So, I keep telling myself that I need to stop relating all of my blogs so directly to mental health. I don’t want to seem like it’s the only aspect of life I care about! But I keep going back to it, because I am so passionate about it and think that it plays such a huge role in leadership. And now it’s May, which is Mental Health Month, so I can’t resist!
If you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed, seeing a counselor can be such a great idea. There’s still a sadly high amount of stigma around therapy in our society (around the idea of being “crazy”), but it needs to be destroyed. Counseling helps SO many people, some with clinical diagnoses and some without. Considering that we are now in the month of mental health, this is a great time to try and focus on your mental health and keep it in check. This is also about the time when a lot of us have finals and graduation to worry about. It’s so, so easy to let your mental health slip or take a back seat when you get so busy.
I want to take this opportunity to share a little bit about my own history with mental illness. I used to be very, very anti-therapy. I felt like seeing a therapist would be an embarrassment. I started struggling with depression when I was about 12, but spent the next 6 years or so in denial of the fact that it was a problem. If anyone even hinted at a suggestion of therapy, I’d get angry and say I was fine. And even further down the road, when I entered college and my depression got significantly worse, I wouldn’t get help. I recognized that something was really wrong at that point, but still refused. I was convinced that I could fix it myself. How could a therapist possibly know anything about me or how to solve my problems that I didn’t already know? For the sake of pride and shame, I chose to take on my depression alone. I did start to get better, but only after I had come sickeningly close to attempting suicide, and really forced myself to start getting better. I started to recover and did pretty well on my own for three years.
But then, this past fall, I suffered a traumatic experience and my depression started spiraling downward again. Things got very bad very fast and my friends all encouraged me to seek counseling. I did, reluctantly and skeptically. I eventually began to trust my therapist and actually started to enjoy our sessions together. I didn’t necessarily feel like he was telling me anything ground-breaking, but I liked being able to talk without feeling judged. He also gave me some insight that really, really helped me.
I had been having a lot of issues at the beginning of this semester and I just couldn’t work through them on my own. I was confused and frustrated with myself. I was acting in ways that I thought were “normal” and it was leading to a lot of turbulence in some of my closest relationships with friends. One day my therapist pulled out the DSM (the manual for diagnosing mental health disorders) and read me information on two different disorders. He had me count how many of the symptoms I had, and I met the criteria for both disorders. One was called Dependent Personality Disorder, and the other was Borderline Personality Disorder. I had known for a very long time that I had depression and anxiety, and I had known for a little while that I had PTSD, but I thought that was it. But then I was diagnosed with these two new disorders.
I went home and researched them on my own, and honestly, I couldn’t stop smiling. It was kind of scary, but at the same time, the disorders were so incredibly ME. Not every single part of their descriptions rang true for me, but there was so much that did. For the first time in my life, some of my “different” characteristics started to make sense to me. There was a reason for my behavior and I was not the only person like that. I realized that there are other people struggling in the same ways that I am, and I didn’t feel so alone in my troubles.
It was sad and frustrating to be diagnosed with two new disorders, to a certain extent. Especially because they are personality disorders, which are generally much harder to deal with and more stubborn than mood disorders (such as depression). But now I know what I’m dealing with. And I am learning to recognize the behaviors that are associated with these disorders, within myself. This has been really helpful because now that I know what the signs are, it is much easier for me to stabilize and prevent myself from falling down really fast. If I hadn’t gone to counseling, even though I was initially against it, I may have never recognized these problems in myself.
I’m not by any means saying that everyone needs counseling. And I’m also not suggesting that everybody has underlying disorders that they don’t know about! But it can be surprisingly beneficial. So, hey, if you’re feeling stressed or under the weather, or even just confused, why not try it out? (Especially if you’re on a college campus and have free counseling available!!) You might be really grateful that you did.