Mental Illness Made Me Believe I Wasn't Worth Asking for Help
This past September was a really bad month for me. I had just gotten back to Ottawa, where I go to university, and I was trying to adjust to my new diagnosis of bipolar disorder, while also adjusting to moving into a new apartment, some issues in my romantic life, starting new classes and missing my family, friends and my support system back home. Over the summer I had established a strong network of support for my mental health, from my family doctor, my counselor, my colleagues, my friends and my family. But returning back to college is always difficult, and this year, everything piled on all at once. Instead of handling it like I told my mum I would (by reaching out to resources here in the city), I spiraled. I withdrew from the friends I did have here, I rarely left my bed, I looked for validation in strangers and school was the last thing on my mind. Or rather, it was always on my mind, but I could never quite grasp onto what I needed in order to make sure I was going to get through the year.
There were many times over the period of September and early-mid October when my best friend would send me links to resources in Ottawa, or beg me to go to the emergency room out of worry, and my mum would ask me over and over again if I had connected with mental health services yet, and I would always lie or give excuses for why I hadn’t. I was fine. I kept telling myself I was fine, even when I knew I was completely not OK. My depression and mania were cycling in a way I hadn’t experienced and everything felt completely out of balance. It wasn’t until I handed in an essay about a week and half late and got my combined mark for it and a presentation back that I realized if I wanted to go to grad school, this couldn’t be how I spent my year. It took me a couple weeks after that to get myself motivated and ready, but finally I contacted my doctor back home, told him what was happening and asked for help. If I could go back to two months ago and tell myself my family doctor would show compassion and concern (like he always has) rather than the judgment and skepticism I expected, maybe I would have called earlier. But I didn’t. So then, I had something else to take care of.
Yesterday, I went to my professor’s office hours with my mental health disability assessment form in hand, signed and scanned by my doctor, and I asked for help. I was so confident walking in there, until I sat down and immediately tears threatened to spill, my heartbeat quickened and I had to will myself not to run away. I took a breath, put down my papers, and said, “I’m sorry, Professor, I don’t really know how to do this, because I’ve never done this before.” Thankfully, my professor did not need any details of my condition — just seeing the student accessibility centre form’s header was enough for her, and I feel very lucky for that, because I don’t know if I could stomach disclosing more to a professor other than, “I had a really bad September and I am sorry for my absence, either mentally and/physically throughout the month.” We had a little chat, and then I somehow summed up the courage to ask my professor for another shot at my essay. The essay I handed in a week and a half late. The essay I wrote with no real presence of mind. The essay I refuse to look at now because it reminds me so much of that month of feeling like no matter what I wrote, nothing would be enough, so why even bother?
There are a lot of things that are really difficult about living with mental illness. Personally, I think the thing that sums it all up though, is how difficult it is to ask for help, because this act of vulnerability shows you are addressing what your illness is.
It’s admitting to yourself there is something wrong.
It’s admitting to yourself you don’t have control.
It’s admitting to yourself you can’t do this on your own.
And it’s admitting to yourself you need help, which requires admitting that very fact to someone else. Because a lot of the times, help won’t come until you seek it out.
For me, the challenge I face most of all is believing I am worthy of asking for help. That I am allowed to ask for help. When I stepped into my professor’s office to ask her for another try at my essay, my brain was telling me there was no reason at all she should even consider giving me another chance. I skipped many of her classes, I showed up late, I was permanently exhausted, I was completely unprepared for my presentation and I handed in that God-awful essay. And the reasons for all of that? I’m sick.
When you have a mental illness and you ask for help, you are acknowledging this thing going on inside of your brain is just as valid as if you had a bad flu. You’re sick. That’s nothing to be ashamed of. You are worth acknowledging this. You are just as worthy of a doctor’s note as someone with strep throat.
Getty Images photo via sSplajn