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To the Person Who's Afraid to Get Help for Your Mental Health Issues

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You asked me if I was taking medication for mental health issues. I thought it was a bit out of the blue, but I said yes. I rattled off the list: anxiety, depression, social anxiety, panic disorder. You told me about your panic attacks and how it affected your sleep. I’ve experienced the same thing. I know how awful it is to feel the mix of being bone-tired and wide awake with inexplicable anxious adrenaline.

I was excited that you were willing to talk to me about a subject usually left untouched, hoping the conversation might lead to you getting help, but our conversation was interrupted. Before that happened, I wish I could’ve told you this:

I know it can feel scary to get help. I resisted for months, years even, before stepping into counseling and going on medication. You want to believe you can do it on your own. You tell yourself you’ve been coping just fine all these years. You’ve pushed through the anxiety and the overwhelming sadness all these years, so you can make it through another dark time.

I told myself the same things. Until it all became too much. Deep down I knew all along that I was barely making it, that there was a better way to live if I sought help. It took going to my darkest place to realize that barely getting by, coping with anxiety and depression on my own, wasn’t enough.

Why go through life just barely making it, feeling miserable all the while when you have the chance to live fully and feel happy? I realized I deserved better; I owed it to myself to get help.

I know that I’m not the best person to tell you these things since things got worse for me before they got better, but I am so much happier now than I have ever been when I was just getting by. Things like eating right, exercising, going to sleep earlier — they can help, but sometimes they’re not enough. Sometimes there’s something not quite right in our brain’s wiring, an imbalance of chemicals in our bodies, and that makes it hard to function properly and be happy. There’s nothing to be ashamed of; some people’s bodies stop producing insulin, others’ hearts don’t work quite right. We don’t think any less of them; it’s just how their bodies are.

Getting help doesn’t mean you’re weak. It means you understand a fundamental truth: We all need to lean on other people and medical advances to live better lives. Getting help means you are willing to do the hard work recovery takes in order to improve your life.

Unresolved mental health issues can make it hard to have good relationships, live our lives to the fullest and do the work we are called to. I wish I hadn’t waited until things got as bad as they did to get help. I wish I had had the courage to start working on myself, because now that I have, I see the enormous impact it has had on my well-being. I am happier, I am wiser, I know myself better, and I am able to be a better friend and student. I am living up to my full capability and pushing myself to accomplish things I couldn’t before when my mind was consumed by anxious and hopeless thoughts. Now it pains me to see so many of my friends telling themselves the same lie I clung onto: “I can make it on my own. I’ve coped just fine. I don’t need help.”

I can tell you’re in pain. I can tell you aren’t coping with it as well as you claim. I can tell the hurt is taking its toll, closing you off from friends, keeping you from achieving all you could, poisoning your mind with lies that you’re not enough, keeping you from much-needed sleep. I wish we could finish our conversation and I could point you in the right direction and let you know there’s no shame, but time and circumstances have since led our paths in different directions. So I’m writing this for anyone else out there who is still settling for barely getting by:

It’s OK to ask for help. In fact, it’s brave. It’s strong. It’s wise. It’s hard, but it’s worth it.

It will be a long process, even a painful one at times, but trust me — it can be one of the best choices you’ll ever make.

Follow this journey on These Dark Cafe Days.

Image via Thinkstock Images

Originally published: August 21, 2016
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