When I Finally Allowed Myself to See a Psychiatrist

For so long, I tried to hide it. I was scared of what my family would think, what my friends would think, how my image would change. I was scared of my strong, stoic, high-achieving exterior giving way to what I only saw as “weakness.” I was scared of being called “selfish” and “attention-seeking.” I was scared to admit I had I problem, especially one that seemed so wildly out of my control. I was scared of the stigma, of the shame, of the misconceptions. For what seemed like a small eternity, I lived in total, absolute fear.

I was diagnosed with clinical anxiety and depression three or so years ago, at which time I began treatment. Truthfully, I didn’t take my recovery plan very seriously. I resented the idea of baring my soul to a therapist, and I resented the idea of psychoactive medications even more. I complied with therapy for the most part, although I found the process rather distasteful. The antidepressants, however, were another story. I was so strongly against the idea of medication that I skipped doses of my prescriptions for weeks at a time. It was no wonder why they weren’t working for me.

After spiraling into a depth of depression I hoped I’d never see, it became apparent to me that medication was a very necessary component to my game plan. Both my general practitioner and my therapist had hinted at the idea that a psychiatric consultation might be a good idea, but I refused. Absolutely not, I told myself repeatedly. Psychiatrists treat “crazy” people. I’m not “crazy.” I just have a touch of anxiety. Just a smidge of depression.

It wasn’t until I came to college that I realized I was wrong. After a stressful period of adjusting to a new home, I fell back into periods of mini mental-health crises, marked by panic attacks, tension headaches, and spontaneous crying. One of my new friends suggested I go to the campus health center and just talk to someone about it. In the interest of my grades, my seemingly thriving social life, and my sanity, I took her advice.

When I visited the health center, I met with a triage nurse who went over my symptoms, stressors, and medications. I expected her at most to refer me to a counselor or support group. As it turned out, she had something else in mind.

“I’m going to set you up with an appointment with our psychiatrist.”

I cringed in my seat. “That’s not necessary. Can’t you look over my prescriptions? Can I just see a counselor instead?”

“What are you worried about?” she asked. “I really think this is in your best interest.”

I played those words over and over again in my head. In your best interest. Indeed, I’d heard that one before. But I was still conflicted. If I tell my parents I’m seeing a psychiatrist, will they think I’m having a total breakdown at school? Will they pull me out of college? My friends will certainly find out — what will they think of me? (See how the anxiety is so quick to talk me out of these things).

In your best interest. Maybe it was about time I took those words seriously.

I finally allowed myself to see the doctor a week before midterms. She was one of the kindest, most empathetic people I had ever met. She assured me my depression and anxiety were not weaknesses. “Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of,” she said. “You’d be shocked how many freshmen I’ve treated in just the past few weeks. In no way am I trying to diminish the severity of your condition, but you are in solidarity with so many.”

She proceeded to say, “It’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.”

For some reason, her words really resonated with me. I felt such a sense of reassurance, knowing I was not “crazy” and knowing I was not the first student on campus to get a psych consult. I felt a sense of peace. When I walked downstairs from the mental health unit to the campus pharmacy, I felt no shame in having to fill two brand new psychiatric drugs. This was me finally allowing myself to take a step forward in my recovery.

Nowadays, I try to visit my psychiatrist once a month, so long as I’m not too busy. I decided to take up therapy again with a well-respected licensed mental health counselor on campus, and I’m continuing to try to advance the conversation on mental health with friends and family. I’m taking prescribed medication to help me get through the rough patches. And I’m finally coming to terms with what it means for me, as a student and as a human being, to struggle with depression and anxiety.

So to those unsure of seeking help, I hope this story brings you reassurance. Whether you reach out to a friend, family member, spiritual mentor, therapist, counselor, physician or psychiatrist, just know you are taking a step in the right direction. You are taking measures to help yourself heal. You are giving yourself a map by which you can guide your journey. You are giving yourself the grace to fight this thing.

So keep fighting, and don’t be afraid to let others fight with you.

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