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Asking for Help Is Easier Than Going Through Depression Alone

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Last week at work, I was asked to participate in a #BellLetsTalk video promoting mental health wellness amongst the staff and students within the organization. I struggled with knowing what to say because 2020 was one of my worst mental health years yet, even pre-pandemic. I debated, do I write a generic message, or do I get deep? Real deep. I ended up settling with, “Asking for help is easier than facing your struggles alone.” This seemed both generic and personal. For work purposes, it got the job done. If I had the time or space to write it all out, here is what I could have said:

Mental health is something we all have to deal with, not just those of us with underlying “issues.” It can start at any age, but the longer we go without getting help, the worse it can get. I remember having panic attacks as young as 5 years old. Throughout the course of my life I have gone to six different counselors, and it’s only now at age 25 that I found one that I truly connect with and am making significant progress with. N., I am so grateful for you. Thank you.

Although I am in a much better place now than I was a year ago, that initial call for help was hard. I avoided
it for months until it got to the point where I was uncontrollably crying at work and my coworker literally dialed the number to my doctor for me. I’d like to think I would have done it on my own too, but it was hard. I did not want to need help. No one wants to need help but realistically, every single one of us needs help. We cannot go through this life completely on our own. We needed help learning how to tie our shoes, and we sometimes need help learning how to cope with major depressive episodes.

As hard as it was to call my doctor, which I have known and confided in for over 12 years, it was even harder to make the first call to the Employment Assistance Program and request a counselor. I can’t count how many times I dialed the number, erased it, dialed it, erased it, dialed it, erased it. Admitting to my doctor that I needed help was embarrassing enough — now I had to do it all over again to a complete stranger over the phone? My emotions were so heightened this seemed near impossible. When I finally did it, the nice lady on the other end was very understanding and listened to me through my sniffs and sobs. She made a recommendation and followed up with a counselor of my choosing on my behalf.

The next hard thing was to meet my new counselor in person. I had spoken with her briefly on the phone and she sounded nice, but doesn’t everyone sound nice over the phone? I had been to counselors before that didn’t quite match my personality.

Truthfully, I wasn’t sure if this one was going to either. I had some bad experiences with speaking to professionals in the past, so although I was desperate, I was not hopeful. I can remember that first Monday night I went to her office. She was not what I was expecting, and it only took about four minutes of sitting in the chair for me to realize she was one of the good ones. Finally, after months of darkness, she was a ray of light. A sliver of hope.

All these steps I had to take to get the help I needed were hard, but having to go through it alone for those first few months before reaching out for help was so, so much harder. I was not alone physically, but I was alone in my head. Now, although still very sick, I did not feel alone. I had someone to lean on, once a week, for an hour, just me and her.

I’ve gone through depressive episodes before, but this one seemed different. I felt a lot of shame and embarrassment. I apologized a lot, to everyone. My doctor, my counselor, my loved ones. I was ashamed that I had let myself get so low that it couldn’t be controlled on my own anymore. I was ashamed that although I went through the same cycles in the past, I had too much pride to try and prevent it this time. I was ashamed that every time I called my long-distance boyfriend or went to visit my dad, I was crying. I was ashamed that I turned my sadness into frustration and took it out on my mom. I was ashamed that I cried at work every single day. Before work, at work and after work. I was ashamed that I thought it would never end.

The truth is, I still feel guilt about all these things sometimes, but I also remember that shame is just a made-up feeling that your sick brain uses to make you feel even worse. That’s what depression is: a constant struggle of having to decipher which thoughts are in your head because they’re supposed to be, and which thoughts are put there because of the depression. Throughout the course of my counseling sessions in the past year, I have learned that there is a very big difference between the two. When emotions are high, thinking is low. I didn’t have the ability to classify my thoughts before — when I was depressed in the past, I considered all of my thoughts to be truths. I now realize, thanks to my counselor, that I could not have been more wrong.

I use the shame, guilt and embarrassment I felt during the deepest days of my depression as reminders that I am no longer in that state. I still have hard days, yes, but the hardest part is over. Reaching out for help was hard, but it was easier than having to face my struggles alone.

Photo by Tom Blackout on Unsplash

Originally published: January 26, 2021
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