Choosing To Finally Seek Mental Health Services
In South Platte Counseling’s ongoing blog series, “Mental Health and Me,” we invite one of our clients to write openly and anonymously about their mental health journey on a topic they’ve personally experienced. We are showcasing this series to help de-stigmatize the conversation around mental health. We want to let people know mental health is an individual journey and a ubiquitous life experience. With that being said, let’s read about one person’s experience with this week’s topic: deciding to go to therapy for the first time.
I had unknowingly been wrestling with my mental health for years. I mean, I felt everyone must feel this way, so why was I any different? Everyone has struggled in their lives, and we just get on with it, right?
It turns out; it doesn’t have to be that way.
I had enlisted in the military and was in their nuclear program. It was a great career opportunity, and I’m thrilled I have that experience and education. However, it was a field where we weren’t allowed to struggle with our mental health. Even though you might be struggling with undiagnosed mental health issues (anxiety, depression, etc.), you don’t have mental health issues (*wink*wink*nudge*nudge*). No one in my chain of command ever talked about the importance of mental health, and no one would ever dare challenge the status quo. Mental health was greatly stigmatized and viewed as “wrong” or “bad.” No one wanted to be “that person.” If we admitted we needed some sort of help or counseling services, it would be seen as if we couldn’t “handle it,” and we would be reassigned and eventually processed out of the military. In short, we would lose our job and everything we’ve worked so hard to achieve if we advocated for ourselves in that way. The military tells us time and again, we have the necessary resources if we are struggling with our mental health. Still, it’s an unspoken rule it would be detrimental to our careers if we took advantage of those resources. The military is off the hook for any real responsibility because they say they provide mental health services, but it’s damaging for our jobs if we utilize them. It was a vicious cycle of silence and continuing to act like everything was okay.
But everything wasn’t okay.
I learned to keep my struggles silent. It was so indoctrinated in me that the idea of mental health issues was for “quitters” and “failures.” It was the military; you’re supposed to be strong enough to handle anything. Since no one ever talked about mental health, it made me feel like no one else was feeling this way, so it must only be me. I’m the only one struggling. I’m the weak one. I was a female in the military, and I would find myself going out of my way to prove I wasn’t like the “other girls.” I was in a severely male-dominated field, and I had to be better than everyone else just to prove I was the same. If there was something “wrong” with me mentally or emotionally, it just proved and reaffirmed everything they always thought.
Keeping my mental health struggles to myself had become deeply ingrained in me. I just felt like this is what it’s like to be an adult, and that’s just the way it is. You just keep going. That’s the only way I knew how to manage. Do the work and ignore it.
But ignoring my mental health only worked for so long.
Now that my time in the military was over (never having any mental health issues on my record, *ahem*). I threw myself into my budding career and set my sights for the top. I landed a fantastic job, enrolled in college, was accepted into a leadership program in my field, and got married. I kept myself so busy that I didn’t have time to really “feel” the unrest within me. It became the foundational undercurrent of how I always felt, and I would put everything else on top and try to bury it deeper. But it was always there in the dull background noise of my mind. It’s sort of always been there, so I accepted that this is just how I am, how I was always going to be. Being busy kept the demons at bay. There’s only so much mental capacity, and I made sure all my available space was occupied.
But the tumult never went away. It was always there.
I thought my life was pretty good. I had a career I was progressing in, amazing friends, a great husband, and had just bought a home we were beginning to remodel. But, as I’ve come to learn, life has a way of making us deal with what we don’t want to. Four members of my family passed away around the same time, including my mother. Everything looked alright on the outside, but inside, everything was crashing down inside of me. I did what I had always done – what I had been taught to do; don’t talk about it. Everyone experiences loss and grief; why was what I was going through any different than anyone else? I had felt this way for so long. What was one more thing? This is life, right?
It all became too much to ignore anymore.
I didn’t know what to do. I was never taught how to manage any of this (Help! I need an adult! Oh crap, I am the adult). Workaholism was my only way to cope, and even that wasn’t working anymore. I was being consumed by everything I had buried for far too long. It only takes one crack in the dam, am I right?
My undiagnosed anxiety and depression had now become what seemed unfathomable. I had gone from living my life to merely existing in it. I was going through the motions, a whisper of who I once was – so very far away from who I knew I was, could, and wanted to be. I struggled in this cycle for a long time. At this point, it was going on for years.
I was holding everything in and losing who I was in the process.
At this time, two of my best friends were on their own mental health journeys. One was dealing with significant anxiety and the other depression. What was so different about this was that they talked about it. My friends were very open about the things they were going through and how they decided to handle them. Because some of the closest people in my life were so candid about their mental health struggles and the importance they placed on them, I slowly started to open up about mine.
It took a while, but I finally decided to talk to someone.
It wasn’t the easiest first session for me. Being closed off for so long is a hard habit to break. However, once I explained how I had been feeling (for years at this point) as well as the recent loss of my family members and mother, my counselor looked at me and reassured me that it was, in fact, a lot to go through and no, not everyone felt the same way in and about their lives. Huh. How about that? Weird.
Through counseling, I’ve come to develop better life management skills instead of leaning on straight, unadulterated workaholism and avoidance. I find journaling helps get the overwhelming thoughts out. However, I know that’s not for everyone. My friends are also a great pillar of support, and we’ve grown even closer through our shared mental health experience. Therapy is for everyone, at any time. It is the strongest people who ask for help, and it takes a lot to undo those years of harmful learned behaviors. Don’t wait years languishing within yourself. Your mind is not and should never be a prison. No, it’s not always the easiest to deal with years of invisible wounds, but my counselor helps me manage those bit by bit in our sessions. Ongoing therapy helps me cope with what once felt overwhelming. I know now getting help does not equal helplessness. We all have mental health, and we should all make it a priority. I’m glad I did.
Please feel free to call us anytime: 303-532-4476