Mental illnesses are not an easy issue to tackle. I have been dealing with mine for years, but I really began to notice the problems I have three years ago. I became aware of these issues my junior year of high school when the pressures of life became all too heavy on my weak shoulders. I thought that my unhappiness was simply "stress."
I told this lie to myself for a long time, and as the problems grew, I realized I had been dealing with these demons for most of high school. The demons just weren't that noticeable, hidden behind the school lunches I skipped freshman year to lose weight, and the tears I shed over "boys" my sophomore year, and then the "stress" I faced junior year. It wasn't until the anxiety attacks that the haunting images I had while I was short of breath, the tears, and the will to live became just too much for my adolescent mind to handle. I wanted to get help, but how?
School counselors can only do so much before parents have to get involved. I didn't want my issues to be a big deal, so I was told I had three visits before I was required to tell my parents what was going on. I spread those visits out over the next six months of school when in reality, I really should have been talking to a counselor every week. I would fall apart privately instead of solving the issues that were building inside of me. Looking at pictures from junior year, I can see the pain I was going through. Not everyone can see it, but I can see it in my tired eyes, the weight I gained, and the slips I had in my grades. I might have seemed like the girl who had it all, but I lacked the thing that made me appreciate the blessings I was given: mental health.
Somehow, I began to function again. I credit it mostly to my love of writing and pouring my pain into a notebook or simply the notes section on my phone. I spent far too many days, however, sobbing in the stall of a bathroom wondering what I had done to feel this way. I hadn't grown out of the feelings, but I began to cope with them. Senior year, I got my act together enough to look forward to waking up each day, but I still was all too acquainted with the bathroom stall. I had three more visits to use this year, but I still needed more. I feared I wouldn't ever feel better, and I began to get frustrated. Why was I still crying in that damn bathroom stall? Why do I feel this way? Why couldn't I just get help?
There is a stigma with mental illnesses, and I didn't want to be rejected from society by being told I was weak for getting help. The other side of this was that I didn't want to have people tell me that my problems were insignificant and that I didn't need the help I was getting. I hated the thought of people saying that I smiled far too much to need counseling or therapy. I needed it, but I was scared of the rejection.
I didn't get regular counseling until I got to college. Even at this stage, it was hard to get appointments. After my consultation, it was clear that I did need the weekly visits. The struggle of being away at college and dealing with a mental illness becomes one of self-care and awareness. When the scheduling would get messed up, I would start lying to myself again and say, "Oh, I am getting better anyway," and I would fall into the pattern of not showing up or rescheduling. Then I would spiral out of control again, and wind up in the counselor's office in tears wondering how I got there. It's a constant battle, having a mental illness: it will never go away, but you have to learn to manage it in order to progress.
The biggest thing with mental illnesses is ownership. This spring, I began to finally accept that I was really struggling with my anxiety and depression. I felt like a failure and that I had regressed to my junior year self, a place I never wanted to get to again. I was even worse than I was then, and I thought I had already hit rock bottom. Why did it take so long to get help? Well, if I haven't made it clear enough yet it is because of the mental health stigma, and it has taken me far too long to accept that that shouldn't make you deny yourself the treatment you need.
Once you own your mental illness, it no longer controls you. It can't constantly grip the sails of the life you are living, it won't rob you of the happiness you should be feeling, and you can finally begin to see the changes that are occurring within yourself.
If you are struggling with a mental illness, I encourage you to get the help you need. Life is too short to deny yourself a right to happiness, even if your mental illness tells you that you're not.