Why We Shouldn't Wait Until We Emotionally 'Bottom Out' to Get Help for Mental Illness
I waited until I had what I describe as a nervous breakdown. I waited until my unchecked emotions converged and powerfully washed over me like a tsunami. I waited until I showed up at my brother’s front door uncontrollably sobbing, not really understanding what was happening, but knowing all of my defense mechanisms were crumbling all around me.
The splintered lives I had been living have completely given out now, no longer able to proceed under the weight of all my angst, insecurity and sorrow.
It was under these conditions — a total emotional collapse — that I finally allowed myself to realize I needed the paid professional help of a therapist. No one should have to struggle so long before getting help.
For much of my 20s, I drifted aimlessly through life. I had graduated from college with a disdain for my focus of studies, which was biology. My first job out of college, while it was a Fortune 500 company with a respectable compensation package, was in the field of collections. I was on the phone berating people for their car payment money.
The collections call center was filled with young 20-somethings right out of college like me, so the social scene was lively, but the work itself was demoralizing. There was nothing even remotely rewarding about being on the phone all day arguing with people who may have been in deep pain themselves. My view of humanity became jaded and cynical through the lens of these contentious phone calls I was embroiled in all day at my job.
While that work was emotionally brutal, I performed above expectations and made my way up through middle management. My success only served to further cement me in a career track that I fell into without much consideration, let alone had passion or excitement for. All the while, my good friends and brother were making a considerable go of it in the music industry, a world I was on fire for at the time.
Music had been an intense love of mine. I played drums for my entire youth, went to countless concerts and helped a handful of local bands, out of the love of being involved in their shows. I had legitimate opportunities and offers to get involved in the music industry back then, but fear and a false sense of security kept me tied down to my collections career.
As time went on, I thankfully got another job opportunity within finance that involved sales, credit analysis and loan underwriting. It was a major step forward in the type of work I was performing, but I still felt adrift and disconnected in life.
It is hard to reconcile and explain, but while I always loved life and had an enthusiasm for friends and experiences, I was slowly beginning to feel a simmering angst and unease about my purpose and place in life.
My only means of finding joy back then was to try and manufacture it on the weekends through partying. I had no career goals or big life objectives. At work, I just tried to chase down a paycheck and get myself to the weekends. The shallow social scenes of bars and clubs were where I went to try and mask my insecurities and growing disconnection from life. My identity was rapidly becoming intertwined with partying.
For the first few years out of college, partying with friends was innocent and fun. We stayed out late, we roamed around Philly and Atlantic City in big groups of 10 plus guys, and had the time of our lives. I also maintained my involvement with the local music scene, attending shows and spending weekends with the bands I was tight with. It was incredible fun and it kept me tied to my passion for music.
As I got deeper into my 20s, friends started to slowly settle, relocate to different cities for work and start families. The local bands I was tied into, who served as a genuine sense of community and fulfillment for me, all had their moments in the sun and disbanded off into other walks of life. My brother ascended rapidly in his career in the music industry and made a few major relocations to different parts of the country.
While all of my close peers seemed to be settling into different lanes of life, I doubled down on the partying. I was also funding much of my “faux baller” extravagance with credit cards. This sounds pathetic to me now, but socially, partying was the only thing I knew to do outside of working during the week.
My immediate family was always there and present for me, but I felt an isolation from them that only deepened as I got later into my 20s. I still had a great group of close and supportive friends, but they all had moved on from the late night revelry on the weekends.
I was immature and lacking self-awareness, but on some level, I also recognized my lifestyle was not sustainable, either emotionally or financially. When those feelings of discontent started to come up though, all I did was avoid and deny them. When you are living a life that is out of harmony with yourself and the universe, I believe something eventually has to give. All of the dysfunction in my life finally did boil over and it gave way through a major emotional event.
I broke down, hobbled and scared, and rushed over to my brother’s house. I knocked on his front door, unannounced, sobbing uncontrollably. My sister-in-law answered the door and I was so relieved to see her. I unleashed what felt like a decade of bottled up emotions. My brother came home from work right away. My parents left a vacation they were on to come home that day, too.
I shared just about every single detail of my past few years of dysfunction and unhappiness in my life. It was a major unburdening. The next day, I went into a therapist’s office for the very first time as a result.
Prior to my collapse, I had thoughts of possibly needing to go see a therapist, but I immediately denied those thoughts over the fear of what that could look like to the outside world. I remember looking up into the mirror once, after brushing my teeth and bursting into tears. Instead of taking that troubling outburst as a sign of needing help, I quickly stuffed that moment of sadness far away to be left unexamined. I wanted that hurt out of reach to never be thought of again. I denied it and moved on with life.
To me, going to see a therapist voluntarily would have felt like some sort of admission that I was not a “normal” young adult living a “normal” life. I was afraid of admitting to myself that I needed help and even more so, of what my family would think. The latter part, the potential shame with my family, was completely unfounded.
My family would become the most stoic and nonjudgmental support system imaginable, but I had all sorts of fears and worries built up about sharing any kind of problems with them. Those unfortunate feelings all stemmed directly from the conditioning regarding mental health that so wrongfully exists in society.
We have to fully erase any remaining stigmas attached to seeking help for mental health. I believe a “normal” human existence is one wrought with pain and struggle. It is inescapable. We all share the same challenges of having insecurities and feeling disconnected in life at times. As a society, we need to seek a new normal, which I believe includes the proactive choice of seeking help before a crisis strikes.
Proactive care for our minds and mental well-being needs to become as routine as seeing a dentist. There is so much proactive care and maintenance that we put into our physical health, but for some reason, caring for our minds has been attached with shame and weakness.
I have been to see a therapist a few different times over the past 15 years and each time it has felt like a life-saver to me. The most recent time I went, I went well ahead of any sort of crisis striking. I made the determination that I wanted my emotions to be in the best state possible for being a father to my young son.
I did some powerful deep work on connecting moments from my youth to my current parenting situations with my son and it was a huge help. I also worked a good bit on my hyper-sensitive nature, how that impacts my parenting, as well as the unfair expectations I sometimes place on myself as a parent. None of this work could have been hashed out on my own without the professional help of a therapist.
Too often, seeing a therapist is the “last resort” step. We often wait to play out the string of a dire situation for too long, until we crumble under the pressure. We typically view therapy as a reactive measure to extract ourselves from a crisis, but it does not have to be that way. Therapy can be a proactive tool for self-empowerment and life improvement.
Do not wait until you bottom out like I did. Take a step towards a more fulfilling life and seek the guidance of a professional therapist. You deserve the best life experience possible.
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Unsplash photo via Stephen Arnold.