Getting Vulnerable About Mental Health
In fact, I've been holding on to this post for a few weeks now. I've started, stopped, drafted, revised and ignored this post. After weeks of consistent posting on social media, I've gone silent as I've pondered whether or not to share all this.
Not because I'm sharing anything juicy or some major bombshell. It's just that slight pinch of vulnerability that's enough to scare me away. But I've made the commitment to myself, and to all of you, to try to be honest and to share what's on my mind. So here it is.
I think these things are important for me to share, and I think important for us to collectively talk about in general. So *deep breath*, stay with me in my likely very awkward, very basic attempts at true vulnerability here in this post.
Anyways. Mental health, am I right?
I didn't give much thought to my mental health growing up. Like we all have the tendency to do at times, I just assumed that my experience going through life was "normal" and everyone else experienced things the same way I did.
I thought it was normal to feel physically sick at the thought of going to school some days when things got overwhelming. Normal to struggle to sleep at night, to be kept awake by anxiety. I thought everyone constantly felt like the worst was going to happen at any moment, I thought everyone experienced the same things I did.
It wasn't until my senior year of college that I started to view these daily experiences in a new light.
For other reasons, I felt like I was struggling my senior year. I decided to sign up for my college's free group therapy sessions. I thought I could talk about the things going on in my life at the time, get over them, and move on happy and healed.
That pretty much is what happened, but something else happened to me while in the group.
Everyone in the group was there for different reasons, but a few other participants talked about their struggles with anxiety.
Before that group experience, I always had the same reaction when someone mentioned their own anxiety. I downplayed my own experiences in my mind. That couldn't be the same things I'm feeling, those are just worries, concerns, everyday stresses.
I thought if I said I also struggled with anxiety, there would be someone there to scoff at me, to tell me I was overexagerrating, being dramatic, diminishing the experiences of those who really struggled.
But, week after week, the experiences of my group-mates who were struggling with anxiety began to sound more and more like the things I've felt my entire life.
After the experience in college, I decided to go to a therapist. I felt like I needed someone else to tell me, to confirm that I wasn't imagining or exaggerating. (Or maybe she would tell me that it was all in my head, imagined, fake news, etc. I was fine with that too.)
I didn't tell anyone when I started going to therapy. I felt, and still feel sometimes, ashamed in some ways. As I've detailed on this blog, I'm also just awful at being open and vulnerable, even with those closest to me (maybe especially with those closest to me).
I didn't know how to explain that there was this thing I'd been struggling with for many years, but never talked about with anyone. And, to be honest, I still thought if I told my friends and family they might laugh at me or think I was lying.
(And for the record, I have amazing friends and amazing family, and I know deep in my heart they are always supportive and always kind and always understanding. The issue was all mine, and all imagined.)
On my first visit to a therapist, I was asked a lot of questions about my anxiety. I answered them all, yes, yes, yes, but -- isn't that just worrying? Doesn't everyone feel that way all the time?
I am not writing all of this because I have everything figured out. I don't.
I'm writing it because I wish I had heard someone talk about their experiences like this years ago, it might've given me some more encouragement to confront my own anxiety and seek out help sooner.
I think I had this perception that there were gatekeepers to the mental health world.
If I admitted I struggled with anxiety, someone would be there to tell me my struggles weren't hard enough or big enough or real enough. I thought it was something I just had to live with forever.
I just want you to know that you don't have to reach a certain threshold or fit a certain mold to seek out help in some way.
Your story doesn't have to meet whatever standards you've created in your mind.
You're the only one who is trying to measure up to those standards. There is no big, bad gatekeeper of the mental health world just waiting for someone to strike down. That's all inside your own mind.
Therapy has genuinely helped improve my life in so many ways. So has learning to be more open with my friends and family, and adopting a variety of other positive things in my life. Faith and prayer have helped me, exercise and meditation have helped me, community and support have helped me.
If you're struggling with anxiety, please don't get stuck in the place I did of feeling like you have to meet certain criteria to find help.
There's something else too.
Like I said earlier, I kept so much of this story from my friends and family. I suspect there's a lot of you out there who know exactly how I feel.
You keep things to yourself because you're afraid of how others will react. Or you need to appear strong or hold everything together.
I'm telling you (and myself) that it's okay to be vulnerable with the people close to you. Whether it's about mental health or something else, (hopefully) the people in your life aren't there to cut you down or laugh in your face or judge you.
Being vulnerable is hard, but it is rewarding. It builds deeper connections and opens up beautiful parts of relationships with others. It's so hard and so scary, but it's important.
That's why I'm sharing this post (even though it's scary). That's really why I started this blog in the first place. And I hope by sharing this piece of my story, it will inspire some of you to share pieces of your own.