Why I Became a Walking Advertisement for 'Therapy for All'
I have dedicated so much time and energy to focusing on the physical symptoms of my chronic illnesses that I was completely caught off guard when I started experiencing pretty severe anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms.
My anxiety snuck up on me, but it didn’t slowly creep up behind me. Instead, it seemed to smash me in the back of the head so I couldn’t miss it. It’s not the kind of nervousness you get before you take a final exam or speak in front of people. It’s the kind of anxiety that my typical coping mechanisms of writing, adult coloring books and guided meditation couldn’t handle. This couldn’t be ignored. This is agonizing anxiety. It’s an intense and constant state of worry, where you can’t turn your brain off from the rapid fire irrational thoughts. It’s the kind of anxiety where your thoughts consume you to the point where you are physically debilitated. I will play out every scenario to every situation in my head, even meaningless tasks. Sometimes I will fall so far down the rabbit hole of nightmare I forget what I was thinking about didn’t even happen or isn’t real.
At first, I wasn’t going to seek help. I didn’t want someone to perceive my mental illness symptoms minimized the physical symptoms that stem from my very real chronic illnesses. I didn’t want to deal with the stigma associated with having mental health problems or seeing a therapist. I didn’t want to be called “crazy.” However, it got to the point where I was desperate for help. I was in a battle with my own mind and was my own worst enemy. Almost every single waking and sleeping moment was spent in a constant state of worry.
It was almost a relief when the therapist confirmed I struggle with anxiety and PTSD. It was almost a relief when I was prescribed medication to relieve my symptoms and began therapy sessions.
Therapy isn’t easy and is truly a lot of work, but it is worth it. I think of my therapy sessions like Thanksgiving leftovers. I have so many things running through my mind at any given time. Therapy or counseling sessions help me put each of those thoughts into separate boxes, much like the food containers that house slices of turkey, dressing and cranberry sauce the day following the holiday. I don’t have to deal with everything at once and things can be put away in the refrigerator to handle at a later date. Each therapy session, I can take a new container out of the fridge and process those thoughts one at a time. It makes all of the leftovers seem less overwhelming.
As a public health professional, I think mental health is just as important as physical health. It has such an impact on almost every aspect of your well-being. Be nice to your body and mind. Take care of yourself.
Although I was at the point where I probably wouldn’t be alive without my psychiatrist’s help, you don’t need to be at that low of a point to attend therapy. You don’t need a catastrophic event in your life to benefit from counseling sessions. I honestly recommend it to everyone, just to deal with the regular stuff life throws at you.
Most people want to live to their fullest potential and therapy can help you achieve that. It’s beneficial to talk to someone who gets paid to have a unbiased opinion, who won’t judge you and doesn’t give you unsolicited advice like your friends and family members may do.
Your body is like a car. You have to bring it into the shop for maintenance and fine tuning to make sure it continues to run smoothly. This is like therapy. Although I am out of the depths of my anxious thoughts, it doesn’t mean I don’t need to continue to maintain in order to sustain.
I have heard every excuse for people not wanting to go to therapy. One of the major ones is cost, but there are many free or low cost options, as well as options for students on college campuses. It just takes some research. Those interested can visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness for more resources.
I have no shame in telling people I have sought mental health help, although it took me a while to get to this point. There is no shame in seeking help when you need it. You go to the doctor when you’re sick, right? What makes this any different?
Honestly, I think seeking mental health help or attending therapy sessions is one of the bravest things a person can do. Opening yourself up to a stranger can be terrifying and can leave you vulnerable with a lot of raw emotions left on the table. However, I believe it is the ultimate form of self-care and is truly worth it. I wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t take that step.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.
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Thinkstock photo via vadimguzhva.