I’ve written articles about having panic attacks or the loss of loved one. I’ve written about my self-image and the lack of relationships in my life. I could write my life story and who knows who would actually read any of it. I’ve noticed lately that I’ve come across anniversary after anniversary these past few weeks, ones that I’ve really wanted to avoid.
One of the anniversaries I’m approaching is that of seeking help. Of counseling/therapy, whatever the name is for it. Like most universities, my school has a health center and one that contains a staff of counselors during business hours that are available for new students that have never utilized the service and former students that make ongoing appointments.
Without going into a massive amount of detail, this time last year I was facing some hurdles between one parent being in the hospital and one parent facing a living situation. It had marked one year since my cousin had passed and one year since my grandmother had passed along with a birthday. Somehow, I felt strongly about “forgetting” my birthday as it was already being buried in the pile of my worries. In addition, I was continuing going to school full-time as usual and working 40 hours a week. The stress was beginning to pile up to a place that was constantly leading to panic attacks and putting me in a situation of overwhelming isolation. Eventually, I had one giant panic attack in my car at work at and left after lunch that day because I’d rendered myself useless as far as productivity was concerned.
I pushed past these trials of mine and came out with the better end of everything, able to focus my sights back on school and work. The thing is though, I still felt pretty low. Some of these things were still up in the air but just at a point where I could push them in the back of my mind for the time being. There was the worry that the black clouds in my sky could come back at any moment and I would need to take shelter. And while that’s the biggest cliché you may have heard, it holds a certain amount of truth.
So I took some screenings on the health center’s website for my school. While they aren’t diagnoses, I tested highly for anxiety, depression and PTSD. But I chose to ignore it for a while. At least for a few days. But as the feelings continued to linger I decided to make a phone call. I called the HCSW office on campus and went through a screening with the director. He then scheduled an appointment for me with a therapist. Another week or so later, I made my way out to my appointment, not sure what to expect. I was given paperwork to fill out and sign and paid $15 for my first session. One year later and while I would love to say “no more sessions! I’m free! Hooray!” it’s just not the case.
I’ve gone through several topics and several appointments and discussions and had time to reflect on this or that but lately I’m having to come to terms with being my own worst enemy. One “crisis counseling” session later, I have found that my diagnoses consist of just what I thought: anxiety, depression, and PTSD. I’m also learning I’m my own worst enemy.
There are countless times I have seen the word “stigma.” I’ve seen it in phrases and Facebook posts, tweets, hashtags and so on. “Stop the stigma.” “End the stigma.” You get the idea. But I’ve never fully understood it. According to the Government of West Australia Mental Health Commission, “Stigma is a mark of disgrace that sets a person apart. When a person is labelled by their illness they are seen as part of a stereotyped group.” So what happens when you’ve become a part of your own stigma?
Maybe that isn’t the right way to phrase it. In fact, I prefer to say I’m my own worst enemy or my biggest bully. I get no enjoyment in telling someone I go to therapy. I get no enjoyment in telling someone that a licensed therapist sits with me for 45 minutes to an hour every other week for $15 to listen to my problems and right the words “anxiety, depression, PTSD” at the top of a sheet of paper. I get no enjoyment over having little “assignments” to work on for myself. I get no enjoyment in walking out of the office in tears and raggedy tissues in hand. The only thing that keeps me from stopping is knowing I’ll just go back to feeling the way I do. I’ve learned I’m constantly laughing at myself when people compliment me. I’m learning that the past few weeks, it’s the same conversation: why doesn’t Natalie love herself? I’m learning that my belief in my own worth is currently hiding and I’m growing exhausted in finding it. I’m learning I’m constantly beating myself up, time and time again. For going to therapy. For not doing this or that. Because there will always be more I could do or be. More I could say. But in the last week or so, the only phrase that comes to mind is this: it won’t happen overnight.
For anyone that reads, for anyone that finds they can relate, please find a way to reach out however you can and remember what I’ve just written. If you find yourself constantly beating yourself up for this or that, for not doing enough, for not being your idea of “perfect”, nobody is perfect. Nobody knows what they’re doing and we are all struggling somehow – even those of you that won’t admit it. Continue to remind yourself you’re great just the way you are and if you’re not the person you want to be right now, you will be. It won’t happen overnight.