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When You're Afraid to Seek Mental Health Help

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

Everyone’s experience of depression is different. Still, I know that I am far from being the only one who hid it and dealt with it alone for years. Who never admitted it to anyone, mastered the art of disguise and was never diagnosed, but knew there was definitely something wrong.

I would scour the internet for information and research. I would learn everything I could. Since I wasn’t getting help, I would have to help myself. Instead of medication, I’d have to rely on physical aids like exercise and a healthy diet and enough sleep. (Because of course, it’s super easy to do those things when you’re depressed.) Instead of a doctor, I’d have to rely on articles by WebMD and Mayo Clinic and NIMH to diagnose myself and explain the illness. Instead of a therapist, I turned to blogs and articles and those little tidbits of free therapy people share on social media.

This kind of worked after a couple years of trying. I remember one year in which I was almost mentally healthy, with no medications and no diagnosis and no therapy. Not even a single person I could talk to about my problems.

Then sh*t hit the fan as it tends to do. I started working full-time while also being a full-time student, and was no longer able to maintain a healthy lifestyle of sufficient sleep and exercise. I had some family issues, dominated by my brother cutting me out of his life. And above it all, I got into a toxic relationship.

Cue the dramatic resurrection of major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder, with their minions of doom, including but not limited to extreme suicidal ideation, self-harm, panic attacks, and good old fashioned misery.

There is one thing I have to thank my ex for, even if he is and was the most detrimental challenge in my life. He convinced me to get help.

As things got worse and worse, I remained doggedly determined to not tell my family, not go to a doctor, not try medication or therapy. Thanks to past experiences of tentatively trying to tell people, I was convinced that no one would understand and no one would take me seriously. But things were really, really getting worse.

I have shudder-inducing memories of when I first hit the bottom. I had multiple suicide plans. I had written a note. Self-harm of increasing severity was my only coping mechanism. I was so terrified—yet so numb—that my body seemed to be expressing that fear and trying to survive while my brain was desperate to end its existence. I started having jarring, uncontrollable muscle spasms throughout my body for no apparent reason. Oftentimes, they would suddenly strike when my boyfriend looked at me or spoke to me. He noticed. We both tried to convince ourselves that it was a coincidence…not that I was, in fact, terrified of him. Not that my brain and body knew what I myself was refusing to admit—our unhealthy relationship was killing me.

And finally, one day, I came within inches of making a real attempt.

But I couldn’t quite follow through. I desperately wanted help, and reluctantly texted my boyfriend and admitted what was going on. He took me back to his apartment. I remember curling up on his bed, unable to cry but desperately wanting to, whispering: “I just want it to be over.”

I finally agreed to let him call the suicide hotline on my behalf. They directed us to a free, confidential care and crisis center in town, and we went.

After all that backstory, here’s what I need to tell you.

If you are like I was and are afraid of getting help…if you’re afraid people won’t take you seriously…if you’re afraid of laying out all the ugly details to doctors and therapists…I understand. But you should do it anyway.

At the free care center, I spoke to a counselor for the first time. She was kind and sympathetic, but ultimately, she treated my depression as an illness. Not as something I might be faking, not as a mood or a “stage,” not as something that made me weak or too sensitive or melodramatic. I felt heard and validated. And, in a way that no one else ever had, she gave me a real sense of hope that maybe things could get better.

Following her advice, I went to urgent care and saw a doctor. Both the nurse and the doctor I spoke to were also kind and supportive, and never once made me feel like they doubted the realness of my struggle. I particularly remember wanting to hug the nurse, because she was sweet and comforting in all the ways I needed.

From there, I soon saw my usual doctor and a psychiatrist, as well as another therapist. And with every single one of them, I experienced kindness and support.

Here’s the point I’m trying to make—it won’t be as bad as you think. In fact, it might be a huge relief, like it was for me. Even though my struggles didn’t truly resolve until I broke up with my boyfriend, taking the step to get help gave me the first sincere hope I’d had in a long time. It convinced me that I didn’t need to be so afraid of being honest with others about my mental health. After talking to the counselor, nurse, and doctor that first day, the nearly-constant muscle spasms I was having greatly decreased. So did the self-harm and suicidal thinking.

“You should get help,” is the type of thing everyone says, and I know it can become frustrating to hear because they just don’t understand how hard that really is. It’s terrifying and difficult to talk about depression, to strangers and loved ones alike. But I tell you as someone who fully understands and who has been there…

You should get help. You don’t need to fight through this alone.

Getty image by Jacabel

Originally published: April 27, 2022
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