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How Feeling 'Seen' in My Struggles With Mental Health Saved Me

It feels so good to feel seen. What do I mean? When I watch the show, “This Is Us,” and I relate so much to the character Randall, I feel seen. When one of the most popular shows on television shows what it feels like to have a panic attack and anxiety, I feel seen. When it shows how someone who seems to be so perfect and have it together, could truly fall apart at any minute from trying so hard to be perfect, I feel seen. When Randall’s dad asks him as a little boy, if he can just be a good boy because his siblings are already giving his mom and dad so much trouble, I feel seen.

When I was in my early 20s, I pinched a nerve in my shoulder falling down the stairs. At first, I had trouble getting help or relief. No one wanted to perform surgery on someone so young. I eventually found a physical therapist who helped me with my pain. When I had my wisdom teeth taken out, it made my pain worse somehow. I told this to the orthodontist who did my surgery at my one-week checkup. His response was, “We drilled a hole in your bone, you are going to hurt.” I went to the car and cried. I then made an appointment with that same physical therapist who had been helping me. I told him what happened, and he instantly explained what was wrong, did a chiropractic adjustment and I felt instant relief. I felt seen.

Since that injury, I have grown to love massage. When the massage therapist seems to find all the places I have knots, and feels them and works on trying to make them go away, I feel seen. Sometimes, that is all people need, to just feel seen. For so long, I did not feel seen at all. I was in so much pain, but no one seemed to see it. In retrospect, they all see it now. Of course, I was trying so hard to hide it, which is one reason they did not see it. Because I did not speak up, they did not see it. Some were dealing with their own pain, which is why they did not see it. When I went to physical therapy and got massages, I was finally asking for and getting help — and I was seen. When I was at my lowest point in my severe postpartum depression many years ago, because my obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and anxiety were at their worst, I do not recall seeing shows or stories all around me I could relate to that made me feel seen.

I do recall one time, though. I was once watching “One Tree Hill.” The mother of one of the main character’s had died, and she was depressed. She jumped into the pool, floated to the bottom and her husband jumped in and rescued her. In another part of the show, she was sitting at their piano, knocked down a candle and just sat there as it started to burn everything around her, until her husband rescued her again. I remember watching and thinking I could relate to that character, and the fact I could was not a good thing.

It was not too long after this I got help, but I wish there had been more moments like this earlier. Some people like to keep this stuff personal or think it should be, maybe some are ashamed, but I share my story as much as I do because I do want it to be all over the internet and TV. I want people to feel seen and to know they are not going through their pain alone, because it feels so good to be seen.

Getty image by AaronAmat