that this person’s role is to alter my mind, so I no longer have to deal with my mental health. However, once I switched therapists, I altered my mindset to understand that my therapist is meant to help me change my actions and mind to better manage my mental health. I finally started to think about how I can live a better quality of life with my mental health issues instead of closing myself off and not talking about it.
By the time this article is being published, I’ve probably been seeing my new therapist for about three months. Let me be very clear, I am not ‘cured’ nor will I ever be. However, understanding that I needed to change my mindset was the most significant barrier to recovery. For me, when I found the right therapist, I knew right away. Everyone talks about therapy like you are lying on a couch, balling and revealing all your secrets. Maybe that is your therapy experience, but that is not mine and that’s okay. It’s important to recognize that no two peoples’ experiences will be the same. I use therapy as a way to educate myself on my brain, so to speak. I need to use therapy to change my mindset, grow and find techniques to manage my mental health.
I still have my good and bad days. Sometimes the bad days feel more constant than the good ones, but I need to remember that this is a change. I have begun to work so hard because I can’t live a life where I’m fighting with myself and my brain. Every day I focus on the skills I learned in therapy and how that I have the right tools for me, I can apply them to my life. I needed the push to not only go back to treatment but to go all-in and give 100%.
I am by no means cured. I still have terrible days. I forget to take my medication. I don’t want to take my medication. I still have to drag myself out of bed because I physically cannot. I still have mood swings. I remember more bad days than good, and I am still trying to understand my mind. I know that every day is going to be a challenge. But, I am working hard to work alongside my brain, and live the life that I want. Except, I wouldn’t be able to live the full life that I do without the support of my friends and family. Just as important as talking to a therapist is, sharing with the people close to me allowed me to accept my mental illness. My friends and family drive me to be better and push myself to grow – without them, I wouldn’t be at the stage I am in my life. I made a promise to myself recently to say when I am having a bad day, or if I feel myself going down a spiral. I know that they will always be there for me, and for that, I am beyond lucky.
If you are struggling to get help, I hope my story acts as your wake-up call to do so. I waited so many years, and I could have addressed this had it not been for my personal stigma. I still to this day will not forgive myself for allowing me to struggle for so many years, I watched myself suffer, and not speak to anyone about how I was feeling. I want to say that I will forgive myself for this, but I don’t know if I’m there just yet. It is still extremely hard for me to commit to my mental health journey, and I even struggle to take my medication after a year. I am so scared of my mind that I am afraid to help myself.
We are entering a new phase of our society, one where we talk about the hard things in life – mental health and wellness should always be an important topic – and it is becoming more widely recognized as a significant issue for people of all people. Therapy for me needed to be applied not only behind closed doors but in my everyday life.
Your path might not look like mine, and I can tell you that for a fact. Mental health is like our physical health, everyone experiences different things, but each are valid in their own ways. Your emotions are your own, and no one can tell you otherwise. Therapy changed my life, despite my hesitation. Through becoming more in check with my emotions and realizing that I am allowed to not be okay, I have grown into my mental wellness.
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